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

archives for 06/2009

Jun 2009
Swiss chard, toad, egyptian onions, and snow peas

There is far too much in the garden now to fit into a single collage, so I just snapped images which caught my eye.  The swiss chard is zooming upward, replacing the spinach which is starting to bolt.  Egyptian onion bulbs are maturing at the top of stalks.  (Stay tuned for a giveaway in the next few weeks!)  The snow peas are ready for a daily harvest, their vines poking over the top of their five foot trellis.  And toads are a ubiquitous presence.

Unpictured, we're still eating lettuce and strawberries and shiitakes, our tomato transplants have gotten their feet under them and are starting to grow, and the cabbage is beginning to head up.  Both basil and parsley are nearly ready for the first nibbles, and everyone else is in the ground.  Our sweet potato starting operation has already churned out enough slips for five beds, and I expect to put in a few more over the next week or two.  We're still weeding like mad, but I can feel us changing over to irrigation and freezing season.  The garden locomotive is running at full speed!

Posted Mon Jun 1 07:17:20 2009 Tags:

StrawberryI started reading up on plant micronutrients when I noticed that our strawberries weren't as tasty this year as last year.  Sure, the heavy rains a few weeks ago probably contributed to the lack of sweetness, but strawberries that I'd transplanted to new beds last fall were tastier than strawberries that had been in the same beds for over two years.  Could the old strawberries have used up micronutrients in their soil, resulting in less tasty fruits?

As I read up on micronutrients, an astonishing story emerged.  The conventionally grown crops you buy in the grocery store are churned out in massive quantities through farming practices which feed the soil with chemical fertilizers.  These fertilizers provide the plants with the big three nutrients --- nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium --- which is a lot like feeding a human solely on artificial protein, starch, and fats.  Over a few years, the crop plants use up all of the micronutrients in the soil and start producing food which is also deficient in those micronutrients.  An unreferenced post on Wikipedia suggests that dealing with these micronutrient deficiencies could make us 10% smarter.  And maybe make our strawberries tastier?

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

Posted Mon Jun 1 12:00:49 2009 Tags:

fungusI was talking to the local hardware store owner today about grape fungus and tomato blight.

Phil: "You know what the old timers used to do about blight back in the day when all they had to get by on was their imagination and sweat?"

Me: " I don't have a clue?"

Phil: "Copper take a short piece of electrical wire and poke a hole in the stem of a mature tomato plant...leave it in there. That was supposed to help with the blight somehow."

Me: "Have you ever tried it?"

Phil: : "Heck no....I'm not an old timer!"

Posted Mon Jun 1 17:30:30 2009 Tags:

Transplanted grape on a mound.My perennial fruit learning curve remains steep.  I learned the hard way that I have to plant fruit trees in raised beds in the worn out, clay part of the yard.  But for some reason I planted the grapes straight into the ground.

So I wasn't entirely surprised to find that about a fifth of those grapes didn't leaf out this spring.  I'm pretty sure their roots drowned in the waterlogged soil.

Luckily, I had some spare plants left over that I transplanted into raised mounds last week.  This is totally the wrong time of year to transplant grapes, but with some good watering and mulching, the transplants seem to have sprung back only a few days later.

Posted Tue Jun 2 07:12:10 2009 Tags:

Map of areas in the world with zinc deficiencies in their crops.So, what are micronutrients?  Simply put, micronutrients are anything required by plants for proper growth that are needed only in very small quantities.  Plant micronutrients are analagous to human vitamins and minerals --- without them, plants usually keep growing, but they often grow slower or have problems.

Wikipedia lists eight main micronutrients which affect plant growth:

  • Boron
  • Chlorine 
  • Cobalt (especially important for nitrogen fixing plants like legumes)
  • Copper
  • Iron
  • Manganese (availability depends on soil pH)
  • Molybdenum (especially important for nitrogen fixing plants like legumes)
  • Zinc

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

Posted Tue Jun 2 12:21:41 2009 Tags:

   bee pollen and smoke

We found our first wax moth cocoon today in one of the hives.

That means the larvae has been burrowing into the beeswax comb looking for impurities, which they live on. They don't eat any wax, but their little caves can cause honey to spill out, making more work for the colony to repair.

I wonder if a small wax moth population might have benefits for the colony by having impurities removed?

Posted Tue Jun 2 17:12:42 2009 Tags:

I am just starting to garden in a new area and the soil is drying out way too fast, 12 hours. I have killed more than 1/2 of what I have planted. Some things are doing good in this but others just die, some in less than a day. I do have a compost pile and it is cooking down but isn't ready yet. Is there something else cheap (we live on a fixed income) I can do to help hold the moisture in the soil? I am in zone 8b in southern Alabama. It is in the high 80s/low 90s daily now.

--- Lynne

SoilWe have too much clay, not too much sand, but the solution to the both is the same --- more organic matter.  If you live close to a grocery store, you might consider talking to the folks in the produce department and asking them to hang onto old fruits and vegetables for you to put in your compost pile, ramping up your volume.  Starting a worm colony would be an option to make your composting process move along more quickly too.

While you're working on your compost, you should still be able to come up with mulch...

Posted Wed Jun 3 06:33:37 2009 Tags:

Soil pH affects availability of micronutrients.Although Wikipedia's list of micronutrients just includes the generally accepted "little eight", I keep stumbling across other micronutrients which are important.  For example, a deficiency of magnesium in the soil makes it hard for plants to use calcium, which in turn can lead to blossom end rot in tomatoes.  Magnesium can be easily washed out of the upper layer of soil by rain or watering, only to be returned when leaves from deep-rooted plants (like trees) are added back to the ground. 

After extensive web browsing, I've add these additional micronutrients to the little eight:

  • Sodium
  • Iodine
  • Fluorine
  • Silicon
  • Sulfur
  • Magnesium
  • Calcium

Given that the most recent of the little eight micronutrients was found to have an effect on plants only about twenty years ago, I wouldn't be surprised if we come up with more micronutrients which affect plants.

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

Posted Wed Jun 3 11:41:27 2009 Tags:

Avian Aqua MiserThe June/July issue of Backyard Poultry hit the streets on Saturday and I couldn't be happier with how Anna's full page article on page 36 came out.

We've been getting some good feedback on how much happier chicken chores can be with this new concept in backyard poultry watering.

It's exciting to see an idea go from the drawing board to reality in the span of a few months. I was thinking today that our operation is a level below most small business set-ups, which inspired me to call it a micro-business. The name has been around for a while, and Lloyd Lemons is one of the top sources for all things related to these smallest of businesses.

Posted Wed Jun 3 20:56:50 2009 Tags:

Strawberry freezer jam.I'm starting to realize that jam has a definite place in farm life.  Last year, I froze our few excess berries as-is, and while they were tasty once thawed, they weren't phenomenal.

Then Mark's mom gave us some homemade strawberry freezer jam.  Wow-whee!  We thinned that jam down and mixed it into salad as dressing, ate it in gobs on pancakes, and even spread it on cakes as frosting.

So this year, I hunted down the remarkably easy Strawberry Freezer Jam recipe and used it on my excess strawberries from the less tasty beds.  The recipe is on the inside of the package of Sure-Jell pectin (less or no sugar type), but I'll reproduce it after the cut because it's surprisingly hard to find on the internet....

Posted Thu Jun 4 07:35:19 2009 Tags:

Comfrey is a dynamic accumulator.The big chemical companies are now considering adding micronutrients into their chemical fertilizer mixes along with nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus.  As usual, I don't think that's the best option.  Instead, I like the idea of building up the soil by adding naturally occurring micronutrients through compost, manure, and mulch.

A related option, favored by permaculturalists, is to use dynamic accumulators to add micronutrients back into their topsoil.  These plants are able to latch onto micronutrients in the soil, either by sending roots deep into the subsoil where the micronutrients are plentiful, or by simply having a greater affinity to micronutrients.  Either way, the dynamic accumulators end up with high levels of certain micronutrients in their leaves.  We can cut these leaves off and use them as mulch or
compost around micronutrient deficient plants, refreshing the micronutrient content of the soil.
Comfrey growing around the base of my nectarine
Comfrey is everyone's favorite dynamic accumulator since it concentrates silicon, nitrogen, magnesium, calcium, potassium, and iron.  In my young forest garden, I've planted comfrey around my nectarine tree.  As the comfrey gets to be a foot tall or so, I whack it all down and let it rot back into the soil, feeding my tree.

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

Posted Thu Jun 4 12:04:02 2009 Tags:

   plymouth rock 2 holder

A 4.5 inch diameter hole cut in a piece of scrap plywood makes a very smooth holder for the Avian Aqua Miser.

Posted Thu Jun 4 19:14:23 2009 Tags:

Rain on the garden.A quick downpour Wednesday reminded me why the aisles between my raised beds are full of plants rather than bare dirt.  Notice the rivulets of water running down the aisles in the photo?  Those are the aisles which are currently bare clay, recently disturbed during our drinking water trench project.

Our entire garden is on a slight slope, which would be a major erosion hazard with conventional farming techniques.  But between our permanent raised beds and grass/clover aisles, I don't think we have any erosion.  Even better, I can run the mulching mower down the aisles and net a bed's worth of mulch every week!

Posted Fri Jun 5 06:47:18 2009 Tags:

Tomato mulched with mixed weeds.Although comfrey is a well-known dynamic accumulator, there are plenty of other plants which serve a similar function.  The Oregon Biodynamic Group has a very useful table of dynamic accumulators and the micronutrients they concentrate

Reading over the chart, I'm drawn to two weeds which already grow well in my "yard" --- broadleaf plantain and dandelions.  Both accumulate six (or more) micronutrients and spring right back after hard cutting.  Plantain has the added bonus of growing very well in high traffic areas where most plant life fades away.

In fact, between harvesting comfrey, dandelions, and plantain, I'd come up with all except four of the 15 listed micronutrients.  With the help our our new mulching lawnmower, I've been adding cuttings from these and other weeds around the base of our strawberries and tomatoes to help the soil rebound.  I also feed my soil manure, which is reported to be a good source of all micronutrients except boron and zinc.

I'm as guilty as everyone else of thinking "nitrogen, nitrogen, nitrogen!"  But just as I'd never serve a meal without some fruits or vegetables on the side, I think we need to stay aware of micronutrients as we feed our gardens.

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

Posted Fri Jun 5 11:37:43 2009 Tags:

micro business boxesDawn Rivers Baker has an excellent blog on microbusinesses that pointed me towards a post on bootstrapping that I thought would be worth sharing.

Tim Berry sat down with his wife recently and came up with 10 lessons they've learned over the last 22 years of running their business.

At the top of the list was learning from your mistakes. It got me to thinking how much we learned a couple of years ago from a failed attempt to video tape and sell footage of local parades. We lost money on the deal, and spent a lot of time producing each product, but those lessons gave us some confidence and we were able to translate what we learned about marketing to our next business idea. The contacts we made along the way also helped to introduce us to the area and the people.

Looking back now I can clearly see how those early failures were necessary steps in the quest for a microbusiness that fits our lifestyle.

Posted Fri Jun 5 20:55:01 2009 Tags:

When we first got our mulching mower, I followed the advice of various websites and carefully dried the clippings on a tarp before using them as mulch.  Since then, I've gotten sloppy, with no ill effects.  My current mulch method is to put the fresh clippings directly on the bed, like so:

New grass clipping mulch.

I'm careful not to let them touch any plants, since fresh clippings can heat up as they decompose.  In about a week, they've all turned brown and are mostly dry, though I noticed a bit of mildew on the bottom layer (presumably the reason other gardeners prefer to dry the clippings before applying them.  Some urban flower gardeners have complained about a bad smell as their glass clippings decompose.)

Grass clipping mulch after a week.

Six weeks later, the grass clippings have nearly disintegrated into the soil.  The quick decomposition of grass clippings is both their upside --- they quickly feed your vegetable beds --- and their downside --- they won't provide a long term weed barrier.  I use the clippings around annuals where I don't mind checking back at intervals to make sure the beds are still weed-free.

Grass clipping mulch after six weeks, nearly disintegrated.
Posted Sat Jun 6 06:38:18 2009 Tags:
Mark Cat vs bee

    Anna the beekeeper

I've heard people say bee keeping is easier than a cat and harder than a dog. Whoever started that saying probably never had a cat tear a hole in their kitchen screen.

Posted Sat Jun 6 18:09:25 2009 Tags:

Homemade butterI adore fresh, raw milk, and once I believed that I'd some day own a milk goat.  But the infrastructure demands are just too high --- pasture, high security fences, neighbors willing to milk morning and evening when we're away.  I'm not ruling out dairy animals forever, just for the foreseeable future.

But, as Mark likes to say, "Anna gets what she wants."  He's been networking, trying to hunt down someone who'd sell us raw milk.  Given the legal situation, I understand it's a lot like trying to find a drug dealer.

Last week, we got a little nibble --- someone willing to sell us fresh, homemade butter.  I hope the butter will be like a foot in the door toward milk.

Meanwhile, I just read in Mother Earth News that butter from pastured cows is highest in vitamins at this time of year.  Just like the yolks from pastured poultry eggs, butter from summer pastured cows is yellower and considered a premium product.  So we plan to stock up and sock summer butter away in the freezer to feed us through the long, hard winter.

Posted Sun Jun 7 08:54:27 2009 Tags:

Lucy near the barn with sprinklerWe almost had to bring the sprinklers out this week, but a few good rounds of natural rain made everybody in the garden happy.

Hopefully the rain will continue to be reliable.

A couple of sprinklers mounted on metal fence posts worked well for us last year. The extra height increased the distance a bit and made it easy to reposition.

The water comes directly from a pump in the creek, so the pressure is enough to handle three sprinklers, but two seem to work best.

Posted Sun Jun 7 19:34:37 2009 Tags:
Garden collage

Diversity is starting to pick up in our fresh garden produce.  Sunday, we ate the first dozen red raspberries along with a bowl of shelling peas.  The strawberries are hitting the end of their season, as is the lettuce and spinach, but greens and snow peas and shiitakes are still barreling along.  Meanwhile, our squashes and green beans all show signs of blooms.

Mark and I have an interesting philosophy on freshness of food.  I believe in picking fruits and vegetables moments before we pop them in our mouths, and we've found that many of them taste just as good or better raw.  There's nothing quite like fresh shelling peas slipped out of the pod with your teeth.

Posted Mon Jun 8 07:03:24 2009 Tags:

Everett with his hivesI'm always excited when our readers email me interesting suggestions for simple living.  In fact, I've had three great bits of information sitting in my inbox for nearly a month, just waiting to be turned into a lunchtime series.  Unfortunately, three never grew to four, so I kept putting it off. 

Luckily, another tip came in just this morning.  I hope you enjoy this week's gems of homesteading wisdom!

This post is part of our Readers' Tips lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Mon Jun 8 12:01:47 2009 Tags:

bt sprayingBt is a natural pesticide we've been using on our squash and cucumbers for a couple of years now. It was discovered in 1901 in Japan by Ishiwata, but didn't make it to the commercial market till the 1950's.

The strain we use only targets moth larvae, certain leaf eating worms and Gypsy moths, and is safe for animals, humans, and other insects.

We use the liquid type that you mix with water. The shelf life is only a few years in the bottle if you keep it out of the sun, but I've read the powder version will last longer.

Bt is a living organism and must be mixed with water that is not too hard (alkaline). If your water is hard you'll need to add some lemon juice or other citric acid to bring the pH where you want it.

It takes a couple of days for the bug to die once it's ingested, but this isn't a problem because they stop eating right away due to the damage done to their stomach lining.

Posted Mon Jun 8 18:21:39 2009 Tags:

Summer squash plantEvery garden has an archnemesis, and the squash vine borer is ours.  Unless you've experienced it, it's hard to imagine the sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach when you go out and your three foot tall squash plant --- complete with young fruits --- keels over in an afternoon.

Our first vine borer year, I caught the infestation too late, and had to try the poke-the-caterpillars-with-a-pin method.  I'm here to tell you that doesn't work.

So now we spray Bt once a week.  I'm not entirely comfortable with it, even though Bt is a bacterium, not a chemical.  If anyone has had good luck killing off their squash vine borers another way, I'd be curious to hear it.

Posted Tue Jun 9 06:36:08 2009 Tags:

Want some honeybees but don't have $200 to start a hive?  Everett wrote in a few weeks ago to give us some pointers on catching swarms.

Every spring, crowded bee colonies decide to split up.  The old queen makes a new queen to take over her old hive, then she and a bunch of workers fly the coop.  The mass of bees --- a swarm --- heads off in search of a new hive.  If you play your cards right, that new hive can end up in your backyard, a source of honey for years to come.

Smart beekeepers put up fliers and contact the local police and fire departments, alerting them that they're ready to capture swarms.  Everett wrote about his experience catching swarms on his blog.  If we hadn't gotten in on the extension service grant, we'd definitely give swarm hunting a shot!

This post is part of our Readers' Tips lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Tue Jun 9 11:36:43 2009 Tags:
Mark Farm facts

farm E-drawingI was looking for some farm trivia recently and found a very interesting website by a guy named A.O. Kime.

Looks like 1954 was the first year more tractors were used on farms than horses or mules. I'm not sure if this was a good direction in light of how out of touch the big factory farms have got from the natural cycle of things.

He's got a real head scratcher of an article on speaking to a transcendental cantaloupe that still has me thinking. It's listed in his Bio-oddities section, which speaks volumes about his out of the box way of looking at farming and gardening.

There's an article by Patrick Malcolm that's worth checking out on the history of fruit in America and several more directions to go on his well put together site.

Posted Tue Jun 9 20:02:57 2009 Tags:

Cabbage worm caterpillarI picked off our first cabbage worms yesterday.  Cabbage worms (which are actually caterpillars, not worms) are the larvae of cabbage moths (which are actually butterflies, not moths.)

With such messed up entomological etymology, it's no wonder I call cabbage worms "bad bugs."  They can be pretty devastating to cabbage and broccoli leaves, too.

Some organic farmers spray Bt to deal with cabbage worms, just like we do for squash vine borers.  Unless you have a huge garden, though, that seems like overkill to me.  The caterpillars are big and easy to pick off, so I just handpick them and give them to the chickens, where they are very well received.

Learn to keep bugs at bayRead other posts about Organic Insect Control:

Posted Wed Jun 10 06:50:35 2009 Tags:

Shannon wrote in last month with some excellent suggestions about bamboo:

Have you guys considered bamboo as a sustainable resource?  Every year, about 15 new shoots come up from a 3" diameter and 15-30 foot long bamboo patch in my yard.  I harvest the ones that have been around for 2-3 years and use them for everything from grape vine trellises, to bean plant supports, to lumber.

BambooI am already thinking about how I can put together a chicken tractor or rabbit hutch with the excess I have this year.  It is rot resistant, strong, etc.

I am going to take a trip to a local grower one day.  They have varieties that are everything from 1/4" diameter and 8 feet long, to 12" diameter and 80-120' long.  I want to plant some of the bigger variety soon.

Another great use for the bamboo once harvested is the dropped leaves make a pretty good natural mulch.  I cut down the bamboo, drag them where I want them and then strip off all the branches in a pile.  The leaves drop off the branches in about two weeks, then I get a rake and rake up all the leaves and put them in the garden.

Bamboo is a wonder plant as far as I am concerned.

I'd add to Shannon's advice that it's worth checking out the native North American bamboo, River Cane, first.  Be careful, because some non-native species can turn invasive.  We're looking into planting some River Cane and some non-invasive timber bamboo.

This post is part of our Readers' Tips lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Wed Jun 10 13:09:54 2009 Tags:

June sunflowersOne of our future goals is to grow enough sunflower plants to turn the seeds into cooking oil.

I'm not sure if the effort is worth the reward, but thats what experiments are for. Once you harvest the seeds they need to be dehulled.
It takes about a pound of hulled seeds to produce 3 ounces of oil. I've read an area of 2500 square feet can provide a family of four with enough cooking oil for the year.

There's even talk of it being used as a bio-fuel.

I noticed the feed store had some 40 pound bags of the oil variety for 12 bucks so folks can keep their backyard bird population fed. I might end up experimenting with one of those bags once we figure out the best way to build an oil press.

Posted Wed Jun 10 18:56:03 2009 Tags:

Gap between butternut squash.'Tis the season to fill in holes.  Inevitably, my garden ends up with gaps where old seeds didn't germinate or where my earliest planted peas only came up thinly.  Not only are gaps a waste of space, they're also a weed magnet.  So on Wednesday, I set out to fill the gaps with sweet potato slips and with broccoli and swiss chard seeds.

The hardest part of gap-filling is yet to come, though --- remembering to keep the seeds watered until they germinate.  Last year, I planted several beds of fall broccoli but didn't get a single plant in our drought.   I hope to do better this year.  The weather is currently cooperating, dropping three tenths of an inch of rain immediately after I planted.

Posted Thu Jun 11 07:02:43 2009 Tags:

ChicksDennis wrote to give us a rundown on his most recent broiler chicken operation.  I'm reproducing his entire email below because I think it's worth reading, but I've inserted a cut for those with limited patience.

Raising chickens for meat is emotionally different from raising them for egg production.  The chicks are just as cute when delivered but, at least in my case, I don't identify the birds individually or make any attempt to observe their habits or individual characteristics.  Chicken TV is great to watch with your layers and breeding stock but the birds that we raise for meat are kept in a chicken tractor with little opportunity to get out and perform.  It is just as well, though, because they are short lived with our normal processing day following about 8 weeks after delivery.  Read more....

This post is part of our Readers' Tips lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Thu Jun 11 11:44:22 2009 Tags:
Mark Bee space

Anna and the beesOur bee colonies continue to thrive and grow. Today was the day to install additional supers for the 3 new hives.

We decided to put the new containers on the bottom in an effort to encourage upward building.

If honey bees feel like they're running out of space they might be tempted to swarm, which would be a bad thing at this stage in their development. We need the hive to stay whole and grow even stronger so they can make it through the upcoming winter.

Posted Thu Jun 11 17:35:05 2009 Tags:
I got my first honeybee sting of the season yesterday while checking on our hives.  First of all, let me assure you that it barely hurt --- having spent all last summer getting mobbed by yellowjackets, I had forgotten that honeybee stings are nearly painless.  That said, after I came inside, I did a bit of research to prevent it from happening again.

My first and worst mistake was to open the hive on a cloudy day.  It had rained all morning, but by lunchtime the sun was peeking out.  The bees were just beginning to head out to forage, though, and the hive was extremely crowded.  No wonder one wandered up my sleeve (which should have been tucked in) and stung my arm.  I'm just glad the bee didn't sting while wandering over more sensitive areas looking for a way out.  Luckily, Mark didn't get a shot of me ripping off my shirt and running half naked toward the trailer. :-)

I found a very useful pdf with two pages of pointers on how to act while inspecting a hive.  I'll be more careful next time.

Posted Fri Jun 12 07:08:02 2009 Tags:

Our last bit of homesteading wisdom is perhaps the best of the lot.  Jeremy from Adirondack Stone Works kept it short and sweet:

Fog over Oxbow LakeI would say that the most important tip I have for home business and homesteading is this: the joy and love I bring to a project sets the tone of the project.  The feeling I get from a project is the fuel I use to move forward. 

This is why I think it is important to find the positive story about a project.  It's unreasonable to expect ourselves to move though all of the obstacles that a homestead or small business will bring without a sustaining, positive story.

I've often found myself dealing with a myriad of stressful thoughts about all of the things I have to do.  This stress is poor fuel for getting things done. If I think of a project like "the garden" and stressful thoughts come up, I have less energy for the garden just when I likely need more energy.  I really do believe that a positive or negative story is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Jeremy's advice is something I've been working hard to incorporate into my own life in the last six months.  Perfect timing to hear it voiced so succinctly and well.  Thanks, Jeremy!

This post is part of our Readers' Tips lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Fri Jun 12 10:51:16 2009 Tags:

micro internet marketingOur micro business is off to a good start thanks to Anna's experiments with internet marketing.

If you're looking for some good free advice in this department I recommend checking out the micro-niche maverick website.

It just got started in March of this year, but what's there is some valuable and up to date gems on this ever changing field.

Posted Fri Jun 12 20:25:54 2009 Tags:

Basket of swiss chard and peasHalf a basket of swiss chard, spinach, and shelling peas swung into the kitchen.  A pint of blanched greens and a cup of blanched peas trotted out of the kitchen.

Like everything in the garden, freezing for the winter begins slowly, but I expect it to pick up speed soon.  Time to get those last few gallons of 2008 produce out of the freezer to make space for 2009.

Posted Sat Jun 13 12:39:43 2009 Tags:

plymouth rock close upIf I had to choose a favorite breed from our flock of hens I would have to go with this group of Plymouth Rocks.

Why you ask?

Maybe because they strut around with this look and attitude like they own the place?

Posted Sat Jun 13 18:37:24 2009 Tags:

Squash flowerI could see the first squash blossom from the window when I woke up --- a blaze of yellow-orange on the far side of the garden.  And back behind the bloom...could that be a developing ovary?

Despite my tendency toward heirlooms, we go the complete opposite direction with summer squash.  We plant a hybrid --- Gold Rush --- which is as prolific as a zucchini but has a taste we keep coming back to.

And, while most squashes spend a while making male flowers when they're young, Gold Rush seems to start out with all female flowers.  Which means we could be eating squash as early as next week!  I wish I could find an heirloom with this kind of track record, but for now we'll stick with the hybrid.

Posted Sun Jun 14 08:24:29 2009 Tags:

Outdoor bathtubI finally got around to ripping the bathtub out of our miniscule bathroom this weekend and lugged it outside under the sun.  By winter, I hope to have constructed a simple bathing chamber out there with glass walls, a passive solar water heater, and a simple graywater system.  For now, I'm just thrilled to be able to soak in a bathtub rather than in the washtub.  (Yes, I used to wash up outdoors in the washtub rather than indoors in the bathtub --- I just don't like bathing indoors if there's another choice.)

Sunday in a nutshell --- a plethora of library books to choose between, a purring cat to pet, double chocolate chip cookies, and a bathtub in the great outdoors.  Is there really anything better in this world?

Posted Mon Jun 15 07:37:43 2009 Tags:

Bumblebee on cloverI like honeybees as much as the next farmer, but I have to admit that I roll my eyes a bit when the media reports that the decline of the honeybee could cause us all to starve to death.  How do those reporters think that American plants got pollinated before we introduced the honeybee from Europe?

We've got scads of wild pollinators, but the one I see most often in my garden is the bumblebee.  In fact, despite having four hives of honeybees, I tend to see more bumblebees than honeybees.  I figured this intrepid pollinator deserves a lunchtime series all her own!

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

Posted Mon Jun 15 12:10:23 2009 Tags:

   dish washing tools

I've washed a lot of dishes in my time...and read each and every  soapy adventure in the compelling story of Dishwasher Pete's cross country journey.

I'm sure he would back me up here when I say the Lok-Spin sink strainer is the ultimate in water trapping sink technology.

I just installed two in our sink last week and couldn't be happier with the look and functionality of this practical and affordable kitchen innovation.

The strainer has a small dial that threads to the bottom section creating an unstoppable barrier. No matter how rough you are with the suds this stopper will never be accidentally dislodged.

Posted Mon Jun 15 19:43:03 2009 Tags:

Potato uncovered by rain.With all of this rain (another inch and a half yesterday), I have to keep an eye on the potatoes.  Dirt tends to wash away from the highest tubers, leaving bare tops which turn green in the sun.  So I've changed my mulch priorities from tomatoes to potatoes and am slowly covering up the rows of tubers with grass clippings.

I've always been intrigued by the history of our crop plants, and potatoes have some of the best stories.  They've been cultivated in the Andes in South America for about 7,000 years, but didn't leave the continent until Spanish explorers brought the plants back to Europe in the sixteenth century.  Even then, the potato had a very limited appeal --- it was considered fit only for the lower classes and was mostly used to feed hospital patients.

Two hundred years later, the potato wandered up to Ireland, where it was welcomed with open arms.  The Irish discovered that an acre of potatoes could feed 10 people, and the population of Irish people and potatoes quickly exploded...only to crash together sixty years later when the potato famine proved the dangers of monoculture.  If you haven't heard enough, check out this page which has even more fun stories about potato history.

Posted Tue Jun 16 07:29:13 2009 Tags:

Bumblebees are a lot like big honeybees in terms of behavior.  The major differences are that bumblebees have smaller colonies which start from scratch each spring since only the queen overwinters. has a nice rundown on their life cycle and foraging behavior, for those who are interested.

Like honeybees, bumblebees are generalists which pollinate a long list of plant species.  But bumblebees are especially important for a few species of plants --- notably tomatoes and blueberries --- which require buzz pollination. 
These plants have pollen which doesn't easily brush off the anthers of the flowers.  Instead, bumblebees have to land on the flowers and vibrate their flight muscles, causing a buzz which knocks the pollen loose.

Honeybees don't buzz, so buzz pollinated plants pretty much depend on bumblebees.  Greenhouse tomato growers have experimented with using vibrators to pollinate their tomatoes, but finally settled on bumblebees as the easier and cheaper solution.

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

Posted Tue Jun 16 12:04:48 2009 Tags:

tenax fenceI'm trying a new method of support for the tomatos this year that involves the 4 foot high green plastic fence material that comes in 50 foot rolls for 27 bucks at Lowes.

It's a 3 sided enclosure that provides easy access for weeding and pruning.

We invested in the next size up fence post, which cost nearly 5 dollars each. It really seems like the best option if you expect to repeat this procedure year after year in a different spot.

Posted Tue Jun 16 18:33:27 2009 Tags:

Japanese BeetleI noticed the first Japanese Beetles in our garden yesterday --- three shiny, metallic insects sitting on the top of our dwarf lemon tree.  I've actually been looking forward to their arrival this year since I want to try out a new control technique I recently heard about.

When the first Japanese Beetles emerge from their underground grub stage, they find a plant they like to eat and then emit congregation pheremones.  As other beetles emerge, they follow the scent to have a Japanese Beetle party.  According to a few sources, all you have to do to protect your plants is be extremely vigilant at this time of year and handpick the first few beetles off the plants you like.  The beetles you leave on nearby weeds will attract all of the newly emerging beetles to harmless beetle parties.

Japanese Beetles are exremely easy to handpick in the morning when they're sluggish from the cold.  Fill a cup partway up with water, hold it under the beetle, then tap the leaf slightly.  Scared Japanese Beetles naturally let go of their perch and fall down, right into your cup.  Once I've done my rounds, I toss water and beetles into the chicken tractors where the beetles are quickly consumed.

Learn to keep bugs at bayRead other posts about Organic Insect Control:

Read other posts about alternative chicken feed:

Bumblebee on cloverOnce I learned that there are about 24 species of bumblebees in eastern North America, I wanted to know exactly which kind I had in my garden.  Identification seems like it should be pretty simple --- keys like this one break it down to a matter of color pattern.  Unfortunately, once I plugged in all of my choices, the key still said it didn't have enough data to decide between nine species.

A little more browsing narrowed down the choices.  Chances are my bees are the Common Eastern Bumblebee.  The species is pretty well named since it's the most common eastern bumblebee. :-)

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

Posted Wed Jun 17 12:04:15 2009 Tags:

What happens when you combine a small motor with some scrap tin and a power source? Hopefully a new type of contraption that will make the deer think twice before they enter our perimeter.

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

Posted Wed Jun 17 18:02:38 2009 Tags:

Farm viewRemember that book I was typing away at six months ago?  Well, I started it in the rain and I finished it in the rain.  Wednesday's stormy weather gave me the incentive to slog through the second round of editing, which I hope will be the last time I do anything major with it.  Now it's in the hands of my collaborators, who will work on formatting and a last round of editing.

I hope to see an actual physical book in my hands by the end of the summer, early fall at the latest.  Even though the book is mostly local interest (it's a combination trail guide and explanation of central Appalachian ecology), I'll let you know when copies are out and looking for a new home.

Posted Thu Jun 18 07:19:44 2009 Tags:

Bumblebee boxSo what do you do if you want bumblebees in your garden?  You need to provide three types of habitat --- foraging, nesting, and hibernating.

Like honeybees, bumblebees can be encouraged by having some steady nectar-producing plants around.  Clover is a top choice since it blooms all summer long, and I can report that our bumblebees are definitely thrilled by our clover-filled lawn.  It helps to mow the lawn in sections, too, so that there are always bits in bloom.

As for nesting and hibernating --- some folks buy special bumblebee boxes like the one shown here, but that seems like a waste of cash to me.  Instead, you can turn a flower pot upside down in an out of the way spot and cover it with a lid.  The bees use the pot as a protected entrance to the underground burrow where they live.  It goes without saying that you shouldn't rototill near the bumblebee nest site so that you won't disturb their home.  Of course, the easiest solution is just to leave some areas of your yard completely alone to grow into native plants and provide a natural nesting and hibernating ground.

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

Posted Thu Jun 18 12:09:28 2009 Tags:

I shot this 15 second video today of our oldest hen drinking from the Avian Aqua Miser, an automatic chicken waterer. She and her sisters are still providing a steady stream of fresh eggs as they turn the corner on their third summer here on the farm.

Posted Thu Jun 18 19:28:08 2009 Tags:

Garlic harvestGood things come to those who wait.  And experiment.  And research.

We planted cloves of garlic straight from the grocery store in January 2007 and got pretty much no yield.  September 2007, we put in some top bulbs from my Mom, again to no avail.  Finally, last October, we got it right, planting four varieties of Virginia-grown garlic in carefully built raised beds.  And look at the harvest!

Actually, we probably should have dug our garlic about a week ago.  As you can see in the photo to the right below, a few of the heads had lost their outer wrapper layer, meaning that we waited a bit long to harvest.  This website gives the best description I've seen of how to plant, harvest, and cure your garlic.

Garlic heads, harvested at the right time and a bit late.

Despite the fact that we're really supposed to let our garlic cure for a couple of weeks to get the best garlic flavor, I couldn't resist harvesting our first basil of the year and doing a pesto taste-test.  We weren't really sure we could tell the difference between the varieties, so we'll have to test them again once they're fully cured.  All four pestos were delicious, though, especially after we realized this meant we may never have to buy grocery store garlic again!

Posted Fri Jun 19 07:21:40 2009 Tags:

Like honeybees, bumblebees have been declining in recent years.  We messed up pretty badly when we started raising bumblebees commercially to use in greenhouses.  These imported bees brought along a bunch of diseases and pests which have spilled out into the wild, harming native bees.

Pesticides and habitat loss also seem to be part of the problem.  Huge farms don't provide the protected, unplowed areas where bumblebees can nest, and conventional farmers also tend to spray chemicals which kill the bees.  Lack of plant diversity is another problem some some bumblebee species have long tongues and need tube-shaped flowers to feed on.

The video linked from the widget to the above gives an excellent rundown on the issues and the solution.  Basically, we're going to have to make our farms a little wilder if we want bumblebees to keep pollinating our crops.

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

Posted Fri Jun 19 11:27:53 2009 Tags:

The closer I watch our honey bees the more I'm impressed with their fancy flying. This video is 15 seconds of heavy return flight traffic as they time each landing with a certain grace that's a joy to observe.

Posted Fri Jun 19 17:54:38 2009 Tags:

Squash, beans, and snow peasIt's been such a bountiful week on the farm.  We're smack dab in the middle of the spring/summer overlap, when peas are ending but beans are taking their place.  Yesterday alone, we ate summer squash, green beans, snow peas, carrots, red raspberries, garlic, basil, and eggs.  With vegetables this good, it almost doesn't matter how I cook them --- they're always delicious.

Posted Sat Jun 20 07:34:36 2009 Tags:

Egyptian Onion bulbIt's time for a long overdue giveaway!  Our Egyptian Onions have produced top bulbs, far more than we can use ourselves and give away to our friends.  So we've decided to give away twenty top bulbs to one lucky reader.

For those of you unfamiliar with Egyptian onions, these are some of my favorite garden plants.  The onions are perennials, and while you can eat the small bulbs most people grow them for the greens --- my CSA customers unanimously told me that even people who don't like green onions like these greens.

To enter the giveaway, just leave a comment on any post by June 30.  I'll throw your name in the hat (multiple times if you make multiple posts) then will contact the winner through the blog in July.  (Be sure to check back on July 1 to see if you won!)  That way you have an incentive to leave us lots of comments.  I look forward to hearing from you!

Read more about our Egyptian Onions (and how you can get some free by ordering 3 Avian Aqua Misers) here.

Posted Sun Jun 21 09:40:20 2009 Tags:

It seems like the noise is doing its job of keeping the deer at a safe distance from the garden. The pivot points needed some adjusting due to it getting hung up on the third night of operation. I just increased the hanging loop size and moved it out a few inches.

You would think a noise like that would be hard to deal with in such an otherwise tranquil setting, but the opposite is true. When I wake up in the middle of the night I now listen for the metal scraping on metal, which gives me an odd sense of comfort knowing that we have an invisible cloak of noise protecting the garden.

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

Posted Sun Jun 21 17:48:00 2009 Tags:

Old map of the serpent mound.Nearly a thousand years ago, Native Americans mounded up rock and earth into a quarter mile long serpent, winding over the top of an Ohio knoll.  Mark grew up nearby and had been to Serpent Mound before, but I'd never managed to go.  Randomly, I looked it up on Friday and discovered that the sun sets over the head of the serpent on the Summer Solstice.  With the solstice so near, we figured it was a sign we should take a road trip!

I'm a very skeptical person when it comes to religion and spirituality, but I let my normally skeptical mind quiet down for the day and instead enjoyed the power of an enormous snake winding across the ground.  Like my visit to Stonehenge nine years ago, though, I was disappointed by the signs which admonished us to stay on the path and away from the mound.  "I wish we could go in there," I said to Mark, pointing into the hollow center of the head where all of power of the snake must be concentrated (if you believe that kind of thing, which I don't.)  Read much more, in which we receive spirit names and go with the flow....

Posted Mon Jun 22 08:40:29 2009 Tags:

MushroomI get so carried away by our grand vision and the endless nitty gritty it takes to get there.  But isn't the Walden Effect really about the intangible beauty and serenity of living on the land?

As Gu
illaume Apollinaire once said:

Now and then it's good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be

So, this week's lunchtime series is a photo journey toward homestead happiness.  Enjoy!

This post is part of our Photos of Homestead Happiness lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Mon Jun 22 11:20:12 2009 Tags:
Mark Bug juice

spray timeIn the early days of spraying Bt I used an old Windex bottle to apply the fine bacterial mist.

That was a mistake I repeated way too many times before I wised up and invested in the MintCraft garden sprayer.

It's a well designed unit that holds a decent amount of pressure.

I give it about 5 or 10 good pumps which will last through a half gallon of spraying. The extended wand allows you to easily target any area of the plant while providing a convenient control knob for mist level adjustments. It gets a bit heavy to carry if you fill it all the way up, especially if you're using the shoulder strap. You might want to upgrade the strap with some padding if you do the maximum capacity.

Posted Mon Jun 22 17:01:03 2009 Tags:

Soaking cardboard to go in the worm bin.I have a dirty little secret.  I'm an organic gardener, and I don't compost.  Ssh!  Don't tell anyone!

Every organic gardener I know is obsessed with their compost pile, with the perfect mix of browns and greens, the perfect temperature, the perfect moisture content.  But I'm lazy, lazy, lazy.  I take my food scraps and I toss them to the chickens, then I let the chicken manure drop straight into the soil.  I only harvest the results two times removed when I mulch with grass clippings.  I also truck in horse manure from a neighbor and use pulled weeds to build new raised beds.

My worm bin does create compost from the few food scraps chickens won't eat, but only a gallon or two at a time.  Just right for our potted citrus, but not for much else.  Lately, I've been experimenting with ways to increase our output, and my newest experiment is to soak cardboard and add it to the bin.  I've been looking for a good use for our junk paper and cardboard --- so hard to recycle when you live an hour from the nearest recycling center.  It's early days yet, but I have high hopes that the cardboard will add to our vermicompost.

On the other hand, if you want to go the traditional composting route, you might want to check out this page of composting pointers which Everett put together. It's got short, sweet, and to the point articles about why and how to compost.

Posted Tue Jun 23 07:40:54 2009 Tags:

This grand old toad was hiding under the golf cart one day this month.  As I tempted her toward safety, I could nearly hear the toad admonishing me.  "What's the big rush?  Slow down!  Smell the flowers!"

This post is part of our Photos of Homestead Happiness lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Tue Jun 23 10:11:46 2009 Tags:

   mom's garden collage

Here are a few pictures from the view up north of my mom's backyard.

We had a smooth trip and a relaxing break that felt like the perfect way to celebrate the summer solstice.

Posted Tue Jun 23 19:02:16 2009 Tags:
Anna Bee balm
Bee balm flower

Look who bloomed in our absence!  Every gardener has a sentimental favorite flower, and bee balm is mine.  In the past, I've loved bee balm because it attracts hummingbirds.  This year, with our new bee fetish, I'm curious to see if the plant lives up to its name when it comes to honeybees.

If you're like me and vastly prefer vegetables to flowers, bee balm is the perfect flower for you.  You can toss this mint-family perennial in the ground, and once it picks up steam it just keeps growing and blooming.  I tend to weed my bee balm beds every year or so and spend the rest of my energy just watching the flowers open all summer long.

Posted Wed Jun 24 07:04:05 2009 Tags:
Onion heads just barely touchingThere is only one success, to be able to spend your life in your own way.
--- Christopher Morely

Getting to experience nearly every day with the person I love is what makes me truly rich.

Two hour lunchbreaks, excitedly brainstorming project ideas.  Full days in the garden working in synchrony.  Spur of the moment trips brimming with fun and laughter.

I watch our strengths together bypass our individual weaknesses.

The problem with the rat race is that even if you win, you're still a
--- Lily Tomlin

This post is part of our Photos of Homestead Happiness lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Wed Jun 24 11:59:16 2009 Tags:

8.5 amp skil saw profileIf I was stranded on an island and had to choose just one power saw, it would have to be one of these reciprocating tools.

They start at just under 50 bucks and can be used in a wide variety of situations where you need to cut through some wood, metal, plastic or whatever.

Of course if I was stranded on an isolated island there would most likely be no which case a good hand saw would be the wiser choice, but if you want a heavy duty cutting tool that can fill in for almost every saw job imaginable, then one of these should be on the top of your tool wish list.

Posted Wed Jun 24 17:53:48 2009 Tags:

Hanging garlic to dry.We left rather abruptly on our trip to Ohio last week, so when I got home I expected to see the farm in disarray.  Honestly, it wasn't so bad --- a few deer nibbles, a few Japanese beetle clumps, and some weeds were the big problems in the garden.  Our garlic, though, needed help.

I had tossed our garlic harvest into boxes in the bathroom to dry, turning the plants upside down so that the bulbs popped out the open box tops.  Unfortunately, my box method didn't allow for enough air circulation, so some of the leaves had started to turn slimy when we got back five days later.  Oops!

Since garlic needs to be out of the sun when it cures, my new method is to hang the clumps under the porch where they'll get lots of air.  As an added bonus, now we don't have to worry about vampires coming in our front door!

Posted Thu Jun 25 08:04:18 2009 Tags:
Rose Nell and Anna with sunflowers

I buy my freedom with my frugality.
                        --- Vicki Robin

The homesteading dream is all about freedom.  The homesteading life is all about figuring out what to do with that freedom.

Mark is a great one for reminding me to fill my life with what is truly important --- family, friends, good books, long baths, walking in the woods, and petting Huckleberry.  Your list may vary.

Follow your bliss.
                        --- Joseph Campbell

This post is part of our Photos of Homestead Happiness lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Thu Jun 25 13:08:26 2009 Tags:

golf cart with boxes and AnnaThis loaded golf cart picture was taken yesterday and represents a full day's work of building, packing, and printing for our automatic chicken waterer microbusiness.

Our local Post Office deserves a big pat on the back for making the shipping side of our business fun and easy.

Posted Thu Jun 25 17:47:52 2009 Tags:

Mayan ruinsWhen we got married in December, I didn't even consider a honeymoon.  But Mark is a serious proponent of treating yourself well, even on a homestead budget.  Wondering how a honeymoon and a budget go together?  Read on.

Our first thought was to book passage on a freighter.  For about $100 per person per day, you can live in luxurious accommodations aboard a container ship, seeing the world in style.  Since freighters tend to have only a handful of passengers and no fancy activities, this is truly the way to travel for self-sufficient introverts.  Someday, we want to hop a freighter and drift down to Peru to explore Macchu Pichu, but for now the lengthy duration of freighter trips is out of our price (and time) range.

Instead, we settled on something I never even considered --- a Caribbean cruise.  Due to the swine flu scare in Mexico and our current recession, you can book a 5 day cruise for $250 (less if you don't mind a windowless cabin.)  Since that price tag includes food and accommodations, it's a pretty awesome deal --- it'd be hard to beat that staying in the motel down the road and eating at McDonalds.  So we bought our tickets for the fall and started to dream of Mayan ruins!

Posted Fri Jun 26 07:53:05 2009 Tags:

Deer damage on sunflowers.The deer are back in the garden.  For months, I nearly believed that the Predator Eyes Daddy got me for Christmas worked, but the lack of deer damage was really just due to plenty of yummy deer fodder in the woods.

Three weeks ago, I saw the first strawberry, okra, sweet potato, and sunflower leaves get nibbled.  I quickly threw row covers over the strawberries and sweet potatoes.

This week, our sunflowers were eaten in stages over four nights until all that was left was the stalks.  Mark's working on deterrents as fast as he can, but for now I'm hoping that the sunflowers will act as trap plants --- you know, like some gardeners
plant sacrificial mustard as trap plants to soak up the flea beetles, only for bigger prey.

Too bad I only planted one bed of sunflowers.  I wonder if they'd protect the garden if I planted a four foot deep row in a circle around the entire yard?

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

Posted Sat Jun 27 09:13:51 2009 Tags:

First blackberry of the seasonMark's been gone for a couple of days at one of his ACF board meetings.  Although I love cooking when he's here, when I'm alone I tend to make do with bits and pieces of this and that.  Saturday, I found myself grazing in the garden on fresh carrots, peas, and raspberries.  Then I turned a corner and discovered...the first blackberries!  Delicious!

Despite planting our blackberry bushes nearly three years ago, this is our first fruit.  I had to transplant the bushes to a new location after their first year, which set them back, then a hard freeze wiped out their fruits in the second year.  Finally, in year three, our patience is rewarded.

(Okay, I lied, this is the third fruit.  Fruits one and two went into my belly before I went inside for the camera....)

Posted Sun Jun 28 08:03:15 2009 Tags:

The first contraption I built was not loud enough to be heard in the garden by the barn and as a result the deer have had their way with our defenseless sunflowers the past few nights.

This second unit went into testing the night before last and seems to be doing just as good of a job as the first one.

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

Posted Sun Jun 28 20:44:38 2009 Tags:

French hybrid vs. American grapesNearly every other day, I've been picking Japanese Beetles off our grapes, brambles, and cherry.  Sunday morning, I started to notice that our Japanese Beetles are showing a definite preference for the thinner, entirely green leaves of our yellow grape (which I thought was Golden Muscat, but now am not so sure about) compared to the thicker, white-undersided leaves of Steuben.  In fact, only a few of the Steuben grapes had been touched.

Turns out that the distinction isn't just in my garden.  This Ohio Extension Service factsheet notes that the thin leaves of French hybrid grapes (bred from a mixture of European and American ancestors) are far more susceptible to Japanese Beetle damage than are the thick leaves of American grapes.  Steuben is a perfect example of an American grape while our yellow grape is probably a French hybrid.  This page gives a longer explanation of the two types of grapes, if you're interested.

Since I actually prefer the purple fruits of Steuben to the yellow fruits of the other grape, I'm tempted to pull out the latter in favor of the former.  For now I'll let the yellow grapes grow, but I think I'll start considering them to be expendable.

Posted Mon Jun 29 07:32:26 2009 Tags:
Fall vegetable crops

I tried to start my first fall vegetable garden late one August, when the heat of summer was still at it's peak.  I was shocked to discover that my crops didn't have time to come to fruition before the cold weather hit.  Yup, that's right, if you want a fall garden, you need to start right now.

This week's lunchtime series is a primer on the fall vegetable garden --- what to plant, when to plant, and how to make your fall garden successful.

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

Posted Mon Jun 29 12:07:43 2009 Tags:
Mark Honey news

honey bee honeyThe latest honey bee inspection showed healthy signs of activity, just not as much building compared to a few weeks ago.

We suspect all the rain we've had lately has decreased the pollen and nectar harvesting.

Posted Mon Jun 29 17:54:12 2009 Tags:

Masai beansMark and I were both raised on Appalachian green beans --- pole beans, picked when they're so big they have half inch seeds inside, then boiled into submission (sometimes for hours) with bacon.  Then we met Masai beans and fell in love.

These heirloom, French-style green beans are all we'll eat now, first and foremost for their exquisite flavor.  The tiny beans are sweet and stringless, so I usually just break them in half and
steam them for three minutes, or toss them in a skillet with garlic for a few minutes.  Either way, they are phenomenal.  Masai beans also freeze extremely well --- we froze four and a half gallons last year and wished we'd had twice that many.

Of course, Masai beans are also a pleasure to grow.  First, they're heirlooms, so you never have to pay for seeds again.  They're bush beans, too, which means the plants produce big crops all at once without a trellis.  But unlike most bush beans, they just keep producing big crops all summer, so there's no need to succession plant.  (I do succession plant, but only because I like to have lots of beds and it's easier to start them scattered throughout the summer.)  The clincher is that they seem to be relatively immune to bean beetles.  Try them out and I suspect you'll write your own ode to Masai Beans next summer.

Posted Tue Jun 30 05:06:40 2009 Tags:

Snow peasSo, what should you put in your fall garden?  It's pretty much like your early spring garden --- full of crucifers, peas, lettuce, and root crops.

I consider our fall garden to be a catch-up time.  If our early peas only germinate spottily (like this year), fall is a good time to harvest more to put in the freezer.  This is also a good time to plant root crops which you'll keep over the winter in a root cellar.

But the fall garden isn't just an extra spring season.  My gardening mentor likes to tell me that broccoli actually does better as a fall than as a spring crop around here since the plants don't like extreme heat when they're heading up.  Many cool weather crops are especially tasty in the fall after the first frost hits --- spring carrots can be a bit strong tasting in the middle of summer, but fall carrots are sweet and delicious.

The fall crop, of course, is also essential to keep you in fresh food as late in the year as possible.  So don't get overwhelmed by the cucumbers and beans starting to bear fruit right now --- think toward the fall!

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

Posted Tue Jun 30 13:55:57 2009 Tags:

  bike mower montage

I managed to warp the second mulching mower blade of the summer today by running over a small stump near the grapes.

On my way to (my new home for replacement mower blades) I found an interesting culture of bike mowers.

It seems like folks have been merging these two pastimes for several years now. I'm intrigued by the inventive nature of pedal power being used to cut grass, but our lawn is so bumpy and rough that it's just not an option at this time.

Posted Tue Jun 30 17:49:30 2009 Tags:

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

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