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

archives for 07/2009

Jul 2009

Egyptian OnionsI asked Strider to pick out our Egyptian Onion giveaway winner.  I spread everyone's names out on the sofa, and he went straight for Mandi's name and started to eat her up.  Congratulations, Mandi (as long as Strider doesn't get you!)  Please drop me an email with your mailing address and your Egyptian onions will be on their way to you shortly.

To everyone who didn't win --- stay tuned.  I may do another Egyptian Onion giveaway soon as long as local friends don't clean me out.  Thanks for playing!

Posted Wed Jul 1 07:26:32 2009 Tags:

Panorama of the Scott County Lavender Farm

Mom at the Scott County Lavender FarmTuesday afternoon, I played hooky and went to the Scott County Lavender Farm with my mom and some friends.  The farm seems like a great ecotourism business on the surface --- attract folks to the beauty and scent of lavender, then sell them all kinds of related products.  Unfortunately, the farm was closed and going to weeds.

Our visit just confirmed a feeling I've had for quite a while --- the best homestead businesses aren't physically farm-related.  We've given various options a shot, from a little CSA to selling native wildflowers.  But when I do the math, I always discover that on a small, homestead microbusiness scale, these ventures barely pay minimum wage.

Even before our current recession, people in our area complained about the lack of good jobs, a constant problem in rural areas.  But I feel strongly that in our current world, anyone with imagination and gumption can make a living through learning a useful skill and taking advantage of the internet.  Then you can save your farming for yourself, putting all of that love and time into your vegetables so that it flows right back into yourself.

Several people have asked for advice on starting a homestead microbusiness, and I've been starting to compile a lot of pointers about what we've learned with Mark's chicken waterer invention.  Assuming I don't play hooky too many more times, I hope to have an ebook out for folks to read in a couple of months.  Stay tuned!

Posted Wed Jul 1 07:32:26 2009 Tags:

Chart to find fall planting dates for vegetablesOn Monday, I admonished you that August is too late to start planning your fall garden.  Instead, you want to start planting some fall crops now and continue through September for others.

Last year, I posted an extensive explanation about when to plant vegetables in your fall garden.  The chart in that post (a larger version of the one to the right) makes it easy to plug in your last frost date and decide when seeds need to go in the ground.  For example, here in zone 6 we'll be planting parsnips, carrots, and broccoli this week, among other things.

But what do you do if your favorite vegetable isn't on that chart?  Take out your seed packet and you'll notice that it usually contains a "days to maturity" number.  Count back that many days from your average first frost date, add two weeks (since plants grow slower in the fall) and you have your planting date.

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

Posted Wed Jul 1 10:52:08 2009 Tags:

   last scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark

We've just made an improvement to our archive section of the website. Now you can easily read all previous entries back to back until you're caught up and feeling the full force of the Walden Effect.

Posted Wed Jul 1 17:00:23 2009 Tags:

Weeding around young sweet potatoes.Remember when I planted broccoli, swiss chard, and sweet potatoes in gaps in the garden? Wednesday, we finally got around to checking up on them, pulling out dying peas and weeds.  I was surprised to discover that our young plants were all growing beautifully!

Of course, there were some gaps where the peas had been.  So we filled in the gaps...again.  Still, this has been a very effective rotation --- I'll have to remember it for next year.

Posted Thu Jul 2 07:24:39 2009 Tags:

Swiss chard seedlings.Now you know what you're going to plant and when to plant it, but there are still a few tricks to having a successful fall garden.  The biggest problem with planting fall vegetables is that you're putting seeds of cool-weather crops in the ground during the heat of summer.  In many cases, the soil may be too dry for the seeds to germinate.

Here are my top tips for good summer germination:

  • If your soil is really dry, water the area a day or two before planting.  Better yet, plan your planting for the day before a forecast storm.
  • Plant your seeds deeper than you would have in the spring --- often, there's moisture about half an inch below the surface.
  • Plant three to five seeds in each location rather than just one.  I did this with the broccoli seeds I planted a couple of weeks ago and only had one seed germinate in each spot.  If too many seeds come up, you can always weed down to one plant per location, or transplant to fill in gaps.
  • Keep an eye on your tender seedlings for the first month or so, making sure they get an inch of water per week.

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

Posted Thu Jul 2 13:55:16 2009 Tags:

anti deer contraptionThe deer have stayed away from the garden since the nightly banging has begun.

I discovered that making a curve out of the tin at the bottom helps it roll off the stick and prevents a situation where it gets stuck.

Adding a couple of timers was Anna's good idea.

Now we don't have to worry about forgetting to switch the things on before bedtime.

Posted Thu Jul 2 17:43:28 2009 Tags:
Eastern tiger swallowtail on red clover

One of the major benefits of gardening organically is the wildlife.  Our garden is so full of life that sometimes I have to literally watch my step to make sure that I don't tread on a toad.  During our lunch breaks, we watch hummingbirds fight over the bee balm, and gnatcatchers, buntings, and bluebirds hunt bugs among the vegetables.  Then there are the butterflies, dozens of species with colors spanning the rainbow.  Without poisons around, the forest ecosystem creeps right into our yard.

Posted Fri Jul 3 07:34:39 2009 Tags:

Blooming snow peaYou'll want to keep crop rotation in mind as you plant your fall garden.  This can be a bit tricky since many of your fall vegetables are in very popular families:

  • Crucifers: broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, kohlrabi
  • Legumes: beans, peas
  • Umbellifers: carrots, parsnips
  • Nightshades: tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant

So, don't plant your peas after your summer beans, your kale after your spring cabbage.  Instead, plant crucifers after beans, fall peas after your spring potatoes.

Good luck with your fall garden!  If you've got any additional pointers to share, I'd love to hear them --- I'm still working on perfecting my fall garden.

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

Posted Fri Jul 3 12:01:29 2009 Tags:

pumping from the creek for irrigationThe rain has been good to us lately, but this week it came up a little short.

We had to make a small change to the creek pumping system by adding a separate line from the pump.

This provides a more direct path to the sprinklers and has increased the pressure by a noticeable degree.

The picture shows one of those large plastic storage units at the bottom of the creek that provides a nice place for the pump to rest. The intake is towards the middle, so it helps to prop the hose end up on a brick.

Posted Fri Jul 3 17:26:39 2009 Tags:
Young Roma tomatoes

Did you buy your tomato plants from Wal-mart, K-mart, Home Depot, or Lowes?  Or even from a local nursery which doesn't grow their own plants and instead buys them from  Bonnie?  Across the eastern U.S., these stores have pulled all tomato plants from their shelves due to a late blight epidemic.  It won't hurt you, but your plants will go kaput.

Some people even speculate that commercial growers might be affected.  That would mean few fresh tomatoes and potatoes in the grocery stores this summer.  To read about the symptoms of late blight and more, visit this Boston Globe article.

Of course, if you grow your own heirloom tomatoes from seed every year, like we do, you're probably okay.  Still, if your neighbors' plants are infected, yours might be too.  If you see symptoms, you're best off yanking the plants out and burning them or putting them somewhere far from the compost pile.

Posted Sat Jul 4 08:53:46 2009 Tags:

SunflowerIn the United States, the dog days of summer traditionally last from July 3 to August 11.  These are supposed to be the hottest and driest days of the year "when the seas boiled, wine turned sour, dogs grew mad, and all creatures became languid."

This year, the dog days entered with a sniffle.  Cloudy skies all week have meant blissfully cool weather, but I did hear the first dog day cicadas begin their summer chorus.  As Mark mentioned, we started to irrigate Friday, and yesterday I had to lower our pump slightly in the well since the groundwater had dropped.

The ancient Greeks sacrificed a brown dog at the beginning of the dog days to plead for cooler weather, but there's no need to worry --- Lucy is safe with us.

Posted Sun Jul 5 07:00:19 2009 Tags:

anti deer deviceFor around 60 bucks you can get a device that combines motion detector technology and sprinklers in a way that might work for some folks with a deer problem in their yard or garden.

The CR0101 motion activated sprinkler seems like it would keep a wide array of varmints from your precious plants, but like with any new product the knowing is in the testing and proving that it works under real world conditions.

This might also be the perfect and humane way of keeping small children from entering your yard to retrieve their ball or Frisbee.

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 Jul 5 18:49:24 2009 Tags:

Sourwood flowerOur bees have been in a bit of a honey flow lull, so I was surprised to see serious activity around the hives Sunday despite drippy weather.  A quick jaunt through the woods, though, turned up the culprit --- Sourwood.  Tiny white bells scattered on the forest floor were the only indicator that the trees were in bloom.

We don't plan to harvest any honey this year, but if we did it might be worth trying to taste some sourwood honey.  Slow Food USA has an entire page about the honey, including this tantilizing quote:

Most honey is made by bees. But sourwood is made by bees and angels. 

--- Carson Brewer

The page also answers a question I've always wondered about --- how can beekeepers sell you "clover honey" or "sourwood honey" when bees are constantly checking out alternative food sources?  Honestly, I can't see myself ever jumping through the hoops necessary to get pure sourwood honey, but you never know....

Posted Mon Jul 6 07:26:33 2009 Tags:

Increase in chicken numbers may be bogus.When times get tough, people get chickens.  You've probably heard the same reports I have about new zoning regulations allowing chickens in cities and about the numbers of backyard chicken keepers skyrocketing.  If our economic system crashes, at least we chicken-keepers can subsist on eggs and an occasional roast fowl.

On the other hand, Slate suggests that the surge in urban chicken-keeping is a bogus trend, invented by journalists who needed to fill some space in their newspapers.  The article made a good point that all of the evidence for the trend appears to be anecdotal rather than based on hard data.

Whether the trend is real or not, we like chickens and think you will to.  So this lunchtime series is a rundown of a few chicken-related topics near and dear to our hearts.  We won't try to reinvent the wheel and tell you all of the chicken-keeping basics, but we will mention some of the fields we're most interested in at the moment.

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

Posted Mon Jul 6 12:00:18 2009 Tags:

              honey bee inspection animation
This week's honey bee inspection revealed plenty of stored pollen and healthy activity. It might take a few days to notice any increase in production related to the new sourwood in bloom.

Posted Mon Jul 6 18:11:17 2009 Tags:
Comparison of frost-nipped and protected watermelons six weeks later.

Six weeks ago, we had a late frost and I covered everything I could with row covers.  Unfortunately, I only had enough fabric to go over one of my two watermelon beds.  At first, there didn't seem to be a big difference between the lightly nipped bed and the protected bed, but now the beds couldn't be more different.  The unprotected bed is only about a third covered with vines which are barely starting to bloom.  In stark contrast, the vines on the protected bed have filled up all of their space and are heading out into the aisle...and look at the cute little watermelons!

Next year, I'll have a better idea of which plants are top priorities to protect from late, light frosts.  For example, the unprotected canteloupes are still sitting there doing nothing, while the unprotected cucumbers, butternuts, and beans bounced right back as if they were never touched.  The nipped okra bed was significantly behind its protected counterpart until three weeks ago when the deer browsed the previously covered bed --- now both deer- and frost-nipped beds are neck-and-neck and getting ready to bloom.  Live and learn!

Posted Tue Jul 7 08:03:30 2009 Tags:
Our best chicken tractor.

We can talk your ear off about chicken tractors.  In fact, we already have written at length about the importance of chicken tractors in the garden permaculture system.  We're still working on building the best possible tractor, though.

Of course, you can shell out hundreds of dollars and get a ready-made tractor, but Mark has had great luck with making our own for under $20 apiece.  You can see several posts about his most recent tractor construction project on our chickens page.  But I thought I'd sum up our findings here:

  • Ignore people who say you should add wheels to your tractor.  Wheels make the tractor hard to maneuver around your garden and are a general pain.
  • Our best chicken tractor from a different angle.Make multiple doors on your tractor.  Our best tractor currently has two, but I'd like it to have three --- a door in the back of the nest box for easy egg-stealing, a door on the top of the tractor so that the hens don't mob you when you drop in scraps, and a big door which allows a whole human to get in for tractor repair and lets the hens get out easily if you want them to free range.
  • Make your tractor as light as possible.  As the chief tractor-dragger, I have to say that pulling even our lightest tractor uphill on wet grass often ends up with me on my butt.  Lighter next time, please, Mark!

Of course, you need to add in all of the usual components --- a perch as well as a spot for chickens to get out of the sun and rain.  Otherwise, it's pretty hard to go wrong with tractor construction.  Give it a shot --- surely you can build something serviceable for less than a few hundred bucks!

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

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

Posted Tue Jul 7 12:00:22 2009 Tags:

spray shoulder strapI installed a small piece of foam pipe insulation to the shoulder strap of the MintCraft garden sprayer for some added comfort, and now I'm wondering what took me so long to wise up to this simple solution.

It makes hauling a full tank feel like a walk in the park.

Posted Tue Jul 7 17:45:38 2009 Tags:

Cleaning out the tank.I jumped in the thousand gallon tank yesterday morning to give it a good scrubbing, the only maintenance it has received in months.

We get our drinking water from a well, but we use the creek for most of our other water needs.  Most folks who don't connect to city water install a pressure tank, but we've found that a gravity system is simpler and requires very little electricity.

When the tank gets low every month or two, we turn on the pump for a few hours and top the water off.  After that, gravity pushes the water to the house to fill our sink, bathtub, washing machine, and chicken waterers.

We started out with a little 50 gallon tank on a tower by the house, but we used up the water awfully quickly and were disappointed by the pressure.  A thousand gallon tank slightly uphill gives us much better water pressure, approximately equal to what you'd get from city water.

Posted Wed Jul 8 07:54:24 2009 Tags:

Red Jungle FowlAs we start thinking outside the box when it comes to chicken care, it helps to look at what chickens really are.  Most folks believe that chickens were domesticated from the Red Jungle Fowl which currently lives in southeast Asia. 

Red Jungle Fowl roosters look just like Rhode Island Reds to my untrained eye but the hen is far less conspicuous.  They act a lot like domesticated chickens too, dust-bathing, crowing, and so forth.  One point of interest is that these are not birds of open meadows --- Red Jungle Fowl seem to prefer bamboo forests for their territories.  That could explain why shade is such an essential ingredient in a chicken yard on a hot summer day.

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

Posted Wed Jul 8 12:00:21 2009 Tags:

hand held drill battery poweredIf you've got a low impact, repetitive turning task that needs to be motorized then the new Black and Decker 6 volt drill/driver might be just the tool for the job.

I've had mine for a couple of weeks now and it's really helped to streamline our Avian Aqua Miser building process.

It takes 4 AA batteries and transforms the combined 6 volts of DC power into a surprising amount of torque. We found this one at a big box store for just over 10 bucks. Don't expect it to do any medium or heavy drilling chores and you won't be disappointed.

Posted Wed Jul 8 20:12:31 2009 Tags:

EggsJoey posted about social capital yesterday, and the idea really caught my imagination.  Last year, we sold our excess eggs and produce, but this year we've taken to giving them away.  They seem to bring us more value in the latter situation since folks who are gifted with eggs think more highly of us and end up doing us favors in return.

Social capital isn't the same as bartering --- we don't give folks eggs and expect to get anything back right away (or even ever.)  Instead, we just give the eggs to people who can use them, mostly to empty out the fridge.  The social capital we garner is just an added benefit.

This boingboing article and the ensuing discussion raise the intriguing point that social capital is probably the most widespread economic system in the world.  I think the near-absence of a social capital system in modern America is part of what we're missing when we complain about the lack of community in our lives.  So, build up your social capital and reap the rewards!

Posted Thu Jul 9 08:28:44 2009 Tags:

Optimal chicken diet is over half invertebrates, with the other half made up of plant matter.How can a backyard chicken keeper provide her chickens with the most nutritious and cheap feed?  First of all, let me admit that we still feed our chickens on laying pellets from the feed store.  But we do supplement our feed with other things and are trying to move toward minimizing the amount of storebought feed we use.

Storebought chicken feed is made up of grains and soybeans, but Jungle Fowl (the ancestor of the chicken) feed primarily on insects.  Scientists who cut open the crops of wild Jungle Fowl found that half or more of the mashed up food in there was typically insects and other invertebrates (especially termites.)  Various plant matter was also represented, especially fruits, berries, bamboo seeds, nuts, and young leaves.

The upshot is clear --- if we want to wean ourselves off a dependence on store-bought chicken feed, we shouldn't be planting rows of wheat and barley.  Instead, we need to find ways to provide our chickens with copious insects.  Our chickens eat some insects, both the ones they find when I move the tractor every morning and the ones I hand deliver to their enclosures.  But several people have suggested larger scale insect feed operations.  Check out some of these links, for example:

  • Fred's Fine Fowl shows you how to trap those Japanese Beetles decimating your roses and feed them to your chickens.
  • My idol, Harvey Ussery, breeds both fly maggots and earthworms to feed his chickens.
  • Mark has posted before about the option of raising mealworms for your chickens.  I'm a bit leery since you have to grow the mealworms in storebought materials.

Has anyone given these ideas a shot?  I would really like to come up with a large-scale method of breeding invertebrates for our chickens to at least take over the summer feeding.

99 cent pasture ebookThis post is part of our Chicken Trivia lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

While you're improving your chickens' health, you should make sure they have clean water, an easy task with our homemade chicken waterer.

Posted Thu Jul 9 12:00:20 2009 Tags:

The experimental deer contraption let us down the other night due to the hanger breaking off. We lost a few sweet potato leaves but learned a valuable lesson.

All future hangers will be at least 14 gauge wire or thicker. The smaller stuff seems to break after about a week of pivoting. I shortened the length of tin by about a third, which seems to have eliminated the possibility of jams. It's still vulnerable to a heavy wind, which is a factor I'm taking into account for the next generation of anti-deer, noise making, kinetic, garden sculpture.

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

Posted Thu Jul 9 18:59:19 2009 Tags:
Fence lizard on the window screen.

During the summer months, I've taken to working in the garden in the morning then heading inside for an afternoon in front of the computer.  Sometimes, though, the garden doesn't want to be ignored.

As I mocked up a client's website on Wednesday, I heard a sudden noise and looked over to find a Fence Lizard clinging to the window screen.  It seemed to be hunting insects --- perhaps it had discovered that the window screen acted a bit like a spider's web, catching flying insects off-guard?  Whatever its purpose, the lizard clung to the screen for nearly an hour before skittering back to its usual hunting grounds in the garden.

Posted Fri Jul 10 08:07:14 2009 Tags:

Avian Aqua Miser: automatic chicken watererClean water is essential for chicken health, but it's easy to overlook for the backyard hobbyist.  A scientific paper in the Proceedings of the Second Mid-Atlantic Nutrition Conference notes that chickens who don't drink enough water get sick more easily and grow more slowly as chicks.  I can't find any hard data, but it just makes sense that hens would also lay fewer eggs if they had less to drink.

But how hard is it to keep plentiful water in your chicken coop?  Not so hard...until you realize that chickens just won't drink if the water is dirty.  With traditional waterers, the water can get dirty half an hour after you put it out in their coop, or can spill dry in a tractor in seconds.  As we learned during our first summer of chicken-keeping, the result can be disaster --- two of our hens died of heat exhaustion due to a spilled waterer on a hot summer day.

Our favorite solution is Mark's chicken waterer invention, the Avian Aqua Miser.  I feel a bit selfish pointing you all to our store, but the truth is that I adore our automatic chicken waterers --- they let us go out of town for four days in the midst of summer without worrying about our birds!  If you don't feel comfortable forking out $15 for a DIY kit, you should at least keep a careful eye on your chickens' waterers during the summer months.  Before the Avian Aqua Miser, Mark often gave our girls fresh water multiple times a day.  And if you really want to pamper them, throw some ice cubes into the waterer --- those chickens will drink as if they're in heaven!

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

Posted Fri Jul 10 12:00:23 2009 Tags:

I made our motorized mechanical smasher to streamline a step in the Avian Aqua Miser building where the wire hanger needs to be squeezed. This way is over twice as fast compared to using channel locks and saves a ton of wear on my wrists.

The Skil 7.0 amp drill is a perfect match for this application due to its adjustable trigger speed and easy to reach reverse switch. Its 1/2 inch heavy duty chuck locks down on the Wilton drill press vice handle with the right amount of clearance. Watch out! I'm sure it will smash fingers if given the chance. This is not a toy.

   7.0 amp skil drill and drill press vice

Posted Fri Jul 10 18:24:05 2009 Tags:

Raw milk propagandaThis week, Mark called our illicit butter source to see if they had any to part with.

"Sure, I've got three pounds," the neighbor said.  "But don't come over until after 5.  I've got to go to the doctor."

When Mark arrived on his doorstep that afternoon, the farmer handed over the foil-wrapped packages.  Mark thanked him and asked how his appointment had gone.

"Alright, I guess," our neighbor said.

I wasn't there, but I envision a lengthy pause at this point in the conversation.  After all, Mark explained to me that our butter-source is the salt of the earth and unlikely to complain.  Still, a doctor's appointment can wring a nasty sentence out of the worst of us.

At last, the farmer gave in.  "Yep, the appointment was alright.  But it was cold enough to slaughter a hog in that waiting room."

Posted Sat Jul 11 09:05:25 2009 Tags:

gone tomorrow book jacket coverI finished the latest Lee Child novel over 3 weeks ago now and its vivid imagery is still lingering in the background of my subconscious.

All his books revolve around the Jack Reacher character. A guy who embraces the drifter lifestyle in such a clever and believable manner that after you finish one of his adventures you're left with the feeling of what it might be like to live day to day with only a tooth brush, an expired passport, and an ATM card.

Gone Tomorrow takes place in modern day, post patriot act New York City, which is also the current home of the author. You can feel Child's affection for the city in his style and pacing throughout the story. I felt like I needed to be debriefed by Homeland Security after finishing the book. Its an intense, modern, narrative that will come close to knocking your socks off with the way its action filled mystery unfolds.

Posted Sat Jul 11 17:28:55 2009 Tags:

As regular readers know, I've been putting up my favorite photos on my Imagekind account for a while.  Last week, Imagekind drastically increased the number of images you can upload with a free account, so I went ahead and uploaded old paintings --- my favorite 23 from the last 10 years.

For the three people who missed being able to see my paintings, there they are!  You can also order notecards and prints off the website, although they're slightly more expensive than they were when I made them myself.

In other art-related news, I'm currently working on sketches for a little mural on the back side of the trailer.  I'll post a photo if it comes to anything.

Posted Sun Jul 12 08:44:37 2009 Tags:

Lucy in the Skil with drillThe new Skil drill got a workout the other day when I needed to make a hole through some cedar posts.

I was surprised to see just how much more leverage the side handle gives you.

The 1/2 inch chuck allows for the bigger size bits and the extra 7.0 amp motor provides more than enough power. There's a nice rubber holder near the handle to hold the chuck key and the speed is adjustable depending on how hard you squeeze the trigger.

This should make mushroom log plugging a lot easier when it's not doing duty as our main motorized mechanical smasher.

Posted Sun Jul 12 18:23:35 2009 Tags:

Echinacea, cucumber, wineberry, and sweet corn.I don't consider myself a competitive person about things that really matter.  But when it comes to the garden, I'm always racing to get the first spring peas, to eat fresh corn by the Fourth of July, to harvest the first tomatoes.

When we drive to town, I crane my neck to pick out details in the gardens we pass by.  Are their cabbages bigger than my cabbages?  Strangely enough, Mark doesn't let me drive much any more....

So you can imagine my angst when folks started telling me they were eating fresh tomatoes.  Two weeks ago, reports came in from my brother in California, but now even my brother fifty miles down the road has tomatoes.

Okay, so I admit it --- we don't have ripe tomatoes yet.  But we are eating cucumbers, summer squash, okra, sweet corn, swiss chard, garlic, basil, parsley, carrots, green beans,  broccoli, wineberries, and blackberries.  I may have lost the battle, but maybe I won the war?

Posted Mon Jul 13 07:31:02 2009 Tags:

Stack of penniesMy day in the sun has finally come --- at long last, it's cool to be a skinflint.  Everyone suddenly wants to save money, and the simple living magazines are scurrying to tell us all how to be more frugal.  I heartily agree with all of their tips (which I can't seem to find on the internet), but I know that most folks aren't going to make huge changes in their lives in the interest of frugality.  Instead, this week's lunchtime series offers four ways to save money without really changing your lifestyle.

If you put all four of my tips into practice, you could have an extra $1,000 (or more) in your pocket every year.  Whoa!  What will you do with all that extra cash?  If you're doing well, why not tithe 10% of the excess to a charity you believe in?  Here are some of my favorite charities to get you started:

Remember --- think globally, act locally!

This post is part of our Frugal Living Tips lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Mon Jul 13 12:00:25 2009 Tags:

   the skil drill and cedar post notch band

Sometimes a cedar post is just a smidgen too big for even the longest drill bit we've got. A well placed notch can sometimes solve any problem. That's what it took today to finish up a trellis for the new grapes.

I struggled with keeping the drill level in the past when boring through a post. The new Skil drill has a nifty bubble installed on top to allow for a perfectly straight angle when drilling horizontally.

Posted Mon Jul 13 17:16:11 2009 Tags:

Building up a raised bed with weedsI've been perfecting my raised bed technique for a while now, and last week I added a new twist.  For those of you who haven't been reading along, I make wall-less raised beds for my vegetable garden by mounding up topsoil, then I mow the aisle between beds as lawn.  This method works extremely well in established garden areas, but requires tilling the first time the beds are established.

This spring, I made a few new beds without tilling the ground, by piling old asparagus and and flower stalks on some paper and then adding a little topsoil.  This method worked well too, especially since a few of the asparagus seeds came up and started to grow.

My newest experiment, shown here, is meant to increase the height of some established raised beds without disturbing the grassy aisles.  I tossed several wheelbarrow loads of seedless weeds onto beds which were currently bare, to be replanted with peas in a month.  I'm hoping this will be a no-till version of a cover crop --- I love the idea of cover crops, but don't like the necessity to till the plants into the soil.

The question is whether the weeds will die down into a nice mulch so quickly.  I suspect they will since I made several raised beds this way a couple of months ago, planted comfrey into them a week or two later, and watched the comfrey take off.  In a worst case scenario, I can always remove the dead weeds when I plant the peas.

Posted Tue Jul 14 07:29:27 2009 Tags:

Haircut kit lets you cut your family's hair.To be completely honest, I started cutting Mark's hair because I went with him to his hair appointment and didn't like seeing strange women running their fingers through his hair.  Unfortunately, short-haired folks like Mark need their hair cut every couple of weeks or they start looking shaggy. 

But a trip to the big city every two weeks to shell out $20 and watch that jealously guarded head become public property was too much for me to bear.  So, instead, I trotted down to Rite-Aid and bought an electric razor like this one for less than the cost of one haircut.  It comes with attachments which cut hair at several different lengths, making it pretty simple to keep Mark looking movie-star perfect on the farm.  (Just be sure to keep the blade oiled.)  I figure we've seen about a 2,000% return on our investment so far --- pretty good!

This post is part of our Frugal Living Tips lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Tue Jul 14 12:00:32 2009 Tags:

   anti-deer repellant contraption update

After several rounds of adjustments the latest incarnation of mechanical deer repellant is working without fail.

Now that it's working I think I'll try my hand at dressing it up a bit to see if we can't make it look less trashy.

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 Tue Jul 14 19:26:46 2009 Tags:

Gap in the forest canopyTuesday, Mark and I spent a bit of time working on the forest garden that we haven't previously talked much about.  Unlike the forest garden we've blogged about extensively, we're building this one the way Amazonian people have built forest gardens for hundreds (thousands?) of years --- by encouraging the trees we find the most useful in an existing forest.  This type of forest garden is most appropriate for big nut trees and other species which would naturally grow in a mature forest, rather than for the early successional fruit trees like apples and peaches which need constant sunlight.

The area we chose for this forest garden is full of young trees which have been growing back from pasture for just a few decades.  Some older trees within the stand are keepers regardless of their use because I adore old trees, but most of the forest there is made up of black locust, box-elder, sassafras, ironwood, dogwood, sourwood, and other small trees.  We added in young seedlings of butternut, persimmon, and Chinese chestnut, all of which are native or (in the case of the chestnut) replace a native species wiped out by disease.  We also earmarked some existing trees --- primarily sourwood and black locust --- as keepers due to their utility as nectar trees for our honeybees.

This forest garden gets minimal maintenance consisting of rooting out invasives and encouraging the trees we like.  On Tuesday, we cut down a few small trees around each of our favored trees, mimicking natural treefall gaps and give our favorites extra light.  Or, to be more accurate, Mark cut down small trees while I stood around and pointed.

Posted Wed Jul 15 08:02:10 2009 Tags:

MoneyI heartily believe that about 85% of Americans shouldn't have credit cards.  If you've ever paid a fee on your credit card, it's costing you money.  If you've ever used a credit card to pay for an "emergency expense" you should cut it up now.  If you don't obsessively comb over your credit card bill every month to check every charge, dispute any problem, then pay your bill in full, you might as well stick with cash.  Of course, if you mind having all of your intimate purchasing details in the hands of a big company, you should skip this tip too.

But, for the other 15% of you, sign up for a Discover card and start raking in the cash.  Discover has a cashback program which gives you 1% to 5% of your purchases back as just plain cash.  Don't fall for their affiliate program where you can turn your cashback into purchases at your favorite stores --- those are impulse buys and you don't need that stuff.

To make a Discover card work for you, I believe you should have 3 to 6 months of emergency money stashed away in a savings account.  That's the money you spend if something drastic and terrible happens, rather than pulling out your Discover card.

That said, use your Discover card for every other possible purchase.
  We keep our expenses very low, but still end up getting nearly $200 of free money every year.  If you're keeping track at home, that's an infinite return on our investment since we didn't spend any extra money to get it.

This post is part of our Frugal Living Tips lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Wed Jul 15 12:00:22 2009 Tags:

      simpsonized pass port photo

Today was a big city errand day. On top of the list was a passport photo, which finally gave me a chance to try out the Simpsonizeme website. I've tried the procedure in the past and it always denied my photo. Today Anna heard me grumbling at the computer and noticed that the site didn't seem to take enough time to scan my picture. She suggested trying it on the clunky Windows Vista side of the computer instead of the free wheeling Linux version I use most of the time.

Lo and behold that was the problem. A few minutes later it was done, but they seem to be stingy with giving you the complete download. They want you to email it to a friend and then they have to click on a link to view it. Maybe a select few will be chosen to form a spin-off show about a group of folks from the neighboring town of Shelbyville?

Posted Wed Jul 15 21:19:09 2009 Tags:

First cutting of hay.Lucy has found a rotting opossum and dragged it halfway home, dripping entrails and one-still discernable leg.  I pull my t-shirt up to cover my nose and hurry past, dodging piles of offal.

Past the unlimited green trees of our driveway, we reach the neighbor's hay field.  Lucy and I stop and gaze at new round bales forming a barricade along the property line.  Last hunting season, bright yellow "No Trespassing" signs sprang up here overnight, fraught with border tension.  But this wet summer's plentiful bales feel like a protective bulwark.

Back at home, I nearly delete an email from another neighbor.  "Meet Mr. Lucky!" it proclaims, and my fingers think the words are spam before I decipher the sender's name.  Do we want his spare rooster for our girls?  No, our white cochin has dropped her broodiness and reentered the world of scratching and pecking.  But thanks for asking!

Neighbors and the food chain --- each is colored by our own perception.  Life on the farm is what we make of it.

Posted Thu Jul 16 07:51:09 2009 Tags:

Reduced meatBefore Mark came along, I was nearly a vegetarian.  But Mark is a carnivore ---  if he doesn't get his red meat at least once a week, he goes stir crazy.  In fact, I've found that farm work goes a lot faster if I feed him meat at least every other day.

So, how do you put a chicken in every pot during a recession?  Head to your grocery store and check out the reduced meat section.  If you get there soon after a batch of meat has been marked down, you can bring home quite a haul for as low as a dollar a pound.  Toss it all in the freezer immediately and you can thaw it out at your leisure for the rest of the week.  It is perfectly safe to eat reduced meat as long as you don't let it sit around in your fridge for another few days first.

Finding reduced meat can turn your grocery store schlep into a fun adventure.  We've discovered that reduced meat is most copious around holidays like the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving, but you can also talk to the guy behind the meat counter and find out when he's likely to mark meat down.  I estimate that we save about $200 to $300 on meat every year by catching bargains.

This post is part of our Frugal Living Tips lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Thu Jul 16 12:00:20 2009 Tags:

   turn buckle brainerd

These small turnbuckles pack a lot of punch for just 2 dollars.

It's just the thing for getting a grape trellis post nice and taut.

Posted Thu Jul 16 18:19:05 2009 Tags:

Varroa mite on a honeybeeRemember how we're experimenting with foundationless frames to control varroa mites in our honeybee hives?  Traditional beekeepers put chemicals in the hive every fall to control the mites, but even the chemicals seem to be failing.

The USDA Agricultural Research Service has discovered what may become a solution to the varroa mite problem.  Since varroa mites find their hosts by smell, the scientists impregnated sticky paper with bee odors.  35 to 50% of mites in a hive with this sticky paper let go of their host bees and head to the paper, where the mites get stuck and die.  The product is still in the testing stages, though so far the honeybees seem unconcerned by the impregnated paper.

To read more about the study, check out this quick summary in Scientific American or this longer version on the ARS's website.

I'm simplifying here.  The "smells" are not necessarily smells --- they might be more like pheremones.  The scientists call them semiochemicals, which just means a chemical that carries a message.

Read other posts about foundationless frames and varroa mites:

Posted Fri Jul 17 07:56:26 2009 Tags:

Metal water bottleStaying hydrated is good for you, and the more water you drink the better you'll feel.  However, your wallet will feel much better if you break any dependence you currently have on bottled water.  Sure, it's easy to pick up a bottle from the vending machine at work, but did you know that if you traded tap water for a single purchased bottle of water per day, you'd save nearly $550 per year?  (Figure out the exact financial and environmental costs of bottled water here.)  Just buy two reusable water bottles (we've moved to metal for health reasons and because the water inside tastes much better) and you're all set for a 1,500% return on your investment in the first year.

But maybe you're not a water drinker.  Perhaps you imbibe soda at the national average of 557 cans per year, which can cost you anywhere from $200 if you buy it at the grocery store to $600 if you buy it out of a vending machine.  Instead, why not make your own sweet tea?  (That's southern-speak for sweetened iced tea.)  Mark likes his drinks sweet and copious, and I like to keep him off caffeine, so we pay top dollar for decaffeinated tea bags in the grocery store --- about $150 per year for his half gallon a day.  If you don't mind caffeinated tea bags, you will probably be paying half that, all while saving your body from the evils of high fructose corn syrup and scary additives.

This post is part of our Frugal Living Tips lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Fri Jul 17 12:00:30 2009 Tags:

hose Y split We installed a new Y splitter to create an additional sprinkler zone for the garden.

It's made of metal with plastic coating. We started out using one made entirely of plastic, which was a mistake I won't repeat again.

The plastic version sometimes leaked and eventually cracked.

The goal is to have the irrigation system down to just turning a valve off and another one on to switch zones. This way we can save more time for weeding and other wonderful activities on the farm.

Posted Fri Jul 17 19:21:37 2009 Tags:

Potato eaters paintingOur tomatoes seem unconcerned by the extra rains last month, but our potatoes went kaput.  That's right, the crop I told you needed nearly no care....  Sigh. 

My best guess is that they died from Verticillium wilt or maybe early blight, or one of the many other diseases caused by fungi and exacerbated by wet growing conditions.  Basically, the potatoes just died back earlier than expected, leaving behind puny tubers.

Every year, there are a few failures in the garden, and I'm honestly a bit relieved that this year's biggest failure is the potatoes.  We're once a week potato eaters, and I'd gladly trade the tubers for the deliciously sweet cucumbers we've been eating (the first year they've survived our cucurbit-unfriendly garden!)

Still, I like to learn from my mistakes, and I did discover a major one while researching potato diseases.  When I dug our potatoes last year, I accidentally missed a few which sat in the ground all winter and started to grow this spring.  This is very bad practice with potatoes since some diseases overwinter in the tubers.  So --- shun the fault I fell in!

Posted Sat Jul 18 08:36:23 2009 Tags:

It occurred to me last night when the sheet of tin fell off the first anti-deer contraption due to excessive wear. It was all backwards.

I'm using a golf ball with a wood screw threaded through the middle suspended by some 14 gauge brace wire. That functions as the new banger, and now the tin is what it crashes into.

Now we get the initial clang followed by a rubbing sound. The tin has a small indentation that holds the golf ball every 5th hit or so for just a few seconds, giving us that random effect that will be more effective in sounding unnatural and dangerous to the deer.

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 Jul 18 18:06:11 2009 Tags:

Mark spent years --- literally --- teaching me to take weekends off.  I'm finally starting to appreciate them as two days to dream, relax, visit, overdose on books, and allow myself time to compulsively follow whims.  This weekend, my compulsive whims are twofold.

Plans for a storage shedI've gotten a bee in my bonnet that I want to be able to speak a bit of Spanish when we go to Mexico on our cruise this fall.  I know its silly since we'll only have two days on shore and will be in touristy areas where everyone will probably speak English.  But I always used to dream that I'd be fluent in half a dozen languages, and was sorely disappointed when four years of high school Spanish didn't even make me fluent in one.  So I checked out Spanish in 30 Days (book and CD) from the library and have been enjoying lots of short, concentrated bouts of studying ever since.  My listening comprehension skills are horrible, which means it's a fun challenge.

My other whim is researching how to build simple and cheap sheds.  Mark and I finally decided that we needed to make him a little Avian Aqua Miser workshop --- he has been constructing our chicken waterers outdoors under a tarp.  On hot days, he's running with perspiration and is constantly swatting sweat bees.  On cloudy days, he has to scurry and put boxes under cover before they get soaked.  So we're hoping to build a little 8 by 16 foot shed by winter to enclose his work space and give him more room to invent.  (And maybe give me a little indoor bathing chamber with lots of windows....)  At the moment, it's only a dream, but that's what weekends are for, right?

Posted Sun Jul 19 08:10:58 2009 Tags:

   honda civic modification

The Boing Boing crew pointed me towards the amazing results achieved by Mike Turner and the new aero modification of his 1992 Honda Civic.

He's spent around 400 dollars and 250 hours of his time making the car more aerodynamic. The inspiration came from some of the older designs from the past that help to streamline air flow while decreasing fuel intake.

This bit of tinkering has changed his drag coefficient from .34 to .17, which can equal 90 MPG on a good day!

He claims that hitting a deer with a car like this scoops them up and over with minimal damage to car and deer. That would make it worth the 400 bucks right there. Watch this 8 second video if you have any doubts.

Posted Sun Jul 19 23:14:21 2009 Tags:

It's amazing how much beauty is out there on the internet --- the photo above was created by "3 cameras, 3 speedlights, one reflector, one water-proofed studio."  My nude models, in contrast, were much less entertaining.  I call this set of photos "Weekend Sloth", for obvious reasons:

Weekend Sloth

Posted Mon Jul 20 07:42:51 2009 Tags:

Sprinkling the gardenOur part of the central Appalachian mountains is nearly a temperate rainforest, with about 40 inches of rainfall scattered evenly throughout the average year.  Unfortunately, our first two years on the farm coincided with drought conditions, and I saw firsthand what happens when plants don't get enough water --- they just stop growing.  Berries are especially sensitive to lack of water, with experts recommending that they get at least an inch of water per week.  That's an inch as measured in a rain gauge, which should penetrate to about 6 to 12 inches into your soil.

The drought prompted us to start experimenting with the most cost and time effective way to get water to our plants. 
This week's lunchtime series runs through our attempts at irrigation --- both the failures and the successes.  Our situation is a bit unique, so you should consider your own conditions before putting our suggestions into practice.  Specifically, we are lucky to have copious water available even during the worst droughts since we have a creek which runs along the edge of our property --- no need to pay through the nose for city water and carefully preserve every drop.  On the other hand, the slight turbidity (muddiness) of our creek water makes some irrigation systems fail which would work well for city-dwellers.  I'd be very curious to hear how my experiences have differed from yours if you've also embarked on the irrigation journey.

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

Posted Mon Jul 20 12:00:24 2009 Tags:

I just found out about a fun new website last night. (Thanks Maggie) It allows you to build a short animation complete with your own custom dialog.

That's right. Just type in whatever you can think of and the actors do their job. You then have some choices to spice it up.

A basic account is free. Anna and I played with it for about 20 minutes last night and came up with the episode above. A premium account is only 5 dollars a month.

I've been waiting a long time for technology to make computer animation easier and more fun. It seems like that day is almost here if places like keep up the good work of bringing esoteric image manipulations down to a cookie cutter level.

Check out this one by rcg if you want a good laugh.

Posted Mon Jul 20 20:45:52 2009 Tags:

The drive to Mark's ancestral home in Kentucky is short but nerve-wracking.  Just across the Virginia-Kentucky border, the roads go haywire with steep dropoffs, square feet of pavement missing from important places, and a complete lack of guard rails.  I usually close my eyes and think of England.

So, when I felt the car slow, I feared the worst --- Mark had spied oncoming traffic.  Gulp.  But no menacing headlights materialized in front of my nervous eyes.  Instead, Mark was peering across the creek at a nicely mown yard complete with trampoline and free range chickens.
Free range chickens
The dozen hens were perched around the edges of the big trampoline, napping through the cloudy morning.  I didn't have the camera with me, so I've recreated the scene for your enjoyment.  Okay, so the hens weren't actually jumping on the trampoline in real life, but can you prove to me that they weren't leaping for joy moments before we drove past?

Posted Tue Jul 21 07:54:22 2009 Tags:

Although irrigation can really boost the yield of your garden, watering the wrong way can do more harm than good.  Here are a few problems caused by improper watering:

  • Frequent shallow watering tempts plants to keep all of their roots close to the soil surface.  When you forget to water for a few days, your plants shrivel up and die.  Instead, you should water deeply (about an inch of water at a time) once a week to promote the growth of deep roots.
  • Sprinkler irrigation in the evening can promote the growth of fungi, especially in sensitive plants like tomatoes.  For these plants, water first thing in the morning on a sunny day so that their leaves can dry off quickly, or use drip irrigation.
  • Explanation of soil crustingRapid watering with a hose can cause soil crust formation in clayey soils, especially if you tilled your soil too fine or during droughty conditions.  A soil crust forms when tiny soil particles are washed into the air pores between larger soil particles, forming a soild mass which prevents further water from soaking into the soil.  To prevent crusting, water clay soil lightly and use no-till techniques.  This USDA factsheet (from which I got the photo) gives a lot more information about soil crusting. 

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

Posted Tue Jul 21 12:00:22 2009 Tags:

Another deer made it into our perimeter last night, although it was the section not protected by the 2 noise generators. He even left a pile of droppings as a not so subtle comment on how he feels about the new anti-deer contraptions. The garden suffered some serious damage to one of the best producing beds of strawberries we have.

The short video clip above is the 3rd generation model in action. I used a small metal fence post for this one because there was no trellis post to take advantage of in this new location.

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 Tue Jul 21 20:02:53 2009 Tags:

Green beans and cornOne of the best pieces of gardening advice I've heard this year is: your very first gardening priority should be the harvest.  It's easy to get caught up in the gardening locomotive at this time of year and put weeding, mowing, watering, and planting at the top of your list.  But the whole point of the garden is the food, right?

Tuesday, we had an all garden dinner --- corn cooked for thirty seconds in boiling water so that it just turns yellow but there's no time for the sugars to convert to starch, Masai green beans sauteed in a little oil with six cloves of garlic, a cucumber and tomato salad dressed lightly with balsamic vinegar, and fried eggs for protein.  The only parts of our meal which came from elsewhere were the tomatoes (homegrown by Mark's buddy), and the oil, salt, pepper, and balsamic vinegar.  This is what gardening is all about!

Posted Wed Jul 22 08:04:40 2009 Tags:

Drip irrigation systemMost high tech farmers will tell you that drip irrigation is the best possible method to water your garden.  In some ways they are right --- drip irrigation minimizes your water usage by putting the water just where your plants need it.  You don't lose water to evaporation and you don't waste water by irrigating your aisles along with your garden beds.  I have seen professional organic farmers use drip irrigation very effectively, stringing long pipes under black plastic in raised rows.

However, for our purposes, drip irrigation failed us.  Here's why:

  • Drip irrigation depends on extremely clean water.  The tiniest particle of mud sucked up by our creek pump quickly clogged the holes in our irrigation system, which meant that the soil around the clogged holes got no water.  If you plan to install drip irrigation with anything except city water, you will need to install a serious filter and change it regularly.
  • Drip irrigation requires a lot of hoses and they have to be moved every year if you practice crop rotation.  Drip hoses with holes two feet apart for watering tomatoes will do that bed no good once you replace the tomatoes with onions spaced three inches apart.
  • Drip irrigation is made for row crops, not for beds.  I like to maximize space in my permanent raised beds by planting some crops --- carrots, lettuce, greens, etc. --- scattered across the entire surface.  Drip irrigation just doesn't work for this setup.
  • Drip irrigation is expensive.  I'm a skinflint.  Enough said.
  • To maximize the longevity of those expensive drip hoses, you need to put them under a mulch to prevent UV damage to the plastic.  Since most farmers don't have enough organic mulch to cover their entire garden, they usually end up covering the rows with that awful black plastic.  Evil, evil, evil!

All of that said, we do use drip irrigation for our perennial bush fruit.  There, we made the drip hoses ourselves out of 1 inch pipe that a friend was throwing out, drilling holes much larger than those found in storebought drip hoses.  In permanent plantings, drip irrigation does work wonders.

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

Posted Wed Jul 22 12:00:23 2009 Tags:

   Mintcraft sprayer clogging

I learned today not to leave even a little amount of water in the sprayer after using it. It doesn't take long to get some algae buildup, which will clog the end of the sprayer that reaches the bottom of the container.

It's pretty easy to clear the clog, which is another selling point for the MintCraft garden sprayer I reviewed last month.

Posted Wed Jul 22 17:03:54 2009 Tags:
Making no till beds with old weeds

Remember how I piled up weeds on some fallow beds a few weeks ago?  My hope was that the weeds would rot down into a mulch, killing the weeds on the bed and protecting the bare soil --- a sort of no-till cover crop.

This week I'm due to plant peas in those beds, so I went to poke at them.  The result --- it's a good technique, but needs a bit of tweaking.  The beds which I covered three weeks ago were nearly ready to plant into, but I had to pull a lot of weeds on the sides of the beds, making me think that I should have poured weed mulch there as well as on the bed tops.  I scraped back the mulch with my hands to open up two rows of bare soil, planted my peas, and sprinkled some of the mulch lightly over the soil-covered seeds.

Unfortunately, the weeds which I'd dumped on beds a week and a half ago weren't ready to be planted into yet.  I carefully picked through the weed mulch on one bed to remove any weeds which still showed color.  On another bed, I just gave in and yanked all of the weed mulch off.  I figure in the future, I should plan to leave the weeds at least a month to rot down before I plant.

Posted Thu Jul 23 07:37:12 2009 Tags:

Since drip irrigation didn't work for the majority of our garden, we turned to sprinklers.  We probably spent over a hundred dollars over the last two summers searching frantically for a sprinkler that fits our needs.  Here's what we discovered about the four major types of sprinklers:

Rotary sprinklerRotary sprinkler --- water gets forced out of two or three spinning arms, irrigating a circular area.  The problem is that the water outlets are very small and clog easily in turbid water.  When one arm clogs, the sprinkler stops spinning and just sits there soaking two spots in the garden until you run out and poke at the clogged arm with a pin, getting soaked in the process.  (Yes, I speak from personal experience.)

Oscillating sprinklerOscillating sprinkler --- water comes out of several holes along a metal tube, which moves from side to side so that a rectangular area is watered.  This has the same clogging problem as the rotary sprinkler, although at least the tube keeps moving when one hole clogs.

Pulsating sprinklerPulsating sprinkler --- our pride and joy!  Water comes out of a big hole in a steady stream so that the sprinkler never clogs, then the water is broken up by moving parts into a gentle mist.  You can set the sprinkler to water a full circle or any type of semicircle and can also set the diameter of the circle as well as the size of the water droplets.  These sprinklers have the bonus of being able to water areas as large as 100 feet in diameter.  We started with a cheap plastic version, then upgraded to the metal version shown here, which cost us about $10 per sprinkler (bought in two-packs at the big box store.)

Stationary sprinklerStationary sprinkler --- this is merely a chunk of metal with no moving parts, so it's pretty indestructible.  Like the pulsating sprinkler, there is no clogging problem, and the kind we bought has the major bonus that it will run on low water pressure.  (We had to hook the other three types directly to the big pump to make them run, but our stationary sprinklers run on gravity from our thousand gallon tank.)  The downside to stationary sprinklers is that they only water small areas, but I like to use them to fill in gaps in our irrigation setup, watering solitary beds which would be wasteful to water with the pulsating sprinkler.

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

Posted Thu Jul 23 12:00:24 2009 Tags:

Scotch heavy duty tape dispenserWe upgraded to a second packaging tape dispenser recently to speed things along in the Avian Aqua Miser building process.

This one is made by Scotch, and it's considered heavy duty. It was about 10 bucks, which includes a small roll of tape.

It works better than the cheaper model we bought back in the winter, and it has a nice feature that hides the cutting blades until one puts pressure on the top guard.

Posted Thu Jul 23 18:55:00 2009 Tags:
Checking the bee hive

We hadn't dug into our hives in quite a while, so Thursday we went out to check on the bees.  The last couple of times we checked, the bees had barely made any progress and hadn't yet started to build on their supers.  This time was different.

The recent flow of sourwood nectar jumpstarted three of the four hives.  Take a gander at the capped honey on the frame to the left below.  I had been worried that the bees didn't like the foundationless frames on the supers, but now the brood box frames are totally full on three hives, and two of those hives had started filling in the frames on the supers.

One hive, though, is lingering behind.  The picture to the right below is one of the edge frames from the brood box --- still barely built on.  I'm concerned that these girls might not survive the winter if they don't start working harder.  I'll have to do some research and see if there's any remedy.

One foundationless frame which was barely built on and one full of honey.
Posted Fri Jul 24 08:18:07 2009 Tags:

We attach our sprinklers to fence posts so they'll spray over tall plants.During the 2008 droughty summer, we were low on both time and money since I was working for pennies at a local nonprofit.  After shelling out so much cash to find a type of sprinkler that worked for us, we could only afford to get a couple of them.  So I laboriously moved hoses and sprinklers multiple times a week to reach every zone in the garden, often crushing plants at the edges of beds in the process.

This year, we're working on a more permanent setup.  The upfront cost has been about $80, since we splurged on several more sprinklers, but we've nearly gotten to the point where we can water the entire garden just by flicking a switch and then a series of valves.  Our permanent system consists of pulsating sprinklers on three foot tall fenceposts at the edges of the garden --- the height allows water to spray over tall beds of tomatoes to reach shorter plants in the background.  We turn on two sprinklers at a time, since adding any more sprinklers to the system drains the water pressure.

Head to head coverage of sprinklersWe're still tweaking the system to achieve the head to head coverage recommended by sprinkler experts.  We'll keep you posted about anything we figure out as we optimize this stage.

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

Posted Fri Jul 24 12:00:24 2009 Tags:

flip pliersI forget the name for these flip pliers. I bought them during a stage of my life when I was doing industrial fencing...that's chain link fence...not fancy sword fighting for some corporate pirate outfit.

Some days I would spend hour after hour securing long lines of chain link fence to its respective post. These pliers were good for that, but not optimal. They mainly functioned as a back up to my heavier duty set.

I thought this particular tool was gone forever in that vast vacuum of nothingness that tools disappear to. It showed up earlier this week when we were helping my mom with some home repair jobs. Somehow it got mixed in with her tools and she was happy to match it back up with its previous owner. Thanks Mom!

What I really like it for is the help it provides while I put together the hanger portion of what I think is the best chicken waterer money can buy. I used to use needle nose pliers, and then channel locks to finish each hanger. Now I just give these flip pliers a West Side Story switchblade twist and I'm switching tools without setting one down.

I think this tool is on par with the Trake...yes, it's that good.

Posted Fri Jul 24 16:32:25 2009 Tags:

Green bean and potato saladMark has been quashing his carnivorous urges and we've been eating a lot of all vegetable dinners this week.  Last night I made a Green Bean and Potato Salad which was remarkably delicious!

We used Mark's mom's Roma Beans, which we rate 7/10 for taste (compared to Masai which we rate 10/10) and our poor, blighted potatoes.  I can't wait to see how much better the salad will be with our beloved Masai Beans!

Posted Sat Jul 25 08:07:09 2009 Tags:

chopper1 axe animation with LucyWe found a Chopper1 axe at a yard sale today for just 10 bucks.

Bob Kolonia invented it back in 1975. What makes it unique is the rotating levers on each side of the axe's head. The levers swing out, directing the downward chopping force outward and exploding the log apart from the inside. His website has a nice animation that explains the process better. Ours is missing one of the return springs and pin that holds the spring. I'm sure I can rig something up before winter sets in. Stay tuned to see how well this baby chops wood compared to our Super Splitter.

Posted Sat Jul 25 18:39:59 2009 Tags:

Picking beans from a ladderOne day when I was a kid, my parents dragged me along to a garden party.  I was even more antisocial then than I am now, so I disappeared off into the plants for the afternoon.  The garden was a wonder of flowers, fruit, and vegetables, many I'd never seen before.  When no one was looking, I nibbled on the first currant I'd ever tasted.  Somewhere between the broccoli and the strawberries, I imprinted on that garden just like a baby chicken can imprint on its human handlers.

Fast forward a decade or two into the future, and I met the owners of the garden for the first time in my adult life.  The husband had become my co-worker at the nonprofit, and I was awed when I went over to his house and saw the garden which I vividly recalled from childhood.  The wife is the main garden tender, and she soon became my garden guru.

Saturday, we went over to visit them and their garden.  As usual, I was stunned by the results of thirty years of organic soil amendments.  Their corn was literally twice as tall as my corn.  And, as you can see in this photo, they pick their beans with a full size ladder!

Posted Sun Jul 26 10:19:39 2009 Tags:

automatic chicken coop door takes the guess work out of building your own automatic chicken coop door opener with its complete kit for 150 dollars.

Could you build something cheaper that does the same thing? Maybe...
depending on your skill level and access to tools and supplies...and then there's the time issue. I think we all can imagine a project like this taking more hours than anticipated to get it just right.

Chances are if you are in need of such a device you want it right away before some hungry raccoon decides to make a midnight snack out of your best laying hen.

It seems like it would be worth the money, time, and emotional anguish to splurge for the door if you prevent even one attack from happening. Of course another solution is to abandon the coop concept and make your birds a chicken tractor, but I know that's just not possible for some folks.

While you're simplifying your chicken care lives, you might check out our homemade chicken waterer.Automatic chicken door

Edited to add:

After years of research, Mark eventually settled on
this automatic chicken door.

You can see a summary of the best chicken door alternatives and why he chose this version here.

If you're planning on automating your coop, don't forget to pick up one of our chicken waterers.  They never spill or fill with poop, and if done right, can only need filling every few days or weeks!

Posted Sun Jul 26 16:03:21 2009 Tags:
Anna Deer visit

Mark with the gun"Mark, get the gun!" I shrieked.

Did those words really come out of my pacifist, animal-loving mouth?  But there she stood --- a beautiful doe --- between the sweet corn and the sweet potatoes.  It was broad daylight, so our deer deterrants were turned off, and Lucy was snuggled up in her dog house to avoid the drizzle.

By the time the words left my mouth, the deer was gone, leaping through tall weeds back into the woods.  Mark shot after her anyway.  "And stay out!" the rifle retorts seemed to be saying.

Maybe we need to leave the "clankers" (as I've been known to call them) on during the day?

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 Mon Jul 27 07:22:13 2009 Tags:

Thumbs up and thumbs downMark and I enjoy reviewing interesting products, books, and other things which pass through our lives.  A lot of them seem really cool at the time, then fade into obscurity.  Others become integral parts of our lives.

Like a love affair, what counts isn't the first flush of lust, but the lasting joy of togetherness.  This week's lunchtime series revisits some of the top products we've reviewed over the last ten months to see which ones have sticking power.

This post is part of our Re-Reviews lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Mon Jul 27 12:00:23 2009 Tags:

Egyptian onion top bulbsOur Egyptian onions made a lot more top bulbs this summer than I'd expected.  I've given them to every family member who will take them, shipped them out with our automatic chicken waterers, and mailed some to my loyal readers.  But we still have a few hundred top bulbs left, and I'd like them to go in the ground soon.

So it's time for Egyptian onion giveaway number 3!  This time, I'm going to mail out a lot of bulbs --- maybe a hundred or more, depending on what's left in the box.  To enter the giveaway, just leave a comment on any post by August 3.  I'll throw your name in the hat (multiple times if you make multiple comments) then will contact the winner through the blog.  (Be sure to check back on August 4 to see if you won!)  That way you have an incentive to leave us lots of comments.  I look forward to hearing from you!

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

Posted Mon Jul 27 17:27:46 2009 Tags:

Portal to LoveThe most unexpected perk I've run into with our chicken waterer microbusiness is the strangers I meet who turn out to be both kind and fun.  Author and blogger Julie A. Carda posted a delightful story of her chickens' introduction to the Avian Aqua Miser yesterday, making me grin from ear to ear.

The story was just the kind of flight of fancy I adore reading, so I wasn't surprised to find that Julie has written two books full of intrigue, romance, espionage, and the paranormal.  You can buy the first one either as an ebook or a paperback.  Or just download the second book for free.  (Once you decide you love it, you can head back to her site and leave a donation.)

Thanks for the story, Julie!

Posted Tue Jul 28 08:07:51 2009 Tags:

Podcasts, games, magazines, movies, and websites:

5 starsAgroinnovations podcast - Mark's still listening regularly and enjoys their high quality archives.

5 starsCarcassone: The Discovery - I still adore this game, probably because I've only gotten to play it a half dozen times when Joey and I get together.

5 starsStar Trek - still one of the best movies we've seen all year.  I suspect we'll watch it again a time or two once it comes out on DVD.

5 starsC-realm podcast - Mark still listens to it every week when it comes out.

4 starsThe Field Lab - He gets four stars just for showing up every day.  The information can be a bit repetitive, but Mark keeps going back for more, watching the day by day unfolding of an American dream.

3.5 starsYoga videos - the winter retreated and yoga fled with it.  I may go back to these videos when the cold weather returns, but we'll have to wait and see.

3 starsCountryside Magazine - seemed like a good magazine, but I only have room for so many magazines in my life, so I stopped reading.

1 starRoyalty free music - Mark thought this was cool, until he realized that it was far from free.  The music was vastly overpriced, and he won't be going back.

This post is part of our Re-Reviews lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Tue Jul 28 12:00:21 2009 Tags:

   collage of diy automatic chicken door

I like Chris and Keri's automatic chicken door solution for several reasons. The design is simple, solid, and cheap to do for under 20 bucks, and they have detailed pictures with videos, and a wiring schematic to make the process easy for someone who might want to follow in this direction.

I've been looking at several different versions of these automatic doors on the internet and this is one of the first to use limit switches, which might come in handy for future experiments.

This is a plan I would favor because of the low cost and easy to follow directions. Thanks for sharing Chris and Keri. Automatic chicken door

Edited to add:

After years of research, Mark eventually settled on
this automatic chicken door.

You can see a summary of the best chicken door alternatives and why he chose this version here.

If you're planning on automating your coop, don't forget to pick up one of our chicken waterers.  They never spill or fill with poop, and if done right, can only need filling every few days or weeks!

Posted Tue Jul 28 17:39:45 2009 Tags:

Snow pea pod ready to save the seedsRemember our beautiful snow peas?  Now they don't look quite so beautiful, having died back into a mass of brown vines.  That means the peas are ready for the second harvest --- saving the seeds!

I'm hit or miss on my seed-saving, but I do like to save the easy ones --- peas, beans, and okra.  It's hard to go wrong.  Just leave some pods on the plant until they turn brown and dead, shell out the seeds, and store them in an air tight container.  Or, if you're like me, toss them in an open pint canning jar and forget about them until next year when they sprout great anyway.

The great thing about saving snow pea seeds is that you don't even have to set aside a special bed for it.  You'll inevitably allow a few pods to get too woody before you pick them --- just leave those on the vine and they'll mature nicely.  I missed enough snow pea pods to provide seeds for at least a year.

Read other posts about saving seeds:

Posted Wed Jul 29 08:00:25 2009 Tags:

Home and shop tools:

5 starsFuji Finepix S100fd - We both still adore this camera.  We've yet to use all of its features, or to reach many limits in its abilities.  The only thing it doesn't seem to do well is extremely low light conditions without a flash, but I suspect we just haven't found the proper setting for that yet.

5 starsLiquid nails - I think that if Mark had to choose between me and a lifetime supply of liquid nails, it might be a hard choice....

5 starsPalomino grain cowhide gloves - Still Mark's all-time favorite gloves.

5 stars
Skil saw - This electric saw keeps right on going.  We often bring it with us when we need to do home repairs away from the farm.

4 starsUltimate sink strainer - a piece broke off the bottom of one strainer under light wear, but the lost piece didn't seem to affect the strainer's performance.  A great replacement to the dishrag mashed in the drain with a pint canning jar. :-)

3 starspStyle - I thought the pStyle was a great idea, but I forgot about it after a week.  Must have been the return of warm weather.

Champion 3000 watt generator - It's sitting in the barn looking pretty.  We've yet to have a serious power outage, so haven't revved it up.  We probably should give it a spin, though, just to see how it works.

This post is part of our Re-Reviews lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Wed Jul 29 12:00:24 2009 Tags:

   club car in the summer

We had another flat on the Club Car golf cart yesterday. It was on the only wheel without an inner tube. That's 3 separate trips to the tire guy in the span of a year.

The lesson to learn here is if you're going to use a golf cart under heavy farm conditions then you might as well install inner tubes in all 4 tires and save yourself some time and energy.

Posted Wed Jul 29 17:13:59 2009 Tags:

Redi-Set Go Indoor GrillEverett sent us a Redi-Set Go Indoor Grill to test out last week.  While the recipes included were aimed at the culinary illiterate, the grill itself worked like a charm.  I tested it out on fish patties and banana muffins and was very impressed by the quick and easy cooking.  Both came out pleasantly browned with a crusty exterior and a moist interior.  I did have to use some oil despite the pans being non-stick.  (This may be par for the course --- I know very little about non-stick surfaces.)

I think the grill may fill a nice niche in our cooking lives, fixing small dishes which only Mark likes (such as the fish patties) or which I want to whip together quickly in the morning (like the banana muffins.)  What I like the best is that the grill stores on its end, so it only takes up about three or four inches of counter space.

My biggest warning --- don't open the enclosed recipe book and get excited by the picture of lava cake muffins.  That recipe is not included.  I guess I'll be looking for a good lava cake recipe now --- anyone?

Posted Thu Jul 30 08:04:32 2009 Tags:

Garden and water tools:

5 starsTC1840H Garden Cart - I would recommend this cart to anyone.  We've ridden it hard and put it to bed wet, and still it keeps right on hauling all of our household and garden supplies.

5 starsRidgid 1 HP Sump Pump - This is our well pump, and it keeps right on pumping like a dream!

5 starsThousand gallon tank - Still plugging right along, making our life easier.

5 starsTrake - I'd like to give this tool six stars, but it would mess up my rating system.  The trake makes weeding a joy!

4 starsHeavy hauler - The heavy hauler continues to hold up under serious abuse.  The only downside is that it's hard to maneuver by hand --- keep it hitched up to the golf cart or your lawn tractor and you'll be in good shape.

4 starsMintcraft garden sprayer - A competent gadget for the price.  For under $20, what would you expect?

4 starsKink-free flex hose adapter - still keeping our well hose kink-free many months later.

This post is part of our Re-Reviews lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Thu Jul 30 12:00:25 2009 Tags:

   heavy duty tarp collage

A heavy duty tarp has a million uses on a farm. Don't waste your time or money on the lower grade tarps that barely last a few months before they start showing signs of wear.

We put ours to use today on the roof over a trouble spot that insists on leaking in the middle of our kitchen. With any luck it will stay dry long enough to finish up the repair tomorrow.

Posted Thu Jul 30 19:09:15 2009 Tags:

Bird nest in the snow peasA month ago, a Song Sparrow took up residence in the snow peas.  I saw her flit away every time I went out to pick peas, but I didn't think any more of it, especially since the season was almost over and I soon stopped picking.

Yesterday, though, I went out to harvest the rest of the seeds.  I kept waiting for a dry day, but finally threw up my hands and harvested in a gentle rain, discarding the seeds that had sprouted (or molded) in the pod.  The seeds are drying on a tray now --- about a pint of them which I figure means we have some to spare for a future giveaway!

Anyhow, as I started to rip out the dead vines post-harvest, I was stunned to see a perfect bird's nest right smack in the middle.  My resident Song Sparrow wasn't just nibbling on insects in the foliage as I'd suspected, she was raising her young!  The nest was empty now, except for some gnawed on pea seeds.  (Perhaps a mouse took up residence after the birds moved out?)  So after snapping some photos, I tore the nest out to add to the mulch on a dormant bed.  A little toad hopped away while I was working, and I was stunned that one garden bed could support so much life.

Posted Fri Jul 31 07:28:41 2009 Tags:


5 starsMycelium Running - This is still one of the most fascinating books I've read this year.  Although my morel cultivation didn't work out, I'm going to keep experimenting.

5 starsEdible Forest Gardens, volume 2 - I'm still incorporating this book's information into our gardening lives and I rank it right up there with Mycelium Running.  That reminds, I wanted to order the first volume in the set from interlibrary loan....

4 starsThe Backyard Beekeeper - I pored over this book for weeks when we started out with our bees, and I still dip back into it.  A keeper.

4 starsThe 4-Hour Work Week - Some books you love at the time, then forget about.  This book was the opposite.  At first, I wasn't so sure that I liked it, but I kept coming back to its advice as we developed our microbusiness.  Now I'm about due to re-read it.

3.5 starsThe Good Life - Bits of this book keep popping back into my head, though it's not one I'd feel the need to own.

3 starsLetters from the Hive - A fun book, but I passed it on and didn't miss it.

3 starsFull Moon Feast - Falls into the Letters from the Hive category.  A good book to check out of the library.

3 starsThe Ultimate Cheapskate - I enjoyed this book at the time, but I honestly can't say I remember much about it.

This post is part of our Re-Reviews lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Fri Jul 31 12:00:22 2009 Tags:

We had another deer invasion last night. Some minor damage to the sweet potato leaves on the far end of the garden. I'm coming to the conclusion that these anti-deer contraptions have an effective range of about 50 feet.

The 4th contraption was built today with a bonus sound. After the tin smashing sound we now get a thunk or a clink when the golf ball hits the new steel cup which is the same one Anna took around the world during her Watson fellowship.

Maybe now this will cover our entire garden perimeter...time will tell.

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

Posted Fri Jul 31 17:16:42 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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