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

archives for 07/2010

Jul 2010

Closeup of young butternut squash fruitsEven though I'm the primary cook around here, Mark does nearly all the grocery shopping.  I just hate shopping, so every two weeks, I hand Mark a list and send him to the big city.  He always comes home with everything on the this and that.  When I first started converting him to Walden Effect eating, the "this and that" were things like biscuits-in-a-can and lemon cookies.  Nowadays, I roll my eyes when he brings out of season butternut.

Yes, we've become such fans of butternuts (especially butternut pie) that Mark's hard pressed to live without them over the summer.  I didn't know they would be such a hit, so I only put in two small beds last year, and we ran out of the delicious fruits in the middle of the winter.  This year, I expanded the planting to encompass three beds, and I fed the soil well.  Cucurbits love a good meal of manure, and before I knew it, the butternuts had zipped off their own beds, across the aisle, and were partying with the tomatoes.  Bad butternuts!

Cage around butternut squash As every parent knows, proper limits are essential in raising a healthy child...I mean, butternut.  And parents definitely have to work together to set those boundaries.  So Mark and I went out as a team to train our recalcitrant butternuts to toe the line.  Mark hammered in fence posts and I strung up pea trellis material to cage our butternuts in.  Now they can play as hard as they want and we won't have to worry about them skipping curfew.

Find time to party with the tomatoes --- become self-employed with Microbusiness Independence.
Posted Thu Jul 1 06:54:01 2010 Tags:

PETA protesting eggsI know that many of you are still stuck on the ethics of eating meat simply because you can't bear to think that you were personally responsible for the death of a cuddly cow or cute chicken.  If you're going to go that route, you should definitely become a vegan, since being a vegetarian doesn't prevent the death of livestock --- check out my essay about the bloody side of eggs, for example.

But I hope you'll consider the fact that most of the animals that we kill are domesticated livestock that wouldn't be able to survive in the wild if turned loose to fend for themselves.  We've entered into a contract with our cows and pigs, just as we have with our cats and dogs (although the terms are a bit different.)  We feed them, shelter them, and give them a happy life...until the day the guillotine falls.

Chickens in a village in ThailandIn nature, omnivores (like humans) eat other animals, and death is part of life.  It just made sense to those first Red Jungle Fowl to hang around human villages, staying where the food was copious and the predators were few.  In effect, the chickens-to-be traded a dangerous life full of wild predators for a safe and easy life with only one predator --- man.

On the other hand, pain and suffering are not part of the contract --- I believe that CAFOs void the terms of our domestication agreement.  On our homestead, chickens are raised on pasture, live a happy life, and are killed quickly, so I consider this a valid way to honor the agreement early humans and Red Jungle Fowl made when the latter started hanging around camps of the former.

When I was in high school, I knee-jerked toward semi-vegetarianism, but since then I've examined the issue in more detail and concluded that eating meat in moderation is better for the planet.  In many ways, I think that being a vegetarian is a lot like washing the birds caught in the oil spill --- both actions make us feel better about living in a dangerous world in which things die, but neither action actually helps that world become a better place.  I'd like to make the world a better place.

Want to make your chickens' world a better place?  Add a homemade chicken waterer and improve their health while preventing feather pecking.

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

Posted Thu Jul 1 12:00:29 2010 Tags:
cute close up of mother hen and chick

I've been curious to know how long it might take for the baby chick to break away from the mother hen and sleep on her own roost.

The current sleeping spot is atop an old stump, which seems a little crowded to me.

Posted Thu Jul 1 23:05:24 2010 Tags:

Planting seed potatoes the Ruth Stout wayMy beekeeping mentor told me that he waits until June to plant most of his potatoes, which means he doesn't have to store the mature tubers during the heat of the summer.  Since potatoes are primarily a storage crop and have a limited shelf life, planting them as late as possible makes sense.

However, when I went shopping for seed potatoes at the beginning of June, all of the feed stores looked at me like I was crazy.  Instead, I decided to see whether I could just plant some of my halfway matured spring potatoes in new beds for a fall crop.

I was so happy with the Ruth Stout method of potato planting last time around that I decided to take it a step further this time.  I simply spread manure on a freshly weeded bed, plopped down the seed potatoes, and covered everything up with a thick layer of grass clippings.

Sprouted and unsprouted seed potatoes

Since then, I've been waiting, and waiting, and waiting.  Nothing has happened.  When I poked around under the mulch, I discovered that very few of the seed potatoes had sprouted.  In fact, all of the small new potatoes that I had put in the ground whole were sitting there, while only the few potatoes that were large enough to be cut in half had begun to grow.  I've read that some companies sell new potatoes as seed potatoes, but I clearly haven't discovered the trick yet.

Since the beds are well mulched and growing no weeds, I'm going to let them sit for another month or two even though I now have small hope of a fall potato harvest.  I'll let you know if anything exciting happens, or whether I end up just digging the seed potatoes to eat.

Sick of spending forty plus hours per week working for someone else?  Create your own job that pays the bills in a fraction of the time.
Posted Fri Jul 2 07:48:43 2010 Tags:

Chicken in a forest pastureThere are really only two environmentally and ethically conscious ways to eat meat --- buy from very small farmers who raise livestock as part of permaculture systems or raise those animals yourself.  We're still a long way from reaching this optimal state, but I hope you'll let me show you what I hope our homestead will eventually look like.

Here in the eastern United States, forests are the native ecosystem for most areas, so I envision creating forest pastures to raise both chickens and pigs while allowing many native plants and animals to coexist.  In the prairie states, long-grass pastures are probably more appropriate.  In either case, it's also essential to spread livestock out so that manure becomes a boon rather than a pollutant --- don't raise more pigs than can be used to fertilize your garden.

We already feed all of our food waste to the chickens, but we don't waste much, so the scraps don't make up much of their diet.  We've approached all of the local grocery stores, hoping that they might give us spoiled produce, but unfortunately that is against corporate policy.  Those of you who live in urban areas would probably have better luck approaching small restaurants, and might be able to feed your livestock on food waste alone. 
Deer in the Clinch River
Hunting is another way of feeding ourselves high quality meat in a relatively natural setting.  Since deer are overpopulated in our area, we'll be focusing more on this option as time goes on.  Then there are honeybees --- while they only provide empty calories, it's hard to complain about a source of food that takes up no more than two square feet of land and produces roughly 49,000 calories per year.

Unless you make weekly airplane flights or turn on the air conditioner with the windows open, changing your eating choices is probably your best bet for helping the earth.  37% of the earth's terrestrial area is currently devoted to producing food, and at the same time habitat destruction is the biggest cause of extinction on the planet.  Isn't it time that we put some deeper thought into our food choices so that there will be a bit of space left for wildlife to survive?

Our homemade chicken waterer never spills or fills with poop.

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

Posted Fri Jul 2 12:00:26 2010 Tags:

This automatic chicken coop door design is called the up swing version for obvious reasons.

You can get the complete kit from a guy named Jeremy for around 135 dollars which includes an adjustable timer.

I like the way the movement goes out, which seems less risky than the guillotine like action of most automatic chicken coop doors. 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 Fri Jul 2 17:07:39 2010 Tags:

White Cochin eggsDespite their uncomfortable roosting arrangement, the mother hen and her chick are clearly midway through the weaning process.  Our youngest chicken is no longer glued to its mother's side, and instead opts to spend most of its time foraging with the cockerels.

With her first chick ready to fly the coop, Mama Hen has decided to move on.  Tuesday, I noticed her exploring the cockerel's coop, and Wednesday I found two eggs tucked in an out of the way corner.  I'm tempted to leave the eggs alone and see if our broody hen will successfully raise a larger clutch of chicks, but I'm not sure whether our cockerels are actually mature enough to be fathers.  Some of them are crowing, but the sounds are far from a real "cock-a-doodle-doo!"  What do you think?  Is a three month old rooster old enough to be a father?

Give your flock a homemade chicken waterer to play with and do away with feather pecking.
Posted Sat Jul 3 08:41:44 2010 Tags:

automatic chicken waterer bucket style

This automatic bucket waterer was easy to put together with a
DIY kit, a shelf bracket, some scrap wood, and a handfull of drywall screws.

A future system will make use of a 50 gallon plastic drum with some sort of  gutter collecting run off water from the roof of the chicken coop.

Posted Sat Jul 3 16:41:28 2010 Tags:

Sepp Holzer's pondHas anyone ever tried gleying a pond?  Gleying seems to be an old Russian method that mimics the way ponds sometimes form in nature.  The goal is to produce an anaerobic layer in the soil underneath the pond, which somehow prevents water from percolating through (perhaps due to slime on the anaerobic bacteria.)  Here are tips for gleying a pond, compiled from various websites (none of which feels very definitive):

Create a six to nine inch layer of fresh compostables.  Some sites recommend using a layer of animal manure covered by a second layer of high carbon waste material such as paper or cardboard.  Other sites note that grass clippings can be used in place of the manure, and still others leave out the high carbon layer.

Get your compostables wet, then seal out the air.  Most people recommend adding a layer of soil on top and tamping it down, but others mention putting plastic over the pond to keep air out completely.  Still other sources seem to consider the cardboard layer to be the one that seals air out.

Wait two to three weeks.  During this time, you shouldn't allow your gley to dry up, but you can't fill the pond yet.  After the wait, your pond is supposed to be permanently sealed...or sealed for a couple of years (depending on who you talk to.)

Pig used to seal a pondI'm a bit leery of the technique because I can't find anyone who mentions that they have tried it personally, although second and third hand reports abound.  I'm also curious to know whether anaerobic pond muck from the alligator swamp would provide instant gley.  If I hauled out a few bucketsful and used the muck to line a little indentation in our forest garden, would we have a mini pond?  Or is the anaerobic layer something that forms in place and can get disrupted by digging?  Clearly, gleying a small pond is going to have to be added to my post-growing season experiments list!

(As a side note, I couldn't find a single picture on the internet of gleying a pond.  The closest ones were these photos of Sepp Holzer's pig method of sealing a pond.  As usual, click on the image to view the source website.)

Our homemade chicken waterer never spills or fills with poop.
Posted Sun Jul 4 08:37:39 2010 Tags:
automatic bucket waterer

This was my first attempt at the latest automatic bucket waterer. I think it once held cooking oil.

The main problem with a container like this is the thickness of the plastic. Two of the nipples screwed in fine, but one of them didn't seem to have enough plastic to bite into and ended up leaking.

Posted Sun Jul 4 20:20:49 2010 Tags:

Mark and his motherThis weekend, I tricked Mark and his mom into taking me to Sunwatch Indian Village in Dayton.  My companions win the patience award for not even looking bored while I took notes for three hours on how Native Americans fed themselves 800 years ago.  Okay, maybe they do look a little bored....

I was intrigued by this particular window into the past because corn had just become the mainstay of the Native American diet, making up over half of the villagers' diets.  Meat (76% of which was venison) made up another 40% of their diets, so I wasn't surprised that the Sunwatch villagers were actually less healthy than their recent ancestors, with over half of their children dying before the age of six.  We all know that a diet of corn and meat with very few fruits and vegetables isn't going to promote good health.

The villagers stored their corn for the winter in large, grass-lined storage pits.  Each family of six to eight people had their own pit, which would hold 500 or more pounds of corn.  I loved the museum's reconstruction of a typical storage pit while in use:

Fort Ancient corn storage pit

...and then, once emptied of corn, how it might have looked when filled with the family's garbage...

Fort Ancient midden pit

...and, finally, what the pit looked like when archaeologists carefully picked through it 800 years later:

Midden-filled corn storage pit 800 years later

Three sisters gardenThe reconstructed village also included a typical three sisters garden, which I've pictured here.  Unfortunately, there was much less interpretation about the garden than about the buildings, so I came away with more questions than answers.  Most importantly, I ended up curious about how the Native Americans combatted the squash vine borers, which my trained eye noticed were already hard at work wiping out the pumpkins in Sunwatch's garden.  Does anyone know?

Charred base of post to protect from rot and insectsI posted some images of the lodges in my review of Sunwatch Village over on our Clinch Trails website (which I've decided to reenvision as our travel website), but what caught my eye in the architectural arena was the way the Native Americans burned the bases of their posts to protect the wood from insects and rot.  I would have thought that charring the base of a post would make it less structurally sound, but presumably they knew what they were doing.

On the other hand, the buildings weren't meant to last forever.  Like my method of intentionally underbuilding, the Sunwatch villagers were used to moving on after a couple of decades when firewood and game in the immediate vicinity had been exhausted.  As with slash and burn agriculture, the sustainability of using up all of an area's resources and then travelling to a new region is questionable, but the method might make sense if populations are low enough that the land is given a century to recover after each episode.

Native American watch tower

Finally, doesn't this watch platform look perfect?  I've long wanted to have one of these in the middle of the garden with a ramp up to the platform so Lucy could nap there and watch over our entire domain.  Who knows --- the Sunwatch villagers might have even let their dogs stand watch there too!

Our homemade chicken waterer is perfect in coops and tractors.
Posted Mon Jul 5 07:38:23 2010 Tags:

Close up of Dewalt drill 18voltOur Black and Decker 18 volt drill has been replaced with a DeWalt.

You can feel the increased power and torque the first time you use this beauty.

Well worth the extra cost if you find yourself delving into more advanced projects.

Posted Mon Jul 5 17:32:14 2010 Tags:

Buckwheat seedlingI'm searching for a cover crop that:

  • is reliably winter-killed in zone 6 (meaning that I don't have to till it in or pull it out)
  • is non-leguminous (so that I'll get lots of organic matter rather than lots of nitrogen)
  • will survive in our problem spots --- dense, clayey soil with a high water table

So far, buckwheat and oats seem to be my top contenders.  I've been slipping buckwheat into gaps in my rotation this month, beds where spring crops have been pulled out with nothing to take their place for at least six weeks.  Next month, I'll plant oats in empty beds.

If all goes as planned, our cover crops will turn into a heavy mulch that will partially or entirely decompose in time for spring planting.  It's even possible that the buckwheat will die in five or six weeks when I mow it down at bloom time, allowing me to plant garlic under the green manure a few weeks later.

Do you have a favorite no-till cover crop?  I'm open to any and all suggestions since this year is our first trial.

Beat the summer heat with a homemade chicken waterer.
Posted Tue Jul 6 08:27:35 2010 Tags:
Lucy in the sky with buckets

I take back my previous 5 gallon bucket stacking suggestion after todays discovery.

The handle is obviously made to tuck into another bucket to prevent stickage.

I need to take more time and listen to my tools more often...I wonder what other obvious secrets will be imparted my way if I can just listen a little harder?

Posted Tue Jul 6 19:45:42 2010 Tags:

Basket of Egyptian onion top bulbsI seem to have slightly over-planted our Egyptian onions this year.  I only put in three small beds...and then three more patches sprang up from compost piles where I'd tossed the excess bulbs.  The result was so many onions that I didn't even put a dent in the population by pulling whole plants to eat over the winter, and now that it's time to harvest the top bulbs, I'm officially overwhelmed.  This basket is less than a third of the harvest!

Rather than composting the top bulbs (a method that clearly failed last year), I'm going to sell them in big bunches to anyone willing to start a good-sized Egytian onion patch.  I don't really want to get into the retail side of mailing off a few bulbs here and there, but if you're a regular commenter and just want a tiny start, email me and I'll likely oblige you.  You definitely want these plants in your garden if you grow in zones 3 through 9.  Sorry, I can't mail them outside the U.S.

Sold out!

To order, click on the paypal button above to buy 100 top bulbs for $25 (with free shipping.)  100 bulbs will weigh approximately 5 ounces and will be enough to start one good-sized bed that will feed one or two average people.  Your package will contain small, medium, and large bulbs.

Sold out!

If you really want to feed an army (and help me get rid of these top bulbs as quickly as possible), you can buy 500 top bulbs for $75 (with free shipping.)  If so, click this button instead.

Egyptian onion top bulbsOnce you receive your bulbs, plant the Egyptian onions as soon as possible in good garden soil in full sun.  The very top of the bulb should be poking out of the ground, but the rest should be submerged.  Some people recommend planting them a foot apart, but I've found that my plants do well in raised beds spaced only about three inches between centers.  Leave the plants alone for a few months, then you should be able to start harvesting green onions in the middle of the fall through the winter.

To maintain a perennial patch, cut only every second or third leaf, making sure that the plant has enough green leaves to continue growing.  You can also dig up entire bulbs in the winter to use in recipes that call for leeks, but you'll want to let all your plants grow the first year.  By this time next year, your plants should be putting up top bulbs, each of which can be planted to expand your patch.  As long as you don't get too greedy and overharvest, Egyptian onions will soon become your most dependable --- and easiest --- vegetable.

If Egyptian onions aren't up your alley, but you still want to support the work of the Walden Effect, check out our homemade chicken waterer.
Posted Wed Jul 7 07:38:53 2010 Tags:
K9 power fence review update

The K9 electric pet barrier continues to keep Lucy from even coming close to the chicken pasture area.

It seems to have taken only one zap to get the point across.

I'm thinking of unplugging it to see if the threat alone is enough to keep her away.

Posted Wed Jul 7 18:49:38 2010 Tags:

Curled tomato leafLast week, I noticed that the bottom leaves of our tomato plants were curled up.  The leaves weren't yellowing, browning, or developing spots; they were just bent in an odd curve that made the pale undersides visible.

Even though I usually try to be very proactive and look up problems as soon as I see symptoms, this time I procrastinated.  I've been living in fear of the blight all growing season, and, honestly, if my tomatoes were blighted, I didn't really want to know.

It turns out that I could have set my mind at rest days ago.  There is a leaf curl disease caused by the Tomato Yellow Leaf Curl Virus, but the virus' symptoms include yellowing leaf margins and crumpled leaves, neither of which my plants show.  Instead, chances are my curled leaves are the result of letting the plants get a bit drought-stressed, then saturating the soil a bit too much, all combined with my new, drastic pruning regime.  The leaves may stay curled, but it sounds like I won't see any damage to the plants' growth or fruiting.

I'm very relieved that my tomatoes aren't going to die, but I would still like them to hurry up and feed me!  The plants are dripping with huge green fruits, but none has even shown a tinge of color.  As I read on more and more blogs about homegrown tomatoes, my patience is wearing thin.  Fresh sliced tomatoes, vegetable soups, sweet pizza sauce --- I'm aching to taste them again....

Fund your journey back to the land with Microbusiness Independence.
Posted Thu Jul 8 13:08:32 2010 Tags:
Yurtle is a Yurt on the go

I've always thought the traditional pop up style campers had room for improvement.

The Yurtle will put an end to your square lodge blues with a nice circular structure to rest within. This portable model will run you about 6800 bucks, which seems comparable to other new pop up campers. The Yurtle will take at least an hour to set up compared to seconds on the pop up.

Seems like this might be a great alternative to the FEMA trailers we heard so much about after hurricane Katrina?

Yurtle wrapped upGo to for more round options and details on their small community of 14 yurts. They've got a few sections to their blog where they discuss permaculture and gardening, topics that drove me to their site in the first place.

Posted Thu Jul 8 17:24:23 2010 Tags:

Yellow Indian Bean flower and young fruitWe went a little overboard with experimental beans this year, and now we're starting to get an idea of which ones like our garden.  First of all, I should note that our old standby Masai Beans are still plugging right along.  We already have a gallon of delicious green beans in the freezer, with many more to come as my later-planted beds start to bear.  Masai Beans are really the best green beans I've ever tasted, and they're stringless, so preparation is a breeze.  Plus, you can save the seeds --- we haven't bought green bean seeds in three years.

On the experimental side, a friend of mine mailed me a few of her favorite dried beans to play with --- Yellow Indian (pictured above), Allubia Criolla, and Cayamento Cranberry.  My goal here is to find a dried bean that will capture even Mark's interest, and I'm willing to try as many varieties as it takes to reach that point.  Currently, the pole beans are happily running up their trellis, blooming like crazy, and setting big pods.  I won't really have information for you, though, until we run a taste test.

Black Karbouli Garbanzo Bean plantsOur garbanzo beans are less happy.  I planted Black Karbouli Bush Garbanzo at the end of April, but later learned that garbanzos like cool weather and should be planted at the same time as the peas.  No wonder a third of my plants dried up and the rest have luxuriant foliage but no signs of blooms.  Even if we get nothing out of this experimental bed, I'll try the garbanzos again next spring, planting in a more proper time frame to see what develops.

Urd bean nibbled by deerWe also planted Urd Beans (for sprouting) and some Endamame Soybeans (for endamame).  The two types of beans seemed happy as little clams...until the deer came in and ate them.  We had a few minor deer incursions this summer when deterrents went down, and our four-legged f(r)iends seem quite partial to my experimental crops.  So, just like with our garbanzos, if we fail to get a crop this year, I won't despair.

Now that we've done everything wrong that we possibly can with beans, I'm hoping next year will be a stunning success.  For the sake of comparison, oilseed sunflowers were one of our big experiments last year, so the deer ate them down to the ground.  This year, the sunflowers were no longer experimental, so the deer left them alone and the plants are now towering over my head.  Clearly, there is a moral here, if I can only figure it out.  Maybe the deer are bored by my experiments posts?

Our homemade chicken waterer is a great way to keep your chickens cool and hydrated during a heat wave.
Posted Fri Jul 9 07:55:41 2010 Tags:

Maggie past and present"Come right on over," I said.  "But be prepared --- I may not want to see you in the morning."

No, I wasn't setting up a one night stand.  I was inviting my sister to the farm to leaf through our journals, photo albums, and sketchbooks from our Costa Rican adventure a decade ago.  (And being realistic about my introvert tendencies that consider house guests and fish bad after about five hours.)

I don't want to be too specific, because it's summer and a bad, bad, bad time to take on new writing projects.  But I'm currently fired up to  summarize the highlights of our past journey on my Clinch Trails blog.  I'll let you know if it turns out to be anything more than a pipe dream, but for now, Maggie and I are enjoying the music.

Posted Fri Jul 9 19:50:58 2010 Tags:

Monteverde canopy bridgeAlthough I should have been taking advantage of the cool, rainy weather to get the garden weeded, I played hookie on Friday.  I've discovered that when I get an idea for a written or visual project, I should drop everything and explore while I'm enthusiastic, letting those creative juices flow while they're in motion.  This freedom to create is the best part of homesteading.

The truth is that I'd been wanting to work up some sketchbooks from my year abroad into a story for common consumption, but my memory is so fuzzy that I couldn't visualize life a decade ago well enough to write about it.  Maggie's memory is considerably better, and she wrote interesting tidbits in her journal that complement my copious scientific notes very well.  We churned out a joint post last night about our first day in Costa Rica, and I'm excited to keep collaborating on the project.

As usual when I get obsessed with a non-homesteading topic, I'll stop posting about it over here after this entry.  So, if you're interested in reading about my decade-old journey (and the natural history of Costa Rica), be sure to subscribe to the RSS feed over on Clinch Trails.  Maybe this will make up for the continued summer vacation of the lunchtime series.

Escape the rat race with Microbusiness Independence.
Posted Sat Jul 10 09:11:47 2010 Tags:

Cockerels roosting on the coop roof"That fence is just there to keep the dogs out, right?" said one cockerel to the other as they roosted on their coop roof and peered out into the unknown wilds.

"I think I'll stay inside anyway," replied his brother, drowsily.

(I consider this evidence in support of the domestication contract.)

Fulfill your side of the contract by providing your poultry with copious clean water using our homemade chicken waterer.
Posted Sat Jul 10 21:15:55 2010 Tags:

Mom in her Walden Effect tshirtAs you can see in this photo of my mom, we've had our Walden Effect t-shirts for two solid weeks.  I've been holding out on you because I can't seem to figure out whether we'll be able to send the t-shirts for a couple of dollars as first class mail or if we have to pay $5 for priority mail.  I finally decided to just let the first few customers buy them at the cheap price ($10), and if it costs more to mail the shirts, we'll raise the price later.  So buy them while they're hot!

Here are some quick stats so you'll see whether our t-shirt is right up your alley:

  • Color is "serene green" --- as pictured.  I chose the color because it's light enough to work in outside in the sun, but earthy enough that those pesky weeding stains will be less visible.
  • T-shirt is "2000 Gildan Ultra Cotton", which is 100% cotton, unisex, 6.1 oz.
  • Printing is on the front in black and gray.  The image is based on a petroglyph, tweaked to suit our permaculture farm.  You can see a more head-on image of the design here.
  • Sizes are M, L, XL, and XXL.  Be sure to note your size with your order!  I decided to merge the slight additional cost for the XXL into the overall price, so all of the t-shirts cost $10 apiece (with free shipping in the U.S.)  But I ordered fewer XXL and XL than perhaps I should have --- if that's your size, you might want to buy now.  (If you're medium or large, you can probably wait a while.)

I hope you'll enjoy our t-shirts and then email me an image of your Walden Effect style in your own garden.  I'd love to post a collage of all of our loyal readers on their home turf.  (If you hate the design, though, don't feel in any way obligated to buy one.)

Not interested in t-shirts?  You can also support the Walden Effect by telling your friends about our homemade chicken waterer.
Posted Sun Jul 11 08:11:11 2010 Tags:

DIY low budget cooling idea

In searching for more low budget do it yourself cooling options I came upon this cooling tower design.

It seems like one of the more expensive solutions out there, but might end up saving money in the long run. The tower should be at least 6 feet square, 20 to 30 feet tall with as much insulation as you can muster.

I wonder if this concept could be scaled down for just one room instead of an entire house?

Image credit goes to the which has a well written article on this method of sustainable cooling. They've also got a good section on permaculture in Tennessee.

Posted Sun Jul 11 19:36:33 2010 Tags:

BerriesWhen I was a kid, we never cultivated brambles (blackberries and raspberries.)  Instead, we knew spots where big patches grew wild, and we'd go on a pilgrimage to pick by the side of a country road.  With such good wild berry patches, why grow your own?

Lately, I've decided that cultivated brambles do have definite advantages.  The large cultivated berries are quick and easy to pick, and in many cases taste as good or better than the wild berries.  You can grow thornless varieties (particularly of blackberries) to cut down on the scratch factor and everbearing varieties (particularly of red raspberries) that extend the bramble season from early summer through the killing frost.  If you find varieties well suited to your soil and climate, you can also expect much higher production out of cultivated brambles than out of wild canes.

Cultivated blackberry patchAlthough cultivated blackberries and raspberries can be pricey, the frugal homesteader quickly learns that she only needs to buy one plant of each variety.  If the brambles like your garden, they'll grow so fast that you'll be overrun with offshoots to give away by the end of the second year.  (But do be prepared to run through a few varieties before you find one well suited to your garden.)

The only real disadvantage I've found with cultivated brambles is that they take up a good deal of space.  On the other hand, they tend to grow well in awful soil that wouldn't support anything else, and if you prune them ruthlessly (and mow up any shoots that wander out of their row), you can definitely keep brambles under control.  Our patch of blackberries and raspberries is the easiest and most productive part of our fruit garden so far.

Our chickens love a cool sip of clean water from our homemade chicken waterer on a hot day.
Posted Mon Jul 12 07:55:53 2010 Tags:
petroglyph close up

This is the petroglyph we based our Walden Effect T-shirt on.

Petroglyphs are rock carvings found all around the world dating back as far as 12 thousand years.

This one seemed to be trying to transmit some sort of message which I'm still trying to decipher.

Posted Mon Jul 12 19:29:40 2010 Tags:
Succession planting cucumbers

This year, I decided I was going to wean us off Bt even if it meant a squashless season.  Maybe it's a fluke, but we've actually had a much better cucurbit year than ever before.  My new secret is succession planting.

Notice how the cucumber vine on the left is starting to wither up?  This time last year I would have been pulling out my hair, but now I simply shrug my shoulders and look at the bed of three week old cucumber plants nearly ready to bloom.  I plan to seed a third bed of cucumbers this week so that we'll have a final glut of cucumbers around the end of August.

Succession planting summer squash

I did even better with the summer squash.  Our four spring plants gave us nearly two gallons of fruits to go in the freezer (with who knows how many eaten and uncounted), but now the squash have collapsed into a mass of vine borers, squash bugs, and disease.  No worries --- check out our month-old youngsters who just gave us their first fruits.  Again, I've got more squash on my succession-planting list for this week to take over when our second planting bites the dust.

To be fair, succession planting isn't my only innovation this year.  I'm growing a different variety of cucumber (Diamant) and of summer squash (Butterstick Hybrid.)  I also gave our cucurbits quite a bit of extra compost so that they'd grow quickly and give us produce before disease and pests struck.  And the weather has been perfect --- droughty weather with us irrigating regularly.  Still, I think succession planting has been key in this year's success, and I suggest giving it a try before spraying Bt.

Our homemade chicken waterer is the first step to raising happy, healthy chickens.
Posted Tue Jul 13 07:18:03 2010 Tags:

Hitch Hikers Guide to Chickens

I got this scar today by not obeying the first rule of the Hitch Hikers Guide to chickens which is to always have a clean towel handy.

This round of chicken catching was twice as difficult due to their increased size and speed. One of the more aggresive roosters jumped up and karate chopped me during my first attempt.

Once I took a moment to catch my breath it became obvious where I went wrong. No towel.

A good sized towel can act as a shield/net when you're going up against a coop full of roosters.

Once I developed my towel technique it started to feel similar to what you see during a bull fight, minus the sword and dangerous horns, but those chicken claws are nothing to sneeze at.

Posted Tue Jul 13 16:23:24 2010 Tags:

Plucking a chickenIn my opinion, chicken butchering is not something you want to learn out of a book.  We acquired the skill by helping out at a couple of different chicken-processing days on friends' farms, picking up lots of hands on information that we never would have found in print.  So when we read on Everett's blog that he'd had a hard time with poultry processing on his new farm, we invited him to our next kill day.

We thoroughly enjoyed meeting one of our long-time readers in person, and hope that Everett got something out the experience too.  He certainly sped the processing along, not only with his hands but with his fascinating tales of his business endeavors (beginning with selling gum in grade school, progressing through writing about surfing in Australia, and culminating with his current SEO skills.)

We feel very lucky that Everett ended up settling only two hours away, and we're looking forward to meeting his wife.  Maybe next time, Missy will come along to paint our our chickens.

If you can't find a friend willing to walk you through the process, the next best thing is a good video.  Our homemade chicken waterer kit comes with written and video instructions to make your first chicken butchering session less traumatic.
Posted Wed Jul 14 06:52:57 2010 Tags:
target shooting image

Anna with Highpoint 40 caliber carbine rifle

When Anna and I target practice with the Highpoint rifle we usually take turns shooting 4 shots each and then check the results.

There's room for improvement, but we're getting better.

Posted Wed Jul 14 16:55:04 2010 Tags:
Ripening tomato

I've had my eye on our oldest tomato plant for weeks.  (This is the one that volunteered in our lemon tree's pot this winter and which I set out in the garden on April 21, babying through cold spells.)  The plant swelled up huge fruits, then kept swelling more and more fruits, none of which changed color.  Last week, I saw the tiniest hint of red on the oldest fruit, and crossed my fingers.  But I was looking in entirely the wrong spot for our first tomato.

Stupice tomatoes

Nearly ripe Stupice tomatoWednesday morning, I caught a glimpse of orange from the tomato bed on the opposite side of the naughty butternuts.  I peered closer and saw a fruit nearly ripe!

A few years ago when we splurged on seeds for several heirloom tomatoes, I picked out Stupice as a very cold-tolerant and early variety.  Sure enough, it looks like the Stupice tomato will probably be the first one on our plate, perhaps by the end of the week.

To be fair, though, this mini-experiment doesn't prove that tomatoes started in a cold frame and set out at the frost free date ripen just as quickly as those started indoors and transplanted out three weeks earlier.  I have absolutely no clue what variety my volunteer belongs to, and I suspect it might have been the seed of a storebought tomato that made it into our neighbor's compost and thus to us.  At this point, though, I'm at the who-cares stage --- as long as I get a sun-ripened tomato shortly, experiments will fly out of my head.

Our homemade chicken waterer never spills or fills with poop.
Posted Thu Jul 15 07:42:55 2010 Tags:

NcStar Red Green Laser kit

One way to improve shooting accuracy is with a targeting laser.

This one can be switched from red to green depending on lighting conditions.

Stay tuned for a full report once we get it installed and run it around the block.

Posted Thu Jul 15 18:34:58 2010 Tags:
Huckleberry eying a plate of meat

Although I'm a vegetable conneisseur, I don't have enough experience to tell the difference between mediocre meat and awesome meat.  This is where Huckleberry comes in handy.

When I take a piece of meat out of the supermarket wrapper, Huckleberry naps on the couch.  I can even open a can of tuna, and our spoiled cat will barely twitch his nose.  But when I bring in freshly slaughtered chickens, he comes running to the kitchen where he meows (in vain) for a treat.

After its two day grace period, I roasted up one of Tuesday's chickens yesterday and Huckleberry was suddenly ready to help out with anything, no, really, anythingMeow!  (Yes, this time I did give him a tidbit of meat to nibble on.)

To my untrained taste buds, the 16 week old Dark Cornish roosters are less flavorful than the 12 week old roosters, falling on the taste gradient somewhere between a storebought, organic, uncooked chicken and a storebought rotisserie chicken.  But to Huckleberry's nose (and mouth), our homegrown chickens are ten times better than either.  I suspect Huckleberry is sniffing out the superior nutrition, which makes me even more inclined to keep experimenting with a good way to raise our own meat.

Raise broilers in style with a homemade chicken waterer that never spills or fills with poop.
Posted Fri Jul 16 07:12:14 2010 Tags:
golf cart flipped on its side

The golf cart stopped going last week and I finally got a chance to start the troubleshooting process.

We've been running it pretty hard lately on some rough ground, and my first thought was to take the batteries out so I could flip it on its side to see if anything had gotten damaged.

Everything looked fine, and the batteries measure a full charge. It could be the solenoid, or a problem with one of the switches. The next step will be to seek some professional advice from the guy we took it to last year.

Posted Fri Jul 16 16:25:57 2010 Tags:
Permanent raised beds with mown aisles

I like to pretend that our garden looks like the image above --- well-weeded beds separated by carefully mown aisles.  But at this time of year, a lot of it actually looks like this picture:

Weedy garden

Yes, our garden is full of weeds.  We're slowly developing a mulching technique, but this year is a bit of an experimental year, so we haven't mulched nearly as much as I would have liked.  Instead, I weed the garden constantly, rotating through so that each area is weeded at least once a month.

Or at least that's the plan, which I manage to achieve in the spring.  By the height of summer, though, my rotation extends out to nearly two months, which is how long it's been since the portion of the garden in the second photo was weeded.  Luckily, our vegetables have grown tall in that span of time, so they don't seem to have been stunted by their weedy neighbors.
Sweet corn nearly ready to eat
I've been reading Corn Among the Indians of the Upper Missouri (which may become a lunchtime series if I ever get my act together), and at first I was stunned by the traditional cultivation method the Native Americans employed --- plant and weed like mad until the entire garden has been weeded twice.  Then go off to hunt buffalo for the rest of the summer, returning just in time to harvest your corn, beans, squash, and sunflowers.  But the truth is that if you weed carefully when your vegetables are in the seedling stage, most veggies can quickly outstrip the weeds and form a leaf canopy that excludes competitors.  Sure, we might get a slightly higher yield if I weeded more obsessively, but there are only so many hours in the day.

The primary point of this post is --- don't feel bad if your garden is weedy!  We've passed the point of no return (July 4), so the worst that weeds can do to your garden now is seed a new crop of weeds for next year.  If you do your best to pull the weeds out before they fruit, I think it's quite all right to focus on the harvest.

Install a homemade chicken waterer and leave your chickens alone without a worry while you go hunt buffalo...or go on vacation.
Posted Sat Jul 17 06:49:25 2010 Tags:
best solar dryer design image

close up of best solar dryer design

This seems to be the best do it yourself solar dryer design out there.

You can thank the good folks of Appalachian State University for the design and testing.

We plan on building one in anticipation of our upcoming tomato harvest.

ASU has put this thing through many testing situations with documented data available as a PDF download.

Posted Sat Jul 17 16:29:43 2010 Tags:

Broccoli seedlingThis spring, I decided that broccoli is our most productive cool season crop per unit space, so I decreased our planned pea plantings and increased our broccoli plantings for the fall.  The broccoli came up quite well, although I did have to transplant a few seedlings that were too close together, filling in gaps where dry soil had prevented any broccoli from germinating. 

Since we gorged on broccoli this spring and still managed to put away two gallons of the florets, it feels a bit decadent to have planted half again as many broccoli beds for the fall.  However, the later in the year we can eat fresh produce, the healthier and happier we'll be.  I also like to keep the garden full and productive, and I know that my usual recipients of excess garden produce all love broccoli.

As a side note --- the freezer is nearly half full, and we're also halfway to our winter goal.  We've put away 9 gallons of vegetables as well as a good deal of pesto and homegrown chicken.  I can tell we won't be reduced to buying produce from the grocery store in March of 2011.

Treat your flock to a homemade chicken waterer that never spills or fills with poop.
Posted Sun Jul 18 08:08:02 2010 Tags:
Permaculture expert Sepp Holzer and guy

I first discovered permaculture pioneer Sepp Holzer when I posted about do it yourself aquaponics back in the spring.

The guy from got a chance to spend 12 days with Sepp and he did a great job of documenting his visit with pictures, videos, and detailed descriptions of the Sepp Holzer style of permaculture. also has an in depth section on his experiences and observations with raising chickens that I found informative and useful.

Posted Sun Jul 18 17:25:58 2010 Tags:

Solar powered camel refrigerationMark and I are in the research stages of putting together a very small solar backup for use during power outages, and I'm hoping that some of the more technical folks among you can give us the benefit of your wisdom.  During three power outages over the last few months, we've figured out that running the generator for an hour a day keeps the farm ticking along, but that we miss two major creature comforts --- lights on winter evenings and more steady access to the internet.

Luckily, these gadgets don't draw much juice --- about 25 watts apiece for our laptops, another 23 watts for the router, and 13 watts for a CFL.  We figure that if we increase efficiency by buying a car charger for the laptops (deleting the inefficiencies from converting DC to AC to DC) and buy a couple of DC LED lights, we could coast along on very little electricity, allowing us to work and play online for perhaps 3 hours per day on a solar system costing less than $300.

600 watt Duracell power packA simple solar system that doesn't seem to require much technical know-how consists of a 600 watt Duracell Power Pack (basically, a 12 volt, 28 amp-hour, AGM battery; a controller; and a 600 watt inverter combined into one unit, costing roughly $125) along with a 25 to 30 watt solar panel (roughly $150.)  Many solar panels come with the right connectors, so the system would be basically plug and play.

The flaw I see in the combo above is that the solar panel might not fully charge the battery in a single day of sun --- some websites say the system will charge up in 5 to 7 hours, but other sites think the system will take 16 to 18 hours to charge.  We can't just add a larger solar panel for quicker charging since the manufacturer notes that you can't hook a panel larger than 30 watts directly to the power pack without adding an external charge controller.

So here are my questions:

  • Is it okay to shop around and find the cheapest 30 watt solar panel, or are cheaper solar panels going to burn out quickly?  Are there solar panel categories I should be aware of in the low end, consumer market?
  • We're willing to pay a bit extra for plug and play (and portability), but don't want to be seriously ripped off.  Would it be smarter to do more research and buy the battery, inverter, and charge controller separately?
  • If we bought an external charge controller and a 50 watt solar panel, would the larger panel charge our power pack faster?  My very vague understanding makes me think it wouldn't, that the charge controller would just filter out the extra power from the larger solar panel since it's more than the battery can handle.
  • One website notes that this system would give us around 160 watt-hours per day.  I'm not actually sure where people came up with that figure --- does it make sense?  Does that mean that I could run a single 25 watt laptop for 6 hours?

Basically, these questions all come down to one major one --- is this a bad idea?  We like the modular nature of the system, especially since Mark thinks we could use the power pack with pedal power, a bit like this article describes.  But we don't want to spend a few hundred bucks on a dud.

DIY types will enjoy our homemade chicken waterer kit that allows you to build your own automatic chicken waterer in less than an hour.
Posted Mon Jul 19 08:05:34 2010 Tags:

Staked tomato plantsWith tomato season officially underway, we're going to have to make some hard decisions.  Like --- now that our happy plants reach over my head, do I keep tying them up and harvest with a stepladder or do I let the plants hang down?

Or, how about this --- do we plan ahead for a future blight year and can some tomatoes as well as freezing them?

And --- what do I do with that first roma when it doesn't have enough sisters to make into sauce?

This week's lunchtime series doesn't actually answer any of those questions, but it does explore some of the cosmetic problems you might run into while wandering through your tomato patch.  I mentioned in an earlier comment that orange tomatoes are caused by high heat, and the truth is that tomatoes will complain about lots of environmental variations in several different ways.

I subscribe to the "eat it or give it to the chickens" school of thought, so discussing vegetable cosmetics is out of the ordinary.  But I recently realized that beginning gardeners might not know the difference between pissy tomato plants upset by two days without adequate water and blighted tomatoes that are going to wipe out your entire tomato garden.  If that describes you, stay tuned for a look at all of the tomato problems that aren't contagious and can simply be cut out of the ripe fruit.

Escape the cubicle with Microbusiness Independence.

This post is part of our Minor Tomato Ailments lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Mon Jul 19 12:00:31 2010 Tags:

cute chick update

The new chick continues to grow and is no longer attached to the mother hen.

I guess this growing up thing happened a week or so ago.

He's an outsider to the flock and flies by his own rules.

Posted Mon Jul 19 20:29:22 2010 Tags:

Typical Winter Peak Sun Hour mapThanks to everyone's great advice, I'm starting to narrow down our choices for our power outage solar backup system.  First of all, Joey and Roland (and the web) helped me figure out what size system I should be looking for.  I added up two hours run time on our laptops, router, and two lights and came up with 150 watt-hours per day.  Using Joey's math, or just dividing by the 3 peak sun hours our area is rated to receive in the dead of winter (from the map above), we would need a 50 watt solar panel to achieve our goal.  Since it's bad business to discharge your batteries more than halfway, we would need to buy two Duracell Power Packs and two 25 watt panels to reach this level --- total cost roughly $450.

For comparison's sake, I followed Daddy's advice and gave Backwoods Solar a call.  The salesman there was happy to walk me through my choices, even though he clearly wasn't going to make much money off me.  Here are the components and prices he quoted me for a 50 watt system:

  • 50 watt solar panel - $275
  • charge controller - $33
  • 400 watt inverter - $45
  • 2 RV or marine batteries (bought locally) - $180

Backwoods solarHe also mentioned buying a tilt mount ($68), which would let us adjust the panel's orientation seasonally for slightly higher output.  Assuming Mark could make our tilt mount, but that we would have to buy some connectors not on the list, the total would come to around $600.  On the other hand, I suspect I could shave around $100 off the cost by hunting down the components elsewhere on the web.

In other words, the plug and play version and the real DIY version have a comparable price tag.  But do they have comparable longevity?  I asked the Backwoods Solar salesman what he thought of using a 600 watt Duracell Power Pack as our battery, controller, and inverter.  "That would probably work," he said (and I paraphrase), "if you're just going to use it very ocassionally as a backup.  However, if you'd like to take the laptop and lighting loads permanently off the grid and run your solar system daily, you would be better off with a different battery."

Plug and play solar with a Duracell power packNow, I trust that he knows what he's talking about, but I don't quite understand why he would be right.  My research shows that AGM batteries have a rated lifespan of 4 to 7 years while marine batteries have a lifespan of 1 to 6 years.  In addition AGM batteries are sealed, which means no need for us to fuss over them, worry about fumes, or freak out when I accidentally knock them over.  Finally, they can be shipped, so we can shop around and buy the ones at rock bottom prices on Ebay.  As far as I understand it, the main disadvantage of an AGM battery is price, but the cost of the Duracell Power Pack seems to be roughly comparable to a marine battery when you consider that the former includes a charge controller and inverterter.

So, I'm opening up to questions and answers again.  Can anyone think of a reason that the Duracell Power Pack would have less longevity than a different system?  Currently, I'm leaning toward trying out one 25 watt plug and play system, doubling it later if all goes well.

Our homemade chicken waterer helps your hens cope with the heat.
Posted Tue Jul 20 07:01:40 2010 Tags:
Tomatoes with blossom end rot

If some of your tomatoes have a black spot on the bottom, chances are they've come down with blossom end rot.  This condition isn't something to be overly concerned about since it's not caused by a virus, bacterium, or fungus and won't travel beyond the fruit in question.

Technically, blossom end rot is caused by lack of calcium, but that doesn't necessarily mean your soil is low on the essential micronutrient.  A variety of other factors can reduce your plants' ability to take up calcium, including drought, damage to the plant's root system, excessive heat, or even rapid plant growth.

I'm not as careful as I could be about making sure my tomatoes always have an even supply of water, so I often find a fruit here and there that has succumbed to blossom end rot.  The affected plants are most common at the beginning of the season, and are more prevalent in certain varieties than in others.  If blossom end rot seemed to be excessively widespread in your garden, you should mulch your tomatoes to maintain an even supply of water in the soil and should take care not to overfertilize.  Otherwise, just cut out the spot and enjoy your homegrown tomatoes.

Don't have time to tend your garden?  Start a microbusiness that will pay all the bills in just a few hours a week.

This post is part of our Minor Tomato Ailments lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Tue Jul 20 12:00:35 2010 Tags:
High Point 40 caliber laser target device

High Point carbine rifle with laser
The new NcSTAR red/green laser is now mounted and ready for action.

It was easy to move the laser dot to a desired location with just 2 adjustment screws.

The hard part will be learning how to work within the limitations of the laser. I can already tell you need to be lined up pretty straight otherwise the laser tends to drift the further you tilt the angle up or down. There's also an 8mm difference in the point of impact at 20 yards when you switch from green to red, with the difference increasing as you increase the distance. I think that can be solved by just using the green all the time.

With a little practice I think this laser aid can help to improve our accuracy under certain conditions, but I think we should also be ready to take a shot without the laser when the angle needs to be tilted beyond its range of effective use.

Posted Tue Jul 20 20:45:26 2010 Tags:

Honeybees pollinating a sunflower
Oilseed sunflower flowersI'm not sure why no one talks about planting sunflowers for their honeybees --- our bees adore them.  We put in two beds of oilseed sunflowers so that we could experiment with pressing our own oil this fall, but the flowers have already paid for themselves by feeding local pollinators.

During the day, it's not at all unusual to catch several honeybees on the same flower head, along with lots of smaller pollinators.  The action doesn't even stop when night falls --- yesterday, I snuck out at dusk and found a moth on every flower, each dipping its proboscis deep into the tiny florets opening around the circumference of the sunflower head.

On a semi-related note, if you're interested in native pollinators and have a bit of time on your hands, you might want to check out the Great Sunflower Project.  Just plant a Lemon Queen Sunflower seed, watch the pollinators flock to your flower for 15 minutes, and input your data to help scientists figure out how pollinator populations are doing in your area.  I suspect this project would be especially good for science-oriented kids.

Our homemade chicken waterer never spills or fills with poop.
Posted Wed Jul 21 08:02:33 2010 Tags:

Cracked tomatoCracking is probably the most common tomato blemish out there.  Like blossom end rot, split tomatoes are often the result of improper watering, but the symptoms usually show up when the fruit is closer to maturity.

At a certain point in the tomato ripening process, your fruit has achieved its full size and it toughens up its formerly stretchable skin.  If a heavy rain soaks the soil after the tomato epidermis hardens, the tomato can swell up further and crack its skin.  Alternatively, cracks sometimes occur when hot days are followed by cold nights, causing the skin to expand and then contract quickly.

My advice is about the same as it was for blossom end rot --- mulch if you're worried --- but I tend to think that cracking is just an inevitable fact of life.  I cut out hardened cracks and just eat soft cracks.  Life's too short to throw out a delicious tomato just because it has cosmetic damage!

Sick of the rat race?  Explore your options with Microbusiness Independence.

This post is part of our Minor Tomato Ailments lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Wed Jul 21 12:00:43 2010 Tags:

roof option #1The problem with chickens roosting on the roof at night is that the roof gets fertilized and the chickens avoid the small coop where a guy like me has a fighting chance at catching one for dinner the next morning.

Maybe this sheet of tin will keep them off tonight?

Posted Wed Jul 21 17:38:27 2010 Tags:

Sorting garlicOur garlic has had a good month plus of drying time hanging under the eaves, so I decided it was time to clean it up and move it inside for storage.  I took down our strands of garlic, rubbed the dirt out of the roots, and trimmed both roots and leaves back.  Next step was sorting --- I like to pull out the very biggest heads for planting, and at the same time I set aside the tiny or damaged heads for immediate eating.  We've saved lots of mesh bags from buying oranges and onions, so I popped each variety into its own bag and put the whole mess on our scales.

Storing garlic"How many pounds of garlic do you think we grew this year?" I asked Mark minutes later, wanting to brag.

"Six pounds?" was his less than ambitious reply. 

"No!" I hooted.  "25.5, plus whatever we've eaten in the last month."  Then, as the wheels turned in my head, I added "That's half a pound of garlic per week.  Do you think we grew too much?"

Mark got a puzzled look on his face --- clearly, the idea of too much garlic had never occurred to him.  "Of course not," he answered.  "You'd better get cooking!"  Garlic green beans for supper it was.

Treat your hens to a homemade chicken waterer, the perfect treat on a hot summer day.
Posted Thu Jul 22 07:35:04 2010 Tags:

Green shouldersGreen shoulders are the most purely cosmetic problem I'll discuss.  I have certain tomato varieties --- notably this yellow roma and our pear-shaped "black" tomato --- that ripen the bottom two thirds of the fruit quickly, but leave the top third green.  My solution, as usual, is to cut off the tops and give them to the chickens, but I was interested to discover there's a reason for the green shoulders.

Green shoulders form when tomatoes deal with high temperatures and strong sunlight during ripening.  The light and heat prompt the fruits to retain chlorophyll around the stem area, and the "shoulders" often become hard and leathery.

Unless you've pruned excessively and removed leaves that would normally shade your fruits, you haven't done anything to cause green shoulders.  And there's not much you can do to fix the "problem" either, short of ripening your tomatoes indoors or choosing a different variety.  This is definitely one of those times I'm glad not to be a market gardener whose customers demand blemish-free fruit.

Learn tricks to turn your invention into a cash cow with Microbusiness Independence.

This post is part of our Minor Tomato Ailments lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Thu Jul 22 12:00:28 2010 Tags:

mother hen on nestYesterday's roof roosting prevention tin worked well to persuade the remaining pasture flock to sleep in the coop last night.

Now the mother hen and chick have the whole place to themselves and we have enough farm raised chicken to last most of the winter.

Posted Thu Jul 22 20:21:24 2010 Tags:

Empty chicken tractorWe killed the rest of our broilers this week, and while we were at it we deleted our three Plymouth Rocks for failing to meet their egg quota.  The farm feels very quiet without them.

We've learned a lot from this year's broiler experiment, mostly things we want to change for next time.  Our chickens were tastiest and cheapest per pound (and least wiley) when we slaughtered them at 12 weeks, so we'll be killing broilers young in the future.

Sunflower and chicken coopWe also plan to raise two or three smaller batches next time rather than one large one.  After spending two mornings this week covered in blood, my gutting skills have improved, but I feel like I also became a bit numb to the process.  We strongly believe that if we take a life, we should respect the animal and be entirely in the present, which means killing no more than eight chickens a day and killing them no more often than once a month.

Of course, that means we have to start hatching out our own chicks.  We're saving this year's Rhode Island Red chick and will breed him with our doughtiest Golden Comets next spring.  A hybrid of a hybrid is a strange direction to go for chicken breeding, I know, but our three oldest Golden Comets have proven to me that their genetics are exceptionally sound.  At four years old, they still lay nearly an egg a day apiece, and they're the only ones I trust to peck up a cupful of Japanese Beetles before the insects disperse back into the garden.  If raised by a mama hen rather than spending their early childhood stuck in a brooder, I have high hopes that these chicks could be prime foragers.

Our homemade chicken waterer made watering 25 broilers a piece of cake.
Posted Fri Jul 23 06:56:48 2010 Tags:

Ripening tomatoesWhile researching tomato blemishes, I stumbled across a piece of data that seems unbelievable to me --- vine ripened tomatoes taste no better than those picked at the first hint of red and ripened indoors.  Chuck Marr, the horticulture program leader at Kansas State University Research and Extension, says:

“By the time the tomato has its first blush of red color, the layer of cells – called an abcision zone – is complete, and you can pick the tomato with no loss of flavor or quality.  If left on the vine after that, all the tomato will do is hang there, disconnected, going through the rest of the ripening process.”

Marr says that you can avoid most of the cosmetic problems I discussed in this lunchtime series by picking your tomatoes early and ripening them in your kitchen out of direct sunlight.  The blogger who tipped me off to this process notes that storebought tomatoes taste awful not because they were picked too soon, but because they are a variety bred to be tough and easily transportable.

I think it's time for a taste test!  I've picked a couple of blushing tomatoes to ripen in the kitchen, and will report on our taste test in a week or so.  I hope some of our loyal readers will try it at home and report back too.

A niche produce is the key to our microbusiness model.

This post is part of our Minor Tomato Ailments lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Fri Jul 23 12:00:29 2010 Tags:
diy automatic chicken coop door opener

Mark Stead from Melbourne Australia has created a clever, low budget, automatic chicken coop door opener that takes advantage of a cheap alarm clock.

I estimate he's spent around 45 bucks, which is not bad compared to commercial units over twice that.

What makes this design cost less is the fact that you still have to manually close the door at night. His instructions are clear with a generous helping of images to guide you.

I'm thinking this alarm clock opener could be modified to also close at night by incorporating the Chris and Keri limit switch method. 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 Fri Jul 23 19:07:06 2010 Tags:

Strawberry bed before renovationWhen I first got strawberries, I thought that since they were perennials, I could just eat fruits every year and mostly ignore the plants.  So I just picked off runners now and then, mulched, and weeded.  Along came the plants' second year of bearing, and the berries were not as tasty as I remembered.  What happened?

The problem turned out to be multifaceted.  I suspect that heavy rains last spring washed away some of the soluble minerals, resulting in a micronutrient deficiency.  But it didn't help that I'd let the beds become matted masses of plants and hadn't given the berries a good top-dressing of compost to make up for their hard work the year before.

Strawberry bed after renovationI've now tentatively settled on a three year cycle for strawberries.  At this time of year, I pull out any beds that are three years old or older, then renovate the one and two year old beds.  Renovation consists of ripping up any runners I've let set between the parent plants and breaking off new runners starting to form.  Add a little manure and some grass clippings, and the plants are ready to soak up the rays in preparation for next spring's harvest.

Summer strawberry transplantWhile I'm renovating the middle-aged beds, I take a little care to dig up the best-looking runners and transplant them into new beds.  Transplanting strawberries in the heat of summer is a bit dicey, but the payoff is large --- you gain enough growth that you can eat plenty of berries from the beds next spring rather than picking off all the blooms and waiting until the second spring to taste the crop.  I've found that if I dig the roots up carefully enough, my transplants will wilt in the hot sun but will be putting up new leaves within a week.

My hope is that this three year cycle will keep me sated with my favorite fruit for years to come.  Only time will tell if this method needs more work, but strawberry yields this spring were heavy and delicious.  The proof is in the pudding --- strawberry shortcake.

The British use the word "pudding" to mean "dessert", in case this isn't clear.

Save up to an hour a day with our homemade chicken waterer.
Posted Sat Jul 24 08:10:21 2010 Tags:

tomato support systemtomato part 2
Our tomato support structure is very different from last year.

We pruned for tall growth instead of bushing out, which seems to be working.

They've grown past the 5 foot posts so we started using long sections of rebar to encourage higher growth.

Posted Sat Jul 24 20:11:56 2010 Tags:
Garbanzo flower and fruit

Urd bean podRemember how I told you that the deer ate our experimental beans?  It turns out I spoke too soon. 

I finally took a close look at our garbanzos and saw that they were liberally sprinkled with tiny pink flowers that are swelling into balloon-like fruits.

Meanwhile, our urd beans bounced right back and are now decked out in the fascinating pods to the left.  I assume I should leave both beans on the plant until they dry out, so I'm just watching them grow at the moment.

Another experimental crop also seems to be doing well --- our sesame.  Several of the plants have oddly twisted leaves that I suspect is the result of some sort of pathogen, but they're blooming and setting pods anyway.  It looks like at least three of this year's experimental crops will be successful.

Sesame flowers and pods

Try something new in your chicken coop this summer --- a homemade chicken waterer that provides clean water for your chickens.
Posted Sun Jul 25 07:57:59 2010 Tags:
Inception screen grab

We went to see our 2nd movie of the year today in an attempt to beat the heat.

Inception is a non stop, intellectual thrill ride that did not disappoint.

It was a little heavy on the action scenes, but that's Hollywood for you. Christopher Nolan has created a compelling story with one of the most convoluted plots I've ever enjoyed.

I'd give it a solid 8.5 out of 10. Compare that to our first movie of the year....Avatar, earning a rare 10 out of 10, and you get an idea of how I rate films these days.

Posted Sun Jul 25 20:48:49 2010 Tags:

Woodland sunflowerI used to think I had a favorite season, but recently I've discovered that I just like seasons in general.  I love the way you can start to feel winter losing its grip on the world by New Year's, when the days get noticeably longer.  And now, in the middle of the dog days of summer, I cherish the first inklings of fall in the air.

Autumn flowers are slowly opening --- first a shade-tolerant goldenrod, then this woodland sunflower, then hints of ironweed and Joe Pye weed.  Here and there, a drought-stressed tree loses a brilliantly colored leaf, and I continue to plant the fall garden (peas and turnips this week.)

This post has no thesis, except this --- I would be a very bad candidate to retire to Florida.

Our homemade chicken waterer keeps your flock cool during the dog days.
Posted Mon Jul 26 07:54:27 2010 Tags:
chicken meets tomato

I found this tomato being munched on by a few Japanese Beetles and thought to myself this is the day our youngest chicken gets to experience the tastiness of a tomato.

He seemed to be a bit perplexed and decided to go ask his mother what he should do.

Posted Mon Jul 26 17:34:17 2010 Tags:

Basket of sweet cornSpace in our freezer is suddenly starting to get tight, something that never happened last year.  Pretty soon, I'm going to have to make a decision --- stop freezing and start giving produce away, turn on one of our inefficient freezers, or buy another energy star model.  Such bounty!

I also harvested about half of our potatoes Monday because I needed the space for fall peas.  The average yield per bed was about 6.5 pounds (from about 1 pound of seed potatoes per bed.)  Yukon Golds aren't the most productive potatoes, but I'm still a bit blown away at the sheer mass of tubers I grubbed out of the soil.  If we had only a tiny bit of ground and were desperate to feed a family, potatoes would be the way to go.
Yukon Gold potatoes
At the moment, our potatoes are cooling it in our refrigerator's crisper drawer.  Even though we downgraded to a much smaller and more efficient fridge last year, I still run the fridge about half empty most of the time.  I'm a strong believer in keeping close tabs on leftovers and eating them within two days, so there's plenty of space for a few dozen pounds of potatoes.  Still, we're going to have to excavate the refrigerator root cellar soon and put it back to work --- I've got three more beds of potatoes to harvest, and the fall carrots are finally starting to germinate in the garden.

Treat your chickens to a homemade chicken waterer that will never spill or fill with poop.
Posted Tue Jul 27 07:26:26 2010 Tags:
deer fence to deter the invaders

One of the casualties of last year's big winter storm was our high fence to keep deer out of the mule garden in case one of the deer deterrents fail.

I finally got around to repairing the damage last week and decided one of the upper gaps was big enough for a deer to jump through. An experimental solution was to use some of this orange marking tape to deter any possible breach.

I know a deer could rip right through this thin plastic ribbon material, but if he or she does the evidence should be obvious, and then I'd know if this was a failure.

If it does prevent deer from thinking of jumping, then maybe someone else could use this as an ultra cheap fencing material that could be installed within a few hours depending on what type of posts or trees get incorporated.

Posted Tue Jul 27 16:43:32 2010 Tags:

Naughty Butternuts t-shirtOur blog clearly attracts the rabble --- people like me who open Mother Earth News and recoil, muttering, "But it's so mainstream!"  If an ordinary homesteading blog had offered t-shirts for sale, I suspect that people would have bought t-shirts.  But I should have known that if the Walden Effect tried to sell t-shirts, our readers would instead donate their own designs.

New t-shirts
Walden Effect Junkie put together this awesome image of Naughty Butternuts, and even built us a Zazzle store so that we could sell as many or as few t-shirts as we wanted without setting aside space in our miniscule trailer to stockpile inventory.  We followed her lead and made our own Walden Effect store so that you can browse all of our homesteading goodies in one place.

If there are any other think-outside-the-box types out there, I'd love it if you emailed me your own Walden Effect design.  We'll throw our favorites up on the Zazzle store and donate all of the proceeds to Mark's favorite charity --- Appalachian Community Fund.

Zimmy in front of his solar panelsNew giveaway
Meanwhile, I've decided we're long overdue for a giveaway, and again Walden Effect Junkie came to the rescue.  She told me that the best way to reach more readers is to get our friends to tell their friends about us.  So, to enter our giveaway, just tell a friend about our blog and then leave a comment on this post letting me know how many friends you've told.  You can email your friends, tell them in person, leave a comment on their blog, or recommend that they become our friend on Facebook.  You'll be entered into our contest once for every friend you tell!  The contest ends at midnight on July 31, and one lucky U.S. winner will receive a Walden Effect welcome pack --- our petroglyph t-shirt, 100 Egyptian onion top-bulbs, a 3 pack DIY chicken waterer kit, and our microbusiness ebook.  (Visit our store for details.)

A thousand thanks to Walden Effect Junkie for her words of wisdom and beautiful artwork!  And thanks to Zimmy who emailed me this great photo of his petroglyph t-shirt hard at work on his own homestead.

Posted Wed Jul 28 07:42:57 2010 Tags:

Ford Festiva going off road
I decided our driveway was in a good enough state of dryness to see if the parts Festiva had what it takes to help tow out the golf cart for some expert repair.

It only got stuck once, which was quickly fixed by modifing the ruts to fit the bigger wheel base.

I'm pretty sure this is a once a year opportunity and when the rain kicks back to a more regular schedule the flood plain will earn its name back. In the meantime it's nice to have a back up to our much valued golf cart.

Posted Wed Jul 28 16:28:35 2010 Tags:
Buckwheat cover crop

Honeybee on a buckwheat flowerOur buckwheat experiment is not what I would call a success.  The best thing I can say is that our bees did really enjoy the flowers.  And the plants do bloom, as promised, a scant month after planting.  But all of the biomass that was supposed to be ready when the plants bloomed?  Nope, not so much.

Buckwheat doesn't like heavy clay soil, which is the precise kind of soil I was asking it to rejuvenate, so I shouldn't blame the failure entirely on the crop.  And, to be fair, a deer came through for a midnight snack a few weeks ago and clipped the tops off plants in a couple of beds.  Those buckwheat plants never recovered, and weeds quickly sprouted up to fill in the bare soil.

Buckwheat bed damaged by deer compared to undamaged bed.

Mowed down bed of buckwheatStill, I would have expected a bit more growth out of the cover crop.  When I mowed down the buckwheat, it seemed like the succulent stems disintegrated into a mere handful of plant matter --- and that was in the beds that escaped deer damage.  I may give buckwheat another shot in the loam of the upper garden, but our troublesome back garden is going to need another cure.  Next try --- hullless oats.

Our squeaky clean, homemade chicken waterer keeps hens laying longer.
Posted Thu Jul 29 07:59:50 2010 Tags:
close up of truck load of mulch

We picked up our 2nd truckload of mulch for the year today.

This time the guy managed to fit 3 scoops in the truck, which was a little priceier than the first load, but well worth it when I saw the look on Anna's face.

Posted Thu Jul 29 16:54:38 2010 Tags:

Tomato seed saving setupIt's never a good idea to hide things from your spouse, but I'd been keeping something from Mark.  When he tossed a half-rotten tomato to the chickens, the truth came spewing out.

"You can't give tomatoes like that to the chickens," I admonished him.

"There was barely anything left," my sweet husband explained.  "Just a bite for each of us."

Fermenting tomato seeds"No, you don't understand," I said.  "I'll cut off bad spots.  Any tomato is precious.  You see, the blight has struck."

I knew that our tomatoes had a high likelihood of contracting the blight this year even though I planted them on the far opposite side of the garden from last year's tomato patch and pruned them heavily to promote air movement.  Once the blight is in the air, you tend to see symptoms the next year no matter what you do.  The trick is to be proactive and stay ahead of the disease.

Homemade pizza sauceI could have dusted my tomatoes with copper and prevented the blight, but this "organic" treatment seems too harsh for my garden.  Instead, I plan to yank out the worst plants and cut off diseased leaves as soon as we have a day dry enough to make it safe to work in the tomato patch.  Meanwhile, I picked a bowlful of ripe fruits to save tomato seeds for next year.

What do you do with a bowlful of gutless tomatoes?  Make pizza sauce of course!  That pizza I've been craving for the last few months really hit the spot.

Our homemade chicken waterer prevents heartbreak in the coop --- no more heat exhaustion during blazing summer days.
Posted Fri Jul 30 07:54:46 2010 Tags:

truckasaurousOnce the parts Festiva blazed a trail through the now mostly dry flood plain I decided it was ready for the big truck.

It made it with no problems once I added a few buckets of gravel in a few key spots saving us hours of labor compared to hauling with the golf cart.

Posted Sat Jul 31 03:48:01 2010 Tags:

Tobacco hornwormThe tobacco hornworm is easily confused with the closely related tomato hornworm.  Both caterpillars are the larval form of hawk moths, and both like to nibble on your tomato plants, but the tobacco hornworm has seven white lines running down each side of its body while the tomato hornworm instead has eight Vs.

Some gardeners resort to hand-picking their hornworms, while others believe that planting marigolds or basil between their tomato plants keeps the pests at bay.  I just ignore the hornworms of both types.  In our diversified environment, parasitic wasps quickly lay their eggs in each plump hornworm, and the wasp larvae eat the caterpillar alive from the inside out.  By the time these white cocoons show up on the back of the hornworm, he has long ago stopped nibbling on my tomatoes, so I am careful to leave hornworms like this in place to hatch out the next generation of parasitic wasps.

(I know I left you hanging about the tomato blight.  It turned out I had too much to say to fit in one post (surprise, surprise), so you'll hear all about it in a lunchtime series next week.)

Your chickens will be annoyed to miss their tasty hornworm treats, but they'll cheer up when you introduce a homemade chicken waterer.
Posted Sat Jul 31 06:00:45 2010 Tags:
best do it yourself automatic chicken feeder

I've seen a lot of automatic chicken feeder designs and I think this simple use of PVC pipe with a cut out trough is an idea that works the best if you need to leave your flock for a few days and you want the feed to be automatically replenished with the help of gravity.

Usually I see these projects from afar on the internet, but today Anna and I were lucky enough to see this setup first hand when we got a chance to visit Everett and Missy's new awesome farm today.

I could even see a version of this being practical in a chicken tractor if someone was needing to be away more than a couple of days at a time.

Posted Sat Jul 31 20:36:49 2010 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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