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

archives for 10/2010

Oct 2010

RatatouilleI don't know if you can call a dish that lacks eggplant ratatouille, but whatever this is, it's a delicious way to use up a lot of late summer veggies.  The broiled okra completely lacks sliminess and the other flavors meld together into a feast.  Plus, by roasting the vegetables nearly whole, you retain most of the vitamins.

To make the ratatouille, first fill your basket with:

  • 4 summer squash or zucchini
  • 2 large, sweet bell peppers (or several smaller ones)
  • 12 to 20 small okra
  • 4 large tomatoes (or an equivalent number of tommy-toes)
  • 2 large onions
  • 6 cloves of garlic

Nutritional information for ratatouilleCut the squash in half, core the peppers and cut them in halves or quarters, chop off the okra tops and cut them in half, and cut the tomatoes in half --- all cuts are long-ways.  Peel the onions and cut them into half inch wedges.  Put the garlic through a garlic press and add it to the rest of the vegetables.

Broiled vegetables

Pour a few tablespoons of olive oil and a liberal amount of salt and pepper onto the vegetables and mix them up until all of the surfaces are lightly oiled.  Then lay the vegetables out on cookie sheets, cut sides down.  Broil in the oven until the vegetables are soft and the skins are very slightly blackened.  (About five minutes, less for the peppers.)

While you're broiling, rush out into the garden and clip a cup of basil leaves and chop them into bits.  Add a cup and a half of pre-cooked beans and two tablespoons of balsamic vinegar.
Bowl of beans and bowl of basil
Once the vegetables are cool enough to handle, chop them into bite-size pieces and throw them in with the beans and basil.  If necessary, add more salt and pepper.

We ate our ratatouille over rice, and this recipe looked like it would serve about eight.  Mark rated it 7 out of 10 (probably losing points because of the presence of beans and lack of meat) while I rated it an 8.5.  Definitely worth repeating!

Our homemade chicken waterer keeps your flock healthy from day old chicks to four year old layers.
Posted Fri Oct 1 07:54:54 2010 Tags:

Wet raspberriesI've often wondered whether I could taste good nutrition, and I'm tempted to say the answer is yes.  The winter squash highest in nutrients is the butternut --- my favorite.  The most nutritious fruits are those grown under a bit of nitrogen stress in the bright sun --- again, my favorites.  I vastly prefer the flavor of frozen beans to canned beans and love to saute, steam, and stir fry.  Fresh fruit is in an entirely different (and better) taste category for me from any cooked or otherwise processed fruit.

Although our bodies get quickly confused when exposed to fake flavors, colors, and added salts and sugars, we've clearly evolved some basic cues for determining which foods are nutritious.  In some cases, natural sugars seem to be the key to the rich taste of fresh, nutritious food --- higher than usual sugar content in a vegetable can be a cue that the vegetable is also higher in vitamin C.  In other cases, bright colors hint at higher than ordinary vitamin A --- deep orange peaches have much higher vitamin A content than white peaches.

Some days, I wish I had a chemical laboratory in my backyard where I could test the micronutrient levels of every piece of produce grown in our garden.  Is it really twice as high in nutrition compared to the grocery store version, just as it is twice as high in flavor?  Without more data to back up my gut feeling, I'll have to assume that anything that tastes good when I eat it raw is also good for me.

Follow your dreams with Microbusiness Independence.

This post is part of our Gardening for Maximum Nutrition lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Fri Oct 1 12:00:40 2010 Tags:

skylight repair instructionsI've been making slow progress on sealing up the skylight.

Each application yields better results, but it still has a small leak.

It feels good to learn a new skill, but I'm ready for this project to be over so we can move on to the next one.

Posted Fri Oct 1 20:14:12 2010 Tags:

Young parsley plantI broke my own cardinal rule this spring when I planted parsley in the waterlogged back garden --- no root crops in heavy clay with high groundwater.  I don't think of parsley as a root crop, but this relative of carrots and parsnips clearly thinks of itself as a root.  Half of my plants achieved such an advanced state of root rot that the tops literally fell off.  Needless to say, we've only had just enough parsley to make a weekly batch of soup.

So, on a whim, I tossed a handful of parsley seeds on an empty bed in the loamy side of the garden near the end of August.  Unlike the rest of our fall crops, the parsley sprouted and grew so thickly that I carefully transplanted the two-leaved seedlings this week to fill up a couple of nearby beds.  Already, the leaves are almost big enough to eat --- the plants are growing about twice as fast as the spring parsley that has had all summer to get established.

The real test will be the killing frost.  Will our baby parsley be big enough to withstand the cold, or will it die back in a few weeks when temperatures drop into the twenties?  I'm keeping my fingers crossed that we'll have crisp, sweet parsley through the winter just like last year.

Our homemade chicken waterer lets you leave your flock for the weekend without a chicken-sitter.
Posted Sat Oct 2 07:46:52 2010 Tags:

power antenae door opener

You can buy a
new power antenna unit for around 35 bucks, and with a little imagination make it open and close your chicken coop door.

white hen close up in nest

Rob from has all the details. He's the guy who put together the electric door interlock solution I posted about last year which only closed the door whereas this power antenna will open it back up the next morning.

What I like about this design is how easy the installation must be compared to a few of the other do it yourself automatic chicken coop door openers out there. You'll need to supply 12 volts DC to the antenna which can be done with a 20 dollar adapter at Radio Shack. The next step is to control it with a timer or one of those gadgets that turns something on when the sun goes down and off when it comes back up.
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 Sat Oct 2 19:46:25 2010 Tags:

Parcel from IndiaSince our sunflower seed crop was such a great success, we decided to buy an oil expeller so that we could make our own cooking oil.  An extensive search of the internet shows only two oil expellers costing less than a thousand bucks.  Everett bought the slightly cheaper and more common model (the Piteba for $139), so we decided to go for the other to give us a real comparison of the two options.

Wax seal on a package from IndiaThe Rajkumar oil expeller comes all the way from India for $155 (shipping included).  My first hint that this wasn't an ordinary transaction came after I filled in my payment information in paypal.  I got back the following email:

Dear Sir/Madam,
We request you to give us your complete postal address with Zip code and telephone no. so that we may dispatch the machine at the earliest from our end.  Awaiting for your reply asap.
Thanks & Regards
Naresh Gambhir

Since I had just typed in my whole postal address and zipcode, I was a bit confused, but I replied with a repeat of my shipping information, along with the phone number that I didn't see why they would need.  Three weeks passed, and I had almost forgotten about our oil expeller when an amazing parcel showed up at the post office.
Expeller box wrapped in a bow
As you can see from the photos, the box was wrapped in a cloth sack, stitched together and sealed along the sides with red sealing wax!  After I teased out the stitches and slid back the bag, I could see that the box was decked out in a bright blue bow.  Now, I have to admit that even though I have thoroughly grown out of Christmas presents, I do miss the awe of opening an unknown package.  When I was a kid, I spent hours testing the presents under the tree, trying to guess what was inside each one --- generally far more fun than I got out of the presents themselves.  Here I was on layer two of my new oil expeller, and I was getting that same Christmas rush.
Expeller parts wrapped in styrofoam
I untied the bow and ripped off the layer of plastic wrap underneath, then untaped the box.  Lifting the lid, a shower of brightly colored paper shreds spilled across the table.  Nestled down amid this packaging were about a dozen expeller parts, each one individually wrapped in a thin sheet of foam.  I'm getting the impression that the postal service in India isn't very careful, since I had to go through five layers of packaging to get to my expeller (six layers if you count the bow.)  From the state of the box, I don't think this packaging was excessive.

Rajkumar hand oil expeller parts

Here's what came in the box.  More on assembly and operation in a later post, but I have to admit that just unwrapping that amazing parcel from India was nearly worth the entire price tag!

Our homemade chicken waterer never spills or fills with poop.
Posted Sun Oct 3 09:25:06 2010 Tags:
scorpion snack on a stick

I've been researching insect farming on and off for over a year now since I posted about the possibility of feeding meal worms to our chickens instead of the laying pellets we buy at the feed store.

worm chartWe've since settled on a black soldier fly direction, but I'm still interested in finding other easy to cultivate bugs. It turns out there's over 1400 insects that are known to be eaten by people all over the world.

Some experts predict a world population of over 9 billion by the year 2050. This prompted the United Nations to hold a meeting in Thailand back in 2008 on the subject of insect farming and how it might help to mitigate greenhouse gases and offer a substitute for meat in some countries. A world congress on the subject is being planned for 2013.

I'll bet a person could travel to a few Asian countries and learn a thing or two about insect cultivation with the right translator and an iron stomach.

Posted Sun Oct 3 16:47:37 2010 Tags:

Broccoli and wild mushroom omeletOnce you start deleting pre-made food from your grocery cart, meals take longer to prepare.  But there are a few tasty and healthy meals that can be thrown together in fifteen minutes from on-farm materials.  Here's my favorite omelet recipe, one that I consider a full meal all by itself for about three people.

  • 1 medium head of broccoli
  • 1 cup of fresh mushrooms
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 cup of loosely packed Egyptian Onion tops
  • a couple of tablespoons of sour cream and onion flavoring powder

Cut the broccoli florets into bite-size pieces.  Then peel the tough skin from the base of the broccoli stalk and chop the stalk into half inch rounds.

Torn mushroomsDiscard the mushroom stems.  Tear the mushroom caps into bite-size pieces and add them to a skillet with the broccoli.  Pour in as little oil as possible and saute on high heat until the mushrooms and broccoli are nearly tender.

Break the eggs into a bowl.  Cut the Egyptian Onion tops into one-inch segments and add them to the eggs.  Throw in a couple of tablespoons of sour cream and onion flavoring powder if you want a really tasty omelet.  (I don't know what's in the stuff, but Daddy gets it for me from his local Mennonite store and a hint of the powder is enough to turn this omelet into quite a treat.  I'm sure it's not healthy, though....)

Beat the eggs, green onions, and powder together with a fork and pour it over the broccoli and mushrooms.  I like my omelets to be more like scrambled eggs with stuff in them rather than the typical omelet consistency, so I stir continuously for a couple of minutes until the eggs are done.
Hen of the Woods
I haven't included nutritional information because the sites I've been using to mock up those analyses don't distinguish between types of mushrooms and think that my eggs are equivalent to storebought eggs.  Suffice it to say that the omelet has a lot of vitamins and minerals.

As a side note, I led a hike at the High Knob Naturalist Rally this weekend and came home with a huge chunk of Hen of the Woods mushroom to try out.  I plugged the new mushroom variety into this recipe and it was just as tasty as the shiitakes and oysters I'd tried in the past!

Our homemade chicken waterer is a great time-saver in the backyard chicken coop.
Posted Mon Oct 4 07:36:37 2010 Tags:

2 pecks of peppersIt's been a good year for peppers.

We're planning for our first frost of the year sometime this week and decided to harvest everything that might get nipped.

If it doesn't frost we'll have lost out on some yumminess, but sometimes it's better to play it safe.

Posted Mon Oct 4 17:47:01 2010 Tags:

Basket of tomatoesBy the calendar, we should have at least another week of frost-free weather, but our forecast mentioned a low of 36 F tonight.  Over the years we've lived here, I've noticed that our temperatures may drop as much as five degrees below the predicted low so I consider any forecast less than 37 to be a frost watch.

If I was desperate to extend our summer harvest, I would run around tossing row covers over everything.  But we've had a good summer, so I'm instead harvesting any ripe or Ripening tomatoes indoorsripenable fruits that would be damaged by freezing, then letting the summer go gracefully.  I stewed up a gallon of ripe tomatoes to go in the freezer and laid out any with a blush of color to ripen over the next few weeks.

I'm ashamed to say that I left the really green tomatoes on the vine to rot.  I've never gotten excited about fried green tomatoes, but if you comment with a more interesting green tomato recipe in the next few hours, I'll rush out and collect them.  Instead of worrying over the last tomatoes, I'm instead focusing my energy today on harvesting squash, beans, swiss chard, and the last watermelon.

Huckleberry wants you to know that even though I closed the windows and put on long johns and two sweaters, he still thinks it's warm enough to sit outside...for five minutes at a time.

Our homemade chicken waterer makes farm chores simple and fun.
Posted Tue Oct 5 08:10:10 2010 Tags:
stump for mushroom cultivation

Step 1. Drill twelve 3/4 inch holes in our new magnolia stump.

Step 2. Carefully cram mycelium impregnated cardboard into the holes.

Step 3. Seal up holes with melted bees wax.

Step 4. Don't forget to check on stump in about 9 months.

Posted Tue Oct 5 15:36:42 2010 Tags:

Propagating oyster mushroom spawnWe haven't made much progress on our goal to propagate our own mushroom spawn because this year's hot summer wasn't conducive to mushroom fruiting.  So when I found wild oyster mushrooms, I decided to give propagation a shot even though I knew that spring was the best time to propagate mushrooms.  I cut the stem butts off all three of our oyster mushroom clusters and sandwiched them between several layers of  pre-soaked, corrugated cardboard.

Ten days later, the mycelium was running!  I suspect that if I waited another week, I would have had a whole bowlful of spawn, but I wanted to get the mycelium into its final habitat so that it would have some time to get established before winter.  So I tore off all of the Oyster mushroom spawnwhite spawn, then discarded the un-inoculated cardboard around the edges.  Look at this mass of spawn gluing several sheets of cardboard together --- that's a healthy fungus!

Next step was choosing something to inoculate.  In the past, we've had good luck with inoculating logs, but I've been curious about inoculating stumps as a way of hastening decomposition while producing a delicious food.  We have plenty of stumps in our garden area, but most are too old to inoculate --- wild mushrooms have beat me to it.  Luckily, Mark cut down a magnolia this spring to give me space for forest pasture trees, and the stump has sprouted a bush of new branches.  I hope the vigor of the tree means that it was able to fight off invading fungi between April and October, but that the tree has lost enough life that it won't be able to kill my oyster mushrooms. 

Inoculating a stump with oyster mushroom spawnMark already showed you the inoculation step --- drilling the holes, stuffing in the spawn, then sealing each one up with melted beeswax.  Our three stem butts turned into enough spawn to fill up a dozen holes, and I even had one huge stem butt leftover to bury in the soil at the base of the stump.  Maybe next fall we'll be harvesting completely homegrown oyster mushrooms!

Our homemade chicken waterer keeps backyard coops clean and backyard flocks healthy.
Posted Wed Oct 6 08:01:27 2010 Tags:
Anna with potted plant and smile

more Anna putting plants away for winterIt didn't frost last night, but I'm glad we got all the vulnerable citrus plants moved indoors.

They should get more sun in this new location thanks to the storage building project from 2009 that turned into an office/bedroom when we realized how nice it was looking.

Posted Wed Oct 6 16:26:44 2010 Tags:

Chicken on pastureI've been posting all year about our forest pasture experiment over on our Avian Aqua Miser blog.  For those of you haven't been following along over there, the idea is to create a permaculture system that feeds our chickens with very little input of storebought food.  Our first season of experimentation was very much a learning experience --- now I know that even heirloom broiler breeds have been bred to bulk up quickly on grain, so they look at foraging about the same way a modern teenager looks at the idea of getting rid of his TV and Wii.  I'm changing my focus now to a forest pasture system that will keep our Chickens eating compostlaying hens happy and healthy, with the goal of revisiting persnickety meat birds in the future.

With the broilers in the freezer, our forest pasture experiment started making progress.  In late August, I realized that our two pastured chickens were so happy on their diet of kitchen scraps and wild edibles that they didn't want any storebought grain.  For six weeks now, I've only given them a cup of feed every couple of weeks, on days when I felt like our kitchen scraps weren't quite up to snuff.

Chickens in a forest pasture

Meanwhile, I seeded the fallow paddock with buckwheat and shelling beans, which are now mature.  With our coop remodelled to accommodate laying hens, we turned our four prime layers into the fallow paddock, expecting them to gorge on the high quality seeds.  Instead, they focused their energy on nightshade berries, tender young chickweed leaves, calcium-rich snails, and bugs found by scratching through the old compost pile.

Chicken eating chickweedIn fact, now that I could look at our tractored chickens and pastured chickens side by side, I was shocked to realize that the former were not the epitome of avian health I'd thought they were.  The pastured chickens have brilliantly red combs --- a sign of good health --- while our confined birds' skin is a much paler shade.  Keep in mind that our tractored birds have as much grass as they can eat, along with occassional bugs that hop through their tractor, but that they get the majority of their nutrition from the corn and soybeans in their laying pellets.  Clearly, a grain-based diet is no better for them than it is for me.

With the garden's exuberance winding down, I'm sure I'll have to continue feeding our laying hens grain through the winter, but my long term goal is to come up with a system that deletes the grain entirely.  Two more paddocks are on the horizon, which will allow us to rotate our flock frequently enough to give them plenty of forage during the growing season.  Our Illinois Ever-bearing Mulberry and Nanking Cherries should be reaching full productivity in a few years, which will go a long way toward feeding the flock during the summer months.  Buying less and less processed food in the grocery store will also mean more and more food byproducts to give the chickens year round --- for example, our oil expeller will produce high protein seed cakes perfect for chicken feed.  We'll continue to work on insect farming as a supplemental food option, and will keep you updated as our forest pasture experiment progresses.

A homemade chicken waterer is a great addition to the forest pasture, resulting in an even healthier flock.
Posted Thu Oct 7 07:52:33 2010 Tags:

caulking a window
These windows were salvaged from an old high school by a neighbor. He kept them in storage for years with the intention of building a green house, but eventually decided to drop the indoor garden dream and gave several of them to us. Thank you Bill Boyd.

It feels good to put salvaged material back to work, but I wonder how much heat we'll lose compared to putting in double pane windows? The plan is to make some sort of indoor panel with attached insulation that can be inserted in place to keep in more heat at night.

I'm thinking some of that thin plywood with a layer or two of Reflectix might work.

Posted Thu Oct 7 17:06:52 2010 Tags:

Full freezerOur freezer is now officially full.  I like to stack my produce in careful columns --- all of the squash in one row, all of the greens in another --- but over the last week, I've had to overcome my compulsive arranging and fit in food willy-nilly.  Not counting sauces, chickens, and fruit, we've got over 28 gallons of vegetables in our frozen larder!

It's a good thing the freezer is full because we're totally out of freezing containers.  We buy them in bulk on our visits to Mark's family in Ohio, and I guess I didn't expect such a bumper garden crop this year.  Just as the freezer started bulging at the gills, we rounded up the stray containers that had been pressed into service holding screws or chicken nipples and put them back into the food chain.  Even then, we ran out of containers just a few shy of filling every last gap in the freezer.

With no more space in the freezer and nothing to freeze the excess in, we're now just eating out of the garden.  I feel like I've been given a gift of time --- a whole free day a week that I used to spend processing the bounty.

Find the time to fill your freezer with garden bounty.
Posted Fri Oct 8 07:42:02 2010 Tags:

I should probably have researched the batteries in this old solar-powered house before I installed a charge controller. I had assumed that the 24 6-volt batteries in the house's battery bay were standard lead-acid deep cycle batteries. It wasn't until I stumbled over a receipt from 1997 that I learned that the batteries are really NiCads. Specifically Saft model STM5-180.

Thirty of these were purchased in 1997 from TVA in Chatanooga, for $350 total. An amazing price, since a single deep cycle battery is in that ballpark, new. These batteries were used, they had been in a "bus" -- perhaps it was a 1995 Chrysler TEVan, or maybe one of the pilot electric buses running there in the late 90's. They were probably not in this '79 VW TVA Bus. All mentions of these batteries I can find involve electric vehicles -- it's unusual for them to be used to power a house.

Being vented NiCads probably accounts for these batteries' long useful life -- surely at least 15 years. Still, with only twenty-four good ones left, they are probably toward the end of their lifespan and need to be taken care of in order to last.

Once I realized they were NiCads, I knew the charge controller was charging them wrong. NiCads like to be charged at a higher voltage than the 13 or so volts used for lead acid. I would have liked to charge them at 16 volts, but that would feed back through the house wiring, and could fry 12 volt stuff. Checking ratings, 15 volts seemed the highest voltage I could risk.

Coming back a week later, I found the batteries charged up to 13.4 volts. And they are now working great. Through several cloudy days, we had all the power we needed. And when the sun was out fully, I sometimes saw the solar panels charging the batteries at 125 watts -- fully half of the panels' rated capacity, and much better than before. The batteries start each evening at 13.4 volts, and only drop to 13.3 by morning. We started using electric lights more, and then just leaving them on all evening, and the freedombox online all night, and the batteries remained at the magic 13.3 in the morning. This is because NiCad batteries have a near-constant voltage until they are perhaps 30% discharged. In other words, I had been charging them less than half full before.

I have figured out how to combine the two banks the batteries are in into one large bank, and once I get the cables to do that, I hope to have battery capacity to get through up to a week of solid clouds in midwinter.

battery box and solar panel
Posted Fri Oct 8 16:50:19 2010 Tags:

Loading straw in the truck
Spreading straw mulch in the gardenWhen Mark came home with 18 bales of straw, I thought he was being a little decadent.  Who needs 18 bales of straw?  Me, clearly.

First, I just mulched the garlic beds as I put them in, but then I decided to go ahead and mulch around everything else.  After a careful weeding job, I put straw around the edges of any of the cover crops and winter crops which hadn't quite covered their beds.

My new goal is to have every bit of the garden either under mulch or cover crop for the winter.  I know from experience that every little bit of energy you sink into putting the garden to bed in the winter is repaid threefold by less work in the spring.  Autumn leaves did a pretty good job last year, but since then I've read that a high carbon mulch promotes a higher fungal to bacterial ratio than most garden plants enjoy, so straw seems to make more sense as a vegetable mulch.

Truckload of strawAbout halfway through my mulch campaign, the unimaginable happened --- I ran out of straw.  "Mark, I only have four bales left," I said sadly, and Mark rolled his eyes, refrained from saying "I told you so", and instead sent me and my father (currently visiting for the weekend) out to the feed store for one more truckload.  I feel even more decadent now, but I'm looking forward to an even more healthy garden in 2011.

Our homemade chicken waterer makes chicken care "almost too easy!", say our customers.
Posted Sat Oct 9 09:51:31 2010 Tags:

broody henOur broody hen has decided that this outdoor nest is a more proper home for her 11 eggs.

That's what I get for procrastinating on building those coop nest boxes.

Maybe she'll reconsider once I make something more cozy and higher up?

Posted Sat Oct 9 17:39:02 2010 Tags:

Wormy chestnutsI dragged Daddy to the fruit stand on Friday, where we peered in the cooler at two big baskets of chestnuts.  "Nice looking chesnuts," I said to the clerk, making conversation.  "They're buggy --- we're going to throw them out this evening," he replied.

My biomass detectors perked right up.  Five minutes later, I had a bushel of wormy chestnuts in my possession, hoping that I'll be able to find a way to feed them to the chickens.  I know my flock won't be able to peck their way through the tough skins, and I don't want to crack each one open individually.  Does anyone have any ideas for busting a bunch of wormy chestnuts far enough out of their shells so that a chicken beak can get to them?

Our homemade chicken waterer never spills or fills with poop.
Posted Sun Oct 10 08:26:28 2010 Tags:

leaf bag container upright thingThe collapsible lawn and leaf bag has seen better days.

We should have known better and stored it in the barn when the season was over.

I'm afraid too much sunlight exposure has weakened the tarp material resulting in a few fatal rips that duct tape can't fix.

Posted Sun Oct 10 19:00:11 2010 Tags:

Shelling out dried beans
Cleaning dried beans on top of a screenWhile poking around the fruit stand in search of my favorite apples, I stumbled across what was clearly a dried bean shelling station.  Since I'm just getting into  growing my own dried beans, I was intrigued to see how a medium-scale operation like this cleans their beans without mechanical equipment.

As best I can tell, the beans are first hand-shelled, then this setup is used to separate the chaff, stones, and bad beans from the good beans.  A wooden frame with a relatively fine mesh stapled to the bottom sits on top Greasy beansof a table topped by crossed rebars.  I can just imagine tossing all of my shelled beans into the frame, shaking it vigorously, and watching bits of chaff and small, malformed beans drop out the bottom.

I'm sure it's not cost-effective to sell your homegrown beans after putting so much effort into their processing, but I don't mind putting in extra time to feed my own family more nutritious food.  As I learned when my father came to visit, shelling beans is a great thing to do with your hands while visiting.  I now have a solid cup of urd beans just waiting to be sprouted into about a gallon of bean sprouts.

Our homemade chicken waterer keeps your flock healthy by keeping their water clean.
Posted Mon Oct 11 08:04:32 2010 Tags:

Mom in her urban homesteadMy mom (Adrianne) has a beautiful and dynamic garden in her small city backyard.  It's very much like a cottage garden, with flowers and vegetables tucked together in arrangements that are not only visually appealing, but also quite productive.

As a special treat, I've talked her into making a few guest posts this week for a lunchtime series.  I hope you enjoy this glimpse into an urban homestead!

Fund your own urban homestead with Microbusiness Independence.

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

Posted Mon Oct 11 12:00:38 2010 Tags:

chicken fence repair close upWhen we introduced our chicken tractor girls to the new pasture area they quickly found a back door that had been carved out by Lucy back before she discovered the power of a K9 fence unit.

It makes me wonder why the broody hen and the grown up new chick never ventured out for a peek. Maybe they just weren't interested in anything on the other side?
another chicken fence image

Posted Mon Oct 11 15:39:36 2010 Tags:

Expeller screwThe assembly instructions that came with our Rajkumar oil expeller left a lot to be desired, but I figured it out pretty easily by looking at the picture below, snagged from their website

Rajkumar oil expeller

To be fair, it's possible that the hand-lettered CD that came with the expeller might have included more pictorial instructions, but I couldn't open the files on my computer.  In case you follow my lead and buy the Rajkumar expeller, I've included step by step assembly instructions below.

Your expeller will come partially assembled, but you have to remove the expeller screw and wash it, along with the rest of the expeller, prior to the first use.  Once the parts are Inserting the screw in the expeller barrelclean and dry, slip one of the two included washers over the handle end of the expeller screw and grease it with cooking oil, as shown above on the right.  The instructions note "This washer is exposed to very high pressure and should always be well greased."

Next, slide the expeller screw into the press cage (the main part of the expeller) until the smooth end pops out the other side. 

Putting the handle on the Rajkumar oil expellerThe handle slides right over the end of the expeller screw --- just be sure to line up the holes.  The longest bolt in the kit seems to be the only one that fits to put these two parts together.

Attach the handle with the longest screw

Screw the cap on the other end of the expeller cageThe cap screws easily onto the other end of the press cage.  Depending on the type of seed you will be processing, you may also need to screw the adjustment bolt into the cap.  We left the bolt off since we'll be expelling sunflower seeds first.

Those of you following along at home may have realized by now that, up until this point, the Rajkumar expeller is completely identical to the Piteba model, except for the bigger stand bolted to the back.  A Adding the oil funnel to the expellerclose look at both websites makes me pretty sure that the two brands are in fact identical, but that the Rajkumar expeller has added in the bigger stand and three handy funnels.  These funnels are made of much less strong material than the angle iron and heavy pipes that make up the main body of the expeller, but I'm sure they will hold up well under the light use they'll be put to.

The longest funnel (shown above) is meant to channel the oil away from the expeller so that you can collect your product in a larger jar than you could with the Piteba expeller.  The oil funnel is attached with a single screw threaded through the back of the expeller.

Seed cake funnelIf you're smarter than I was, you'll rubber-band your bottle of lamp oil to the rounded part of the expeller before moving on to the next step, but I didn't have any lamp oil on hand, so I went ahead and screwed the seed cake funnel to the front of the expeller with the other small screw.  I'll have to remove this funnel and attach the "lamp" before operating the expeller.

Assembled Rajkumar oil expellerTo complete assembly of the oil expeller, I popped the round funnel on the top, having to bend the base a bit so that it slid on smoothly.  This last photo shows the completely assembled expeller, with the lamp bottle in place to show its location.

Despite this long post, assembling the Rajkumar oil expeller only took about 15 minutes, and that includes a bit of head-scratching.  The kit came with absolutely everything you might need, too, including a tiny screwdriver and wrench.  I would say that assembly is within the reach of even the beginner DIYer.

Our homemade chicken waterer kit comes with even clearer instructions, helping you make your unique waterer in an hour or less.
Posted Tue Oct 12 07:52:18 2010 Tags:

Tansy flowersI've had tansy ever since my mother brought a start to me from South Weymouth, Massachusetts, probably from her own yard, and probably, too, originally from her sister, Ruth Tirrell.  My mother would have little sprigs of the tansy flower mixed in with barberry bush sprigs, in a vase on her windowsill over the sink.  These little "button" seedheads stay yellow for ages, and keep their bitter, aromatic smell even longer.

The reason for tansy was to keep ants away.  In my mother's kitchen this never seemed to work!  But I guess she kept tansy as a comforting decoration, anyway!

I've looked up a tansy cookie recipe, in the Rodales Herb Book, ed. by Williamk Huilton, 1974: Beat 1/2 c. honey and 1/2 c. butter.  Add 1 egg, then 2 c. whole wheat flour, 1/4 tsp. baking soda, 1/4 tsp. salt, 1 tsp.vanilla and 1 1/2 tsp. tansy (probably dried leaves), plus 1 tbsp. yoghurt.  Roll out to 1/8 in. thick, cut into rounds, sprinkle with more tansy and bake at 375 for 10 min.

Because it is a "bitter herb" the cookies were eaten at Easter, and the dried leaves were eaten at Passover.  The seeds can be eaten as  a worm expellent.  There are other medicinal uses, of the tea brewed from the leaves: for eye imflammtion and styes, and in compresses New England astersfor varicose veins!

Tansy is supposed to deter mosquitoes, and squash bugs, besides ants.  Some say it therefore attracts aphids.  Some say it deters cucumber beetles, some say it attracts them.  I have my tansy tangled up with a volunteer blackberry vine, and have never had Japanese beetles there.  Some others plant tansy under fruit trees.

This is a ferny perennial that is started best from small starts, not seeds.  Mine has grown to 6 feet, taller than the usual 4.  Worth growing for its distinctive smell and flowers.

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Posted Tue Oct 12 12:00:42 2010 Tags:

deer deterrent reflection close up
I installed our 3rd
rotisserie motor deer deterrent in the garden today.

This new design is much more solid and dependable.

deer deterrent

I'm offering 2 free Walden Effect T-shirts to anyone out there industrious enough to build one of these and report back on it with a few pictures.

Posted Tue Oct 12 16:22:46 2010 Tags:

Deer deterrentWe haven't seen any deer damage in our garden in a couple of months, and even then their depredations were minimal.  Compare that to years past when our entire growing area was repeatedly defoliated by the hooved fiends, and you'll understand why I think Mark is a genius.

Last year, I was thrilled by the deer deterrents Mark made using old display motors, but those motors burnt out quickly and left holes in our defenses.  His most recent incarnation uses rotisserie motors, which seem more hard core and also go a bit more slowly so that that the noise is harder for deer to acclimate to.  To put the icing on the cake, the golf balls now hit brass cups, which makes the noise more pleasing to human ears --- very similar to a wind chime.

To be fair, it's really tough to find the true cause of our current absence of deer because every year is a bit different.  Maybe wild foods are especially abundant this year, but we don't seem to be having a mast year on our property.  And the deer pressure is still quite strong --- a neighbor told me that he'd recently cruised down our two and a half mile road and counted fifty deer.  Granted, I did take a potshot over the head of a deer a few months ago when he found a gap in our deterrents and ate my beans, but the efficacy of scare tactics like that has been short term in the past.  In previous years, I've lost the entire fall garden in one fell swoop to the deer.
Deer deterrent in action
We're hoping to have some guinea pigs test out deer deterrents around their own garden to give us a bit more data --- Mark has offered two free t-shirts to anyone who sends us some photos (and feedback) on their deterrents in action.  Your first step should be to read our instructions to make your homemade deer deterrent.  Those instructions use a motor that we no longer recommend, but it should be simple to add in the rotisserie motor and take out the drill, transformer, and resistor using the information Mark has been posting on his deer deterrent blog.  You can leave a comment here or there if you have trouble and we'll point you in the right direction.  I estimate that your total cost to produce a deterrent (assuming you buy everything new) will be about $30...or considerably less if you do a bit of scavenging for components.

I know that we have a lot of handy readers, so I'm looking forward to seeing what you come up with.  Erich, Zimmy, consider yourselves challenged.

Mark's last invention --- the homemade chicken waterer --- has captured the imagination of thousands of backyard chicken keepers from Alaska to Australia.
Posted Wed Oct 13 08:34:15 2010 Tags:
Brandywine tomatoThese I grew from a Seeds of Change organic seed packet of '94, this year, and was extra caring, both in raising the seedlings, on my windowsill, in 4X4 plastic pots, and in setting them out in the sunniest spot in my tiny backyard garden.  I did put rich compost in the holes when I set them out, and used the wire "baskets" for some, and for others, tied them to a chicken wire fence, to train them up.

They got a late start, but are still bearing now.  They had no signs of blight at all, partly because I was so careful to take off any dead Sunflowers in an urban homesteadleaves.  I'd read that carrots are their best companion plants, so I did try to start carrots near each tomato.  The companion plant that I also had to put near them was peppers, and some basil.  But the interloper, volunteer, 3 tall sunflowers, I  also kept, in spite of their competing for sun with the tomatoes.  These tomatoes have been amazing--very solid, not watery--and I've wondered if maybe the tomato plants actually got a boost from the birds pooping as they ate up the sunflower seeds!

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Posted Wed Oct 13 12:00:31 2010 Tags:

outdoor nest box with chicken in background
I installed this outdoor nestbox for the more discriminating hens of our flock.

There still seems to be some confusion when it comes to finding the right roost for the night.

Maybe this extra nest will help to smooth out some ruffled feathers?

Posted Wed Oct 13 17:41:48 2010 Tags:
Young buckwheat fruits

Electric hedge trimmerCover crops take almost no effort, but you do need to keep an eye on them and make sure they don't go to seed.  I thought that buckwheat planted on August 24 would be killed by the first frost just as it reached peak maturity, but we dodged the early frost bullet last week, and now our buckwheat is starting to develop young fruits.

I mowed down our first round of buckwheat, but I wasn't very happy with the results --- Cutting buckwheat with a hedge trimmerbuckwheat bits flew everywhere, and some plants got mashed down and then regrew.  This time, I decided to try out the electric hedge trimmer Mark got at a yard sale for $10.

As you can see, the sickle-type mowing blade made short work of our succulent buckwheat stems.  I slid the hedge trimmer through the buckwheat about an inch above the ground and was done cutting in about a minute.  A minute after that, I'd finished tossing the few stems that slid off the bed back on top of the growing area.
Slain buckwheat
The buckwheat worked as advertised in our loamy upper garden --- maturity in precisely six weeks.  Of course, the real test will be the quantity of dried organic matter we get, compared to the amount of organic matter that results from our slightly shorter but tougher oat stems.

No matter which cover crops win my long term attention, I can tell that the electric hedge trimmer has a future in our grain experiments.

Cut out the experimentation time when you build your nipple waterer using our homemade chicken waterer kit.
Posted Thu Oct 14 07:00:24 2010 Tags:

Bamboo bean polesTwo different types of pole beans are gradually stopping blooming in my garden now.  Both I got from Deni and Tom Peterson at a seed exchange this winter.  Both I've grown on bamboo "tipis", with the Hidasa Shield Figure Bean, from the Plains, further away from the mulberry trees that shade that part of the garden, which was a bad tomato blight spot last year. 

The Hidasa Shield Figure Beans are rather flat and wide, a light green, and sturdy.  The dried beans are white, with a brown "shield" which also has a white center in it.  According to the Petersons (at they were grown in Buffalo Bird Woman's Garden, and were selected to Slow Food's "Ark of Taste."  They grew really well and traveled onto a pea fence that was next to their poles.

Cherokee Trail of Tears bean flowerThe other type, with purple blooms, is the Cherokee Trail of Tears, that also has a purplish bean that turns green when cooked.  Or has the black seeds when dried.  This has been grown since the late 1830s.  It did well in partial shade, climbing on poles that slanted back toward the mulberry branches, so that I, too, had to climb up on a ladder to pick them!

The only drawback to these beans is their strings, with the Hidatsa bean pods being quite tough to break, while the Cherokee are almost stringless, with an infinitesimal string, almost as tender as a corn silk!

No bugs at all on these beans, compared to Blue Lake, I also grew.  Conventional "half-runners" had much more persistent strings, too.

To grow these beans is to touch history, in a  spiritual way.

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Posted Thu Oct 14 12:00:57 2010 Tags:
electrical connection repair details

One problem that's happened a few times with the golf cart is battery gunk eating its way through the battery cable connectors.

You can find a replacement cable at most auto parts stores somewhere in the battery section, but these copper connectors will work as a replacement end at less than half the cost.

Posted Thu Oct 14 17:00:17 2010 Tags:

Dark chocolate cocoa muffinsI am a chocoholic, so I was thrilled when I realized you can substitute cocoa for flour in baked goods and end up with the same fluffiness and texture as in the original, but with double the chocolate content.  My first trial was a chocolate crust for our butternut pie, then I created this dark chocolate cocoa muffin recipe based on our favorite chocolate cake recipe

Mark and I agree that this is every bit as good as the world class chocolate muffins we enjoyed on our cruise a year ago, and the muffins are unbelievably easy to throw together.  If you currently fulfill your chocolate cravings with cake mix or pre-made cakes from the grocery store, you can save a bundle (and delete some of the bad ingredients) by using this recipe instead.

  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1/3 c. plus 1/4 c. white flour
  • 2/3 c. cocoa
  • 3/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 c. milk powder, dissolved in water to yield 1/2 c. of dense milk
  • 1/4 c. peanut oil
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/3 c. boiling water

Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Grease two medium cookie tins --- this recipe will make 12 muffins.
Chocolate muffin batter
Stir together the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl.  If you're adventurous, feel free to increase or decrease the flour and cocoa quantities until you find just the right chocolate point for you --- the sum of the two quantities should equal 1.25 cups.

Add eggs, dense milk, oil and vanilla.  Beat on medium speed with the mixer for two minutes while bringing some water to a boil.
Nutritional information for dark chocolate muffins
Stir in the boiling water.  Pour batter into muffin tins and bake until done.  (I can't tell you an exact baking time because the numbers have rubbed off my oven temperature dial and I'm not certain I was baking at exactly 350.)

I've tried several times adding chocolate chips to these muffins, but try as I might, the chips drop to the bottom.  I even whirred the chips in the blender to make them smaller and still ended up with chips-on-the-bottom.  If anyone can figure out a way to make my chocolate chips stay suspended in the thin batter, I'd be forever grateful!

Our homemade chicken waterer provides clean water for your flock even while you're gone on a cruise.
Posted Fri Oct 15 07:00:36 2010 Tags:

chicken pasture nest boxThis plastic milk carton was easy to attach to the wall with several dry wall screws.

Installing it near a hole makes egg access easy without entering the coop.

What you don't see is a roost at the half way point to make getting up there easier for the girls.

Posted Fri Oct 15 17:00:28 2010 Tags:

RoosterWhat happens when you merge three chicken flocks together?  Lots of excitement!

To refresh your memory, the forest pasture had been home to our broody white cochin and her foster son for a couple of months while our three oldest hens lived together in one tractor and one younger hen lived alone in another tractor.  The youngest hen's sister currently lives in another tractor until we find time to turn her into sausage --- she developed some sort of egg-laying problem that can't be solved and she isn't worth feeding through the winter. 
Two hens, perched on the fence
I rushed the move to pasture a bit because I felt bad about the hen living all by herself in a tractor, but at first our loner seemed to have been better off in solitary confinement.  The mother hen and her son teamed up to go after the newcomers until all four lived in fear (and were cut off from the food.)  While the three oldsters had each other for moral support, our youngest hen hovered on the periphery and went so far as to fly out of the pasture in her efforts to escape harassment.

That was the status quo for a few days, until I decided to open up the other coop door to let the chickens use both pastures.  Our old hens are about ten times smarter than the others, so they figured out right away that they could pop into the coop on one end and out the other end into a tyrant-free paradise.  I started feeding the three wise hens in their own pasture, and the other three birds in the broody hen's pasture.

Rooster and hen sharing foodA week after flock merger, our poor loner was out of the pasture again, and this time I decided to pop her back into the wise hens' pasture rather the other one.  This small decision seems to have changed the entire flock dynamic --- a couple of hours later, I discovered the rooster in the wise hens' pasture, lording over four hens who all got along just fine.  Maybe he knew how to change pastures all along, but saw no reason to follow along after middle-aged biddies?

Our rooster's regard seems to have flip-flocked our youngster's status from loner to flockmate.  The wise hens used to peck at her when she got too close, but under the rooster's reign, the pasture was full of serenely scratching hens.
Chicken forest pasture
Meanwhile, the mean white cochin hardly seemed to notice that her son had defected.  Will she eventually make her way into the popular pasture?  Will she maintain her rank at the top of the pecking order once I merge all of the chickens back into one pasture to plant winter wheat in the other?

I can't imagine why I would need to watch TV with so much drama right in my backyard.

As you can see, our homemade chicken waterer is at the heart of our pasture plan.
Posted Sat Oct 16 07:00:24 2010 Tags:
tow strap close up of the hooks

I've discovered that a good cloth tow strap is a great addition to the homesteading tool box.

We used ours recently to tow the golf cart back to the trailer when it had a problem.

It's also handy when winching out something that's stuck in the mud.

Posted Sat Oct 16 17:00:33 2010 Tags:

Green tomatoesEven though it didn't frost a week and a half ago, it turns out that harvesting all of the blushing tomatoes was a good move.  Our vines are laden with fruits of all ages, and it seemed like when I picked all of the slightly ripe fruit, the remaining green fruit started ripening faster.

I decided to go ahead and repeat the maneuver this week in hopes of getting even more ripenable fruits off our vines before the frost.  We now have a three story hanging basket completely full of ripening tomatoes and peppers, along with another basket of greener tomatoes and a collander of green peppers.  There are still two weeks' worth of green tomatoes out in the garden, if by chance the frost holds out that long.

Poor Daddy had to put up with peppers in every meal while he was visiting.  Roast peppers, peppers on salad, ratatouille, peppers in fajitas...I suspect he won't be eating another pepper anytime soon.

Our homemade chicken waterer keeps our flock happy and healthy.
Posted Sun Oct 17 07:00:21 2010 Tags:

automatic chicken waterer bucket 5 gallon capacityThe current plan is to move the 5 gallon bucket waterer from the side of this tree to inside the pasture coop.

I've got a few ideas involving the Ice and Easy heater coupled with some insulation that might prevent our chicken water from freezing this winter.

Posted Sun Oct 17 17:00:32 2010 Tags:

FriendsMark and I took a quick trip up north this past weekend to experience our first real sailing lesson, to hang out with old buddies, and then to enjoy a beautiful wedding.  (Congratulations, Kira and Erskin!)

We thoroughly enjoyed the decadence of eating out, luxuriating in a hot bath, and having no chores.  But after just two days, we were sick of the big city.  Despite seeking out vegetables on every menu and snacking on a big bag of fruit stand apples lugged from home, I was starting to feel malnourished without my farm fresh produce, greenery, and fresh air.

Squash blackened by frost

Back home, we see the frost came calling while we were gone.  I always have mixed feelings about the first frost.  Seeing the blackened leaves on the tomatoes, okra, squash, Oyster mushroomsand basil, I know that the bounty of summer is truly over.  On the other hand, summer weeds have blackened too, so the first frost gives me an inkling of the serenity of winter.  I know that in just a few months I will be aching for an excuse to push my hands into the soil again.

Of course, the first frost brings its own bounty.  Oyster mushroom logs that sat dormant all summer have sprung into life!  Good thing I found a small stack of freezer containers in the barn while preparing for our trip.  I guess I could squeeze a few more quarts into our jam-packed freezer.

We left our flock with several homemade chicken waterers and came home to happy chickens and plenty of eggs.
Posted Mon Oct 18 07:01:46 2010 Tags:
golf cart bungee cord with caribiner

I'm not sure what took the bungee cord industry so long to wise up to the innovation of a carabiner instead of a hook, but it sure makes overloading the golf cart much easier compared to more traditional bungee cords.

Posted Mon Oct 18 16:32:31 2010 Tags:

Indian Long SquashWe stayed at Village Inn in Annapolis, MD, during last weekend's trip north.  Since this is me we're talking about, you probably won't be terribly surprised that I learned about a new garden vegetable in the process, right?

The motel is run by an Indian family, and they were growing a squash I'd never seen before.  The vine was exuberant, running out across the lawn in every direction just like any other squash, but when I walked closer, I saw that the fruits were fuzzy!  The crinkly white flowers were unique too, and I was positive I'd never seen such a thing before.

I bearded one of the proprietors in the office and picked his brain about this vegetable, which turned out to be an Indian Long Squash.  He told me that his family eats the long squash like a vegetable (presumably like a summer squash?), cooks it into sweets (like pumpkin pie?), and even Indian Long Squash floweruses it to lower their cholesterol.  I was dying for more information, but he had to answer the phone, and we had a sailing lesson starting up any minute.

As I walked out the door, though, the nice gentleman called after me.  "No chemicals!" he exclaimed --- just making sure I knew that his beautiful garden was organic.  I wouldn't be exaggerating if I told you this stay in a budget motel was the best hotel experience of my life.

Our homemade chicken waterer allowed us to leave our flock alone for four days without worrying.
Posted Tue Oct 19 07:00:24 2010 Tags:

largest pumpkin of 2010 I've seen so far
Anna and I saw this huge pumpkin on our trip up north last week at Burke's fruit stand outside of Abingdon.

It's by far the biggest one I've seen this year.

The sign says it's not for sale, but if I had to guess I would say it might go for 40 or 50 bucks...maybe more in a bigger city.

Posted Tue Oct 19 19:39:50 2010 Tags:
Wheelbarrow full of wood chip mulch

If someone had asked me yesterday how long wood chips need to age before they can be used as mulch, I would have said, "You should probably wait two years.  And even then there could be pockets of chips too young to mulch with.  Wait until your chips have turned black."

Mycelium-coated wood chipsToday, I'll tell you something completely different.  With a flock of broilers scratching through and fertilizing fresh wood chips, and with wild fungi colonizing the substrate, your wood chips could be perfect mulch in just 6 months.  And black isn't the prime color --- white is.  The best mulch will be held together by huge masses of mycelium, bringing the fungi to bacteria ratio to the point that trees love.

As I shoveled the world class mulch out of the forest pasture, I had to keep my wits about me so that I didn't cut off any hen toes.  My wise old hens knew that worms and grubs like to hide out under mulch, and they also knew that the hen closest to the shovel always gets the prize.

The chickens feed the wood chips, the wood chips feed the orchard, and the grubs feed the chickens.  I love it when permaculture systems fit so well together.

Our homemade chicken waterer is perfect in coops, tractors, or pastures.
Posted Wed Oct 20 07:00:37 2010 Tags:
short haul in a golf cart by Club Car

Adding a couple of ladder hooks on the tail gate of the golf cart dump box makes hauling over sized pieces like this plywood a breeze.

long hauling of plywood by a golf cart
Posted Wed Oct 20 18:57:03 2010 Tags:

Mound to plant a tree inEvery year, I splurge and spend a hundred bucks on new perennials.  Although it seems like a lot of cash, fruit trees take a long time to mature and it just makes sense to find the money to sink into long term farm infrastructure as soon as possible.

This year, Mark talked me into spending even more on perennials since we've got several gaps in the forest garden, remnants of the days when I didn't realize that there is no point in planting fruit trees in the waterlogged soil without raising them up on significant mounds and that I should plant disease resistant varieties rather than just my favorite foods.  So I put in an order for Liberty and old-fashioned Winesap apples, Redhaven and Cresthaven peaches, Prima and Bounty Almonds, Carpathian walnuts (to go in the other forest garden where there's room for mammoths), timber bamboo, dwarf Korean nut pine, and Chicago hardy fig.

Two peach trees

The old saw admonishes us to dig a $10 hole for a $2 tree, and I'm now a firm believer in every part of the saying except the hole part.  Take a look at the photos above, and you'll probably become a believer too.  The peach on the left was planted on a large mound of rich soil that I expanded over the next two years by piling garden weeds around the mound edges.  That peach gave us a glut of delicious peaches this year.  The peach on the right was planted one year later on a much smaller mound that was never expanded.  It gave us four peaches this year, and its leaves have always been a yellowish color instead of the vibrant green of the peach planted in a $10 mound.  The dark green peach is actually 25 feet further away from the camera, but it looks nearly as big as the yellow peach, doesn't it?  In actuality, our happy peach is about twice as big around.

I've learned my lesson and have resolved to plant this year's perennials in $20 mounds.  After laying down a sheet of cardboard to kill vigorous weeds, I hauled four wheelbarrow loads of composted weeds from the forest pasture, then topped the mound with a Chickens scratching through compostwheelbarrow load of the world's best wood chip mulch.  Unfortunately, I ran out of the prime composted weeds after mound number three, so I need to come up with some other awesome soil to build the other half of the mounds.

As a side note, the chickens were just as helpful when it came time to shovel compost as when I was shovelling wood chips.  I was impressed to see how well our merged flock plays together now that the rooster has taken all of the biddies under his wing.  Just a week ago, our broody hen would never have let the loner forage so close to her sharp, sharp beak.

Our homemade chicken waterer keeps your flock healthy and happy.
Posted Thu Oct 21 07:00:25 2010 Tags:

insulation Anna insulating new building
The skylight passed its final test last week when it held back a good size downpour with no leakage.

Today was the day it graduated to being fully insulated and covered up with plywood.

We went for two layers of insulation and it wasn't so bad getting it to stay in place with a good staple gun.

It's hard to describe just how good it feels to almost be finished with this project that we began a year ago this week.

Posted Thu Oct 21 17:24:00 2010 Tags:

Raking in wheat seedsAlthough I left laying pellets to tide our chickens over, they clearly got a bit hungry while we were out of town for four days.  They had ignored the buckwheat and beans before we left, but when we returned I saw that our flock had eaten up every seed and scratched the ground into a crumbly texture perfect for planting.

I shut the flock back into the larger paddock and planted our winter wheat in the newly bare ground.  The combination of frost and chickens had broken down even the stems of the previous crop so that I could easily rake the wheat seeds into the soil.

I would have liked to plant our wheat earlier, but it's very important to pay attention to the Hessian fly free date when seeding wheat for grain.  This little insect burrows into leaves of young wheat before the frost, and heavily infected fields will struggle so much that you get little or no wheat harvest the next spring.  By waiting until cold weather hits to plant your wheat, you can bypass this pest.  Each part of the country has a Hessian fly free date after which it is safe to plant your grain.

Map of Hessian fly free date

This map of Hessian fly free dates from Purdue University is the best I've found, but I wonder about its accuracy here in the mountains.  I waited a few days longer than the map suggested, until a frost made me confident that Hessian flies were long gone.  If all goes well, I should be able to graze the chickens on the winter wheat in about a month, providing a bit of winter greenery in their diets, then still get grain in spring of 2011.

Our chickens live a life of luxury in their pasture with unlimited clean water from our homemade chicken waterer.
Posted Fri Oct 22 07:00:32 2010 Tags:
skylight details for the do it yourselfer

One of the last things I need to do is fabricate some sort of shutter system so the skylight can be closed half way or all the way or somewhere in between.

Posted Fri Oct 22 16:04:21 2010 Tags:

Oat flowersJust a week after noticing that the six week old buckwheat was going to seed, I saw these beautiful oat flowers popping out of my two month old oats.  Since I'm growing the oats as a cover crop right now, I went ahead and mowed them down with the hedge trimmer.  Incidentally, the hedge trimmer got slightly bogged down in the thickest parts of the oat beds, so I wouldn't want to use it on anything tougher than ripening oat stalks.

Meanwhile, I'm continuing to go a little overboard testing out every possible autumn cover crop.  Two weeks ago, I planted several beds with crimson clover, the only fall-planted legume cover crop that is supposed to be at least semi-reliably winter-killed in our region.  Early October is late to be planting crimson clover, but the seeds are already up and I have high hopes we'll get enough growth to give me an idea of the quality of the variety before our first hard freeze.

I've got a lot more beds opened up now that the summer garden is officially dead, so I'm going to try out one last cover crop this year --- barley.  If you're curious about the pros and cons of different cover crops in your region, I highly recommend that you download Managing Cover Crops Profitably.  This 4.5 MB, 248 page pdf file gives a lot of regional pointers that will help you figure out which cover crops are worth a shot and which ones should be avoided at all costs.  The results you'll get from a cover crop are highly dependent on your climate and soil, so it's worth doing a bit of research rather than just planting the cover crops that have done well on someone else's farm.

Don't want to take the time to experiment?  Our homemade chicken waterer kit can be put together in less than an hour.
Posted Sat Oct 23 07:00:22 2010 Tags:
mark Sailing
sailing on the South River in Anapolis MD

We're already looking forward to our next sailing lesson.

Last week we rented a 33 foot sailboat with an instructor to show us the ropes.

It didn't go quite as planned.

We both recorded our experiences over at

Posted Sat Oct 23 17:19:19 2010 Tags:

Mature amaranth plantsOur quinoa disappeared into a deer- and bug-eaten mess this spring, but our amaranth sprang up far above my head.  By late summer, the plumes of flowers were going to seed, and the red stalks were four inches in diameter.  Clearly, the growing part of our amaranth experiment was a success.  (This photo was taken near the end of September when the plants were mostly mature.  Next year, I'll give them some supports, since about half of the plants fell over under the weight of their fruits.)

Harvesting amaranth for grainAfter the first frost, I snipped off all of the plumes with scissors and stuffed them into two paper grocery bags.  Although I've read that it's easier to thresh your amaranth if you let the seed heads dry thoroughly first, I didn't have space to spread the plumes out and I was a bit afraid of them molding in their bags.  So I moved on to processing the grain.

When I researched homegrown grains last winter, the accepted method for home-threshing seemed to be to lay out your heads of grain on an old sheet and whack them into submission with a stick or plastic bat.  The more I thought about this idea, the more it seemed like I'd end up with grain everywhere except on the sheet.  Plus, we're kinda low on sheets.

Hand threshing amaranth

Winnowing amaranthThere are several other methods people use to thresh grain at home, but as small as our experimental harvest was, it seemed easier to go with a more time-consuming method that required no elaborate setup.  I just rubbed the plumes one by one between my hands, letting the seeds fall into a clean bucket.

To winnow, I headed outside with two bowls and poured my grain from one to the other until the breeze had carried away all of the chaff.  (The chaff mostly ended up on Lucy's head since she came to sit at my feet like any faithful dog would.)  As I got more confident, I lifted the bowl higher and higher, until I could see the beautiful rain of seeds falling directly downward to ping in my metal bowl, while the light chaff floated away in another column.

Amaranth seeds with and without chaff

Jar of amaranthThere were a few bits of chaff left in my bowl even after several rounds of winnowing, pieces of seedhead that were about as heavy as the seeds themselves.  Some people pass their seeds through a windowscreen at this point, but I just picked out the half dozen big pieces and moved on.  The photos above show my amaranth before (left) and after (right) winnowing.

I threshed and winnowed about a quarter of our harvest and came up with a cup of seeds.  I figure a quart of the tiny seeds is a pretty good haul for one experimental bed of amaranth.  Next step: to see if we like the taste.

Our homemade chicken waterer is an easy DIY project for the backyard chicken keeper.
Posted Sun Oct 24 07:00:26 2010 Tags:
mark Flying
2 seat powered parachute with canopy

flying at 420 feet above a farm in Tennessee
Saturday was a perfect day for my first powered parachute orientation flight.

This is a picture of me looking down from a cruising altitude of 420 feet.

I first read about these contraptions over 20 years ago in the classified section of Popular Science and have dreamed about flying in one ever since.
flying fortune synchronized
It was awesome!

My fortune cookie at the Chinese buffet afterwards seemed to be synchronized with the day.

The guy you see in the picture below is Jim Mac Leay. He's the super nice instructor and powered parachute owner that did most of the flying until he gave control over to me.

Flying a powered parachute with Jim on the radio on the ground

You pull back on the throttle to go higher, push on it to go down, and steer either left or right with your feet. It's just that easy. It doesn't go faster than 35 miles per hour and feels sort of like a golf cart in the sky.

The view up there is amazing!

I took a 2 and a half minute video that will be up on next week.

Posted Sun Oct 24 16:03:45 2010 Tags:

Sifter"How would you like to come over and help me thresh amaranth?" I asked my mom, and she gamely agreed.  She was a great help as we worked through two big grocery bags of seed heads, but when it came time to winnow, Mom clearly didn't think too much of my bowl method.  Instead, she suggested that I use my flour sifter to separate the seeds from the chaff.

Sure enough, amaranth seeds are just small enough to drop through the holes in the mesh bottom while most of the chaff stays up in the chamber to be dumped out.  Sifting is also considerably faster than the bowl method since one round in the sifter is equivalent to several rounds of pouring the seeds from bowl to bowl.

After a great deal of trial and error, we figured out that a combination of the bowl method and the sifter method are best for winnowing amaranth.  We would sift a time or two, then use the bowl method to remove the chaff small enough to fit through the screen.  Then, if we felt like it, we might sift again to get the seeds really clean.

Amaranth seedsOnce our seeds were winnowed, Mom noticed another potential problem --- there were dozens of tiny bugs wandering around on our amaranth kernels.  I've read that you can bake grain in the oven for a short time to kill bugs before storing it, but I want to be able to save some of the seeds to plant next year.  So I popped the grain in the freezer instead, and also plan to eat our amaranth over the next month or two rather than doling it out over the next year.

Total harvest from one garden bed was 3.5 cups and we took about an hour or two to process it (but we weren't in any hurry.)  I'm thrilled by the harvest and by the relative ease of processing our first real batch of homegrown grains.  We will definitely expand our amaranth planting next year.

Keep your flock of backyard chickens happy and healthy with our homemade chicken waterer.
Posted Mon Oct 25 08:33:30 2010 Tags:

HuckleberryI used to think I was the only one capable of turning paradise into purgatory.  Then I went to visit Everett and realized that most type A people probably share my unique skill.

Four years ago, I finally got a chance to live my dream --- turning a chunk of swamp and berry brambles into a self-sufficient homestead.  You would have thought I would have been in hog heaven, right?  Well, I did enjoy a lot of the first few years on the farm, but I also spent a considerable amount of time so stressed out that I couldn't see the immense beauty around me.  Rather than noticing the tremendous changes Mark and I had made on the farm, all I could see were the dozen huge projects we seemed to never have time to deal with.

Contrast this mindset with Mark's approach to homesteading.  Mark is the world's hardest worker...when he's working.  But he doesn't peer up at the tattered barn roof with the same heart-wrenching worry I experience; instead, he enjoys the silhouette of the pole structure against the blue sky.  Once we've done everything on our list for the week, he kicks back and enjoys the weekend.

Perhaps you're already a type B person, fully adept at living in the moment.  But just in case you're type A and turning heaven into hell, I wanted to share coping techniques I've developed in the last few years to regain my bliss.

Escape the rat race with Microbusiness Independence.

This post is part of our Coping With Paradise lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Mon Oct 25 12:00:29 2010 Tags:

Anna with 2 pineapplesOne way to test the ripeness of a pineapple is to pull on a leaf. If it pulls off too easy then you might have an over ripe fruit.

We got these 2 from the store.

If you follow a guy named
Rick's directions you can propagate one of these store bought fruits at home as long as you've got a warm place for it during the winter.

Posted Mon Oct 25 17:16:57 2010 Tags:

Winter protection for rosemaryHere in zone 6, we're right on the edge of rosemary's hardiness area.  Despite the fact that friends of mine fifty miles south can grow huge bushes of rosemary where nearby pavement holds in heat around their city yards, I've never managed to get mine to survive the winter.  Our shady valley chills down fast and stays cold all winter --- we've had four frosts already that have completely taken out the summer garden while my city friends are still lingering on the edge of summer.

This year, I decided to start experimenting with ways of protecting rosemary so that it will survive the winter outdoors.  The first step was too keep its roots very dry.  I built hugelkultur mounds in the sunniest (but also most waterlogged) part of the garden.  For the first time ever, my rosemary thrived through the summer, turning from a rooted cutting into a nice little bush.  The soil felt bone dry when I rooted around in it, but the rosemary seemed to get plenty of moisture.

Using leaves to protect rosemaryNow that cold weather is on its way, I made a little den for the rosemary out of four cinderblocks liberally filled with autumn leaves.  (Thanks for collecting those, Mom!)  I hope the plant won't mind not being able to photosynthesize with its lower leaves, and that the combination of cinderblock thermal mass and leaf insulation will keep the roots from freezing.

I also hedged my bets a month ago by buying two cold hardy rosemary varieties from a nearby nursery --- Hill Hardy and Arp.  I've read various reports on the internet, some of which suggest that these varieties will survive the winter in zone 6, and others that are less promising.  If I'd known what I was doing, I would have planted these hardy rosemary plants in the spring like I did my homegrown cutting so that they would have all summer to get established --- that's what I'll try next year if my insulating barriers fail to protect our three rosemary plants through the winter.  If even that fails, I'll let Mark build me the mini-greenhouses he's been dying to make to keep our delicious herb green all year.

Keep your flock's water poop-free with a homemade chicken waterer.
Posted Tue Oct 26 08:17:40 2010 Tags:

List of long term goalsIf you're a type A person overwhelmed by the nitty-gritty of realizing your dreams, one solution is to draw up a realistic timeline.  I found it very useful to sit down with Mark and write out a list of big projects we want to accomplish on the farm.  These tend to be the expensive and/or time-consuming goals that make me twitch when I gaze out over our homestead and realize we haven't even begun to work on them, things like growing our own meat or becoming more energy independent. 

If you're playing along at home, this is your chance to get everything that keeps you up at night off your chest and onto paper, so write every little thing down.  The image to the right is this year's incarnation of our big picture goals.  I broke our farm goals down into four categories, mostly to make myself pay attention to things other than the garden (which I've channeled most of our energy toward over the last four years.)

After listing everything we ache to achieve, Mark and I each rated the importance of the goals within each category.  So, for example, Mark and I both felt that dealing with our creek crossing was the most important goal in the Other category, but Mark wanted to improve the driveway next while I wanted to finish burying our water line so that it wouldn't freeze in the winter.  I averaged our two ratings for each goal to give us a list of priorities within each category.  For the record, here are our prioritized long term goals in each category:


  1. Biochar toilet
  2. Finish the storage building
  3. Bathing room
  4. Fix fridge root cellar
  5. Build another woodshed
  6. Insulate the trailer floor
  7. Build a second fridge root cellar
  8. Porch on the north side of trailer with summer kitchen
  9. Barn roof repair
  10. Porch on south side of trailer with steps
  11. Hobbit caves (underground sleeping area)


  1. Find a way to keep constant mulch cover
  2. Be able to reproduce mushrooms
  3. Grains
  4. Oil


  1. Start fencing/hedging pastures
  2. Figure out chicken reproduction
  3. Plant forest pasture trees
  4. Consider sheep, pig, goats, meat chickens


  1. Creek crossing
  2. Finish burying water line
  3. Wood chipper
  4. Find a temporary caretaker to mind the farm when we take trips
  5. Deal with mud around the house
  6. Solidify the driveway with more rocks
  7. Off grid lights and stove fan
  8. More efficient wood stove
  9. Solar hot water heater
  10. Powered parachute
  11. Perimeter trail

We repeat this exercise once a year in January, so this list is slightly out of date.  Tomorrow, I'll tell you how this list makes life less overwhelming, rather than more so.

Fund your journey back to the land with Microbusiness Independence.

This post is part of our Coping With Paradise lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Tue Oct 26 12:00:59 2010 Tags:
Tow strap in use once again

Last winter I was adjusting the position of our utility trailer beside this hill and it got away from me. Luckily it stopped by a young box elder tree near the bottom.
tow strap in action
Today was the day we decided to pull it back up the hill with the tow strap to make room for some future piles of wood chips from the local tree cutting crew.

It's still at the bottom of the hill.

The tongue kept rubbing on the hillside while the Ford Festiva exhaust blew extra strong puffs in my direction.

We'll attack this problem another day when I can figure out a more reasonable approach that involves more oxygen and less carbon monoxide.

Posted Tue Oct 26 16:51:41 2010 Tags:

Picking basil seedsI added basil to my list of garden plants with easy to save seeds this year.  We always plant a whole garden bed of basil, carefully snipping off any flowers in early summer to keep the leaves small and tender.  But by late summer, we've frozen as much pesto as we want and only need about a quarter of the bed to pick fresh leaves for seasoning.  So this year I let the unused portion of the bed go to seed, and after the frost Mom and I stripped the seed heads off a few of the plants.

Due to our success with winnowing amaranth, the flour sifter had become my new favorite tool for seed-saving.  I rubbed the basil pods with my hands to break them open, passed them through the sifter, then dropped the remains from one bowl to another.  Ten minutes after going out the door, we had a tablespoonful of clean basil seeds, plenty for next year's garden.  I can't imagine why I've been buying basil seeds for the past few years!

Our homemade chicken waterer gives your flock clean, poop-free water.
Posted Wed Oct 27 07:00:35 2010 Tags:

Garden through a windowOnce you've figured out your shared long-term goals, it's much easier to break those goals into bite-size segments.  We like to choose ten big picture goals to work on each year, taking the top-ranked two or three goals out of each category.  You can see our 2009 and 2010 goals in past posts.

Now for the important part --- let your long term list do all of the worrying about goals not on this year's agenda.  If something didn't make it onto your list for this year, forget about it!  This rule will hold true for the other lists I'll discuss this week too.

Working in the gardenTen goals may not sound like much to put on your agenda for a solid year, but it's important to realize that life on a farm takes a lot of work just to stay afloat.  During the growing season, we spent almost no time working on long term goals, filling our days with weeding, harvesting, mowing, killing chickens, and so forth instead.  Even in the winter, splitting wood and cooking from scratch use up a considerable amount of time.  If anything, I would recommend that folks just getting started on the farm cut back to half a dozen long term goals for the first few years rather than expanding to a score, only to see your dreams dashed.

In fact, one of my biggest pieces of advice for type A homesteaders is --- always put only half as many projects on any list as you think you can complete in the slated period of Trees bare of leavestime.  You'll feel really, really good if you complete everything on your list and can work ahead, while you'll feel just as terrible if you only get a third of your list done.  Why not prime the pump of happiness rather than despair?

It also helps to lower your standards a bit and realize that it's not essential for your farm to look like the pictures in the glossy magazines, at least not at first.  The most fun part of farming is figuring it all out, so why rush through the early days in search of an elusive goal when you could be taking a process-oriented approach and experiencing bliss?

Invent your way to freedom with Microbusiness Independence.

This post is part of our Coping With Paradise lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Wed Oct 27 12:00:24 2010 Tags:
powered parachute

I finished triming off 2 and a half minutes of my powered parachute video recently and posted it on our site. If you look closely you can see a bald eagle resting in a tree when we fly over the river.

It takes 15 to 20 hours of instruction to obtain the new Sport Pilot certification which allows you to operate a 2 seater legally.

Powered parachute flying is mainly a warm weather sport, and even then you usually have to restrict flying to a few hours in the morning and evening when the winds are below 15 mph.

Posted Wed Oct 27 19:27:27 2010 Tags:

Afghan sesame seedsWe tried a heaping handful of experimental crops in this year's garden, and I've already reported on some of the successes (like our amaranth and urd beans) as well as some of our failures (like some of our other experimental beans.)  In the interest of sound science, here are the yields of three of our low to moderately successful crops.

Temuco quinoa was our absolutely least successful experiment --- we got nothing out of our experimental bed.  On the one hand, the quinoa was heavily nibbled by deer, but everything else in the garden somehow managed to rebound while the quinoa sat there for weeks looking sadder and sadder until I pulled it out.  I might try another variety of quinoa another year, but for now I'm marking it off my list.

Afghan sesame is also an experimental crop I won't be replanting.  Most of our sesame plants came down with some sort of disease that twisted their stalks and held them back, but they did grow and bloom.  I was thrilled to see seed pods forming, but less thrilled when I realized that the variety I had planted ripens pods a few at a time.  My internet research had let me to suspect that I could just harvest the entire stalks after the frost, but I instead decided to yank them out a few weeks early since about a third of the pods had already opened and released their seeds.  When I finally got around to threshing and winnowing the dried pods, I discovered that my total yield from the garden bed was about a tablespoon.  In the plant's defense, I had grown the sesame in the waterlogged back Hungarian breadseed poppy seedsgarden, and I now know they prefer dry feet.  Still, I'll be doing more research before trying sesame again.

Hungarian breadseed poppy was a moderate success.  Total yield from half of a garden bed was about three or four tablespoons --- enough for a few special treats.  On the other hand, Renee's Garden sent me a tiny, tiny packet of seeds, so I suspect I could have planted the seeds more thickly and gotten a higher yield.  Since poppies provide early spring nectar for the honeybees, I'll keep planting them even though they weren't terribly productive.

Let us do the experimenting for you when you order a homemade chicken waterer kit.
Posted Thu Oct 28 07:00:28 2010 Tags:

Dried beansThis lunchtime series is really leading up to the list of lists I promised you all a month ago --- the series of lists I use to keep myself sane.  Like the rest of this lunchtime series, this post is primarily for the bean-counters among our readers.  The other 50% of you will probably get more out of looking at the pictures than reading the words.

Without further ado, my list of lists:

1. List of long term goals.

2. List of one year goals.

3. Annual calendar.  Many of the tasks you hope to complete this year will probably have a solid deadline --- for example, we have to finish burying our water line before the ground freezes.  You may know when you're going to be too busy with day to day chores to do much long term work (April through September for us).  Use the combination of deadlines and otherwise busy months to scatter the big ticket items throughout the year.
Fall priority list
4. List of this month's (or this season's) goals.  I know this list of lists is getting a bit silly, but it really works, so bear with me here!  First write down all of the projects that aren't big enough to go on your one year plan but must get done that month --- for example, our fall list includes things like gathering firewood, preserving food, mulching the perennials, etc.  Now, estimate how long each project will take, and figure you're going to spend about a quarter of the month working on projects you didn't think of or that spring up out of the blue --- like hauling in several loads of compost while the driveway is dry, or fixing a leak in the roof.  If you are starting to overfill the month list, put spillover items on a tentative list for next month instead of lengthening the current list.  Whatever you do, don't put more on your list than you can accomplish during your agreed upon working hours --- you won't have Week's listtime to get even that much done, and you'll just feel awful if you have more on your list.  (More on these agreed upon working hours in tomorrow's post.)

5. List of this week's goals.  Based on your one month plan, you can now list everything you want to get done next week, including the little things that don't make it onto the month list.  Write down all of the basic chores first (soaking mushrooms, weeding the garden), then fill in the most important or most timely of the month's chores.  Over time, you'll learn roughly how much work you can get done in a week, and then you will be much happier.  A lot of my angst in the early years came from putting two weeks' worth of work on a single week's list, and then feeling like I didn't get anything done.

6. Daily list.  Now it should be simple to jot down a quick list of what you want to do today.  If you have a memory, you may not even need to write it down.

7. List of this week's accomplishments.  As you finish a task, mark it down on your weekly list of accomplishments.  With so many balls in the air, it's easy to think that you haven't gotten anything done after spending a full week working on the farm.  So Weekly accomplishmentswhenever I finish a task, I note it down at the bottom of that week's page in my planner.  By Friday, our list of accomplisments is so long that I feel quite happy taking the weekend off.

I'm sure that type B people nodded off about ten paragraphs ago, but I hope that my obsessive list of lists will help type A people find joy on the farm.

Microbusiness Independence will help you find time to pursue your real passions.

This post is part of our Coping With Paradise lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Thu Oct 28 12:00:56 2010 Tags:
empty nest syndrome in a chicken coop at sunset in the fall of 2010

It's been 2 weeks since I installed the outdoor nest box in the chicken pasture and the lack of even one egg proves how unpopular this location is for egg laying.

I think it was too much in the open, which is why I moved it inside just above the entrance.

Now it seems to be good enough for at least one hen, but still someone within the flock insists on laying her egg on the straw floor.

Posted Thu Oct 28 18:29:09 2010 Tags:

Pile of wood chipsI've never been the pretty girl who a dozen boys fought over, and I never thought I wanted to be one.  But lately I can understand the appeal.  You see, as hunting season approaches, our 58 acres of deer-laden woods and swamps is definitely the pretty girl that every guy wants to be with.  Our mechanic tried to fix our car for free so that his son could hunt here, our neighbor's brother dropped by and offered to trade horse manure for the right to hunt, and one of the local wood chippers dropped off two loads of chips and promised us more...and by the way, could he hunt?

I'm starting to see how a pretty girl might string a dozen guys along just for the sake of the presents.  Sure, your son can hunt on the east end of the property --- we like having happy neighbors.  Maybe you could hunt on the west end, Mr. Wood Chip.  If that manure materializes, we'll have to try to fit Mr. Horse in too.  All this free biomass is clearly starting to go to my head....

Make your chickens feel like pretty girls with our homemade chicken waterer.
Posted Fri Oct 29 07:00:35 2010 Tags:

Underwater worldMy list of lists really isn't meant to expedite getting things done.  Instead, its primary purpose is marital harmony and promotion of relaxation.  Here's what my world looked like before my obsessive lists:

Saturday morning, I woke up steaming mad.  All week, I'd tried to steer Mark toward the truly important farm projects, but he'd smiled vaguely and wandered off to do chores that struck his fancy better.  I now figured that if I wanted the lawn to get mowed, I had to do it myself, so I headed outside and ended up swearing at the machine when I couldn't even get it to start.  Mark was lounging around inside, listening to the radio, while the farm was falling down around our ears....

Of course, our world looked very different from Mark's point of view:

I woke up late and was thrilled to realize that I'd left the rat race behind.  Anna and I are making up our own hours and building a farm together --- it feels great to be creating our own infrastructure rather than making someone else rich.  The only problem is that Anna can't seem to relax.  I can hear her out there mowing even though it's Saturday morning, which makes me feel guilty for resting.  But I didn't leave the rat race to work seven days a week....

Lucy in the creekThe major flaw in our early relationship was that I am obsessively type A while Mark is relentlessly type B.  I now know that this combination makes for a very well-rounded team, but then it just meant that we fought a lot.

Part of the solution was my list of lists, but the other part was to clarify our expectations and compromise right up front.  I'd gotten used to working seven days a week and had forgotten what holidays were, while Mark knew that the real value of life comes from taking the time to embrace the world's beauty.  After months of discussion, we settled on a weekly routine where we work from 9 to 4 Monday through Friday (with an hour lunch break), take the weekends off, discuss which holidays to honor and which to skip, and also take (increasingly frequent) random days and afternoons off.

Taking time off was difficult for me at first.  Rather than enjoying the time to read, write, and wander in the woods, I spent many weekends chomping at the bit and feeling guilty that I wasn't getting anything done.  I hope that very few of you are as problematically type A as I was, but just in case the idea of doing nothing constructive all weekend fills you with dread, here is the solution I settled on --- Friday afternoon, I write down the week's Cattail fluffaccomplishments and draft next week's list of chores, then release everything on the list from my head until Monday morning.  I'll even admit that Mark is right --- we do get more done by giving ourselves weekends and vacations to recharge and think outside the box, and I've loved having free time to embark on my own course of independent study about permaculture and homesteading topics.

In the modern world, most couples spend no more than a handful of hours per week working and playing together.  I've noticed that many couples who move back to the land as a unit are shocked by how difficult it is to work with their mate, and a large percentage of them aren't willing to put in the time to compromise and turn into a team.  Even couples who have been together a decade longer than we have look like newlyweds when I see them hashing out their differences on the farm. 

Although working together can be tough at first, the payoff is huge.  Lately, I've noticed that Mark and I are the happiest couple I know.  If anyone asked me whether it's worthwhile to go back to the land as a couple, I would say an unconditonal "yes!"  If you don't kill each other in the first few years, you will definitely live happily ever after.

Fund your journey back to the land with Microbusiness Independence.

This post is part of our Coping With Paradise lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Fri Oct 29 12:00:45 2010 Tags:
portable pump in action

I finally got a chance to give the 5 in 1 power pack a workout the other day.

It's not got quite enough gusto to air up a tubeless wheelbarrow tire, but the onboard air compressor inflated the above lawn mower wheel with no problem.

Posted Fri Oct 29 17:48:29 2010 Tags:

Honeybee on an aster flowerLast year, I watched dozens of bees visit the New England Aster my mom had planted in her city front yard, and before I left, I'd begged some seeds from her bee-beloved plants.  I scattered the seeds in the forest garden, then ignored them as they came up through weeds this spring.

When four plants made it to the blooming stage, I watched with baited breath, expecting a three ring circus.  But our bees rolled their eyes at me and went back to feeding on the wild asters growing here, there, and everywhere around our homestead.  My guess is that honeybees like asters in general, and that the New England Aster was such a big hit in my mother's yard just because so few people in the city grow asters of any sort. Mouse nest in a bee hive

Despite frosts, our bees are still hard at work gathering nectar and pollen from our asters, so I had planned to leave off their mouse guards until activity began to slow.  But when I checked on the colonies this week, I found a mouse nest in the back corner of one of the hives.  The mouse wasn't present, but it had clearly spent a lot of time ferrying in leaves and dried grass to make its home.

I raked out all of the Mouse guard on a bee hiveleaves and even shook the bottom board off to clean it.  (The bees didn't seem to mind my housekeeping all that much.)  Then I put the hive back together and installed an entrance reducer to keep out further squatters.  The bees will just have to work those asters through the small hole from now on.

Treat your flock to a poop-free chicken waterer.
Posted Sat Oct 30 07:00:28 2010 Tags:
pulling up a garden stake with Lucy

The taking in of the garden stakes is turning out to be a point in the year when winter feels close at hand.

Good bye summer....see you next year.

Posted Sat Oct 30 16:41:06 2010 Tags:

Deep frames of honeyThe double deep system netted us an amazing harvest of 4.5 gallons of honey this year, but there is one small problem with the design --- weight.  One deep frame of honey weighs 7 pounds, so if your bees fill up the top brood box, it's going to weight 70 pounds.  The most macho of my readers may be able to shift that, but I know I can't (at least without breaking my back.)

Only the hive that was double deep from the get-go this year managed to fill its top brood box to the point where I couldn't lift it, so I've just skipped checking that hive's lower brood box for the last couple of months.  I needed a good tally of honey stores, though, to make sure each hive has the 50 to 60 pounds required to get them through the winter in Virginia.  So I took out half of the frames, then heaved the still-quite-heavy brood box to the side.

Down below, our busy bees had socked away an entire other brood box full of honey and pollen!  I estimate that the total honey stores in that hive easily top 80 pounds (and all of the other hives also clocked in well above the bare minimum.)  Most beekeepers would have extracted nearly half of that honey, but I like the idea of restricting our harvests to the spring so that my bees have no shortage through the cold weather.  The excess honey will be just as sweet come spring, and my hive will be prepared in case of an extremely cold winter.

Our homemade chicken waterer never spills or fills with poop.
Posted Sun Oct 31 07:00:28 2010 Tags:
memory foam photo montage

I've slept on water beds, futons, hamocks, air matresses, park benchs and the backseat of a car. I even remember a bed at a Holiday Inn when I was a kid that had a box on the night table with a slot for a coin. You put a quarter in and the bed vibrated for 10 minutes...which I could never figure out why folks would want the bed to vibrate when they went to sleep, and then I grew up and figured it out.

Anyway....I decided to recently try one of those new fangled memory foam mattresses I kept hearing about. It came by mail in 4 medium sized boxes.

It's hands down the most comfortable bed I've ever encountered so far and I wouldn't trade it for 10 vibrating beds.

Posted Sun Oct 31 17:48:37 2010 Tags:

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

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