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

archives for 04/2011

Apr 2011
Leaf lettuce

Accessing lettuce in a quick hoopWhat does our garden look like at the end of March?  Mostly, it looks like lettuce --- great big gobs of brilliantly green leaves to eat every day.  We've been nibbling on lettuce for about a fortnight, but only in the last week has the growth reached the point that salad is a daily affair.  Mark showed me that I can carefully lift the edges of the quick hoop up without tearing the fabric, so I've decided the beds are even easier to get into than my old cold frames were, and the speedy access means I think nothing of running out to cut a salad for lunch.

Eggs and onionsEgyptian onions are growing far faster than we can eat them at the moment, and the parsley is finally coming out of its winter slump.  The parsley plants that I seeded last fall survived the winter and would probably be pretty big if I hadn't been snipping off nearly every new leaf as soon as it appears starting in February.  Add in eggs --- the other mainstay of the spring diet --- and you've got the best egg salad we've ever eaten.

We're also trying to eat up (or freeze) the last of the butternuts before their centers get too dry.  The potatoes in the crisper drawer of the fridge are good for months yet, but the sweet potatoes are developing bad spots --- my fault for letting them sit on the cold floor through the deepest part of the winter.  The same problematic storage conditions are tempting my garlic to sprout.  It looks like we're going to have enough storage vegetables to carry us through despite these problems, and we're already losing interest in winter fare as the fresh garden goodies begin to roll in.

Young pea plantNearly everything I've planted this spring is already up and running --- storage onions both in the quick hoops and out, broccoli and cabbage sets in quick hoops, Asian greens and swiss chard in the open.  Breadseed poppies are thriving and our second planting of peas is already up and growing, though the earlier seedlings are about three inches taller.  I'm still waiting on parsley, carrots, spinach, and garbanzo beans to poke above the soil surface, but given our frequent rains this week, I suspect they've already germinated.  Even the chicory seeds I tossed on new hugelkultur mounds in the forest garden have sprouted.

Next up --- tomatoes in a quick hoop next week and lettuce out in the open.  I've started peppers inside and will be transplanting broccoli and cabbage seedlings out of their protective covering as soon as the plants get a few true leaves.  Otherwise, though, I'm looking forward to the April garden "lull" to give me time to weed and mulch our existing beds and prepare the soil for the huge May rush.

Our chicken waterer makes chicken care a breeze and gives us time to grow a big garden.
Posted Fri Apr 1 08:27:02 2011 Tags:

Edward Bauman's food wheelAlthough it's helpful to get an idea of which common foods are good or bad for you, I think it's more important to recalibrate our intake of the major food groups.  Michael Barbee presents one recommendation for overall nutrition (shown here), but he also cautions that the best diet is individualized.  Paying attention to how your body feels when you eat certain foods is the best way to develop a personal diet that's healthiest for you.  Our bodies' needs also change over time, so we have to be flexible enough to realize that what suited us last year might not suit us tomorrow.

That said, we should all ditch the USDA food pyramid.  Michael Barbee suggests that the caveman diet is a good place to start instead when recalibrating our food sensors.  Pre-agricultural man got about half his calories from wild game and rounded out his diet with nuts, seeds, eggs, fruits, vegetables, insects, and worms.  Dairy, grains, and legumes are newer additions to the human diet, cause many of us problems, and should probably be consumed only in moderation by everyone.

As I mentioned earlier, Mark and I have changed our eating habits drastically in the last year.  We've lowered our intake of grains, potatoes, and other carbohydrates to one to two servings per day and have increased our fats and protein to fill in the gap.  We also boosted fruits and vegetables, aiming for these goodies to fill around two-thirds of our plate at every meal (with a bit more carbs on Mark's plate since he seems to need more.)  Astonishingly, this changed dietary regime has stopped many of our food cravings, toning down my chocaholic tendencies and finally breaking Mark free from his dependence on snack crackers.  I wonder if we had some kind of nutritional imbalance that got corrected by changing the way we eat?

Stuck in a cubicle?  Break free with our $2 ebook.

This post is part of our Politically Incorrect Nutrition lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Fri Apr 1 12:00:46 2011 Tags:
more chicken wire attachment images with cute chickens

A potential escape spot in any chicken fence is where the ground meets the wire.

I like using old logs that are way past the point of firewood. Sometimes I'll lay them on top of the wire and other times it works out better to have the log on the bottom depending on if there's any slope to deal with.

Old boards from the broken down house worked as the same function, but you don't get the bugs and worms that come along with a punky log.

Posted Fri Apr 1 16:05:59 2011 Tags:

Making a cepa terraceAlmonds are one of my new favorite foods, so I decided to see if we could grow them.  Traditionally, almonds are grown in the sunny south, especially in California where summers are dry, but orchardists have recently developed hardy almonds that can live all the way north to zone 5.  We chose Alenia (Prima) and Dessertniy (Bounty) because they are late-blooming (which means less likely to succumb to our frequent spring frosts), have thin shells, and are supposed to have tasty nuts.  (Bitterness can be a problem with some almond varieties.)

The main problem people report with growing almonds in the east is fungal diseases that result from our wet summers.  To nip fungi in the bud, we've sited our new trees in the sunniest part of the yard and given them a bit more air space than they require (planting them 20 feet apart rather than the rated 10 to 15 feet.)  Unfortunately, this area is on a slope, but I built cepa terraces for our trees to make them easier to tend and to capture rainwater for the roots.

Those of you with the keenest eyes have probably noticed that our new almond beds are in the chicken pasture.  We moved our flock on to pasture two on Friday, giving me some breathing room to plant almonds and grapes in the old pasture.  Before rotating the chickens back to this pasture, we'll make some simple tree cages out of chicken wire to keep the birds from scratching up my new plantings.

Our chicken waterer never spills in coops or tractors.  That means clean water and dry bedding for your birds.
Posted Sat Apr 2 07:57:47 2011 Tags:
Proline hip waders in action

The Pro Line hip waders came in the mail the other day and I got a chance to take them out for a test drive.

A little extra effort to put on, but well worth it compared to walking across the creek in my boxer shorts trying to keep my pants dry.

Posted Sat Apr 2 17:06:58 2011 Tags:

Red wormsA cold week slowed down decomposition action in our worm bin.  I'd gotten used to seeing worms in last week's bedding when I went to put in the next week's scraps, but this Friday the worms seemed to be hanging out only in the older food.  I'll cut back a bit on the amount of food I add to the bin while waiting for warm weather to return.

I wonder if our worms were huddled up into these clusters to stay warm, or if every worm just happened to want to eat the same tasty morsel? 

Our chicken waterer gets chicks off to a healthy start from day 1.
Posted Sun Apr 3 08:46:17 2011 Tags:
post attachment of chicken wire with electric fence wire

I've had good luck weaving a strand of electric fence wire up and down a post to secure the wire in place.

Cut the strand just a little longer than the height of the post. I prefer to start at the bottom and weave my way up, which seems a little easier than starting at the top.

Posted Sun Apr 3 17:16:30 2011 Tags:
Honeybees with full pollen sacs

Honeybee in a nectarine flowerOur honeybees have been coming out to fly during warm spells all through March, and we started seeing native pollinators two weeks ago, but Sunday was the day when the whole farm began to buzz.  Both the flowers and the insects were just waiting for the week of cold, rainy weather to let up, and when the frost melted and the sun came up, the honeybees almost seemed to be prying our kitchen peach flowers open.

Bumblebee on a dead nettle flowerFruit tree blooms were a hit, but so were the numerous flowers in the "lawn."  Everyone loves dandelions and I also saw quite a bit of activity around the purple dead nettles.  (This guy is a bumblebee, although I didn't brush up on my bumblebee identification enough to figure out his full name.  Below is some sort of fly and what might be a miner bee.)

Native pollinators

Native bees on manure
Nature never acts quite the way you'd suspect, so I wasn't entirely surprised to see the largest congregation of bees...on the manure pile!  I knew that butterflies visit manure to suck up salts (and there were both butterflies and moths present), but I didn't realize that bees were equally interested.  Our honeybees turned up their noses at the composted excrement, but there were at least fifty of these small bees (miner bees again?) on the manure, along with a couple of greater bee flies and hover flies.

Pollinating flies

I'm glad to see that our pollinator population is so diverse and healthy!  Too bad some of the trees they're pollinating got ahead of themselves and bloomed all the way out before Saturday night's 27 degree freeze.  I expect moderate damage to the full-bloomed pears, barely blooming cherry, and precocious nectarine, and hardly any damage at all to the kitchen peach who valiantly held her horses until the freeze watch was past.  Great job, kitchen peach!

Our chicken waterer keeps the flock hydrated on hot spring days.
Posted Mon Apr 4 07:15:27 2011 Tags:

Urban homesteadingUrban Homesteading, by Rachel Kaplan with K. Ruby Blume, is a breath of fresh air in the usually stuffy room of gardening and homesteading literature.  Don't get me wrong --- I adore books by Paul Stamets, Steve Solomon, and others, but these texts tend to be written by, for, and about middle class, white, straight people.  Urban Homesteading highlights ideas that are applicable to everyone, and the stunning photos in the book back that theme up.

The case studies sprinkled throughout Urban Homesteading are part of what gives this book such a rich flavor.  For example, the authors highlight Spiral Gardens, a non-profit that brings gardening and fresh food into a low-income community in Berkeley where lack of access to fruits and vegetables leads directly to shortened lifespans.  Reading Rachel Kaplan's book reminds me that there is a social justice element to growing your own food that we often forget in our middle class bubble.  Can you imagine living in a place where you can't get perishables without driving and can't afford to drive?  Of course growing your own is the answer!

Gardening kidsI don't want you to think the book is preachy or dense, though.  Instead, Urban Homesteading is an easy to read introduction to dozens of topics that every beginning homesteader is interested in, all told with an urban flare.  And the book is worth reading just for the artwork --- stunning photos of dozens of urban homesteads and homesteaders interspersed between original artwork by K. Ruby Blume.  This is the perfect book for a budding urban homesteader to pore over for ideas, or for the established homesteader to put on her coffee table (if she has one) to subtly influence more mainstream guests.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that Rachel Kaplan let me download a pre-release version of the ebook to review, but I have to admit that I didn't expect the book to be half as good as it is!)

Our $2 ebook shows how to escape the rat race with a home-based microbusiness.

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

Posted Mon Apr 4 12:00:51 2011 Tags:
Dust bathing chickens

Hot, dry weather after a week of winter means it's time for a dust bath.
Posted Mon Apr 4 20:55:48 2011 Tags:

Capped broodThe last time I checked in on our bees, they had started raising a bit of brood, but this time the nursery was much bigger.  Baby bees of all ages lined three frames, adding up to a total of two full frames of brood if you merged them all together.

I'm impatiently waiting until our hive has six frames of brood, which is the bare minimum needed to split a hive the easy way without hunting down the queen.  Although it took a month for the hive to build up from half a frame to two frames of brood, I suspect the colony might reach the splitting threshold in just a few weeks now that the wildflowers, fruit trees, and garden weeds are all in full bloom.  Nectar flows usually tempt queens to lay faster, and we're in the midst of one heck of a nectar (and pollen) flow.

Our chicken waterer never spills or fills with poop.
Posted Tue Apr 5 07:34:53 2011 Tags:

Child holding up a peaHave you ever tried to explain to a mainstream American why you homestead?  The conversation often goes something like this:

Mainstream American: "Okay, now explain to me again why you put so much effort into growing tomatoes.  Did you know they're less than a dollar a pound at Food City?"

Me: "Yuck!  We can't even eat storebought tomatoes any more.  A sun-warmed, organic tomato picked straight off the vine is so delicious..."  My eyes mist over and I start counting the days until our summer garden is in fruit again.

Mainstream American (snapping her fingers impatiently): "Hello!?  Are you still there?  Did you mention something about me not being able to use an indoors shower when I visit you?!!!"

Me: "Yeah, we haven't gotten around to that yet.  The garden and orchard just seem more important right now."

Mainstream American: "So hire somebody to install one.  Duh!"

Me: "I'd rather wait a few years until we have time to do it ourselves.  I don't think it's worthwhile to work 40 hours a week outside the home so that we can have modern conveniences."

Mainstream American (frantically trying to change the subject away from homesteading): "Did you see that cool car commerical in the Super Bowl last night."

Me: "Super Bowl?  Is that baseball?"

A community mulching togetherWhich is all a far too long way of saying that one of my favorite parts of Rachel Kaplan's Urban Homesteading was her explanation of why she thinks homesteading is important.  Rachel writes that people considering homesteading for the first time often think about what they'd lose in the endeavor, but that the homesteading lifestyle isn't about what you do without, but what you gain.  As a result of living more simply, we have more time with people who really matter and our souls (and bodies) are nourished by being part of the ecosystem.  We're more self-sufficient, so losing a job isn't a disaster and we know how to rebuild after a fire or hurricane.  And, of course, there's a deep satisfaction involved in making things with your own two hands.

That said, Rachel explains that she's not seeking self-sufficiency but community sufficiency, achieved by building guilds of people (and plants, animals, fungi, and bacteria) who fill all of the niches in her community.  Her book considers the big picture right from the beginning, looking at social justice and peak oil as ethical reasons to homestead that transcend the personal.

I'd be curious to hear what your own goals and beliefs about homesteading are.  Do you homestead to be prepared for the apocalypse?  Because you don't want to get a job?  Because you're enthralled by the beauty of a garden in full leaf?  What do you say when that mainstream American tries to understand your life choices?

Our $2 ebook gives tried and true tips for starting a business that will pay the bills without taking over your life.

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

Posted Tue Apr 5 12:00:32 2011 Tags:
oversized bag image of man carrying said container

These oversized bags are good for keeping things safe and dry, but you can carry more boxes by wrapping them together with some rope.

Posted Tue Apr 5 16:19:53 2011 Tags:

Beech treeI consider stump dirt to be a miracle planting aid.  But what is it?

Stump dirt spilling out of a hollow tree

The obvious answer is --- that moist, dark, earthy-smelling organic matter found inside decaying trees or logs.  Different trees create stump dirt of varying quality; my favorite source by far is our ancient hollow beech halfway up the hillside, while box-elders product lower grade stump dirt.  Maybe hardwood stump dirt is better than softwood?

The analytical side of me started nibbling away at what stump dirt actually is a few weeks ago, and the best idea I've come up with is that stump dirt is pure organic matter created when fungi decompose wood.  The closest mainstream garden ingredient I could find is mushroom compost, but that is the result of fungi growing on higher nitrogen substrates like straw and manure, so any comparisons should be taken with a grain of salt.  One study of mainstream mushroom compost showed that it consisted of:

  • 28% organic matter and 58% moisture
  • 1.12% nitrogen, 0.67% phosphate, and 1.24% potatssium (aka NPK of 1.12-0.67-1.24)
  • 2.29% calcium, 0.35% magnesium, and 1.07% iron
  • C:N ratio of 13:1

Handful of stump dirtNaysayers on the internet report much lower NPK values for mushroom compost, though --- closer to 0.7-0.3-0.3 --- and I suspect our stump dirt is at the lower end of the fertilizing spectrum.  That would explain why the garden beds I treated with stump dirt last year didn't show much growth --- stump dirt isn't a replacement for compost.  Instead, it makes a great ready-made potting soil and can also be used like peat moss to fluff up organic-matter-poor soil.  If we ever had enough to apply stump dirt to our garden in large quantities, I suspect it would act a bit like biochar, providing spots for microorganisms to grow unhindered.  And stump dirt from deep-rooted forest trees is probably even higher in micronutrients than the analysis above portrays.

All of that said, you can't buy stump dirt, and you only find it in middle-aged to old forests.  I mine a couple of five gallon buckets every year out of our beech tree, but save it for extra-special occasions.  Another reason to have a mature woodlot on your property, perhaps?

Never see another chick drown when you switch to our chicken waterer.
Posted Wed Apr 6 07:46:57 2011 Tags:

Quail and chicken eggsI have to admit that I've been guilty of thinking of urban homesteading as homesteading lite in the past, but Rachel Kaplan's Urban Homesteading helped me realize that the city version is not just a subgenre, but is instead an endeavor with just as much potential as rural homesteading.  I was struck by the way Rachel's book introduced all of the topics you'd expect to find in an intro to homesteading, but took the specifics of city life into account.  Below, I've listed just a few of the ways that her advice differs from that found in rural homsteading tomes.

  • Gardening --- In addition to a section about how to find space to grow food in the city (which I thought was so important it's going to make up its own post), Urban Homesteading gives tips on making a seed ball to use in guerilla gardening and building self-watering planters out of used materials.  Espaliers are another good choice for fitting lots of fruit trees in a city backyard.
  • Livestock --- In the city, animals need to be small and, most of all, quietCompost worms, honey bees, chickens, and rabbits are Rachel's top picks, followed by quail, ducks, and goats.  I'd never seen quail on a top livestock list before, but Rachel explains that Japanese quail (aka coturnix) can live in a very small space, produce eggs when less than two months old, lay daily for at least a year, and require only 67% as much feed to produce a pound of eggs as chickens do.
  • Utilizing waste --- One of the few things I envy about city life is the amount of biomass free for the taking.  Rachel gives a recipe for making "Berkeley compost" out of used coffee grounds, and I know from my own experience that fallen leaves, grass clippings, and even bales of straw (leftover from Halloween decorations) are often easy to find during trash pickup day in the city.  If you're building a structure or renovating your existing house, discarded building supplies are also easy to come by.
  • Stocking up on food --- In addition to all the usual advice about canning and fermenting, Urban Homesteading challenges you to find ways to glean forgotten produce from the city.  Many people ignore the fruit that drops from their trees and will be glad for you to come clean the apples or pears out of their yard.
  • Legalities --- The downside of city living (from my point of view, at least) is the fact that you have to toe the line about number of livestock, permits, and so forth.

Sheet mulchWith the American population so concentrated in our cities, it's essential that we find ways to let urbanites join in the homesteading fun.  Rachel Kaplan's book gives lots of great tips to help city dwellers head in that direction.

Sick of working full time?  Our $2 ebook shows you how to pay all the bills in just a few hours per week.

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

Posted Wed Apr 6 12:00:58 2011 Tags:
Five gallon bucket solar shower do it yourself low budget

I think five gallons is a good start for our first do it yourself solar shower.

For the longest time I had a 50 gallon solar barrel image in my mind, but finally realized we didn't need nearly that much volume, and 5 gallons might warm up faster.

Posted Wed Apr 6 16:37:29 2011 Tags:

Wheelbarrow of weedsApril is a weeding month.  It's essential to get the small perennials weeded before they really start growing so that I don't damage their new shoots and flowers, so this week's goal is to weed the strawberries, asparagus, rhubarb, herbs, perennial onions, and garlic.

Next week, I'll focus on the beds to be transplanted or planted into this month, then will move on to the beds earmarked for summer crops.  Last call (if I don't run out of time before planting season begins) will be weeding the spring garden that I planted in February and March.

A winter mulch of straw makes this weeding job less time-consuming, but there's still plenty of chickweed, bittercress, dandelions, and dead nettles pushing up through my mulch.  Every year, I get a bit further ahead of the weeds --- maybe this year will be the one where I'll rip all of the spring weeds out before they go to seed.
Chickens eating weeds
The task looks a bit daunting, but feels better once I dive in and begin.  Twenty-six beds later, I feel as peaceful as if I'd spent the day meditating, and the chickens are sated on three wheelbarrow loads of worms, snails, and chickweed.  I think April is going to be a good month.

Our chicken waterer keeps the flock happy between wheelbarrow loads of weeds.
Posted Thu Apr 7 07:46:34 2011 Tags:

Driveway gardenSuburbanites can turn their lawns into vegetable gardens, but how do real city-dwellers find space to homestead?  Rachel Kaplan gives you several ideas to choose from, such as...

  • Fill up your own soil first, of course.
  • Then ask your neighbor if you can turn their yard into a garden.  If you share the bounty, they're bound to say yes, and may become a gardening convert.
  • Container gardening works on balconies, roofs, and any other spot with a bit of sun.
  • Tear up unused concrete and asphalt.  The photo above shows how a small driveway can turn into a vibrant garden.  Rachel's book gives tips on the best tools and tricks to use during pavement demolition.
  • Sign up for a plot in the local community garden.
  • Look for abandoned lots, find out who owns then, and see if you can get permission to turn the ground into a garden.  (Or guerrilla garden on the sly.)

Rachel KaplanRachel includes an inspiring map of her personal "walking gardens."  In addition to filling up her own yard, she grows vegetables in another yard with the owner, keeps bees and chickens in a third and fourth yard, and has a plot at the community garden.  Now that's what I call hunting and gathering!

While you're doing your rounds, don't forget to scope out sources of garden fertility.  I'm imagining setting out for my daily walk with the yellow wagon and coming home with a bag of leaves from the curb, some food scraps from a restaurant to go in the worm bin, and of course an armful of produce for dinner.  Almost makes me want to live in the city!

Make a comfortable living in just a few hours per week with our $2 ebook.

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

Posted Thu Apr 7 12:00:57 2011 Tags:
Craftsman 21 inch walk behind mulcher mower engine cable replacement procedure

How do you fix a stuck engine cable on a Craftsman mulching lawn mower?

Look up the part#....which is 176556, pay 11 dollars plus shipping, and wait.

Posted Thu Apr 7 16:39:59 2011 Tags:

Lamb chopI eased into cooking with meat by buying it ground, but have since been branching out into using more and more of the whole animal.  Growing our own broilers trained me to use every bit of a chicken, and now that we've bought a whole lamb, I've been doing the same with red meat.  It turns out that there are five main categories:

Ground meat is the easiest to cook with since you can make it into burgers, sausage, or use it any other way you'd use hamburger or ground turkey.  If I hadn't asked for the front legs of our lamb to be ground up, there wouldn't have been much ground meat, though, mostly from the belly.

Steaks are cuts that are tender enough to fry or grill and eat with a knife and fork.  Both chops and sirloin can be cooked as steaks, with the latter being a bit more tender.  Our pastured lamb growers recommend searing lamb steaks over medium-high heat then finishing up cooking at a lower temperature, which worked great for us.

Roasts are cuts that are a bit tough to be fried up and should instead be either stewed over low heat or baked in a cool oven for an hour or more.  Letting them marinate first Stewed lambin an acidic marinate like tomatoes or wine can also help tenderize the meat.  Legs are the hind legs, cut whole and looking a bit like a ham.  Shanks are the upper arm (front leg).  Riblets are half bone and half fat and meat --- they're the only part that I'm a bit at a loss about how to cook.

Bones won't come with your lamb unless you specifically ask for them, but you should!  Bones make a wonderful broth, boiled for several hours in a pot of water.  The remains can be fed to your dog.

Heart and liver are cooked like any other organ meat.  I sometimes cook these up into broth, very occasionally fry up a liver for Mark, and sometimes give the organs to the cats and dog as a health boost.

Once you learn to cook meat in each of these categories, you'll be ready to cook nearly the whole animal of just about every type of livestock out there.  With chickens, the meat type is more a factor of age than cut, but it's still good to know how to grind or stew up old birds and to make broth out of the bones.  Even if you're not buying a whole animal, cooking with unusual cuts allows you to buy cheaper meat that is just as good for you, and to respect the meat animal by not tossing less tender parts of their body.

Our chicken waterer is the POOP-free alternative that backyard chicken-keepers love.
Posted Fri Apr 8 08:05:56 2011 Tags:

Bottle feeding a goatI'm sure several of you are interested to hear Rachel Kaplan's take on the Dervaes' attempt to protect their trademark on the term "urban homesteading."  Since she's written a book by that name, I figured Rachel had been contacted by the Dervaes family, and I was right.  She emailed:

Yes, we were contacted by the Dervaes (or our publisher was). And my collaborator, who runs the Institute of Urban Homesteading, got a cease and desist letter asking her to stop using the phrase in the name of her Institute.

Our publisher is working on the legal front with all of this right now, and hasn't even disclosed to us his strategy, but he (and we) and everyone we know feels strongly that urban homesteading is a cultural movement owned by the many, and not the few, and that the Dervaes' claim is lacking in merit. We are continuing our work in the world, and of course the publication of the book, on which we have worked so hard.

We believe this has even become the issue it is because this is a cultural movement--so many people are interested and involved in this. We are hoping for an amicable resolution to the struggle, but it remains to be seen how the whole thing plays out.

After our own experience seeing the diversity of people interested in homesteading topics at the Organic Grower's School, I have to agree with her.  I hope that the themes become so mainstream that the Dervaes family has no hopes of maintaining control over the term "urban homesteading."

Our $2 ebook shows you how to create your own job so you have time to homestead.

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

Posted Fri Apr 8 12:00:54 2011 Tags:

diy bin fix idea for warped plywood worm bin lidThe worm bin has been having a problem with unwanted visitors.

My solution for today was to add a 2x4 and some pieces of appearance board to the frame and part of the lid.

I'll know by next week if it's working, or if I need to take the worm bin armour level up a notch.

If we build another one I think we'll design the lid to have a slope and maybe attach some shower board to the plywood surface.

Posted Fri Apr 8 16:53:19 2011 Tags:

Tomato seedlingOver the years, I've learned that putting tomato seeds in a cold frame (or, this year, a quick hoop) in early April results in sets that are smaller than those started inside but more ready to hit the ground running when it comes time to transplant them into the garden in mid May.  It sounds counterintuitive --- start with smaller plants, end up with more tomatoes --- but my cold frame seedlings tend to have more roots and to be healthier than seedlings started in flats indoors.

Cold frame tomatoes don't send up leaves until mid to late April, so they  never get leggy and aren't exposed to any low temperatures that can stunt their growth.  During the years that I started tomatoes indoors, I often ended up with plants that grew slowly even once I put them out in the garden since night-time temperatures in the trailer in April can easily drop down into the thirties or forties, doing long term damage to the Asparagus shoottender seedlings.  If your tomato seedlings have a purplish cast to their leaves, they've been stunted by cold weather.

The only really hard part about starting tomatoes in a cold frame is hearing from your friends about how they started tomatoes two weeks ago, and not giving in to peer pressure.  I just remind myself that my method not only works better, it's also less work and requires no electricity, and I manage to hold firm until the soil temperature reaches 50 degrees.  For future reference, asparagus shoots up at the same temperature tomato seeds need for germination, so I won't need to relentlessly check soil temperature next year.  (And, look, asparagus!!)

Our chicken waterer is the no-work solution for the busy homesteader.
Posted Sat Apr 9 07:50:26 2011 Tags:
Five gallon bucket aquarium heater shower do it yourself

It would seem that our spurt of springtime sunshine wasn't quite enough energy to heat up my 5 gallon bucket solar shower to any noticeable warmth.

The next stage of the experiment involves a small 2-15 gallon submersible aquarium heater which can be found for around 15 dollars at local retail outlets. It automatically warms your water to a 76 to 80 degree range, but you need to give it a full 24 hours to reach that temperature.

small Kill a Watt device to measure energy output for 20 bucksInstalling the heater was easy thanks to the attached suction cup and it didn't take much effort at all to wrap some reflectix around the sides and the top to hold the heat in.

I plugged in a Kill-a-Watt device to measure how much power it will need. Anna thinks it might be comparable to heating up a pot of water on the electric stove, which is just the sort of debate we got the Kill-a-Watt gizmo for. The heater is only rated at 50 watts, which might be less power at 24 hours compared to 5 minutes of a 220 volt stove top coil.

Posted Sat Apr 9 16:39:42 2011 Tags:

Japanese black trifeleFive years ago, I went hog-wild and started about 35 different types of tomatoes.  Every year since then, I've been whittling our selection down to the varieties that taste the best, produce the most, and are least blight-prone.  Here are the eight varieties we'll be growing in 2011:

  • Martino's roma --- delicious and a copious fruiter.  Was more resistant to the blight than our other roma varieties (San Rodorta and Russian), partly because the vine is a bit less vigorous.
  • Yellow roma --- mixes with Martino's roma to make a very unique sauce.  The vine grows like crazy, so it has to be pruned a lot, and the fruits do tend to crack on top, so they require a bit more preparation than Martino's roma.
  • Ken's red --- an un-named but delicious big, red slicing tomato that we got from my friend Ken.
  • Japanese black trifele --- this was given to me as "Brandywine", but the fruits are shaped like a drop of water and a search of the internet suggests my tomato is actually Japanese black trifele.  Purple slicing tomato with great taste, although you have to cut off a woody top part.
  • Blondkopfchen --- extremely productive, small yellow tommy-toe.
  • Seed packetsStupice --- red slicing tomato that's just a bit larger than the biggest tommy-toes.  Our earliest tomato to ripen, listed at 52 days.
  • Early Pick --- another red slicing tomato that's very early.
  • Crazy --- large, red tommy-toe that produces nearly as early as Stupice.  Somewhat blight resistant.

We grow one plant each of the last six varieties for eating in the summer and about twenty-five romas to keep us in spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, ketchup, and dried tomatoes all year.  I had actually forgotten which tomato varieties I wanted to focus on this year, so I was very glad I'd made notes on my seed-packets when I packaged up the summer's seeds!

Our chicken waterer never spills or fills with poop.
Posted Sun Apr 10 07:27:26 2011 Tags:
5 gallon bucket shower solar diy

The 50 watt aquarium heater didn't seem to add much heat at all to the 5 gallon bucket solar shower set up.

I gave it about 20 hours and decided to give up on this being a low tech way of heating up a small amount of water.

My next approach could be something more conventional, but I've got another low tech idea that needs to see the light of day to satisfy my curiosity.

Posted Sun Apr 10 15:24:21 2011 Tags:
Picnic at Hanging Rock

I could write about how we baked up some of the last homegrown roots along with a leg of lamb, salad, and a lemon meringue pie for a true spring feast.  How we had a centerpiece of lilac and other spring flowers, and a roaring creek for background music.  But then you'd think Joey's birthday party was peaceful.

Throw stick to hoist rope over limb

It wasn't.  Mom and Maggie made a homemade pinata and after we'd stuffed ourselves, we got down to fun and games.  I tied a string to a stick and threw it over a branch...

Hoisting the pinata

...then hoisted the pinata aloft.

Standing on the picnic table


As the birthday boy, Joey got to go first.  I tied on his blindfold, enjoying my place of power atop the picnic table.  (Yes, I am the shortest person in my family.)

Maggie under the pinata

We each gave it a try.

Mom pointing

"No, Anna, it's over there!"

Joey whacking the pinata

Then Joey got smart and ditched the plastic bat and picked up a branch.  Whack!  Whack!  Whack!

We were laughing so hard we could hardly pick up the baggies of dried dates, cashews and other treats.

Thanks for the great party, everybody!

Our chicken waterer is the perfect gift for the backyard chicken keeper on your list.
Posted Mon Apr 11 08:07:29 2011 Tags:

Blooming peach treeOur lunchtime series will be going on summer vacation starting this week --- the winter is over and I'm itching to be outside doing (or at least napping under the peach tree) rather than indoors pondering.  There may be a few series sprinkled through the summer, but they'll be erratic until cold weather sends me back to my books.

For those of you who go into withdrawal with only two posts from us per day, why not check out some of our other blogs?

  • Our chicken blog is my favorite spot for rambling at length about chicken pastures, chicken behavior, and more.  I also post updates and tips about our chicken waterer there.
  • Our deer deterrent blog is Mark's inventing website --- those of you who get a kick out of his ability to make something from nothing will really enjoy it.  And, of course, you can learn some great tips about keeping deer out of your garden.
  • Dandelion flowersWetknee is where I post longer musings on living simply and making a living with an internet business.  I also include updates about our ebooks over there, so be sure to subscribe if you want to know as soon as ebooks are ready.
  • Cosmic cookout is where Mark ponders or debunks conspiracy theories, the physics of consciousness, and the disclosure movement.
  • Clinchtrails is where I post photographs that are too pretty not to share but that don't fit in any post, along with bits and pieces about natural history and trips.

Stay tuned for tomorrow's lunchtime post to explain the exciting side of lunchtime series being on vacation!

Posted Mon Apr 11 12:00:51 2011 Tags:
how to install a new engine cable on a mower Craftsman or otherwise

It only takes a few minutes to install a new engine cable.

I had to break a plastic fastener to get the old cable off and decided some electrical tape was good enough to secure it to the support handle.

Let the spring/summer mowing fun begin!

Posted Mon Apr 11 16:51:53 2011 Tags:

Quick hoops without coversI took the fabric off all of the quick hoops except the tomato bed Saturday because the heat was starting to make the lettuce turn a bit bitter (and I wanted the plants to capture every raindrop from the weekend's thunderstorms.)  I'll probably re-cover the beds tonight and leave them protected for a while since the weather is supposed to return to 30s to 60s rather than the recent 50s to 80s.

Onion seedlings planted at different times

Asian greensI was intrigued to see the differences between onion seedlings planted at various times, and places: inside, under quick hoops, and unprotected outside.  As you might expect, the onions started earliest inside then transplanted under the row covers are tallest, followed by the earliest plants direct-seeded into quick hoops, then by later plants direct-seeded into quick hoops.  The onions seeded directly into unprotected ground once the soil temperature reached 35 degrees are smallest, but they've all germinated in good numbers and I suspect the head start given by the row covers won't make much difference in the long run.  I'll let you know if I can still see effects of the various planting schedules at harvest time, but since onions aren't a crop I need to rush to the table, I may plan to use the quick hoops for something else next spring.

Something like greens, maybe.  Asian greens (above) and volunteer mustard are nearly big enough to eat, and the swiss chard started in a quick hoop already has two true leaves.  We've had a couple of meals of Broccoli seedlingsoverwintered kale and mustard greens, but with only four plants surviving, we're ready for a big mess of fresh greens.  Maybe in a week or so?

Last year at this time, we'd already planted out our broccoli and cabbages, but the seedlings are still a bit small for transplanting.  It's tough to tell whether a cold frame would have made these crucifers come up sooner than the quick hoops did --- the asparagus was earlier last year too, which makes me think that the soil just took a bit longer to warm up this spring than last.

The mule garden is starting to feel full and vibrant again with all of this new growth.  Time to mow the aisles and dream of big harvests!

Our chicken waterer is the clean alternative to poopy water.
Posted Tue Apr 12 07:25:29 2011 Tags:

Cherry blossomsMy real reason for putting the lunchtime series on hold so early this year is that a week of weeding cleared my mind enough that I realized I had six ebook ideas and I wanted to give myself time to work on them. With so many ideas, I don't quite know where to start, so I was hoping you'd chime in with a comment to let me know which of these top three would float your boat:

  • The Short, Sweet, and Self-sufficient Guide to Growing Backyard Mushrooms.  When Cat emailed me a few weeks ago to see if I would write an introductory post to growing edible mushrooms for her blog, I realized that the bits and pieces of information I've presented over here don't really make a coherent whole.  I tend to send people to books by Paul Stamets when they ask me for advice about getting started with mushrooms, but his books (although inspiring) make the process seem a lot more difficult than it really is.  I'm thinking of a short (maybe 20 to 40 page) ebook giving a brief explanation of mushroom biology, telling which species are easy to grow, introducing the simplest methods of growing them, and then covering home propagation.  My focus would be on tasty, cheap, and simple.
  • Chickens in Permaculture.  I don't really feel like I'm ready to write a definitive book about chickens in permaculture, but the great thing about ebooks is that you can put together the best information currently available, sell it for 99 cents so that lots of people will get inspired and start experimenting, then revise it later.  I'm envisioning this ebook being as short as the mushroom one and talking about the pros and cons of pastures, tractors, and deep bedding, which plants you can grow to feed your flock, other alternatives for making your own chicken feed, and types of chickens to consider when starting a self-sufficient flock.
  • The Weekend Homesteader --- Darren had the great idea of writing an ebook full of short projects that people can use to dip their toes into the vast ocean of homesteading without getting overwhelmed.  I stole his idea and Mark and I soon came up with a series of projects that would walk a beginner through planting their first lettuce bed, making an under-the-sink worm bin, scrounging supplies at the dump, and much more.  This ebook would be longer than the previous two and geared toward a generalized beginner rather than than to the more experienced homsteader.

Breaking off the chicken's feetOne of my goals with focusing on ebooks rather than on lunchtime series this summer is to reach more potential homesteaders.  I adore preaching to my choir, but my father pointed out that if I put ebooks up on Amazon for 99 cents, I'll find lots of new readers who might not have considered the homesteading lifestyle before they downloaded my ebook.

With that in mind, I hope I can ask you for another favor.  We currently have two ebooks up on Amazon, and although some random folks have found them, no one has left a review on either.  If you've bought Microbusiness Independence from us, please consider dropping by to leave a review.  And, if you're into butchering chickens, perhaps you'll consider our newly updated Eating the Working Chicken ebook, complete with dozens of photos to walk you through the entire process from coop to table.  I really appreciate you taking the time to help me with my ebook project!

Posted Tue Apr 12 12:00:50 2011 Tags:

Sweet potato in gravel for propagationEvery year, I tweak my method of growing sweet potato slips.  Year 1, we put sweet potatoes in partially filled glasses of water and they rotted, so year 2 we added a heat mat under the glasses.  The heat mat tempted several of the sweet potatoes to sprout, but I was disappointed at how late the slips showed up --- we didn't fill the last of our sweet potato beds until early July.  So, last year, I started the slips at the end of March...and the roots sat there until April, producing slips during the same time frame as they had the year before.  I also lost several tubers last year since I chose big roots that were less inclined to sprout.

This year, I made yet more changes to my sweet potato propagation method.  I chose tubers that were about two inches in diameter at the widest point and placed them beside the incubator for two weeks to preheat.  Monday, I dug about a gallon of small gravel out of an eroded wash above the alligator swamp and filled up a seed-starting flat, laying the sweet potatoes on their sides and then packing damp gravel between them.  I added the clear top on the Heat mat for sweet potato propagationflat to keep the contents moist and slipped a heating pad underneath to promote sprouting instead of rotting. 

In case you're trying to decide if sweet potatoes are worth growing, I'll throw some numbers out there.  Conventional wisdom, repeated all over the internet, holds that white potatoes give you the most calories per acre, but in our garden last year, we got just over 6 pounds of sweet potatoes per garden bed, which comes to 2,379 calories.  In contrast, we harvested 6.5 pounds of white potatoes from each bed, but the white potatoes have fewer calories per pound, so they lost the race at 2,034 calories per garden bed.

That said, the greatest number of calories I've ever harvested from one garden bed was a tie between a bed yielding 13.5 pounds of carrots fall before last and the 3.5 cups of amaranth seeds I threshed in the summer, both clocking in at just over 2,500 calories.  Clearly, white potatoes aren't the only high calorie food you can grow in just a bit of space.  I wonder which other oft-repeated tidbits of gardening lore aren't precisely correct?  The moral of the story is --- try several different kinds of high calorie crops and choose the ones that match your soil, climate, and taste buds.

Our chicken waterer is the tried and true solution to poopy water.
Posted Wed Apr 13 08:01:34 2011 Tags:

New pear leavesWhile I'm flooding you with news updates, I thought I'd go ahead and mention that Walden Effect is changing over to Branchable as our new web host and blogging software this week.  We're excited to be using Joey's full feature blogging platform --- he already saved the day last week by retrieving a post that I'd accidentally deleted in February and reposting it with a backdate so that it didn't clutter up the front page of the site.  If you're looking for a way to blog so that you're in control of your own data, Branchable is the way to go.

You probably won't notice much different over here, but those of you who read Walden Effect in an RSS reader will see a flood of old posts when I do make the switch.  And there's a slight possibility that there will be some brief down time as I make the migration happen.  So, please bear with us!

Don't forget to go over to Amazon and write a review of Microbusiness Independence.  Thanks for taking the time to make our ebook more visible!
Posted Wed Apr 13 11:57:53 2011 Tags:
new vertical innoculation technique

We recently cut down this box elder tree to make room for chicken pasture number 5 and thought the stump would make a good home for our cardboard propagated mycelium.

Making vertical grooves took about half as much time compared to drilling holes, and sealing it up with bees wax was a bit easier thanks to the effect of gravity.

Now we wait and wait some more. It might take a year or more for the first mushroom to pop out.

Posted Wed Apr 13 17:08:35 2011 Tags:

Cut logsThere's an old saying that American Indians on the Plains used every part of the buffalo.  Although I'm aware that the saying is part of the Noble Savage image and might not be technically true, I still think it's a great analogy for our goals as permaculture-inclined homesteaders.  So when Mark cut down a box-elder to make way for an everbearing mulberry, I decided to see how much of that tree we could use.

Making a mushroom totem

We cut three big logs and used our new gash method to inoculate them with homegrown oyster mushroom spawn.  Mark dug deep holes and dropped in the logs to turn them into no-work mushroom totems right there in the moist shade of the floodplain.  Then we set to work inoculating the stump --- a way of taking advantage of even the roots of the tree.  Since we pass this spot twice a day while walking Lucy, the resultant mushrooms won't go to waste.

The rest of the wood will soon be cut into firewood for next winter.  We've discovered that box-elder makes perfect kindling, and is also all we need for most of the winter to keep the well-insulated East Wing warm.

Wood shavingsFinally, I gathered up the big shreds of sawdust kicked up by the chainsaw.  Assuming I haven't let our chicks die in the shell with temperature variations, they're due to hatch this weekend and will need some bedding for the few days they'll spend inside.  I'd been wondering what I'd use and was thrilled to see such prime wood shavings.

The only part of the box-elder that is currently going to waste is the smallest branches.  I dragged them into a small brush pile, though, and hope they'll rot down and turn into a breeding ground for worms and other critters.  Since the spot is inside a soon-to-be chicken pasture, hopefully even that fertility will eventually wind its way into our bellies.

Our chickens enjoy drinking cool, clean water from their chicken waterer.
Posted Thu Apr 14 08:08:19 2011 Tags:
chicken pasture gate do it yourself

Chicken pasture gate number 5 is open and almost ready for business.
Posted Thu Apr 14 16:36:02 2011 Tags:

Cabbage seedlingPure joy is gently uprooting clods of sunlit earth housing young broccoli and cabbage seedlings, then watering them into new beds while the flock scratches through the compost pile next door.  I could almost taste the crisply sweet broccoli heads as I worked, and it was tough to make myself stop when the requisite 50 plants (plus 7 cabbages) were in the ground.

Another couple dozen sets still grace the quick hoop, but I want to keep them in reserve to replace any seedlings that die in the next week.  I've learned the hard way that transplants are magnets for cut worms (I always lose a few plants, but never enough to bother making each seedling a protective collar), cat damage, and freak killing frostsBroccoli seedlingsThis year I waited a couple of extra days until the 10 day weather forecast had lows all above freezing, but you just can't trust the spring weather not to throw a monkey wrench in the works for fun.

After I replace any dead seedlings next week, the rest of my crucifer babies will be looking for a home.  Joey, Mom, this is your chance to add some crunch to your spring garden!  I may also tuck a few extras into the hugelkultur donuts beyond the canopy of my fruit trees and perhaps even transplant a few into the soon-to-be vacated chicken pasture.  After all, I learned last year that broccoli leaves are one of our chickens' favorite foods.

Our chicken waterer works with chicks from day 1.
Posted Fri Apr 15 07:33:54 2011 Tags:
worm and bug chicken feeder

Tilting up the old boards I used to attach the chicken wire is like an instant buffet of worms and bugs for our flock.

Part of my new routine when I collect eggs in the evening is to lift a few of the boards up for a minute or two while the chickens scratch and peck for fresh crawling snacks.

It's got me thinking about some sort of gizmo that lifts up a board or piece of cardboard long enough to let the chickens forage.....maybe wait till nightfall to reset it so that it can be ready to provide fresh worms and bugs the next day.

Posted Fri Apr 15 17:05:57 2011 Tags:

GooseberryIn the long run, tree fruits are the least work for the most food, but they also take so darn long to produce!  Due to a couple of years learning about how to plant trees in our waterlogged clay soil, we only ate our first tree fruits --- peaches --- last summer.  This year, we'll have more peaches and maybe a pear, but it could be another couple of years before we taste a homegrown apple.

Meanwhile, we've been eating strawberries since our second year on the farm (and could have eaten them less than a year after planting if we'd set them out in late summer.)  Our everbearing red raspberry fruited the first year we had it in the ground, and has since colonized two more garden rows and our rabbiteye blueberries also had a handful of fruits the first year.  Thornless blackberries fruited copiously starting the second year and grapes had a few fruits the first year (if you don't count the year they grew in the garden as hardwood cuttings.)  If the photo above is any indication, it looks like our new gooseberries are going to be fruiting the second year after planting too (which is a bit surprising since I put them in the ground later than I should have and they had a hard summer.)

Strawberry flowerWhich is all a long way of saying --- don't put all of your fruit eggs in the tree basket.  Planting a few small fruits in your garden the first year --- especially brambles and strawberries --- is a great way to keep yourself from going crazy waiting for that apple tree to slowly mature.  (And, yes, this post really is just an excuse to show off my strawberry and gooseberry flowers.)

Our chicken waterer never spills or fills with poop.
Posted Sat Apr 16 07:19:34 2011 Tags:
How to make a do it yourself rocket stove shower

I appreciate all of the alternative suggestions that readers have sent in concerning our solar shower experiments and I especially liked the rocket stove shower design by sent in by reader Sarah.

They built theirs in 2 days and I'm guessing the cost to be around 200 to 400 dollars depending on what type of materials you choose.

It's a bit complicated for our current needs, but the idea has got me wondering if this could be easily modified to handle some sort of hot water chicken dunking station which might come in handy if the price of propane continues to go up.

Posted Sat Apr 16 17:00:55 2011 Tags:

Chicken embryo day 20I am a nervous chicken mother.  For three weeks now, the kitchen thermometer has occupied one of my central processors and I even had a nightmare that the heater was running too hot (only to wake up and find that I was right.)  I've peered at the eggs, candled them, topped off their water, and, as of Friday, taken out the egg turner and replaced it with a paper liner for hatching.  Despite all that, I didn't really believe we'd end up with a living chick.  "If we even get one," I promised myself, "it will be a success."

Twenty-one days will be up today at 1 pm, and by Friday night I was starting to lose faith.  I'd read all kinds of reports on the internet of ways chicks can die in the shell.  Not only can I kill them if I let the temperature get too hot or too cold (which I did a grand total of four times), but the chicks could drown while trying to hatch if I kept the incubator too humid.  Shells that look porous when candled (didn't I have one of those?) tend to let in bacteria and the chicks die young, and then there's the question of whether our old hens are even able to create a viable embryo at their advanced ages.

Then, Saturday afternoon, I heard a strange bumping sound from the corner of the kitchen.  I pulled out the incubator and peered in to see that not one but two eggs were rocking to and fro.  Someone was alive inside!  Half an hour later, a third egg joined the chorus, and at supper time egg number four chimed in.  Then, silence as the wearied chicks rested inside their hard shells.

Today will be the big day.  Will we hatch live chicks?  How many?  Whose eggs?  So far, all three eggs laid by the young Golden Comet have shown signs of life along with one of the eggs from the old girls.  No matter what happens, I plan to throw another batch of eggs in as soon as the chicks are fully dry and ready to move to a brooder --- if I can manage to keep at least 57% of my eggs alive to 20 days, this incubation experiment has merit.  It's a good thing I "planned" this hatch to coincide with a day of rest, because it's going to take a team of mules to drag me away from my spectator role.

Our chicken waterer is ready to go in the brooder to get the chicks off to a healthy start.
Posted Sun Apr 17 07:17:03 2011 Tags:
cute chick 2.0 from incubator.

When our first home grown chick showed up he was already up and walking and we missed the break out drama.

Not so with chick 2.0.

He or she has made some progress, but decided to rest at the half way point as of 5 minutes ago.

Posted Sun Apr 17 18:24:18 2011 Tags:
Brinsea Mini Incubator

7 am on day 21 --- two eggs are pipping.  I knew the head developed on the blunt end of the egg and somehow expected the first cracks to show up at that tip, but both cracked areas are instead about a quarter of the way down the shell.


The first signs of pipping are exciting, but then...nothing happens.  I wait, and wait, and wait, nearly figuring the chicks died until I notice the membrane below the cracked shell undulating as the chicks breathe.  Around lunchtime, the monotony is broken when one chick gets inspired by the sound of Mark's voice and peeps up a storm.

Chick pecks hole in egg

2:25 pm --- One chick has pecked through the membrane and I can barely see a beak moving inside!  The chick doesn't seem to be pecking at the shell so much as whacking its whole face against the boundary of its miniscule world.

Beak pushes through shell

3 pm --- While I wasn't looking, a third egg started pipping.  But there's now no movement from anything except the chick that showed off its beak half an hour ago.

Hole in egg

4 pm --- The most active chick finally decides to get to work.  Slowly but surely, it knocks against the side of the egg, turning its head so that the crack progresses around the egg's circumference.  After 45 minutes, the opening is half an inch long --- is this going to take all month?

Chick cracking egg

4:45 pm --- Rest, who needs rest?  Suddenly, the chick is pecking like mad.  (I turn the incubator around and notice a fourth egg has begun to pip.)

Radiating eggshell cracks

A thin line of blood appears on the egg's membrane where the chick scratched itself, but the little trooper keeps right on going.

Cracked egg

One hard whack rolls the egg over so that the chick's head is pounding against the floor, at which point the youngster begins to push and strain against the three-quarters severed lid.

Shell cracked in two

Chick pushing out of shell

5:10 pm --- Plop!  Out it falls onto the floor of the incubator.

Hatching chick

After all of that commotion breaking out of the shell, you wouldn't have thought it would take another half hour for the chick to figure out how to get its head out of the lid.

Chick in shell

Struggling chick

A massive flapping of incipient wings and the chick is free to drape itself across its unhatched siblings.  Two in-shell chicks join in the crazy peeping.

Newly hatched chick

No signs of further chicks out of the shell this morning.  Now I'll have to make the hard choice --- open up the incubator against everyone's advice and take out chick #1 and check on the chicks who haven't poked through yet, or leave them all another day?

After they all fluff out, we'll move our chicks to a brooder and treat them to clean water from our chicken waterer.  Don't worry --- a newly hatched chick can go three days without food and water, so our early bird won't suffer.

Incubation Handbook

See scads more cute chick photos (and learn how to become an expert at incubation) in my 99 cent ebook.

Permaculture Chicken: Incubation Handbook walks beginners through perfecting the incubating and hatching process so they can enjoy the exhilaration of the hatch without the angst of dead chicks. 92 full color photos bring incubation to life, while charts, diagrams, and tables provide the hard data you need to accomplish a hatch rate of 85% or more.

Posted Mon Apr 18 06:52:12 2011 Tags:
chicken pasture gate plus foraging photo

I decided this old salvaged screen door was in good enough shape to function as chicken pasture gate #6.

Posted Mon Apr 18 16:54:16 2011 Tags:

Newly hatched chickLearning to hatch chicks is a roller coaster of emotion.  The excitement of the first pipping, worry as nothing happens for hours, elation as a healthy chick pops out of the shell.  Then agony as a chick that was nearly hatched is accidentally clawed by its recently hatched sibling and perishes without quite making it out of the egg.  More sadness as I autopsy four other dead chicks --- one made the beginning of an exit hole in the egg 36 hours previously then gave up and three are nearly fully formed but are unaccountably dead in the shell.  I bury them under the peach tree and remind myself that this first trial is a learning endeavor and we did get two live chicks.

Day old chickBut can they play together?  The chick that hatched Sunday afternoon is already drinking and running about in its brooder by Monday at lunch while its sibling hatched nearly a day later and gets brutally pecked when I introduce it to the brooder.  All the youngest chick wants to do is to sleep off its exertions, so I clean out the wet, foul-smelling incubator and pop the chick back in for a few more hours of solitary confinement.  But this morning, the late chick is belly up in its incubator --- late-hatched chicks often don't make it through the first day.

I'll be posting the scientific side of what I learned and our plans for the next hatch over on our chicken blog later in the week.  For now, though, I'm just practicing my deep breathing and reminding myself that this was an experiment and I said I'd be happy with one living chick.

Our first chick found its chicken waterer right away --- no chance of dehydration or drowning!
Posted Tue Apr 19 08:06:17 2011 Tags:
do it yourself chicken coop ramp with traction bumps

When I first installed this chicken ramp one of the hens looked at it and cried "Too Slippery!"

10 minutes later she was pleased with the addition of 5 speed bumps and boldly decided to be the first one to get halfway down the new poultry ramp.

Posted Tue Apr 19 16:41:07 2011 Tags:

Lamb ribsI've been trying out several new recipes as part of our goal of turning an entire lamb into delicious dinners, and one of my favorites has been Tex-Mex Lamb Ribs.  First, mix together:

  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 0.25 cups balsamic vinegar
  • 0.25 cups lemon juice
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 0.5 tsp black pepper
  • 1.25 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp honey*

*This is the only part of the recipe I didn't measure.  I just drizzled in a bit of honey since the recipe I was tweaking called for storebought orange marmalade and I was replacing it with lemon juice and honey.

Pour the marinade over about 1.5 pounds of lamb ribs and let them sit in the fridge overnight.  Then pour the whole mass into a covered baking dish and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for two hours.

It's far from mandatory, but I threw in a handful of asparagus spears for the last 15 minutes to take advantage of the extra juices.  And after we ate the ribs, I saved the marinade/fat to make the base of some turkey burritos and Lucy munched up the bones --- nothing wasted!

Our chicken waterer is the best way to keep your chickens happy and healthy.
Posted Wed Apr 20 08:03:58 2011 Tags:
new Stihl chain saw ms211

One homesteading tool that I would have a hard time doing without is a good chainsaw.

That's why finding a solid backup to our trusty Stihl 039 has been on my to do list for years now. The 039 has been an outstanding saw, but when we got it I didn't know much about the finer elements of operating one of these machines and in retrospect wished I had chosen a slightly lighter model for 80 percent of the cutting we do around here.

Now the plan is to shift the 039 to backup status with today's arrival of the new and sexy MS 211. Luck would have it that while supplies last you can buy a 6 pack of Stihl synthetic 2 cycle mixing oil and double the warranty from 1 to 2 years. The synthetic seems to be just a bit higher in price and the word on the playground is that the extra performance is worth the money.

Posted Wed Apr 20 17:41:42 2011 Tags:

Onion seedling and biocharI've got so many tidbits to share about garden experiments that I'm going to sum them up in one post.  (Actually, I had too many for one post, so another will be coming along one day soon.)

  • Biochar --- I applied urine-soaked biochar to half of a few beds in February and am starting to see the results.  Two of the beds house lettuce and poppies, and I can't really see a difference between the biochar half and the other half.  On the other hand, the onion test bed has a striking difference in both germination and height --- 21 seedlings averaged 10.8 cm tall for the biochar half and 16 seedlings averaged 8.4 cm tall for the control half.  The results aren't statistically significant (yes, I geekily measured every seedling and ran a t-test), but the the trend is interesting.  I wonder if the better germination/survival of the biochar bed could be because the dark charcoal heated up the soil in that critical early spring germination period?

  • Sweet potato slipSweet potato slips --- This year, I decided to start our sweet potatoes in gravel instead of water in hopes of rotting fewer tubers and getting slips sooner.  Eight days after putting the potatoes in, I already see the first shoot!  The jury's still out on whether we'll get more slips sooner than with our previous method, but I'm thrilled to see such early growth.

  • Mulching over winter weeds --- In an effort to keep the weeds around the garlic in check without freezing my fingers in cold March soil, I topped the weeds off with a thick layer of straw.  The results were so-so --- the chickweed and purple dead nettle still pushed up through the straw, but the mulch slowed it down Weeds and garlicenough that neither went to seed before I got a chance to clean up the beds this week.  It was simpler than I thought it would be to slip my fingers under the mulch and root out the weeds, but I did lose a considerable amount of straw in the process since it clung to the plants being pulled out.  If I'm desperate, I'll over-mulch again, but a more efficient use of my straw would have been to follow up in late fall and mulched before weeds arrived.

Our chicken waterer is an experiment that was a great success --- we never have to deal with poopy water and I only top off the flock's bucket once a month.
Posted Thu Apr 21 07:41:18 2011 Tags:
Stihl MS 211 chainsaw in action cutting firewood

The Stihl MS 211 occasional use chainsaw cuts like a knife.

It feels like the pull resistance is less which makes starting it up a lot easier compared to the 039.

Posted Thu Apr 21 18:53:05 2011 Tags:
Cat-proof brooder

Four day old chick
This has been our chick's home all week.  (The fencing on top is to keep out the cats, who were very interested in their new housemate.)  I've kept the chick in the house mostly because a lone chicken is a lonely chicken, and I wanted to be able to talk to it and keep it company.  The chick and I have really started to bond, which is a bad thing since I don't know whether it's a girl (and will stay in our flock for a couple of years) or a boy (and will grace our table this fall.)

Holding a chick

Ecoglow brooderMeanwhile, I started doing the math and realized we might not have enough eggs this winter if I didn't act fast.  Most chickens start laying when they're six months old, but if they reach the critical age late enough in the year when the light is beginning to fade, the hens will hold off until the spring.  We barely had enough eggs this winter with our current, aging flock, and we definitely need more layers for the winter.  So I decided to take a gamble and buy some local Black Australorp chicks to keep our homegrown chick company and give us some definite eggs this fall.

Sleeping chicks

Rooster through fenceWhy is it a gamble?  After perusing Craigslist across a four state area, the chicks closest to our homegrown chick in age were two days younger.  That sounds like nothing to us, but chickens mature so fast that two days of chickhood is closer to two years of human infancy.  And chickens are mean, picking on smaller and weaker flockmates relentlessly.  There's a chance that our older chick will beat up the new chicks and we'll have to separate them.

We moved our homegrown chick to a fenced off part of the chicken coop Thursday evening, introducing sixteen youngsters at the same time.  The newcomers were a bit chilled from their journey and immediately crawled under their Ecoglow brooder to take a nap, while our homegrown chick went crazy exploring his new habitat.  After a while, a particularly perky Australorp came out to join him, and our chick did peck at the youngster a bit, but not so much that the two couldn't eat at the same food dish.

Black and white chicksIt's too soon to be sure that the newcomers will get along with their older "sibling", and I'll check on the flock several times today to make sure there's no bullying going on.  If all goes well, we'll raise the chicks together until they're old enough to easily sex, then will give our friends five of the pullets to expand their flock.  The cockerels will go in our bellies, and we'll keep a couple of hens to try out this heirloom variety in our pasture.

Our chick is off to a healthy start with clean water from our POOP-free chicken waterer.
Posted Fri Apr 22 05:39:43 2011 Tags:
Brinsea chick brooder in action with cute chicks and automatic chick waterer with new mounting technique

Chicks grow fast, which means the height of the automatic waterer needs to be adjusted to fit their needs.

It's also important to make sure the waterer is secured with no risk of falling.

My new way of mounting takes just a few minutes more than hanging from a hook. The waterer gets attached to a piece of board with some plumbers strapping like in the photo above and the board screws into a 2x4 support beam. It's easy to unscrew the unit and move it up an inch or so as the chicks get older.

Posted Fri Apr 22 16:15:07 2011 Tags:
Developing strawberries

Young gooseberriesI went out in the drizzle Friday afternoon to retie a few training lines that had come loose around our fruit trees...and ended up spending half an hour dreaming of the fruit to come.

My father is already eating strawberries out of his South Carolina garden, but our "June-bearers" aren't due until mid May.  On the other hand, the alpine strawberries (the right hand photo above) might ripen sooner --- the tiny fruits are pretty much full-size.

Our gooseberries are swelling so fast that I could almost imagine popping one in my mouth.  Meanwhile, there are tiny flowers on the grapes, budding flowers on the rabbiteye blueberries and everbearing red raspberries, and full blooms on the northern highbush blueberries.

Baby peach

Tiny nectarine fruitOf course, it's the tree fruits I'm really watching with an eagle eye.  I love this time of year when the tiny fruits start pushing their way out of the faded flowers.  The photo above is one of the many, many fruits gracing our kitchen peach, the back peach seems to be nearly as loaded, and there are even some baby fruits on the nectarine this year.

Dropped pear flower

Young cherryThe pear --- as I suspected --- is just a tease.  She's a little young to be bearing fruit anyway.

The cherry, on the other hand, is an old maid.  She must have heard me mention that this was her last year on earth if she didn't start producing, so she killed back half of her branches to gather up enough energy to make half a dozen fruits.  I guess she'll get another year to prove herself after all.

Apple blossoms

And look at this!  Our first real apple flowers!  (We did have blooms on our Stayman Winesap last the fall, after it had lost all of its leaves to cedar apple rust and then leafed back out.)  Surprisingly, this isn't our biggest, oldest, or happiest apple, but the Yellow Transparent is in second place and (I seem to remember) tends to fruit at a young age for an apple.  Maybe next year the tree will be past the teasing stage and ready to give me fruits.

Our chicken waterer is flying off the shelves --- thanks to everyone for spreading the word!
Posted Sat Apr 23 08:22:32 2011 Tags:
do it yourself low budget deer deterrent detail

We've got 3 mechanical deer deterrents going right now and zero damage to the garden.

I see fresh deer tracks in the mud just about every day when I walk Lucy, which tells me they're out there and keeping a safe distance from our cacophony of protection.

Posted Sat Apr 23 16:56:54 2011 Tags:

Uprooted citrus treeThree years ago, we got a dwarf meyer lemon and a dwarf tangerine to keep as houseplants.  The lemon started producing right away and has given us more fruits each year, but the tangerine thought it would be more fun to just grow a huge bush with massive thorns.  After some research, I started thinking that perhaps my "tangerine" was actually the dwarfing rootstock with the grafted tangerine part dead, so I decided it was time to cull the "tangerine" from our crowded sunroom space.

I dumped the whole plant out beside the compost pile a few weeks ago...and was surprised to see that it survived several heavy frosts.  I don't want you to think I was nice to it --- actually, the tree's roots were bare, its leaves face down, and yet it continued to live.  Then, this week, I noticed that the crazy citrus had decided now was a good time to bloom.
Young tangerine tree
Mark talked me into giving the tree one more summer to shape up.  I plopped it in the ground in the corner of the chicken pasture and will look forward to seeing some fruits to prove its identity.  If I'm wrong and the tree turns out to be a tangerine after all, we'll dig it back up in the fall to move inside, and if it's the rootstock, we'll let it die out this winter.  Trifoliate orange --- the most common dwarfing rootstock used for citrus --- is hardy in our region, but our tree lacks trifoliate leaves and is probably the less hardy tangerine dwarfing rootstock --- Cleopatra mandarin.  I guess time will tell whether our citrus deserved its reprieve.

Our chicken waterer never spills or fills with poop.
Posted Sun Apr 24 08:53:53 2011 Tags:
view of our mule garden from a ladder near the barn

snow peas reach for the sky in late April 2011

A Sunday afternoon view from on top of a ladder and looking up toward the sky with our future snow peas.
Posted Sun Apr 24 14:48:46 2011 Tags:
Bee larvae

Extracting honeyThe hive is filling up their brood box fast.  When I checked on the bees at the end of last week, they had four full frames of brood, making me think that they might be strong enough to split in a week or so.  For those of you new to bees, the photo above shows capped brood (the brown stuff) nearly ready to hatch out into adults along with mid-sized larvae (the pale grubs) nearly ready to be capped for metamorphosis.  And adult bees tending the babies, of course.

Meanwhile, I snagged two big frames of honey to extract.  Since we had two hives die over the winter, the apiary contains far more honey than the bees can use, and we went through last summer's 4.5 gallons of honey astonishingly quickly.  I gave away perhaps a quarter of it and also started baking our butternut squash pies with honey, which put quite a dent in the stores.  With only half a cup left on the shelf, I was glad to be able to jar up two more quarts to tide us over.

Our chicken waterer never spills or fills with POOP.
Posted Mon Apr 25 07:27:42 2011 Tags:
chainsaw carry bag with shoulder strap

I tried a few different methods of adapting some sort of shoulder strap to our chainsaw and none of them felt balanced enough to be practical.

The above 20 dollar chainsaw purse is a good solution that comes with its own shoulder strap.

It's made of some heavy material with a hard bottom and a side pouch for small tools. I found this one on Ebay from the seller who goes by "Ed's Small Engine Barn" out of Columbia Kentucky.

Yes..... I'd say there's enough room left over inside to fit a small 1 gallon fuel container.

Posted Mon Apr 25 16:28:32 2011 Tags:

Hatching eggsWe've started on phase two of our chick-raising plan.  I know, I know, we've already got two heaping handfuls of chicks out in the coop, but they're only going to put a small dent in my chicken goals for the year, which include:

  • About five new hens to replace our old birds
  • Two hens of a broody variety to make incubation easier in 2012
  • 25 broilers to go in the freezer

Brinsea octagon 20 incubatorFor round two, we splurged and bought a Brinsea Octagon 20 incubator.  I'm hoping the larger capacity (it holds 24 hen eggs) will result in multiple living chicks even if my hatch rate continues to be terrible.  The new incubator monitors humidity as well as temperature, which will make it more likely that chicks will survive (I hope.)

In addition to saving up enough of our eggs to pop in the incubator, we ordered hatching eggs online.  The eggs were pricey --- I could have gotten chicks for nearly the same cost! --- but I want to learn incubation and am excited to be adding Cuckoo Marans to our flock since this variety is what Harvey Ussery uses as mother hens.  My goal for hatch two is to double my previous hatching rate and end up with at least seven living chicks, which just might be enough to give us the two broody hens I crave.

Sunny chick brooderMeanwhile, we had one small setback in the coop this past weekend --- a rat broke in and hauled off two chicks, leaving behind one dead and fourteen alive.  I'd read that rats are a huge problem with young chicks, but had previously kept our youngsters in the house until week three, which prevented predation problems.  Although the losses were preventable, I consider the current system better than the alternative.  Yes, we could keep the chicks inside longer or we could turn their outside home into a rat-proof cage, but I really like the way the chicks' current living arrangement has them foraging from day one and allows them to bask in the sun.  My hope is that the surviving chicks will be more wilely and better pasture animals.  Can you tell that I'm working on emotional detachment from the farm animals?

Our chicken waterer is the flock's favorite toy, keeping them busy between feedings.
Posted Tue Apr 26 07:18:29 2011 Tags:
Craftsman walk behind mower rear wheel part number informaiton and picture

The Craftsman walk behind mower developed a slight wobble last year and my short cut solution was to add a couple of large flat washers to fill in the space where the plastic was broken.

Turns out it was not such a great idea. The wobble got a little bit worse each time I used it and for some reason I got stuck on upgrading both rear wheels to a more sturdy pneumatic version and forgot the simple route of looking up the part number and ordering the original wheel from Sears.

It's hard enough to push this thing through heavy grass and weeds and over uneven terrain without making it harder with a wheel that wobbles. Take my advice and replace a wobbly wheel sooner than later. Our Craftsman walk behind mulching mower rear wheel part number ended up being 151155 and after shipping it cost about the same as an engine cable.

Update:I got the part number wrong-It's 189159 and it comes with 2 metal bearings.

Posted Tue Apr 26 16:38:16 2011 Tags:

Crimson cloverCrimson clover is one of the cover crops we put in last fall that didn't winter kill.  I've been laboriously ripping the clover out --- a difficult task since crimson clover doesn't really start growing much until the spring, so lots of weeds colonized the bare soil over the fall and winter.  Now that the clover is big and strong, its roots are also quite tenacious.  Let me just tell you that weeding three beds of overwintered crimson clover took as long as weeding ten or fifteen beds that had been home to fall oats.

Despite the pain and agony of dealing with my mistake, I decided to leave one clover bed alone to see what happens.  A few days ago, pyramidal red blooms opened up, and Tuesday I noticed that the bed was loudly buzzing from the bees who had come to call.  Maybe this cover crop has merit after all, I pondered, leaning in close with the camera.  That's when I noticed that every single one of the honeybees present was feeding on purple dead nettle --- Mark had just mowed down our weedy "lawn" and the bees had found the only weeds left Honeybee on purple dead nettlein bloom.  To be fair, though, I should mention that our native miner bees seemed to be concentrating their efforts on the crimson clover.

Although you would think I'd be telling you that crimson clover is off my cover crop list for good, I'm actually pondering whether a mixed planting of crimson clover and oats in the fall might not be a good combination.  The oats would prevent weeds from colonizing the ground, then would die back into a high carbon mulch over the winter.  Come spring, the crimson clover would poke through and put in some serious growth to add nitrogen to the soil.  I've read that crimson clover will reliably mow kill as long as you wait until it's in full bloom --- I was only hand-weeding because I thought the clover wouldn't bloom in time to let me kill it and still plant my summer garden.  Definitely worth a try for next year!

Miner bee on crimson clover

Our chicken waterer is perfect for broilers on pasture.
Posted Wed Apr 27 06:21:02 2011 Tags:
Lexel product closeup and review with no coupon for any discount

I got this tube of Lexel for the 5 gallon bucket solar hot water experiment thinking that the extra cost would be worth it if it was indeed a "superior alternative" to silicone.

The main problem I had with it was the amount of time it takes to dry. Expect to wait 1 to 2 days for it to cure and 1 to 2 weeks before you reach "total firmness".

Lexel might be the better choice if you need some extra elasticity, but I like a good old fashioned tube of silicone that can be expected to dry and be ready to use within hours depending on temperature and humidity.

Posted Wed Apr 27 16:34:38 2011 Tags:

Weekend HomesteaderThe May edition of Weekend Homesteader is now available for 99 cents in Amazon's Kindle store!  The series presents a simple and cheap project for every weekend of the year to provide stepping stones on your path to true self-sufficiency.  As the introduction says:

This ebook, and others in the series, are full of short projects that you can use to dip your toes into the vast ocean of homesteading without getting overwhelmed.  They're geared toward folks who need to fit homesteading into a few hours each weekend and would like to have fun while doing it.  The projects cover growing your own food, eating the bounty, preparing for emergency power outages, and achieving financial independence.  You won't be completely deleting your reliance on the grocery store after reading this series, but you will be plucking low-hanging (and delicious!) fruits out of your own garden by the time the exercises are complete.

Since May has four and a half weekends, the first volume of the series has four and a half projects:
  • Planning your summer garden (with tips on the easiest vegetables to grow)
  • Making a kill mulch (and why no-till gardens are healthier)
  • Planting your summer garden (with information on when and how to plant)
  • Making a rain barrel (to collect free water for your garden)
  • Turning off your TV (and finding time for what really matters)
I've decided to offer Weekend Homesteader only on Amazon for now, even though I don't get very much cash from each sale there.  My hope is that I can talk enough of you into buying a copy so that the ebook will move up in the rankings and turn up when strangers browse for homesteading information.  Yes, it is all an evil plot to trick normal people into becoming weird homesteaders.  To that end, it would thrill me if you would:
  • Like buttonClick the "like" button near the top of the Amazon page even if you don't buy the book.
  • Scroll down near the bottom of the page to where it says "Tag this product."  Click on anything you want, but I'm aiming for "homesteading" and "self-sufficiency", and your vote there would really help.  (Again, no purchase necessary.)
  • Buy the ebook if you're interested.
  • Weekend Homesteader paperback
  • Leave a review, if at all possible.
  • Leave a comment on the Weekend Homesteader May resource page letting me know what you loved or hated about this first installment.  My advance reader says I'm preaching in the TV chapter, and I'd be curious to hear if that turned you off.  (I actually thought I was up on my soapbox more during the no-till chapter.)  Were the exercises too easy, too hard, or just right?  Did you have trouble with any part of the ebook?  I'll take what you say into consideration as I write the June volume.
  • Tell your friends!
As a side note, if you're one of our regular readers and are aching to follow along, but don't have a Kindle or the know-how to download their app for your computer or phone, drop me an email and I'll send you an unformatted pdf copy to read.  My goal isn't to leave you out, but to try to add more converts to the flock!

Thank you so much for taking the time to make Weekend Homesteader a success!

Posted Wed Apr 27 20:04:06 2011 Tags:

New oak leaf"I have a hypothesis that the last chance of frost is past when the pecan trees are in full leaf," my father posited.  "What do you think?"

The idea appealed to me, in part because of the old saying that it's safe to plant your corn when the oak leaves are the size of a squirrel's ear.  I saw oak leaves twice this big a week ago along with volunteer squash, tomatoes, and sunflowers.  Ever since, I've been pondering whether I'm really going to put out half of my summer garden three weeks before the frost-free date.

Meanwhile, the scientific side of my mind sidetracked into finding out what cues trees use to decide when to leaf out.  The only options I could come up with are soil temperature, air temperature, and day length, all three of which (along with the ten day weather forecast) are what I use to determine my own planting schedule.  A search of the internet, though, suggests that our trees are keeping track of how much cold weather they've faced, and when they think they've had enough, they leaf out (as long as the air is warm enough.)  That would mean that an abornmally cold winter (like this past one) would produce an early spring (like this one) since the trees would have counted up the required number of chilly days earlier than usual.

Pepper seedlingPut that way, I'm not so sure I want to base my planting date on our trees' decisions.  However, the soil has warmed to 60 degrees and the ten day weather forecast predicts no lows beneath the mid forties, so I went ahead and planted green beans, corn, squash, melons and cucumbers (in quick hoops), okra, mung beans, and basil, along with sunflowers, millet, ground cherries, and amaranth in the forest pasture.  I'm going to hold off on putting out my homegrown pepper sets, though, until the night lows are just a bit higher.

How about you?  Are there trees that you feel confident predict the time to plant your summer garden?

Our chicken waterer keeps chicks healthy from day 1.
Posted Thu Apr 28 07:21:12 2011 Tags:
Best seller

First, I want to thank everybody who went over to Amazon and bought Weekend Homesteader, liked it, or suggested tags for the ebook.  Thanks to you, after less than 24 hours, the ebook is #1 in the Kindle Store's Vegetable Garden section and #95 in the general gardening section for the whole site!  I also appreciate those of you who popped on over to get our other ebooks and boosted EATING the Working Chicken to #1 in Kindle's Poultry Cooking section and Microbusiness Independence to #12 in Kindle's E-commerce division.  Wow!  I feel like I'm on the New York Times bestseller list.

Bad reviewI have a couple more requests, then I'll shut up about this ebook project.  It would be great if we kept on a roll and stayed up there in the ratings long enough to get random strangers buying the ebooks, so I'd be thrilled if you like, tag, or buy the book (if you haven't already.)  Perhaps more important, though, I could really use some reviews on all three ebooks.  Two reviewers posted nearly identical negative reviews on Microbusiness Independence this morning, and I felt like a failure until Mark pointed out that the reviewers might have a competing ebook and be trying to run down the competition.  Sure enough, when I clicked on their profile, all of their reviews are 1 star.  Still, I don't think most people are going to go to the trouble of checking on those negative reviews, and I'd love to drown them out with a tide of good opinions.  Don't lie, of course, but if you enjoyed the ebooks, please leave a review.

Finally, I was really serious about emailing you a free copy of Weekend Homesteader's May edition if you don't want to jump through Amazon's hoops.  Even though I'm trying to leverage the site, I don't approve of their monopoly.  So, feel free to email me if you want to read the ebook without buying into the Kindle format.

Thanks again!  You've all made my day!

Posted Thu Apr 28 11:45:04 2011 Tags:
chicken tractor disassembly procedure pictorial

I took apart one of our first chicken tractors today now that we have our flock on a forest pasture rotation system.

The walnut logs were rotting pretty bad, but the rest of it felt like it had another few years left in the game. I was especially pleased at how well the pieces of carpet held up under these conditions.

It was a concept that served us well back when we first started out with poultry, and pulling the tractor back and forth between gardens really helped to clear multiple areas that now have patchs of lush grass.

Posted Thu Apr 28 16:37:24 2011 Tags:

Time for another round of small experiments in progress!

  • Young fig leavesTender perennial winter protection --- This fall, I tried two different methods of protecting perennials that are marginally winter hardy in our region.  For our rosemary, I simply put four cinderblocks around each plant and filled in the center with autumn leaves.  All three of my rosemaries died, partly because Lucy got obsessed with digging the biggest one up, but primarily (I'm guessing) because my winter protection was too slap-dash.  On the other hand, the plastic netting that I wrapped around my hardy fig and filled with leaves did the job quite well.  The only thing I'd change there is to wait to remove the leaves until mid-April --- I took the protection off prematurely and the tops of the fig twigs died back.
  • Baby meyer lemonFeeding house plants with urine --- I've been watering our potted dwarf citrus trees with urine for months now --- one cup per week for the biggest plants, watered down into half a gallon of liquid, and half a cup (similarly diluted) for the smaller plants.  All I can say is --- wow, what a success!  After a couple of years of giving us six or seven lemons, our dwarf Meyer lemon is currently decked out in 37 fruits, most of which are so big there's no chance they'll be aborted, and the tree is blooming some more.  Our younger dwarf citrus plants are also growing like crazy, although none have fruited yet.  Without a control, I can't promise you that the urine I've been feeding our plants is responsible for this sudden heavy yield, but I'd definitely recommend the technique to anyone.
  • Sprouted sweet potatoSweet potato propagation --- A week ago, I told you that the sweet potatoes we're propagating in damp gravel on top of a heat mat had started to sprout.  Now there are sprouts shooting up all over, one of which is nearly big enough to clip and root!  I took the clear lid off the flat so that the shoots can get a bit taller, and expect to be ready to put sweet potatoes in the ground far sooner than ever before.  This method is definitely a winner and will be our sweet potato slip production method from here on out.

Our chicken waterer is an experiment that passed the test with flying colors.  Now we can leave our chickens alone for a long weekend without worrying about them fouling or spilling the water.
Posted Fri Apr 29 08:02:34 2011 Tags:
Best do it yourself compost bucket easy to make and affordable

Our first compost container was just an old 3 gallon pickle bucket salvaged from the dumpster at Hardies. (Thanks Ben)

I saw this small trash can and thought it would make a nice upgrade to our compost system if it only had a handle to make it easy to carry the scraps out to our chickens each morning.

This style of bucket can be found at Lowes for around 12 bucks and it only takes a few minutes to fabricate a rope handle.

Posted Fri Apr 29 16:37:58 2011 Tags:
Brood coop

Chicks on a logI've been expanding the chicks' home at intervals, most recently giving them free rein to explore half of the chicken coop on Friday.  My method lacks any hint of science.  Instead, I just give the chicks more room whenever they seem to be bored with their current setup.

Except for our homegrown chick, the young flock is easily spooked when I start moving things around.  They run into the corner and hide until I quiet down, then wait for the yellow chick to give them permission to go play.  When they do start moving, though, it's like a stampede --- 14 balls of fluff exploring every nook and cranny of their new home.

I've been very impressed by their budding foraging abilities already.  These chicks have caught a gnat out of the air, chased down a daddy-long-legs (then looked at it in confusion), and scratched through the loose debris on the top of the rotting log that makes up one side of their coop.  Although they're tiny, I'm seriously considering letting them run out to play with the rest of the chickens in a week or so.  Unless, that is, they decide they want to break out sooner --- homegrown already flew out of the chick area and back in once on Friday.

Chicks in a sunbeam

Our chicken waterer keeps the chicks healthy and prevents coccidiosis.
Posted Sat Apr 30 06:02:42 2011 Tags:
using an old scanner for an automatic chicken coop door opener and closer

Got an old document scanner you don't use anymore? Why not give it a new life by converting it into an automatic chicken coop door opener and closer.

Chicken has some of the details, but be aware this is an advanced project compared to other automatic chicken coop door openers. Some knowledge of Linux will be required to control the scanner.

Makes me wonder if the scanning arm of an old printer would offer the same results. What I like about this project is the availability of used scanners out there. I've seen them in thrift stores in the 10 to 20 dollar range and if you know someone who has upgraded lately you might find an old free one in their barn.
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 Apr 30 20:21:05 2011 Tags:

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

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