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

archives for 11/2011

Nov 2011

StileThis year, Mark build a bunch of chicken pastures that act as moats around a large portion of the garden.  I love the moats --- they keep the deer out, make the edges distinct, and just make me feel relaxed.  We have had a couple of issues, though, that I'd like to remedy before boxing in the rest of the boundary.

Lucy's job is to patrol the perimeter, and that's a bit tough when she can't get there.  We started to notice gaps gnawed in our fences, and then realized that Lucy was making bolt-holes so she can spring off in any direction to reach the edges of our homestead lickety-split.  The trouble is that deer and chickens come in those holes and end up in the garden, which defeats the purpose of the moats.  Surely there's a way to give Lucy better access to the perimeter without compromising our fences, but I'm not sure what it would be.  I was pondering stiles (like in the photo above), but an agile chicken or (if we go there) goat could prance over top just as easily as a dog could.  As crazy as it sounds, I'm now thinking of installing dog doors in select locations in the pasture fences, but any other ideas would be appreciated as well.

Lost chickenThe chicken problem is similar to Lucy's dilemma.  Since we started letting our chickens free range, we've had chickens stuck partway home multiple times.  As dusk falls, chickens seem to use a compass sense (maybe based on magnetism?) to figure out how to shorten their peregrination and head straight back to the coop.  The problem is that there's often a fence in their way, so they end up huddled in a corner, not realizing that if they simply walked at right angles for a few feet, they could get home.  The chickens do seem to learn the terrain after a while, so we might just have to plan on leading chickens home a few times when they start free ranging.  Maybe another solution would be to make all exterior fences convex instead of concave?

I'm curious to hear some creative solutions to our moat problems, so I hope you'll leave a comment with your ideas!

Our chicken waterer keeps the flock well hydrated after their long walk.
Posted Tue Nov 1 07:45:14 2011 Tags:

Weekend Homesteader: NovemberThe first step in rotating your garden is to understand which vegetables share the same family.  The list below covers all of the vegetables you're likely to grow, and I've italicized the more common crops so they'll be easier to find.

Amaranthaceae --- Amaranth

Amaryllidaceae --- Chives, garlic, leeks, onions

Basellaceae --- Malabar spinach

Brassicaceae --- Asian greens, broccoli, broccoli raab, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, cress, horseradish, kale, kohlrabi, mustard, radish, rape, rocket, rutabaga, turnip, watercress

Chenopodiaceae --- Beet, beetberry, Good King Henry, lamb's quarter, mangel, orach, quinoa, spinach, Swiss chard

Compositae --- Artichoke, cardoon, celtuce, chicory, endive, escarole, gobo, Jerusalem artichoke, lettuce, salsify, shungiku, sunflower, yacon

Convolvulaceae --- Water spinach, sweet potato

Cucurbitaceae --- Balsam apple, balsam pear, cassabanana, chayote, cucumber, gherkins, gourd, luffa, melons, pumpkins, squash

Graminae --- Corn

Labiatae --- Basil, mint, thyme

Leguminosae --- Bean, lentil, pea, peanut, pigeon pea, soybean

Liliaceae --- Asparagus

Malvaceae --- Okra

Polygonaceae --- Rhubarb, sorrel

Portulaceae --- Miner's lettuce, purslane

Solanaceae --- Cape gooseberry, eggplant, garden huckleberry, ground cherry, naranjilla, nightshade, pepino, pepper, potato, sunberry, tomatillo, tomato

Tetragoniaceae --- New Zealand spinach

Umbelliferae --- Carrot, celery, celeriac, chervil, coriander, dill, fennel, parsley, parsnip, skirret

Valerianaceae --- Corn salad

Weekend Homesteader paperbackAlthough this list seems overwhelming at first glance, a closer look will show that the majority of your garden vegetables fit into just a few families.  Experienced gardeners have pet names for several of them, so you'll hear folks talking about "brassicas" when they mean broccoli, kale, and the like, "cucurbits" when they want to lump squash and cucumbers together, and "legumes" when referring to peas and beans.

This week's lunchtime series includes one of the four projects from Weekend Homesteader: November.  Stay tuned for the rest of the series, or check out the 99 cent ebook for more information on how to store drinking water for use during power outages, to put an entire chicken to use in the kitchen, and to bring in cash without going to the office.

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

Posted Tue Nov 1 12:01:11 2011 Tags:
Straw delivery of fall 2011

80 bales of straw at 4 dollars a piece.

20 dollars for delivery and stacking.

This should keep Anna's mulch habit going all winter and part of the spring.

Posted Tue Nov 1 17:23:06 2011 Tags:
Quick hoops

Around here, Samhain means hard freezes are on their way.  Time to take a break from weeding and mulching the garden and do a bit of winterization, like:

  • Putting hoses away --- Unhooking all of our sprinkler hoses and laying them out on a hill lets the water drain out.  I wind them from the uphill side and put the hoses away in the barn until next year.  Treated this way, we have cheap hoses that have already lasted 5 years and seem to have several more to go.
  • Erecting quick hoops --- Greens and lettuce can handle frost, but I don't want to keep my eye on the forecast and scurry around once temperatures in the mid twenties are coming up.  Row cover fabric lets hot air vent out on beautiful sunny Fallen fig leavesdays while protecting the crops on cold nights, so it's okay to put my quick hoops up when daytime temperatures rise into the 60s.
  • Protect the fig --- The fig held onto its leaves until this week's harder freezes, but now that the plant is bare, I can erect its winter protection

And then it's back to putting the garden to bed.  Happy Samhain/Halloween/All Soul's Day/Cross-Quarter Day!

Our chicken waterer makes daily chicken chores a clean and easy task.
Posted Wed Nov 2 08:18:07 2011 Tags:

Okra seedsCongratulations to John, the winner of our seed giveaway!  John, please drop me an email with your mailing address and we'll put your seeds (and top bulbs) in the mail on Friday.

Meanwhile, thank you to everyone for helping make Weekend Homesteader: November a success!  Don't forget that I'm always happy to email a free pdf copy to our readers --- just email me with your request.  And don't forget to leave a review on Amazon if get a chance.

Posted Wed Nov 2 10:18:21 2011 Tags:

Garden map
Unless you have a stellar memory, garden rotation depends on good notes.  You may eventually decide to come up with your own method for recording garden information, but for now I recommend you combine a garden map with a spreadsheet.

If you haven't already mapped your garden, the first step in this week's exercise is to head out into the garden with pen and paper.  It's not really necessary to pace off boundaries and draw your garden to scale --- the idea is simply to mark down the main features.

Those of you who have permanent beds can sketch your garden once, scan your drawing into the computer or make several photocopies, then never have to repeat the drafting work.  If that applies to you, I recommend giving each garden bed a label so that you can quickly and easily refer to it in your notes.  I find it helpful to use a number and letter combo to distinguish a bed, so the first row of beds in my garden is labeled "A1", "A2", "A3", etc., the second row of beds is labeled "B1", "B2", and so forth.

If you till up your garden and create new rows every year, your garden map will be a bit fuzzier.  (See the May volume of Weekend Homesteader for an explanation of why permanent garden beds are better for your soil.)  But you can get the same general information across by listing your tomatoes as grown in the southwest quadrant.  You'll probably want to draw a map each year showing the location of each type of vegetable.


Weekend Homesteader paperbackEither way, I recommend coupling your garden map with a spreadsheet (or at least a notebook if you're technophobic.)  You can download my garden spreadsheet from 2011 to use as a template.  Every time I plant a bed, I note down the date, the vegetable variety, the seed source, and the bed number.  In some cases, I'll also record the portion of the bed planted (if I'm combining more than one vegetable species or variety in the same bed), soil amendments I used, harvest information, and disease and insect problems.  You can put all of the same information in a notebook, but using a spreadsheet makes it much easier to search through your notes.

This week's lunchtime series includes one of the four projects from Weekend Homesteader: November.  Stay tuned for the rest of the series, or check out the 99 cent ebook for more information on how to store drinking water for use during power outages, to put an entire chicken to use in the kitchen, and to bring in cash without going to the office.

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

Posted Wed Nov 2 12:01:12 2011 Tags:
5 in 1 portable power pack review update to the update

Our Chicago Electric 5 in 1 portable power packs are just over a year old and I thought it was time for a report.

The first one will only take a 50% charge, while the second one is dead to the world.
battery boosting on a winter day
The one still working came in very handy during the 2011 power outage giving us the ability to keep the incubator going, We only used the car battery booster function twice.

It feels like whatever type of battery these things have inside is underpowered. We might be able to salvage the internal invertor if I can figure out a way to take it apart or maybe there's a way to replace the battery with something more substantial?

Posted Wed Nov 2 16:30:55 2011 Tags:

BeesAll's well in both hives.

Last time I checked, I was a bit concerned because my fall feeding campaign had caused the queen in one hive to produce a lot of excess workers, but I needn't have worried.  Once the sugar water went away, I started seeing dead bees in front of the hive, proving that the colony was just as quick about deciding to slim their numbers back down so they didn't eat up their winter stores prematurely. 

I decided to feed the other hive after seeing that they were 10 pounds shy of my winter goal on October 3.  It wasn't entirely purposeful, but since that hive needed less extra honey, I let the sugar feeder run dry for a day or two between each feeding, and the boom/bust cycle seems to have prevented the queen from laying many extra eggs.  Some queens are simply more prone to increasing hive numbers when faced with lots of sugar water than others, so it's possible this queen is just smarter than the other one.  Either way, though, it seems like making fall feedings less continuous can't hurt. 

With 60 pounds of capped honey in the daughter hive, 51 pounds in the mother hive, and some still dehydrating in each, it looks like our bees are ready for winter.

Our chicken waterer is always POOP-free!
Posted Thu Nov 3 07:41:38 2011 Tags:

Weekend Homesteader: NovemberNow that you've got your map and spreadsheet in hand, you can plan out next year's garden.  For those of you who have been gardening in the same spot for several seasons, the goal is to make sure that plants in the same family don't share the same soil for at least three years.  That means that you don't want your summer beans to follow your spring peas and don't even want those beans to be in a bed that has grown peas, beans, or peanuts for at least three years.

Some gardeners keep rotation extremely simple by dividing their garden into four sections and growing different families in each section.  For example, if the northeast quarter of your garden is home to the legume family, the southeast quarter to potatoes and tomatoes, the southwest quarter to cucurbits, and the northwest quarter to everything else, you can simple turn your map like a wheel to plan next year's garden.  Now your legumes go in the southeast quadrant, the tomatoes in the southwest quadrant, and so forth.

Unfortunately, the method outlined above has several problems.  Chances are your garden isn't entirely uniform, so the wheel rotation method would often require you to grow vegetables in spots they don't prefer from time to time.  In my garden, a third of the growing area has deep, loamy soil that's good for root crops and another third is very sunny and perfect for spring and fall crops.  That means my brassicas are nearly always located in the sunny third while carrots and potatoes dominate the loamy third.  The June volume of Weekend Homesteader walks you through locating each part of your vegetable garden in the proper space.

Even if you are growing on a completely flat area with no shade and with the same soil type throughout, planting big blocks of the same type of vegetable together is asking for trouble.  With the exception of corn (which requires a large planting in one spot to allow for wind pollination of the seeds), you'll have far less insect and disease pressure if you scatter each type of vegetable throughout the garden.  Big blocks of similar plants mimic monoculture and often lead to insect and disease epidemics.  At the other extreme, a diverse garden with beans beside tomatoes beside parsley will make it tough for problematic insects to find the plants they prefer while also tempting beneficial insects to spend time in every part of the garden.

Garlic scapeTo add one more complication to the mix, you should keep in mind that you can often grow two or more different vegetables in the same bed each year.  For example, over-wintering garlic is harvested in early June, just in time to plant sweet potatoes.  Spring leaf lettuce takes about a month to bulk up, can be cut for a month, and then turns bitter, so I allot the lettuce two months out of the year.  Your notes from last year will help you figure out how many months each crop will take (and the May volume of Weekend Homesteader explains when each one should be planted), but there are always a few vegetables that are pulled out early or don't come up.  As a result, I generally plan the location for my vegetables in stages, first figuring out where each variety will go for the spring planting (February to June) and only later planning my summer and fall gardens.

This week's lunchtime series includes one of the four projects from Weekend Homesteader: November.  Stay tuned for the rest of the series, or check out the 99 cent ebook for more information on how to store drinking water for use during power outages, to put an entire chicken to use in the kitchen, and to bring in cash without going to the office.

Weekend Homesteader paperbackThis post is part of our Garden Rotation lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Thu Nov 3 12:01:14 2011 Tags:
minivan chair transport

We ended up trading our old Toyota mini-van for a 22 rifle and the few hours of labor it took to replace the golf cart brake pads.

I've been dreading the last part of the deal...getting the seats from our barn to the parking area without the help of the truck.
garden wagon! A cart has 2 wheels and a wagon 4.
The TC1840H garden wagon was a big help today, but it took some major effort to make it across the creek due to one of the wheels rubbing on the frame when our friend pulled too fast.

Not sure if it's something I can fix to make stronger. Maybe it's time to consider the next step up in garden wagons?

Posted Thu Nov 3 16:28:38 2011 Tags:

Drawing in FranceStep 1: Dream
When I was a kid, I dreamed of publishing a book.  I didn't care about the fame, but Daddy had explained the concept of royalties to me, and the idea of doing a bunch of work and then having money trickle in for the rest of my life sounded really awesome.  Plus, I just loved books.

Step 2: Strive
I started writing "novels" in elementary school, but it took until after college for me to realize that I lacked the life experience to write good fiction.  In the interim, I agonized over a bunch of young adult fiction, pored over Writer's Market, and even sent some "novels" off to publishers to get those mandatory rejection letters.

Step 3: Check in with reality
Appalachian ecology ebookTime passed and I got an actual job, which I loved and then hated.  After I quit, a local businessman threw a book deal into my lap --- I'd write about the local flora and fauna, his niece would format it, and he'd publish it.  I hunkered down over my laptop for a month or two and spewed forth my first non-fiction book.  It had growing pains, but the breaking point was realizing that when the businessman said he'd publish it, he merely meant he'd print it.  There was no distribution involved, and I would need to hawk my book on street corners to get it sold.  No way!  That was going to irritate my introvert tendencies more than the job I just quit.  I published the book in ebook format instead.

Weekend HomesteaderStep 4: Revise the dream
Hmm, ebooks.  Now that's an interesting idea.  I churned out a few more, getting better at the process and enjoying writing about a topic where I really had something to say.  After a while, I realized that I could reach a much wider audience by selling my ebooks on Amazon rather than just on my website, and with your help, my Weekend Homesteader series took off.  This was the cat's meow!  No need to hold book signings when I could rely on the power of the internet to sell my books.

I came to the conclusion that paper books were good for nothing more than stroking the author's ego.  I figured that if I were a publisher, I'd cyber-stalk Amazon's independent ebook authors and watch who sells the most books, then approach them in hopes of publishing the book in a paper format.  I steeled myself for that day --- if a publisher approached me, I would simply say no.

Step 5: Revisit the dream
I thought the email was spam at first.  But no, it was a small but established publisher that had several well known books under their belt.  They wanted to publish a full color paperback version of my Weekend Homesteader series.  I poised my fingers over the keyboard to say no...then went to tell Mark instead.

"You know that if you don't at least ask them for the terms, you'll always wonder," he told me.  "Why don't you email them back and ask what advance and royalties they'd offer?"

Well, okay.  The editor tossed off some figures on the low end of normal (8% royalties, $1,500 advance.)  I shrugged.  Interesting --- I'd write a post about it after telling the publisher no.

Instead, I drafted a lengthy pro-con list.  The pro list was short, the con list long, long, long.

Daddy picked up the phone right away.  "I'm shocked!" he said once he heard who was there.  (Yes, I don't call my father enough.  No, I hadn't told him the reason for my call yet.)

"A publisher wants to make a print copy of my book," I told him, then added: "But I think I should say no."

I didn't think I could ever break Daddy's heart more than when I decided to live in a trailer, but I could almost hear that essential organ cracking into two uneven pieces.  He immediately started trying to talk me into it, so I explained my list of disadvantages one at a time.  After "deadlines, angst, stress", my perfectionist belief that Weekend Homesteader isn't ready for prime time, and having to deal with criticism, I asked him whether accepting the first publisher who comes knocking isn't a bit like going to the prom with a boy simply because you're flattered he asked.  "No, no!" Daddy said.  "It doesn't matter who publishes your first book!  Just who publishes your second.  And, by the way, about your perfectionist tendencies, you've heard of second editions, right?"

Skyhorse logoFinally, I moved on to the real sticking point --- public appearances.  "You could try asking the publisher how they distribute the book and what you'd be expected to do," Daddy said soothingly.  So I sent the publisher back an email they probably don't get often.  I told them I was a hermit.  I told them there was no way I was going to market the book in a non-internet manner.  What bookstores did they have their books in, who was their distributer, how were they going to advertise the book, how quickly do they remainder?  The answers sucked me right in --- not so much the part about being in mainstream bookstores throughout the U.S. and Canada (although that was cool), but about being sold in Tractor Supply.  Tractor Supply would really reach my target audience and help build our "empire"!

With the invaluable assistance of my friend's husband (thanks, Seth!), I poked at the contract until it felt pretty feasible.  And then...I said yes.

Weekend Homesteader paperback (If you were hoping that this post would actually help you get published, you've probably realized it won't.  Those of you who noticed that the path of my publishing career looks an awful lot like the way I got a husband win bonus points.)

Which is all an excessively long way of saying that a full color paperback edition of Weekend Homesteader will be hitting bookstores in fall of 2012.  I'll be dealing with "deadlines, angst, stress" in February and before then will be asking all of our ebook readers for their feedback so that the paper edition glows.  For the next little while, though, I'm going to channel the eleven year old me and tell her that getting published really is possible and not to give up.

Our chicken waterer never spills or fills with POOP.
Posted Fri Nov 4 08:07:29 2011 Tags:
Pea flower

The problem with a diverse garden is that planning rotation can be a mind-bending exercise if you grow in a large space.  Luckily, there are ways to simplify the process.

The first step toward easy rotations is to figure out which families cover the most ground in your garden.  These widespread families will vary depending on what you like to eat, of course, but I always struggle to find fresh ground for legumes, brassicas, cucurbits, the onion family, and the tomato family.  Everything else is pretty easy since, for example, I just don't grow enough okra to make it difficult to find the vegetable a home in next year's garden.

You could do worse than to start off your rotation by deciding on spots for the members of the five prolific families mentioned above.  Make a list of all of the vegetables you grow in each family and divide them up by planting date, then start finding homes for each crop from earliest planted to latest planted.  Don't worry if you're stumped and can't find a good spot for the latest planted vegetables --- openings generally come up and let you squeeze the last few in.

The steps I use when deciding on a spot for each vegetable in next year's garden are as follows:

Spring planting1. Decide how many beds to devote to the crop.  I keep notes on how much I preserve of each type of vegetable and of the month when I ran out of those stored foods in the winter.  If I had to buy tomatoes starting in February, that's a clue that I should plant more beds next year.  On the other hand, if I ended up with peppers that I didn't want to eat when the time came to clean out the freezer in the spring, I might as well grow fewer this year.  Don't get too carried away, though ---  if this is your first or second year gardening, you'll want to keep your garden small and manageable.

2. Consider where the crop will grow best.  I like to save the sunniest spots for crops planted in the early spring or those which will survive late into the winter.  The next sunniest spots go to tomatoes and cucurbits that succumb to fungal diseases during our hot, humid summers.  Herbs can go anywhere, but you'll use more if they're close to your front door.  Root crops require deep, well-drained soil, so keep them out of clayey or swampy spots.  If you hand water, you might want to keep moisture lovers like celery close to the hose.

Weekend Homesteader paperback3. Hunt and check until you find a spot.  Now that I know I need 10 potato beds and that the root crop needs to be located in the loamy third of my garden, I can start hunting through the the garden until I find the appropriate number of beds that haven't grown tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, or eggplants for a few years.  With a spreadsheet, you can simply search for the bed number (or sort by bed if you have all of the information on the same sheet) and get a list of all of the vegetables grown in each bed since you started taking notes.  Although a bit time-consuming, this hunt and check method only takes me a couple of hours when deciding on spots for all of the crops in our huge spring and early summer garden.

If you need an incentive to make garden planning happen in a timely manner, you can use mine --- once I know where each vegetable will go, I'm allowed to pore over seed catalogs.  Garden porn!

I hope you enjoyed this excerpt from Weekend Homesteader: November.  Check out the 99 cent ebook for more information on how to store drinking water for use during power outages, to put an entire chicken to use in the kitchen, and to bring in cash without going to the office.

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

Posted Fri Nov 4 12:01:18 2011 Tags:
2011 last flush from mushroom logs

Today might be the last flush from our mushroom logs of the 2011 season.
Posted Fri Nov 4 16:58:11 2011 Tags:
Dwarf Meyer lemons

Our urine fertilizer really paid off, with 31 ripe or nearly ripe fruits on our dwarf Meyer lemon tree.  The fruits were all a bit smaller than in previous years (which means this year's lemons were roughly the size of storebought fruit.)  If we have the same bonanza of blooms this winter, I'll thin the baby fruits so that the tree isn't overwhelmed.

Lemon zest

I picked the first six lemons of the year and grated off the zest to use in baking.  Our homegrown lemon zest will go fast because Meyer lemons are a hybrid of an orange and a lemon, so their skin is only about half strength.  I double the zest portion of any recipe when using Meyer lemon zest.

Fresh lemon juice

The juice is similar to that of a storebought lemon, though a bit sweeter.  One cup of lemon juice is just enough to bake a double strength lemon meringue pie.  Too bad the dessert has to cool overnight before I can cut and taste it.

We've already got more flower buds on the lemon tree even as the other 80% of the fruits grow out of their last tinge of green.  Meanwhile, another dwarf citrus has bloomed and started to set tiny fruits.  In a very un-Anna-like move, I let the labels wash off the pot, so I don't know whether we'll be trying out homegrown navel oranges or key limes this time next year.  I guess it will be a surprise!

Our chicken waterer never spills on uneven terrain of pastures and tractors.
Posted Sat Nov 5 08:00:41 2011 Tags:
measuring firewood to see how close to a cord it is

We established a new source for firewood today that is higher quality at a lower price.
Jotul small woodstove
The rough estimate I did says it's just under half a cord. A great deal at 50 dollars when you throw in delivery and stacking. What makes it even better is the guy offered to cut the next round to whatever size we need, which will be nice for our tiny Jotul 602 woodstoves.

I've learned to put Lucy in a "timeout" while I do short jobs like this during her walk,. If I don't she sometimes gets distracted and shoots off into the woods dragging her leash.

Posted Sat Nov 5 15:59:29 2011 Tags:

Lemon meringue pieI'll be honest with you --- this pie has very little redeeming nutritional value.  On the other hand, it is simply the best lemon meringue pie you'll ever taste (especially if you use farm fresh eggs and homegrown Meyer lemons.)

0.5 c. flour
0.5 c. cocoa
0.25 c. sugar
0.5 tsp salt
7 tbsp butter
4 tbsp water

Put the flour, cocoa, sugar, and salt in a food processor and blend briefly.  Add the butter in four or five pieces, and blend until the butter is broken apart into tiny fragments.  Then add the water and blend one more time.  Pat the dough into the bottom of a buttered, 9 inch round cake pan and bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes, until the crust is baked through.

1 c. sugar (or a bit more if you're using traditional lemons or have a sweet tooth)
6 tbsp cornstarch
0.25 tsp salt
1 cup lemon juice
6 medium egg yolks (or 5 large egg yolks)
2 tbsp butter
1.5 c. boiling water
1 tbsp grated Meyer lemon peel (or 0.5 tbsp grated peel from a traditional lemon)

Mix the sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a pan, then add the lemon juice, egg yolks, and butter.  (Set the egg whites aside for use in the meringue.)  Slowly pour in the boiling water, stirring constantly.  Cook over medium-high heat until the filling boils and thickens, stirring and turning down the heat as necessary so the filling doesn't burn or stick.  Remove from the stove after 1 minute of boiling and add the lemon peel, then pour into the baked pie crust.

6 medium egg whites (or 5 large egg whites)
6 tablespoons of sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Cut pieBeat egg whites until thye are stiff but not dry, then carefully stir in the sugar and vanilla.  Spoon the meringue over  the top of the hot pie filling, making sure that the meringue comes in contact with the cake pan all the way around.  Then bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes, until the top is brown.

Let your completed pie cool in the fridge overnight before eating.  I never jump through the hoops to keep my meringue from weeping and deflating, but the pie still disappears far too quickly.  Good thing we could make four more pies just like this from 2011's dwarf Meyer lemon harvest!

Clean water from our chicken waterer means healthy pullets and lots of eggs.
Posted Sun Nov 6 07:35:04 2011 Tags:
one year with a memory foam bed

It's been a full year since I first started sleeping on a memory foam matress and it's still as super comfortable as it was the first day.

The factory smell went away within a few days. I still took it out this summer to let some mountain fresh air soak into it, and having it in sections made the operation much easier to handle than a regular matress.

In my opinion this foam technology is the best invention for someone who enjoys a good night's sleep since the arrival of the pillow.

Posted Sun Nov 6 18:25:12 2011 Tags:
Moldy grain

My low tech oyster grain spawn experiment was a terrible failure.  Within a few days, the bags and jars were full of various smelly molds, so I had to discard the grain onto the compost pile.

I was shocked to see so many "weed fungi" in the grain since I've had such good luck growing oyster mushroom spawn on cardboard with similar lack of sterility.  I concluded there were two flaws in my grain experiment:

  • The oyster spawn I started with wasn't chomping at the bit.  I harvested the mushrooms a few days before our pressure canner arrived in the mail, so I had to store the stem butts in the fridge.  And the fridge has been running too cold, so the stem butts got a bit frosty.  The ice didn't kill the spawn, but it did slow the oysters down so that wild molds had a chance to grow on the grain before the less vigorous than usual oyster spawn took over.
  • Oyster mushroom spawnGrain may simply be too rich of a medium for unsterile conditions.  Since damp newspaper isn't very enticing, most weed fungi can't get a toehold.  But cooked grain is delicious for all and sundry, giving the oyster mushrooms a run for their money.

We've started a bit of newspaper spawn with the last few oyster mushroom stem butts of the year.  Assuming the spawn runs (which it should since I've grown oyster mushroom spawn on cardboard before), I'll have to figure out what to expand the cardboard spawn onto.  Cardboard isn't high enough in nutrients to keep expanding spawn on indefinitely, so I may try inoculating some straw for a bit of indoor culture for the winter.  I'll keep you posted.

Learn how cooking with a whole chicken and homegrown vegetables produces wholesome meals that beat the dollar menu in price!
Posted Mon Nov 7 07:35:59 2011 Tags:

Soil sampleThe report from a typical soil test will tell you to add a certain amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium to your soil in order to achieve a certain yield, and might also tell you to add lime or sulfur to change your pH.  This type of soil analysis assumes that soil is like a checking account --- you put nutrients in and your plants take the same amount out.  Large-scale farmers will add chemical fertilizers or --- if the fields are certified organic --- mineral supplements and compost to supply the required amount of each primary nutrient.

Holistic gardeners understand that soil is more complex, and that the physical environment and microorganisms work together to make nutrients more or less available.  You can compare this view of soil to a mutual fund, with the combination of individual stocks and bonds determining how much money is available at any given time.  If you're a real holistic gardener, you'll take the analogy one step further and try to create soil where you're living on the interest, not the capital.

Which is all a long way of saying --- this lunchtime series isn't going to show you the traditional way of interpreting your soil test results.  I'm assuming that you'll be adding half an inch to an inch of high quality compost to your garden before each planting as a matter of course, so I won't mention nitrogen at all.  Instead, I'll walk you through the less well known but even more important fields on your soil test report so that you can create a Soil test formwell-rounded soil that will require fewer inputs every year.

If you don't have a soil test for your own garden handy, this week's lunchtime series will be a lot less fun.  Check out this post about where to send your soil tests and be aware that fall is a great time to sample since testing labs are less busy.  I got my results via email less than a week after putting our soil samples in the mail.

Our chicken waterer is part of a holistic approach to healthy chickens.

This post is part of our Holistic Soil Test Analysis lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Mon Nov 7 11:01:19 2011 Tags:
how to take a washing machine drain hose and make it catch saw dust on a miter saw

miter saw dust pile
Sometime last year I realized the miter saw had a place to attach a hose to for catching saw dust. I looked around for the proper hose a few times and then forgot about it.

I was walking by our junked out washing machine by the barn today and noticed the drain hose was about the same size as the exit point on the miter saw.

It was also the right length for our current set up. A short piece of duct tape was all it took to secure the hose to the saw.

Posted Mon Nov 7 16:45:26 2011 Tags:
Pullet egg

We've now got seven hens laying!  That tiny egg in the middle is a pullet egg, the smallest one I've ever seen.  Sometimes, a hen will produce a tiny, yolkless egg when she's first starting to lay, so I think this picture (taken November 3) marks the date when our last Cuckoo Marans hen came into production.

The eggs are smaller, prettier, and less numerous than we were getting from our Golden Comets, but I hope that our heirloom Black Australorps and Cuckoo Marans will make up for their lower yields by eating less storebought feed and raising their own young.  Right now, we're getting around 0.475 pounds of eggs per day (4 medium eggs) and are feeding the flock roughly 1 pound of laying pellets.  That's a feed conversion rate of 2.1:1 and a feed cost of about $1 per dozen eggs.  Not too shabby, even if you factor in having to feed the flock for six months before they start to lay.

Keep up the good work, girls!  We like having extra eggs to sink into lemon meringue pies.

Store up drinking water to protect your family during power outages.  Learn how in my 99 cent ebook.
Posted Tue Nov 8 07:27:04 2011 Tags:

Cation exchange capacityCation exchange capacity is the first characteristic you should consider when you get your soil test results.  Cation exchange capacity (CEC for short) is closely tied to the amount of organic matter and clay you have in your soil since both provide spots for positively charged ions --- cations --- to cling to the soil.  In contrast, sandy soil without much organic matter will allow nutrients to leach away during heavy rains.  You're throwing away your money if you add soil supplements to raise your calcium, magnesium, or potassium levels without first increasing your CEC so that these essential nutrients will be held in place.

So what's a good CEC?  CEC can range from 0 to 100 meq/100 g, and your goal should be to reach or exceed 20 meq/100 g.  Although clay and any kind of organic matter will help you achieve this goal, humus is the most effective since it provides a lot more cation binding sites per unit area.  In case you're not familiar with the distinction, humus is organic matter that has broken down to a stable point at which it may endure for hundreds or thousands of years.  To make humus, add any kind of organic matter to your soil (compost, mulch, or cover crops) and make sure soil conditions are right for earthworms, bacteria, and fungi to turn that organic matter into high quality humus.

Let's take a look at my CEC and organic matter test results:

Mule (1) Mule (2) CP3 (3) Back (4) Front (5) Mom front Mom back
CEC 65.6 74.4 15.6 56 47.1 27.9 36.3
% OM 17 18.4 8.2 15 14.6 15.9 14.1

I've highlighted the one non-garden spot I sampled --- our chicken pasture, which was basically a lawn until we started letting chickens graze there this spring.  I also sampled some of my Mom's soil, which has been intensively gardened for decades.  Finally, the white columns are four different parts of my own vegetable garden.  By comparing these three areas, you can see:
  • Soil samplesWithin my garden, CEC values increase as percent organic matter increases.  Mark and I were both able to line up our soil samples from most to least organic matter by eye, so it would be possible to keep rough track of this information without sending off soil samples.
  • Mom's CEC values are lower than mine even though her soil has just about as much organic matter.  That's the difference between gardening in very clayey soil (my garden) and in a silty loam (her soil.)
  • My pasture --- where I've never added compost --- is the only area with a CEC below the 20 meq/100 g level.  As I use more intensive management techniques on this pasture, I hope to raise the CEC without adding any soil amendments.

Most organic gardeners believe you can't have too much organic matter in your soil, but soil scientists will roll their eyes at that statement and now I understand why.  If your CEC is low but your organic matter levels are high, that means you're doing something wrong and your organic matter isn't being broken down into a stable humus.  Maybe you've added too much high carbon material all at once (for example, tilling wood chips into the soil) or have sprayed pesticides that killed off your soil microorganisms.  That's why I recommend using CEC rather than organic matter as the most important "grade" on your holistic gardening "report card."  As far as I can tell, with CEC, more is always better.

Our chicken waterer never spills or fills with poop.

This post is part of our Holistic Soil Test Analysis lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Tue Nov 8 12:01:09 2011 Tags:
digging a ditch during damp a day

We're starting to feel like the waterline project is finally nearing completion.

Yes...this is year 3 of digging the ditch.

I'm not sure how many total labor hours we've invested so far, but there were several days when it was just too cold or too wet for ditch digging.

We knew it was a long term project from the start, and with any luck we'll be rewarded with our first winter of the water not freezing on really cold nights.

Posted Tue Nov 8 17:09:37 2011 Tags:

Study group10 acres of pasture in need of TLC.

48 acres of Appalachian forest.

Two springs and a pond.

A naturally air-conditioned sinkhole.

A fallen down barn.

Two miles from our house.

A non-profit willing to partner on our homesteading plan.

A well-established intentional community that just might dip their finger in the pie.

Looks like a much more interesting internship program than I'd originally envisioned.

But dozens of wrinkles still need to be ironed out before we can make an announcement.

So this is a teaser.  Maybe.  Maybe not.

Follow the Weekend Homesteader path to self-sufficiency one easy and fun project at a time.
Posted Wed Nov 9 07:26:48 2011 Tags:

Record soil samplesBase Cation Saturation Ratio (BCSR) is the more complex and controversial side of CEC.  To calculate the BCSR of your soil, first determine how many cations your soil can hold (the CEC), then measure what percentage of that whole is filled up by hydrogen, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and sodium.

Over the years, various scientists have hypothesized that there's a perfect ratio at which your soil achieves peak health and highest crop yields.  This idea may have begun with William Albrecht in the 1930s, and in its most recent incarnation can be found in Neal Kinsey and Charles Walters' Hands on Agronomy.  In the latter, the authors posit that soil Hands on Agronomycations should exist in the following proportions: 60-70% calcium, 10-20% magnesium, 3-5% potassium, 1% sodium, 10-15% hydrogen, and 2-4% other cations.

Others argue that what BCSR is really measuring is the far simpler concept of pH and that the increased crop yields organic practitioners notice after trying to correct their cation ratios are simply due to liming the soil.  I haven't read enough to decide what I think about this controversial topic, but I'd be curious to hear pros and cons from folks who have read about or practiced BCSR in more depth.

Meanwhile, if you're interested to see how your soil stacks up, you'll need to look on your soil test for the fields "% saturation K", "% saturation Mg", "% saturation Ca", and possibly "% acidity" and "% base saturation."  In most cases, the three first three fields can be added together to get the last field.  Subtract the saturation of potassium, magnesium, and calcium from 100% and you get the percent acidity (which is the percent hydrogen, and will be 0 if your soil has a pH at or above 7.)  Here's the data from my soil samples:

Mule (1) Mule (2) CP3 (3) Back (4) Front (5) Mom front Mom back
% Sat. K 4.7 3.8 7.1 3.7 6.1 4.5 3
% Sat. Mg 16.7 17.2 13.8 17.6 16.4 13.3 8.5
% Sat. Ca 78.8 79.2 64.8 78.8 77.7 82.3 88.7
% Base Sat. 100.2 100.2 85.7 100.1 100.2 100.1 100.2
% Sat. H
−0.2 −0.2 14.3 −0.1 −0.2 −0.1 −0.2
pH 7.5 7.6 6 7.3 7.4 7 7.3

I'll write about pH tomorrow, but I included the value in my chart so you could see the obvious --- the only acidic soil (my chicken pasture, highlighted in yellow) is also the only one with a percent base saturation less than 100.  More relevantly, notice that all of the samples have more calcium than magnesium.  This relationship, plus the very high values of all of the cations (shown below) suggests to me that I don't need to worry about my Base Cation Saturation Ratios.

Mule (1) Mule (2) CP3 (3) Back (4) Front (5) Mom front Mom back
K (ppm) 825 724 351 615 875 415 351
K Very high Very high Very high Very high Very high Very high Very high
Ca (ppm) 7206 7905 1643 6801 5772 3906 5480
Ca Very high Very high Very high Very high Very high Very high Very high
Mg (ppm) 930 1048 213 926 743 385 320
Mg Very high Very high Very high Very high Very high Very high Very high

What would I do if my BCSR seemed to be out of whack?  The first step would be to correct any CEC problems, then I could add mineral sources of the cations that seemed too low.  However, it's essential to be aware of how supplements will impact your soil pH before embarking on any cation improvement project.

Our homemade chicken waterer kit now comes with instructions for making your own heated waterer.

This post is part of our Holistic Soil Test Analysis lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Wed Nov 9 12:01:19 2011 Tags:
how to bury a waterline that enters a trailer

Another day of amateur plumbing has got us a bit closer to finishing this project.

Posted Wed Nov 9 16:25:02 2011 Tags:
Quick hoop

Once our nightly frosts got down to the high 20s, quick hoops were no longer enough to protect our last tomato plants.  So I ripped out the dead vines (and two gallons of green tomatoes to pass on to the chickens) and moved the quick hoop over to our broccoli, tatsoi, mustard, and tokyo bekana.

Thanks to my obsession with planting greens at the end of the summer, our vegetables are still coming almost entirely out of the garden.  I've thawed out a couple of cups of sweet corn to go in soup and a few dried squash and mushrooms to round out our lasagna.  But mostly we're eating fresh veggies still --- mixtures of sauteed leafy greens every day, salad with the last tommy-toes and sweet peppers still ripening inside, and an occassional head of broccoli.

Add in the oats and oilseed radishes that are vibrantly growing organic matter for our soil, and the garden still feels completely alive.  I wonder how late into the winter we can eat fresh?

Posted Thu Nov 10 07:47:11 2011 Tags:
Anna Soil pH

Sampling soilI'm not going to write about the fundamentals of pH because I figure most of you know:

  • 7 is neutral
  • 0 to 6.9 is acidic
  • 7.1 to 14 is alkaline (aka basic)

To some extent, your pH is determined by the bedrock under your soil, but management will also impact soil pH.  For example, take a look at my test results:

Mule (1) Mule (2) CP3 (3) Back (4) Front (5) Mom front Mom back
pH 7.5 7.6 6 7.3 7.4 7 7.3
CEC 65.6 74.4 15.6 56 47.1 27.9 36.3

Notice that the mule garden --- just a few feet away from the chicken pasture (highlighted in yellow) has alkaline soil instead of acidic soil.  Soil in both spots was identical a few years ago, and I've never added lime or large amounts of wood ashes to my soil.  What I have done is topdress the mule garden with compost and manure in huge quantities, which seems to have sweetened the soil (despite various sources that report compost sours soil.)

Micronutrient availability vs. pHDepending on which crops you're trying to grow, the perfect pH for most garden plants ranges from 6 to 7 (although you'll want much more acidic soil for blueberries.)  pH is extremely important because it determines the availability of many nutrients, as you can see in the chart to the left.  Each type of plant has evolved to deal with specific micronutrient ranges, and a pH too high or too low can lead to deficiencies of some nutrients and toxic overabundances of others.

If you're worried about the pH of your soil, the first thing you should do is to look at your CEC.  Although a high CEC is generally a good thing, the value also means that the soil is very resistant to changes in pH.  Raising the pH of my chicken pasture soil would be relatively easy due to its low CEC, but lowering the pH of my garden soil would be much tougher because of the high cation exchange capacity in that rich soil. 

For now, I'm going to leave my soil pH alone, but I will probably opt to test the soil every year and keep an eye on this figure since a much higher pH could be problematic.  Traditionally, soil pH is raised with lime and lowered with sulfur, but due to my high CEC, I would probably opt to apply acidic organic matter instead if I wanted to lower my garden pH.  I suspect my chicken pasture will become more alkaline naturally as chicken manure and plant debris enrich the ground.

Our chicken waterer keeps the flock active, tempting them to the far end of the pasture for a sip of clean water.

This post is part of our Holistic Soil Test Analysis lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Thu Nov 10 12:01:14 2011 Tags:
home made do it yourself low tech chicken plucker prototype

Last week I had an idea for a chicken plucker that would pluck without a motor.

Tune in next week to see if this new plucker contraption saves any time.

Posted Thu Nov 10 17:13:03 2011 Tags:

Basket of carrotsI was so scared that we wouldn't have any fall crops when my plantings had trouble germinating in the summer heat

And it's true that my carrot beds were only about half as populated as I would have wished.

But how can I complain when I harvested a heaping half bushel from two small beds?

Looks like the lengthy fall worked in my favor --- plenty of carrots despite late replanting.

What's your favorite non-slaw recipe for raw carrot salads?

One of my favorite ways to cook with carrots is to roast them with potatoes, onions and garlic beneath a homegrown chicken.
Posted Fri Nov 11 07:32:30 2011 Tags:

Lead contaminationMost problems with garden soil can be remedied with judicious application of organic matter or other supplements, but heavy metals are more troubling.  Although humans, plants, and soil microorganisms need small amounts of many heavy metals, high concentrations can be toxic.  To decide whether you should be concerned, look for these possible sources of contamination near your garden:

  • Lead paint on old buildings
  • Chemical fertilizers or pesticides
  • Gas stations and mechanics' shops
  • Landfills
  • Industrial factories
  • Runoff from streets and parking lots
  • Lead paint
  • Treated lumber

The table below gives information on the seven heavy metals found in soil that are regulated by the EPA.  Of these, lead is the most likely to be found in your soil and is the one you should be most concerned about.

Heavy metal
Natural levels (ppm)
Unsafe for vegetable gardening (ppm)
Unsafe for children to play (ppm)
Arsenic (As)
3 - 12
more than 50
more than 200
Cadmium (Cd)
0.1 - 1.0
more than 10
more than 50
Copper (Cu)
1 - 50
more than 200
more than 500
Lead (Pb)
10 - 70
more than 500
more than 1,000
Nickel (Ni)
0.5 - 50
more than 200
more than 500
Selenium (Se)
0.1 - 3.9
more than 50
more than 200
Zinc (Zn)
9 - 125
more than 200
more than 500

You have to ingest heavy metals to get sick, which generally means eating plants that have sucked those heavy metals up out of the soil.  Luckily, plants don't tend to accumulate lead the way they do some other heavy metals, so you can garden in soil with moderately elevated lead levels as long as you don't eat much dirt.  At a lead concentration of 100 ppm, you'd need to eat two teaspoonsful of soil per week to create any problem; at 300 ppm, you'd need to eat 3/4 of a teaspoonful per week.
Urban garden
I wasn't particularly concerned about heavy metals in my garden, but the lab I sent our samples off to tested all of the problematic metals except for arsenic and selenium as a matter of course.  Mom was more worried since her front yard is right beside a busy city street and her backyard (home of her vegetable garden) isn't all that far away from car exhaust and road runoff.

Mule (1) Mule (2) CP3 (3) Back (4) Front (5) Mom front Mom back
Zn 8.3 7.8 12.5 7.5 8.5 12.5 28.9
Pb 1 1 1 1 1 3 7
Cd 0 0 0.1 0 0 0.1 0.3
Ni 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.1
Cu 1 1 0.9 1 1 1.1 1.2
Est. total Pb 37 38 40 37 37 64 108

Luckily, levels of all of the metals except lead were far too low to be of any concern for either of us.  In my garden, estimated total lead (different and quite a bit higher from the lab's values for measured lead) ranged from 37 to 40 ppm.  Mom's front garden --- right beside the street --- showed only a slight increase, with 64 ppm lead.  Strangely, her back yard had higher levels --- 108 ppm.  Since lead and other contaminants can flow downhill in water, I suspect that the lower ground level of her backyard concentrates any industrial pollutants even though it's further from the source.  Even so, it looks like she's pretty safe to keep growing her food in town.

Our chicken waterer keeps your flock healthy with clean water.

This post is part of our Holistic Soil Test Analysis lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Fri Nov 11 12:01:11 2011 Tags:
how good do fresh turnips taste and how healthy are they for you?

This is our first year growing turnips.

The fresh leafy stalks are delicious and the tubers have a unique spicy taste that reminds me of my mom's garden when I was a kid.

I would call them a good addition to any garden, especially when you factor in how easy they are to store for the winter.

Posted Fri Nov 11 16:11:47 2011 Tags:
Farm house

White horse on a hillA pair of our favorite local friends are retiring and moving to town.  We're heart-broken...but maybe one of you would like to step into their shoes and be our new neighbor?

This well established farm is located just two miles from our house.  I'll let Dick tell you about it in his own words:

Chestnut Ridge Farm
near Dungannon VA
Limited offering by
Anne Leibig and Dick Austin

This 95 acre mountain farm, overlooking the Clinch River has been managed organically, with horse power, for more than 30 years (berries, peppers, range chickens, maple syrup), with extensive hardwood forests including stands of sugar maples (+ syrup evaporator), 4+ acres of tillable land, 7+ acres of pasture/hay land, large modern barn with 6 horse stalls, loft and work-room. (All figures are approximate.)

Forest management certified by SmartWood. The property is protected by a conservation easement with The Nature Conservancy which has designated the Clinch River watershed one of America’s “Last Great Places” because of its unusual biological diversity.


Our home comprises two adjacent buildings with scenic outlooks and privacy (no other homes in sight). There are 2,100 square feet with three bedrooms, two baths, large dining room, two living rooms, a study, a modern kitchen and pantry; plus a distinctive curved porch (500 sq.ft.), and a deck (550 sq.ft.) with Jacuzzi (needs plumbing repairs), and a dog run. Original house dates from 1916 with porch from 1930, plus modern renovations and additions. Century-old logs and hand-made bricks from the first farmhouse are incorporated in the modern, passive-solar addition. Both buildings have central heat and air conditioning. There is also a wood stove in the main house.

Rolling fieldFor forty years Anne and Dick have engaged with the surrounding community and natural environment. In an effort to attract new owners who may continue this tradition, we are making a special offer to friends and to those recommended by our friends, at a price lower than we would ask on the commercial market. Please contact us for details, and to arrange a visit to this home and farm of rare beauty.

The farm address is 2895 Sinking Creek Hwy., Dungannon, VA, 24245
Farm phone is 276/467-2437.
You may E-mail Anne Leibig at, or call her cell phone, 276/690-0814. E-mail Dick Austin at

Posted Sat Nov 12 08:02:58 2011 Tags:
plucker finger close up details

I've been trying to take a picture of our curled toe chicken's feet for months now, but she's hard to keep up with. This plucker finger close up is the best yet.

This image illustrates how her corrective tapecotomy came out.

It's hard to pick her out of a crowd. She doesn't seem to have any trouble walking, but I think bug and worm scratching may be impaired due to her smaller size compared to the others.

Posted Sat Nov 12 16:40:52 2011 Tags:

Mark's got a talent for tinkering.  He's invented a POOP-free chicken waterer that thousands of flocks around the world enjoy.  His deer deterrents keep my garden happy.  And he's always coming up with new device to make farm life easier.  But his best invention, by far, is weekends.

Readers, don't worry --- Mark won't be patenting weekends anytime soon, so you too can enjoy his invention.  Just pretend work doesn't exist and ignore the weeds in the garden and the apples that need to be preserved.  Then light a cheery fire, read a book, hang out with people you care about, and enjoy yourself.  You'll be glad you did.

Posted Sun Nov 13 08:22:05 2011 Tags:
experimental box to prevent freezing

It's been a full year since we
installed this experimental box to prevent the portion of our non-potable water line that goes from the tank to the ground from freezing.

The line did freeze up a few times in that year because the end that goes into the trailer still needs attention. The frozen time was far less than the previous year and it seemed to thaw out much faster.

Posted Sun Nov 13 16:06:02 2011 Tags:

Store drinking waterI'm going to be writing like crazy over the next few weeks, so lunchtime series may be a bit sparse.  That means it's your chance to write in rather than just reading!

To date, Weekend Homesteader is chock full of photos of me and Mark (and Huckleberry and Lucy), and it could use some diversification.  As you pored over my monthly ebooks, did you say, "Hey, I have a better system than that in operation in my garden!"   Do you have some great photos of a kill mulch, a rain barrel, a homemade worm bin, a family canning session, or anything else in the ebook series?  Action photos with people in them (or even chickens or dogs) get bonus points.

If so, email your photos (one per email please) with the legalese at the end of this post to  A short writeup to explain your photos is great, but not mandatory.  If I choose to include your photo (and/or writeup) in my book, I'll credit you right there in black and white and will send you a Walden Effect t-shirt.

Please include this text in your email to cover my publisher's butt:

This email shall constitute an agreement between you and Anna Hess for non-exclusive use of your photo and text in the book tentatively titled Weekend Homesteader.  Skyhorse Publishing will publish this book in 2012. You agree that you shall receive no compensation for your contribution.

I'm looking forward to seeing some ingenious designs!

Our chicken waterer makes chicken care easy enough to fit the Weekend Homesteader's schedule.
Posted Mon Nov 14 07:33:33 2011 Tags:
the easy way to unhook a barbed connector that is stuck

Sometimes these barbed connectors can be a major struggle to remove once they've been pushed in all the way.

My new trick is to use a coping saw to cut them free when brute force fails.

Posted Mon Nov 14 16:04:15 2011 Tags:

Chickens eating greensDo you have a favorite age?  I definitely do --- 6 to 10 weeks old.  Mature enough that I can stop worrying about heat and predators and frisky enough to find a lot of their own food.

(You know we're talking about broiler chickens here, right?)

After 10 weeks, I start stressing again.  I've yet to plan ahead well enough that I have sufficient pasture for these rapidly growing birds, so I start hunting down treats to keep their diet well-rounded.  The pullets and cockerels have to be shut out of the garden at that age because they start to scratch mulch on top of my young garlic plants, and 11 week old broilers are so long-legged that they're willing to walk the long way round to get to those garden beds.

Chickens pecking logAnd then there's the deep bedding.  I always seem to let the last few weeks get away from me, and the increased volume of manure mats on the surface of the leaves or straw.  Our final batch of Light Sussex have been the worst in that respect since they still want to roost in a huddle in the corner, which means they concentrate their manure in one spot and then sit in it.  Yuck.  I was beyond thrilled when Mom brought me some more leaves to alleviate the manure pileup, but next year I've got to plan ahead so I have enough high carbon bedding to top off the coop floor every other day for the last two weeks of broiler time.

Which is all a long way of saying that even though the Light Sussex have been my favorite flock of the year, I am totally ready to slit their throats and put them in the freezer.  We processed the first four Monday --- six more to go!

Our chicken waterer turns clean water into the easy part of raising broilers.
Posted Tue Nov 15 07:32:10 2011 Tags:
Canning jars
The biggest problem with storing drinking water is that it takes up a lot of room....

Weekend Homesteader paperbackEvery good homesteader has a hundred or so quart size jars.  Jars take up the same space whether they are full of beautiful fruits and veggies or empty.

A great way to store water is in those jars once you use your precious preserves.  Water and preserves need the same storage requirements --- dark, cool, rotated often --- so you can put those shelves to use in the off season to store drinking water for emergency power outages.

Do you have a great idea to share with Weekend Homesteaders?  Enter your photo and short writeup and win a t-shirt!

Posted Tue Nov 15 12:01:28 2011 Tags:
low tech way of plucking chickens that is not automatic or motorized

This low tech way of plucking a chicken involves pulling the bird through the plucker box a few times to get the majority of feathers.

It still requires some hand plucking, but Anna seems to feel like it cuts the time needed for this chore in half.

Maybe I can improve the design a bit for version 2.0 by making the walls adjustable?

Posted Tue Nov 15 16:32:21 2011 Tags:
Soak tree

Taking a tree out of its potI needed some good visuals for my tree-planting chapter of Weekend Homesteader.  Oh, how sad, I had to order a few more fruit trees!  (Don't throw me in that briar patch!)

We settled on two Asian Persimmons (Ichi-Ki-Kei-Jeiro and Saijo) that are supposed to be hardy enough to withstand our winters, along with a Starking Delicious Pear.  All are now installed in current or future chicken pasture areas.  The persimmons are diminutive enough that they could fit in our smaller pastures while the pear is (hopefully) willing to deal with somewhat waterlogged, heavy clay down in the floodplain.  The long term goal is to give the chickens some protective cover while producing late season fruit that they and we will share.

I love planting experimental trees more than (almost) anything, but I do have a tough time watching the ones that die.  Last year's hardy almonds were a failed experiment --- I thought they might have trouble fruiting because of being at the edge of their hardiness Chestnut seedlingrange, but what they had trouble with was being eaten alive by Japanese beetles.  I also lost one Carpathian Walnut because of planting it in the woods and forgetting about it (although I'm happy to report that its sister tree and the transplanted Chinese chestnut in the same area survived my neglect.)  But all of the rest of last year's perennials are thriving and I figure losing two trees out of eleven isn't terrible when so few of the varieties are tried and true.  (One of the almonds is clinging to life for another year.)

Let's hope 2015 is the year of the persimmon and pear!

Our chicken waterer keeps the flock well-hydrated so they survive my tendency to neglect watering tasks.
Posted Wed Nov 16 07:38:57 2011 Tags:

Well-ventilated chicken coopHave you built a chicken coop or tractor so simple that a new builder could recreate your masterpiece in a few hours?  I'm looking for some photos of easy to build chicken housing to include in the January ebook and in the paperback edition of Weekend Homesteader.

As an added incentive (beyond seeing your name in print), if I choose to use your photo, I'll send you a free 3 pack DIY chicken waterer kit with drill bit.  Then you can make a spare bucket waterer for your broody hen or to make sure your flock has plenty to drink during that holiday trip.  (If you'd rather, I'll send you a Walden Effect t-shirt instead.)

My book is all about easy and fun projects that a homesteader wannabe can slip into a weekend off, so the simpler your coop or tractor design is, the better.  On the other hand, I'm sure that some of my readers would love to spread their building wings, so don't hold back if you've built a chicken Taj Mahal.

Chicken tractor

If you have time, feel free to include a brief description of how and why you built your chicken tractor or coop.  Then email your photos (one per email please) with the legalese below to

This email shall constitute an agreement between you and Anna Hess for non-exclusive use of your photo and text in the book tentatively titled Weekend Homesteader.  Skyhorse Publishing will publish this book in 2012. You agree that you shall receive no compensation for your contribution.

I'm looking forward to seeing some beautiful coops and tractors!  (And thanks for bearing with my begging for pictures.)

Posted Wed Nov 16 12:01:20 2011 Tags:
close up view of myers lemon harvest total of 9

Nine of our Meyers lemons graduated today.

Seven of them plan on going directly into the muffin business after a brief party.

The remaining two feel a little unsure about becoming a muffin and are considering a few pie options.

Posted Wed Nov 16 16:15:17 2011 Tags:

Clover garden aisleThere are three main choices for aisles between permanent garden beds --- tilling up the soil, planting grass (or another low groundcover), or mulching.  Tilling got deleted from my decision-making nearly immediately because of the potential for erosion and mud.  And since we didn't have a vehicle that could haul large quantities of mulch to the farm at the beginning of our operation, grass chose itself for our aisles.

This year, I started wondering if mulch would be a better option.  Mulched aisles have certain advantages over grassy aisles including:

  • Mulching would save a lot of time on weeding.  Now that we're getting our beds mulched, I spend most of my weeding time ripping out clover and grasses that try to sneak up the bed sides from the aisles and invade the growing zone.
  • The time spent mulching can be a winter project, when we're not so pressed for spare moments.
  • Mulch would build the organic matter of the soil faster than grass does, which might give the vegetables more root room.  (On the other hand, I don't know if vegetable roots would want to grow into the compacted soil of permanent aisles.)
  • Vining plants like sweet potatoes and cucurbits would be easier to handle since they could be allowed to roam across the aisles without being moved for mowing.

On the other hand, grassy aisles have advantages too, like:

  • We can keep our aisles in shape even if the floodplain is sodden and impassable.
  • Mowing and weeding along the aisles is a bit-at-a-time project, so it doesn't feel as overwhelming as picking up eight plus truckloads of mulch.
  • Our "grassy" aisles are actually a diverse blend of grasses, clover, dandelions, plantain, and other weeds, and our bees enjoy the blooms.
  • I suspect grassy aisles have a more moderate summer temperature than dark mulches.  Perhaps also nicer to sit on when I'm weeding?

So far, each permanent aisle technique is neck and neck, so let's look at some data on how much mulched and grassy aisles cost us in time and money.  I decided to consider the mule garden (since it's easiest to measure), which is about a third of our vegetable growing area.  In the table below, I compare our current management system with the alternative of buying enough composted leaf mulch to keep the 1,440 square feet of aisles plant-free.

Grassy Aisles
Mulched Aisles
$15 (gas for lawn mower)
$613 ($460 mulch, $153 gas for truck)
50 hours (42 hours weeding encroachers, 8 hours mowing)
44.5 hours (27.7 hours picking up mulch, 16.8 hours applying mulch)

I was shocked to see that mulched aisles would only save us 5.5 hours of labor over the course of the year!  True, we might be able to cut that time a bit by getting more serious about talking tree crews into delivering wood chips, but we'd spend even more time shoveling those chips into the pickup truck (and add a lot of back-breaking labor) in order to haul them to the garden.

Stump in gardenThe mulch option would also be considerably worse for the earth.  We all knee-jerk and think that mowing is bad, but our darling lawn mower probably uses 2.5 to 3.75 gallons of gas annually to mow the mule garden, which looks like a bargain compared to the 38 gallons we'd use to haul mulch home.

I guess I need to drop the dream of mulched aisles and instead start thinking of ways to make weeds less likely to encroach on the growing area.  Mark's new weed eater might be the solution since it seems to do a great job of slipping under the edges of the mulch and cutting off runners before they gain a foothold, and I could also consider some sort of permanent weed barrier.  And mowing will become quicker and quicker as I merge beds into long, wide rows, removing stumps that disturb fast passes of the mower.

Do you have tips for making grassy garden aisles as easy as possible?

Our chicken waterer expedites chicken care by providing days of clean water.

Posted Thu Nov 17 07:51:22 2011 Tags:
high water on a creek

We've been flooded in since Tuesday night.

You can fight the mud on a day like this...but I prefer to work on smaller projects.

Winterizing another chicken water bucket and protecting the new pear tree turned out to be a nice alternative to sloshing around the waterline ditch.

Posted Thu Nov 17 15:45:42 2011 Tags:

Oat cover cropLast year, my cover crop experiments helped me determine the best species for our garden, so this year I'm just fine-tuning the process.  One factor I wanted to figure out was the optimal planting time for my winter cover crops.

I filled up garden beds with oats and oilseed radishes whenever they became available between July 20 and September 15.  The photo to the left shows two beds of oats, the one in front planted August 31 and the one in back planted August 10.  This may not always be the case, but with this year's extended autumn weather, August 10 was just too early to plant oats if I don't want them to go to seed, while August 31 allowed for a lot of vegetative growth without promoting flowering.

On the other hand, planting just two weeks later, on September 15, seemed to be a bit too late for optimal oat growth.  The oats came up, but didn't get a chance to grow big enough to completely cover the soil and do their job of erosion and weed prevention.  September 9 is the latest planting that I felt grew sufficiently.

Oilseed radishes

Oilseed radishes had a simpler planting request --- the earlier the better.  Beds planted August 2 grew hefty radishes like the one shown in the foreground while beds planted a month later (in the background on the right) look a bit puny.

It sounds like I should plant my cover crops in waves next year --- buckwheat from the last frost until the beginning of August, oilseed radishes until the middle of August, then oats from late August through early September.  Your region will probably have a slightly different planting schedule, but chances are the same trend will apply.

Our chicken waterer provides days or weeks of water so you can go out of town without worrying about your flock.
Posted Fri Nov 18 07:34:59 2011 Tags:
Fruit cocktail tree

Have you ever wondered about those "fruit cocktail trees" you see for sale in glossy magazines?  Brian Cooper tried out a dwarf tree with five different varieties grafted on --- Elberta Peach, Belle of Georgia Peach, Santa Rosa Plum, Redgold Nectarine, and Moorpark Apricot.
Baby apricots
His tree was pretty big when he brought it home and it fruited the first year.  (The photos above show the tree a year later when it had been pruned and trained.)

Brian wrote "All of the grafts produce fruit, but it is a challenge to keep them balanced so they grow evenly."

His advice is timely since I'm going to be grafting some new varieties onto my pear trees this winter.  I hadn't understood why my orcharding books recommend adding no more than four different varieties to one tree, but Brian's experience rang a bell.  Weekend Homesteader paperbackOf course it would be tough to keep multiple varieties on an even keel so that the most vigorous doesn't take over the tree.

Has anyone else had experience with fruit cocktail trees?  I'd be curious to hear if your results are any different if you stick to the same species for all varieties (for example, four types of apples on one tree.)

Stay tuned for Weekend Homesteader: December, chock full of information on planting fruit trees.  Meanwhile, learn an easy way to roast a chicken in Weekend Homesteader: November.
Posted Fri Nov 18 11:39:00 2011 Tags:
close up of Heet container in back of pick up truck

We had some trouble getting the truck started last week during a very cold morning.

It turned over fine but kept stalling out.

The problem was more than likely some water in the fuel. I added the above bottle of HEET, waited about an hour and it started right up. The instructions recommend adding a bottle every time you fill up when it's cold out and I think I might just start doing that to avoid any future cold starting issues.

Posted Fri Nov 18 17:15:32 2011 Tags:
Winter peas and oats

Our winter cover crop experiments this year aren't completely limited to figuring out the best planting time.  We're also trying a new species --- Austrian winter peas.  This variety of field pea is supposed to reliably winterkill all the way to zone 6, so we shouldn't have to worry about weed problems in the spring.

I've mostly steered clear of legume cover crops since they serve a different role than grains and crucifers.  The latter do grab some of the free nitrogen that might otherwise wash away over the winter, but their primary purpose is to make lots of organic matter to improve your soil long term.  Legume cover crops have a different role --- to fix nitrogen out of the air and lower your fertilizer inputs.  I was most interested in soil building, so skipped the legumes at first.

I couldn't resist trying out Austrian winter peas, though, and not just because everyone was talking about how cool they are.  My primary purpose was to plant them in the chicken pasture to give our flock some tasty, high protein greenery at this time of year.  Strangely enough, my chickens seemed to prefer the oat leaves, although they may change their tune as winter progresses.  But since I was buying the seeds anyway, I figured I should try Austrian winter peas in the vegetable garden as well.

Chickens in oat pasture

Field peas grow best if mixed with a small grain (like oats) so that the peas have something to climb.  I noticed that my peas tended to pull the oats down a bit, perhaps negatively affecting how well the oats will grow.  But I've enjoyed the duo anyway because the peas started coming into their own this month, just as the oats slowed down.

The real question will be how well the Austrian winter peas break down in the spring, and how much they reduce my dependence on manure.  As Harvey Ussery pointed out in his awesome book The Small-Scale Poultry Flock, if you keep adding off-farm compost or manure to supply your vegetable garden with nitrogen, you may eventually end up with toxic levels of phosphorus and potassium in your soil.  My soil is already quite rich in both of these nutrients, so it wouldn't hurt to dial back my manure applications and try to grow the more ephemeral nitrogen on site.

Our chicken waterer provides clean water after a hard day of foraging.
Posted Sat Nov 19 08:47:36 2011 Tags:

Weekend Homesteader: December Next month's volume of Weekend Homesteader is out a bit early.  Volume 8 includes in-depth information on:

  • Choosing and planting your first fruit tree
  • Staying warm during winter power outages
  • Figuring out which tools your homestead really needs
  • Finding free and cheap supplies

For those of you who are new to Weekend Homesteader, this series walks you through the basics of growing your own food, cooking the bounty, preparing for emergency power outages, and achieving financial independence.

I hope you'll consider splurging 99 cents to buy a copy of my newest ebook from Amazon's Kindle store.  And many thanks in advance if you can find the time to write a brief review.

Weekend Homesteader paperback As usual, I'm also very glad to email you a free pdf copy to read if you don't have the spare cash, or just don't want to deal with downloading an app so you can read the ebook on your computer or phone.  Just email me with your request --- no strings attached.

Don't forget that Weekend Homesteader: November is still available, ready to help you roast a chicken and some delicious root vegetables for a more manageable Thanksgiving dinner.

Finally, my offer is still open --- send me a photo with your additions to or interpretation of the projects in any of my Weekend Homesteader ebooks and if I use it in the print book, I'll send you a free t-shirt. 
See this post for more information.

Posted Sat Nov 19 15:08:45 2011 Tags:
first day of hunting season

Today was the first day of regular deer hunting season around here.

I noticed two eating our parsley plants around lunch time and decided to get the gun.

The biggest one took off like a flash, but the smaller one hesitated at following what may have been his mom for just a second when he saw me. He leaped over the garden fence and landed in the narrow chicken pasture enclosure by the coop. He tried a few times to jump over the second fence but couldn't get enough of a running start to clear it. I know it wasn't very sportsmanlike of me, but I got as close as I could, braced myself on a large stump and killed my first deer, which turned out to be a small buck with no antlers.

We spent the rest of the afternoon dressing it out.

One less garden predator and some fresh pasture fed venison to go in the freezer equals a pretty good day in my book.

Posted Sat Nov 19 16:37:36 2011 Tags:
Jar test

Do you want to learn about your soil without paying a lab?  Jar tests are a quick and fun way to figure out the texture of your soil.  Simply put some of your garden soil in a Mason jar, add a bunch of water, shake it up, and let the soil settle into layers.  Sand will drop to the bottom, followed by silt, then (eventually) clay.

In the photo at the top of this post, my soil has been settling for about a day, but there's still a lot of clay in suspension (dirty-looking water.)  I wanted to post about it now, but I'll take a second round of measurements later once the water is entirely clear.

Soil texture triangleUsing the data so far, I can figure out the percentage of each type of soil particle by measuring how high the layer is and dividing by the height of all the soil in the jar.  My soil is 29% sand, 64% silt, and 7% clay.

Next I use a soil texture triangle to figure out what type of soil I have.  I start at 29% sand on the bottom of the triangle, then follow that line up and to the left at an angle until I reach the line for 64% silt and 7% clay.  I put a red dot at the result --- a silt loam.

You can get this same information by looking at the soil survey for your area.  I have an ancient paper copy, but you can get the same information online nowadays.  The front garden area where I took the sample for my jar test is listed as a Teas-Litz silt loam --- looks like I did it right!

Here's what the soil survey says about Teas-Litz silt loam:

Steep slopes, ease of erosion, and difficulty of controlling runoff make this complex unsuitable in most places for cultivation. A very small part is used for corn and wheat, which under common management produce low yields.  Pasture seems to be the best use, and nearly all the cleared land is so used.  The pasture plants are generally poor and broomsedge is common in most pastures.  Under the common management 5 to 6 acres of this complex are needed to graze one head of cattle; under the better practices about 4 acres.

I'm actually pretty glad that I didn't pore over the soil survey while buying land because the USDA's analysis is wrong for no-till, homestead-style management.  This soil is my front garden, which I consider high quality, and it produces great vegetables.  Of course, that's because I hold all of my topsoil in place with mulch, rarely churn up the soil, and add lots of organic matter.  The power of permaculture!

Our chicken waterer never spills or fills with POOP.

Posted Sun Nov 20 07:44:57 2011 Tags:
close up of truck tailgate dented and crunched

I was backing up the truck to unload another cube of cinder blocks the other day when this tree came out of nowhere and slammed itself into the tailgate.

The tree barely noticed the bump and went back to sleep when it became obvious that nobody was hurt.

I'm thinking instead of having the dent pounded out and the locking mechanism repaired I should just maybe find a replacement tailgate at a junk yard like Tracy recommended in an earlier comment and save a little time.

Posted Sun Nov 20 15:59:41 2011 Tags:
Occupy meals

I've been trying to think through why I'm so uncomfortable with the Occupy movement.  They're definitely "my" people, and I certainly agree that the way our nation kowtows to big corporations and the ultra-rich is just plain awful.  However....

  • I have trouble feeling sorry for the middle class.  A few weeks ago, gourmet chefs decided to show their solidarity with Occupy Wall Street by cooking up free meals for the protesters.  They were annoyed to discover that "professional homeless" people showed up to partake of the meals, so the chefs downgraded their offerings to simple brown rice "to keep away the people who may be freeloading."  (Quotes are from this Huffington Post article.)  Now, to be fair, the article goes on to mention ways other cities' Occupy movements have tried to help out certain homeless people, but I think the story still illustrates a major flaw in the Occupy movement --- they're not really the 99%, but the middle 50%.  Yes, the middle class is getting crunched, but the lower class has been crunched for a long time and I don't believe in trickle down economics.  We should start at the bottom and work up, not at the middle and work down.
  • Occupy foreclosureI think middle class Americans are already too richIn at least three cities, Occupy participants are trying to prevent people from losing their homes due to foreclosures.  Now, I agree that there have been a lot of fishy practices in the foreclosure field, but I also think that foreclosures are simply a symptom of Americans thinking they are entitled to live above their means.  I can tell you with certainty that the bank isn't going to come and repossess our trailer, both because it's worth nothing and because they don't own any part of it.  By world standards, I suspect that Mark's and my living conditions are at least in the top 5%, and I honestly feel very rich living here.  Yet, I doubt that the average Occupy participant would dream of living in an ancient trailer, which makes their efforts to prevent foreclosures seem like another middle class struggle to get more stuff.
  • Activism works a lot better if you know exactly what you want.  My last point comes from years of working at a non-profit struggling against social injustice.  I know that it feels really good to Occupy participants to think that they're working together to form a consensus about what really needs to change.  But I suspect if they would simply come up with a list of five demands, most local and state governments would give them at least some of what they're asking for simply to make them go away.  The fact that after combing through their multiple websites, I still can't find concrete things they want suggests that Occupy participants are merely angry and don't have an action plan to work toward solutions.

What do you think?  Do you believe in voluntary simplicity and still want to Occupy?  Tell me how I'm wrong.

Learn the easiest fruit trees to fit in a small space in my 99 cent ebook.
Posted Mon Nov 21 08:22:00 2011 Tags:
Mark's gun

"We're going to have to do something about the deer," I told Mark over lunch.  "They're getting in the garden again."

Fast forward ahead an hour and I hear a gunshot that sounds awfully close.  I run outside --- "Honey, are you okay?!"

"I killed it!" my husband crows.

It turns out he hadn't quite killed it, though he had knocked it off its feet.  Mark had to rush inside and reload before putting the anterless buck out of its misery.  But then he was the king of the farm for the next two days, having saved the garden and killed his first deer.  By local standards, Mark had also beaten my record from two years ago since my first (and only) kill had been a doe.

I can be awfully competitive, though.  Two days later, as I talked to Daddy on the phone, I saw a deer walking right down the garden path as if headed for our front door.  "I've got to go," I told my father.  "There's a deer in the garden."  "Kill it!" he replied.

Cutting up a deerI crept down the hall and picked up the loaded rifle.  Slipping off the safety, I eased open the front door and steadied the gun against the door frame.  As Mark likes to say, he could see the deer fall to the ground right outside his window --- my shot had severed its spine and the youngster died almost instantly.  Once we dressed them both out, my antlerless buck was just a hair bigger than my long-suffering husband's.  I told him he was just going to have to get another deer to even the score.

Which is all a long way of saying --- this week's lunchtime series is all about venison.  Is it cost effective to hunt your own?  How do you butcher it?  How do you eat it?  Stay tuned for the answers, including a special guest post on chimney top smoking.

(If you're a vegetarian, or just disgusted by pictures of meat on the hoof, I apologize in advance.  You might want to steer clear, at least until we reach the kitchen on Thursday.)

Our chicken waterer never spills or fills with poop.

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

Posted Mon Nov 21 12:00:35 2011 Tags:

temporary isolation coop field notes

We recently learned the hard way that a generous layer of mulch material in the
isolation coop goes a long way in preventing your chickens from walking in their own waste the night before processing.

The legs and feet are obvious holding points for plucking a chicken. Having the feet clean and free from poultry waste makes the grip more pleasant and fun.

Posted Mon Nov 21 15:05:51 2011 Tags:

Pizza and saladCold weather last week finally nipped the lettuce and greens growing outside our quick hoops.  I'm curious to see how long the veggies under cover stay pristine and happy.

But you can't live on lettuce and tatsoi alone.  Over the last couple of weeks, we've started to thaw out a bit of summer bounty from the freezer.  And to use more grocery store components --- flour, yeast, cheese, and pepperoni, locally grown (but not in our backyard) old-fashioned winesaps, and even a splurge on far flung avocados.  (That's all for yesterday's lunch.)

Storebought food makes the first taste of our October-planted lettuce even more special.  We've been eating the September lettuce for over a month, and the leaves had started to get a bit large and bitter.  Sweet and succulent baby lettuce from a brand new bed calls for a celebration!

Don't sit around in the dark if your power goes out.  Plan ahead using my 99 cent ebook.
Posted Tue Nov 22 07:27:28 2011 Tags:

Deer entrailsI hate to admit it, but the biggest reason it's been two years since we killed a deer is because of the butchering.  In 2009, cutting up a full-size deer was a daunting task and left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth.  Since then, I've become a pro at gutting and dressing chickens and am no longer even mildly horrified by the task.

Add in an awesome meat grinder that Rose Nell gave us (thank you!), and turning a deer into freezer-ready packages of quality meat took only about two hours per animal.  That's two hours of me cutting and Mark fetching things and taking pictures.

Now, I'm not saying that I'm a master deer butcher, and I actually made most of the process up as I went along.  So I hope anyone who's cut up more than three deer will leave a comment with some tips to make next time go even smoother.  Meanwhile, those of you with weak stomachs should move along and I'll show everyone else exactly what I did.

Step one was to remove the entrails.  All I needed was a good sharp knife to carefully cut through the skin of the deer's belly without puncturing the guts.  Then I reached in the hole and yanked (and then poured) everything out.

One of the deer had a couple of small white spots on its liver, so I gave that to the chickens to play it safe.  I saved the other liver, and let Lucy have the Slit skin around neckentrails.

Question one for the pros --- How do you deal with the last bit of intestine that attaches to the anus?  With chickens, I just cut out the whole vent, but due to the structure of the deer's pelvis, I had to cut through the intestine, giving the possibility of a tiny amount of fecal matter contacting the meat.  I'm sure there's a better way.

Next was the hardest part --- skinning the deer.  Next time, I'll probably make Mark do this because skinning two deer in fast succession made my carpal tunnel act up. 

Except for needing a lot of hand strength, though, skinning is pretty simple.  We hung each deer up in a chicken pasture gate frame (boy did those come in handy) and slit through the skin in a circle around the neck.

Skinning a deer leg

Next, I slit around and up each foreleg.  The bottom half of a deer's leg has no meat to speak of, so I didn't skin that part.

Pull skin off deer

Now I pulled the skin back off the forelegs.  I used a knife now and then during the skinning process, but mostly pulled instead of cut, since yanking does a better job of keeping all the meat on the carcass.

Pulling skin off deer shoulders

A slit from the legs up the neck and then down to the gutting incision allowed me to start to "undress" the deer.

Skinning a deer: cut off the tail

Yank, yank, yank!  Before long, it looked like my naked deer was wearing a skirt.  I cut off the tail, then pulled the skin right down to the deer's "knees" (really, they're ankles, but they look like knees to us.)

Cutting off bottom of deer leg

Here's where I had a bit of trouble.  My goal was to cut off the deer's lower legs (the meatless parts), but I couldn't seem to find the right spot on the joint to allow me to just cut lightly and bend to separate the two bones.  Is there a trick to this?  I hacked at ligaments and twisted a lot, eventually removing all four lower legs.

Cut off foreleg

Here I am finally getting one of the lower forelegs loose.

Cut off ham

Cut off tenderloinOld timers tend to let their deer hang for a few days at this stage to age the meat, but it wasn't really cold enough and we didn't have an animal-proof spot.  So I just cut it up and stored the meat in the fridge for a while to get the same effect.

Cutting off the hams (back legs) was easy --- just slit through the meat and twist until the ball-and-socket joint comes loose.  The front legs came off nearly as simply.

Next came the tenderloin (aka backstrap.)  Some picky modern hunters consider this the only part of the deer worth eating, and it's the part I save to make steaks out of.  The meat is above the ribcage, along the bony projections above the spine.

Finally, I cut around the neck and twisted the head off.  I gave Lucy the latter and brought the ribcage inside.  After rinsing it well, I sliced off any easy chunks of meat, then put the rest in a big pot of water to simmer into the base of venison stew.  Deer butchering complete!

Our chicken waterer comes with a video and ebook walking you through butchering your own chickens.

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

Posted Tue Nov 22 12:00:20 2011 Tags:
winterizing a water hose connection the old fashioned way

I'm just now starting to see the light at the end of this waterline project tunnel.

A few more steps and we'll have indoor running water that might not freeze.

Posted Tue Nov 22 16:44:45 2011 Tags:

Oyster mushroom totemI'm probably far more excited than this small cluster of mushroom merits.  But here's the thing --- this is our first ever batch of fruits from spawn we grew ourselves.

Top of mushroom log

This strain of mushrooms --- Pohu --- came to the farm in February of 2010 in the form of bought plug spawn.  We inoculated box elder logs and enjoyed our first fruits that fall, then more this spring.

In March of this year, we saved some stem butts from the oyster mushrooms and used them to create cardboard spawn.  Then, on April 13, we pushed the mycelium-filled cardboard into gashes in the sides of box elder log and covered the spawn up with melted beeswax.  (That link shows us inoculating the stump, but we repeated the process with logs.)  We buried the logs partway in the ground as mushroom totems and hoped the oyster mushrooms would do their thing.

Oyster mushroomsThe brilliant part of our plan was putting the mushroom totems where we pass every day walking Lucy.  I'd long stopped checking on the totems when the first fruits appeared, but my eye is trained to mushrooms, so I saw the moist clusters Tuesday morning even though I wasn't really looking.

This experiment is only a partial success because the two sister totems --- one with wild oyster mushroom spawn we collected in Asheville this spring and one with Blue Dolphin spawn --- haven't yet fruited, and neither have our two experimental stumps.  However, we inoculated the logs late this spring and I think I see a bit of mycelium on each one.  So maybe we'll see fruits from all three next year?

Learn the uses of basic homesteading tools in my 99 cent ebook.
Posted Wed Nov 23 07:41:18 2011 Tags:

Grinding meatAfter butchering our deer, I ground up all of the meat from the front legs, the neck, and the ribcage.  I left a bit of meat on the bones for Lucy, and saved back the hams and tenderloin to be cooked whole.

Both of our deer were antlerless bucks, not quite fully grown.  That means their meat is tender, but they're a bit smaller than even a full-size doe.  Still, we got a hefty helping of meat.  Here's the average from the two deer:

  • Hams --- 9 pounds
  • Tenderloin --- 1.6 pounds
  • Hamburger --- 5.8 pounds
  • Total --- 16.4 pounds

We actually got quite a bit more meat than that since I wasn't very careful to pick the meat off the ribcage, but did pull off that meat to go in the stew after the bones had cooked down for a few hours.  We also got one good liver and lots of bones for Lucy.

I figure our gun has now paid for itself by bringing in over 57 pounds of meat.  Over the last two years, we spent $200 on the gun, about $80 on a laser (which my 20/20 hindsight says would have been better spent on a scope), and about $70 on bullets for target practice.  That's about $6 per pound, which isn't so bad for high quality free range meat.  Once we kill a few more deer, the numbers will look even better, and since these deer were so easy to process, I suspect more will head to our freezer before long.

Our DIY chicken waterer kits come with instructions for making a heated chicken waterer for easy winter care.

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

Posted Wed Nov 23 12:00:43 2011 Tags:
The last 4 chickens of our LIght Susex flock

We ended up keeping a rooster and three hens from the latest batch of Light sussex chickens although one of the hens is most likely an unknown Light sussex hybrid.

The smaller flock seemed a bit lost at first, but are starting to look more like a cohesive group the last few days.
Light Sussex new chicks up close and cute
One of the first pictures I took of this flock was of a group of four freshly hatched chicks. I wonder how many of the original four made it to the final team of future foragers?

Posted Wed Nov 23 15:32:25 2011 Tags:
Quick hoops

There are a lot of perennials with leaves that can be used as greens, but I have to admit that I prefer the flavor of our annual greens most of the time.  So you can imagine how excited I was upon hearing of perennial kale --- perhaps it could be my answer to the early spring greens shortage?

Potentially perennial kaleAnd then reality set in.  Eric Toensmeier tried out several varieties of perennial brassicas in his Massachusetts garden with very little luck and concluded that they are only reliably winter hardy to zone 8 or 9.  At the same time, the perennial brassicas detest heat, so he only recommends the currently available varieties for gardeners in the Pacific Northwest.

However, Toensmeier challenged us all to develop a new perennial brassica that can withstand hot summers and cold winters.  Brassica oleracea already contains a heaping handful of annual and perennial species and he suspects experimental crosses might yield the perennial holy kale...I mean grail.

To that end, when some kale plants overwintered last year, I left them alone.  Most bloomed and died (kale is a biennial --- that's what it does), but one survived and kept plugging along.  I can't actually remember whether this kale bloomed and I picked off the blooms or if it just kept growing.  All I know is that I've been harvesting a few leaves from my kale plant off and on for the last twelve months.  Will it survive the winter again unprotected?  Will it skip blooming again and prove itself a true perennial?  Only time will tell.

Take a few easy and fun steps on your path to self-sufficiency, guided by my 99 cent ebook.
Posted Thu Nov 24 08:10:19 2011 Tags:

Chimney smoker
I've become interested in preserved meat since my offgrid house's fridge is small, runs on propane, and has no freezer, which makes storing meat difficult. Also, experiencing delicious jamón in Spain gives a whole new appreciation for cured meat.

Venison ham

When Anna gave me a whole venison ham, this was a perfect opportunity to experiment with smoking meat. Rather than build a smokehouse or a smoker, I simply used my chimney. So the fire that's keeping me warm and warming bathwater is at the same time adding delicious flavor to my meat.

Smoking meat in a chimney

Meat has surely been smoked on chimney tops for ages, and this page shows how that can be refined into smoke boxes attached to the chimney, and so on. Since my house is built into a hill, it's easy to get up on the roof, so the chimney top is good enough for me.

Venison steaks

The whole ham was a bit large to fit, and I worried I could lose it down the chimney, so I butchered it into individual steaks.

Three venison marinades

One was marinated in salt, one in soy sauce, and one "control" was left alone.

Smoked venison after four hours

After the first smoking (4 hours), the meat was still quite rare, springy to the touch. At the top of the chimney, the smoke is at most warm, not hot. It only cooks the outside of the meat, and as the fire is dampened down, it becomes a true cold smoker. Even after this first smoke, the venison had a delightfully smokey flavor.

Venison smoked for 8 hours

The second smoking (4 more hours) and third (12 more) firmed the meat up, but did not cook its interior any more. Instead, it seems to be losing moisture, and shrinking slightly. I could continue smoking the venison indefinitely.

Venison sandwich

My favorite flavor is the salted smoked venison. It makes a terrific antipasto and also a good sandwich. The soy sauce flavor adds perhaps too much complexity on top of the smokiness. The unmarinated meat is my least favorite by itself, but I liked small scraps that were smoked for 5 hours, and then cooked in a stew. They turned out to taste and feel much like sausage.


A word on wood -- I used my regular firewood, which is probably mostly maple, and I smelled the smoke and made sure I liked its quality before hanging any meat. It would surely not work as well with pine or soft woods. I'd like to try with some apple wood, and try adding some herbs to the fire too. I'm also going to try to smoke some cheese; the trick will be to keep the smoke consistently cool.

Venison kabob

Joey Hess is Anna's brother and technical advisor (paid in venison.)  He's a household name in the Linux world and is the primary person behind Branchable, the software that runs this blog.  In his non-technical time, he likes to camp, hike, play board games, and fly kites. (And he probably does lots of other things that Anna's not aware of.)

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

Posted Thu Nov 24 12:00:41 2011 Tags:
Thanksgiving pies 2011

We had a great Thanksgiving driving over a river and through some woods to share a delicious feast with family and friends.

Posted Thu Nov 24 19:28:50 2011 Tags:
Oyster mushroom on grain

Speaking of surprise mushrooms, here's another one!  I tossed the contaminated grain spawn onto the compost pile and ignored it, but it looks like the oyster mushrooms had gotten a good toehold on at least a bit of the grain.  Although there's black mold present, the oyster still managed to produce two little mushrooms.

This doesn't change my analysis of the grain experiment as a failure, but it does testify to the resiliency of oyster mushrooms.  Definitely the easiest mushroom to play with for the backyard homesteader.

Learn to make your first fruit trees a success with my 99 cent ebook.
Posted Fri Nov 25 08:56:00 2011 Tags:
Roast venison ham

While Joey was smoking one venison ham, I was roasting another.  I had used this same recipe on a leg of lamb with outstanding results, and the venison was nearly as tasty, although tasting a bit more like roast beef and just barely requiring a knife rather than just a fork for cutting.

Garlic and thyme in roast

If it's been frozen, first thaw your venison ham out thoroughly.  Then slice up three big garlic cloves into slivers and pick a couple of tablespoons of fresh thyme sprigs out of your garden.  Cut small slices into the ham and insert a piece of garlic and thyme in each slice.  For best results, let the ham sit for a couple of hours before cooking so the flavors of the herbs can soak into the meat.

Roast ready to go in oven

Cut up a bunch of root vegetables to go in the pan, tossed with a bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper.  My favorite combination is two onions, one large sweet potato, and two medium potatoes, with six cloves of garlic pressed over them.  But you can mix and match whatever root vegetables you like best.

Put the roast on top of the roots.  Brush some olive oil on the meat and sprinkle a bit of salt and pepper on top.

Baking venison

Bake at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for about half an hour to seal the juices inside, then turn down the heat to 325 and roast for at least two more hours.  I got hungry and pulled it out when the meat was still  medium-rare, so next time I think I'll allot at least three hours at 325 for a nearly 5 pound ham like this.

You can eat roast venison ham plain or on sandwiches.  Five pounds is a lot of meat for two people, so I ended up cooking the second half of it up into a pot of chili.

What's your favorite recipe for cooking with venison?  Do you make outstanding venison jerky, awesome venison sausage, or something entirely different?  I hope you'll post with a comment --- we've got a lot more meat to experiment with!

Our chicken waterer makes care of the flock simple, clean, and fun.

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

Posted Fri Nov 25 12:00:52 2011 Tags:
update on how well the new chicken waterer heater is working

Our latest attempt to keep an automatic chicken waterer from freezing is working.

The heat tape feels like a more elegant solution compared to shining a heat lamp at the nipple area or using a stock tank heater like the Ice and Easy.

It got a pretty good test last week when the temperature got down to 27 degrees, and I'm sure it will get a chance to prove itself in colder conditions before long.

Posted Fri Nov 25 17:05:43 2011 Tags:

Jotul wood stoveModern marketing has convinced us that if we just had the right possessions, we would be happy.  The concept has even spawned "retail therapy", the idea that if you feel down, a good shopping trip will perk you right up.

In stark contrast, science suggests that buying more things makes us less able to appreciate life's small pleasures.  I've also noticed that any emotional boost I might receive from a purchase dulls quickly as I get used to my acquisition and the fun toy fades into the background.  (Often, the purchase glow dies even faster as I succumb to buyer's remorse.)

But sometimes, you really can buy happiness.  A full year after installing our ultra-efficient, tiny wood stove, I still smile every time I glance in her direction.  Basking in her warmth is one of my favorite cold weather activities, and perhaps that explains the longevity of my pleasure at the purchase.  Even though it seemed like we were buying a hunk of iron, we were really paying for a lifetime of experiences, and experiences are the one type of purchase that scientists report stand the test of time.

Our chicken waterer makes it easy and fun to keep a backyard flock.
Posted Sat Nov 26 08:32:10 2011 Tags:
Straw in car

...knows how many bales of straw he can fit in his car.

The parts Festiva can hold eight once you strap four to the roof.

Posted Sat Nov 26 16:37:12 2011 Tags:
Looking up out of a sinkhole

Old fieldThe day before Thanksgiving, we met with the non-profit who owns the farm we want to share with interns.  They were tentatively enthusiastic about the idea, so I'm starting to work out the nuts and bolts of the project.

That means making lists of locals who can share knowledge about beekeeping, working mules, Salatin-style pasturing, organic farming, sustainable forestry, and more.  We're figuring out which fun and useful projects we can fit into year one on the homestead --- composting toilets, pasturing chickens and meat goats, improving a spring, beginning a small garden, playing with aquaponics, maybe building a tiny kitchen.  We might even be able to team up with a group a couple of miles down the road to give interns a window into an established intentional community and a spot to take a hot shower and check their email.

Meanwhile, I'm hashing out a budget to see if we can afford to hire someone local to cook the interns supper every day to soften the hard ground they're camping on and to keep the community from thinking of the internship farm as a bunch of crazy hippies.  (The intentional community we hope to hook up with is still known locally as "the hippy farm" over three decades after establishment.)  That, in turn, means dusting off my grant-writing skills so the interns can afford to come learn.

ShedHere's where I want your feedback.  I've decided to donate my book advance to the project and have high hopes I can snag at least another $5,000 from foundations to get the internship project off the ground.  But if I put all of my ambitious plans into action --- paying one local expert per week to lead a quality workshop, feeding interns all three meals, paying for their tents, buying the supplies and animals to make the first year's projects a reality, setting aside funds so that one intern can come for free on a scholarship --- we're still stuck charging interns $2,000 apiece for a 12 week stay.

Is that too much?  Would it sweeten the pot if we teamed up with a local school and gave college credit?  Or would you rather see the fee cut in half for a simplified internship --- fewer local experts (only the ones who I wouldn't have to pay), less or no food, bring your own tent, etc.?

Our chicken waterer makes daily chores quick, easy, and clean.  No more washing out filthy waterers on a dark winter morning.
Posted Sun Nov 27 08:27:39 2011 Tags:
high temp caulk update on quality comparison

Its been about a year since we applied a coat of DAP high temperature caulk to our first Jotul wood stove chimney pipe and the only thing left is just a few chips laying on the roof.

I suspect something was wrong with the tube we got because it took an extreme amount of pressure to get it to squeeze out and once it was out I had to keep applying water to keep it moldable.

The 3M high temperature caulk we used on the second Jotul was much easier to apply and is still holding strong.

Posted Sun Nov 27 14:14:05 2011 Tags:
Praying mantis eggs on peach tree

Our kitchen peach tree is currently hosting 10 praying mantis egg sacs.  That means between one and several thousand predators are inside, itching to eat up bad bugs in the garden next year.

I'm not quite sure why the praying mantises love our kitchen peach so much.  Maybe the complexity of the forest garden island or the large size of the tree makes them feel safe there?  Other peach, pear, and apple trees just as close to the garden each host one or fewer egg sacs apiece.

No matter what their reasoning, I think those praying mantis mamas have good taste.  The kitchen peach is currently my favorite yard tree too!

Our chicken waterer lets us go out of town for a day or a week without worrying about the flock.
Posted Mon Nov 28 07:58:04 2011 Tags:

Fire in a wood stoveDo you have a strategy for keeping warm if the electricity goes out during a winter snowstorm?  Electric heaters clearly won't work, and gas furnaces require electricity to operate.  Even wood heat might not be reliable if you depend on an electric fan to blow warm air where you want it.

An energy efficient wood stove in a central location within your home is the best choice for warmth (and cooking) during power outages, but the time and money required to install a wood stove is beyond the Weekend Homesteader level.  This week's lunchtime series helps you find other options to stay warm if snow knocks down the power lines.

I hope you enjoy this excerpt from Weekend Homesteader: December.  The 99 cent ebook walks you through the basics of planting your first fruit trees, staying warm without electricity, understanding the uses of essential tools, and turning trash into treasures.  If you're interested in other aspects of basic emergency preparedness, Weekend Homesteader: November gives tips on storing drinking water and the upcoming Weekend Homesteader: January will cover backup lighting options.

Weekend Homesteader paperbackThis post is part of our Emergency Warmth lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Mon Nov 28 12:00:39 2011 Tags:
electric tape pipe heater chicken waterer hack

The heart of our new heated chicken waterer is one of those electric pipe heaters.

A few pieces of tape helps it to stay flat against the bucket while you carefully sandwich a modified bucket over top.

Posted Mon Nov 28 17:02:06 2011 Tags:
Chickens and firewood

The trickiest part of homesteading is walking the tightrope between too little, enough, and too much.  When you get all of your food at the grocery store, it's easy to just buy what you need, but how big should your summer garden be if it's going to provide all of your winter food too?  I've just about figured out food, but am still learning how much firewood we need for the winter.

Wood shedIn a perfect world, you cut your firewood a year in advance so that the wood dries and burns at peak efficiency.  We haven't quite achieved that goal yet, but we have learned that there's little use in cutting firewood in our climate once winter's damp sets in.  So what we have in the wood shed now needs to last until spring.

I've been burning wood with great abandon over the last month, lighting a fire whenever I feel like it even if we don't really need it.  It's been a mostly warm fall, but I've still had fires on about half the days this month, usually just a fire in the morning or evening, not one that lasts all day.

As you can see, we've used up about two thirds of our first tier of wood, which wasn't stacked quite as high as the other two and a half tiers.  At this rate, I suspect we might run low on wood late in the winter and have to drive some wetter wood in from the parking area.  Hopefully next year I'll have a better idea of how much firewood we need and can have it all under cover by the end of the summer.

(As a side note, yes, our young Light Sussex do think the wood shed is a much more fun spot to hang out than the coop on a rainy November day.)

Our chicken waterer provides fresh, clean water to keep your flock happy and healthy.
Posted Tue Nov 29 07:44:15 2011 Tags:

Utility workers and a power lineOne strategy for keeping your family warm is to choose a small room and heat it using a backup option that doesn't require electricity.  This is my least favorite method because it's awfully easy to spend a lot of money on a backup heater that seldom gets used, and thus doesn't work when you need it.  However, many Americans can't wrap their minds around heating themselves instead of the room (which I'll discuss in the later posts), so I'm including the room-heating option.

If you choose a one-room backup plan, your first step is to decide which room would be easiest to keep warm without electricity.  Your whole family (and any cold-sensitive pets, like guinea pigs and parrots) should fit inside without getting on each others nerves, but the room should also be as small as possible so that it's easier to heat.  South-facing windows (or north-facing windows if you live in the southern hemisphere) will let in solar radiation that will warm the area considerably on a sunny day.  The room should have space for everyone to sleep, so a master bedroom, den with a foldout couch, or area with lots of bare floor is a good choice.

Weekend Homesteader paperback Once you choose your room, think about blocking off cold air that might want to flow in.  That means having some heavy curtains (or blankets with a way of tacking them up) to keep heat from flowing out windows at night.  The room should either close off from the rest of the house with a solid door (and a rolled up towel to fill the space underneath), or you should plan another large blanket or curtain to block off the entranceway.

Your room may already have a fireplace or wood stove, in which case you will just need to keep it stocked with plenty of dry wood, kindling, paper, and lighters for getting the fire going.  If not, you can install a standalone propane heater that doesn't need to be vented to the outdoors (around $200 for the low end model.)  A cheaper alternative is a free-standing kerosene heater (around $120), but be aware that kerosene heaters create carbon monoxide, so you'll need to increase air flow through your room for safety.  Kerosene heaters also tend to be a bit sooty and stinky, but that problem is lessened if you light the heaters and turn them off outdoors, carrying them inside only when they're already in use.

I hope you enjoy this excerpt from Weekend Homesteader: December.  The 99 cent ebook walks you through the basics of planting your first fruit trees, staying warm without electricity, understanding the uses of essential tools, and turning trash into treasures.  If you're interested in other aspects of basic emergency preparedness, Weekend Homesteader: November gives tips on storing drinking water and the upcoming Weekend Homesteader: January will cover backup lighting options.

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

Posted Tue Nov 29 12:00:45 2011 Tags:

electric pipe heater used as an automatic chicken waterer heater
I decided to go with the smallest section of electric pipe heater for the DIY heated chicken waterer.

The longer lengths were just a few dollars more, but I thought it would be best to start out at the bottom in an effort to use the least amount of energy.

People with really cold winters may need a longer section.

Posted Tue Nov 29 15:28:21 2011 Tags:

GoldensealGoldenseal and ginseng both grow wild in our woods and are harvested for their medicinal roots.  Ginseng, especially, is much sought after, bringing hundreds of dollars per pound when dried.  Years ago, I planted some ginseng in my woods, hoping the $100 worth of seeds would grow into $10,000 worth of plants over the next decade.  Sadly, my neighbors came and stole the plants before they'd matured.  I don't really blame my neighbors since they probably figure I was too much of a city slicker to know what ginseng is, and it's hard to turn down hundred dollar bills you walk past on the forest floor.  Still, the failed experiment ensured I wasn't going to plant any more ginseng in the back forty.

Goldenseal roots aren't quite as highly priced, which is probably why my patch of goldenseal (not planted by me) is still around.  I'm most interested in the medicinal Goldenseal rootqualities of goldenseal since the roots contain a strong antibiotic that complements the echinacea growing in my garden.  My doctor sister once explained to me that echinacea is best above the belt and goldenseal below, and a few minutes of research confirms that goldenseal's effectiveness is due to increasing the secretion of mucous membranes (thus helping with problems like urinary tract infections.)  All of that said, the few times I've wanted to chew on some goldenseal roots, I felt too sick to climb up to the top of the hill to harvest them.

Planting goldensealWhich is all a long way of saying that when my mother gave me some ginseng seeds and goldenseal roots, I thought, "Why not try them out in the forest garden?"  The forest garden island around my kitchen peach has the high organic matter and mycelium-rich soil that woodland herbs crave and has been a good home for Burdick's Wild Leek.  I figured ginseng outside my kitchen window definitely won't get stolen, and goldenseal in that location will be close enough to dig no matter how bad I feel.  I'll let you know how the herbs do in their semi-cultivated location next year.

Our chicken waterer prevents disease by keeping your chickens' water POOP-free.
Posted Wed Nov 30 07:56:24 2011 Tags:

Dressing in layersAs I mentioned previously, I don't really recommend planning to heat a whole room with a backup heating arrangement.  If you don't use your backup equipment in your everyday life, it will take a long time for that equipment to pay for itself and the heaters often won't work when you need them to.  Instead, I recommend changing your habits so that you heat your body instead of the room, both during outages and to whatever extent you're comfortable with during your daily life.  The great thing about learning to stay warm without electricity or fossil fuels is that you'll be prepared no matter how long the power outage lasts, and will also enjoy a lower heating bill during normal winters.

So how do you warm your body instead of the room?  The first step is to invest in some winter clothes chosen for warmth and utility instead of style.  A good winter coat, a hat that covers your ears, warm socks, sweaters, and long johns go a long way.  On cold winter days, I wear fleece long johns under normal pants, two pairs of socks (if they fit in my boots), and on top am decked out in a t-shirt, a thin fleece shirt, a thicker fleece shirt, and then a winter coat.  Throw a wool hat on my head and some good gloves on my hands and I'm quite comfortable even sitting still at 40 or 50 degrees Fahrenheit.  If you head down to the local goodwill, you can probably find most of these pieces of clothing for just a few bucks apiece.

Three environmental conditions can make the outfit above useless, though: wind, wet, and constriction.  I'll start with the last, which is the least intuitive.  When you're building a house and adding insulation to the walls, you'll soon learn that you can't cram two layers of insulation into the space meant for one layer and get twice the protection from cold.  Instead, that double layer of insulation will actually work less well than a single, properly installed layer would have.  Insulation --- and that includes your winter clothes --- works by creating pockets that trap air in place.  So if you put on two pairs of socks and cram your feet into boots meant for one pair, your feet will be colder than if you'd only put on one pair because the constricted clothing will push out all the insulating air pockets.  Ditto if you try to wear long johns under close-fitting jeans.  That's why, when planning your winter layers, you'll need to choose some clothes a bit bigger than normal to go on the outside.

You're probably more familiar with the way wind and rain can make you cold despite lots of insulative clothing.  If you're going to be inside during cold weather, you probably won't have to worry much about these problems, but you should plan ahead in case you need to go out.  A waterproof wind-breaker on top of your other clothes goes a long way toward keeping both water and chilly winds from penetrating.  This is especially important if you use synthetic fleece clothes, which wind cuts right through.

You also need to think about water that starts on the inside of your clothes --- sweat.  If you're outside chopping wood and notice that you're starting to heat up, take off layers until you're comfortable again.  Otherwise, your sweat will quickly chill your body once you stop moving.

Keep your feet dry in wet bootsFinally, keep some plastic grocery bags on hand to deal with wet feet.  Boots eventually spring a leak during slogs through the snow, and wet feet make even the most cheerful person cranky.  If you can put on dry socks and slip each socked feet into a grocery bag apiece before putting on your boots, the plastic layer will keep water in your boots from seeping into your socks and coming in contact with your skin.  You may look like a homeless person, but you'll be a warm homeless person.

I hope you enjoy this excerpt from Weekend Homesteader: December.  The 99 cent ebook walks you through the basics of planting your first fruit trees, staying warm without electricity, understanding the uses of essential tools, and turning trash into treasures.  If you're interested in other aspects of basic emergency preparedness, Weekend Homesteader: November gives tips on storing drinking water and the upcoming Weekend Homesteader: January will cover backup lighting options.

Weekend Homesteader paperbackThis post is part of our Emergency Warmth lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Wed Nov 30 12:00:41 2011 Tags:
mark Buried
filling in a ditch that was dug last month

Got the waterline ditch filled in today.

Tonight should be a good test with temperatures predicted to be in the mid 20's.

Posted Wed Nov 30 16:57:04 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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