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

archives for 11/2012

Nov 2012

Sarah and Silver Fox rabbitWith lots of help from Sarah, the monthly ebook versions of Weekend Homesteader are now available in their revised format on Amazon!

(As a side note, Sarah is the Bradley of the digital world, and she works long distance.  Having just quit her job, she's available if you've got photography, editting, or formatting work you'd like done.  I'm a bit afraid to tell you how awesome she is since she might get too busy for us just like Bradley did.  Sarah cleaned up my ebooks in ways I didn't even know to ask for, and she might even work for Silver Fox rabbits and Chocolate Turkeys....)

April Weekend HomesteaderIf you've been waiting to get the revised ebooks, now's your chance to snap up all twelve.  Meanwhile, if you've bought some or all of the ebooks in the past, you should be getting an email from Amazon within the next month or so asking if you want a free update to the revised editions --- say yes.  We moved things around and revised each chapter to match the paperback, plus I couldn't help adding in more photos that didn't fit into the print version.  I've also created the twelfth month --- Weekend Homesteader: April --- so you have access to every project that's in the print book.

And as a final side note, my publicist has been having me churn out guest posts right and left to increase the buzz during the upcoming paperback launch.  You can read two of my favorites here:

Links to the monthly ebooks are below.  Thanks for reading!

Posted Thu Nov 1 08:08:55 2012 Tags:
shitake mushroom log

This post is to remind me next year at this time to check our mushroom logs.

These Shitake mushrooms would've been yummy last week.

Maybe a daily chart of soil temperatures would provide some insight into predicting when a Shitake log might be ready to pop some fruit out?

Posted Thu Nov 1 15:38:37 2012 Tags:
Broccoli side shoots

October did turn out to be the month of the broccoli.  Every day or so, we'd have a huge helping and eat every sprig and chunk --- nothing tastes better than homegrown broccoli in season.

Steamed broccoli

In the spring, I cut my broccoli heads low, peel off the woody skin near the stalk base, and cook up the whole kit and caboodle.  In the winter, though, I don't have anything else Fall raspberriesbegging to fill the broccoli space, so I cut the heads high, leaving most of the stem behind.  Within a week or two, side shoots come popping up, which I cut and eat just like the original head. 

This endless broccoli crop continues until the first killing frost --- and since we've dodged even a light frost so far this fall, that might be a while!  The lack of frost means we're still eating raspberries too, and they're even better in cool weather.  Dare I suggest we may still be enjoying fresh berries at Thanksgiving?

Our chicken waterer gives the flock a healthy treat of clean water.
Posted Fri Nov 2 08:07:21 2012 Tags:

using up the last of weed eater fuel to prevent problems in the Spring
Forgetting about mushroom logs yesterday helped me to remember that the weed eater and mower will like me better in the Spring if I don't let fuel sit in the tank all winter.

With any luck this post will help me to not forget next year.

Posted Fri Nov 2 16:00:47 2012 Tags:
Tie fig branches

Bag of leavesI don't know if the distinction is variety or age, but Celeste went dormant over a week ago, while Chicago Hardy is still in the act of losing his leaves.  I figured I'd go ahead and protect our fig youngster just in case cold weather comes calling before our elder fig is ready.

Since I read up a bit on fig cold protection, I've decided to tweak my technique a bit.  I started out by tying the stems on the young fig tree together so they'll stay in the center of my insulation, then I stuffed a cat food bag with freshly raked autumn leaves.

Protecting fig

Mashing the leaves a bit opened up a hole in the center, which let me drop the leaf-filled bag on top of the little fig tree.

Tie fig bag

I tied the bag at the base to hold it in place and used the rest of my leaves to mulch the bed heavily.

Fall fig tree

I'll keep my eye on Celeste to see if the bag starts to come loose --- I was tempted to push in a metal fence post to tie the bag to, but figured I might not need it.  I'm hopeful this method will work better than my previous one since the cat food bag should keep the leaves dry and in place.  We won't know for sure until May!

Our chicken waterer is the POOP-free alternative to traditional, filthy waterers.
Posted Sat Nov 3 08:34:09 2012 Tags:
low budget home made corncrib from 4 foot high hardware wire

Our neighbors made this hardware wire corn crib to keep raccoons and other critters out.

Last year was the first test and it yielded not one kernel.

After it dries a bit more they usually take it somewhere that grinds it into corn meal.

Posted Sat Nov 3 16:34:27 2012 Tags:

Mini FarmingI've been curious about Brett Markham's Mini Farming: Self-Sufficiency on 1/4 Acre mostly because it's been topping the charts in Amazon's Sustainable Living category for about a year (or more).  Mini Farming is another one of those beginner gardening books (with the bonus of a section on chickens and one on preserving), and I'd probably recommend it to new gardeners before I'd send them to Square Foot Gardening.

I appreciated Markham's focus on economics and the inclusion of information on composting and cover crops.  On the other hand, I wasn't so keen on his Solomon-like seed meal fertilizers and had to stop reading for two weeks when I butted up against his nutrition chapter.  (Chapter summary: Potatoes are a vegetable, so look how little space it takes to grow your own!)

In general, I think Markham is one of those farmers who toes the organic line but doesn't spend enough time promoting holistic health of his crops (although I admit that if we were growing enough to sell, chances are we'd lower our standards too).  For someone just starting out, they could do worse than to begin with a relatively mainstream book like this and then slowly branch out into more permaculture techniques once they've gotten their feet wet.  Plus, Markham's cost-benefit analysis may tempt some folks who otherwise wouldn't even consider gardening to try their hand, so this might be the book to give to your in-laws if they think your homesteading bug is crazy.

Our chicken waterer makes care of a backyard flock a breeze.
Posted Sun Nov 4 07:39:22 2012 Tags:
taking a tour of the garden with worm bin highlights

Some friends who were hiking the Appalachian Trail dropped by today for a visit and a tour of the garden.

Shannon and Dawn are the folks who have been sharing their meat rabbit adventures in the form of Tuesday guest posts. manure with worms really makes Anna that happy.

Posted Sun Nov 4 15:41:45 2012 Tags:
Frost morning

Shannon and DawnThis past weekend was a time of endings and beginnings.  A heavy frost (nearly a killing freeze) marked the last of the summer produce Saturday morning, and I chopped up some of our final homegrown onions to enjoy in a chicken soup with friends. 

It was great to welcome Shannon back to the farm, and to meet Dawn (and their well-travelled dog Downey).  We sent them on their way with oilseed radish seeds to try in their clay soil, and they left us some Malabar spinach seeds, since the plant has thrived in their Louisiana heat.

Now that they're safely home with their rabbits, we can expect to hear more from our southern correspondents soon.  (Yes, Shannon, that was a hint.)

The Weekend Homesteader presents one fun and easy project for each weekend of the year.
Posted Mon Nov 5 07:28:09 2012 Tags:
Free range chickens

Last year, I summed up all of the chicken experiments I'd been posting about throughout the year on our Avian Aqua Miser site, and I thought you might enjoy seeing the highlights again this year. 

Chicken territoryOne of the most timely experiments I wanted to mention involved letting our chickens free range in the woods over the winter.  I was fascinated to see that the flock concentrated most of their attention around the bases of big trees, where they scratched through the mulch in search of invertebrates.  They only foraged over about three quarters of an acre, probably because the flock had to stay close enough to the hen house so that ladies could drop by at intervals to lay their eggs.

The forest worked as a good escape valve in the summer too, when the grasses stopped growing and the ground began to look bare in their rotational pastures.  I think this system really depends on a quality rooster, though, since when I tried the same trick with some Pasture chickhalf-grown broilers, they just sat on the other side of the pasture fence and begged to be let back into their home turf.

If you start young chicks free ranging from week one and keep them close to the house, they're the very best chickens to let run semi-wild.  Having trees or bushes available to hide in makes chicks (and adult hens, for that matter) feel safer, so they spend more time hunting wild food.

How to clip a chicken's wingsThere are reasons we don't let our main flock free range all the time, though.  The book Free-Range Chicken Gardens gives some tips for helping chickens coexist with a garden during the growing season, but we like to keep the garden extremely productive, so the chickens get relegated to pastures after they reach two months old.  We were forced to clip a couple of chickens' wings (and then eat one of them) when they didn't toe the line and thought the garden was still fair game during the summer months.

I don't feel like we have much more experimenting to do with free range chickens.  Our system just works!

An automatic chicken waterer at the edge of the woods lets the flock refresh its thirst without running all the way back to the coop.

This post is part of our 2012 Chicken Experiments lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Mon Nov 5 12:01:03 2012 Tags:
Lucy and the new Skil circular saw

Day 1 of the new Skil 15 amp circular saw started today.

Cutting logs of purchased firewood in half will be the main application.

It cuts like a hot knife through butter and highlights the cutting area with a laser.

Posted Mon Nov 5 16:29:52 2012 Tags:

VoteI promised myself that I wasn't going to start a political debate about the election, but I did want to remind our readers to do their civic duty and go vote.  And in the process I realized I had a lot of nonpartisan (but still very controversial) voting advice I wanted to share.

Vote.  Yes, even if you're disappointed in all the candidates, it is worth going out and voting.  Do your research first, though, so you'll know who all the little guys are because...

Your vote makes more of an impact locally.  Even though it seems like who wins the presidency is the most important aspect of today, your state and local elections will actually have more of an influence on your day-to-day life.  Plus, your vote has more likelihood of swaying the results of elections closer to home (and the issues are easier to understand fully too).  (Speaking of which, I am going to plug one candidate --- if you live in Virginia's ninth congressional district like we do, I have been on Anthony Flaccovento's farm and can personally vouch for his farming techniques, along with his stances on other key issues.  Vote for Anthony!)

Don't choose your political leaders based on charisma.  This is my pet peeve, so I'll try to be brief.  U.S. elections have turned into a cult of personality, which is why the only candidates who get elected anymore are those with deep pockets who can make themselves look like movie stars and turn their families into storybook characters.  Unfortunately, to get that much capital, nearly all of them have to toady up to the big industry lobbyists, so none of them are ever going to vote in such a way as to help the little guy.  If you don't approve of the cult of personality, make it a habit not to look at photos or videos of your candidate or to listen to them speak --- you may think this won't sway you, but it will.  Figure out which issues are important to you, then look up your candidates' voting history (many websites provide this information on various issues) or do some other primary research to figure out who is going to represent the values you espouse, then vote accordingly.

Don't vote selfishly.  There are so many people (and plants and salamanders) who have no say in the election but whose lives will change drastically based on the outcome, so I try to vote for what will make these disenfranchised populations happier and healthier.  Your personal bottom line should not be the deciding factor in who you vote for.

Electoral college mapBefore voting for a third party candidate for president, please understand the electoral college system.  I hear so many people saying they're going to vote for a third party candidate for president, and it always makes me sad.  Yes, I think anyone who runs for president with the full support of the Democrat or Republican party is crooked (see point number three), but you're literally throwing away your vote if you select anyone else.  A candidate has to receive the majority of the popular votes in a state to get a single electoral college vote, so unless you think 50% of the people in your state are going to select the same third party candidate, your vote is worthless.  If you care about this issue, there are many people working to reform our system --- for example --- but simply voting for a third party candidate is putting the cart before the horse.  Your vote for a third party candidate makes a lot more sense at the local level, though, especially if you talk your neighbors into doing the same.

So how's that for a political rant that 99% of our readers are bound to disagree with at least partially?  (And I didn't even have room to complain about all these glossy fliers showing up in my mailbox that aren't appropriate for kill mulches, worm bins, or even the wood stove!)

For less controversial advice, check out The Weekend Homesteader, only 20% of which will drive people nuts.
Posted Tue Nov 6 07:31:53 2012 Tags:
Chickens eating oilseed radishes

Mowing a pastureThis year's experiments with chicken pastures were mostly a streamlining of the process that we started to hammer into shape in 2011.  In general, our trials this year had to do with improving wild pastures vegetated with whatever sprung up after we cut the plants too tall for chicken beaks.

I found that mowing the pastures as high as possible (which isn't very high with our mower) after the chickens are rotated to the next pasture cuts back the weeds that the flock ignored.  That gives chicken-friendly plants more space to grow.  It seems to be necessary to come back through with clippers once in the summer, too, to hit weeds along the fenceline that outgrew the mower.  I can tell that this simple maintenance duo is going to have our sunnier pastures grass-filled in just a couple of years.

Planting buckwheat in a pastureThe three pastures under heavy tree canopies are going slower at the grassing up process, so I decided to take the opportunity to improve what's currently pretty poor soil.  I planted buckwheat in one this summer, then replaced it with oilseed radishes this fall.  The cover crops aren't thriving in this shade, but they are producing some biomass.  Hopefully we'll find time to take the problematic trees down this winter and start replacing them with more chicken-friendly bushes that are spaced far enough apart that they let the grasses grow.

New pasture plantsMeanwhile, I tried to convert two other relatively barren pastures (also in the shade) over to pasture plants that chickens enjoy.  The trouble is that I planted cover crops along with the grasses and clovers as a nurse crop, and the former outcompeted the latter.  I did get some perennials to come up in one spot, but it was impossible to keep the chickens off the tender growth this summer, and I think I wiped my hard-won grass and clover out.  I'm hopeful that the bare ground left behind by the oilseed radishes will give me a good spot to try again, but I'll have to commit to keeping the flock completely out of that pasture until 2014.
Chick on pasture
The one thing we did right was to (mostly) prevent overgrazing of the pastures this year.  It really helped to figure out temporary fencing (and the free range escape hatches I posted about yesterday) so that we weren't forced to keep chickens on over-used ground simply because we had nowhere else to put them.

As usual, I also spent a lot of time peering at our poultry to see what they were actually eating on pasture.  I learned that (despite what the books say) winter cover crops of oats and field peas Chickens eating comfreywere ignored by our picky flock, as were sweet potatoes I tried to feed them whole and raw.  On the other hand, winter rye and mustards were pecked right up.

Jewelweed seed

In a surprise about-face, our chicks this year enjoyed both comfrey and oilseed radishes (both of which were on the no-good list for previous flocks).  Cicadas and jewelweed seeds were other new hits.

I've got plenty of experimentation ahead for improving our pastures, and an ebook in the works to help others follow our lead without muddling through all of our mistakes.  Stay tuned to our chicken blog for a blow-by-blow, or wait until next year's sum-up over here for more details.

Our chicken waterer never spills on uneven ground, so it's a perfect fit for pastures.

This post is part of our 2012 Chicken Experiments lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Tue Nov 6 12:00:26 2012 Tags:
putting the Chicago Hardy fig to bed with leaf protection

The Chicago hardy fig dropped its leaves after last week's frost.

We trimmed it back to 3 feet and tied the branches together.

I'm already looking forward to the 2013 fig harvest.
Posted Tue Nov 6 16:38:49 2012 Tags:
Pruning a fig

As Mark mentioned last night, our larger fig was ready to be swaddled just like his younger sister.  The idea is that figs aren't really winter hardy here in zone 6, but with some careful variety selection and a little love, you can see get lots of fruits without babying a house plant.

Tying a figI'd read that Chicago Hardy figs do best if cut back drastically to three main trunks each winter, but when I pulled out the clippers, I suddenly couldn't decide if that meant three main trunks with all of their side branches or just three sticks coming out of the ground.  So I went for a moderate approach where I removed any tiny branches and ones that would be shaded, but left multiple branches on each trunk.

Next, I cut the tree down to about three feet high.  Some people keep their figs tall and wrap the whole thing up, but it was awfully nice having fruits I could pick without a ladder, and I can protect what's left better if I shorten this year's growth.  By carefully bending and then tying the branches together, they formed a compact bundle, giving me plenty of room to stuff leaves around them within an enclosure I made out of lightweight fence posts and trellis material.

Leaves around fig

Fig winter protectionI topped it all off with a cheap tarp that came on our roofing tin.  I felt like last year's frost protection lost some efficiency when rain pounded down the insulating leaves and exposed the tips of the fig branches.  Hopefully this year's tarp will prevent moisture entering my fig enclosure from above.

I saved nearly all of the small branches to try rooting next year, and three of them already had little roots forming (since I cut those Fig cuttingsbranches off below the mulch line).  Usually you gather scionwood in the late winter, but it was necessary to chop our fig down before wrapping it, so now I'm stuck trying to decide how to store these cuttings in a cool, damp, but not freezing spot all winter.  We're really going to have to try to excavate our fridge root cellar soon....

The Weekend Homesteader is now available in many stores, and Amazon is listing it as in stock!
Posted Wed Nov 7 06:58:10 2012 Tags:

Brown rotAt least in our area, stone fruits can be very problematic because they succumb to the fungal disease brown rot.  In addition, many of them tend to lose flowers during frosts that come behind spring thaws, so you may spend several years watching a beautifully trained peach tree bloom without harvesting any fruits.  Assuming you don't have just the right microclimate to keep them happy (early morning sun to dry the dew, low humidity in the summer, and a full-sun site that's shaded during the winter), you're once again stuck choosing varieties that will handle your conditions without the necessity of chemical intervention.

Sour cherrySour cherries are perhaps the most disease-resistant of the stone fruits, especially if you select a variety like English Morello or Meteor.  I've also read about Mongolian-cross bush cherries (Valentine, Carmine Jewel, Romeo, Juliette, Rose, and Crimson Passion), which are reputed to have big fruits with lots of sugar, to be tolerant of clay soil, and to fruit by the fifth year.  Unfortunately, the sweet cherries I adore are very prone to getting frost-bitten, to losing their fruits to brown rot, and to perishing in clay.  (We ripped out our dwarf sweet cherry after the Japanese beetles ate all the leaves multiple years in a row and the few fruits rotted away.)  If you live in a damp climate like ours and have had good luck with a sweet cherry, I'd love to hear about it.

Peaches are more tolerant of wet feet than cherries, but are very prone to lose fruit to bacterial spot and brown rot.  Disease-resistant varieties include:

  • Early Redhaven
  • Ernie's choice --- reputed to taste like a nectarine
  • Garnet Beauty
  • Harbrite
  • Harcrest
  • Harrow Beauty
  • Harrow Diamond
  • Glohaven
  • Elberta
  • Madison
  • New Haven
  • Raritan Rose

Hardired nectarineNectarines are simply a hairless peach, but most are especially prone to insect and disease damage (as we found in our own garden).  However Hardired, Mericrest, Midglo, and RedGold have at least some disease resistance.

Although the beautiful golden fruits of apricots always tempt me in nursery catalogs, it sounds like I'd be better off keeping my distance if I don't want to baby trees with little reward.  Of all the stone fruits, apricots are most likely to lose their ultra-early flowers to frosts, they have no tolerance for wet feet, and they get all the usual stone fruit diseases.  Selecting late bloomers like Alfred, Goldcot, Harcot, Harglow, Hargrand, Harlayne, Harogen, Jerseycot, Precious, and Sugar Pearls will at least weigh the odds in your favor.

(By the way, in case you're wondering why so many frost- and disease-resistant stone fruits have names starting with "Har", these were developed at the Harrow Research Station in Ontario.)

Methley plumFinally, we come to the plums, which are really two species --- European plums (Prunus domestica) and Asian plums (Prunus salicina).  The latter are less hardy, with zone 6 being their most northern limit, require light soil, and need warm, dry summers.  European plums are better for most low-key gardeners since they can handle clay and bloom later, so they skip some spring frosts, but they're less likely to be disease resistant (with Seneca and Imperial Epineuse being the only resistant varieties I saw listed).  Disease-resistant Asian plums include:

  • AU Roadside
  • AU Rosa
  • Methley (which is what we have, but it's not thriving in our clay)
  • Satsuma

You can also check out the more cold hardy Asian-American crosses, as long as you're willing to work harder to get them pollinated.  Disease-resistant and hardy varieties include Alderman and Superior.

As usual, I'd love to hear about the stone fruits you've grown without chemical intervention.  Be sure to mention your growing zone and general region since many varieties do much better in certain areas than others.  I have a couple of spots that I might be able to cram another tree into, and your tips will help me decide who makes the cut.

Next week, we'll finish up The Holistic Orchard by talking about berries, but in the meantime you might enjoy previous posts about beginning a holistic orchard, techniques for designing a holistic orchard, orchard soil health, managing fungi in the orchard, and disease-resistant pears.  After that, we'll take a week off, then will start reading Joel Salatin's Folks This Ain't Normal, which won the vote by a landslide!

You don't have to wait for my paperback --- my monthly ebooks have been revised with the same information.  Plus, Weekend Homesteader: April has just come out to round out the twelve months.
Posted Wed Nov 7 12:01:10 2012 Tags:
root cellar made from old refrigerator

An upcoming carrot harvest pushed us into fixing the refrigerator root cellar today.

It took some digging and prying, but it's now sitting up straight.

Next we need to figure out a way to anchor it in place and then build a roof that will divert the water. The parsnips from 2009 were nowhere to be found.

Root cellar ebook
Posted Wed Nov 7 16:21:42 2012 Tags:

Cost to fatten hogsLong-time readers will be aware that I'm always trying to sneak new livestock onto the farm and Mark's always reining me in.  "Whoa, there!" he says.  "Are you ready for such a big commitment?  Remember how much time the garden and fruit trees and berry bushes and laying flock and broilers take up, not to mention all this writing you're always poking away at.  Do you really think we have time to milk a goat or fence in an acre for sheep?"

I think I may have found the perfect middle ground, though --- fattening a pair of hogs.  This fascinating page suggests that you can raise a pair of pigs from 40 pounds (when they're weaned) to 200 pounds for $500 ($1.39 per pound) if you do the butchering yourself.  The great part is that the whole process only takes four months, so if we decide we hate swine, we only have to live with them for 120 days.

Fattening hog(Even if we weren't pinching pennies, we'd have to do the butchering on-farm.  The idea of walking a pig half a mile down our floodplain to the parking area and then loading it up in our car to get to the slaughter-house sounds tougher than skinning, gutting, and cleaning the hogs ourselves.  Bradley remembers killing hogs with his family as a kid, so I'll bet we could get him to help us, and how much harder could it be than a deer?)

In addition to providing top-notch meat for $1.39 per pound, spending the summer with a pair of pigs could be the first step toward reclaiming more quality pasture for chickens (or other animals).  As colonizing livestock, pigs can be living bush hogs if you leave the rings out of their noses, and all of the areas we've considered expanding into would need a year or two of this work before anything else could happen there. 

As an added bonus, there's always the manure to consider.  Plus, increased diversity on a homestead usually seems to lead to increased efficiency, in this case resulting from the pigs eating some garden waste the chickens aren't interested in.  And I just love experimenting with new things.

Pig pastureMy reading suggests that a third of an acre divided into four paddocks would be sufficient pasture for a pair of growing swine.  I've got the perfect spot in mind too --- a little plateau just southwest of our core homestead with lots of scrubby growth that can come out and two big oak trees that would stay put and drop mast (acorns) into the pasture.  The question is, how crazy am I to want to spend $1,550 on a livestock panel fence that will last the rest of our lives and allow us to graze anything we want in there forever, versus a small fraction of that sum on electric fencing?

And, of course, is raising a pair of weanling pigs much more work than I imagine?  I'd be curious to hear from others who have tried a similar small-scale operation.  If we figured out the fencing and housing over the winter, would day-to-day pig care drive me nuts during the busy garden season?

(What do you think, Mark?  Are you sold?)

For those of you too smart to dive into hoofed livestock, The Weekend Homesteader helps you select the low-hanging fruit that won't drive you nuts.
Posted Thu Nov 8 07:26:43 2012 Tags:

Deep bedding chicken coopWhen we moved our chickens from tractors to a coop and rotational pasture system, we had to deal with manure for the first time.  Deep bedding was the perfect solution, but we did run into a few minor problems this year.

The real cause of the trouble is that it's tough to find enough high carbon biomass to fill the coops (and to keep filling them as manure builds up).  Autumn leaves are may favorite, and I've tried a bit of the sawdust we bought for the composting toilet, with good results.  But when I ran low on optimal bedding, I decided to try treating the coop floor as a compost pile.

The positive side is that I was no longer creating bare patches in the pastures where I threw our food scraps.  Unfortunately, the scent of sweet corn cobs was irresistable to the neighborhood raccoon, who came for the scraps and Carrying a chickenstayed for a chicken dinner.  The hen he was hunting got away, but it took us weeks of effort to make our flock feel comfortable in the coop again.  Now corn cobs go in the worm bin, and the raccoon seems willing to stay in the woods.

The issue of never having enough high carbon materials is one we run into in the garden as well, and I've got all kinds of ideas for solving the conundrum.  Maybe we'll commit some open areas along the sides of our homestead to growing rye for straw, or we'll plant a high quality leaf tree (sugar maple is my favorite) in a pasture that stays mowed so raking leaves will be easy.  We're also pondering chop 'n drop plants, although that will probably be less helpful for the chicken coop than for the garden.

But these issues aside, deep bedding has been a boon to our farm.  Having that high quality mulch/compost to topdress the berries with this spring was worth every minute of coop maintenance!

Our chicken waterer keeps the coop floor dry so the deep bedding can do its job.

This post is part of our 2012 Chicken Experiments lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Thu Nov 8 12:01:10 2012 Tags:
mark 29 bales
2012 Fall straw bale delivery Thursday

We had our Fall straw delivery this morning.

29 bales delivered and stacked for 145 dollars.

It might be enough to get us through the Autumn mulching frenzy.
Posted Thu Nov 8 16:35:35 2012 Tags:

Maggie reading my bookOne of the most exciting things for me about having a book in print is the idea of my loyal blog readers stumbling across it in their library, bookstore, or Tractor Supply.  The Weekend Homesteader is already available in some bricks and mortar sales locations and should be hitting most of them this coming week, so it's time for a scavenger hunt!

It's easy to play (and you may even win a prize).  Just snap a photo of yourself with my book, whether in your bedroom or out in the world, and email it to, post it somewhere else and link to it in a comment below, or put it on our facebook page by Sunday (November 18) at midnight.  I'll pick one photographer at random and mail you a signed copy --- there aren't many of these floating around because I'm not selling them, only giving them to my favorite people.

Meanwhile, if you'd like a bit more substance, check out my Destiny Survival Radio Interview.  (I'm actually afraid to listen to it since I'm not a very good public speaker, but at least you'll hear my Appalachian accent before I get confused halfway through the phrase "your eyes are bigger than your stomach.")  Readers might instead like this guest post about when emergencies are a fact of life better.  Or check out two of my favorite book reviews so far, one by my sister, and one on

Thanks for reading (and scavenging!)

Outdoor chick brooder

Last year, I faced a lot of growing pains when it came to hatching our own chicks and keeping them alive, but now I feel like an expert.  Hatch rates this year ranged from 80% to Choosing eggs for the incubator95%, and survival rates (how many chicks lasted through their first month of life) were always right at 95%.

To get there, I perfected my
choice of eggs to go in the incubator, tweaked my dry incubation technique, and learned how to leverage my specific incubator.  I also prevented a lot of second-guessing by figuring out how to tell if eggs left in the incubator on day 22 were late-hatchers or duds.  More basically, I started taping my incubator and turner plugs to the wall socket to prevent accidental unplugging.

Ecoglow BrooderOutdoor brooder

Once the chicks made it out of the egg, we continued to have good results with an Ecoglow Brooder instead of a heat lamp.  Mark built me an outdoor brooder that did a great job to keep the chickens happy outside as early as week 1, which saved my sanity and also let them enjoy free ranging much earlier in life.  Turning the plexiglass toward the sun helped heat up the brooder in the early spring, then flipping the window side to face north (and Three day old chickputting the brooder in the shade) prevented overheating for our summer flocks.

I feel like I've finally got chick care figured out, which is why I wrote Permaculture Chicken: Incubation Handbook to jumpstart others' journeys.  If you want to see more cute chick photos without spending 99 cents, you  might also want to check out this post.

We use our chicken waterer with chicks from day 1, which prevents diseases and drowning while also saving us lots of work changing wet bedding.

This post is part of our 2012 Chicken Experiments lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Fri Nov 9 12:01:18 2012 Tags:
choosing an anchor for the refrigerator root cellar

I bought the small stainless steel anchor at Walmart in the RV section.

When we got it home it started to look too weak for the refrigerator root cellar.

The bigger black anchor is what people use to secure a mobile home to the ground. I found ours today at a mobile home supply store in Coeburn for 8 dollars a piece. It was a struggle to sink it all the way in to our clay ground, which is a good sign that it's stuck in place and won't budge.

Root cellar ebook
Posted Fri Nov 9 16:31:08 2012 Tags:
Autumn harvest

The real reason I moved our refrigerator root cellar resurrection to the top of the list is that lows have hit 22 and there's no more room in our real fridge for the rest of the cabbages and carrots.  If I didn't want them to freeze and ruin in the garden, these crops needed to find some cool, damp storage immediately.

Storing carrots in sawdust

It's a bit risky to fill the refrigerator root cellar up with valuable crops when we don't know for sure if it'll hold above-freezing temperatures (and refrain from falling over again).  On the other hand, you can look at this a bit like putting tomato plants in the forest garden --- a wheelbarrow load of carrots is going to ensure I pay attention to our new experiment.  If there's a problem, we won't be waiting three years to fix it this time.

Refrigerator root cellar

Usually, I sort my carrots, putting the few that are broken, nibbled, starting to rot, or excessively small on top for immediate consumption.  But I don't really know the intricacies of our fridge root cellar yet, so I opted to leave the carrots all mixed together.  That way I'm hedging my bets --- if one area doesn't work right, all of my best carrots won't happen to be there.

Carrots in a root cellar

I packed some of the carrots in sawdust and left some plain as an extra experiment.  While the keeping quality of the crops will be the real indicator of root cellar function, Mark also tossed in a max./min. thermometer.  I'm ordering another analog version since I have a feeling the digital one won't last long in the damp conditions.

If the fridge works as planned, I can see another one in our future.  An afternoon's work filled our current unit halfway up, and I haven't even moved our white potatoes and fig scionwood out there yet.  And once we start having apples, we'll want to keep them in their own unit so the ethylene given off by the fruits doesn't spoil the vegetables.  So many exciting experiments ahead!

Our chicken waterer keeps flocks busy pecking at something other than each other.
Root cellar ebook
Posted Sat Nov 10 07:41:51 2012 Tags:
Refrigerator root cellar anchoring

The refrigerator root cellar has 2 anchor points.  One on the right side and the other in the back.

I chose to use a medium sized U-bolt, but it's possible two holes big enough to loop some 12 gauge wire through might be enough.

Each point in the ground is lower than the refrigerator anchor, giving it a downward tug along with the side ways tension.

Root cellar ebook
Posted Sat Nov 10 14:51:33 2012 Tags:

Fat of the LandFat of the Land was a fun read, but I'm afraid it only provided one tidbit of wildcrafting information I might use (baking with dandelion petals).  Instead, the series of essays follows the hunt for one wild delicacy after another, most of which are seafood and require extreme feats to harvest.  (Those of you who live closer to the shore are more likely to get useful factual information from the book.)

Even though it's only moderately educational, the book is beautifully written and inspirational.  I found it fascinating to follow the culinary journey of a mainstream American who admits that his cooking prowess mostly consisted of opening cans before he started hunting down wild food.  I'd definitely add Fat of the Land to the homesteading-beach-read genre.

If you want a more sure bet for dinner, raising chickens is easy with our automatic chicken waterer.
Posted Sun Nov 11 07:53:26 2012 Tags:

Harvesting Brussels sproutsI'm not sure how many Brussels sprouts we'll get before extreme cold wipes the plants out, but our first harvest netted rave reviews from Mark.  I tossed them with olive oil, salt, and pepper and roasted them in the oven until they turned bright green.  "These are even better than roast figs!" proclaimed my kind husband.

Of the bulkier crucifers (exempting the leafy greens), broccoli is the most frost tender.  Even though ours are still churning out side shoots, these are less crisp and I can tell the harvest is coming to an end.  Our cabbages survived hard freezes in the garden, but I opted to move them to the root cellar to ensure they don't die before winter feasts use them up.  Meanwhile, the Brussels sprouts seem largely unaffected by lows that have nearly hit 20.

Homegrown Brussels sproutsThe extra cold hardiness is a boon because Brussels sprouts take forever to ripen up.  We planted ours at the same time as the cabbage and broccoli, and have only had a small handful to eat.  I'm hopeful that we'll get more sprouts all the way through to December, and if not, I'll just plant earlier next year --- I'm starting to get the impression Mark could eat Brussels sprouts every day in November just like we enjoyed broccoli in October.

Don't forget to snap a photo of yourself with my new paperback to win a signed copy!
Posted Mon Nov 12 07:23:32 2012 Tags:
Rain-filled chicken waterer

Anti-perch chicken watererOur customers have turned DIY kits into an astonishing number of efficient and beautiful waterers over the last year.  Some of them won prizes for their efforts (and if you're a chicken keeper, you should be aware that our automatic chicken feeder contest is still in effect until November 16).  Others simply shared their designs for the joy of it.

The photo to the right shows Robert's no-perch chicken waterer and the image at the top of the page is a chicken waterer that fills automatically from rainfall on the coop roof.  (The inventor of the latter tweaked his design to work in tractors too.)  Meanwhile, Michael performed an awesome experiment to determine the exact angle at which our nipples begin to leak.

Other favorite customer experiments include a waterer made out of a five gallon bottle, a funnel and hose technique to make our premade waterers easy to fill from outside the coop, and a drip tray so the coop floor always stays dry even if you How much can you tilt chicken nippleshave a messy drinker.

Closer to home, Shannon tentatively determined that our waterers might work for rabbits too, and Mark streamlined our heat tape bucket waterer to stay thawed down into the teens.

We're looking forward to seeing more beautiful designs (and chickens) over the next year.  Be sure to stay tuned to our chicken blog or facebook page if you want to know about upcoming contests in a timely manner.

This post is part of our 2012 Chicken Experiments lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Mon Nov 12 12:01:02 2012 Tags:
finding out what the load limit is for straw bales on the golf cart

I discovered today that the golf cart can haul 10 bales of straw.

While going up the ford I noticed the LED indicator dimmed and the motor felt like it was struggling.

Maybe it could've handled another load with 10 if it had a full charge, but I decided to play it safe and reduce the amount of bales to 7 per trip.

We barely got them all in the barn before a storm started pouring down on us. My guess is this is the start of our winter raining season which might last till early summer.

Posted Mon Nov 12 16:31:33 2012 Tags:

The last weed and mulch episode in the garden is never at the top of my priority list, but I know from experience that every hour's work now saves two hours during the next growing season.  So we took advantage of a handy visitor and some barefoot weather to finish slipping straw around the greens in the mule garden. 

All that's left to mulch is about half the perennials, then we'll be going into winter more ship-shape than ever before.  I generally run out of warm weather before I run out of weeds, but not this year!

The Weekend Homesteader walks you through starting a no-till vegetable garden that will provide nourishing food without breaking the bank.
Posted Tue Nov 13 07:04:43 2012 Tags:

New Zealand White rabbitWe started with our first rabbit, a New Zealand White, sometime during the late spring.  (He's the one in the picture to the right relaxing on a bottle of ice water during our summer heat.)  He was a young male that was purchased from a local feed store and was the only meat rabbit they had left. 

While we were searching out other available rabbits in the local area, our new neighbors who had just moved in offered us a pair of New Zealand Whites.  The rabbits were apparently a gift for their son but they weren't too keen on keeping them around.  The rabbits were both a bit older than our first rabbit, and I'd estimate they had a full 6-8 weeks in age on our young buck.  This turn of events is how we ended up with two males and one female.  Obviously not the ideal mix of male-to-female ratio, but hey... two of them were free.  

When we discussed breeding, we considered the possibility that the free pair from our neighbors were likely closely related and possibly siblings.  Some literature Dawn read from the library actually encourages inbreeding of rabbits, but that seems so counter to everything we have learned in the past that we will likely shy away from that.  So, we decided we'd breed the storebought male with the donated female.  Later we'll find another female (possibly a Californian) to breed with our other male.  That will give us a 50/50 mix and two breeding pairs.

Rabbit feederSometime in the last month or two our purchased male finally reached maturity, so the question became when did we want to breed them and have our first litter arrive?  Ideally, we'd have the arrival timed when we are both around.  I travel a bit for work, and we didn't want to time it for when I'd be gone.  Also, we wouldn't want to time it during potential holidays or vacation time (like our recent NC & VA trip when we visited Anna & Mark).  So, this past weekend ended up being the "big date" for our rabbit pair, constrained by our schedules.

If all goes well, our doe will have a litter sometime around December 10th.  I'm hoping that the entire process will be uneventful and require little from us other than providing some bedding and cleaning of the hutch.  Cold weather might be a concern, but we'll see how it goes.  Winters are typically pretty mild around here and if we have to we can insulate or heat the hutch.  If we're lucky, the weather will be fine and temperature will not be a concern. 

Breeding rabbitsThe process of breeding was fairly uneventful.  We rounded up the female, removed the box from the male's hutch so that there'd be more room, and then placed the female on his side.  Generally, the female should always be brought to the male.  The other way around apparently can turn violent as the female will often defend her turf.

Female rabbits are reflexive ovulators and some of the reading that Dawn has done suggests that they should be bred multiple times in the course of a day or two.  We tried this, but "date #2" didn't go as well as the first time around.  She wasn't having any of it the second day, so we will see if this was a successful pairing or not.  When we first placed the female in the male's hutch, there was a bit of chasing, but there was no fighting.  We were a bit concerned about whether or not there would be a battle but they seemed to be pretty well behaved as they did what comes naturally.

One thing we will have to do to prepare over the next couple of weeks is to modify the nesting box so that it has a hinged top allowing access to the litter.  Dawn is the expert here as she's done all the reading on the topic.  She's also the one who built the boxes for our rabbits and probably will be the one to modify the female's nesting box.

Rabbit nesting materialsWe'll need to decide quickly what kind of nesting material we will place in the hutch.  There are several options; some are readily available materials (hay, grass, leaves), while others are available commercially (bagged cellulose, etc.)  The literature claims that when she is preparing to have a litter, the doe will use available nesting material and combine that with fur which she pulls out of her coat.  When cleaning the netsting box they say to change the hay (or other material) and put the fur back with new nesting material.

Shannon and DawnI'm sure we'll make some discoveries along the way and will learn in the process.  With any luck, we'll have some cute bunny pictures to share soon.  We've just got to stay unattached to the cute fuzzballs so that we cannot feel bad when it comes time to put them in the oven!

Shannon and Dawn will be sharing their experiences with raising meat rabbits on Tuesday afternoons.  They homestead on three acres in Louisiana when time off from life and working as a sys admin permits.

Posted Tue Nov 13 12:00:56 2012 Tags:

Collecting sawdust the new wayI once tried to use a shop vac hose to divert our sawdust into a 5 gallon bucket, but it only lasted a week before it came loose.

What I should've done was to order one of these collection bags that came with the new 15 amp saw.

The price is 10 to 20 dollars for the small, and it's much less painless than trying to re-invent the wheel.

Posted Tue Nov 13 16:46:48 2012 Tags:

Planting dwarf applesThe first set of dwarf trees for our high density apple planting has arrived!  (We ordered from two different nurseries, so a couple more trees are yet to come.)  After soaking the roots all morning, Everett and I put them in the ground...and then I pored over websites to figure out how to prune and train my new trees.

The North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service warns:

"Although high-density systems have many advantages, summer training and pruning must be conducted approximately every 4 to 6 weeks during the growing season.  High-density systems are not like traditional systems which can be 'corrected' after a period of neglect.  When high-density systems are neglected during the growing season, tree structure, early fruiting, and potential orchard profitability are lost." 

In other words, this isn't a guess-and-try-again system.  I need to have all my ducks in a row from the get-go if I want to eat homegrown apples in 2014.

Understanding the goal
Tall spindle applesAlthough this post is really about how to prune and train high density apples for their first year of life, it's always essential to understand the final form you're looking for.  If left to their own devices, dwarf apple trees can grow 10 to 15 feet tall and 12 to 16 feet wide, spending lots of energy on vegetative growth and not fruiting for several years.  Our goal is to create a tree that tops out at 8 to 10 feet tall, fruits the second year after planting, and doesn't bother its neighbor three feet down the row.

The perfect high density apple tree is a lot like a normal central leader tree, but more compact.  Branches start 24 to 32 inches off the ground and continue to the top of the tree, spaced only about six inches apart and growing no more than four feet long.  After three to five years, some of these branches may need to come out, but we're not worrying over that during year one.

In order to support the weight of apples (and to keep the tree upright on nonvigorous rootstock), a permanent stake or trellis must be attached every 15 to 24 inches along the entire trunk.  We're still deciding what to use for our support, but the main choices among large-scale orchardists seem to include 10 foot lengths of one inch metal pipe (or a slightly larger treated wooden post) sunk two feet in the ground, or hefty trellises.

Pruning and training the new tree
Training a high density apple treeOkay, now that the big picture is firmly engrained in our minds, let's look at what we want to do to our tree during its first year of life.  I've written previously about planning out the orchard, so let's assume your trees are in the ground, with the graft union three to four inches above the soil surface, and staked in some way.

The North Carolina Extension Service has another relevant admonition for this early stage: "Research has shown that any pruning of young trees will reduce or delay fruit production early in the life of the orchard."  In other words, even though our main goal is to keep these trees small, we don't want to cut away much (if any) wood --- instead, we're focusing on training to keep the tree in line.  The only branches worth cutting are damaged, are located less than 18 inches above the ground, or are more than half the diameter of the main trunk.  (If you didn't spring for a well-feathered tree and are instead starting with an unbranched whip, you'll have to do some cutting, but that's a topic beyond the scope of this post.)

While your pruning shears are verboten, you do need to commit to training the tree right away and then monthly throughout the summer.  Using toothpicks, clothespins, and/or tie-down strings, you want to spread all side branches down close to horizontal right away, then continue to spread them (and any secondary branches) level throughout the year.

Tying down apple twigsDifferent sources recommend different final orientations, ranging from just above horizontal to a bit below horizontal.  Usually, more vigorous trees and those planted closer together have their branches pulled lower, which serves to "calm" the tree --- meaning that the leader grows tall, but the side branches spread more slowly and focus on making flower buds instead of vegetative growth.  Regardless of which orientation you choose to train to, you want to keep an eye on new twigs all through the summer and pull them downward then they reach three to four inches long.

Since flower buds on apples are formed in July, it's essential to give your trees lots of love right away if you want fruits their second year.  That's why we're planting in fall and committing to water starting with the first spring dry spell, hoping for early fruits.  If you don't live in a wet-winter area, you might want to water all winter long.

Maintenance training and pruning
For now, we'll have plenty on our plates keeping our new dwarf trees happy and in line, but we also need to look ahead to the future.  By the end of their second year, the trees should be about eight feet tall, at which point we'll need to choose a method of slowing their upward yearnings without promoting vegetative growth.  This website gives a great year-by-year tutorial on planting and maintaining high density apples, and I'll be referring back to it frequently in the years ahead.

Our chicken waterer is the low maintenance solution to chicken-care, allowing you to spend time on fiddly dwarf apples.

Posted Wed Nov 14 07:21:52 2012 Tags:

Black raspberriesIf the endless talk of pests and disease in the rest of The Holistic Orchard didn't scare you away, you probably felt the same relief I did when you hit the Berries chapter.  Not only do many brambles and bush fruits bear much sooner than trees, they also tend to be more resistant to problems, allowing you to make selections based on taste and regional location.

I've written extensively about brambles in Weekend Homesteader: February, and Phillips agrees with me on most points.  Blackberries and raspberries are easy and delicious --- select among the many varieties based first on your growing zone and you'll be golden.

BlueberriesBlueberries are tougher for those of us without highly acidic soil, but Phillips offers some fascinating holistic advice there.  First, he reminds us that the main issue with alkaline soil is that it makes iron less available to the blueberry roots, which tend to hunt for minerals right at the mulch/soil interface.  So adding greensand (rich in iron), acidifying sources of nitrogen (such as cottonseed meal), old nails, or sulfur (for fast acidification, in a pinch) right below the mulch is much more effective than struggling to change the pH of the whole rooting zone.  Lots of organic matter is very helpful long term too.  Another issue blueberries have with high pH is excess calcium blocking their taste for magnesium, which can be fixed by boosting levels of the latter.  Finally, if you don't live too far north, southern highbush blueberries or (even better) rabbiteye blueberries are less sensitive to high pH.

GooseberriesGooseberries and currants don't like high heat, but that same personality trait makes them some of the few fruits that will produce in the shade.  We chose gooseberries in our garden since we like fresh fruits much more than preserves, but jelly-eaters might prefer currants.  Disease is more likely to be a problem with these plants than with other small fruits, though, so select carefully to ensure you get both resistance and flavor.

Interestingly, Phillips doesn't throw in many unusual fruits, but does devote a whole section to elderberries.  I think this choice is due to his wife's profession (herbalism) and to elderberries' healing powers.  In our garden, wild elderberries come up everywhere, and I mostly root them out, but I have let one shrub grow up beside our biggest peach.  The bush attracts lots of pollinating insects, but the fruits didn't pass my raw taste test.

Elderberry flowersMeanwhile, I was sad to see that Phillips skipped grapes --- they're not technically berries, but I could have used some holistic advice about these fungus-prone fruits.  And I think strawberries merit a place even if they're not woody plants --- they certainly bear like crazy with few issues.

Which fruits did you wish had made the cut?  Do you find some of the small fruits listed more or less hardy than Phillips suggested?

I appreciate you all hanging in there through a mind-bending couple of months considering fruit trees.  Those of you who haven't been reading along might want to check out older posts about beginning a holistic orchard, techniques for designing a holistic orchard, orchard soil health, managing fungi in the orchard, disease-resistant pears, and no-spray stone fruits.

Meanwhile, the consensus is for Joel Salatin's Folks, This Ain't Normal to be our next book club read.  We'll skip Thanksgiving week, then dive right into chapters 1 through 3 on November 28.  Salatin is bound to provoke lots of opinions, whether you agree with him or not, so be sure to find a copy so you can join in the discussion!

If The Holistic Orchard is too much for you, my paperback guides you toward choosing a few simple fruit plants to start with.   Now available in a book store near you!
Posted Wed Nov 14 12:01:05 2012 Tags:
how to drive in a mobile home anchor

A good pry bar threaded through the top holes works good for driving in these mobile home dirt anchors for the refrigerator root cellar.

It took a good 10 minutes of heavy turning to get it sunk in where I wanted it.

Makes me wonder if these anchors would hold on tight enough to help winch a truck from being stuck? I know...sounds like a terrible idea that could end in a horrible mess if the truck pulled the anchor out and it catapulted towards an innocent bystander.

Posted Wed Nov 14 15:46:40 2012 Tags:
Root cellar thermometer

I'm not sure we can believe the report of 99% humidity in our refrigerator root cellar, but the temperatures recorded over the last week (high of 54 and low of 43) are probably accurate.  Since we've had outside temperatures between 20 and 70 during that time period, the low-cost root cellar seems to be doing its job admirably!

We had a nice heavy rain, too, which is at least a partial test for the tie downs.  In Bury root cellarretrospect, I think two other design changes make it much less likely for our fridge to collapse again.  First, we slanted the fridge back into the hill for version 2.0, and (perhaps more importantly) we left off the retaining wall wings.

I suspect the wings were the real cause of the initial root cellar slump.  All of the loose dirt on either side of the fridge pushed against the retaining wall, which pushed against the fridge, so how could it help falling over?  This time around, we're just mounding dirt as far as it will go with no walls.  Tuesday, Everett helped cap off the fridge with yet more dirt to keep temperatures steadier inside, and I threw down some rye seeds to hold the soil in place.  If all goes well, we'll keep eating carrots, cabbage, and potatoes out of our $10 root cellar all winter.

The Weekend Homesteader suggests free and cheap ways to store fall garden bounty in nooks and crannies of your house.
Root cellar ebook
Posted Thu Nov 15 07:14:49 2012 Tags:

Cooking an old chickenThe final chicken topic we spent a lot of time experimenting with in 2012 was raising heirloom chickens as meat birds.  We continued learning how to cook heirloom chickens to highlight their extra flavor while dealing with more chewiness than you'll find in a grocery store bird, and we also got more sophisticated in our methods of eating up tough old hens.  (The trick is slow, moist heat.) 

In fact, we got so good at eating homegrown chickens that we ran out in October --- I can't wait for our last set of broilers to hit their Thanksgiving kill date!  I chose to part out all 28 broilers we grew this spring and Pastured chicken stocksummer so I could cook their carcasses into stock to form the base of a winter's worth of soups.  So we haven't consumed all that chicken goodness yet, but I don't want to dip into our soup stash until we really need to.

As you can see from the photo to the right, our broilers produced extremely rich broth.  Part of the reason for the bright color is that I let our meat birds have access to unlimited feed this year, which means my feed conversion rate was worse than last year, but the birds grew bigger during their three month growth window.

Feed conversion rate for hierloom chickensMy goal in taking a less managed approach to feed was to lower my stress, but I think it was worth it.  Fat from pastured poultry is full of omega-3s that keep my familial tendency toward depression at bay, and I really did feel happier this year eating all those fatty chickens.  Although my eventual goal is still to lower our dependency on storebought feed, I think continuing to diversify our pastures and work toward growing more of our own feed is better than walking the tightrope to keep chicks nourished while restricting their intakePreventing spilled feed will also help decrease feed costs.

Light Sussex chickenAnother avenue I want to explore is variety selection.  We gave away our Light Sussex last year because they were just too friendly, which means they spent less time foraging and more time hanging around waiting for handouts.  Our Black Australorps are good, hard workers, but they don't grow quite as fast as our Australorp X Marans hybrids, and they aren't laying as well as the Golden Comets I remember so fondly.  We picked up three new Rhode Island Reds this fall and I'm looking forward to seeing what their genes do to our mutt flock.

Experiments aside, it definitely feels good to be producing nearly all of our own chicken meat on-farm starting with eggs laid by our hens and fertilized by our rooster.  Plus, it's delicious!

Our chicken waterer keeps the broilers healthy from day 1 in the brooder throughout their life on pasture.

This post is part of our 2012 Chicken Experiments lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Thu Nov 15 12:01:14 2012 Tags:
how to make a 10 foot high pvc post for high density apple growing

What's the best way to erect a 10 foot high stake for high density apple growing?

Our solution was to pound in a heavy duty fence post and slide a 10 foot long 1 1/2 inch diameter PVC pipe over top.

"Will it hold a bushel of apples?" was Anna's first question.

Heck yeah! It's very solid and feels like it will last at least 100 years.

Posted Thu Nov 15 16:15:16 2012 Tags:
Forest garden

Fig cuttingTwo more figs have found their way into our forest garden, due to Daddy's suggestion that we go ahead and plant our rooted cuttings so they can spend the winter getting established.  You can see them in the photo above as plump bags of leaves nestled amid the oilseed radishes.

Since I wanted to give the figs established garden soil raised well above our high groundwater (and since our extension of Figlandia is earmarked for tomatoes next year), I gave up two sites that I was considering for perennial mulch-producing plants.  Yes, I'm one of those people who plans dessert before the main course --- I just couldn't talk myself into planting a chop 'n drop mulch-producer when I could use the same space for two Chicago Hardy figs.

Now for the really tough decision, what should I name these two youngsters since I can't just call them by their variety descriptor?  Mark's rule is that we don't name chickens on our farm, but he never told me I couldn't name the trees....

My new paperback puts homesteading in perspective with easy tasks you can complete during your time off.
Posted Fri Nov 16 07:38:37 2012 Tags:

Chicken popholeDespite spending two weeks regaling you with the highlights of the 2012 chicken season, there's still plenty to experiment with in 2013.  I'm not sure if we'll get to it next year, but Mark and I both feel our coops are due for an upgrade to match our specific needs.  (This is really more for the sake of the chicken-keepers --- our flock is extremely flexible and the birds are quite happy as-is.)

Similarly, we want to lick the Lucy-cutting-through-the-pasture problem.  As Mark mentioned, our dog door in the pasture had growing pains and needs an upgrade to keep me from having to chase chickens out of the garden in the summer.

Of course, the most interesting experiments (in my opinion) always have to do with plants.  Mark had the great idea of pollarding our mulberry so it stays bush-like, and using the Mulberrycuttings to add a lot more mulberries to our pasture.  Meanwhile, I've got a bunch of seedling American persimmons I also want to add to the pasture, and I hope to graft Asian persimmons onto the American rootstocks in 2014.  (I've read that in cold climates, it's best to let the American persimmon rootstock grow three or four feet tall before grafting on the scionwood so that cold snaps close to the ground are less likely to nip the tender Asian persimmon twigs.)

Meanwhile, I'm itching to terrace the steepest pasture, plant comfrey as a soil-holder on the vertical faces, and seed cover crops to start improving that problematic soil.  The idea is to prevent what's bound to be an erosion problem when chickens repeatedly scratch bare spots on the sloped ground, and also pave the way for some more trees and shrubs in the future.

I'll be posting on our chicken blog as these new experiments go into place, and will be sure to sum up here again in fall 2013.  Thanks for reading!

Our chicken waterer is the automatic, clean solution for the high tech modern homesteader.

This post is part of our 2012 Chicken Experiments lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Fri Nov 16 12:00:48 2012 Tags:
high density apple orchard technique for the backyard grower

We got 4 more 10 foot high density apple stakes installed today. I could only squeeze 5 in the car and that had to be done with PVC sticking out the back window on both sides. The plan is to pick up the other 5 next week.

High density apple training involves securing the trunk of the tree to the stake every 15 inches. We threaded some 14 gauge galvanized wire through pieces of old water hose to protect the trunk.

I drilled 1/4 inch holes through the PVC and the inner metal fence post and then threaded the wire through the hole in a figure 8 fashion.

Posted Fri Nov 16 16:01:43 2012 Tags:

Moldering privyDuring their jaunt on the Appalachian Trail, Shannon and Dawn ran across a composting toilet, so (of course) they took photos to share with me.  Here's the explanation from the sign:

Welcome to a Moldering Privy

This composting system is maintained by the Nantahala Hiking club of Franklin, NC.  Proper disposal of human waste is one of our primary concerns in the backountry.  Pleaase help us run this system effectively:

  • Pee in the woods.  This will help keep odors in the outhouse down and provide the proper moisture balance for full decomposition.
  • Pack out your trash.  Including tampon applicators, maxi pads, food waste, paper, etc.
  • Throw in a cup of dry duff or leaves.  This also keeps odors down and assists in the decay of the waste.

Inside composting toiletIn this privy, redworms and other common soil microorganisms decompose the waste mass of mixed leaves and human manure in aerobic conditions (using oxygen) above the ground level.  This is why the outhouse is elevated.  Pathogens are destroyed by bacterial and invertebrate competition.

Shannon added in:

Hiking the AT"There's an interesting story about the privies in the trail.  There was a handicapped man who hiked part of the AT.  He was wealthy and his only complaint was that the privies were not ADA compliant.  So, on the AT through NC, he funded helicopter drops of the supplies to build ADA compliant privies.  At least this is what we were told by the folks that run the inn that did our shuttle.  So, there are hand rails and wheelchair accessible privies on the AT now."

I find the similarities between their privy and our composting toilet intriguing.  Speaking of which, the latter has been waiting in a nearly completed fashion for weeks since Bradley's trailer broke down and we didn't have another way of getting roofing tin from the store to our farm.  With Everett's help, the tin is ready to install, so we'll be posting more about our own composting toilet system soon!

Our chicken waterer makes it easy to leave town for the weekend without worrying about your flock.

Posted Sat Nov 17 07:23:08 2012 Tags:
reciprocating sawing through rebar to make quick hoop stakes

One casualty in the barn organization project this past summer was the quick hoop stakes. I looked and looked and can't seem to find where I put them.

It's not easy cutting through rebar with a reciprocating saw. Anna holds down one end while I operate the saw. Expect to need a fresh blade after only 7 to 10 cuts. I was able to stretch that number when I figured out you can just cut less than half way through and then break it off.

Hopefully this post will remind me to store these rebar stakes in a more obvious spot when we put them away in the Spring.

Posted Sat Nov 17 13:11:51 2012 Tags:

Roast fall vegetablesA lot of you seemed interested in hearing how I roasted Brussels sprouts, so I thought I'd attempt to make the side dish into a recipe.  This time around I added carrots and cabbage since there weren't really enough Brussels sprouts to make a full two servings --- you could leave out either, and could also add in broccoli.

Take an equal quantity of Brussels sprouts, carrots, and cabbage.  Leave the sprouts alone, but chop the carrots into rather large, bite-size chunks, and the cabbage into fist-sized wedges.  (The idea is to have each chunk of vegetable roughly the same mass so that one doesn't end up raw while another gets burnt.  So, don't break that wedge of cabbage apart into individual leaves until Harvesting brussels sproutslater when you're getting ready to serve.)

Spread the vegetables out on a baking tray so none are on top of each other, drizzle on olive oil, sprinkle on salt and pepper, and roast in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes until the vegetables are cooked but not mushy.  You'll need to take the pan out a couple of times in the middle and shake it so the oil coats all of the vegetables evenly.

Delectable and totally in season!  I think Mark liked this more complex incarnation even better than the previous one.

Going out of town for the holidays?  Our chicken waterer is the perfect way to automate your coop so you don't have to worry about your birds.
Posted Sun Nov 18 07:54:15 2012 Tags:
Autumn trinity of awesome tasting garden greens

An abundance of broccoli, kale, and Brussels sprouts has made this fall the sweetest one yet.

I never would have imagined 10 years ago that roasted vegetables and greens could get me so excited with mouth watering anticipation.

Posted Sun Nov 18 13:17:07 2012 Tags:
Frosty rye

The prize for most cold hardy annual in most gardens goes to rye.  Not only will the plants grow during warm spells throughout the winter, they'll germinate right down to one degree above freezing.

With that exciting data revving me up, I might have gone a little overboard on my rye cover crop planting, making it more of a commitment than an experiment.  I sent Mark to Rye seedsthe feed store with "10 pounds of rye seeds" on the list, and he came back with a 50 pound bag --- I guess there weren't enough farmers buying smaller quantities to make it worth their while to break apart a bag.  So I planted and planted and planted, filling up about half the vegetable garden, gaps in the forest garden, and even a bit of bare ground in a chicken pasture.  Yes, I used all 50 pounds.

The rye seedlings look beautiful on frosty mornings, but I'll be in quite a bind if the plants aren't easily killable.  I planned out my garden rotation early to make sure I'd have non-rye spaces for all of the earlier spring plantings, but I'll need those rye beds by June 15 at the latest.  Keep your fingers crossed!

Our chicken waterer is easy to convert to a heated waterer for frosty mornings.
Posted Mon Nov 19 08:01:12 2012 Tags:
Alan McDonald Types of comfrey

Comfrey flowersIn English, the word comfrey is used for all Symphytums.  The same term has been in use since at least the 1st Century A.D.  Pliny, a Roman, called it conferva.  This later became cumfria, then (Old French) confrie, and finally the English spelling of today. 

Symphytum officinale or Common Comfrey with white or cream to yellowish flowers also has a red to purple flowered variety S.officinale var. patens.  Other species of Symphytum cover the full range of colours from white through to yellow and blue through to purple.

The Common Comfrey was introduced to North America as early as the 17th Century, Josselyn (1672) calling it comferieSymphytum is derived from Dioscorides, who was contemporary with Pliny, his Greek word for it being variously reported as Syumphuo, Sumphutum, Sumphuton, and no doubt other similar words.  He recognised and used more than one species.  This is not surprising, about 40 have been identified (native to most of Europe and Western Asia) with 18 in Turkey alone, so presumably nearby countries have at least several of these.

Goats grazing hayfieldOf most interest to those people wishing to use comfrey for plant and livestock feeding are hybrids of the species Symphytum x uplandicum, known as Russian Comfrey, a cross between S.officinale and another SymphytumS. x uplandicum is a naturally occurring hybrid, the original being found in Uppland, Sweden, and not Russia.  Later discovered hybrids were from Russia.  These hybrids rarely set seed, but will provide the pollen to cross with S.officinale and give yet another variation. 

Borage, Borago officinalis, can also provide pollen to produce a hybrid.  Both Borage and Comfrey are, of course, in the family Boraginaceae.  When an unsorted mixture of varieties of S. x uplandicum was sent to North America in the 1950s there was a Cold War between the USA and Russia, so it was given the name Quaker Comfrey.

Lawrence HillsThe most common cultivar in use amongst livestock people is S. x uplandicum 'Bocking 14' but some, such as myself, use 'Bocking 4'.  Together with all the other Bocking cultivars, at least 21, these were first identified by Lawrence Hills from amongst a large assortment of collections from various people and places.  He called each collection a strain or mixture after the people or places where they originated.  He did not breed or develop the cultivars as is often reported; they already existed.  In this context, please note that a lot of current internet sites replicate other sites in their supposed information.  Lawrence Hills warned against such repetitiveness long before the Internet was invented.

All comfreys only actively grow in summer in temperate climates, dying down in the autumn.  S.officinale sets seed that germinates very easily.  So do some of the other Symphytums.  Stick to the Russian hybrids if you want to control the size of your plot.

Some herbalists believe that S.officinale is the preferred, or even only, species for
safe medicinal use.  Officinale means "of the (herbalist's) shop."  Gerard in his Herball gives an unusual use for the root juice in ale; it is "given to drinke against the paine in the back gotten by wrestling, or overuse of women."

Alan McDonald has been experimenting with comfrey on farms around the world for 15 years.  His new book, How Not to Make Millions --- But Still Enjoy a Rich Rural Life is available for 99 cents on Smashwords, and you can also read about his adventures for free on his blog.  Stay tuned to this blog for more of his comfrey experiments tomorrow.

Posted Mon Nov 19 12:01:19 2012 Tags:
protecting the refrigerator root cellar from getting too cold with a thermocouple device

The refrigerator root cellar has been doing a good job lately keeping the carrots from freezing during nights in the low 20's, but just barely. The thermometer we put inside was showing the low temperature to be 34, which was telling us if it got much colder the carrots might be exposed to freezing conditions.

I installed a thermostatically controlled outlet today known as a Thermo Cube with a light bulb plugged in.

When the inside temperature reaches 35 the light will come on and shut off when it warms up to 45.

Root cellar ebook
Posted Mon Nov 19 16:15:27 2012 Tags:
Anna Deer 4.0
Venison backstrap

Moderately gory pictures ahead!  Please go elsewhere for the day if you're squeamish.

Yes, you guessed it, deer 4.0 bit the dust back behind the blueberries Monday morning.  This was the smoothest operation yet --- Mark looked out the window and spotted a button buck, I offered him the kill, but he let me get the rifle and sneak up through the garden, kneel down, and take the shot.

Skin deer

Mark thinks I'm a better marksman than he is, but the truth is that I missed, as usual.  As you can see from the butchering photo, my bullet didn't go in right above the shoulder where I was aiming.  But the deer only ran for about fifty feet before keeling over, so all was well.

After dragging the deer home, we took a deep breath and went back inside to read over the extremely helpful comments on last year's deer butchering post.  As a result, I opted to hang the deer head down, as most folks recommended, which did seem to make skinning and gutting a breeze (albeit an hour-long one).

Another hour with Mark and me working together to cut the meat into two hams, a backstrap, and lots of boned flesh, followed by a final hour of just me running the latter through the grinder, and we had 18.3 pounds of pastured meat for the price of two bullets.  (No, we hadn't shot the rifle since killing two deer last year.  Yes, I did put another shot in the deer's head when I found it since the animal was still moving slightly.)  As a bonus, I stewed up the bones to create a gallon of quality broth, and ended up with another quart of meat picked loose after cooking.  Assuming our previous three deer paid for the gun, that's some ultra-cheap pastured meat.

Grinding venison

In the past, I haven't been impressed by the gestalt of the livers that came out of our deer, but this little guy was one healthy youngster and his liver was a deep maroon with no blemishes.  I've also never had a liver dish I liked, but a simple pate (rendered chicken fat, onions, garlic, thyme, salt, pepper, and a splash of cooking sherry) changed my tune.  We've also already cooked up half of the backstrap (using my garlic-thyme chicken leg recipe...without the chicken legs, of course), and it was similarly top notch.  Our tastiest deer to date!

Meanwhile, we decided to split this deer down the middle in terms of ownership.  Previously, I'd killed two deer and Mark one --- yes, Mark is definitely keeping count.  (I'm not --- who needs a tally when you're obviously ahead?)  Since Mark spotted 4.0 and I slaughtered him, I figure we're now up to 1.5 to 2.5 deer, respectively.  Given the ease with which this deer went into the freezer and the flavor of the meat, I suspect Mark may keep his eyes peeled to even the score.

Our chicken waterer makes care of the backyard flock almost as easy as shooting a deer across the garden fence.
Posted Tue Nov 20 07:49:03 2012 Tags:
Alan McDonald Farming with comfrey

Monsanto, PortugalWhen I farmed in the North of Scotland prior to moving to Portugal, I had Bocking Nos. 4 and 14, together with a large number of plants of unknown species or varieties that I had collected from various people.  I operated a commercial free-range egg enterprise on this
farm, using mobile night shelters holding either 80 or 120 hens, with a total capacity of close to 2000 birds, and the hens had free access to the comfrey beds.  They ignored all the plants.

This is not unusual, and if you want to offer comfrey to poultry you might have to cut and wilt it first, possibly even chaffing it.  I understand this particularly applies to No.14.  Poultry apparently find the higher potassium content of this cultivar distasteful when it is growing or offered freshly cut, although some poultry keepers find their hens will eat it fresh.

I was not interested in feeding it to hens.  I bred meat rabbits until the increasing egg enterprise meant I had to cut back on the workload I had, but almost all the rabbits had taken readily to most comfrey leaves they were offered.  Some did not.

I brought a couple of crown-sets of No.4 with me to Portugal because my aim was to feed it to livestock during the normal summer drought, the 14 with its higher potash being preferred for plant food --- in compost, as a mulch, directly in the ground underneath potatoes, and as a liquid fertiliser. 

Goats in PortugalI keep a small goat herd of up to 20 does, and they have never been fond of comfrey, usually pulling the leaves out of the feeders to taste and then discarding them. I tried several times each summer with only a few does and kids being interested.  Consequently I used most of the crop each year as compost or mulch.

This year has been particularly dry and therefore no fresh grazing, as I was unable to irrigate, and very little browse.  As a last effort, and as a complement to the green corn and cobs I was feeding (corn being low in calcium and high in phosphorus, whilst comfrey is the reverse, and also much higher in protein), I decided to give them one last try.  Most of the goats took to the comfrey by about the end of July, and all of them eventually.  My limited supply had to be fed very sparingly until I decided I had to stop cutting in mid October to give the plants a chance to build up reserves before winter.

Alan McDonald has been experimenting with comfrey on farms around the world for fifteen years.  His new book, How Not to Make Millions --- But Still Enjoy a Rich Rural Life is available for 99 cents on Smashwords, and you can also read about his adventures for free on his blog.  For background information on comfrey, check out yesterday's post "Types of comfrey."

Posted Tue Nov 20 12:01:25 2012 Tags:
putting a roof on the new composting toilet

It took 5 pieces of 10 foot long tin to finish the composting toilet roof.

I was planning to get a brown tarp for the privacy wall, but the local feed store was selling these camouflage tarps that seemed to be more appropriate.

Now the structure can double as a hunting blind, and actually looks down on a known deer path.

Posted Tue Nov 20 17:00:54 2012 Tags:
Dividing chives

I can't quite explain why I love plants so much, but part of it is pure skinflintery.  You can start with one plant, then a couple of years later, you have a dozen.

Chives sproutsWith herbaceous (nonwoody) perennials, the easiest way to replicate your plant is often simple division --- dig up the roots, break (or cut) the clump in half, and you have two plants for the price of one.  Not all perennials respond well to division, but many do.

The photo at the top of this post shows the several large clumps of chives I ended up with for the price of one seed.  Yep, that's right --- I planted a single chive seed in this spot in 2008, it grew and thrived, and now I've got a heaping handful.  If I really wanted to, I could tease apart each bulb and probably have a hundred or more chives, but I don't need that many, so I'll just plant them back by the hunk.

Dividing comfrey

Comfrey rootOf course, the king of division is comfrey.  I'm guessing our plants are Russian comfrey since they don't produce seeds, but they sure do divide easily.  In fact, you can't get rid of a clump once you've started it somewhere.

The photo to the left illustrates two important points.  The first is how I scrunch up my face when I think about trying to eradicate comfrey from a spot where it's become established.  More seriously, I wanted to show how pieces of comfrey that seem to lack root hairs will still grow and thrive.  You can hack a clump of comfrey to within an inch of its life and every little root bit will spring to life.  This long root will thrive, but I wouldn't expect the same from most other species.

Monday, I dug up what used to be four plants in 2008 (a quarter of what was once three plants in 2006).  I filled an entire wheelbarrow, and I'm confident there will be enough pieces of root left behind to refill the old spot in the spring.

Planting comfreyMeanwhile, the comfrey pieces I pried out of the soil formed a border for a new part of the forest garden I want to begin reclaiming from the "lawn" in 2013.  (You can read my plans here.)  I've got at least as many plants left to go elsewhere --- maybe to hold soil in the powerline pasture if we get around to playing with it this winter.

Now's the perfect time to divide most perennial herbs.  Go forth and multiply!

Our chicken waterer is the POOP-free alternative to traditional, filthy waterers.
Posted Wed Nov 21 07:41:00 2012 Tags:

Folks, This Ain't NormalFolks, This Ain't Normal is Joel Salatin's first book put out by a mainstream publisher.  Previous self-published works, with titles like Everything I Want to Do I Illegal and The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer, have helped make Salatin a household name in homesteading circles, and I suspect his newest book may make his celebrity less of a niche obsession.

Or maybe "anti-celebrity" is a better word.  Salatin works hard to disagree with everybody, which is why I think adding his new book to our club will stir up lots of interesting ideas.  Salatin's primary thesis is put forth by Allan Nation in the foreword: "A policy of one-size-fits-all regulation means that a regulation that is a minor nuisance to a large industrial processor is a farm killer for a farmer trying to sell directly to a customer."

To Salatin, this policy issue is really about families, raising your kids right, and making a living while helping the earth.  He explains his book as being "a story of carbon, soil building, ecological innovation, and a lifetime of swimming the wrong way."  In six short pages of introduction, we meet his entire clan, from grandparents to grandkids, and that sets the stage for an engagingly written, highly personal narrative that is, at the same time, relevant to every American reader.

We'll be discussing the first three chapters (up through "Hog Killin's and Laying in the Larder") next Wednesday, so go hunt down your copy and start reading.  Folks, This Ain't Normal isn't in our tiny library, but is more likely than many of the other books I've recommended to be available for checkout if you live in a moderately sized or larger town.  I'm looking forward to hearing your take on Salatin's lunacy.

The Weekend Homesteader suggests cheap and easy projects to jumpstart your journey to self-sufficiency.
Posted Wed Nov 21 12:01:17 2012 Tags:

replacing the heating element in a Hotpoint ovenThe heating element in our oven stopped working today.

I felt lucky when our local hardware store had a replacement, but I failed to realize part of the connector was touching the frame and when we turned the power back on it melted the connector making the element worthless.

The second trip to a hardware store within the same hour is tough on my ego. Luckily there was one more left, along with a new connection tip to replace the melted one. When I put the second element in I made sure to modify the frame to not allow any more sparking. I was feeling kind of down on my stove fixing skills and I think Phil the guy who owns the hardware store was picking up on it. He said "That happens to a lot of people Mark" with a tone that made me feel 10 times better.

Posted Wed Nov 21 17:37:40 2012 Tags:
Harvesting echinacea roots

Echinacea purpurea (also known as Purple Coneflower) is one of the few herbs Mark and I imbibe.  If we're going to be travelling or hanging around small children, we'll take a bit of echinacea the day before, the day of, and the day after to help our immune systems know Praying mantis on echinaceathere will germs to fight off.  As a preventative, it's hard to say whether the echinacea helps, but it certainly doesn't hurt.

In the past, we've bought echinacea from the drug store, but my own little plant (a gift from a friend when we moved to the farm) is finally old enough to divide and harvest.  Although some people use other parts of the plant, it sounds like you'll get the most medicinal qualities out of the roots harvested a week or two after the hard frosts kill back most of the top growth of the plant.  In addition, it's best to wait to harvest until your echinacea plants are at least two or three years old, and then to only harvest 20% or less of the roots per year, so you don't kill the plant.

Dividing echinacea

Since it had been six years since this plant went into the ground, I was able to gently pull the clump apart into three sections at the same time I harvested the roots.  One section will go back in place, another will move into the forest garden, and a third will hedge our bets by going to a friend.

Fresh echinacea rootsI only cut some of the small feeder roots since we don't use much echinacea (and since the herb is only good for about a year).  After rinsing them carefully, the little roots dried in the sun for a few hours to get rid of most of the wash water.  Next, I cut them with scissors into half inch pieces, which will ensure that the roots dry within two to four days (giving them no time to mold).  The final step will be to store the echinacea roots in a dark, air-tight container, then to brew up a decoction by boiling them for 30 to 60 minutes as needed.

My plantain salve has come in handy, and I realized I use more of these medicinals when I have them in processed form on the shelf.  So hopefully the echinacea will also hit the spot.

Our chicken waterer keeps the flock healthy by preventing them from drinking manure-laden water.
Posted Thu Nov 22 07:26:36 2012 Tags:
Thanksgiving 2012 at River Farm

Best Thanksgiving venison ever!
Posted Thu Nov 22 16:38:16 2012 Tags:
Community house

Did you know that the average American today has as much living area to him- or herself as an entire family of 3.3 did in 1950?  I've been thinking about small houses lately, both because of working on my Trailersteading ebook and because we've been the lucky recipients of a variety of out of town guests.  I suspect that many Americans build large homes for the sole purpose of housing guests or hosting gatherings two or three times a year.  But isn't there an easier way?


For us, there definitely is.  It turns out that the intentional community a mile down the road rents out their community house for a small fee and is happy to put up our house guests (and to host our Thanksgiving dinner).  To me, this is a no-brainer since our entire farm is my personal space and I can't handle having people other than Mark nearby for more than three or four hours a day once or twice a week.

River view

But even for the less antisocial, renting space for guests makes financial sense.  We're able to use the community house for an entire week for $100 --- just think how many guests we'd need to channel through here before it would make sense to move the guest quarters to our own land.  Plus, if one community house could take the pressure off ten or twenty families, that would mean a slew of trees that didn't need to be cut down to build guest rooms and tons of coal that didn't need to be turned into elecricity to heat usually-empty spaces.

Washing dishes

I suspect that if the Tiny House movement wants to reach beyond the small, vocal choir, our communities need to have facilities like this available to take the edge off.  What do you think?

Our chicken waterer makes it easy to leave town for a long Thanksgiving weekend without hiring a caretaker, but we opted to stay home.

Posted Fri Nov 23 07:55:14 2012 Tags:

replacing a Hotpoint heating elementMamaHomesteader made a nice comment on my oven repair post that her in-laws elected to buy a new stove instead of replacing the heating element and that got me thinking that maybe it's not as obvious to most folks that it's far easier to replace the element then to go shopping for a new stove and scrap the old one.

First make sure the oven is unplugged. The element is held in place by two screws on the back wall. Remove those two screws and the element will slide out a bit. Disconnect the two wires and take the old element to the store to match it up with a replacement. The new element might be slightly different, but if the distance between the two screws is the same it should be able to work. Sometimes bending of the ends that stay behind the oven wall are needed to make it fit without touching the frame, but it might be easier to modify the frame.

Posted Fri Nov 23 16:37:53 2012 Tags:

Locust snagA three-trunked, dead black locust used to stand just outside our core homestead.  One trunk fell in spring 2009, and another fell during the heavy snows the following winter.  I'd left the remaining trunk as an insurance policy --- standing snags are generally pretty dry and can be cut and used for firewood nearly immediately.  But I knew the wood couldn't stay good indefinitely.

We didn't buy any wood this year, opting instead to pay Bradley to come over and cut various trees, one of which was the locust snag.  I was amazed at how much firewood that one tree created --- probably enough for a month of fires --- and by how dry the wood was.  I had originally planned to put the locust in the shed for a month, but Bradley thought it could be used right away, and he was correct.  The splinters that came off the extremely hard-to-split logs were top-notch kindling, and the logs themselves felt drier than wood that had been sitting in the shed since last year.

Now we've got lots of piles of wood sitting around waiting to be ferried up to the wood shed.  A day and a half of Bradley's hard work probably created enough wood for the rest of this winter and part of next, which makes firewood-gathering look awfully easy until you realize he's been brushing up on his chainsaw skills since he was eight.

Our chicken waterer gives the flock something to peck at rather than each other.
Posted Sat Nov 24 08:00:54 2012 Tags:

using the remaining Shoe Goo to seal up the power cord for the refrigerator root cellar thermocubeIt takes a half inch drill bit to make a hole just big enough to feed a standard extension cord through the wall of our refrigerator root cellar.

I didn't want to open a new tube of silicon for such a small application and decided what was left of the Shoe Goo should be good enough to seal up the gap between the cord and the wall.

Root cellar ebook
Posted Sat Nov 24 15:01:09 2012 Tags:

Tiny book of tiny housesThe Tiny Book of Tiny Houses is a fun little book with no room for long-winded explanations of why we should all live in tiny houses.  Instead, the author assumes we're on board and zooms in on seventeen small dwellings, ranging from 32 square feet to a bit over 200 square feet.

Granted, very few of these tiny houses were full-time, long-term residences, but I enjoyed the history behind Sunday houses (used by farming families who spent the weekend in town shopping and going to church) and refugee shacks (built after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and later moved throughout the city to be turned to other uses).  I was also interested to see that occupants of older tiny houses often got around space restrictions by moving kitchens, outhouses, and bathing facilities outside.

While I was picking up my books, the librarians threw in their own two cents' worth on the tiny house movement.  "I don't think I'd like to live in a really tiny house," one said.  "But maybe a space 600 square feet or so would work."  I tend to agree with him --- our domicile was 500 square feet before we tacked on the East Wing, and that original area felt a little small once we moved our business out of a tent and into the house.

I'm curious to hear from our readers.  What's the smallest space you've lived in?  Did you feel comfortable there?

Our POOP-free chicken waterer is the perfect gift for the backyard poultry lover on your list.


Edited to add:

Trailersteading tells how to enjoy all the advantages of a tiny house at a fraction of the cost by living in a used mobile home.  Now available for $1.99 on Amazon.

Posted Sun Nov 25 08:36:16 2012 Tags:
harvesting oyster mushroom cluster in a tree

Anna spotted some wild oyster mushrooms high up in a tree by the barn this time last year, but we could tell from the ground that they were a few days past that prime point of yumminess.

Today we harvested from the same tree the above oyster mushroom cluster and it looks and feels perfect. Maybe they just popped up yesterday or maybe the cold had a preserving effect but a few minutes climbing up a ladder was well worth the reward.

Posted Sun Nov 25 14:30:23 2012 Tags:
Anna 12 degrees
Frost on comfrey

I hear that this is going to be a cold winter, and the season is doing its best to keep us on our toes already.  Saturday night dropped down to 12 on our farm, which is quite unusual for November (and, actually, for any time).  The floodplain froze solid, and so did the chicken waterers (even the heated one) along with our own water line (although I did leave the hose door open, so that's not a fair test).

Waterline frost protection

On the other hand, the fridge root cellar held steady at 34, which is the perfect temperature for our overwintering carrots, cabbage, and potatoes.  I'm not actually sure whether the light bulb came on to mitigate the cold or not, but whatever happened, it worked.

Cats in front of wood stoveI've also been keeping track of the night lows in the trailer, something I wish I'd done last year so I could compare pre- to post-roof temperatures.  On cold nights, I generally get the fire in our little Jotul blazing, stuff it chock full of wood around 8:30 or 9, then damp the stove way down so the logs are just barely smoldering.  Come morning, all that's left is enough coals to make the morning fire spring back to life.

I've been aiming for morning lows at or above 40 since we store butternut squash and sweet potatoes in the kitchen, and that's what we've been seeing every night, even this ultra cold one --- 40 degrees inside when I woke up.  I'm pretty sure it would have dropped to freezing in the trailer Saturday night if not for our new R-30 roof.

I hope you're staying warm!

Posted Mon Nov 26 07:41:46 2012 Tags:

Creating a forest gardenI started out my forest gardening education with the two volume set of Edible Forest Gardens, which is so full of information that I've recently been considering refreshing my memory with a reread.  Instead, I settled on trying out a different point of view --- Creating a Forest Garden by Martin Crawford.

Creating a Forest Garden is a very different book from Edible Forest Gardens, and I think I'd recommend the former for nearly all beginners.  Crawford describes forest gardening in a very simple way that still manages to hit all the highlights of the whys and hows of forest garden theory.  While Jacke and Toensmeier revel in complex landscape design theory, Crawford cuts through to the ecological basics.

Unlike the authors of Edible Forest Gardens, who are essentially consultants working with other people's forest gardens, Crawford has been managing a two acre forest garden of his own for two decades.  As a result, his book is full of more depth and more realistic long term information, countered by less breadth (especially with regard to gardening outside England). 

On the down side, about half of Crawford's book is species lists, which (in my experience) should not be read during the initial planning stages --- you'll get too excited by the possibilities and lose your focus.  (Plus, be sure to look at the zones listed --- perhaps half of the plant species aren't cold hardy enough for our farm.)  The price tag is also pretty high since the book was published outside the U.S., and I have several nitpicks about the information itself (which I'll mention later).  But, overall, Crawford's book is worthy of five stars.

This week's lunchtime series hits the highlights of Creating a Forest Garden from the point of view of someone who has already been wowed by the awesomness of forest gardening elsewhere.  If you're just hearing about forest gardens for the first time, you might start with this post and work your way back through the links to bring yourself up to speed, and if you're a long-time forest gardening experimenter, I hope you'll chime in with your own experiences!

The Weekend Homesteader suggests fun and easy projects to start you on the path to self-sufficiency.

This post is part of our Creating a Forest Garden lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Mon Nov 26 12:01:20 2012 Tags:
how to replace a submersible pump in a hand dug well

Our well pump started having problems this weekend.

It only wanted to stay on for a few minutes, which made me think it was over heating and nearing the end of its life.

The local hardware store had a more powerful FloTec pump priced at 109 dollars that seems to be doing a good job so far. Anna noticed a break in the power cord of the old pump during this operation. We'll fix the cord and keep the old pump as a back up.

Posted Mon Nov 26 16:02:00 2012 Tags:
Rocket stove construction"Have you looked into and the rocket mass stove that is advocated there?  They talk about how damping a fire down makes the stove less efficient.  And their design lets it burn hot but slowly release the heat."

--- Phil, in response to yesterday's post

We actually get this question a lot, so I thought I'd answer in a post so I can point later readers here.  For those who aren't familiar with rocket stoves, they were developed as an efficient cook stove for countries where folks still largely heat their food with wood.  The design channels all of a fire's heat into a very specific area around a pot and uses preheating of the combustion air and insulation to achieve high efficiency with low cost materials.  One of these days, we may build a rocket stove for summer cooking, but since I spend so much time processing all of our homegrown produce, I don't think I'd have the patience to use a higher work stove at the moment.

Efficient wood stove produces no smokeOf course, that's not what Phil was talking about --- he wanted to know why we don't heat our home with a rocket stove.  While I don't have the data to back this up, I suspect that our scientifically designed, high efficiency wood stove is a more effective space heater than any homemade rocket stove we could come up with.  Our little Jotul uses the same preheating and insulation concepts as the rocket stove, and I can attest to the fact that the smoke coming out the chimney is usually completely clear as long as I'm burning dry wood.  We also burn a fraction of the wood our neighbors do.

On the other hand, Phil is completely correct that you get more efficiency from any fire if you burn it hot rather than damping it down --- that's why we chose a small wood stove that fits our small space and burns little chunks of wood on "high" all day.  However, heating with a wood stove overnight requires you to damp the stove down (unless you buy a pellet stove, which doesn't seem very sustainable to me).  A rocket stove would be a very bad option for overnight heating since the ones I've seen require you to feed small pieces of wood into the stove very frequently --- I prefer to damp her down and sleep.

Rocket mass heaterWhat does make sense for overnight wood heating is adding more thermal mass around any kind of stove.  This is how the rocket mass stove (the heating version) works --- a huge mass of masonry stores heat while the stove is running during the day, then radiates that warmth back into the room when the stove burns down.  Our trailer has weight restrictions, so we can't go overboard with massive cob-type stove surrounds the way some folks do, but one of these days I do plan to tile the living room floor to capture the great passive solar heat coming in our south-facing windows on winter days.  Our slow but sure progress on insulating our space will also help.

Our chicken waterer is the POOP-free alternative to traditional, filthy waterers.
Posted Tue Nov 27 07:50:28 2012 Tags:

Rabbit houseSince we decided to bring about our first litter of baby bunnies, one of the things on our must-do list has been to rework our doe's house.  We are in the midst of some unplanned house remodeling at present, so I guess it's only fitting that our rabbits get a remodel at the same time too.  At right, you can see our doe peeking out of what was her first house.  However, this house probably isn't ideal for caring for a newborn litter of fuzzballs.  So Dawn quickly went to work modifying the original accommodations to better support our doe and her future litter.

Rabbit-gnawed woodOne thing we have learned about our rabbits is that they will chew on nearly anything we give them, especially wood.  Ample supplies of things to chew on helps with boredom, but it also helps keep their teeth in shape.  With only rabbit food to eat, their teeth can get to the point where they need trimming.  A generous supply of branches and pieces of (untreated!) lumber helps to keep them from chewing on the hutch and housing.  As is evident from the photo, though, they will still chew on whatever suits their fancy at the time.

DeconstructionDawn began reworking the house by pulling it apart with what we call a "Wonder Bar", an indispensable tool for disassemblage of any carpentry work.  She removed first the roof, then front of the house.  She planned to modify the door so that it was on the upper portion such that there would be a protective barrier on the bottom to prevent the newborn bunnies from falling out of the house to certain doom.  If they were to come out of the house we'd feared that they would fall through to the ground below or injure themselves on the wires of the hutch.

Dawn took the opportunity to replace some of the more extensively chewed parts of the house like the one in the second photo in this post.  It's obvious how much these bunnies like to chew on things when looking at this former piece of the door frame.

Making a rabbit houseWith the front of the house and roof removed, she rotated the front 180 degrees and reattached it.  This provided the protective sill along the bottom.  Every bit as important as the protective sill is a hinged roof which will allow us to check on the kits and replace soiled hay and bedding.  Dawn recycled some hinges off of an old cabinet door and fitted them to the roof and house.  This allows the easy access needed.

Rabbit nursery house

You can see the finished product above.  Our doe immediately took to the modifications when the house was returned to the hutch and she had no issues hopping inside through the modified doorway with its sill plate.  Hopefully the modifications Dawn made to her housing will provide a trouble free home for the new kits expected in about two weeks or so.  I'm hoping that by the time of our next post we have some news to report on that front.

Shannon and Dawn will be sharing their experiences with raising meat rabbits on Tuesday afternoons. They homestead on three acres in Louisiana when time off from life and working as a sys admin permits.

Posted Tue Nov 27 12:01:12 2012 Tags:

hose rubber washer comparison and observations
I've noticed that the main reason a water hose starts leaking is failure of the rubber washer. Most new hoses come with a thin black washer that seems to get squeezed to a point where it won't bounce back.

These red rubber washers are thicker and made from a better quality material. You can get a small bag for around a dollar.

Posted Tue Nov 27 15:39:55 2012 Tags:

The Not So Big HouseIf Wikipedia is to be believed, Sarah Susanka's The Not So Big House (published in 1998) is responsible for the birth of the tiny house movement.  The book I reviewed last weekend came out five years previously, so I'm a bit dubious about that historical assessment, but I can definitely see how Susanka's book could inspire upper middle class and upper class Americans to consider something other than a McMansion.

The photos in The Not So Big House are beautiful and the author's thesis is simple --- extra large houses are "designed to impress rather than nurture," with their numerous rooms, bigger spaces, and vaulted ceilings.  Counterintuitively, people tend to feel more comfortable in smaller dwellings, especially if you ditch the rarely-used formal spaces, use the kitchen as a focal point, and add personalized, beautiful details.

Medium-sized houseOn the other hand, I'd be hard-pressed to call any of the houses in Susanka's book "tiny."  A later book in the series, Creating The Not So Big House, presents actual house sizes, and by my math the average square footage therein is 1,839.  While smaller than the current average American house (2,700 square feet), Susanka's houses are still nearly three times the size of our living space.

I realize sound a bit like Goldilocks: "This house is too big, and this one is too small...."  Maybe the newly published Tiny Homes: Simple Shelter would be just right, but our library system doesn't have a copy, so I guess I'll go back to writing about our own trailer approach to simple housing and let the tiny house movement wander its own way.

Our chicken waterer kits come with complete instructions for building a heated waterer for easy winter care.


Edited to add:

Trailersteading tells how to enjoy all the advantages of a tiny house at a fraction of the cost by living in a used mobile home.  Now available for $1.99 on Amazon.

Posted Wed Nov 28 07:37:24 2012 Tags:

Joel Salatin with cowsI promised that Joel Salatin's Folks, This Ain't Normal would have something for everyone to disagree with, and the first three chapters are no exception.  Each essay dives right into something Salatin believes is wrong with modern American society, in this case:

  • Our kids no longer have chores, and we actually don't let them work if they want to.  "By denying these opportunities to bring value to [kids'] own lives and the community around them, we've relegated our young adults to teenage foolishness."
  • We've forgotten that animals are part of sustainable ecosystems, vilifying all meat-eating rather than focusing on outlawing CAFO operations.  "In a desire to get rid of the cow, they want to substitute plants that require tillage.  No long-term example exists in which tillage is sustainable.  It always requires injection of biomass from outside the system or a soil-development pasture cycle."
  • We've outsourced our food supply to far-away, consolidated places and aren't scared by the fact that the average town contains a mere three days' supply of food.  "The average person is still under the aberrant delusion that food should be somebody else's responsibility until I'm ready to eat it."

I actually agree with all of Salatin's points this time around (even though I did enjoy my chore-less, layabout childhood consuming a book a day).  How about you?

Since Salatin's writing is so enjoyable and quick to read, I thought we'd discuss sixty pages per week (unless you comment to say that's too much).  So next Wednesday we'll focus on chapters four through nine (ending with "No Compost, No Digestion").  Don't forget --- Salatin's book is probably available in your library, so you've got nothing to lose by joining our book club!

The Weekend Homesteader walks you through easy projects to build your own home larder of locally grown or homegrown food.
Posted Wed Nov 28 12:01:19 2012 Tags:
How to catch an escaped chicken on processing day

We've been processing our 15 broiler chickens this week.

5 on Monday, 5 yesterday, and 4 today.

Why just 4 today? Because the above rooster managed to bust out of the holding coop just as I was grabbing him. He exploited a weak spot in the plastic fence and just pushed his way through to freedom.

We tried sneaking up on him, but decided it would be easier to wait a few hours and catch him when he goes in the coop tonight.

Posted Wed Nov 28 15:45:25 2012 Tags:

Kill-a-wattThermal mass
Experimentation is my favorite part of homesteading, so I hope you don't mind these endless updates on our refrigerator root cellar project.

With the well pump back in action, I was able to fill up a bunch of empty milk jugs with backup drinking water, following Rena's advice of adding more thermal mass within the root cellar itself.  Meanwhile, I plugged a Kill-a-watt meter behind the thermocube and light bulb so we'll know if that backup freeze protection turns on.

Unfortunately, I didn't make these changes until after our 12 degree night, so I'll have to wait until the next real cold spell to report back.  Stay tuned!

Our chicken waterer makes the backyard flock easy, clean, and fun.
Root cellar ebook
Posted Thu Nov 29 07:46:38 2012 Tags:

Crawford in his forest gardenMy favorite part of Creating a Forest Garden was Crawford's simple numerical explanation of how to create a closed loop garden with nitrogen-fixing plants interspersed among your fruit trees.  His rule of thumb is to fill about 40% of your canopy with nitrogen fixers if your forest garden is made up of high demand fruit trees (with lower percentages possible if you're willing to truck in fertility or use lower-yielding, less mainstream types of fruits).  The nitrogen will make its way from these trees, shrubs, and herbs to your fruit- and nut-producing plants when the former lose their leaves, discard feeder roots, or hook into the mycorrhizal network, and you can expedite nitrogen movement by cutting branches and laying them underneath your high value plants as a nutritive mulch.

Alder in a forest gardenLet's do some fun nitrogen math!  First of all, you have to consider whether your nitrogen-fixing plants are growing in full sun, partial shade, or full shade --- the plants need full sun for peak nitrogen-fixing ability, with the amount of nitrogen sucked out of the air declining linearly as the plants are subjected to more and more shade.  In full sun, an average nitrogen fixer will make available 0.033 ounces of nitrogen per square foot of canopy area, meaning that a hefty alder 16 feet in diameter would fix about 6.6 ounces of nitrogen per year.

Meanwhile, heavy feeders (including apples, peaches, and most of the mainstream fruit trees) need about 0.026 ounces of nitrogen per square foot of canopy.  So a semi-dwarf apple tree with a canopy spread of 15 feet would need about 4.6 ounces of nitrogen per year.  It's easy to see how planting one nitrogen-fixing shrub (like the alder detailed above) per fruit tree could do the trick.

Comfrey stole this tree's nitrogenCrawford included numbers on alternative source of nitrogen too, such as 0.18 ounces of nitrogen per cutting for one comfrey plant, 0.20 ounces of nitrogen from each peeing episode, and 0.096 ounces of nitrogen per pound of manure applied.  I'm a bit disappointed that he didn't make the distinction that comfrey is not a nitrogen-fixer, though, and that although you can cycle nitrogen with its leaves, the plant has a tendency to suck that nitrogen right back up in poor soil.  On the other hand, if you plant comfrey beyond the eventual canopy spread of your fruit trees, fertilize the comfrey with urine, and cut leaves regularly, the dynamic accumulator could provide quite a bit of nitrogen and organic matter for your fruit trees.

Mulch-producing plantsMy other complaint with the fertility section of the book is that it doesn't consider mulch, which seems to be a much more time-consuming trucked-in component during the establishment stages of a forest garden than nitrogen is.  (If you include animals in your forest gardening system, nitrogen is pretty easy to come by.)  I suspect that this lack is due to Crawford gardening on high quality soil where he can begin to use herbaceous plants to keep weeds at bay under trees within just a couple of years --- in the sad soil of my forest garden, I'm not so sure I'll ever be able to plant inside the dripline without negatively impacting my trees.  Instead, I'm considering planting chop 'n drop plants between the eventual canopies of the fruit trees for building organic matter.

Any handy rules of thumb out there on what percent of the growing area should be devoted to chop 'n drop mulch producing plants?  I'm also still taking suggestions for top perennial species, even though I'm focusing on annual cover crops at the moment.

The Weekend Homesteader starts at the beginning with choosing easy fruit trees and berries.

This post is part of our Creating a Forest Garden lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Thu Nov 29 12:01:17 2012 Tags:
Update on the runaway rooster

He spent his extra day of freedom foraging under the trailer, and then made his way towards the brood coop to lodge for the night.

Posted Thu Nov 29 15:49:35 2012 Tags:
Winter garden

Our second winter focussing on leafy greens and quick hoops, I still feel a bit like I'm making it up as I go along.  We covered one long row (about four beds) of lettuce and two long rows of kale with quick hoops in the middle of November, and ever since I've been vacillating about the Quick hoopsfourth quick hoop.  Should I put the frost protection over the tatsoi and tokyo bekana row?  Over a row of kale?  Over the mustard?

In the end, I returned the final quick hoop to the barn to wait for spring.  My experience last year suggested that tokyo bekana, mustard, and tatsoi aren't hardy enough to survive late into the winter even under quick hoops, so we might as well eat them up now while they're sweet and delicious.  Meanwhile, the last row of kale got a bit overmature due to the warmth of early fall, and I don't think it would overwinter well either, so those greens also got earmarked for early winter dinners.


Focussing our harvesting attention onto the uncovered beds allowed the plants in the covered beds to continue growing until the Persephone Days hit.  Now, they're just waiting to feed us leafy greens in late December through January, after the uncovered beds give out.

All of this leafy greens geekery (and the refrigerator root cellar) means we've barely thawed any vegetables out of the freezer so far this winter.  It's such a delightful change to be eating fresh vegetables deep into the cold months!

Our automatic chicken waterer makes it easy to leave town without worrying about your flock.
Posted Fri Nov 30 07:47:16 2012 Tags:
Forest garden

Although I geekily enjoyed the numbers in the fertility chapter, what I wish I'd read four years ago was Crawford's simple advice for starting a forest garden from scratch.  First of all, he recommends that you kill all of the weedy perennials (like brambles and trees) before doing anything else --- that tip alone could have saved me lots of pain and suffering.  Simply mowing regularly for a year or two usually does the trick.

Kill mulching a forest gardenAssuming your blank slate consists of a grassy field, Crawford recommends planting the canopy trees, then slowly kill mulching bands of earth to be filled with smaller plants a year later.  On Crawford's large scale, plastic landscape fabric makes sense as the kill layer, but for most of us, I'd instead recommend simple kill mulches made of cardboard and woody mulches as a way of boosting our soil fertility and keeping microorganisms happy.  Regardless of what you use to kill the grass, Martin's technique is a bit like the "islands that merge" pattern in Edible Forest Gardens, which I've adopted as my own method of building a forest garden.

Propagating plantsThe benefit of this a-bit-at-a-time system is that you can slowly propagate all of the extra plants you need, filling in one area per year, while maintaining the parts you haven't gotten to yet with a few yearly rounds of mowing.  Alternatively, you can till the space up and plant a perennial cover crop to take the place of grass in areas waiting to be planted with the permanent understory.  (Or grow vegetables there.)

Using this technique, Crawford estimates you'll need to devote about 5.5 days per 1,000 square feet of forest garden during the design and establishment phase.  (Maintenance takes him another 2 days per 1,000 square feet per year.)  Your final forest garden will have all the pieces in place after two to ten years, and he tells us not to worry if the forest garden doesn't look like much at first.  Photos on the internet of Crawford's garden suggest that it's quite possible to create a beautiful and productive space using his methods if you just keep plugging right along.

Not ready to dive into a forest garden?  Don't worry --- my paperback shows you easy ways to start growing your own food with less space and planning.

This post is part of our Creating a Forest Garden lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Fri Nov 30 12:01:17 2012 Tags:
comparing a mechanical timer to a digital timer

Every now and then I would look over towards our coop before going to bed and notice the supplemental light still on.

At first I thought maybe the chickens figured out how to work the timer, but eventually settled on some kind of intermittent failure in the mechanical timer.

I suspect the mechanical timer was intended for indoor use only and might behave differently when it gets frozen. I'll post an update in a month or so to check on the performance of the new digital timer.

Posted Fri Nov 30 15:28:47 2012 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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