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

archives for 12/2012

Dec 2012

Winter clothes dryingI hear from a lot of folks who give up on drying their clothes outside in the winter.  But once you buy a dryer, there's often no turning back.  First you toss your clothes in the dryer on frigid January days, but soon even an overcast spell in June has you visiting the indoor energy hog instead of just waiting for pretty weather.

Since I stubbornly refuse to set foot on that slippery slope, I'm stuck drying our clothes outside all winter...and it's really no big deal.  The waterline froze the night before I chose to start our November laundry, so I couldn't fill the wringer washer until mid afternoon, but our clean clothes still dripped most of the moisture out that evening before freezing solid overnight.  As soon as the sun came out, they were sublimating moisture even from their frozen surfaces, and then the sunny afternoon thawed the fabric enough that I could flip each item over.  That night, I put away all except the heaviest towels, jeans, and fleece tops, and the next evening everything was ready to come in.

Yes, it technically took a bit over 48 hours to dry our clothes, but what's the hurry?  Your annual estimated savings from hanging clothes on the line is $100 for the equipment (depreciating value of the dryer) plus $150 in electricity, and the extra work during extended winter drying amounts to no more time than you'd spend checking a rising loaf of bread.

Do you dry clothes outside in the winter?  Do you have any tips for folks who want to try but are afraid of the cold?

Our chicken waterer kits are easy to convert to a heated waterer for easy winter care.
Posted Sat Dec 1 07:40:48 2012 Tags:
cinder block creek stepping stone close up during a morning freeze

These sub freezing mornings make cinder block stepping stones unsafe.

Much safer to wear Muck boots and walk through the creek where the bottom is free of ice.

Posted Sat Dec 1 17:15:13 2012 Tags:
Tip layering

The great thing about plants that tip layer easily is that you're likely to end up with extra plants with absolutely no work on your part.  Blackberries and black raspberries are probably the example you're most familiar with --- if you're not careful, long canes of each will curve back down to the ground and root at the end.  But, as I learned this year, gooseberries fit into the same category.

Rooted gooseberry

We've been working to get rid of weeds in our blueberry and gooseberry patch this summer, which meant repeated weeding and mulching until the unwelcome plants gave up the ghost.  During one round of mulching, I accidentally poured rotting wood chips on top of a few branches of my Poorman gooseberry.  Coming back around for a last weeding job in November, I tugged at these branches...and found they'd grown roots.  All I had to do was clip off each branch above the rooted section and pot it up to turn that into a new plant.

(By the way, Mom and Sarah, your gooseberries are waiting on your convenience --- don't forget to take them next time you see me!  They're at the southern limit of their range here, so choose them a cool, damp, partly shaded site.)

Gooseberry propagation

I could have put the little gooseberry cuttings straight into the ground, but I didn't have a spot picked out for mine and was a bit afraid such a small plant would lose its footing in the winter soil's freeze/thaw if I didn't mulch it extremely carefully.  So I slipped the gooseberry pots into the citrus growing area in Mark's room --- maybe he won't notice?

Our chicken waterer keeps hens healthy so they lay more eggs.
Posted Sun Dec 2 07:47:05 2012 Tags:
heated kennel pad for Lucy on cold nights

It took Lucy about a week to figure out her dog house now has a thermostatically controlled heating pad to take the chill off the really cold winter nights.

The pad won't kick in till it gets cold enough and uses only 80 watts.

Posted Sun Dec 2 15:08:43 2012 Tags:
Fig hardwood cuttings

Several folks report that they root their hardwood fig cuttings inside over the winter, so I decided to give it a shot.  Step one seems to consist of wrapping the cuttings in damp Using a heating pad to root cuttingsnewspaper and then in a ziplock bag and placing the cuttings in a warm spot for a couple of weeks until roots begin to form.

"Warm place" is the operative word.  One week into my experiment, with the cuttings on top of the fridge, the one year old twigs were already starting to mold instead of sprouting roots and leaves.

I got a little stuck trying to figure out where in our house stays above seventy degrees day and night before I remembered the heating mat I use to grow sweet potato slips in the spring.  It'll definitely use less energy to just heat the cuttings than it would to keep any part of our living space at "room temperature", and I'm hopeful a couple of weeks on the mat will get those figs growing.

Any other fig rooting tips from the experts out there?

Our chicken waterer takes the guesswork out of backyard chicken care and makes a perfect gift for the poultry-loving homesteader on your list.
Posted Mon Dec 3 07:53:14 2012 Tags:
Trake after Lucy buried it for most of the Summer

We like the Trake garden tool so much we ordered an extra.

I was using the new one back in June and somehow lost it, which was a real bummer and often haunted me when I would walk past the blueberries.

Turns out Lucy must have "borrowed" it when I wasn't looking and then thought it would be better to bury the evidence instead of putting it back in its designated spot. Makes me wonder how many other tools are buried at various places around the garden?

Posted Mon Dec 3 15:03:32 2012 Tags:

Old treesThe most recent owners of our farm before us had a standard apple tree growing right beside their house.  I figured that a house apple was likely to be a delicious local heirloom, but although we really wanted to keep it, the tree was too old and diseased to save.  (If I'd known as much about trees then as I do now, I would have grafted some twigs onto new rootstocks to safeguard the variety, but hindsight is always 20/20.)

Stump dirtEven though the apple perished without feeding us a single fruit, its body has been feeding our garden ever since.  The wood was too punky to burn by the time we cut it up, but the rotting biomass has helped increase the tilth of our blueberry beds.  Last winter, I gathered stump dirt out of what remained of the tree to start seedlings inside, and this fall I've decided to let the rest of the stump become an instant, high quality raised bed for my gooseberry sprout.

In many forests, nurse logs and stumps form natural beds to help along new baby trees, so I'm just mimicking nature with my action.  However, I want nature to progress a little faster than it would in the wild, so I talked Mark into cleaning out the deep bedding in the broiler coop to add more nitrogen to what is otherwise a low fertility garden spot.

Cleaning out deep beddingWhile we were at it, we spread deep bedding on bare patches elsewhere in the blueberry beds, probably covering about a quarter of the currently mulched area.  All that high nitrogen chicken manure will probably be enough to feed the blueberries all summer --- the trick will be remembering those plants got a fall feeding and not topdressing with more compost come spring.  I clearly need some kind of data-collection to go with my new haphazard mulching campaign so everyone gets a fair shake when it comes to feeding.

Our chicken waterer combined with deep bedding keeps the coop dry and odor-free.
Posted Tue Dec 4 07:25:41 2012 Tags:
Bringing in firewood

Too cold to eat on the porch?  Now it's a perfect place to stack split firewood before bringing it in the house.
Posted Tue Dec 4 15:39:49 2012 Tags:

Composting toiletThe weather this past November was a lot more like December, but once the calendar flipped over, we got a welcome thaw.  As the day warmed up, I was astonished to notice that the ouside world had smells again!  I guess when the ground is frozen, odors have a hard time reaching our noses.

Although I enjoyed most of the scents, I was a bit afraid to drop by the new composting toilet because the goal there is a complete absence of odor.  I shouldn't have worried.  All of that sawdust we've been dropping down the hole has done its job --- the composting toilet is currently smell-free.

The next test will wait until summer --- presence or absence of flies.  After that, we won't get more feedback until two years from now when I scoop this fall's poop under the fruit trees as compost.

That's assuming something doesn't go drastically wrong.  I'll be sure to report if there's any seepage, slumps, or other disasters.

Our chicken waterer keeps your flock's water POOP-free.
Posted Wed Dec 5 07:26:30 2012 Tags:

Salatin preachingMark doesn't generally read along with our book clubs because I tell him the highlights of every text over the dinner table.  As I related Salatin's pointers from this week's selection, Mark replied, "So, he's a choir preacher, right?"

I hadn't thought of Joel Salatin that way (although his scattered chapters do feel a bit like daily sermons), but in retrospect, I think Mark might be right.  For example, take the essay "No Compost, No Digestion", the thesis of which is that real food will rot if left on the counter for a couple of days, while items souped up with preservatives are no better for our digestive systems than they are for the air-borne microorganisms that turned them down.  If you're not already sold on the idea that diet soda and ultra-processed food is bad for you, would Salatin's chapter open your eyes in any way?

Salatin with pastured pigsOn the other hand, can we ever do anything other than preach to the choir?  I'm curious to hear how you all (my choir, who I assume probably agrees with most of my rants or you wouldn't stick around) came around to this point of view.  Was it childhood indoctrination informed by reading and experimentation (my answer), or did you stumble upon the ideas of ecological food production as an adult?

If I were Salatin's adviser, I think I'd recommend that his next book take an entirely different tack if he really wants to change the world.  Include lots of glossy photos of happy pastured pigs, chickens, and cows and write a children's picture book with just the facts.  Or hire a publicity firm as Salatin reported one college campus did to train its students to enjoy chewing pastured meat.

Meanwhile, I'll keep reading his daily devotionals.  Tune in next Wednesday to discuss chapters ten through thirteen (up through "Grasping for Water"), and don't forget to read over the interesting comments on the first week's selection if you haven't already.

Several friends have told me that The Weekend Homesteader has simplified their Christmas shopping.  Maybe you have someone on your list who would enjoy a copy as well?
Posted Wed Dec 5 12:01:25 2012 Tags:

Chicken coop cleaning
Two things I didn't consider when building chicken coop #1 were easy egg access and deep bedding.

We might replace it with a bigger coop in the future, but it's hard getting motivated to fix something that's just a little broken when there's several more important projects on the list.

Posted Wed Dec 5 15:09:15 2012 Tags:
Decomposing mulch

While I'm obsessing over mulch, I thought you might enjoy seeing a followup about my wingstem and ragweed mulch from the middle of June.  This is far from a controlled experiment since three rounds of chicks spent their childhood scratching under the Gathering weeds for mulchso-mulched raspberries and blackberries, adding extra nitrogen and stirring things up for ultra-fast composting.  So I wasn't surprised to see that all of the weed leaves had completely disintegrated and even the stems were quickly disappearing into the dirt.

Without the cardboard layer underneath, I suspect the mulch wouldn't have held out as long as it did, but there were actually very few living weeds under the berry bushes when I weeded this week.  And the fall raspberries were huge, delicious, and copious down there, perhaps just from the chicken manure, but also perhaps due to the slowly decomposing weed carcasses.  So even though the mulch was a bit short-lived and needed to be topped off before winter, it's probably worth doing again.

Spreading deep bedding

The results in the woods (the source of the wingstem and ragweed) were equally striking --- no more tall weeds.  This might be a pro or a con, depending on what you're trying to do with an area.  If you want to get rid of tall weeds so you can grow shorter plants livestock will eat more readily, it might be a great idea to cut the wingstem and ragweed just before they bloom in June; but if you enjoy the flowers for your honeybees, this might not be such a good source of mulch.

I'm not sure the effort to biomass ratio is good enough to make this a regular part of our mulching campaign, but I'm going to keep it in the running.

Our chicken waterer keeps the coop dry so our deep bedding comes out perfect for garden mulch.
Posted Thu Dec 6 07:47:17 2012 Tags:
That woman who gardens in her front yard in Minnesota In-garden bokashi composting
Compost bucket

Compost barrelA tip for city dwellers needing to compost in limited space:  I highly recommend 5 gallon pails with gamma seal lids, bokashi dust on the collect compost, wait two weeks to a month and then bury it in your garden beds.  Or, if you have an abundance like I do, cut off the bottom of a 55 gallon drum (skillsaw, sawzall or even a hand saw), dig a nice deep hole, and stick the drum in about 1/3 of the depth of the drum.  The top lid can be locked or sealed with the metal ring that comes with a proper 55 gallon drum.  When you've filled it to soil level, remove bin to next spot,  bury with a couple of reserved buckets of soil.  I highly recommend planting squash and corn.

Bokashi pressure plate

In-garden compostI've a tiny garden on the front and side of my home, 8 people's worth of compost on a regular basis and not enough space for a covered, screened compost pile as required by city regulations.  This works even in our zone 4 winters.  It costs the "input" of the bokashi mix but I see that as a fair trade-off for composting every type of kitchen scrap produced.  I pre-dig my raised garden beds in the fall, reserve the soil in 5 gallon pails to our porch, and fill with compost and cover over throughout the winter.  I'll plant most anything but carrots in this. 

As for varmits, danged, varmits.  We have none interested in our outdoor bins.  We also are the only ones in the neighborhood without a chewed through garbage cart.  Remember, we're in the city and squirrels and rabbits and pets are what we get the most, minus the odd opossum (different story there).  The squirrels don't smell the "food" in our garbage anymore and we have a very clean garbage cart now.  The slickness of the bokashi system in the city versus the worm tower, which I tried and failed with, is that it is an anaerobic process to start and so if it stays anaerobic just a bit longer till you pull the bin off and cover with soil, there isn't a problem with smell.  The other nice piece is it allows us to compost an enormous amount, easily two 5 gallon pails a month, on-site, through frozen ground winters while still meeting city code requirements.

This is not what I'd do if I had 10 acres and no city restrictions.  But for our circumstances I'd say it's very useful and others may have similar circumstances.

Editor's note: The author of this tip chose to remain anonymous, but you can read more about another homesteader's experience with bokashi here.

Posted Thu Dec 6 12:01:18 2012 Tags:
harvesting wild oyster mushrooms from a Box Elder tree by the barn

We've got some chorus frogs here that sometimes get confused on warm December days like yesterday and let out a few wimpers.

My new wild mushroom system is to check familiar spots on these days.

A more scientific approach would be to monitor local soil temperatures.

Posted Thu Dec 6 15:01:53 2012 Tags:
Tree mulch

Our pasture trees need a bit more thought, but the rest of the perennials are finally mulched down for the winter.  I played around with this and that whenever the urge struck or the materials were on hand, so the ground beneath our trees and bushes is a hodge-podge of living cover crops, piles of dead autumn weeds, two-year-old composted wood chips, tree leaves raked out of the woods, and deep bedding from the chicken coops.


Trailer movingOh, and I shouldn't forget the logs and stumps scattered helter-skelter around the bases of my trees and bushes.  This stump in particular has a long and illustrious history since the bulldozer that hauled in our trailer used it as a counterweight to make sure the machine didn't tip over when pulling our ancient mobile home up the ford.  The wood has slowly wasted away into top-notch soil in the nearly six years since I took the shot below with our two new pets in January 2007.


I'm not sure how a post that was originally going to be about mulch longevity worked its way around to highlighting Huckleberry, but our ultra-spoiled cat thinks that's the way things should always be.  I'll try to stay on topic tomorrow.

Our chicken waterer keeps the flock happy so they provide Huckleberry's morning eggs.
Posted Fri Dec 7 07:24:06 2012 Tags:
starting a high density orchard set up for apples

I figured out an easier way to drill through the high density orchard PVC support post for attaching the guide wire.

At first I was drilling through the metal of the fence post the PVC sits on, but about 3/4 of the way through I discovered if you line up the smaller side of the post with the tree trunk then you can just drill a hole through just the PVC at the far end.

Posted Fri Dec 7 16:23:20 2012 Tags:
Anna Plant swap
Fruit bowl"I was poking around your site the other day and came upon an earlier post about your Poorman Gooseberry (and I noticed that you have a gooseberry start to share with Sarah - along with the other perennials we in the virtual world watched you divide on your blog and then Sarah plant on her blog.)  [Where's mine?]"

--- Charity, who provided this photo of her currants, raspberries, and blackberries

I'm already trading scionwood with a couple of readers and my three new gooseberries for this year have found new homes, but I thought it might be fun to help our readers swap perennials this winter.  To play along, just follow these simple rules:

  • Leave a comment with the perennials you've got extras of this year and want to trade.  I'd like to gear this toward edibles and permaculture classics (like comfrey), but feel free to offer other plants and scionwood.  Include your wish list too, along with your email address.  (You can email me to remove your comment once you're swapped out if don't want to get inundated with requests.)
  • Peruse other people's comments until you see someone who has what you want and needs what you have.  Drop them an email and make the swap!  You'll each have to pay postage, but it should even out.
  • To make sure the information stays up-to-date, the swap will end January 1.

To get the ball rolling, here's what I've got extras of this year:

  • Russian comfrey (cultivar unknown)
  • Egyptian onions (bottom bulbs at this time of year)
  • Caroline ever-bearing red raspberies (extremely productive, especially in the fall)
  • Thornless blackberries (unknown cultivar; it's very vigorous, with huge berries, but dies back one winter in three in our zone 6 climate, so I only recommend it for the south)

And what I'm looking for:

  • Scionwood from pears resistant to fireblight (especially Seckel, Dabney, Tyson, Harrow Delight, Honeysweet, Hoskins, and Luscious)
  • Sal (Gene strain), Marselles vs Black, and Blue Celeste figs
  • All kinds of weird permaculture plants.  If you want something I have, feel free to offer something in trade.

If the swap goes over well, I'll try to save back some other interesting perennials next year, like gooseberries, echinacea, chives, and figs.  Maybe a plant swap can be an annual event?

Be sure to order by Monday if you want to gift a chicken waterer this holiday season.
Posted Sat Dec 8 07:47:17 2012 Tags:

exercise biking in the garden?

In the winter we usually shift into a routine where we work on indoor stuff in the morning and do outdoor activities after lunch when the sun creeps over our little mountain.

When it's cold we usually work on less labor intensive items, which I've noticed has an impact on my mood if I didn't get my core body temperature raised for at least 20 minutes.

A solution that's been working for me is an old exercise bike (Thanks Mamaw). Doing it with sunshine seems to double the positive effect, and maybe being in the middle of the garden adds a nice psychological boost. In the future we want to add some sort of generator as an alternative method of charging the solar cell batteries when we get them hooked up.

Posted Sat Dec 8 13:56:32 2012 Tags:

Trailer landscapingTrailersteading is entering the editing stages this week, but I've discovered that Amazon's policies have changed (or maybe just been tightened) so I won't be able to sell it for 99 cents.  As my regular readers know, I think a picture is worth a thousand words, so I can't seem to talk myself into including any fewer than 124 images in the book.  But pictures make the file larger, and that means the lowest price Amazon will allow me to set for the book is $1.99.

So I thought I'd check with you all and ask which option you think is best:

  • Trailer pavilionSell the whole book for $1.99.  I'm afraid I might lose some impulse buyers at such a "high" price, even though this book is as long as three of my Weekend Homesteader ebooks combined, so it would still be a good value.
  • Break it in half and sell each half for $0.99.  I'm not as sure about breaking the book up because it's really written to be one coherent whole.  On the other hand, I can see a reader being more willing to take a chance on the first half for 99 cents, figuring if they hate it, they don't have to buy the second half.
  • (I know there's the option of taking out pictures, but I'm just not willing to do it.)

Incognito trailerOther than the price issue (and the sinking suspicion that I'm going to get a lot of bad reviews due to trailer stigma), I'm very excited about this book.  Eight fascinating trailer-dwellers shared their experiences with great honesty and depth, and I was intrigued to discover that even energy use (a mobile home's biggest Achilles' heel, in my opinion) was below the national average for every homesteader interviewed.  I'm taking the time to edit the ebook within an inch of its life, though, so you won't hear more for a couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, if you want to make my day, please consider leaving a review of Weekend Homesteader: April (equivalent to the first month of the paperback, with a few bonus pictures).  I'm trying not to let it bother me that half of the reviewers gave it three stars, Trailer-movingreminding myself that by reaching beyond my choir, I'm bound to hit a lot more negativity.

(Okay, I'll admit it, the bad reviews are driving me nuts.  I'm quite adept at figuring all of the really nice reviews are written by people being kind while the bad reviews are by honest people.  So if you honestly liked the first chapter, your review would cheer me up considerably.)

To thank you all for your kind input, I'm giving away Weekend Homesteader: September today on Amazon.  Enjoy!

Posted Sun Dec 9 07:53:27 2012 Tags:

How to improve exercise bike efficiencyThe exercise bike I've been riding had one major flaw. The seat was old with very little padding.

I was pleasantly surprised by this Schwinn over sized seat for 20 dollars.

A proper seat makes it easier for me to get past that 20 minute mark and eliminates the numbness that sometimes lingered a few minutes after some rigorous riding.

Posted Sun Dec 9 14:40:11 2012 Tags:
Watering in tree

Although Mark and I are excited about the possibilities of a high-density apple planting, we're also well aware of all of the disadvantages of dwarfing rootstocks.  So we're hedging our bets with three apples on M111, trained using similar methods to those on Bud9.

In case you're not a rootstock geek, M111 is a rootstock that makes a semi-dwarf tree, generally reaching a spread of 14 to 20 feet, compared to 6 to 10 feet for Bud9.  I've had at least two apple growers tell me that they manage to keep semi-dwarf trees down to the size of a dwarf with careful pruning and training, giving them the benefits of a more copious root system without requiring the space of a typical semi-dwarf tree.  I hope I can do the same and can include early bearing in the list of dwarf-like properties of a miniaturized semi-dwarf.

Training a dwarf treeReality hit when the semi-dwarf trees showed up and required a lot more initial pruning than the dwarf trees did.  The latter had been trained in the nursery with a high density system in mind, so they had lots of little branches ("feathers") running up and down the trunk, but the former simply had two whorls of scaffolds a couple of feet apart.  I kept the bottom whorl (although shortening and training the branches down below horizontal), then whacked off the top to promote new branching along the trunk.

To keep this semi-scientific, I sprinkled the semi-dwarfs amid the dwarfs and was careful to include one variety that was duplicated on the two types of rootstock.  The experiment obviously won't give me scientific data good enough to print, but should help me decipher which system works best on our farm.  I'm excited to start playing with training in earnest once the spring growing season begins!

Our chicken waterer keeps care of a backyard flock of poultry streamlined and mess-free.
Posted Mon Dec 10 08:43:55 2012 Tags:

Lucy next to me wearing leaky hip waders

My Pro Line hip waders
started leaking back in the Summer and duct tape only seemed to slow the trickle.

I want to guess the times I used them are somewhere between 20 and 30. Feels like they should have lasted longer.

One thought I had was to use some epoxy and glue a piece of rubber inner tube over the hole.

Posted Mon Dec 10 16:19:48 2012 Tags:

Winter greens

Persephone Days mapIn The Winter Harvest Handbook, Eliot Coleman posits that days shorter than ten hours (the Persephone Days) put nearly all garden plants into a state of suspended animation.  If we want to harvest greens all winter, we need to get them mature before the Persephone Days begin and then pick a bed at a time until the greenery starts growing again in the late winter.

The trouble with this hypothesis is that it's awfully tough (on the farm level) to disentangle the effects of day length from the effects of cold.  Do our plants really stop growing because of the short period of sunlight, or are they just hibernating until warm weather comes back?  Without meaning to, I did a test with my tatsoi and tokyo bekana this fall, and it seems like these two greens varieties, at least, are more interested in temperature than in day length.

Tatsoi regrowthThe Persephone Days for our farm began on November 22, which was right on Thanksgiving this year.  I wanted to serve leafy greens for six during our Thanksgiving dinner, so I picked the beds hard that morning.  In fact, I figured neither the tatsoi nor the tokyo bekana would survive the winter, so I might as well cut the tender hearts right out of them.  (I usually try to let my greens cut-and-come-again by harvesting outside or middle leaves, allowing the tender new growth to stay put.)  But when I came back around with my scissors last week, I noticed that the harshly cropped tatsoi and tokyo bekana were both putting out new growth.

Persephone days weather

This has been an unusual early winter because, even though day length is around 9.75 hours at the moment, we've been enjoying a warm spell with nights above freezing and days nearly balmy.  And our greens are taking advantage of the weather to grow and grow.

Of course, I don't know for sure whether these greens might not go into a state of suspended animation at 9.5 hours or 9 hours despite the temperature.  Some days, I wish I had a research lab and crew of grad students at my disposal to get real data, but for now, I'm busy eating the evidence.

Our chicken waterer puts the science of industrial chicken-keeping in the hands of backyard enthusiasts.
Posted Tue Dec 11 07:53:10 2012 Tags:
Rabbit gathering hay

We recently decided it was time to try for a litter of rabbits.  Since that time, there have been few noticeable behavioral or physical changes in our doe.  Then...late last week, instinct has been kicking in and the hay that we have given her has changed from a food source to a source of material for constructing a nursery inside of her house/nesting box.  Last week when Dawn noticed the change in behavior, she quickly grabbed the camera to catch some photos of her constructing her nest.  It's actually quite interesting to watch.  She will sort through the hay using her mouth, then once she has a bundle she is happy with, she will shake and rub it side to side with her head.  Then, with a suitable bundle secured, off she goes into the house with her next batch.

Dawn has read that the doe should also pull fur from her coat to line the nest with some warm material.  It is said that she should begin doing this at any time in the week before the litter arrives, though our doe has not begun doing this yet.  We've also noticed that she has shaped a depression in the hay which is sort of like a bird nest visible in one of the photos below.  We're guessing that this is where she plans to deliver?  Unless it is just a random placement of hay that we're reading too much into.

We're presently debating if it will be cold enough that we need to make some accommodations to keep the kits warm.  We just had a cold front pass through today and our usually mild winter weather has taken a bit of a chilly turn.  We may put up some clear tarp and a heat source if we think it becomes warranted.

We had hoped that by the time of this post we would have photos of some kits and stories of how the doe and kits were doing.  However, I guess mother nature has decided that will have to wait till next time.  For now, here are a couple more photographs.

Rabbit nest

Mother rabbit

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 Dec 11 12:01:36 2012 Tags:
reporting on the status of our magnolia mushroom stump

Thank you Brent for your comment the other day asking about the results of our experiment to use home grown mushroom spawn to inoculate a magnolia stump.

It took me till today to go check. One in the back was a little past being fresh enough to cook, but the one in the front is almost perfect.

These kinds of results make me wonder if we shouldn't think about inoculating more stumps.

Posted Tue Dec 11 15:26:34 2012 Tags:
Waterlogged ground

One of the ideas I got out of The Holistic Orchard was applying gypsum to improve drainage in the heavy clay parts of our garden.  As you can see from the first photograph in this post, a day or two of rain in the winter is all it takes to saturate our soil and create puddles here, there, and everywhere.  Gypsum is reputed to increase drainage and boost calcium levels (which many people believe results in healthier, more nutritious plants) without sweetening the soil, so I decided to give it a try.

Bag of gypsumWhen amending soil, it's generally a good idea to perform a soil test first, then calculate how much of the amendment you really need.  In many cases, adding too much is worse than adding none at all, so I was leery when one of our readers recommended: "Be very liberal also. It doesn't burn at all. Also you can used it often." 

However, a bit of research proved him right.  One of Clemson University's soil scientists wrote, "There are no easily accessible guidelines regarding the application rate of gypsum in a homeowner situation.   It is sparingly soluble and so it is nearly impossible to over-apply."  I've seen recommendations as high as 2,000 pounds per acre, which is a lot of gypsum.

Spreading gypsum

In the end, I opted to just sprinkle the pellets across wet soil the way I would if seeding a cover crop, so the first fifty-pound bag covered perhaps a quarter of the forest garden.  The feed store has another 450 pounds waiting for us, so we'll be spreading that slowly but surely as our car and golf cart are up to the hauling.  Most websites recommend repeating the application annually for three years, at the end of which, hopefully, our winter puddles will be less problematic.

Our chicken waterer keeps water where you want it --- in the container and in your chickens' mouths --- rather than dampening the floor or litter.
Posted Wed Dec 12 06:55:00 2012 Tags:

Albert Howard's compostingThe green revolution, peak oil, sustainable building, and water stewardship formed the themes for this week's selection of Folks, This Ain't Normal.  I found the first to be the most interesting, with Salatin's history of chemical fertilizers stemming from war-era scientific advances butting up against Sir Albert Howard's studies of composting in India using cheap manpower.  If you're only going to read one chapter for ideas and book recommendations, "The Poop, The Whole Poop, and Nothing But the Poop" would be my top choice so far.

Salatin's compost operationThe other chapters suffered more from Salatin's general inability to stay on topic and from his wish to alienate everybody at least once during each essay.  But I did find his theories on both energy and water stewardship fascinating --- Salatin posited that if we were personally involved in acquiring energy and water and if systems were designed on small, local scales, we'd have healthier environments and better societies.

What jumped out at you in this week's chapters?  Feel free to head back to the first and second weeks' selections to comment as well if your book recently showed up.  And don't forget to read chapters 14, 15, and 16 (up through "Scientific Mythology") for next Wednesday.  Thanks for reading along!

The Weekend Homesteader presents fun and easy projects for building your own sustainable systems, from rain barrels to gardens.
Posted Wed Dec 12 12:01:24 2012 Tags:
how to protect fruit tree mulch from being scratched away by chickens

We had a problem this year with the chickens scratching away precious mulch from our young Mulberry tree.

I'm not sure if these walls will be tall enough, but as I'm looking at the picture it occurs to me that an easy way to get a few more inches might be to put a chimney brick under each corner.

Posted Wed Dec 12 15:15:20 2012 Tags:
Dying oilseed radishes

The harshness of mid-November took its toll and our beautifully yellow-green beds of oilseed radishes are dying back early this year. 

Decaying radish leavesIt's fascinating to see which plants succumb first.  The ones on the shaded, north sides of beds in the least-sun-exposed front garden turned slimey over a week ago, followed by overmature plants and overcrowded young plants elsewhere.  In stark contrast, the pasture of oilseed radishes, although it grew slowly in the partial shade during the fall, is still looking vibrantly green due to the mitigating effects of the trees overhead.

For comparison's sake, we didn't see our radishes decline like this until January last year.  That means we're probably getting less biomass bang for our seed buck this year, and will need to lay down a mulch to keep winter weeds at bay before long.  But I think the oilseeds still paid for themselves even with the shorter growing cycle.

The Avian Aqua Miser is the POOP-free solution for pampered chickens and happy homesteaders.
Posted Thu Dec 13 07:28:02 2012 Tags:

using a thermocube to control a light bulb that prevents freezingIt got down to 21 degrees last night, which prompted the Thermo Cube to turn on and use .04 kilowatt hours of energy.

We've had some serious rain this week, but no problems with the piled up dirt being eroded.

Makes me wonder if the mobile home dirt anchors were over kill? Maybe just tilting the whole thing back on an angle is enough to prevent a wash out?

Posted Thu Dec 13 16:12:06 2012 Tags:
Ripe mushroom"What determines when to pick a ripe mushroom?  I've noticed you seem to have an eye for knowing when they are just right or beyond good eating.  So what are your cues?"
--- jen g

With oyster mushrooms and shiitakes (the ones we know best), the fruiting bodies are tastiest when they're just shy of totally mature.  That means they've expanded out to full size, but the cap is still curling under just a little at the edges.

Overmature mushroomA day or so after reaching this point, mushrooms are overmature and not nearly as tasty.  Then, the caps are flat at the edges, and the gills underneath have often started to be gnawed away by insects.

(I don't mind a few insects in a good mushroom --- just tap the cap lightly against your palm and the little black beetles will fall out.  Any left behind are bonus protein.)

You can pick mushrooms too young and they're still quite tasty, but you get much less mass since the caps haven't expanded yet.  I do this often if a really cold spell is coming, Undermature mushroomsince I figure the mushrooms will be past their prime by the time warm temperatures tempt them to expand.

Noticing mushrooms at peak ripeness has been the entirety of our cultivation effort this year.  There seem to be wild and semi-wild (we inoculated them, then ignored them) mushroom stumps, logs, and trees all over the farm now, which makes it easy to pluck mushrooms whenever they appear.  The ones that get away spread spores to inoculate nearby logs and trees, and the cycle continues.  If you live in a damp climate, it's hard to beat this mushroom-growing method in terms of calorie per hour!

Our chicken waterer keeps care of the backyard flock nearly as simple as plucking wild oyster mushrooms.
Posted Fri Dec 14 07:47:30 2012 Tags:

adding an extra roost for the Golden Comet girls
Our new Rhode Island Red hens have been a good addition to the flock.

They seem to get along fine with the rooster, but the other hens have been giving them the cold shoulder.

Most of the time they're on the roost with everybody else, just scooted over to the far end with a gap between, but the other night I noticed they were huddling in the corner.

That's why I installed yet another roosting station on the other end of the coop. Maybe giving the original hens some space at night will help to improve our flock dynamics?

Posted Fri Dec 14 16:38:02 2012 Tags:

A 10-Acre Permaculture ProjectOne of my pet peeves about the permaculture world is that we all read the same books and then we regurgitate the information.  After you see the same idea in print five times, you assume it works...even if no one's really tried it.

Sara McDonald's A 10-Acre Permaculture Project: Site planning in the humid subtropics begins to fill that gap.  This design plan presents several good ideas for working around a high water table and producing an interwined permaculture farm.  I particularly enjoyed the beautifully drawn diagrams and the year-by-year implementation information --- I could have saved a lot of money and heartache if I'd planted my garden in cover crops for soil building from year one and waited to plant fruit trees until year three.

Of course, what I really want to see is before and after photos taken every year for the next decade with information on which parts succeeded and failed --- I'll look forward to buying that followup ebook in 2021.  In the meantime, I hope other non-big-name permaculture practitioners will self-publish their own plans and followups.  I promise, it's very easy to put an ebook up on Amazon, and if you tell me about your plan, I'll buy it and review it.

Looking for a way to brighten a homesteader's day?  Our POOP-free chicken waterer can hang on the mantel with the stockings and provide a perfect Christmas surprise.
Posted Sat Dec 15 07:48:31 2012 Tags:

Survival Podcast Banner detailJack Spirko was kind enough to have me on his Survival Podcast recently where we talked about deer deterrents, chickens, and using a blog to promote a personal micro business.

I really enjoyed an episode he did this year with fruit expert Dr Lee Reich. Jack has a natural way of making his guests feel welcome while packing in some valuable information.

Posted Sat Dec 15 15:21:15 2012 Tags:
Hermit thrush

Scenes in The Hobbit aside, thrushes are usually shy, so I was surprised when this Hermit Thrush showed up in the yard Friday afternoon.  Actually, I had forgotten that we had a Hermit Thrush breastresident winter thrush, so I was a bit concerned that the bird might have missed the boat on fall migration.  I looked up possible thrush foods, discovering that insects are preferred but fruits are common in fall and winter, then scattered raisins around the yard in case the thrush was starving.

Our thrush didn't seem interested in my raisins, but it did spend half an hour hopping around and pecking at our damp earth, presumably finding worms and insects.  How magical is it to have a Hermit Thrush taking the place of a suburban Robin, wandering around the yard?

Our chicken waterer keeps our domesticated flock happy and healthy as they enjoy a similar life, remembering to leave us an egg now and then in thanks.
Posted Sun Dec 16 07:51:37 2012 Tags:
Old yurt

The sad day finally came --- yurt removal time.  My brother Joey bought the yurt in 2008 when he was living in the city and pondering purchasing land.  He figured he could use it as a retreat on our property whenever he wanted, then move it to his new land.  Mark and I loved having a visitor who was willing to retreat to his own personal space once our socializing powers ran out, so we were thrilled when Joey added a wood stove to made yurt camping fun even in cold weather.

Yurt roof

After a couple of years of joyous yurt visits, though, Joey started renting an underground house way out in the country, which fulfilled his yearnings and left the yurt vacant.  We still managed to tempt him over to visit with homegrown meals, but he returned to his cozy woodland dwelling for the nights.

Mouse damage

Meanwhile, weather (and mice) were taking their toll on the yurt.  This summer, the natural canvas fabric making up the roof developed some pretty big leaks, and the rodents began gnawing at the wooden supports.  Joey figured it was time to take the yurt down while it was still useable (which hopefully it will be if the roof is replaced).

Wood stove in yurt

I asked Joey if he'd go the yurt route again, and he said "Definitely!"  Although the structure wasn't cheap, we put it up in an afternoon and it served him well for quite a few years.

Taking apart a yurt

Although I'm sad to see the yurt go, I have to admit that it didn't make the perfect guest cottage I'd hoped for.  After tromping through the mud to get to our trailer, I never was able to talk a single guest (except Joey) into walking another city block through the woods (no mud, though!) to enjoy our yurt accomodations.  Instead, our nearby intentional community seems to be the perfect spot to house visitors, complete with modern conveniences.

Farewell, sweet yurt!  May you rise again elsewhere soon.

If all else fails, I can envision the woodwork forming the base for the round chicken coop Mark keeps dreaming of.  If so, we'll be sure to keep it clean and dry with one of our POOP-free chicken waterers.
Posted Mon Dec 17 07:32:59 2012 Tags:
terrace building on a hillside of one of the chicken pastures

One of our winter projects we started recently is trying to make one of the chicken pasture hillsides more functional by experimenting with a terrace system.

The chickens do okay with the slope, but a few flat places will make it easier for us to cultivate things like Mulberry trees and Nanking cherry bushes.

It should make it easier for us to control the weeds as well, which I've noticed can get thick enough to stop most chickens from pushing through.

Posted Mon Dec 17 15:31:48 2012 Tags:

Weeds and what they tell usWeeds and What They Tell Us is a newly-released, lightly-edited version of Ehrenfried Pfeiffer's book of nearly the same name (without the "Us") from 1970.  Unfortunately, this little book didn't live up to its promise, especially given the high price of $13 for a 90 page text.  I could ignore the typographical errors, but the arguments are scattered and somewhat contradictory.

The intriguing part of the book is pretty much covered by the title.  Pfeiffer believed that the particular weeds found on our farms are signs of improper management: "Weeds are indicators of our failure."  A single plant doesn't tell us much, but a suite of plants in the same category or an increase in numbers of a certain plant is a sign of one of three big problems:

  • Acidic soil (often linked to poor drainage) --- sorrels, docks, fingerleaf weeds, lady's thumb, horsetail, hawkweed, and knapweed
  • Crusted soil and/or hardpan --- field mustard, horse nettle, penny cress, morning glory, quackgrass, chamomile, and pineapple weed
  • Overcultivated soil, excessively loose without much organic matter --- lamb's quarter, plantain, chickweed, buttercup, dandelion, nettle, prostrate knotweed, prickly lettuce, field speedwell, rough pigweed, common horehound, celandine, mallow, carpetweed, and thistles

The trouble is that I'm not sure Pfeiffer's categories entirely work, especially since later sections of the book suggest certain plants are indicators of other soil problems.  I'm also not a fan of his solutions to weed problems, which seem to consist of lots and lots of tilling and some chemicals (along with less problematic but rather obvious techniques like hand weeding, mowing when flowers are just pollinated, draining wet ground, planting cover crops, and adding compost and lime if needed).

In the end, I'm still waiting for a good book on this topic, so if anyone wants to go out and observe weeds, I think your treatise would be well-received.  Meanwhile, for the rest of you, I recommend checking this book out of your library (or just reading my summary above, which hits the highlights).

Sick of dirty water?  Your hens are too.  Treat them to an Avian Aqua Miser.
Posted Tue Dec 18 08:04:13 2012 Tags:
how to shore up a terraced hillside with old timbers and some fence posts

These fence posts are now sunk over 4 feet in the ground.

Will it be enough to hold back the hill from wanting to smooth out?

If it holds for just a few years we might have enough cultivated plants with deep roots by then that will lend a hand in keeping the terrace in place.

Posted Tue Dec 18 15:47:42 2012 Tags:
Persimmon seedlings

I wrote in July that I was going to repot our seedling American persimmons this winter, let them grow another year, graft Asian persimmon tops to them the following year, and finally plant them out the year after that.  However, I got to thinking that my original method would be a lot of time in a pot and multiple transplantings for a species that has personal space issues surrounding its roots, so I decided to change gears.

American persimmon seedlingsAnother factor to consider is winter hardiness.  I want to graft Asian persimmons onto my American persimmon rootstocks because many varieties of the former are naturally dwarfing (so they can go under the powerline) and since I've heard the flavor can be better than wild persimmons.  But Asian persimmons are only moderately winter hardy here in zone six.  Many people push the envelope by letting the American persimmon rootstock grow four feet tall before grafting on the Asian persimmon, figuring that the coldest air will be right near the ground where the hardier native persimmon can handle it, and I plan to follow suit.

Planting persimmons

Which is all a long way of explaining why I planted ten little persimmon seedlings into various chicken pastures over the last few weeks.  I'm glad I did --- the persimmons had developed a remarkable amount of root growth during their first growing season, with many roots already running around the bottoms of the pots.  If I try this again, I should probably plant one seed per container into small but deep pots, but hopefully my seedlings will forgive me for the one root-mangling episode.

Now I just need to give the seedlings a little love as they overcome the trauma of transplanting, and wait for them to get tall enough to graft on Asian persimmon scionwood.  We're highly unlikely to see any fruits before 2018 (with 2021 more likely), but the sooner we start, the sooner we eat.

Our chicken waterer is the clean solution for the backyard flock.
Posted Wed Dec 19 07:46:39 2012 Tags:

Pasture croppingTwo of the three chapters we read this week in Folks, This Ain't Normal focused on our modern, grain-based, livestock-farming system, so I thought that would be a good topic for this week's discussion.  Salatin explained that before modern machinery made harvesting and processing grain a breeze, wheat, rye, barley, and oats required too much labor to be fed to livestock.  This was a good thing because, in areas where grain production wasn't used sparingly, deserts soon began to encroach on farmland.

Then tractors and combines came along, providing cheap tillage and processing, while chemical fertilizers allowed us to grow massive amounts of grains without closing the ecosystem loop with enough animals to feed the soil.  Add in cheap fuel to transport those now-copious grains, and we saw another sea shift in agriculture --- meat and dairy animals were crammed into CAFOs where they were fed grains and where their concentrated manure became a waste product instead of a sought-after source of fertility.  Animal cruelty and meat quality aside, the system is clearly broken from a purely biological perspective.

Perennial grainsSalatin asserts that there is a better way.  Herbivorous meat animals (cows, sheep, and goats) can be raised entirely on pasture, which when managed correctly can heal soil that is otherwise valueless for agriculture.  If we kept our animals on pasture, we'd only have to grow grains for people, and there are a couple of very sustainable approaches to grain production to choose between.  Colin Seis, an Australian experimental farmer, has developed a system of growing grains without tilling within a traditional pasture, with each plot of land producing grains one year in five.  Meanwhile, Wes Jackson is developing perennial grains that only require the ground to be tilled and planted once or twice a decade.

Although Salatin doesn't mention this, the obvious question is --- can these systems be tweaked so the food is affordable for folks who aren't wealthy?  My answer to this biological-farming question (which is also raised about permaculture and organic gardening) is: "Who cares how much ethical food costs?  Grow your own and it's cheaper than the mainstream stuff in the grocery store, which really costs a lot more than you think if you add in the environmental side effects."  But it is true that cows are a lot harder to fit into a backyard than zucchinis.  What do you think?

We're skipping next week (since I'll be regaling you with a lunchtime series about trailer dwellers), then we'll discuss chapters 17 through 19 on January 2.  If you're just tuning in, you might want to check out part 1, part 2, and part 3 of the book club discussion.  Thanks for reading along!

Not ready to put a cow in your yard?  The Weekend Homesteader starts with simple projects that ease you into growing your own food.
Posted Wed Dec 19 12:00:20 2012 Tags:
cleaning up the clutter from a work bench area gone haywire

It's funny how organizing small parts can feel more intense than physical labor.
Posted Wed Dec 19 16:02:33 2012 Tags:
Taking a soil sample

When we tested our soil last winter, my analysis was pretty simple.  I just wanted to make sure there weren't problematic heavy metals in the soil and that all of the useful nutrients were available in sufficient amounts.  Everything looked okay, so I didn't make any special changes after viewing my results.

Garden soilNow that I'm reading Steve Solomon's excellent book The Intelligent Gardener, though, I'm ready to move to a second tier of soil analysis.  I started considering the ratios of soil nutrients last winter, but hadn't read enough on the topic to know exactly what I was looking for and how important slight variations from optimal percentages were.  Solomon's book has sold me on the idea that these ratios are important (more on that when I write a lunchtime series about The Intelligent Gardener), and that adding amendments like gypsum to get those ratios back on track can produce huge changes in soil characteristics.

The only trouble is that the information in Solomon's book only works if you use data from a Mehlich 3 soil analysis.  Any kind of soil test will give you useful results, but you can't necessarily compare results between different types of tests, and UMass Amherst, who tested my soil last year, uses a modified Morgan extractant.

Which is all a long way of explaining why I'm biting the bullet and testing again, this time using Logan Labs, which is explicitly recommended by Solomon.  If you want to follow along, I recommend you learn about the basics of soil testing in Weekend Homesteader: January, then get your soil samples in the mail now.  I'll be analyzing my results here in early January (or whenever I finish digesting Solomon's book), and will be glad to help you do the same.

The Avian Aqua Miser is a POOP-free solution to a common homesteading problem.
Posted Thu Dec 20 07:52:18 2012 Tags:
repairing rubber boots with inner tube and adhesive

Anna's calf-high Bogs have been leaking for a little while now.

I cut out a small piece of inner tube and tried to seal it over the troubled area with a product called Seam Grip. It's clamped down and needs to dry over night.

It took over half the tube to do the left boot, so I used a cheaper adhesive called Welder on the right side which cost a fraction of the 18 dollar retail price of Seam Grip.

Posted Thu Dec 20 13:28:26 2012 Tags:
Logs on a terrace

Part of the reason I thought it was worthwhile to put a lot of effort into terracing the powerline pasture is completely unrelated to chickens and instead has to do with water.  The forest garden turns into a swamp during wet weather, and while I've blamed the excess water on everything from barn roof overflow to compacted clay soil, I'm willing to entertain the notion that the powerline cut has something to do with it as well.  After all, wet weather springs pop up at the base of that hillside during winter rains, suggesting that the lack of vegetation resulting from cutting trees along the powerline has sped up flow of water, resulting in a glut down below.

Logs holding water

In her new ebook, One Acre Homestead, Sara McDonald writes about slowing the flow of energy through a system: "The flow must be maintained, but catching and storing energy for beneficial purposes is encouraged."  In other words, one solution to my problem would be to keep water on the hillside longer, where it can hydrate plants and be transpired out through their leaves rather than flooding the forest garden below.  Many permaculture practitioners use ponds to slow the flow of water, but I want to keep things simpler by soaking up excess water with humus.


A trip into the nearby woods turned up plenty of punky sticks and logs already rotting into the ground.  I used the drop test to determine which ones were ready to move to the powerline cut --- if the wood broke into small enough pieces to haul when thumped on the ground, I figured it was ready.  Six trips later, the terraces were looking a little less barren and I was worn out.

Mushroom on log

I'll probably add more wood later, since this is just the bare minimum needed to hold unvegetated soil in place, but even this little bit should help.  In the immediate future, the logs will force water to pool behind them during heavy rains, tempting more liquid to soak into the earth rather than running off, and soon the wood will have rotted enough to suck up rain and release it slowly during droughts.  The wild fungi that came along for the ride can't hurt either.

Trailersteading: Voluntary Simplicity in a Mobile Home is now available on Amazon!  I'll tell you more about it next week in a lunchtime series, but you can read now for $1.99 if you don't want to wait.
Posted Fri Dec 21 08:02:07 2012 Tags:
refrigerator root cellar with snow on top

A light snow on the first day of winter feels like a good omen for the upcoming year.
Posted Fri Dec 21 14:35:20 2012 Tags:
Snow on a trailer roof

We enjoyed a solstice snow, which gave me some solid (if non-numerical) data about the value of the newly insulated roof.  Mark and I both seem to recall that during previous snows, the frozen water melted right off in short order, but this time around, it seems to be sticking and staying.  R30 on top of the R13 already in the roof of the old trailer seems to be doing the trick of keeping heat inside the house where it belongs.

To read more about insulating a mobile home, check out Trailersteading, which I'll be writing much more about next week.

Posted Sat Dec 22 08:03:32 2012 Tags:

checking on the new roosting option for vacancyI wasn't sure this new roosting option was being used until I snapped this image a few nights ago with the flash.

5 feet off the ground seems to be that sweet spot where the hens feel safe, yet still be reached with an easy jump and a few flaps.

Posted Sat Dec 22 14:45:52 2012 Tags:

Raking pine strawMy favorite part of Sara McDonald's One Acre Homestead was the idea of growing our own mulch by planting a small pine plantation.  Sara notes that a 10-year-old pine forest can produce 125 to 200 bales of needles per acre, with each bale covering 120 square feet (and with yields increasing as the trees mature further).  You should give the trees two years off between mulch-gathering, though, so I estimate my blueberry patch would need the mulch from about 0.3 acres filled with 21 white pines.

Aerial photo of our homesteadFor the last six years, Mark and I have been focusing on what permaculture practitioners refer to as zones 1 and 2 and what I call our "core homestead," which covers a bit over one acre.  I do have visions for forest pastures ringing our core homestead...eventually...and I could see a pine pasture doing double duty as mulch producer and shady summer chicken pasture.  On the other hand, we've still got areas within our core homestead that haven't quite been reclaimed from the weeds and turned into productive growing space, and those areas always come first.

Still, I'll be adding the pine tree idea to other options I've tossed around for growing our own mulch.  Oats as a fall cover crop work well for the beds they're planted on and chop-'n-drop species are possibilities in the forest garden.  Meanwhile, I'll just keep raking leaves out of the woods, flagging down the wood chip guys whenever I see them, and buying straw.  What's your favorite way to complete the loop with farm-grown mulch?

The Avian Aqua Miser is a POOP-free waterer to put the fun back into chicken-keeping.
Posted Sun Dec 23 08:11:51 2012 Tags:
mark 15 degrees
fixing a stuck open door with a ratchet strap

We had a strange problem with the Toyota this morning.

The doors opened okay, but something froze that prevented the passenger side back door from latching shut.

One option we considered was to wait and see if warming the car up would fix it, but time was an issue and I felt like this is the exact sort of problem ratchet straps were invented for.

Posted Sun Dec 23 15:34:45 2012 Tags:

Book signingAfter getting the car door ratchet-strapped shut, we headed on down the road Sunday for my first (and probably only) book signing.  Daddy's partner bought two copies of my book as Christmas presents for family members, and Mark commemorated the occasion with copious photos.

I hope you're taking the solstice season slow, uncommercialized, but full of family and friends like we are.  Happy major winter holiday of your choice!

Posted Mon Dec 24 07:57:31 2012 Tags:

TrailersteadingTrailersteading: Voluntary Simplicity in a Mobile Home is now ready to go on Amazon!  It's my favorite ebook so far, full of stories, facts, and (hopefully) inspiration.  Here's the blurb:

All the advantages of a tiny house at a fraction of the cost!

Imagine what you could do with your time if you didn't have to spend $16,000 a year on rent or a mortgage.  Old single-wide mobile homes can often be found for free (and installed for a couple of thousand dollars) in rural areas, so trailersteading is akin to dumpster-diving.  A trailer allows you to live without debt, to keep your ecological footprint to a minimum with energy bills at or below the national average, and even to blend right in with traditional-house dwellers after a few years.

Trailersteading profiles nine mobile-home dwellers who have used trailers as a stepping stone toward achieving their dreams.  Some have spent the cash they saved by renovating their trailer on extra insulation, pitched roofs, classy interiors, and even basements, while the found money has allowed others to go off the grid.  Many also took advantage of the low-cost housing option to pursue their passions, becoming full-time homemakers or homesteaders.

In addition to the case studies, the book presents easy methods of minimizing the negative sides of trailer life and accentuating the positive.  For example, did you know a single-wide is easy to retrofit for passive solar heating?  That a simple plant-filled trellis can break up the blockiness of the trailer's external appearance?  Learn which parts of installing and upgrading your trailer are easy for a DIYer and which parts should be left to the experts, along with how to cheaply heat and cool a mobile home.

128 photos and diagrams.

The rest of this week's lunchtime series is going to sum up the lives of four of the trailer dwellers we interviewed.  To read the rest, you'll need to splurge $1.99 cents on the ebook (which can be read on nearly any device), or wait until Friday when I'm setting the price to free so that my loyal readers can pick up a copy without paying.  Those of you who prefer a pdf copy can email me Friday as well and I'll send your free copy that way instead.  Thanks for reading (and double thanks if you find the time to leave a review on Amazon).  I hope you enjoy this jaunt into simple living as much as I do!

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

Posted Mon Dec 24 12:01:43 2012 Tags:
choosing the right exercise bike for a pedal power project

I think I remember Jimmy Carter being president when my Mamaw got the exercise bike on the left from Sears. Its held up nicely over the years and still offers up a good work out, but I wanted a bike with a heavy flywheel for a future pedal power project.

The current plan is to try to mount a low RPM generator with a rubber wheel that snugs up against the flywheel.

Posted Mon Dec 24 16:46:11 2012 Tags:
Sealing the fridge root cellar

Potato storage moundMark suggested I write a short ebook summing up our refrigerator root cellar experiment, and I thought it sounded like a fun idea.  After all, our youtube video on the subject has had over 72,000 views, and we've learned a lot since making it.  Granted, a few commenters were less keen on the idea ("omg thats getto i just lost IQ points"), but I don't mind being a permaculture redneck if it helps someone else.

Ebooks always get more grandiose the longer I spend on them.  Before I'd even worked my way through the basic construction data of our fridge root cellar, I'd decided to add in information on more traditional root cellars along with low-tech root-storage techniques (like the potato clamps we tried several years ago).  But I've only seen so many myself....

Which is where you come in!  If you've got a story to share, feel free to comment and/or drop me an email.  Photos are much appreciated, and I may quote you in the book if you don't mind.  About root cellars, I'm interested in:

  • The basic design you used
  • How much time and money you spent building it
  • What the temperatures are like inside (average temperature, plus extreme highs and lows)
  • Humidity information if you have it
  • Anything you would change if you were to do it again
  • Where you live (or which hardiness zone you're in)

I'm also interested in low-tech and/or older methods of preservation.  My movie star neighbor told me he grew up with what was called a "dairy", which was essentially a root cellar not entirely buried in the ground, often with a smokehouse on top.  A nearby living-history museum has a springhouse, which is like a root cellar but uses the cold running water of a spring to keep contents cool.  And I've read about people storing apples between bales of hay in the barn, potatoes in pits in the ground, and many other techniques to preserve the harvest.  What do people use in your neck of the woods?

To sweeten the pot, I'll send a free copy of the finished ebook to anyone whose contributions show up therein, and will mail you a signed copy of my paperback or a t-shirt (your choice) if I turn your story into a full profile.  Thanks in advance for sharing!

Our chicken waterer has pleased thousands of chickens, ducks, pigeons, and turkeys.  Won't you share clean water with your birds?
Root cellar ebook
Posted Tue Dec 25 07:55:43 2012 Tags:

Old trailerWendy Jehanara Tremayne and Mikey Sklar explained that rehabbing an old trailer was part of their quest to live an uncommodified life. 

"When we noticed an RV park for sale, we jumped to buy it.  The trailer on site had been left behind,” Mikey said.

"At first we did not know we were going to live in it," Wendy added.  "We considered hauling it to the landfill.  It was old and crappy.  The insurance company valued the jalopy at $1,000.  The cost to haul it to landfill was estimated at $5,000.  New building came at the cost of $200 Renovated trailerper square foot.  We determined that for $10 a square foot (less than $10,000) we could remodel it, and so we did."

Mikey said, "We have a saying: 'The greenest house is the one that is already there.'  We didn’t like the idea of hauling a perfectly usable living space to the dump in order to avoid the stigma of living in a trailer.  Insulation and thermal mass reduce home utilities.  They are not standard issue in trailers.  But we have found that utilities can be reduced by adapting to the environment.  In the winter we wear a sweater and in the summer we wear shorts."

Building a greywater system "Because our trailer was valueless (according to the insurance company, who said it was worth $1,000), it presented us with a risk-free starting point and an opportunity to learn new skills," Wendy said.  "The renovation taught us to use tools and work with building materials.  Though the trailer may not last forever, the skills will!"

To read more about Wendy and Mikey's adventures in uncommodified living, check out their blog, or the rest of their profile in Trailersteading.  Wendy's first book, The Good Life Lab, can already be preordered on Amazon, and you can stay tuned to its facebook page for updates.

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

Posted Tue Dec 25 12:01:34 2012 Tags:
fixing leaky boots with adhesive inner tube patch

These adhesive boot patch repairs are now ready for real world testing.
Posted Tue Dec 25 14:41:14 2012 Tags:
Bacon and garbanzo salad

This recipe gets a bad grade if you want to keep fat out of your diet, but it's delicious and pretty high in protein (25%), and Mark always seems to want it on the menu.  The ingredients:

  • 1 pound bacon (you can cut this back to half a pound if you want to skimp)
  • 1.5 cups cooked chickpeas
  • 2 large sweet potatoes
  • 1 cup arugula (optional)
  • 2 tbsp green onions (you can increase this a lot if you have more on hand)
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar (more or less)
  • salt
  • pepper

Bake the bacon on a cookie sheet in a 350 degree oven, flipping once, and taking out the bacon once the meat is cooked but not very crispy.

Salad componentsCut up the sweet potatoes, sprinkle with salt and pepper, drizzle on the bacon grease, and cook in the 350 degree oven until the potatoes are soft and moderately brown.  Pour off any excess grease.

Meanwhile, break the bacon into pieces, then go out into the garden and cut a cup or two of whatever greenery you have on hand.  In the fall, we use a lot of green onions, but our Egyptian onions have slowed down for the winter, so this time around we mostly used arugula.  Whatever you choose, cut it up into one inch pieces.

Mix the bacon, sweet potatoes, greens, and chickpeas together, put on a few dashes of balsamic vinegar (start slow --- you don't need much), and add salt and pepper to taste.  Serves about eight to ten, especially if you have a green salad on the side.

Our chicken waterer keeps the flock hydrated summer and winter with copious, clean water.
Posted Wed Dec 26 07:27:00 2012 Tags:
Trailer in park

Jonathan and Andrea proved that a trailer can be a cheap and easy way to work toward buying your dream homestead.  "We spent the first 10 years of our married life living in various rented apartments, a townhouse, and even one 'real' house," Andrea explained.  "We had decided that the city we were living in was getting too big and to live a more sustainable life, and for our sanity, we needed to get out into the 'country'.  We soon realized that finding both a house and a piece of land that we liked together was going to be impossible.  So we decided to focus on the land and build a house."

Gutting a trailer "Andrea had previously indicated that she was not interested in living in a trailer, but when we decided to move to the country, it seemed like a good option and she agreed," Jonathan chimed in.

"Building a house was going to take time, and even longer if we were not living on site," continued Andrea.  "We looked into small pre-built sheds, yurts, small cabins, etc.  But none seemed right for our lifestyle and environment.  So we decided to buy a trailer, live in it till we found land New trailer floorand had the trailer paid off, then move it to the land."

The duo found the perfect trailer for $8,000 in a trailer park with a lot fee of $215 per month.  The 1982 model was old but in good condition, with 924 square feet of interior space broken up into two bedrooms, two baths, a kitchen, and a sunken living room.

Installing a trailer

Jonathan and Andrea appreciated the ability to move out of their apartment and into the trailer immediately.  Two years later, the perfect 32-acre property came along and they spent an additional $12,000 having a spot graded for the trailer on their new land, installing a septic tank, and having the trailer delivered and set up.  "[The trailer] allowed us to save money on housing while we searched for the property," Jonathan said, "and now allows us to take our time with choosing the spot on our property for building the type of home we wish to construct, while also allowing us to build at our own pace."

To read more about Jonathan and Andrea's adventures, visit Jonathan's blog, or read the rest of their profile on Trailersteading.

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

Posted Wed Dec 26 12:23:53 2012 Tags:

trying to block lady bug entrance into cabinIf I had found these new cracks back in the summer I might have been able to block this year's lady bug infestation.

The internet says the only thing to do is vacuum them up, but I can't help but to think there might be an easy, non-toxic way to lure and trap them for relocation to a chicken coop.

Posted Wed Dec 26 15:32:22 2012 Tags:

Winter cabbageKeeping storage vegetables fresh through the winter is an art as much as a science, and I generally have to learn the idiosyncracies of each species to get the best result.  We seem to have worked the kinks out of sweet potatoes, garlic, and butternut squash, which carry us through until spring, and the carrots in the fridge root cellar are currently crisp and delectable and seem likely to last just as long.

We've got a bit of a learning curve left with our cabbage, though.  I pulled the second-to-last head out of the fridge root cellar on Christmas, and the outer leaves were slimey and rotten (although the center was still good).  I suspect the issue there was harvest time --- I wasn't quite sure what to do with all of our cabbages before we resurrected the fridge root cellar, so I left them out in the garden during a hard freeze.  The cabbage I Cut cabbageharvested just before that freeze was top notch, but the one I cut into a few days later was not quite so crisp or sweet.  Next year, I'll be more careful to take in the cabbages before temperatures drop into the 20s (and to plant more of them since they've made a great addition to the uncooked veggie side of our winter meals).

We still haven't eaten much of our preserved produce because the garden is churning out plenty of lettuce, arugula, kale, Asian greens, Swiss chard, and Brussels sprouts, in addition to the contents of our fridge root cellar and kitchen shelves.  I can envision a time in the future when we won't preserve anything at all and will subsist entirely on fresh food all winter.  I'd miss my tomato-based soups though....

The Avian Aqua Miser is a POOP-free waterer that makes care of the backyard flock quick, easy, and fun.
Root cellar ebook
Posted Thu Dec 27 08:03:06 2012 Tags:
Trailer comb

Lindsey's familyLindsey and her husband Keith live in a "crazy, cobbled-together, split-level mobile home" in northeast Alabama with their five children.  "We also have another baby due in February 2013, and we hope to have several more before my child-bearing days are over," Lindsey added.  At 1,680 square feet, personal space in their two-trailer combo clocks in below the average size of even a 1950s-era home, but they find the advantages of trailer life outweigh the disadvantages.

"We moved from western Washington state to Georgia in 2002 with our 7-month-old firstborn, hoping to find a place where we could live on one income and buy some land," said Lindsey.  "Being willing to live in a trailer certainly enables us to live the way we do, on one income with Mom homeschooling the kids.  That was our priority and we were willing to do just about anything to achieve that."

Closet converted to bunk beds"When we found a real estate ad for 11 acres with a 'house' for $40,000 we immediately made an appointment to see it," Lindsey remembered.  The house turned out to be a 10-by-40-foot trailer from the early 1960s with a "poorly-built addition of about the same size," which they later tore down.

"Our plan was to live in the trailer/addition combo for 5 to 10 years while saving money to build a more suitable house," Lindsey said.  "There was always a sort of 'ew, a trailer' attitude between us, although we didn't look down on other folks who lived in them.  We just figured we'd need something sturdier and bigger for the family we were hoping to grow."

  But the trailer slowly won the family over.  "The little trailer had a really good design that took advantage of every bit of available space in a relatively attractive way," Lindsey explained.  "Well, we liked it anyway.  And my husband always admired how well-designed things were for such a small space."

Perhaps because of the positive aspects of the original trailer, the couple opted to increase their living area by adding a second trailer, purchased for $7,500 and moved and installed for another $3,000.  "Our second trailer is a 1998 model 16x80.  It's not as well planned as the older trailer.  I think it tries too hard not to look like a trailer."

Building a porch

Laundry with kidsWith the two trailers butting up against each other, the obvious next step was to turn them into a single structure with a joined roof.  "The roof is pretty colossal and ended up costing a lot more time, money, and effort than we initially imagined," Lindsey said, adding that the final price tag for the roof alone was close to $9,500.  "So we probably could have purchased a place with a more typical home for the money we've spent, but we wouldn't have the space we have now, we wouldn't have a unique home (which we like!), and we would still be in debt instead of having spent the money when we had it, a little (and sometimes a lot) at a time."

Although Lindsey's trailers are not as well-insulated as their neighbors' stick-built houses, the unique roof (and nearby trees) do a great job deflecting summer heat.  "Our pavilion-style roof makes it a lot cooler in our house than it would be with a conventional roof," Lindsey said.  "We have friends with a trailer almost identical to our newer one.  They have zero trees and the original roof and they spend a fortune on cooling it all summer long—for 4 or 5 months—because it just doesn't keep its cool like ours does."

LindseyI was fascinated by the way Lindsey's attitude toward her trailer changed over the years.  "It's been a while in coming but I think we all like our home," she said.  "It's different, more than a little counter-cultural, so to speak, and that's how we like to roll.

"Most people hear about our house and look like they want to move a few feet further away from me, but once they see it or hear more about it they tend to think it's actually kind of cool, if not something they'd ever choose for themselves."  She concluded: "A few years before we finished paying off our land, we realized that we're actually not 'too good' to live in a trailer, possibly forever."

To read more about living in a trailer with kids, check out the rest of Lindsey's profile in Trailersteading.

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

Posted Thu Dec 27 15:36:43 2012 Tags:

Back from the LandAlthough I stole  my parents' dream of going back to the land, I don't want to share the end of their story --- fleeing to town and selling the farm.  So when I heared about Eleanor Agnew's Back from the Land: How Young Americans Went to Nature in the 1970s, and Why They Came Back, I had to check it out.

The reviews for Agnew's book aren't all glowing, and I can see why not.  She interviews a variety of ex-back-to-the-landers, some of whom seem to have enjoyed the experience, but Agnew herself has nearly nothing good to say about her four-year stint on a farm in Maine.  Her book includes phrases like "Building a house from scratch is a labor from hell," and, although she doesn't use these exact words, I can tell she thinks current homesteaders and adherents to voluntary simplicity are naive.  However, it's worth reading a more pessimistic view of the movement in the interest of preventing history from repeating itself, and the book is well written and easy to read if you don't give yourself a tension stomachache taking it all personally the way I did.

Who they were
My parents' weddingAs Agnew sees it, most of the four to five million back-to-the-landers who existed by the end of the 1970s were young, white, middle class, and educated.  Reading between the lines, it sounds like they were also philosophers who envisioned genteel poverty on the land as requiring little work and lots of fun. 

Their reasons for going back to the land were similar to those of today's homesteaders in many ways, but there were striking differences.  Many 1970s back-to-the-landers joined up because they liked the idea of being part of something larger than themselves, and many more ended up in intentional communities or communes than do today.  The 1970s back-to-the-landers also seem to have been more dogmatic and less willing to compromise --- for example, Agnew seems to have thought that everything from hooking up to the electric grid to getting a white-collar job equated to selling out --- and they also were more isolated and had fewer job opportunities in the days before the internet.

Why they left
Differences between the two movements aside, I think modern homesteaders should take note of the reasons 1970s back-to-the-landers fled to cities.  For some, the issue was a simple dislike of the reality of homesteading, whether that was cold weather or slaughtering meat animals.  Chores like carrying water that had at first seemed so romantic turned into inconveniences, and the hard work left little time for the creative pursuits many had fled the rat race to puruse.  Agnew (and many others) eventually concluded "if it's simplicity I want, it's simpler to play along with the system."

TipiAnother common theme was being torn down by relentless poverty.  Sources like the Nearings (who actually had an annual writing and speaking income that would translate to $17,000 to $55,000 in today's dollars) caused these young people to drastically underestimate the amount of capital required to keep a farm going, so they thought they'd be able to make a good living selling fruits and vegetables or arts and crafts (something I preach against in Microbusiness Independence).  When that didn't pan out, they tried to get traditional jobs, but rural areas had few opportunities that paid above minimum wage, so the back-to-the-landers spent more and more time off their farms trying to make a living.

A reason for failure that seems just as prevalent in today's homesteading community is relationship ills.  Often one partner was more interested in the homesteading gig than the other, and they never learned to compromise their work ethics and coordinate their dreams.  The period was also marked by a belief in the importance of individual fulfillment, and that, along with a lack of personal space, stress over money, and exhaustion from hard work, caused many couples to fall apart.  When a couple split, at least one of them inevitably left the land.

Lessons learned
Old country storeAlthough I found Back from the Land to be a handy cautionary tale, I think that most of us have a better chance of success than our parents did, especially if we're able to compromise.  Now more of us believe we can choose to be part of society on our own terms without losing sight of the goal we're striving toward.  We can take advantage of the power of the internet to make a living, can hire local craftspeople to help us improve our living conditions, and can still enjoy the benefits of homegrown food and a debt-free existence.

Meanwhile (and as usual), I think there's also another book waiting to be written about the flip side of the coin.  I know of at least one couple in our county who went back to the land in the 1970s and still lives the dream today, so there must be other examples out there.  If you're one of those success stories, I hope you'll comment with your tips for the next generation.

Our chicken waterer helps take the filth out of backyard chickens.
Posted Fri Dec 28 08:03:33 2012 Tags:
Incognito trailer

David and Mary"I almost never tell anyone that we live in a trailer because, with a normal gable roof and a full basement, we both consider it a normal stick-built house," David said.  "Although if a visitor happens to mention that we have a very nice place, I will then tell them it was at one time a 'mobile home' now converted to real estate."

Over the past three decades, Mary and David have created a vibrant homestead, due in part to the low cost of their initial housing choice.  After two years in a trailer park, they bought seven acres of land and moved their trailer into place (at a cost of $350 plus a lot of their own labor).  A few years later, they had saved enough to hire a cousin to add a roof onto their trailer and to pour loose insulation into the attic.

Building a basement for a trailer

Next came a full basement, constructed for $9,000 in 1985 or 1986, along with double-glazed windows and redwood siding.  "We loved the looks of the siding, but it needed constant maintenance with oil wood preservative," David remembered.  Meanwhile "the wood boring bees loved to get behind the aluminum gutters and bore holes into the fascia boards.  I wasn't going to let some insect destroy our home.  We also wanted more insulation in the walls, and the only way to accomplish that was to put the insulation on the outside."

Insulation behind siding The trailer itself had about three inches of fiberglass insulation in the walls, to which David added foil-faced foam boards for extra heat-holding power.  He "taped all the seams with aluminum tape and used special nails to hold the foam board in place."

About the same time, Mary and David hired a contractor to install aluminum fascia under the gutters and on the rakes of the roof, along with vinyl perforated soffit to protect the attic insulation from moisture.

Rigid foam insulation "As you can see from these photos, we have come a long way since the original metal-sided, metal-roof trailer that we had before," David said.  "You can also see a well-insulated house, but no siding, a large deck, but no railing, no lattice, and most of the decking isn't fastened down."

I asked David if he agreed with the mainstream attitude that it doesn't make sense to put large amounts of cash into a mobile home, and he replied by telling his own story of building as you go.  "If we had bought a big fancy house with a big mortgage instead of the trailer, we Redwood sidingprobably would have lost it back to the bank because, two weeks after moving the trailer to our new property, I lost my job and was out of work for two years because of the bad economy," David said.  "So living in a pre-made structure with wood heat and land contract was cheap living again.

"So let's say after two years I get back to work and money is flowing again, so we decide to build, or contract out the construction of a new house while we lived in the trailer.  Would the house be Energy star appliances in the kitchenwhat we wanted, or would it be what we thought we wanted?

"If I were to build a house now, I know exactly what I want in a house.  I know the type, quality, and placement of windows; I know the thickness of the walls and insulation type; I know the orientation of the structure and placement on the property; I know the roof material; I know on what side of the house utility and low-use rooms should be placed.  These are things I didn't know back 30 years.

Remodeled trialer"The mobile homes now are much better quality than our 1974 vintage trailer.  Young people (or old people) now can buy a mobile home with 2x6 walls and a regular shingled gabled roof, and vinyl siding.  I say if a person can find a good quality used mobile home and move it out to their property, that would save them money, time, and effort.  Then they can direct their efforts toward something more productive, like a more self-sustainable lifestyle."

If you're inspired to give mobile home living a try, or just want to read more about our trailer dwellers' adventures, Trailersteading is free on Amazon today only.  Now's also your chance to email me with your request for a free pdf copy if you'd rather read the book in print or on a device that doesn't play well with kindle formatting.  There are no strings attached, but if you find time to leave a review on Amazon, I'll be eternally grateful.  Thanks for reading!

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

Posted Fri Dec 28 12:01:29 2012 Tags:
crossing flooded creek in December of 2012 to go meet Ben at Applebee's

We were planning on having a visitor over yesterday, but the flooded creek is a challenge most people would choose to skip, so we decided to meet my cousin half way at Applebee's for lunch.

Posted Fri Dec 28 15:09:10 2012 Tags:

Catalog mailing labelsIf you live in a swing state, memories of the October and November rash of glossy campaign fliers are probably still fresh in your mind.  They drove me nutty since I couldn't use them as firestarters, couldn't mulch with them, couldn't put them in the worm bin.  But there is a silver lining --- the angst pushed me over the edge into putting an end to the catalogs coming into my mailbox.

Without really noticing it, I seem to have gotten onto dozens of gardening catalog mailing lists.  This is pretty funny because I only order seeds and plants online and only from about three companies --- clearly someone sold my information far and wide.  Equally clearly, our society hasn't become advanced enough to put an "internet customer only" notice beside my name.

At first, I was manually removing myself from each list.  If you're prepared with the Customer ID number (usually close to your name in a blue box on the mailing label), you can get off a list after about three minutes Customer ID numberon the phone.  A few companies won my approval by having automated catalog-removal buttons right on their websites, and I've also sent emails to customer service addresses (although I'm less confident that last technique will work).

But the catalogs kept coming!  Not from the same companies (although 30 seconds of each three minute phone call is usually an explanation that they print catalogs months in advance, so you may get two or three more editions before you're off the list for good).  So I decided to try Catalog  Choice.  This non-profit didn't win my approval four years ago when I last visited them because they hadn't heard of many of the catalogs I was receiving, but the internet hive mind seems to have done its job well in the interim --- my post-Christmas armload companies were all present and accounted for.

I know that a few of you probably enjoy your gardening porn, but I hope this will remind others to get rid of junk mail before it starts.  Not only will you prevent waste, you may also find you've developed a more healthy relationship with your mailbox when the only contents are letters from old friends and Christmas cards from the neighbors.

I'm afraid I don't know how to get off those political mailing lists, but I've got another four years to figure that one out....

Our chicken waterer comes with the minimal packaging and I never mail out paper catalogs or sell people's addresses.  Shouldn't that be standard?
Posted Sat Dec 29 08:23:37 2012 Tags:
checking the new pump for flow problems

The new pump slowed down to a drip yesterday.

Turns out to be a clogged exit hose on the U.V. filter.

I think we could've stretched the old pump a little further if I had checked all the hoses first.

Posted Sat Dec 29 14:15:10 2012 Tags:

Composting toilet"Oh, no, honey, I'd never ask you to handle humanure," I reassured Mark when we came to the final stages of negotiation for our composting toilet.  I could tell he was seething over the term "humanure" (which he considers sneaky), so I went on.  "The system I'm thinking of is designed so you don't touch the human waste until it's had at least one solid year to compost.  It's really totally safe!"

With some grumbling, Mark gave in and let me have the composting toilet I'd been campaigning for.  So I expected some snide remarks when I came to him on Friday for help revising a flaw in the system.  The spaces between the wooden slats (which Mark had said were too far apart, but which I'd said needed distance for air flow) had allowed a raccoon to reach in and pull out some half-rotted chicken entrails, along with toilet paper and, um, humanure.

Fixing the composting toiletThere was no "I told you so," but only because Mark is a true gentleman (and a long-suffering husband).  I scooped up the debris to stuff back into the composting chamber while Mark screwed hardware cloth over the offending holes.

Word to the wise --- lots of carbon isn't sufficient to keep vermin out of your composting toilet chamber if you live out in the wilds.  The author of The Humanure Handbook doesn't mention this problem even though he threw all of his household food scraps down the hole, but I think he also lived in suburbia where pesky racoons are probably much less common.

One pest-control option would be to line the entire chamber with hardware cloth, but that might rust into a mess in a few years.  Another option would be to use more, smaller boards spaced closer together for the slats so you have just as much air flow but less space between each board.  We'll wait and see if filling in the most problematic holes with hardware cloth is sufficient, and I may go back to plan B, which keeps anything food-like out of the compost chamber.  I'll keep you posted.

Don't want to handle chicken waste either?  The Avian Aqua Miser is the POOP-free waterer for happy backyard chickens.
Posted Sun Dec 30 08:03:24 2012 Tags:
saving the mulberry tree from a failed fence post that was once a walnut tree

how much is too much for a hand saw when it's better to get the chainsaw?
We used a few walnut trees as fence posts almost 6 years ago back when the Mule Garden was the location of our failed orchard nursery.

One of them started falling recently, threatening our new mulberry tree.

It was one of those situations where starting up the chainsaw would be about the same effort as applying some extra elbow grease to the Felco 600 pruning saw. I'm also leery of cutting with a chainsaw in such an awkward and above the shoulder fashion and concluded that the Felco was the safer choice.

Posted Sun Dec 30 15:30:17 2012 Tags:

After we finish dicussing Folks, This Ain't Normal next week, I'm going to take a break from the book club and work through my winter reading list instead.  Although I won't break these books apart by week, I'll definitely be posting about each one after I finish it, so you're welcome to read along.  Here are the books that piled up all through the growing season:

It's a pretty ambitious reading list for what's left of the winter, especially since I always find more books that really, absolutely must be read right now to sneak into the pile.  Hopefully I'll have time to read most of these books before the spring gardening bug hits, though.

What's on your winter reading list?

Thank you all for your kind reviews of Trailersteading!  I'll admit I was a bit afraid to push the publish button because I wasn't feeling strong enough to deal with a lot of redneck bashing, so I've been very pleasantly surprised by responses to my newest ebook.  Your reviews inspire me to keep writing!
Posted Mon Dec 31 08:13:35 2012 Tags:
DeWalt reciprocating saw review 18 volt

The DeWalt hammer drill came with an 18 volt reciprocating saw. It works good on small pieces of lumber, but disappointed me as a pruning saw.

It's heavy, and it doesn't take long to deplete the battery when the cutting gets tough.

I would dare say myself armed with the Felco 600 pruning saw could outperform someone using the DeWalt 18 volt reciprocating saw with 10 fresh batteries standing by.

Posted Mon Dec 31 16:17:21 2012 Tags:

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

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