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

archives for 06/2013

Jun 2013

Fig cuttingI haven't been the only one having fun with grafting and rooting this year --- two of our readers emailed this week with updates on experiments of their own.  Brian wrote in to say that he ended up with accidentally-rooted fig cuttings in his Tennessee garden:

"I thought you might enjoy this.  I was working in the yard this weekend and saw some small fig leaves on the ground.  I looked closer and it appears the cuttings I took and cut into smaller pieces and threw on the ground  (per Michael Phillips in the Holistic Orchard) just behind where the trees in pots were.  The wood mulch ended up covering some of the cuttings and they formed roots and began to grow in the mulch.  I ended up digging up and potting 5 in total."

(I would have put an exclamation point at least somewhere in that paragraph, so I'll add two here for you to use as you see fit --- !!)

Brian also had quite good success with his more intentional grafting and rooting efforts, managing to salvage some very subpar cuttings I sent him.  His only real failure was trying to graft hardwood cuttings onto a peach --- my understanding is that peaches are best budded in the summer, although I've never tried it myself.

Grafted mulberryMeanwhile, you may recall Gary, who is experimenting with propagating Illinois Everbearing mulberries.  The cuttings that callused for him didn't end up rooting, but he had much better luck with grafting Illinois Everbearing onto wild red mulberries around his farm.  He wrote:

"If you recall I originally wanted to test if I could graft Illinois Everbearing onto common red mulberry rootstock.  The red mulberry volunteers grow in about all fence rows here in Ohio thanks to their popularity with the birds.  I had read online about grafting [Illinois Everbearing] onto white mulberry rootstock but not much info on grafting onto red mulberry.  From what I could read, [Illinois Everbearing] is a hybrid between white and red.  I grafted the [Illinois Everbearing] scionwood onto 2 red mulberry volunteers.  One of those two experiments has taken.  I have included a photo of the progress to date.  I even have a couple of berries on the shoots that have set, so I am looking forward to comparing the flavor difference between the [Illinois Everbearing] and the wild red mulberries."

I owe you updates on my own rooting and grafting experiments (which have been a mixed bag, but with some great successes).  That will have to wait for another post, though.  In the meantime, I hope you'll be inspired by these two success stories to give home-propagation of woody perennials a try.

Our chicken waterer makes care of your backyard flock so easy, you have time to take up another grafting.
Posted Sat Jun 1 07:14:30 2013 Tags:
star plate pieces making a triangle wall

In a perfect world the scrap pieces from one star plate triangle wall should fit together for the next triangle.

I think maybe Lucy carried off one of the pieces from the second triangle, but instead of cutting a new replacement piece we decided to overlap the ill fitting pieces.

The overlapping seems to make the wall more secure and still looks acceptable.

Posted Sat Jun 1 13:54:13 2013 Tags:

I put off deciding whether to buy another package of bees until April, which means that our bees only went in the mail Friday.  With such a late start ahead of them, I figured it wouldn't hurt to prime the pump by giving the new hive a box of nearly-drawn comb, partially filled with pollen and nectar. 

Dismantling a Warre hive

Looking up into a hive bodyIt was time to nadir the old hive anyway, so I killed two birds with one stone, lifting the top two boxes from that hive to the side, replacing the bottom box with two empty boxes, then adding the full boxes of brood back on top.  In a perfect world, I would have left the quilt and roof on during this procedure, but I was working by myself and figured that I could cut corners (and weight) by removing those two components.  I left the sheet of burlap on the top box, though, so I don't think the procedure messed with the Nestduftwarmebindung of the hive too much.  Weight of the two boxes of brood was just shy of too heavy for me (maybe forty pounds? or perhaps thirty since the bulkiness was the real hindrance?).

Top bar comb

HoneybeeOver at the new hive spot, I got to scratch my bee-photographing itch.  That's one of the major downsides of the Warre hive --- you're not supposed to mess with individual frames, so you rarely get to see your bees in action.  Isn't that beautiful, straight comb drawn without foundation?

Fanning bees

I didn't bother brushing off the workers and drones who came along for the ride in the relocated box, but I figure they'll go home tonight.  Then I'll plug up the door so they don't come back tomorrow and rob all that nectar right back to their old hive.

Our chicken waterer protects chickens from heat exhaustion by prompting them to drink plenty of clean water.
Posted Sun Jun 2 07:49:01 2013 Tags:
drill press in wheelbarrow

The Skil drill press is still going strong with its new return spring.

We tried using it on the StarPlate building, but ended up using the electric hand powered one.

The issue was power. Extension cords can only go so far before they lose some punch.

Posted Sun Jun 2 16:20:09 2013 Tags:
Baby apple

Perfectionism has long been a character failing of mine.  When other kids were aiming for straight As in high school, I figured I should keep an average of 98 and above --- 97s were a sign I needed to work harder.  I'm afraid I carried that need for 98% perfection over to the homestead.

Picnic lunch

Years ago, Mark helped me awaken to the fact that striving for perfection results in missing the true joys of this imperfect life.  But try as I might, I only managed to make about a C- on pop quizzes in that subject.

Cut rye

While reading and watching introductory permaculture materials over the last few weeks, though, I had an epiphany.  My main trouble is that I treat our entire homestead like zone 1, with all the high upkeep that choice entails.  (Okay, I treat the house like zone 4, but that's neither here nor there.)  Two people can't maintain over an acre in zone 1 conditions with hand tools and stay sane.

Temporary chicken

I need to think more about how to plan certain portions of the farm as zones 2 and above, but in the meantime, I decreased my stress considerably with some stopgap measures.  The broiler pastures are getting severely overgrazed since the Starplate coop is taking longer than anticipated to finish, but moving at least one flock into temporary pastures is easing pressure there.  We've been wanting to install drip irrigation for the blueberries and mini-apples, but it occurred to me that rearranging my sprinklers a bit would allow quick coverage in the meantime.  And I decided most of the woody perennials are going to get a quick-and-dirty kill mulch rather than a real weeding job this month.

Forest garden

The result?  I got an A+ in noticing the sheer beauty and peace of the farm this weekend.  Creek-walking, bathing in the rain, reading while watching chicks, mini-experiments with silkworms, lightning bugs in the dark.  That's why I moved to the farm, after all --- I'd better enjoy it!

Our chicken waterer keeps the coops closer to perfect by preventing soaked bedding and dirty water.
Posted Mon Jun 3 07:23:25 2013 Tags:
new mulching mower blade close up

I've ordered a total of 8 mulching mower blades from Yard Parts Most of the time the blade shows up the next day through UPS. They really do earn the express part of their name

I think the unique twist shape of the blade is what helps to re-circulate the clippings back up to be mulched, but it also makes it more sensitive to warping if you hit the occasional stump.

We've almost got all the stumps taken care of, but I might not choose a mulching mower in the future due to this issue.

Posted Mon Jun 3 16:33:27 2013 Tags:

The harvest is upon us!  After a week of simply gorging on the fruits, the strawberry harvest has grown beyond even my ability to consume it.  So I cleaned up the food dehydrator and started the first gallon drying.  I figure we may need to do a load a day all week to keep up with the bounty.

Testing garlic

Meanwhile, the Italian Softneck garlic (on the right) is ready to dig.  Music (on the left) and Silverwhite Silverskin are slightly slower to mature and aren't quite ready to harvest yet.

Garlic bulb size

I'm a bit disappointed in the size of our garlic heads this year.  Unlike last year's XXL heads, these are only large.  I suspect the difference is the sawdust our horse manure source started using as bedding last summer instead of straw --- lower-nitrogen compost means smaller vegetables.  On the other hand, we always have far too much garlic, so this year we simply won't give any away.

Curing garlic

The curing rack is back at work, drying up the Italian Softneck garlic.  These racks stayed busy nearly all of the warm season last year, and I suspect they'll keep plugging away all this summer too.  Every year, things are just a little bit easier!

Our chicken waterer is the POOP-free alternative to traditional, filthy waterers.
Posted Tue Jun 4 07:04:31 2013 Tags:
another straw delivery day

67 bales of straw grown on half an acre.

It went up from 4 to 5 dollars per bale plus 20 dollars for delivery.

Still a better deal than the local feed store with the bonus that these bales are tighter.

Posted Tue Jun 4 16:42:09 2013 Tags:
Spraying package of

Part of the reason we had to wait so long for our package of bees is that I wanted fancy bees that had been raised without chemicals.  Last year's chemical-free bees have done very well for us, and, granted, most packages do well the first year, but we have high hopes that spending a bit more on natural bees will make them more likely to survive in the long run without chemicals.

Install bee package

Close warre hiveThis package of bees was even more pricey than last year's --- $169 --- but it's also nearly local and thus more likely to go the distance in our neck of the woods.  We purchased the bees from AzureB in Maryland, but the bees actually came from the mountains of Tennessee. 

Our new colony is a cross of Carniolan and Russian, raised on small-cell, natural comb.  They're bred to be hygenic, meaning the bees spend a lot of time grooming off mites.  By skipping the miticides and breeding the survivor bees, the company is able to raise bees that are much more likely to survive without chemical intervention.

You can read last year's lunchtime series if you're interested in the nuts and bolts of our package installation into a Warre hive.  We'll be feeding our newest colony for a while, but I suspect will be able to slack off in a week or two when the basswood buds unfurl into nectar-laden flowers.

Our chicken waterer keeps our flock healthy as they graze in the bee pasture.
Posted Wed Jun 5 07:07:20 2013 Tags:
mark 21 buckets
using an ATV to tow a trailer full of 5 gallon buckets filled with horse manure

The Harbor Freight people sent the missing hardware pretty fast, but our priorities shifted a bit and the new ATV trailer project got moved down the list.

Seven full buckets of moist and aged horse manure is really too much weight for this lawn trailer, but the lazy side of me didn't want to do an extra trip.

Anna says these 21 buckets should be enough for this week and with any luck we'll get the new trailer finished and modified to carry either 9 or 12 at a time for next week.

Posted Wed Jun 5 16:06:49 2013 Tags:

Usually, we have three strawberry varieties in the garden --- early, midseason, and late.  I hated the late variety we tried last year (Allstar), though, so I ripped it out and didn't replace it with a new late variety (Sparkle) until this spring.  Instead, I just increased my plantings of the early and midseason varieties.

That sounded like a good idea at the time, but then the peak harvest came on...all at once.  Monday, I filled the dehydrator with two gallons of fruits and we ate perhaps another half gallon.  Tuesday was the same, but it became clear the strawberries needed to get picked even faster.  So I asked Mark to get me low-sugar pectin at the grocery store, invited one of our young helpers over as a picker, and planned for Wednesday to be strawberry day.

Bowl of strawberries

Strawberry leaf spotBefore I regale you with what we did with Wednesday's five gallons of strawberries, I should give you the bad news.  This spring's cool, wet conditions were perfect for fungal spread, and the many of the Honeoye plants came down with strawberry leaf spot (Mycosphaerella
fragariae).  This fungus causes a decline in vigor, which means the fruits aren't as sweet and are more prone to rotting.  My solution is to cut out the rotten bits, add more honey than usual when making fruit leather, and mix in the virtually-untouched and still-very-sweet Ozark Beauties.  (Think of this as like making cider --- a combination of varieties leads to a fuller-bodied taste.)

Preparing for
strawberry leather

Leaf spot aside, there were still plenty of fruits to preserve for the winter.  I filled the dehydrator once, put aside enough to fill it again before bed, then moved on to a double recipe of strawberry freezer jam.

Strawberry freezer

We've already preserved more strawberries this week than all of last year, and I figure we'll need at least one more massive strawberry day to use up the rest.

Chickens eating
strawberry tops

Even the chickens were happy.  With all of the rotten strawberries and tops, I had to split a gallon of waste between three flocks to ensure it would all get eaten.  "No problem!" our Leghorn pullets declared.  "We can clean that up lickety-split!"

Our chicken waterer provides refreshing drinks of clean water after our birds are done eating up our kitchen scraps.
Posted Thu Jun 6 07:10:59 2013 Tags:
Haul Master trailer construction

I've got the base of the new Haul Master ATV trailer together today.

The current plan is to make it 3 inches wider on each side by attaching wood which will also be used to fabricate the walls.

These modifications should allow for 9 five gallon buckets to fit snugly inside and maybe by extending the front and back I could squeeze the total to 12.

Posted Thu Jun 6 15:39:05 2013 Tags:
Queen cage

Dead attendant beesOur package of bees was in the mail longer than expected because they got stuck at the post office over the weekend.  The can of syrup still had food in it when they arrived four days later, but the attendant bees had all died.  (Luckily, the queen was okay.)  And there was even a palm-sized piece of comb hanging from the top of the box!

Looking up into a
warre hive

Two days after installing the package, I opened the hive back up to take the queen cage out.  I must have done a better job than usual poking a hole in the candy end, because our matriarch had freed herself and was already lost in the mass of workers and drones.

The photo above is a shot up through the bottom of the hive.  It's tough to tell if our new package of bees has done much because I gave them a box of partially-drawn comb to prime the pump, but they do look busy in there.  Now I'll just feed and nadir as necessary for the rest of the summer --- a hive of bees is definitely a zone 3 endeavor.

Our chicken waterer makes care of your backyard flock clean, easy, and fun.
Posted Fri Jun 7 07:10:28 2013 Tags:
Modified Haul Master lawn trailer to fit 12 five gallon buckets

Got the ATV lawn trailer base together today.

Seeing it with the wheels helped me to decide that it should be able to handle 12 five gallon buckets.

Being able to haul a dozen buckets makes me want to increase the truck bed bucket limit from 21 to 24. I'm pretty sure I could stack a few buckets near the cab and ratchet strap them down.

Posted Fri Jun 7 16:23:57 2013 Tags:
Marbled salamander

I found this marbled salamander under the mulch while planting Thursday.  In the next few minutes, I also turned up a toad and a ringneck snake, along with one of those wolf spiders Song
sparrow nestwith her tiny babies all clinging to her back.

Earlier in the week, a large snapping turtle crawled up through the gate and laid her eggs in the driveway, and a minuscule blue-gray gnatcatcher has been hanging out in the garden while we eat our dinners.  Meanwhile, Mark was careful enough to leave this song sparrow nest behind while cutting rye and weeds in the old house area.

Quite a wild and wonderful week in (south)west Virginia!

Our chicken waterer keeps our domesticated birds happy with clean water.
Posted Sat Jun 8 07:04:46 2013 Tags:
mark Never dump
deleting the dump feature on a lawn trailer

I hate the dumping feature on lawn trailers.

Maybe it works okay for people with "lawns"...but our driveway has enough bumps to trigger the dump feature while moving, which is why I modified ours to never dump.

It was easy to drill a hole where the dump lever slides in and out. A short bolt with a couple of washers and a nut keeps it in no-dump mode for good.

Posted Sat Jun 8 14:36:50 2013 Tags:
Red raspberry

Small broccoliAfter the astonishing, five-gallon day, our strawberry harvest began to decline.  Now we're down to just a gallon or two a day, but that's okay because I'm sated...and the red raspberries are starting to ripen.

Similarly, the kale buds have nearly all turned into flowers, removing raab from the menu, but broccoli is taking their place.  The broccoli heads (like this year's garlic) are smaller than average, but the cold weather has also resulted in very few cabbage worms, so I'm happy.  Other vegetables we're currently eating in profusion include snap peas and lettuce.

Tomato flower

Baby cucumberThe whole garden is starting to look like the coming-attractions section of a homesteading movie.  The first tomato flowers don't mean much since those fruits take a long time to ripen, but cucumber and bean flowers mean we could be enjoying those two vegetables within a week or two.  And don't get me started on the peaches, apples, gooseberries, and blueberries studding the trees and bushes or I'll go back out with the camera and make this post far too long.

What's ripe (or ripening) in your garden?

Our chicken waterer is the POOP-free alternative to traditional, filthy waterers.
Posted Sun Jun 9 06:37:54 2013 Tags:
new hip waders neoprene

I sent back the leaky chest waders and tested out the new neoprene hip waders on Friday.

The boot part is more solid than other waders I've tried... more like a Muck boot.

I decided the chest waders were too heavy and if the water is higher than my hips I don't need to be crossing the creek that day anyway.

Posted Sun Jun 9 14:14:13 2013 Tags:
Silkworms eating

Since I last posted here about our silkworms, they have grown...a lot.  The more serious side of our foray into insect farming is playing out over on our chicken blog, where recent posts have included:

...and I've got a lot more tidbits coming up on topics like how to kill two-hundred silkworms in one fell swoop (oops) and which types of leaves the caterpillars prefer.

Chick eating

However, I thought even those of you uninterested in the nuts and bolts of silkworm culture might like to hear how they eat mulberry leaves using the typewriter method --- nibble in a semi-circle until you come to the end of the line, then skip back to the beginning to start again.  I also tried out a few silkworms on our broody hen's flock and the chicks deemed the caterpillars "wicked!"  (Or at least I'm assuming the speed with which they gulped those silkworms down was an implied superlative.)

Song sparrow in the

Finally, if you don't care for bugs, even combined with cute chicks, here's a song sparrow in the garden to brighten your Monday morning instead.

Having a spare chicken waterer on hand makes it easy to keep chicks hydrated when they turn up in the barn beneath a broody hen.
Posted Mon Jun 10 07:08:09 2013 Tags:

Will Hooker's houseAs I delved into the next round of permaculture lectures, it became clear that the professor had included some topics out of order to fit his field-trip schedule.  Since we don't have that restriction, I recommend you skip around with me and watch lectures 5, 11, and 12 as a set before moving on to lecture 6.

Lecture 11 should really have gone along with the slideshow tour of the professor's urban homestead since this later "lecture" is a field trip to the professor's house.  You'll end up seeing some of the same information over again, but lecture 11 adds in Hooker's wife's perspective, and you also learn more specifics about variety selection (Black Mission is his favorite fig) and design.  (Keep in mind that varieties that work well for him are more likely to suit your homestead if you live in an urban environment near Raleigh, North Carolina, which is in zone 7b.  Some of his favorites have failed miserably for us here in rural zone 6.)

My favorite part of the tour was the twenty minutes Hooker spent in the chicken run (starting around an hour and four minutes into the video).  I'm still working on the best way to match chickens up with compost, and I liked his method of keeping an open-topped compost bin in the chicken run and just letting the chickens hop in and eat what they want.  Although pastures provide more food if you have the space, Hooker's mulched yard also Chicken compost binlooked very effective for the urban environment.  He provides about 10 square feet per bird, keeps the whole area mulched with straw, then rakes out the mulch every two to four weeks to use on the garden.  Finally, he has planted peaches, figs, and kiwis in the run, protecting the last with 3-foot lengths of black PVC pipe, which keeps chickens from eating the tender vines and also protects their bases from late freezes.

Stay tuned for my next post, which will cover lectures 5 and 12, and also the reading for this section of the course:

  • "Orchards, Farm Forestry, and Grain Crops" in Introduction to Permaculture.
  • "Growing a Food Forest" in Gaia's Garden.

  • If you've got the space to graze chickens, my 99 cent ebook Permaculture Chickens: Pasture Basics will save you years of trial and error.
    Posted Mon Jun 10 12:00:25 2013 Tags:
    mark ATV update
    ATV on trailer being tied down with ratchet straps

    Took the ATV in for some repair work today.

    The brakes stopped working and I couldn't determine what's wrong.

    Figured out it will drive off a trailer this size with no problem, but ramps are needed to get it on. We used a couple of 2x6's, but might think about getting some proper ramps in the future so we can drive it up into the bed of the truck and transport it without the trailer.

    Posted Mon Jun 10 16:28:28 2013 Tags:
    Rainy day
    Dear Anna,

    This light rain was a constant in Aug. '75, when I had morning-sickness and was trying to sort thru curing onions, at the Old House at the Store.  A year or 2 earlier, still in that house, it rained all summer, and the bushes expanded, the trees drooped, and Geoff Greene called it "the Mendoty Blues"!  Good weather for ducks....

    Love, Mom

    Propping up peach

    Rain has been a near constant on the farm so far this year, with no end in sight.  This is our seventh year here, and most have been moderate or "dry" except for this year and the summer of 2009.  (I put "dry" in quotes because even our driest years are pretty wet, with our average rainfall being about an inch per week for all twelve months.)

    So I'm taking evasive action.  A few of the peach branches are drooping down toward the ground under the weight of the developing fruits.  I probably should have thinned harder, but as a stopgap measure, I'm propping the low limbs up on fence posts to keep them out of the three-foot fungal zone right above the ground.

    Pruning tomatoes

    And, of course, I'm pruning and training our tomatoes hard.  The toughest part this year has been finding a time when the leaves are dry enough to touch!

    Some of the strawberries are rotting in the wet, but there are so many that even losing 20% barely makes a dent in the harvest.  I've taken to picking the fruits slightly unripe, though, to keep decay at bay.

    What kind of non-chemical fungal-prevention techniques do you use?

    Our chicken waterer keeps our flocks happy with clean water even if they're cooped up due to rain showers.
    Posted Tue Jun 11 07:05:20 2013 Tags:

    Hemenway forest gardenThe theme of Will Hooker's lecture 5 is biomes and trees, and even though I have a poster of the former on my bedroom wall and adore the latter, the lecture bored me stiff.  If you're going to skip one lecture, it should be this one.  Hooker's take-home message, though, is very valid --- if you're not settled in one spot yet, be sure to learn about the ecosystem you move into and tweak your permaculture plans accordingly.

    On the other hand, the associated readings were riveting, so that's what I'll write about today.  As you'll recall, both Toby Hemenway and Bill Mollison included a chapter on forest gardening in their introductory texts, and it's fascinating to compare and contrast their recommendations. 

    Both gurus recommend interplanting trees, shrubs, and herbs, but Mollison focuses in on including lots of legumes to make your forest self-fertilizing, and he also writes about using animals in your orchards.  "Should you be so unfortunate as to inherit a monocultural orchard," he wrote, "add 3-4 hens, a pig, and 4-6 large leguminous trees per 1000 square meters (1/4 acre), with many smaller legumes."  Mollison went on to recommend introducing pigs to your orchard when the trees are three-to-seven years old, then sheep and cattle at seven-to-twenty years.

    Bill MollisonAlthough both authors wrote about cover crops and kill mulches, I preferred Hemenway's suggestions to kill mulch zones 1 and 2, then use low-maintenance cover crops in zone 3.  (Specifically, Hemenway prefers a mixture of clover, annual rye, yarrow, dill, fennel, and daikon radishes that only needs to be mown once or twice a year.)  Mollison adds that your orchard for personal use should be considered zone 2, while any commercial operation extends out into zone 3.

    My main disappointment with both explanations of forest gardens is their recommendation to include prolific understory herbs.  In fact, Mollison writes that broadleaf plants are much better around the feet of young trees than grass is, but my own experience has shown that anything interfering with the root zone of young trees slows growth markedly when compared to a solid mulch.  Of course, my original soil is terrible, so those of you with deep, well-drained loam might have better luck applying these guru's wisdom without tweaking.

    Learn more about cover crops that work in a no-till garden in Homegrown Humus.
    Posted Tue Jun 11 12:01:03 2013 Tags:
    plywood ATV lawn trailer base

    I decided to use 3/4 inch treated plywood to extend the base of the new ATV lawn trailer.

    Thank you Roland for the suggestion.

    8X4 3/4 inch plywood costs 41 dollars and I figure this project will use about 40% of the sheet. The guy at our local lumber store made the cuts for free to make transporting it easier, but we'll have to wait until we get the ATV back to haul it the rest of the way.

    Posted Tue Jun 11 16:11:57 2013 Tags:
    Rooting grapes

    One of the first things I learned to root was grapes, and thus we set out quite a number of vines near the beginning of our time on the farm.  But we didn't have the cash to buy fancy varieties then, so we got the cuttings from a friend who was raising grapes conventionally (with lots of chemicals) to make wine.  Since I wasn't willing to dose our new vines, they came down with every malady under the sun, and last year we completely ripped them out.

    Hardwood grape cuttingNow we're selecting for disease resistance, and also for seedlessness since Mark doesn't like grapes with seeds.  (To be honest, I prefer seedless grapes too, even though I'm a pro at popping a tough-skin, seeded grape in my mouth, masticating, then spitting out the seeds.)  So far, our young Mars Seedless grapes seem to be doing well in the first department, but we won't know about fruiting for a year or two more.

    This spring, Brian sent me a bunch of cuttings from his plants, and the grapes are rooting wonderfully.  So we'll be adding Marquis, Reliance, and Thomcord to our experimental planting this year too.

    Check back in two to four years for results on my disease-resistant, seedless grape experiment.  In the meantime, perhaps our readers would like to chime in about which seedless grapes have done well in their gardens without sprays?

    Our chicken waterer is the POOP-free solution to a filthy homestead problem.
    Posted Wed Jun 12 07:24:56 2013 Tags:

    AJ BullardEven though I'm telling you to watch it out of order, lecture 12 seems to go along with this section on trees and forest gardening.  The video consists of a field trip to AJ Bullard's experimental orchard in Calypso, North Carolina (zone 8).  This seventy-plus-year-old man has been experimenting with fruit tree varieties on his farm since 1967, and distance learners like us really miss out by not getting to taste all of the fruits being offered.  We can, however, take advantage of his wisdom to learn about varieties we might want to try in our own gardens.

    Bullard tested 35 varieties of pears for dessert quality (flavor) and resistance to fire-blight, and proclaimed Shin-li his favorite (although one of his trees of this variety had moderate fire-blight damage).  An even more extensive fig planting resulted in the recommendation of Celeste, Kadota, and King, while his favorite Asian persimmon is Fuyu.

    Mulberry stars (which Bullard explained are his third-favorite type of fruit) consist of Silk Hope and Pakistan alba.  In fact, I planted the former in my garden this past winter and am still looking forward to tasting the fruits, although I'm disappointed to learn in this video that the variety was named after a town and actually produces leaves unpalatable to silkworms.  And, although Bullard's description of Pakistan alba sounds fascinating, I recommend that readers outside his location take the internet's advice and only plant this early-wakening mulberry in coastal areas of zone 8, California, and Oregon, where late frosts are seldom a problem.

    Next up (in a week...or more), Lecture 6 will return to basics with an emphasis on design.  The assignments to prepare for the lecture include:

    • End of Suburbia
    • Gaia's Garden --- chapter 3
    • Introduction to Permaculture --- the part of chapter 2 on design (although I'll probably just read the whole chapter), the part of chapter 3 on patterns (ditto), and pages 95 to 111 in chapter 5 (not sure what pages this is in my older edition)

    I hope you'll join me as we continue to work through this free permaculture video series.

    If you'd like more reading material while waiting for the next installment in this series, my paperback presents fun and easy projects for each weekend of the year to jumpstart your path to self-sufficiency.
    Posted Wed Jun 12 12:40:57 2013 Tags:
    how to carry half a sheet of plywood with a diy harness

    Yesterday I mentioned how I was going to wait until we get the ATV back to haul in the plywood piece, but the need for horse manure is strong this time of year...strong enough to inspire a do it yourself rope harness.

    Posted Wed Jun 12 16:08:23 2013 Tags:
    Female asparagus

    Last fall, I wrote that the offspring of my all-male asparagus plants looked like they might be all-male as well.  Less than half of the young plants had bloomed their first fall, but every bloomer at the time was male.  Unfortunately, it turns out that only the males bloomed their first year, because now asparagus alley is sporting lots of tiny green balls on the feathery fronds.  In fact, the planting turned out to be 60% female!  I could pull out the female plants now that they've identified themselves and add some new seeds, but the truth is that getting to eat asparagus next year from this planting trumps higher yields in the long run for me, so I'll leave it as-is.  But it's a handy data-point --- saving seeds from all-male asparagus doesn't necessarily give you any gender advantage in the offspring.

    Hardy kiwi

    Another problematic perennial that's come to my attention this week is our hardy kiwis.  We planted two females and a male in July 2008, and have been waiting for fruits ever since.  For years, I thought the problem was late spring frosts that inevitably nipped back the kiwis' young growth, but this year's cold spells missed all but the lowest leaves...and still no blooms.  Hardy kiwis are supposed to fruit by year 5 at the latest, and this is year 6.  Any ideas, or will I be forced to pull out my elegant vines, to be replaced with something more productive?  I've got newly rooted figs and gooseberries looking for a spot in the garden, so the area won't go to waste, but I hate to give up on my dream of homegrown kiwis.

    High density apples

    Lest you think our perennials are all depressing, I should note that several of our apple trees seem to be keeping their fruits.  In fact, apples on the Early Transparent (a variety that usually ripens in late June in our neck of the woods) are starting to hang pendant and to look like real apples!  I can hardly wait to taste apples from our own trees, and I'm thrilled that one of the first will be a taste test of the same variety in a high density method versus in a forest garden environment.

    The Avian Aqua Miser is Mark's invention that brings clean water to the backyard.
    Posted Thu Jun 13 06:50:17 2013 Tags:
    securing vent holes with hardware wire

    The high demands of the summer garden slowed down for just a minute today allowing me to do some work on the Star Plate chicken coop.

    We decided to leave a vent hole towards the top of three of the walls.

    I attached hardware cloth with drywall screws and washers to keep out predators.

    Posted Thu Jun 13 16:28:13 2013 Tags:
    Thinned red

    Even though I didn't mention it on my post about fungal-disease prevention, another big facet of my campaign is summer pruning.  This is something I do anyway to allow light to hit fruits and to prevent trees from putting too much energy into watersprouts, but the process has a side effect of letting fruits dry off faster so they're less prone to blights.

    With that in mind, I started wondering if thinning the fall-fruiting canes of my everbearing raspberries was in order.  I thin out the overwintering canes so the spring-bearing shoots are spaced apart, but last year I felt I should have repeated the endeavor in early summer to get larger fall berries.  The raspberry patches had turned into quite a thicket this year (even more so than usual), so my urge to thin was also prompted by wanting to be able to see the currently ripening fruits during this first harvest season of the year.


    This is an experiment (so replicate it at your own risk) since I've never read about anyone thinning their raspberries in the summer.  But it felt right --- the photos above both show the patch after thinning out over half of the fall shoots, and you can tell the canes are still quite dense.  As an added benefit, I was able to layer the cut-off stems (and any weeds I found in the patch) along the sides of the row to top off the mulch.

    Rooting figs

    Of course, I'm also thinning the trees I usually visit at this time of year (primarily the peaches, although heavy fruit set has resulted in fewer watersprouts this year than usual).  When I stopped by our largest fig, I wasn't sure whether it needed any pruning, but I did decide to rip up any small shoots around the trunk.  It turns out three had already rooted!  If I didn't kill them by leaving them in a bucket of water during a blazing afternoon, these baby figs will go into pots with my other rooting cuttings and then into the ground this fall.

    Ripening black

    The last item on my summer-pruning agenda is the black raspberries and blackberries, who get their tops pinched instead of being thinned.  Looks like we'll be adding another variety to our daily berry harvest soon!

    Our chicken waterer keeps hens happy and chicks healthy.
    Posted Fri Jun 14 06:55:53 2013 Tags:
    almost finished with starplate wall chicken coop

    Got 2 more walls on the StarPlate chicken coop done today.

    Next up is the roof, a nice door, and 2 half wall sections next to the door.

    Posted Fri Jun 14 16:26:35 2013 Tags:
    Strawberry fool

    Washing the dehydrator traysEven though the technical name for strawberries that crop all at once is "June-bearing," our June-bearers are usually May-bearers.  This year's cool spring pushed the fruits forward in time, but even so, we're nearing the end of our harvest season.  Monday, I put the last load in the dehydrator (bringing us to over two gallons of strawberry leather preserved for winter), and ever since we've been gorging on a mere 3 quarts a day.

    New strawberry plantNext year, matters will be different because we'll once again have a late-bearing variety to join our early and midseason varieties.  I ordered 25 Sparkle strawberries from Nourse Farms and have been highly impressed by the plants' vigor.  The roots were about four times as large as those I got from Burgess last year, and the plants are already trying to bloom.  (I snip the flowers off so we'll get good crops next year.)

    In the meantime, we're eating red raspberries, the first black raspberries, and are hoping the blueberries and gooseberries start to bear before the last strawberries disappear.  It's so sweet to have eaten no storebought fruit for weeks.

    Our chicken waterer helps you become self-sufficient with eggs and meat by making care of your backyard flock easy and clean.
    Posted Sat Jun 15 08:12:54 2013 Tags:
    ATV lawn trailer bucket hauler

    The ATV bucket hauler is near completion.

    Adding the plywood extension will increase the capacity from 6 buckets to 12.

    I guess I should paint the wood red to match the tongue, but will most likely go with whatever exterior paint I can find in the barn.

    Posted Sat Jun 15 16:18:36 2013 Tags:

    Creating a Life TogetherCreating a Life Together, by Diana Leafe Christian, is a step-by-step guide for building intentional communities.  Rather than summing up the key points the way I usually do in my book reviews, though, I want to take this opportunity to go off on a tangent and explore one of the exercises the book recommends as part of a community visioning process.  The idea is to write about times when you've felt like part of a community or a shared group activity, then to use these recollections to consider what makes community-building work for you specifically.

    Beyond my family, the first community I met was the science-fiction club at college, which turned out to be a sort of non-drinking, non-gender-specific, geeky fraternity.  In retrospect, it's easy to see why the community worked so well --- we had shared interests, we ate nearly every lunch and dinner together (four meals a week is the book's recommendation as the minimum shared meals in a community), most of us went to folk-dance classes together (shared movement seems to bond people), and we had a high tolerance for unconventional or even problematic members (since that was most of us at one time or another).  On the other hand, our club had a seamy underbelly in that people who attended fewer events were considered para-club members, and they were never really included.  Later, I was to discover that this aspect holds true across many communities and makes it tough for introverts to find a good balance of personal space and community involvement.

    During my year abroad, I spent four months in Monteverde, Costa Rica, where a band of expatriat American Quakers had developed an intentional community in the midst of Hispanic culture.  Although my father is a Quaker, he didn't convert until I was a teenager Monteverde, Costa Ricaand he didn't drag the rest of us along with him, so I was definitely in the "para" category in Monteverde.  (My short-term stay also put me in that category, since the community sees lots of lookie loos passing through and can't commit limited energy to each one of them.)  So even though I was inspired by the community potlucks, their shared library accessible by walking paths, and the way they seemed to involve their Costa Rican neighbors, I never felt like part of the Monteverde community.

    Fast forward ahead a decade, and Mark and I had settled a mile down the road from another intentional community.  After a few years of sporadically attending their events (and perhaps because most of them knew my parents during the 70s and 80s), there were even noises about asking us to join.  I like my crazy experiments (no way urine fertilizer and trailersteading were going to fly there), and I'm just too antisocial to live that close to anyone except Mark, so we graciously declined.  Again, we've ended up in a para-community situation, although this time I feel a little closer to the core because we're definitely in the area for the long haul and we share many of the community's ideals.

    Intentional communityBut we still miss having like-minded friends our own age around.  (As you probably gathered, the neighboring intentional-community members are primarily from our parents' generation.)  So Mark and I have considered crazy community-building concepts of our own from time to time.  We'd tossed around the idea of buying up a large tract of land, planning it as a community, then selling tracts to interested and interesting folks.  Or perhaps finding a couple-sized homestead nearby and partnering with someone who might trade labor for the cost of the land.  Or finding a partner to do the day-to-day work but being involved in the bigger-picture planning and implementation of an educational/internship program.  The truth is, though, that even if we found just the right people, neither Mark nor I has the socializing budget to put in the hours required to build a real community from scratch.

    Which brings me to my main complaint about Creating a Life Together (and the intentional-community movement it portrays so well).  Even though most of the communities in the book are located in rural settings, they're essentially country homes for city people --- the inhabitants generally come from urban areas, they live clustered together on their new land, and they are presumably highly-social people.  There's a short segment titled "Creating privacy in the midst of community," but the page basically consists of telling you to plan your house so you can feel alone when you're indoors.  Isn't the whole point of homesteading to be able to do whatever you want outdoors?

    So here's my thought-question for our readers.  Have you ever met a community that adequately involves introverts without draining their social energy past their limits?  Or is community really just for extroverts, no matter where it's located?

    Our chicken waterer keeps intentional communities of chickens happy with dry coops and clean water.
    Posted Sun Jun 16 06:32:48 2013 Tags:
    hitch coupler installation to a lawn trailer diy photo

    Adding a proper hitch coupler to the ATV bucket hauler turned out to be easy.

    One of the top holes lines up with the Haul Master tongue. The other hole is just barely off. Securing the first hole with a bolt and nut makes for the perfect drill guide for the second hole.

    I topped it off with a somewhat toxic adhesive to keep the nuts from loosening. Since Toluene was banned in Europe in 2004 for sale to consumers I make sure to not get any on my skin.

    Posted Sun Jun 16 15:52:15 2013 Tags:
    Honeybee colony

    Our new package hasn't done all that much, but they seem to have settled into their box of partially-drawn comb, and perhaps have drawn a bit more.  By listening at the side of each box, I gather that the top box is completely empty still, so the colony has plenty of room to spread out.  These guys are going through a quart of heavy sugar water every two to three days, but seem to be finding lots of wild food as well.  Since the workers are bringing home plenty of pollen, I'm assuming the queen is laying and the hive will be expanding soon.

    Empty hive box

    Since I added two empty boxes to the bottom of our oldest warre hive, taking a photo up through the bottom only tells me so much.  But I'm guessing by the mass of bees I can see between the bottom box's bars (and by listening at the side of each box) that the bees have drawn comb in the next box up and are hard at work there.  They're also buzzing busily in the third box from the bottom, but the fourth box up has gone much quieter, suggesting it's full of capped honey.

    Basswood flower buds

    Neither hive needs another box yet, but I'm going to keep a close eye on them since the basswood buds look nearly ready to open.  This has been a stellar year for nectar, and I suspect that with the help of the basswood, I'll be getting an appreciable harvest from the older warre hive despite their swarm.

    Our chicken waterer keeps hens happy with clean water.
    Posted Mon Jun 17 07:06:06 2013 Tags:
    painting the new ATV bucket hauler blue with Lucy

    Found a can of good blue exterior paint that we got from the Lowes reject bin years ago.

    There should be enough to do the underside and maybe a second coat.

    I guess I'll be checking out the reject bin the next time I'm there...It's very convenient to have a can standing by for future projects.

    Posted Mon Jun 17 15:01:18 2013 Tags:
    Garlic harvest

    Two weeks ago, I harvested our Italian Softneck garlic, and this week the Music and Silverwhite Silverskin were finally ready to join their precocious siblings on the curing racks.  It's shaping up to be a mediocre year for alliums, probably because of a cold winter, lack of sun during the critical bulking up period this spring, and perhaps mineral burnCuring potato onionsAlthough I'm a bit disappointed that my garlic heads are only 75% to 100% as large as storebought rather than 100% to 200% as large, we plant extra to hedge our bets, so we'll still enjoy a garlicky season.

    Half of the potato onions were also ready this week (with the ones closer to the shady hill needing a bit more time).  Again, the bulbs were smaller than last year, but larger than the year before when I gave up on one variety and changed over to this one.  With the curing racks completely full of garlic, I had to cobble together makeshift arrangements for the onions.  Most went into old freezer baskets propped off the ground, but I'm hoping even the ones on this gutter downspout (not under the gutter) have enough airflow to dry well.

    Bowl of berries

    Completely unrelated, we're making the transition to raspberries, and loving every minute of it.  At the peak of strawberry season, I can't imagine wanting any other berries, but now that the quality is declining in the strawberry beds, the raspberries become my favorites.  A delicious quart full!

    Our chicken waterer keeps hens healthy so they can lay more eggs.
    Posted Tue Jun 18 06:49:38 2013 Tags:
    StarPlate chicken coop wall details part 3

    The last full wall to be filled in on the StarPlate chicken coop didn't have much space for board attachment, which is why I decided to install these boards on the inside.

    Posted Tue Jun 18 16:10:31 2013 Tags:
    Plump silkworms

    My brother and sister-in-law are visiting from California, a twice-per-decade event, so I'm mostly playing hooky this week.  I apologize in advance if my posts are on the light side, or if I bore you with family photos.  (For the record, the images above are not representations of my family.  I managed to take 17 pictures of silkworms and 16 pictures of plants on my first visiting day...but none of my long-lost family members.  I'll try to do better.  But silkworms are just so darn cute!)

    Cucurbit invasion

    Anyway, on to the meat of this post, which is --- cucurbits!  It's officially summer when the members of Cucurbitaceae begin to take over the world.

    Pickling cucumbers

    Summer squash bloomWe ate our first cucumber on Tuesday, and many more are just about ready to be consumed.  The summer squash are also starting to bloom, albeit only male flowers at first.

    Mark asked me a couple of weeks ago if we'd planted fewer cucumbers than last year, when I sent him to town with bagsful to dispose of and even the librarians got sick of the bounty.  I'm ashamed to say, I kept my planting at the same size.  If our new varieties and methods overflow our coffers with cucumbers again this year, I'll cut back, but with the wetness of the season, I'm kinda glad I'm hedging my bets by overplanting.

    Our chicken waterer keeps coops dry and water clean for your flock.
    Posted Wed Jun 19 07:23:30 2013 Tags:
    using scrap tin for the half walls on the StarPlate chicken coop

    I decided to fill in the StarPlate half walls with some scrap tin.

    The bottom piece sits in a 3 inch trench to discourage digging.

    Posted Wed Jun 19 15:18:55 2013 Tags:
    Gooseberry layering

    This has been a great year for free fruiting perennials.  Not only do our figs and grapes seem to be rooting very well, I found another eight gooseberry plants that have popped up around the base of one of our older gooseberries.  With such a profusion of riches on hand, the question becomes --- how many of these newly-rooted fruit plants should I put in the ground this fall, and how many should I give away?  Plus, I also want to fit in another hardy kiwi since I've decided to give ours a few more years' grace and also to try the specific variety and source Throwback at Trapper Creek suggested.

    There are two main factors involved in my decisions --- filling in physical gaps in the core homestead and filling in temporal gaps in our fruiting schedule.  Starting with the latter, the table below sums up fruit plants we already have on the farm (or are definitely installing this fall):


    Variety Harvest date Dependability Work
    Fruiting now
    Honeyberry, Blue Sea ?early May High? High
    Honeyberry, Blue Velvet ?early May High? High
    Strawberries mid-May to mid-June High High x
    Raspberry, Caroline Red June through Fall High High x
    Black Raspberry, Jewel early June Medium-high High
    Raspberry, Bristol Black mid to late June Medium-high High x
    Apple, Early Transparent
    late June
    Red Currant late June High? High
    Gooseberry, Poorman late June High High x
    Gooseberry, Invicta late June High High x
    late June to ?Aug.
    Blackberry July Medium High x
    Plum, Imperial Epineuse ?July Low? Low
    Apple, Pristine July to Aug. Medium? Low
    Apple, Summer Rambo July to Aug. Medium? Low
    Grape, Mars Seedless ? late July to early Aug. Medium? Medium
    Grape, Thomcord August Medium? Medium
    Peach, White mid August Low Low x
    Peach, Cresthaven md Aug. Low Low
    Plum, Seneca mid Aug. Low? Low
    Grape, Reliance ? mid Aug. Medium? Medium
    Fig, Celeste ? Aug to frost High? Low
    Apple, Zestar! Sept. Medium? Low
    Grape, Marquis ? Sept. Medium? Medium
    Kiwi, Hardy, Dunbarton Oaks Sept - Oct Low? Low
    Apple, Liberty Sept to Oct. Medium? Low
    Apple, Sweet Sixteen Sept. to Oct. Medium? Low
    Fig, Chicago Hardy Sept. through frost High? Low x
    Pear, Seckel Sept. (and keeps) High? Low
    Pear, Keiffer late Sept. (and keeps) High? Low
    Apple, Winesap late Sept. (and keeps) Medium? Low
    Watermelon October Medium-high Low x
    Kiwi, Hardy, Ananasnaya Oct. Low? Low
    Apple, Virginia Beauty Oct. (and keeps) Medium? Low x
    Apple, Red Empire Oct. to Dec. Medium? Low x
    Apple, Grimes Golden Oct. to Jan. Medium? Low
    Apple, Enterprise Oct. to Jan. Medium? Low

    Even though it seems like we've got the whole fruiting season covered, it's worth noting that some plants are very undependable --- for example, we've only gotten fruits from our peaches one year in three so far.  Other plants --- like most berries --- are quite dependable, but take so much time to pick that I can only handle so many plants.  Plus, who knows which of the varieties that haven't yet fruited will end up working for us, and which ones will be ripped out for one reason or another?

    Fig cuttingsAll of that said, there are potential gaps in August (if the peaches fail), September (if the apples fail), and among keepers.  Increasing our fig planting seems like a good way to potentially fill the August and September gap with a dependable and only medium-work fruit, and grapes might also hedge our bets during the late-summer period.  I suspect we don't really need any more gooseberries, though, since they produce at the same time as Early Transparent apples, black raspberries, and red currants, but I'll slip in a couple since gooseberry bushes are small and fruit even in partial shade, so they help fill troublesome spatial gaps.

    Speaking of which, where do I have room for new plants?  We're working hard not to expand our boundaries (except for potential pastures), but there are still a remarkably large number of sites right here in our core homestead:

    Possible plants
    By well
    shady, kill-mulched spot
    1 gooseberry
    Along pasture fence
    shady, kill-mulched spot
    1 gooseberry
    extra gooseberries
    Gaps in forest garden
    Mostly sunny, high-groundwater (but can plant on mounds)
    5 figs
    Old grape row in mule garden
    Sunny, trellised
    3 grapes (or 2 grapes and 1 kiwi)
    South-facing side of gully
    Sunny, would have to be terraced (lots of work)
    3 grapes
    South side of front porch
    Scorching sun in summer, but potential frost pocket

    Homestead mapThe spots to slip in gooseberries are pretty obvious, and the figs will work well in the forest garden as long as I build quality mounds to keep their feet dry.  But what's a good fit for the porch-side plantings, which have the primary goal of shading our living quarters in the summer?  I'm leaning toward grapes at the moment, although I'm not sure the plants will thrive there.

    I know it seems very early to be planning our perennial plantings, but if I set my sight on new spots now, I can just dump wheelbarrows full of weeds there to build mounds and act as a kill mulch, keeping soil preparation time to a bare minimum.  Plus, knowing how much room I have for new perennials keeps me from trying out twenty new varieties that won't fit in our core homestead.  (That said, if you have types of fruit to suggest that would round out our planting, I'm always open to suggestions because there's nothing I love more than trying new plants.)

    Our chicken waterer is the POOP-free solution to a filthy homestead problem.
    Posted Thu Jun 20 07:14:04 2013 Tags:
    star plate door frame adjustment

    The ground we built our StarPlate chicken coop on has a medium degree slant.

    We decided chickens didn't need a perfectly level floor, so we elected to not dig out a flat spot or prop one end up.

    Making the door frame square seems to be a good way of correcting for the hillside slant.

    Posted Thu Jun 20 15:22:57 2013 Tags:
    Bird looking at
    "How do you keep birds from eating your strawberries?"

    --- I've forgotten who posted this question, but someone did a few weeks ago

    RaspberriesWe don't generally have problems with birds in the strawberries.  (In the photo above, the cardinal is actually stealing some buckwheat seeds that weren't adequately covered by straw.)  However, I've noticed a lot of bird activity in the black raspberries, and a minimal amount of damage to the red raspberries.

    I don't know why the blacks are preferred --- perhaps just because they're small enough for a bird to easily gulp down, or the higher proportion of seeds makes them more nutritious.  But even with lots of birds eating, we've been getting quite a good harvest.

    I may change my tune when our blueberries come into full production, but so far, I don't net any of our berries or worry too much about bird predation.  There's so much wild food around that our berries are just a side dish for them, and a main crop for us.

    In the meantime, I've noticed phoebes picking cabbage worms off the broccoli and have even noticed a cardinal swooping down to catch an insect in midair.  (I'm well aware that cardinals are supposed to be obligate seed- and fruit-eaters, but clearly they don't know that.)  So, in the long run, having birds in our garden is a net plus.

    Our chicken waterer is the POOP-free solution to a filthy homestead problem.
    Posted Fri Jun 21 07:22:16 2013 Tags:
    How I modified a Harbor Freight Haul Master lawn trailer

    I used a total of twenty 3/4 inch sheet metal screws to attach the plywood extension to the base of the Haul Master lawn trailer.

    The rear side has 6 holes you can use that were meant for a side brace if you add the right size washer. The other 14 points will need a pilot hole.

    Posted Fri Jun 21 15:51:55 2013 Tags:
    Family from above

    Tales of books read, berries wildcrafted, and rivers swum.

    Harvesting mulberry

    Only family truly understands how awesome it is that there's a mulberry tree along the driveway near where you're visiting, so you can snag some silkworm fodder on the way home.

    Our chickens dealt well with my neglect this week since their automatic chicken waterer makes them very low maintenance.  (Plus, Mark picked up remarkably huge amounts of slack.  Thanks, honey!)
    Posted Sat Jun 22 06:34:45 2013 Tags:

    cabelas neoprene hip wader modelI forgot to mention that the new neoprene hip waders have the Cabelas brand name.

    The neoprene material seems much better suited for this application than the previous rubber hip waders. I think the rubber dried out a bit and started cracking which caused small leaks.

    Neoprene cost a lot more...these were close to 100 dollars, but well worth it if they last twice as long as the rubber ones.

    Posted Sat Jun 22 16:23:47 2013 Tags:
    Barn rainbow

    The Good Life LabWendy Jehanara Tremayne sent me a copy of her beautiful and unconventional book, The Good Life Lab a few weeks ago, and once I finally cracked the cover, I swallowed the whole thing down in a few sittings.  The first two-thirds is a memoir/treatise on how and why Wendy and Mikey quit the fast life in New York City for a small-town homestead in New Mexico, and the last third is full of useful tips such as using rainwater in place of distilled water in batteries.  I suspect that anyone who enjoys this blog would love Wendy's book (and chances are you'd also enjoy the blog she shares with her partner and the profile I included about Wendy and Mikey in Trailersteading).

    The book's spare, easy-to-read prose has deep thought underneath, combined with just the right level of mysticism to make me think without turning me off.  Wendy explains that people in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, barter everything...except the one thing that person uses to make a living, which is always paid for.  She writes about turning online community into real community with the addition of a week-long, in-person visit of her favorite bloggers, and she walks you through her decision to keep her businesses at the cottage level so that she and her partner can do it all at home.

    Greywater wetland

    Wendy also has a solution for one of the most thorny issues I see among homesteaders --- they want to quit their jobs, but don't know how they would fill their time instead.  She wrote:

    "Living a decommodified life is an invitation to discover what you most love to do.  Not all of us have to leave our jobs to find purposeful work.  Some do.  If you should become voluntarily unemployed, consider reclaiming the skills you once gave to your employment.  Our jobs contain morsels of our own desire that we modified to meet the constraints of a  commodified world.  Seek out these morsels.  They contain clues that may help you discover what you most wish to do."

    (Apparently, what I most wished to do this weekend was to play in the rain, and a storm obliged by raging through.  If I had any doubt that I live in paradise, a rainbow ending in the side of the barn helped clear up that issue.  Which is a long way of explaining that the photos in this post have nothing to do with Wendy's book, except for inspiration.)

    Our own cottage business is hand-making chicken waterers that bring clean water to backyard birds around the world.
    Posted Sun Jun 23 07:29:44 2013 Tags:
    how to install a hitch coupler onto a lawn trailer

    In addition to the two holes on top of the hitch coupler you can also use two on each side.

    I'm thinking the top two will be enough, mainly because I couldn't quite figure out the best way to line up where to drill the hole on the tongue.

    One thought I had was to use a nail on the coupler side and hit it with a hammer to make an indent where the hole needs to be drilled, but it's a difficult space to get a hammer in and I was ready for it to be done.

    Posted Sun Jun 23 16:42:36 2013 Tags:
    Cat model

    As much as I love maps and other two-dimensional representations of the world, sometimes it's easier to think if you visualize in three dimensions.  So Huckleberry and I sat down to model various options for sunroom or greenhouse add-ons to the south side of the trailer

    The more we cut and pasted, the more we began to lean toward the sunroom option with a face of windows and a solid roof.  We live in an area with both cold winters and hot summers, so it's always a balancing act to decide which aspect we mitigate most.  A greenhouse would really boost winter temperatures and provide much more growing area...but would result in a heat problem in the summer.  I've been reveling in the lower interior temperatures (high of 82 instead of 100 on ultra-hot days) since our new trailer roof went on, and I don't want to risk overheating our interior again.  So my current thought is that anything attached to our living space should be a sunroom with a non-translucent roof.

    Sunroom model

    That said, I do want to ensure we have space for two large dwarf citrus plants (represented by clover in the model above) as well as a real bathtub/shower.  After playing around with the model for a while, I settled on including one of our IBC tanks to collect roof water and feed a thermosyphon solar hot water heater (located outside --- summer use only), while also providing thermal mass inside the sunroom.

    Questions I'm pondering about this aspect of the project:

    • Will the tank be high enough to provide the water pressure Mark craves from his shower without a pump or pressure tank?
    • Is it feasible to elevate the heavy, water-filled IBC tank that high?
    • If we opt for a concrete slab floor (extra work, but more thermal mass and easier to deal with watery projects), will it make it a nightmare to plumb an exit pipe channeling overflow from the rainwater collection tank and the bathtub out to the greywater wetland?
    Sunroom location

    Sunroom locationIn terms of location, I've been envisioning this add-on buffering the area between the wood stove alcove and the front porch, where we already have a bank of south-facing windows opening into the trailer.  This zone gets lots of sun, is close to our primary heat-source (so will be relatively easy to keep above freezing for the citrus in the winter), and will back up against one openable window (making it easy to monitor airflow between the sunroom and the main trailer. 

    On the other hand, this location basically negates the windows we already have in place.  Perhaps it would be smarter to turn part of the current front porch into a sunroom, since adding windows there would increase our solar gain (and the whole project would be much cheaper since the roof is already on the porch).  But the porch location would also add more to our heating costs since I currently keep the portion of the trailer behind the front porch only minimally heated in the winter, and the citrus would need more warmth.

    Homestead paths

    Read more about sunrooms in this 99 cent ebook!And then there's human (and dog) traffic patterns to consider.  The map above shows our current major activity routes, all of which have wider-than-usual access so that Lucy doesn't accidentally trample my garden when she's excited and so we don't have to be constantly brushing past plants when we carry things in and out.  A sunroom between the wood stove alcove and front porch would block one of those paths, which might cause problems with Lucy in the garden and would definitely inconvenience Mark twice a week when he lugs bulky bags of chicken waterers down the shortcut to town.

    So, lots to ponder, but at least our model got the ball rolling.  I suspect the sunroom will be our big, expensive project of the year, so I want to put as much thought into planning as possible.

    Posted Mon Jun 24 07:44:58 2013 Tags:

    Egyptian onion setsIt's that time again --- the season to send out more Egyptian onion propagules into the world!  Those of you who have read The Weekend Homesteader know that this perennial green onion is easy to grow and to cook with.  (You can read more about it here.)  To sweeten the pot, Egyptian onions produce top bulbs copiously at this time of year, which is an incentive to share with friends.

    This year's Egyptian onion giveaway is an everyone-wins affair.  Just share your favorite Walden Effect post on the social media platform of your choice (facebook, google plus, twitter, pinterest, your blog, etc.), email with your mailing address, and I'll mail a box of about 100 onion top bulbs to your doorstep to fill your garden (and neighborhood) with green-onion goodness.  I'll keep mailing out top bulbs until we run out (at which point I'll make a note on this post), but I expect we'll have enough for at least the first twenty folks.  Enjoy!

    Edited to add: All of the onions have been homed.  Thanks to everyone who entered!

    Posted Mon Jun 24 12:03:28 2013 Tags:
    Outdoor products Arrowhead back pack

    I'm really liking this new Outdoor Products Arrowhead 8.0 framed back pack.

    I've had it for a few months now and think it's superior to all the other book bags.

    It's got a hefty handle that lets you carry it as a bag and plenty of zippered pockets to stow that back up flashlight.

    Posted Mon Jun 24 15:40:23 2013 Tags:
    Greywater wetland

    One of our fun projects this past winter was creating a greywater wetland to deal with the water coming out of our kitchen sink.  You can read more about the wetland by following the links below:

    So far, the wetland has been quite effective, although it has the usual growing pains.  I'll show you what's working (and what's not) below.


    Budding cattailThe water from our kitchen sink is enough to keep the area where I planted cattails (just below the inlet) sodden.  This has resulted in very happy plants, one of which is putting up a flowering spike.  I'm ultra-excited about the spike because I've wanted to taste cattail flowers ever since Eric blogged about them, but I'm too busy at this time of year to make weekly trips to the wetland up the holler to check on the cattails' progress.  This year, we'll definitely get to taste at least one cattail flower!


    PondThe pond is also doing very well, and has already produced half a gallon of duckweed for the garden.  Too bad our chickens still won't eat the stuff....  If we had a much larger pond, though, I could see harvesting duckweed to use as a high-nitrogen mulch around seedlings.

    You'll notice I also installed a Chinese lotus in the little pond (which is just barely deep and large enough to keep such a hefty plant happy).  The inspiration for the lotus came from Paradise Lot, whose author explains that the seeds produced by lotuses are large, tasty nuts.  (I'll admit that lotuses are also one of the few ornamental plants I just love and would install without a use.)

    The one failed experiment related to the pond is the mushroom logs serving as a retaining wall on the banks.  While the logs work well and do help anchor the pond visually, they weren't shaded enough, so the bark dried up and flaked off, killing the fungi.  This experiment might have worked if I'd had the shrubs established on the retaining wall a year before adding the mushroom logs, but shouldn't be repeated as-is.

    Mowing wetland edges

    Another factor to consider if you're replicating our design is maintenance.  Without a weedeater, it would be much tougher to keep the irregular edges of the wetland in line, but, luckily, Mark is a pro at cutting exactly where I ask him to.  (This is a trait to put on your list for World's Best Permaculture Husband, in case you're still single.)

    Wringer washer

    Okay, this picture isn't really informative, but I love the elderberry flowers and our wringer washer together.


    And, speaking of beauty, the pond is attracting lots of fascinating (and useful) life, like the damselfly above.  A frog has also taken up residence, and a large black rat snake slithered away when I approached to take photos.

    Okay, I can hear you saying, but what about the primary purpose of the wetland --- dealing with greywater?  On the plus side, we no longer have a swamp in the path outside our back door, and the wetland itself doesn't seem to have any odor or to attract Lucy's attention.  However, in the last month, we've noticed a swampy smell wafting up the pipes into the kitchen sink. 

    Greywater pipingOddly enough, we never had a smell problem from our much lower-tech drain-out-back, which makes me think the issue is that I didn't get the junction between the ten-foot pieces of pipe completely level.  If that area dipped down, food scraps (or just nutrient-rich water) could collect there and rot anaerobically, creating the swampy smell.

    The short-term solution seems to be leaving the strainers in the sink, which blocks nearly all the smell.  In the longer-run, our first fix attempt will be to hook up at least one of the gutter outlets to each of the greywater lines (as originally planned) so heavy rains will flush out any pockets of food.  If that fails, we can always add a trap to our sink drains as Dirk suggested, which should block any smell from wafting back into the house.

    That small problem aside, we wholly recommend the greywater wetland for those of you living in climates with cold winters and plenty of rain.  If you want to put the greywater to more use (and don't have freezing winters), you might instead check out mulch basins.  But, whatever you do, don't waste energy by sending greywater down the drain into a sewage system!

    Our chicken waterer is an easy solution for keeping backyard hens hydrated with clean water.
    Posted Tue Jun 25 07:32:21 2013 Tags:

    how to attach pylwood base to metal Mark, you could just attach the wheel base panels ( The triangle and the shaft ) directly to the wood... Only 8 bolts there, plus the middle iron support brace. I am not getting why you need to sandwich the base panels between the wheels and the wood?

    Thanks for the question Pedro. I hear what you are saying, and it may have been quicker to do it that way, but keep in mind you will need to have a bolt head protrude through and I wanted a smooth shoveling surface for days when we use it for mulch or sawdust. The metal also functions as a splash guard where water is most likely to splash up to when going across the creek.

    Posted Tue Jun 25 15:14:51 2013 Tags:
    Bee swarm

    Swarm by barnThe basswood started blooming Monday, and Tuesday afternoon I walked over to see how much bee activity there was around that prime nectar source.  "Wow, that's a lot more bees than I recall from previous years!" I thought to myself as the roar of bees washed over me.  But then the bees literally passed over me and headed en masse toward the barn!  Yes, we were finally being the recipient (rather than the donor) of a swarm!

    If I'd known, I should have seen the signs that something was brewing Monday.  I noticed a worker bee poking around in the extra Warre quilt (small bee box) sitting on the porch beneath a slightly offset lid.  More telling was the group of a hundred or so bees that were buzzing around the peak of the barn Monday afternoon.  But I'd seen that kind of bee activity around the barn last year, with no result, so figured maybe I was seeing some kind of native bee that was just now coming out of hibernation.  Wrong!  What I observed on Monday was, first, a scout bee checking for possible hive cavities and, second, scout bees gaining critical mass as they chose a new hive location.  (I'm assuming that last year, our barn was a runnerup location, thus the lack of further activity.  This year, we won!)

    Rain on swarm

    Bee equipment storageAnyway, back to Tuesday afternoon when the cloud of bees came from the southwest, flew low over the trailer, then ended up at their destination in front of the aeration holes just under the peak of the barn roof.  Soon, I could tell that the bees were working their way through the labyrinth of rafters and over to the six-foot-high stack of Langstroth equipment that has been sitting vacant in the barn ever since our last hives died two years ago and we moved over to Warre equipment.  A gap between two carelessly-stacked boxes was large enough for the bees to move in, and within a couple of hours (spurred on by a short storm), the colony was entrenched in its new home.

    (As a side note, the bees completely ignored the top bar swarm trap just behind the barn, but I don't have any data about whether they would have liked a real swarm attractant better than the used Langstroth equipment.  After installing our package, I got sidetracked and never put the roof on our Warre-hive attractant, so it's not yet in play.)

    Bees moving into box

    A breathless call to my beekeeping mentor later, I realized that I needed to see what the insides of those Langstroth boxes looked like if I was going to let the bees stay in them and just move the relevant boxes out into the yard as a new hive.  My neglect had resulted in most of the wax in my old Langstroth boxes getting eaten up by wax moths, but I was able to cobble together a brood box full of partially- or fully-drawn comb with little moth damage.  I started to assemble some good supers too, but it turned out the reason the bees had selected the boxes they had was because the two supers they were moving into had the best comb in the barn.  There were three frames missing from one of the supers, though, so I'm glad I went through and filled that gap in before the bees could built wonky comb in the empty space.

    I was a little afraid to mess around with the bees while they were settling in because I was afraid they might decide to hit the road, but they put up with my intrusion gamely and just kept streaming into the hive to join their queen.  The swarm had showed up in the garden around 3:30 pm, I did my hive manipulation around 4 to 4:30, and by 6:00, nearly ever bee was inside the hive.  Swarm capture success!  (Granted, I didn't have to move the swarm to a new box, so there wasn't much that could have gone wrong.  Still, I'll take my successes where I find them.)

    More on how we moved the hive to its permanent location in a later post.  But, for now, I just want to end by mentioning that I'm 99% sure these bees didn't come from my hives, and instead sprang from the same location where the swarm I lost earlier ended up.  I wonder if there's a beekeeper somewhere to the southwest who gained a swarm a few weeks ago and lost one yesterday?

    Our chicken waterer makes care of your backyard flock nearly as easy as managing a colony of bees.
    Posted Wed Jun 26 07:37:43 2013 Tags:
    mark Bee stump
    using an old tree stump to support a bee hive box

    We normally support bee hive boxes with a couple of cinder blocks, but getting some without the ATV would have been a Anna says she would like this new box a little higher.

    I'd say it took less than a half hour to cut the stump to size and level off a piece of scrap plywood so it sits at a slight incline so water won't drain inward.

    It would have been nice to put a layer of paint on it...but since we were moving the new swarm in within the hour I elected to let it go bare. I don't know if paint fumes would have been enough to drive them away, but we didn't want to chance it.

    Posted Wed Jun 26 15:32:42 2013 Tags:

    I suspect this will be remembered as the first year of really awesome fruit.  Sure, we've been eating strawberries and blackberries and raspberries since year two, we had one big peach year, and we've enjoyed little handfuls of blueberries and gooseberries and figs.  But 2013 marks the point where our fruit production has started to feel bountiful.

    In large part, the fruit success isn't even due to more plants bearing (although they are).  I've also started putting "pick berries" on my list every day, allotting twenty minutes in the morning to plucking four bowls of raspberries (and whatever else is ripe) to provide dessert for lunch and supper.  As such, berry-picking has changed from a rushed event that I sometimes neglect tacking onto the end of a long day, to a meditative (and tasty) pause in the morning's work.

    Homegrown fruit

    Unripe apple seedSpeaking of those new plants getting old enough to bear, we ate our first homegrown apple Wednesday!  As you can see from the photo to the left, I should have waited another week or two until the seeds turned brown, but the Early Transparent apple was still richly tart and delicious.  More on high-density versus forest garden fruits once the other five apples are fully ripe.


    Mark and I have slightly different preferences in fruit department, so I like to perform flavor tests when something new starts up in order to find out what our average affinity for that new variety is.  I'm a fruit snob and enjoy a complex blend of sweet, tart, and other flavors, and I'm willing to work around seeds or whatever else it takes to make that snobbishness a reality.  Mark likes his fruit easier to eat and higher in sugar content.  With that data in mind, here are our current berry favorites, from awesome to pretty good, based on this week's taste test:

    Caroline red raspberries
    Poorman gooseberries
    black raspberries
    black raspberries (too seedy)
    Poorman gooseberries (too grapey)
    Caroline red raspberries (a bit insipid)
    Invicta gooseberries (too grapey)
    Invicta gooseberries (a bit insipid)

    I use this data to plan which varieties to expand, which is why our red raspberry patch has gotten bigger every year due to the sparkle it brings to Mark's eyes.  It looks like I should probably get around to installing a later-summer-bearing red raspberry sooner rather than later, and maybe I will put all those baby Poorman gooseberries in the ground here after all.  (You can read more about our fruit-expansion plans here.) 

    Our chicken waterer is the POOP-free solution to a filthy homesteading problem.
    Posted Thu Jun 27 06:41:45 2013 Tags:
    lawn trailer experiment failure

    Found out today the 10 front plywood attachment screws are not enough.

    I got about 3/4 of the way back fully loaded when it gave out on me.

    I'm thinking 4 or 8 well placed bolts with nuts should keep it together.

    Posted Thu Jun 27 16:16:06 2013 Tags:

    Thermosyphon water heaterMark has been lobbying for hot water for years, and I thought now would be a good time to finally give long as we choose a sustainable option.  At the moment, we just heat up gallon pots of hot water on the stove, one or two of which are generally plenty for dishes or bathing. 

    We definitely want to make (or possibly buy) a solar hot water heater as part of our upgrade, but we're thinking of doing something low-tech (an open-loop system) that will be drained for the winter.  As such, it would be handy if we had a traditional hot-water-heater tank to thermosyphon the solar-heated water into.  In a perfect world, we could leave that tank turned off all summer, then would turn it on once or twice a day, half an hour before using it, in the winter.  The primary uses would be dishes and bathing, and we're quite happy to plan both around the weather.

    Here's where I'm getting stuck --- household hot water heaters are huge!  The smallest one I saw on the Lowes website was 28 gallons, but I figure we only need a capacity of one to three gallons.  Keeping the water heater turned off until we need it wouldn't be very efficient if we're heating ten times as much water as we use each time.

    Point of use mini tankI had originally decided against point-of-use (aka demand) water heaters because I wanted a tank for our solar system to feed into.  However,  a bit of research shows that there are point-of-use mini-tanks of 1.3 to 6 gallons that might work for us.  However, these mini-tanks probably aren't very well insulated since they're intended to provide hot water much more frequently than we'd use it, and since they're meant to be left on all the time.  Do you think a point-of-use mini-tank would operate the way I want it to --- as a reservoir for solar hot water and as a winter heater than can just be turned on right before use?

    We're very much still in the planning stages, so suggestions are welcome.  Perhaps you've bought a certain brand of any of the options mentioned above and loved it (or hated it)?  Or maybe you built your own?  Please do chime in and make Mark's life a little warmer.

    Our chicken waterer kits come with tips for building heated waterers so your flock can drink clean water without effort on your part all winter.
    Posted Fri Jun 28 08:08:59 2013 Tags:
    How the new Haul Master modifications are going

    Hauling 12 five gallon buckets full of horse manure might work on a driveway without a creek to cross, but I think it's too much for our situation.

    I knew it was close to the limit when the ATV spun out going up the ford and required a switch over to 4 wheel drive.

    Cutting a foot off the box brings the capacity down to 9 five gallon buckets, which I think will work out nicely if I increase the truck capacity to 27 by stacking and strapping the last 7.

    Posted Fri Jun 28 16:39:35 2013 Tags:

    In the wild, honeybees start at the top of a cavity and build their comb straight down.  When we add supers on top of a Langstroth hive, we're asking our bees to do something counterintuitive, and sometimes they balk, especially if you're asking bees to build without foundation.  Warre hives usually prevent this problem since you nadir (add boxes below) instead of super (add boxes above), but the first few weeks after package installation, I generally see the same issue.  Which is all a long way of explaining why I opened up the hive rather than just putting a new box underneath when a photo up through the bottom showed that the bottom box, at least, was crammed full of comb.

    Building comb up

    Sure enough, the top box was completely empty...except for two bits of comb that the bees had started building up from top bars of the box below.  I scraped away those pieces of comb, put the quilt onto this full box (now the top box), and added the empty box underneath.  I didn't perform this swap last year, and I suspect that's why I ripped comb apart when I finally opened up the hive to inspect in September.

    I think the technique for installing a package in a Warre hive could be tweaked to prevent the need to swap the boxes a couple of weeks in.  Or perhaps I should just automatically swap the boxes when I take out the queen cage a couple of days later.  I'll ponder that for the future, and will enjoy our happy bees for now.

    The Avian Aqua Miser is Mark's invention to prevent handling manure and worrying over chickens running out of water.
    Posted Sat Jun 29 07:15:40 2013 Tags:
    update photo of the new bee stump in action

    A nice bonus of the new bee stump is that it can be seen from the porch.

    It's going to be a race of survival for them to see if they can store enough honey to get through the winter.

    Our hope is that a steady supply of sugar water will make up for the late start they got.

    Posted Sat Jun 29 14:48:21 2013 Tags:
    Sunroom diagram

    After some brainstorming (and a lot of good thoughts from your comments on our sunroom and hot water posts), Mark and I have decided that:

    • The sunroom is a lower priority than hot water, and may wait until another year.  Part of this reasoning is based on the fact that Mark actually doesn't consider it a hardship to wash up outside in the winter --- I thought he did.  (Personally, I'm pretty content with our current bathing setup, although I might like to lounge in a real bathtub some days.)  That makes setting up a bathtub and shower much easier since we can just put it on the other side of the wall from the kitchen sink, allowing us to easily plumb directly into the graywater system and to get hot and cold water with minimal fuss.  (As a side note, I also changed my mind about where the potential sunroom should go --- you can see my current thoughts in the diagram at the top of this post.)
    • The solar hot water system and the backup electric hot water system don't necessarily need to connect together.  Since we use hot water almost entirely in the late afternoon, a batch-type solar hot water system could serve as collector and reservoir during the warm months.  I still haven't decided whether the best option is the trailer's old hot water heater, painted black and placed inside a glass-fronted box (would the insulation keep the tank from soaking up the sun's rays?) or a couple of hoses inside a similar box (or just up on the trailer roof).  Without the complication of a thermosyphon system, though, it definitely feels simple enough to build ourselves.
    • Water heaterOur best option for conventional hot water during the winter is probably a 19-gallon tank, which we'd turn on a few minutes before using just like Tom suggested they do in Mexico.  A point-of-use unit could be good, but has two potential problems in our unconventional circumstances --- it would need fancy wiring since it draws so much juice all at once, and it might not work with our low water pressure (we get 1 gpm, or possibly less, depending on how full our tank is).  You'll also notice that I increased the size of the reservoir we're looking at since I forgot that we currently use boiling water to mitigate water temperature, while a hot water heater (even set on high) is only going to raise the temperature of the water to 150 degrees Fahrenheit.  As such, my calculations suggest that we'd need a 19-gallon tank in the winter to raise water from around 40 degrees to 105 degrees to fill a 35 gallon tub.  Presumably, we'll learn to tweak how long we wait between turning on the heater and using the water so that we don't waste energy heating too much water during lower-water-use projects like showering and dishes.

    Mark tells me we usually see a very slight lull in our workload in late July, so hopefully we'll have time to set up our bathing chamber, hot water heater, and solar hot water system then.  If not, it will definitely be our winter infrastructure-improvement project.  Now I'm off to research whether low-flow faucets and shower heads will work with already very low water pressure....

    Our chicken waterer keeps hens happy with clean water.
    Posted Sun Jun 30 08:04:08 2013 Tags:
    mark Kwik Way
    Kwik Way on Route 63 5 minutes outside of St Paul VA going towards Dante and Breaks park

    A guy at the Auto Parts store told me about a nearby source of ethanol free fuel I didn't know about.

    You won't find it on Google maps...a lot of things around here are like that...but if you drive about 5 minutes outside of St Paul going towards Dante and the Breaks park you'll see the Kwik Way Sunoco station on your left not far past Pete Bradley's wrecker yard.

    I found the image above playing with Google street view.

    Posted Sun Jun 30 14:56:39 2013 Tags:

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

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