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

archives for 10/2013

Oct 2013
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Homestead

I'm very ashamed to say that I missed celebrating our farm's birthday this year --- sorry, farm!  This is much worse than forgetting my marriage anniversary because Mark and I have an understanding that we don't do anniversaries and don't give each other gifts on holidays.  The farm and I, on the other hand, have an agreement that she will feed me and make me happy and I will notice her at least once a year.

Farm from above

Our seventh year on the farm was rough in certain ways, but delightful in others.  The rough patches weren't really blog material, consisting primarily of Mark hurting his back last fall and not being able to sleep right for a couple of months, plus the heartbreak we felt when our community-building project went south this spring.  On the other hand, those problems were counteracted by the awesomeness of Kayla and by a huge influx of homegrown fruit (my favorite food group).

Lotus budLooking back at the post I made on the farm's last birthday, it's astonishing to see how much progress we've made in twelve short months.  (Well, nearly thirteen now.)  The composting toilet and front porch have vastly increased our standard of living, and Mark has enjoyed his ATV (even though I'm concerned by the amount of damage it's done in the driveway during a very wet year --- we'll have to attack that issue soon).  My first paperback hit bookstores and Mark invented a completely new chicken waterer.  And, of course, we kept adding new perennials to the garden, building soil, and increasing our pasture area.

And despite the angst I mentioned previously, our tranquility levels have remained pretty high, perhaps due the ponds I played with building this summer, but mostly due to Mark's even keel.  I am eternally thankful that my original dream of sharing my life with a piece of land didn't materialize as planned, instead turning into a threesome --- me, Mark, and the farm.

Posted Tue Oct 1 07:29:25 2013 Tags:

Snow on the barnThose of you who don't follow our facebook page probably don't know that Walden Effect is coming out with a wall calendar this year.  Mark's step-mother makes family-history calendars for her clan and asked if we'd like her to make one for our readers.  We said sure!

The calendar is still being designed, so I can't tell you anything definitive yet, but we're envisioning it showcasing the best of our blog photos and also including a bit of text to keep you on the right homesteading track each month.  I'm writing very short summaries of each Weekend Homesteader project, and am also including a list of annual chores and events based roughly on this post (but generalized to only include tasks that are probably relevant to you).  We plan to include phases of the moon, meteor showers and eclipses, solstices, equinoxes, cross-quarter days, national holidays, and maybe some birthdays of permaculture-related folks (and a hobbit or two).

Gnatcatcher on peachIf we can find a cheap source of vegetable stickers, we'll also take one facebooker's suggestion and include a set of stickers so you can easily mark planting dates.  I'm considering including an insert with first and last frost dates for major cities across the country and charts showing how to use those dates to figure out your own planting times.

Anything else you'd like to see on a wall calendar?  I don't plant by the moon, so don't really feel I have enough experience to add biodynamic planting suggestions, but just about anything else will at least be considered.

Calendars will go on sale here around the first of November, and we're hoping to keep your cost down to $9.99 per calendar (maybe with $2 shipping per order?).  Right now, I'm thinking of playing it safe and printing only 200 calendars, so it would help to get a head count in the comments section, especially if you are thinking of ordering more than one.  The calendar will be glossy and pretty, a good gift for the gardener on your list!

(And a big thank-you to Jayne for being the driver behind this calendar project!)

Posted Tue Oct 1 14:24:54 2013 Tags:
updating the new chicken carrier one year later

It's been a year since I first made the deluxe chicken carrier.

My conclusion is that chickens cackle less when they are in the dark.

The wire cage we used before worked, but I remember more cackling, which I'm guessing equals more stress, which is always something to avoid with poultry.

Posted Tue Oct 1 15:29:52 2013 Tags:

Wood smokeThe weather is getting chilly...and controversies over wood stoves are popping up all over.  One came into my inbox and another into my blog feed last week, so I thought I'd weigh in.   

First, from our regular reader Roland:

"After I got rid of my gas-fired stove, I thought about installing a
woodstove.  Mostly as a backup and because of the cozy factor.  But after reading the [The Fireplace Delusion and Woodsmoke Health Effects: A Review], I changed my mind."


For those of you, like me, who hate following links, here's the upshot, excerpted from the first link:

"There is no amount of wood smoke that is good to breathe. It is at least as bad for you as cigarette smoke, and probably much worse."


Meanwhile, various blogs in the homesteading world are posting rants against the EPA's new policy that would make it illegal to sell your old wood stove if it emits more than 7.5 grams per hour (g/hr) of particulates.  Here's a sampling of the headlines to give you a feel for the tone of the pieces:

"The EPA Takes an Ax to Self-Sufficiency: Most Woodburning Stoves Will Soon Be Illegal"

"Off Grid Attack: EPA To Outlaw Many Wood Burning Stoves"


Smoke from a fuel-efficient wood
stoveTo help explain my take on the matter, let's go back in time.  Mark and I started out with a monstrous wood stove that spewed forth smoke (see the top photo), and we saved up until we could afford a fuel-efficient wood stove.  Our current model burns so clean that I can't actually see smoke once the initial water vapor is driven off.  I had initially reported our Jotul's emissions rate as 5.2 g/hr, but the EPA website seems to list it even lower, at 3.4 g/hr. 

Am I glad we saved up for the fuel-efficient wood stove?  Very much so!  Would I have skipped the intermediate, polluting step and gone right to the efficient stove?  Well, we couldn't have afforded the efficient stove when we got the inefficient stove, so knowing what we knew then (not much), we probably would have just bought an inefficient, used wood stove locally.  It's not as if the EPA is going to send out officers to look for illegal wood stoves --- their regulations are only going to be enforced by insurance companies --- so poorer people will likely keep buying whatever they want used if they can't afford insurance.  I've heard from various people locally that you can't really insure a home heated solely by wood anyway (at least around here) unless you install a heat pump and say that's your primary heat source, so this might not make a big difference.

Air qualityHow do we feel about the polluting effect of our current wood stove?  Pretty good.  I don't have data to back this up, but I estimate the minimal amount of particulates emitted by our wood stove is so well dispersed before the smoke hits our nearest neighbor (roughly a half mile away) that the effects are negligible there.  Here at the source, I figure we're still breathing cleaner air than the average urban or suburban American, and we have the benefit of being able to harvest our own fuel sustainably at a low cost, enjoying radiant heat and wood chopping, and not worrying about lack of heat during our sometimes-extended power outages.

In the end, I think the EPA rule is a good thing.  The first place I part company with libertarians is the environment --- even though our government does a poor job of protecting our earth, I think we'd do an even worst job without its oversight.  Since the current rule will likely push at least some people who can afford it to change over to a more efficient stove, while not unduly harming people who can't afford to make the switch, it seems like a win-win.  I'm sure many of our readers will feel very differently about the topic, though, so feel free to comment.

Our chicken waterer makes it fun and easy to keep chickens --- no more poopy water!
Posted Wed Oct 2 07:34:01 2013 Tags:
mark Gravel
A truck load of gravel being dumped into the bed

We're lucky to have a stone quarry only 8 miles down the road.

I got a Chevy S-10 truck load today for 13 dollars.

Driveway repair will be the theme for tomorrow.

Posted Wed Oct 2 15:18:12 2013 Tags:
Treating bees with
powdered sugar

As I wrote nearly a month ago, two of our hives have an absurdly low number of varroa mites, but a three-day-sticky-board count averaged out to 29 mites per day in the third hive.  Even that relatively-high mite Tall bee
hivefall isn't so bad, but I've regretted it before when I've let borderline hives go into winter --- they often perish.  So I decided to use one of safest methods of mite control, treating the hive with powdered sugar.

Scientificbeekeeping.com has a fascinating series of articles on the efficacy of using powdered sugar to lower varroa mite numbers.  The author, Randy Oliver, found that 50% of the mites in a hive can be removed by adding half a cup of powdered sugar per shallow (or a whole cup per deep) to the top box.  The sugar falls down through the cracks to coat all of the bees present, making it tough for mites to keep their footing.  The bees do have to work hard that first day, grooming off powdered sugar (and mites), but the intrusion is worth it if you're worried about your mite population since so many mites fall through the screen in the bottom of the hive and perish..

Powdering a bee hive

In addition to the intrusiveness of the powdered sugar technique, there is another downside to using powdered sugar as your sole mite-control measure.  Oliver explains that powdered sugar only removes the mites currently on bees, and since mites carry out part of their life cycle inside capped brood, you won't really do much good if the bees are actively raising young at the time of treatment.  However, when colonies are letting populations drop to get ready for winter, powdered sugar can really decimate mite populations.  Oliver concludes that properly-timed powdered sugar applications (plus screened bottom boards) might be all the treatment you need if you're raising bees that have been bred to be mite-resistant.

Sugar on bee box

To return to my own experiment, I smoked our bees gently just to make sure they wouldn't fly up into the powdered sugar, then dusted the top of the hive with 2.5 cups (half a cup per Warre hive box).  The sugar that built up on the top bars was easy to push back into the hive using the bee brush.

Bees licking powdered
sugar

Immediately after dusting the hive, I could see bees out on the porch licking up powdered sugar.  Although powdered sugar is harder for bees to consume than sugar water is, our ladies are still able to convert some into food, and, eventually, honey.  So the varroa mite treatment doubles as a quick feeding boost to lightly prop up fall stores.

Mite dropThe other bonus of the sugar treatment is that it gives you a more accurate portrayal of probable mite levels in the hive, compared to the potentially-problematic sticky-board counts.  Just put the bottom board in before treatment, take it out a timed interval later, and count mites.  The chart to the left comes from Oliver's second article about powdered sugar, and the second column shows what fraction of the total daily mite drop comes during various intervals right after treatment.  I counted 26 mites on the bottom board of our hive 30 minutes after dusting with sugar, so if we assume 39% of all the mites that were going to fall that day had already hit the bottom, and that the treatment will remove 50% of the mites in the hive, I get a population estimate of 133 mites in the hive pre-treatment.

Varroa mite in
sugartActually, I think I probably didn't use quite enough sugar, since Warre hives are so tall compared to Langstroth hives.  So, perhaps my sugar treatment is only going to remove 25% of the mites from the hive, providing a pre-treatment estimate of 267 mites in the hive instead of 133.  Either way, that's pretty low, suggesting I probably didn't need to dust the bees with sugar, but the treatment is unlikely to have done much harm, and potentially will help the bees survive the winter since they won't have so many parasites sucking their blood.


If I remember, I'll run another sticky-board count in a few days to see what varroa mite levels are like post-treatment.  I haven't decided yet whether I should treat the low-mite hives, or leave them alone to go into winter without the day of trauma.

Our chicken waterer keeps coop floors dry and cuts down on a filthy chore --- cleaning out the waterer.
Posted Thu Oct 3 07:51:08 2013 Tags:

ATV gravel hauling and how I do it
This new bucket configuration allows me to haul 30 gallons of gravel.

Next would be to dream up some easier way of lifting each bucket from its crate.

Maybe some kind of crane structure with a hand cranked winch.

Posted Thu Oct 3 15:52:41 2013 Tags:
Snake in the straw

We made a mistake this year and left our straw cache out at the parking area under a tarp.  It's been so wet that there was no easy time to haul the bales in, so we figured we'd just get them as we needed them.  Unfortunately, the wind blew the tarp back and got most of the bales damp, so they're now extremely difficult to haul (even though Mark's still carrying through with the endeavor).

On the plus side, those slightly-decomposing bales seem to have provided the perfect habitat for baby black rat snakes.  Mark found some eggs between two bales in September, and thrust them further into the pile since he didn't know what else to do with them.  The eggs must have hatched in the interim, because two little snakes turned up in the straw Thursday.  Kayla isn't a fan of snakes, and wasn't terribly thrilled to have her mulching job include snake patrol, but I think even she could tell that these guys are too cute to really be afraid of.

Baby black rat snake

Actually, I thought, at first, that this was an entirely new species for our farm, until Kayla keyed the snake out in my field guide and discovered that baby rat snakes look nothing like adults.  Who would have thought this prettily-patterned snake is going to be solid black above by the time it gets two feet long?

(By the way, Kayla, you guessed right --- these guys did just hatch.  Newly-hatched black rat snakes are twelve inches long.  Hard to imagine all that length folded up into a two-inch egg!)

Our chicken waterer is perfect for hens, chicks, ducks, and more.
Posted Fri Oct 4 07:53:59 2013 Tags:
Warre hive quilt construction

This is the second Warre hive quilt cover I've attached to a box.

I used pieces of thin plywood instead of furring strips to secure the fabric.

Posted Fri Oct 4 16:00:53 2013 Tags:
Morning garden
"Dear Anna: as a would-be homesteader and blogger, I was wondering what your normal day on the homestead looks like in terms of time spent in the garden versus online blogging or documenting your experiences? I'm sure it varies according to the season, but I am still curious as to what a typical day looks like for you and Mark. Thanks!"
--- Karen


I put off answering Karen's question because I kept thinking I'd posted about our average day before, but I couldn't seem to find the page.  So, I apologize if this is a repeat....

Afternoon garden

After a couple of years on the farm, Mark and I came to a compromise we could both be happy with about working hours --- 9 to noon, then 1 to 4.  During warm weather, we spend the first chunk working outdoors and the second chunk on money-making tasks (swapping the order in the winter).  You hear about the outdoors portion of our day all the time, and can probably guess that the other half consists of making chicken waterers (both of us, or sometimes various helpers), mailing those waterers (Mark), writing (me), and keeping our online empire running (mostly me).

Evening garden

Of course, there are also the parts of the day that don't really count as work (if any of it does, which is up for debate).  I start half an hour earlier than Mark does so I can feed the chickens and walk Lucy.  Mark takes the afternoon shift, bringing in the eggs and giving Lucy another training walk after "work."  Cooking doesn't count as work (unless there's a lot of excess to be preserved), and neither does blogging.

No matter how you divide up work and non-work chores, Mark and I have a lot of leisure time to use as we wish.  Mark has been enjoying a post-lunch nap most days lately, and I've always got a book on hand to fill those free hours (if Huckleberry doesn't need extra spoiling).  Excess time never seems to be a problem, though --- I would be quite happy if days were 48 hours long --- which I guess is a good sign that both the work and non-work parts of our day are fulfilling.  I hope you can develop a structure that feels the same!

Posted Sat Oct 5 07:29:58 2013 Tags:
high density apple training change of method

I've switched from a water hose material to nylon rope for training high density apples.

The nylon is more flexible and was easier to install.

Posted Sat Oct 5 15:33:56 2013 Tags:
Small bee colony

We had such a strong late-summer nectar flow, I neglected to check the bees in September.  Usually, that's when I decide if I need to start feeding to ensure the colonies make it through the winter, but how could they need more honey when I'd fed the two weaker hives all spring and early summer, and the wildflowers had taken care of the early fall?

Smoking a hiveWell, I was wrong.  The barn swarm was in the worst shape, having only colonized one super.  I knew that the colony was a gamble since they got such a late start, but it was still a shock to see the whole hive empty except for six small frames partly full of brood, pollen, and honey.  I don't know what I could have done differently, except maybe if I'd kept feeding through the nectar flow, and chances are this hive will perish over the winter.  Still, I'll help them as best I can, removing the empty brood box, putting the colonized super on the bottom and the empty super above them just in case they want the space, then cobbling together a Warre-style quilt out of an extra super to provide insulation on top of the hive.  And I'll feed as long as they'll take it.

Empty Warre hive box

The two Warre hives are in better shape, but don't have as much honey as I'd hoped.  In fact, the hive I dusted with powdered sugar this week had three empty boxes (which I removed)!  I had wondered how a hive we started as a package this spring could have used up so many boxes so fast, but the boxes on top were full, so I kept adding more.  With only two boxes colonized, I'll start feeding them to ensure they have enough honey.  Meanwhile, our oldest hive, started as a package in spring 2012 then losing half their workers to a swarm in spring 2013, never made it into their third box either, so I'll feed them as well.

The two Warre hives are in about the same state our single Warre hive was in last fall, so I'm not terribly concerned about them making it through the winter (although feeding until it gets cold won't hurt).  And the word on the street is that all the rain made this a tough year for bees in our area, so I guess it's not so bad I'm stuck feeding them again.  Maybe next year they'll finally get off the dole and make some honey for me?

The EZ Miser is simple to set up in a pasture, giving your flock clean water away from the coop.
Posted Sun Oct 6 07:55:14 2013 Tags:
Trail camera capturing laundry moment

This is the second time this year we've had to break out the trail camera.

Deer damage started a few nights ago, and so far no photographic evidence.

Anna moved the camera, so hopefully if she comes back we'll record the moment and location where the midnight invader is getting over the fence.

Posted Sun Oct 6 14:53:21 2013 Tags:
Vine-collapsed fence

We had a minor deer incursion Thursday night, the second one this year.  Once again, the problem was a sagging fence --- in this case, honeysuckle had bowed the fence down to the point where a deer could probably step right over it.  I'd known about the danger spot, but figured it was unlikely a deer would walk up the steep hillside below and enter our farm right outside our back door.  I was wrong.

Making a fence taller

Luckily, Mark's hard-core deer-deterring actions meant the deer didn't come back the next day, and has hopefully moved on to easier pickings.  In addition to tearing the vines off the problem fence, Mark added two cedar posts to the problem area so he could extend the fence up another four feet.  Next, Mark plugged back in the deer deterrents (silent for the last couple of months) and moved one right in front of the incursion spot.

Anti-deer covers

Meanwhile, I covered up all the strawberries with plastic trellis material.  This stuff really comes in handy for everything from deer fencing to cucumber and pea trellises, and it also makes it tougher for a deer to really munch on their favorite plants.  Granted, the deer already ate half the leaves on four strawberry beds, but shutting the barn door after the horse is gone works with plants since they regrow (as long as they don't get nibbled again).

Game camera

Our last step was to hook up the game camera to make 100% sure the deer doesn't come back (or, if it does, to find out where its new entrance is).  The only thing we caught on camera, though, was me --- taking Lucy for a walk, bringing in the laundry, and just peering into the lens.  I think the words going through my head were "Does this thing still work?"

Our chickens are happy and healthy due to clean water from their EZ Misers.
Posted Mon Oct 7 08:10:42 2013 Tags:
using an old Christmas tree stand for bucket waterer mounting

We used an old Christmas tree stand to mount a new EZ Miser chicken waterer.

It only took a few minutes to attach a piece of decking board to an 18 inch 2x4.

A scrap chunk of 2x4 at the bottom helps to even it out.

Posted Mon Oct 7 15:32:39 2013 Tags:
Anna Porch bat
Porch bat

Bat boxDespite the fact that we basically live in a swamp, we don't have a terrible bug problem.  Yes, at dusk, the no-see-ums come out, there's a mosquito now and then, and the deer flies get bad down in the floodplain during the dog days of summer.  But, generally, Mark and I can work outside without feeling bombarded by bloodsuckers.

The dragonflies, I'm sure, deserve a lot of the bug-control credit, but so do the bats.  That's why Mark and I were so happy to have a visitor spending a sunny day hidden above the porch rafters.

"Wouldn't it be nice if we made a bat box and collected the guano underneath?" Mark mused.  My very-limited experience with bat boxes involved watching how the boxes around the nature center where I worked as a high school student always stayed vacant, and my boss telling me that he'd never seen a bat box used.  But the idea is so good, I thought I'd ask around --- have you ever seen a bat box with a no-vacancy sign out front?  If so, what was the bat box's design?

Our chicken waterer is the POOP-free treat for a pampered backyard hen.
Posted Tue Oct 8 05:02:36 2013 Tags:
comparing Nikon blogging camera to new Panasonic Lumix in respect to the memory card door

The Nikon Coolpix L22 developed an issue with the memory card door where a plastic piece is worn down to the point of allowing the door to pop open during operations.

I opened that little door every day for the last two years. It still works good with a piece of electrical tape holding it shut, but not fun for everyday blogging. Maybe I'll move it to the glove compartment of the car in case we're driving and see Big Foot or something else worth taking a picture of.

My new blogging camera is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS25. It can take pictures underwater, which means it has a beefier memory card door that should hold up to heavy usage without breaking. Stay tuned for a full report on how it's working out once I get a chance to use it a bit more.

Posted Tue Oct 8 17:01:44 2013 Tags:

Chicago hardy figsA few weeks ago, I caught a stomach bug and spent a few days with absolutely no interest in food.  On our farm, I manage the larder and meals while Mark does the dishes and grocery shopping, so without me on the job, several figs and raspberries rotted on the vine.  The waste was extremely minimal, but it got me thinking about one of the biggest hurdles non-full-time homesteaders face --- putting in the daily time to make sure they pluck produce at its peak.  That thought set me pondering which fruit types are best and worst for the true weekend homesteader who only has two days a week to visit her garden.

Even though I think of them as productive and low work, I realized that most berries wouldn't be appropriate for the true weekend homesteader.  Raspberries tend to mold in our climate if you go more than a day (possibly two if it's sunny) without picking, and I discovered that ripe figs (although not a true berry) won't last much longer.  Strawberries are probably in the fig category, while blackberries are a bit more resilient and might manage if picked only twice a week.  Blueberries would thrive on this treatment due to their firm skins that give you a long picking window (although blueberries do fail the test of producing at a young age, not requiring nitpicky soil treatment, and being easy to propagate).

Ripening peachHow about tree fruits?  Only our peaches and apples are producing so far, so I can't really write from personal experience, but it seems like (at least in a humid climate like ours) peaches require attention a few times a week during the harvest season.  Apples are much more forgiving, and a weekend homesteader could easily pick the bulk of his apple crop during one crisp Saturday, then eat homegrown apples all week (or month, or winter).  From what I've seen elsewhere, I'd say pears are similar to apples (although you do have to take them out of cold storage a few days before eating to allow pears to fully ripen, so that takes a bit more management).  Plums are likely to be similar to peaches, but I'm guessing a bit less prone to rot (so easier to ignore for days on end).

On our farm (as long as I don't have a rare stomach bug), I actually prefer fruits in the berry category since I like the daily harvest better than the gushing influx of bushels of luscious orbs to be managed all at once.  (Not that the flood isn't exciting.)  But if I left the farm before sunup, returned after dark, and only had Saturday and Sunday to tend my homestead, I'd stick to tree fruits.  How about you?  Do you have any recommendations for fruit types that can handle days of neglect and still provide a bountiful crop?

Our chicken waterer makes it easy to leave town for several days without worrying about your flock.
Posted Wed Oct 9 07:02:29 2013 Tags:
worm bin sagging at bottom

The Cadillac worm bins are doing good...except for this one.

Clearly we should have put a support brick in the middle for the front and back.

Maybe I can use the scissor jack to raise it up and slide a brick in to fix it.

Posted Wed Oct 9 17:02:57 2013 Tags:
Anna Root hairs
Root hairs

I've been reading a lot of tidbits about root hairs over the last couple of years.  Various sources have explained that root hairs are the only parts of a root that take up most nutrients.  Others add that root hairs are only formed on the tips of growing roots and live for just two to three weeks.  Presumably, that means you should time your compost application for the periods when root hairs are being actively formed.

Michael Phillips asserts that fruit trees go through cycles of root growth, alternating with Microscopic root hairsshoot growth, so you can expect your trees to be actively taking up nutrients primarily in mid spring, late summer, and fall.  Someone else (I think it was Robert Kourik) explained that tree roots keep growing until the ground gets below 40 degrees (if my memory serves).  By keeping the soil warm, a good autumn mulch can give your plant extra growing time, and, similarly, fall-planting (in zone 5 and warmer) gives trees a jumpstart on the year ahead.

But I felt like I was missing a critical link in my understanding of root hairs.  For example, are those white roots in the photograph above (from a black raspberry) root hairs?  Wikipedia suggests not, saying that root hairs are single cells elongating sideways away from the main root, and are generally invisible to the naked eye.  On the other hand, since new root hairs are found on new roots, and new roots are white, I suspect I can use color as a rough estimate of where root hairs are present.

And can I take Michael Phillips' assertion about seasonality to be true of all perennials?  I'm sure each species has its own cycle of root growth --- perhaps the only way to know is to keep an eye out for white roots in the few instances when I'm messing in the dirt around my woody plants.  If anyone has found a source with data on root growth seasonality for the common fruiting plants, I'd love to see it!

The Avian Aqua Miser is a POOP-free solution to a filthy homesteading problem.
Posted Thu Oct 10 07:02:19 2013 Tags:
fig plant one year later

We got this Celeste fig tree a year ago at Rose's discount store in St Paul.

No figs from it this year, but the amount of growth is an indicator that it should continue to thrive in our climate zone.

Posted Thu Oct 10 17:01:39 2013 Tags:
Paw-paws

I'm afraid I've finally found a fruit I really don't like.  I used to think the reason I had odd memories of pawpaws is because (after our family moved away from the farm), Mom would drive us out in the country to pick the fruits, and I always arrived carsick.  However, I've been watching a pawpaw along our driveway all summer, waiting for it to ripen up, and when the first fruits hit the ground, I took the rest home to taste.  There were no cars involved, so I definitely wasn't nauseous, but the fruits weren't something I'll seek out again.

Cutting a pawpaw

Internet descriptions of pawpaw flavor range from banana custard to plain banana, mango, papaya, and pineapple.  I'm not sure I know what banana custard tastes like, but I can tell you definitively that pawpaws taste nothing like the other fruits, except maybe having a hint of the unpleasant flavor you get really close to the skin of an unripe mango or papaya.  (I suspect many of the folks describing pawpaws were confusing flavor with texture --- pawpaws do have a texture about halfway between a mango and a banana.)

If I had to describe the flavor of pawpaws, I'd say they're sweet (of course) combined with a slightly bitter taste and an almost over-powering floral odor that sets me off the fruit.  Perhaps if I'd held my nose while eating, I would have liked the taste better?

Mashed pawpaw

Granted, there are different varieties of pawpaws, as with other kinds of fruits.  And it's possible some of the cultivated varieties taste better.  But I like my fruits to have at least some tartness to them, and pawpaws fail that test.  That's why my second experiment was to mash the flesh up with some lemon juice and honey, then add it to our raspberries and whipped cream.  I hate to say it, but that was even less tasty than the flesh we ate plain, and I didn't mind when Mark picked the pawpaw off his berries.

I'd be curious to hear from anyone who's grown named varieties of pawpaws.  What varieties are you growing, and what do you think of their flavor?

Our chicken waterer is the perfect present for a poultry-keeping homesteader.
Posted Fri Oct 11 07:01:33 2013 Tags:
ethanol free fuel station list

Pure-gas.org is a list of ethanol-free gas stations in the U.S. and Canada.

The 2 stations that advertise on their signs in Gate City are on the list.

I still want to do an ethanol content test the next time we are in that area.

Image credit goes to Casey Frederick.

Posted Fri Oct 11 17:02:42 2013 Tags:
Saddleback caterpillar

Somewhere early in life, I was told that fuzzy caterpillars can sting.  Later, I discovered that all caterpillars that turn into moths (instead of butterflies) are fuzzy, but only a few sting.  Yet, I kept my distance anyway.

Saddleback caterpillar backI finally got stung by a caterpillar for the first (and second time) in mid September.  This saddleback caterpillar was hiding in the blueberries and I accidentally brushed my finger against it while picking.  The surprising pain made me jump away and then forget about the caterpillar, so the critter managed to sting me again a few days later when I came back to finish harvesting that spot.

Luckily, the sting wasn't very bad --- not worth spending decades avidly avoiding an entire sub-order for.  It felt like I'd walked through a patch of stinging nettles, meaning the pain was intense for a minute, noticeable for an hour, then quickly forgotten.  (To be fair, though, I have a high tolerance for stings.)

If you live in my neck of the woods, you can see all of our poisonous caterpillar species here.  Like snakes, I figure it's worth learning the few poisonous species so you'll know everything else is harmless.  Then you can start enjoying the beautiful permutations of nature without worrying about your skin.

The EZ Miser makes care of your backyard flock even easier with a bigger capacity, easier mounting, and easier filling.
Posted Sat Oct 12 07:02:27 2013 Tags:
sign of times at scott county waste center

This post is to remind me when the Dungannon area solid waste center is open.

Posted Sat Oct 12 17:01:46 2013 Tags:
Fruit-and-nut balls

My parents had a strict no-sugar policy when I was a kid, so we ate some unusual desserts.  One of my favorites was "golf balls," a conglomeration of nuts, dried fruit. and fresh lemon that a family friend came over and helped us make each Christmas in a hand-cranked sausage grinder.  I decided to try blending my own version out of our home-dried fruit (and a few purchased additions), and liked the result enough to share with you.

Here's the original recipe, as best I can remember it:

  • flesh from 1 coconut
  • some amount of nuts, all kinds (probably largely pecans and walnuts)
  • some amount of dried apricots, dried figs, and dried dates (roughly equal parts?)
  • 1 whole lemon

And here's my homegrown alternative:

Processing dried
fruit

I ground everything up, a bit at a time, in a food processor, then rolled the dough into fifteen balls.  Without apricots, the fruit balls weren't as cheerfully orange, but the flavor felt richer (probably because of the tartness of the peaches).  I also observed that the food processor made a chunky texture rather than a blended whole, which has its own pros and cons.  (I liked the chunks, but kids would probably prefer the blended version.)

On the whole, I'm happy with the experiment, although I might try again with coconut taking the place of some of the nuts.  (I didn't leave out the coconut on purpose --- the one Mark bought for me was moldy.)  The fruit-and-nut balls make me think of a vegetarian pemmican and are pretty healthy for something that tastes like a dessert (145 calories per ball, 9% protein, with 15% of your daily allowance of fiber).

Of course, Mark still thinks this is one of my crazy family dishes, best avoided.  Maybe if I came up with a better name than "golf balls," he'd give it another try.  Want to help redub the dessert?

Our chicken waterer keeps coops dry and your flocks' drinking water clean.
Posted Sun Oct 13 07:01:28 2013 Tags:
relaxing at Pawley's Island South Carolina

Four days and nights at Pawley's Island South Carolina was a perfect vacation.

The beach is beautiful but we started missing our mountains the last day.

Saw the 3D version of Gravity and thought it was Awesome!

Posted Sun Oct 13 14:24:43 2013 Tags:
Laciniato kale

In Your Money or Your Life, Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin write that people who live fulfilling simple lives shouldn't need a vacation.  They may be right, but the truth is that I seem to need a solid break sometime in October between the rush-rush-rush of the growing season and the gentler writing period of the winter.  Some years, a staycation does the trick, but in other years --- like this one --- we seem to crave a more solid break.

Late tomatoes

The best thing about an away-from-farm vacation is how much it makes us appreciate our everyday life.  Coming home to a not-quite-frosted farm, with newly-vibrant colors and the scent of fallen leaves in the air, Mark and I both concluded we live in paradise.

How about you?  Do you feel the need for a vacation even if you live in paradise?

(Stay tuned for far more beach photos than you care to see in this week's lunchtime series.)

Our automatic chicken waterer kept all three flocks hydrated while we were away.
Posted Mon Oct 14 07:22:40 2013 Tags:
Group photo

As Mark mentioned, we snuck away last week to spend four nights on Pawleys Island, and it was the best vacation we'd ever had.  Rather than boring you with our vacation pictures in one post, I'm going to split them apart into an elongated lunchtime series and pretend that makes them more interesting!  In fact, I'm even going to add tips about what made this vacation so perfect for us and pretend it's educational!  Pretty fancy, huh?

(In other words, it won't hurt my feelings at all if you skip this and the following only-quasi-homesteading-related (okay, not-really-related-at-all) posts.)

Mom on the beach

Perfect vacation tip #1: Start with good company

We talked Mom into coming to Pawleys Island with us.  As Kayla said, "It takes a pretty special husband to bring his mother-in-law on vacation" (then she went on to add that she and her husband brought her parents on their honeymoon).  But, lest you think I'm cruel and unusual, I should add that my husband is so special that inviting Mom was his idea.

Mother and daughter

MomAnd I can't help feeling that Mom is what made this vacation the best one ever.  Mark likes to sit still and watch the ocean, but I'm a relentless explorer, and it was just more fun to explore with Mom's exuberance at my side.  In fact, Mom and I are so much alike that we accidentally wore the same t-shirt for our group photo day --- oops.

So, pretending this post has actual merit for its non-family audience, your first tip for building a perfect vacation is to start with good company.  Mom, Mark, and I made a perfect team, so fun was had by all.

For a similarly outside-the-box approach to housing, check out Trailersteading.



This post is part of our Gratuitous Vacation Photos lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:
Posted Mon Oct 14 12:02:48 2013 Tags:

mounting sea shells to a wall hangar
Anna asked me. "How can I display my favorite sea shells so they won't get broken?"

"I guess I could glue them to a display board, but there's not enough surface area".

The way I increased the surface was to chisel away a groove for the bigger shells to sit in, giving the extra surface area for the glue to bond with the bottom part of the shells.

Posted Mon Oct 14 16:28:00 2013 Tags:
Winter squash

One of our first years on the farm, Mark and I grew several different kinds of winter squash and settled on butternuts as both the tastiest and the most pest-and-disease-resistant variety.  Ever since, we've been a purely butternut farm.

Movie-star pumpkinsBut I love trying new things.  So when my movie-star neighbor offered me some of his homegrown squashes, I had to give them a try.  I've yet to cut into the pie pumpkin  he gave me, but I cooked up the blue hubbard into a pie Sunday, and it was one of the best I've ever eaten.

Will we start growing hubbard squash as a result?  Well, there are several factors to consider.  If you're a seed saver, you have to think long and hard before adding new squash varieties to your garden, but it turns out that blue hubbards wouldn't be very tough for us to integrate.  Butternuts are Cucurbita moschata, summer squash are Cucurbita pepo, and blue hubbard is Cucurbita maxima, so I could grow all three in the same garden without worrying about crosses.  (However, if you're more of a pumpkin person, some pumpkins do cross with blue hubbard, as do winter marrow, turban squash, and banana squash).

Blue Hubbard squash

On the other hand, since we use variety selection as our first line of defense against squash vine borers, we probably should skip the hubbards.  Butternuts are among the most resistant to vine borer damage, but hubbards are so beloved by the insects that they are sometimes used as a trap crop alongside rows of other types of squash.  Another downside of hubbards compared to butternuts is that the hubbards are big --- even the smallest in my neighbor's collection had enough flesh for 2.5 pies, and our small family does better with the more minuscule butternut.

And, to be honest, I think the reason our hubbard pie was so delicious is because I added extra honey since the squash flesh wasn't as sweet as the butternuts I'm more used to.  You can read my original butternut pie recipe here, and this is the new ingredient list we've developed over the years:

Squash pieCrust:

  • 0.5 cups flour
  • 0.5 cups cocoa
  • 0.25 cups sugar
  • 0.5 teaspoons salt
  • 7 tablespoons butter
  • a bit of water

Pie:

  • 2 cups baked winter squash flesh
  • 1.5 cups evaporated milk powder
  • 1.25 cups water
  • 0.5 cups of honey (or add two tablespoons to that for a sweeter pie)
  • 0.5 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 0.5 teaspoons allspice
  • 0.25 teaspoons ginger
  • 2 eggs

Click on the link above for preparation instructions, and enjoy!

Now's a great time to get ready for a spring crop of chickens with an EZ Miser kit.
Posted Tue Oct 15 07:40:36 2013 Tags:
Dunes

Dawn on the porchPerfect vacation tip #2: Plan for immersion

When Mark, Mom, and I decided to go on vacation together, we opted for Pawleys Island since Mark had gone there as a child.  "I always wished we'd rented a house right on the beach," he sighed.  Even in the off-season, beach-front rentals are more expensive, but we decided to splurge and give Mark his dream...and I was so glad we did!

Pawleys Island house

Beach Morning-GloryBeing right on the beach  meant we could watch the ocean from the screened-in porch, or wander down the boardwalk several times a day for a walk or a swim.  If I'd had to get in a car, I probably would have spent more time lazing around the house, but I was so engrossed by the ocean on this trip that I barely read one fiction book and didn't even crack Small is Beautiful, which I'd brought along for deeper-thought periods.  In contrast, on other vacations of this length, I've often gone through one or two non-fiction books and three to five fiction books.

Beach house porch

(You'll start to notice that each perfect facet of this trip was dreamed up by Mark.  Hmmmm.)

House interior

Stairs

In case you're curious, we rented
Knox Station for four nights.  It was fancier than we needed, but was a perfect fit for our family. 

Being up on stilts gave us perfect ocean views, and Mom only stumbled on the stairs once when I made her walk down them in the dark just before dawn so she wouldn't mess up her night vision for sunrise.  As an added bonus, the bend in the stairs smelled just like my grandmother's attic, so I thought of that deceased relative every time I passed by.

Boardwalk at Pawleys
Island

So, to return to the point, if you can afford it, try to find a vacation spot that really immerses you in what you came to see.  Or, maybe the moral is really "Pay attention to your husband"?

My paperback walks you through fun-and-easy projects to turn your home into a paradise.



This post is part of our Gratuitous Vacation Photos lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:
Posted Tue Oct 15 12:01:00 2013 Tags:
Lucy at the Vet outside of Gate City

We took Lucy to the vet today because she had a swollen cheek.

The doctor thinks it could have been a snake bite, most likely a Black Rat snake.

Antibiotics and an extra Milk Bone should have her feeling better in no time.

Posted Tue Oct 15 14:29:24 2013 Tags:

Small is BeautifulSeveral readers recommended that I read Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered, by E.F. Schumacher, so I figured I'd give it a try.  Unfortunately, I wouldn't recommend this book to most of you.  I can handle the academic tone (although sometimes the author seems to be purposefully adding density to his writing), but none of the information in the book is useful to the average homesteader.

The trouble is that, despite the title, this is a book about global-scale problems and solutions.  Schumacher focuses on topics like aid to poor countries, rather than (as I was hoping) on ethical ways to run a home business.  In addition, the anti-science, pro-religious sentiment was hard for me to stomach.

In the end, I have to conclude that Schumacher and I have a major difference of opinion about how the average person does good.  Although I vote, I tend to believe that someone like me can't really impact global, national, or even state policies, and if I want to make change, I have to start in my own life and lead by example.  Schumacher, on the other hand, finds value in philosophizing about large-scale changes that would make the world a better place, so I assume he feels that he can actually take part in bringing those changes about.

But maybe I missed something?  I'll be the first to admit that the social sciences are my least-favorite subject, and my eyes glaze over pretty quickly just from the mannerisms of writers in that field.  So, for those of you who have read and enjoyed Small is Beautiful, I hope you'll leave a comment telling me why I'm wrong, and why this book is important for every homesteader to read.

Our chicken waterer is produced using small-scale techniques that allow us to hire local, unskilled laborers, a feature Schumacher approves of.
Posted Wed Oct 16 07:40:39 2013 Tags:
Egret and fishermen

Southern fox
squirrelPerfect vacation tip #3: Make friends

Every time we drove off the island, fishermen lined the causeway...and one of them had feathers.  It was fun to see the causeway egret every time we passed by, and even more fun to get cooking advice time after time from the ex-car-salesman behind the fish counter in the supermarket.  (These pleasant inhabitants even made up for the excessively-surly waiter the one time we went out to dinner.)

Sanderlings
WilletIf you don't make friends easily, it's possible the universe will even plop some friends down in your lap.  Despite the fact that none of us had discussed our vacation plans beforehand, it turned out that our next-door neighbors on the island consisted of some of our favorite folks from back home!

Our
movie-star neighbor, my ex-boss from the non-profit, my first garden mentor, and a homesteader we'd been wanting to get to know better just happened to rent the neighboring house for the same days we did.  What are the chances of that?

I didn't manage to take any pictures of our human neighbors, but we had fun catching up, making an audition tape with our movie-star neighbor, and building a sand monster with our homesteading friend.  Having neighbors we knew turned this from a four-star to a five-star vacation!

You can read about my movie-star neighbor's root cellar in my $1.99 ebook.



This post is part of our Gratuitous Vacation Photos lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:
Posted Wed Oct 16 12:02:57 2013 Tags:
how the cinder block stepping stones are holding up after 2 years

The cinder block stepping stones are still in place after 2 years.

A set of stairs for getting down the sloped side easier might be our next creek crossing improvement.

Posted Wed Oct 16 15:11:55 2013 Tags:
Conjunction

I promised you all something entirely different for my next ebook, but the truth is that I got sidetracked into first finishing a project I'd started this spring.  With the working title Walden Effect: The Early Years, this is a fluffy little book about falling in love with the land and with a man at the same time.  I've excerpted a bit of the beginning below, but before I lose my hardcore readers, I hope you'll stick around long enough to suggest a better title.  Title suggestions from our readers turned Trailersteading into a bestseller, and I suspect you can come up with a much better title for this ebook as well.  Ideas?

I was perched atop a hundred-year-old "crackerbox" house, ripping the structure apart from the tin down, when I met two of my new neighbors for the first time.  They had been out exploring the boundary between our properties on their four-wheeler when they found the tracks of my bare feet in the swamp.  "We thought it might have been a bear!" the wife exclaimed.  "But then we heard you hammering and figured the tracks were human," added her husband.

Tearing down an
old houseMy new neighbors were perhaps ten years older than me --- in their mid thirties --- and were clearly bamboozled by this young woman who planned to move into a southwest-Virginia tract of remote countryside by herself.  Even getting to my old house required a half-mile trek through swamp and across a creek that sometimes flooded over my head.  And now I didn't seem willing to come down off the roof to greet them properly.  In part, my hesitance was due to being tied to a tree on the other side of the house by a rope around my waist, but mostly I was just embarrassed because I'd caught the seat of my pants on a nail about an hour ago and had heard a loud rrriiiip.  No way was my introduction to the neighbors going to involve exposed underwear.

Since the nearest town is home to only 300 people, I'm sure word of my eccentricities got around quickly.  But it didn't matter because I nearly gave up on my homesteading dream six months later, only to rekindle the spark when my husband-to-be, Mark, walked into my life.  Fast forward ahead five years and Mark was being invited to sit down on the coveted stool in the locally-owned hardware store and chat for a while --- a sure sign of being accepted by the community.  At long last, I knew my craziness had been overlooked in favor of my husband's quiet persistence.

That summer day in 2004, though, I was still alight with the joy of owning a farm the way I'd dreamed about since childhood.  And now, as I write this nearly a decade after purchasing that farm, I'm once again in love, this time with both the farm and with the husband who made my dream possible.  So this is a love story in three parts about how I ended up with much more than I bargained for, and grew beyond the person I thought I'd be.


(Stay tuned for more of this unnamed book in a week or two....  In the meantime, you might enjoy this profile Everett recently wrote about us on his blog.)

Our new-and-improved chicken waterer makes poop-free water even easier.
Posted Thu Oct 17 07:15:09 2013 Tags:
Stormy skies

Perfect vacation tip #4: Go with the tides

"We weathered our trip (from my resistant start, and because of that, my not bringing R. Carson and E. Gibbons), thru the turn-around for gas and a few flora, -- and the cotton, to the actual breath-taking welcome of our lovely house on stilts, with all the light and air--to the actual beach, the constant surf, the wonderful wind, the light, always the light!--I could go on, as you know. I'm esp. glad we went to Brookgreen, not only the statues and beautiful live oaks, with the Spanish moss, but also the cypress swamp, and the beginning realizations of previous times there. And, having Steve and Maxine, Frankie (and his rehearsing!) and Kyrstie, did add to it! And, all our happy meals were the perfect sustenance for that time and place. You were tireless! Mark was so good to do all the driving! Now, home, the soft mist, with the fallen and turning leaves it's easier to transition into mountain ways."
--- Mom


Collecting shells

As I'll mention in a later post, we did go on a few real excursions as part of our vacation, but mostly we just drifted in the day and ocean's rhythms.  Mom and I seemed to naturally wake with (or just before) the sun, allowing us to take a stroll up the beach as the sun rose. 

Beach combing

Low tide came in the early morning, so dawn turned up shells fresh for the picking.  Mom and I were sometimes on the beach before prime shell-picking time, when dog walkers went out in the near-dark.  By the time we reached the north end of the island, where the creek behind created an extended shallow area, there was enough light to pick up broken sand dollars and whole sea urchins.  (We even saw a living sea urchin in the shallow water our first night there!)

When my stomach started to growl, the sun was up and the coffee walkers were on the beach, strolling with mugs in hand.  Later, we'd come back to the beach for a quick swim at high tide.

Sea finds

Spreading out shellsI make it sound linear and regimented, but the best thing about our beach combing is that it wasn't either.  Only on the last day did I realize that others were planning their day around the perfect shelling times.  Using Mom's whimsy as a guide, I squashed my Type A need to turn up perfect shells, and instead found beauty in the colors and textures of fragments.

On our last day, I felt a twinge of regret that I hadn't done this or that, but then I realized that I vastly preferred to go with the tides.  After all, it's better to be thoroughly in the moment than to do it all.

Learn how to make a simple living at home (and enough to go on vacation) in my 99 cent ebook.



This post is part of our Gratuitous Vacation Photos lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:
Posted Thu Oct 17 12:01:46 2013 Tags:
mark Fig Fall
Fig bloom


We're still harvesting figs from the Chicago Hardy.

Meanwhile, the figs we started from cuttings this spring are waist-high and are starting to bloom.

Maybe that means next year we'll get to taste Dwarf, Celeste, and Black Mission?

Posted Thu Oct 17 14:52:38 2013 Tags:
Lions mane mushroom

Lion's mane mushroom has now made it onto my list of delicious and safe fungi to wildcraft (along with morels and oysters).  Despite the fact that there are at least three species in the genus Hericium, all are edible, and the shaggy white mane makes these mushrooms tough to confuse with anything else.  You might want to stick to the scientific name, though, since Lion's mane closeupcommon names are variable and include Bearded Tooth, Hedgehog, Satyr's Beard, Bearded Hedgehog, and Pom Pom, along with Lion's Mane.

How about flavor?  The internet reports that lion's mane mushrooms taste like lobster, but even though I'm not a seafood fan, I thought they were delicious.  Mark (who loves seafood and who reports that only the texture reminded him of lobster) agreed, noting that lion's manes are midway on the delectability scale between oysters and shiitakes.  (Actually, some oyster mushrooms can be as good as shiitakes, but the flavor tends to be less dependable, so Mark rates them lower.)

I'm actually surprised I hadn't stumbled across this distinctive edible before, but I suspect the issue is that I'm a swamp girl and the lion's mane likes harder wood, like oaks, which tend to grow in drier forests around here.

Wednesday, I found two lion's mane mushrooms popping out of a huge, fallen oak that came down in our parking area last summer.  Now I really, really want those delectable, rotting logs for my forest garden.  Too bad they're at least two feet in diameter and each round weighs a ton....


Our chicken waterer keeps hens laying with clean water.
Posted Fri Oct 18 08:06:38 2013 Tags:
Camera guy

Perfect vacation tip #5: Take lots of pictures, then turn off the camera

Ocean sunrise


Mark, Mom, and I all love taking photos (and the photos in this lunchtime series are by all three of us).

Ocean dawn


We took tons of photos during our vacation, but I also left my camera behind on purpose at certain times.

Sunset on Pawleys
Island


Sure, I missed some stunning shots, but I was even more present right where I was without a camera to mediate between myself and the world.

Photographer yoga


I guess the lesson from this post is the same as from the last --- being in the moment is worth the price.



This post is part of our Gratuitous Vacation Photos lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:
Posted Fri Oct 18 12:01:40 2013 Tags:
quick hoop viewed from above before Halloween

Anna put the first quick hoop of the season up today.

The pay off will be fresh lettuce in November.

Posted Fri Oct 18 15:52:06 2013 Tags:

DentistI've found that being obsessive about oral hygiene is worth it.  The expense aside (and a trip to the dentist is always pricey), who wants the pain and suffering of a filling (or worse)?  That's why I always ask my dentist if there's any more preventative care I can add to my routine, and have come up with the following complex daily regimen:

  • Mornings I brush with an electric toothbrush (better for the gums), then use both a Listerine-type mouthwash (to kill germs, although I want to research this more since I read recently that this might be a bad idea, akin to killing off your good gut bacteria) and an ACT-type mouthwash (for fluoride, since our well-water is fluoride-free, and I'm willing to swish with fluoride despite the potential dangers of drinking it)
  • Evenings I floss, and brush

But when I went to the dentist Wednesday, I reported I'd felt a little twinge in one tooth recently.  Did I have a cavity?

"Did you just start using a whitening toothpaste?" the hygienist asked.  Well, yes, I guess I did.  She explained that baking soda and any other additives in toothpaste can cause your gums to recede since the chemicals irritate the skin in your mouth.  My hygienist always recommends the plainest toothpaste you can find, but one that contains fluoride.

My dentist came in then and added in her two cents.  Since I'm already using a fluoride mouthwash, she doesn't see why I need to use toothpaste at all.  The mechanical movement of the brush is what cleans your teeth --- toothpaste just gives you that minty-fresh breath (and a dose of fluoride).

This is the best dentist I've ever had, so I'm inclined to trust her judgment.  And who doesn't want to save $12 a year on toothpaste?   Here's hoping that at my next annual checkup, I'll once again be cavity-free.

Keeping your chickens healthy starts with clean water.

Posted Sat Oct 19 08:31:12 2013 Tags:
St Paul Appalachian Heritage festival 2013

Civil War soldiers, corn meal machines, clogging, and apples all combine into a wonderful Saturday morning outing.

Posted Sat Oct 19 15:39:20 2013 Tags:
Winesap apples

It's been about five months since I've eaten a significant amount of store-bought fruit, and when the Virginia Beauties finally ran out last week, I went into withdrawal.  (Remember, I'm a fruit snob and think grocery-store fruit, for the most part, is insipid and barely worth eating.)  We used to have a fruit stand which provided fruit a notch above the grocery store (if not up to my exacting standards), but the fruit stand didn't open up this year, so we'd need to drive over an hour round trip to find moderately-edible fruit.  Or so I thought until I remembered that the little town twelve miles away had opened up a farmer's market a couple of years ago.

Farmer's market

Virginia beauty apple

The first thing I saw upon entering the farmer's market was apples --- jackpot!  I browsed through all the vendors and ended up selecting at least a few apples from each of three sellers.  I've yet to taste the Virginia Beauties from the lady to the left (I got a pound, curious to see if they taste at all like my homegrown morsels), but have already sampled two kinds of Winesaps and an Arkansas Black.  The latter is a milder apple than I usually like, but I'm curious to see how long it will last in storage (reputedly "forever") and whether the apple-grower is right when he says the flavor will improve over time.

Half bushel of
apples

The Winesap comparison was more interesting.  The guy shown above sold us both Winesaps and Arkansas Blacks, both of which he grows conventionally (with sprays).  And the apples did look beautiful!  But in terms of flavor, they merely matched what you'd find at a moderate-to-good fruit stand.

In contrast, the Winesap apples shown at the top of this post came from an old-style organic farm, meaning that the standard-sized apple tree had been there longer than the farmer had owned the land, and that all he did to the tree was to pick the fruit.  Although smaller and less aesthetically appealing than the sprayed apples, these old-style Winesaps were delectable and I wish I'd bought more than one of the $5 baskets pictured.  They nearly matched the flavor of my homegrown Virginia Beauties.

I plan to put our bushel-plus of apples in the fridge root cellar and eat to my heart's content for at least the next month.  In the meantime, I clearly need to put more thought into fruit that does well in winter storage since the more summer fruit we grow, the less inclined I am to go back to bought offerings after our homegrown stores run out.  Some of the slack will be taken up by our pears and Virginia Beauty as they come into their prime, but Mark and I are quite frugivorous and could probably use some more winter keepers.

Our chicken waterer keeps hens happy with clean water.
Posted Sun Oct 20 08:00:37 2013 Tags:
feathers on a porch step

Three nesting boxes...yet we still have a renegade hen who flies over the fence to lay her egg.

Wing clipping is a whole lot cheaper than higher fences.

Posted Sun Oct 20 17:02:18 2013 Tags:
Frost preparation

I decided to pick the last of our tender vegetables (and figs) in preparation for the frost, and even though it didn't (quite) freeze over the weekend, I think it was a good decision.  Chances are our first frost will come sometime this week, so I didn't lose much ripening time by my preemptive action.

Clean windows

I also treated myself to the first fire of the winter since the trailer was a chilly 43 when I woke up Sunday morning.  That means I also had to admit our days of living on the porch are severely numbered, so I cheered myself up about the move inside by cleaning all the windows.  It's astonishing how different indoors life is when you can peer out through clean glass into the wider world.  Nearly as good as life on the porch...at least once you add in a warm fire and a happy cat.

Our chicken waterer kits come with complete instructions for building your own heated waterer, making winter care even simpler.
Posted Mon Oct 21 07:56:30 2013 Tags:
Live oak allee

Perfect vacation tip #6: Plan good excursions, but not too many

Brookgreen gardens

When we decided to go to Pawleys Island, I started researching area attractions and soon came up with a short list of half a dozen places I'd really like to visit.

Brookgreen
sculptures

But when it came right down to it, I knew we'd want to spend most of our time on the beach, so I narrowed our main excursion down to one --- Brookgreen Gardens.  (We also made a few forays to the grocery store, took in a movie, and stopped at the library, book store, and Audubon store.  Oh, and Mom wanted to go to the consignment shop to get another sweat shirt.)

Reflecting pool

Gryphon


Having one major excursion in the middle was perfect.  Our first vacation day was a "sea day" in which we spent all of our time at home or at the beach, so by our second day we had plenty of energy to walk through the sculpture-and-botanical garden.

Epiphytes

Bronze statue




We were stunned by the live oaks and their attendant epiphytes (Spanish moss and resurrection ferns).  And I was particularly taken by the way the landscapers had worked with textures and designs that showcased the strengths of each sculpture. 


I highly recommend this particular outing to anyone interested in plants and/or art.  Vastly better than a museum!

Ornamental trellis

Cherub

(More gratuitous photographs.  Plus, doesn't the trellis above look very useful if you wanted to grow kiwis?)

Red Devon cow

Water carrierPerfect vacation tip #6.5: Don't try to do it all

As the leader of this excursion, though, I made one mistake --- I dragged my compatriots past the formal gardens to check out the zoo.  I wanted to learn which heirloom livestock were historically used in the area (which I'll post about eventually on our chicken blog).  But we ended up footsore and saddened by the caged animals.  Mark and I figured that the livestock would be much healthier and happier if they were rotationally grazed on the vast lawns, and the grass would probably be greener there too.

So, my corollary piece of advice for this post is to pay attention to your energy levels and not to go see the otter exhibit just because the visitor center lady said it was not to be missed.  If you don't feel like it, miss it.

Learn how to keep your flock happy on pasture in Permaculture Chicken: Pasture Basics.



This post is part of our Gratuitous Vacation Photos lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:
Posted Mon Oct 21 12:01:31 2013 Tags:
splitting firewood with Lucy and Anna

A wheelbarrow of dried walnut got our firewood splitting season off to a fine start.

Posted Mon Oct 21 16:25:58 2013 Tags:
Frost on fig

The first fall frost of 2013 came just a day later then I'd expected...

Blue sky

...and with it came blue skies!  We haven't seen much of these for the last six months or more, and I'd forgotten how beautiful the world is in direct sunlight.  I was starting to think we'd accidentally moved to the Pacific Northwest.

As a side note (assuming you were hoping to get a kernel of information from this post), I didn't realize until I moved to the farm and started monitoring frosts how important cloud cover is to nighttime temperature.  A cloudy day tends to be cooler, but around here a cloudy night tends to be warmer because the clouds trap heat close to the earth's surface.  So I guess the frost and blue skies were related after all.

Our chicken waterer keeps hens happy so they lay all winter.
Posted Tue Oct 22 08:06:10 2013 Tags:
Pawleys Island

Perfect vacation tip #7: Go outside your past experiences and be wowed Coquinaby the ordinary

I think we all have a tendency to want to recreate past joys, so many of us go to the same vacation spot over and over again.  But I've found that my second time with the same vacation often doesn't hold a candle to the first.  That's why I was so glad Mark recommended we go to Pawleys Island instead of my family's traditional beach haunt of Ocracoke.

Field of cotton

Mom and I got excited before we even approached the ocean.  She had never been this far south in her life, and I'd only seen a field of cotton once before.  "Look at the cotton!" Mom and I exclaimed as we whizzed down the highway.
Roadside wildflowers
And while my favorite event of our first vacation day was the instant we got to our rental house and I walked out on the porch and saw the ocean for the first time in years, Mom's fondest memory was stopping at a gas station and walking over to a weedy margin to look at wildflowers.

Sand dunes

Alligator

Which isn't to say there wasn't plenty of extraordinary on our vacation too.  But if you get a kick out of the common, everything else is icing on the cake.




Learn to hatch homegrown chicks in Permaculture Chicken: Incubation Handbook.



This post is part of our Gratuitous Vacation Photos lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:
Posted Tue Oct 22 12:01:22 2013 Tags:
Using AutoCraft battery charger to charge up ATV battery at 7 hours for a full charge at 1.5 amps

We had some trouble getting the ATV started.

I took the battery to an auto parts store for testing. They only measured 90 cranking amps when the minimum for this size is 190.

The voltage was over 12 volts, which has fooled me in the past before I learned that engine starting is all about cold cranking amps.

Posted Tue Oct 22 16:22:21 2013 Tags:
Digging a ditch

I've spent most of this week with my brain in 2006, reading back over journals from that era as research for my upcoming ebook.  One thing that's struck me is how much rock we've thrown into our driveway, and how little difference there seems to be between 2006 and today.

Rutted driveway

I'd say that our driveway is moderately dry at the moment, but it still has lots of water standing in the ruts...and lots of ruts.  Part of the problem is that we focus our efforts on those ruts, and we keep changing vehicles so the orientation of the ruts keeps changing, but I think part of the issue is also that we're looking at the problem with the wrong perspective.

Although we'll probably fill our current ruts with rock as we've done before, I thought now would be a good time to experiment with ditching.  My sky pond project gave me an inkling of how moving water around can dry up certain areas, so Mark and I went down to the worst spot (pictured above) and dug a little ditch parallel to the curve on the downhill side (sloping into the center of the curve), then another ditch perpendicular to that running further downhill toward the creek (and sloping downhill).

Perpendicular
ditching

The ditches were already filling up with groundwater as we dug.  In a few days --- barring rain --- I should be able to see results.  Is the part of the driveway uphill from this ditched zone drier than the neighboring driveway area?  If so, it'll probably be worth putting in more time this winter on digging ditches since it doesn't take all that long (although the effort is pretty intense cutting through the sedges and rushes).

As a side note, does anyone have tips on what to do with the ditch dirt?  I have a feeling there's a reason to mound it up on one side or the other of the ditch, but couldn't seem to work that through, so located it a bit randomly.

Prepare for spring with one of our chicken waterers, the best way to prevent coccidiosis and drowning in chicks.
Posted Wed Oct 23 07:55:51 2013 Tags:

Sea foam
PalmettosPerfect vacation tip #8: Learn something, but stay whimsical

If you're following my advice and going to a new spot on each vacation, you probably won't know much about your surroundings.  That's a great opportunity to learn new things, which for me usually means discoveries about the natural world.

Mom found the beautiful and informative Tideland Treasure on our trip, and that book helped us answer questions we'd had earlier in our stay.  For example, I felt like the waves were much lower than they'd been in my childhood beach memories, and Tideland Treasure explained that we'd accidentally arrived at a neap tide, when the force of the moon and earth counteract each other at the quarter moons and cause lower highs and higher lows.  If I want those raging waves of memory, I need to plan our next trip for spring tides at the new or full moon.

Moon jelly

Shell collectingWe gleaned other tidbits randomly from folks we talked to.  Mom  and I had noticed several huge jellyfish washed up on the beach, and our movie-star neighbor mentioned he'd just seen a piece in the New York Times about these moon jellies.  Turning back to the book, Mom discovered that moon jellyfish are edible, and that jellyfish of various sorts are often eaten in Japan.

The trick with learning on vacation is a lot like what I discovered while beach combing.  By looking with your own eyes for a couple of days before hitting the books (or internet), you'll see more and not get bogged down in the search for perfection.  (This admonition is only relevant for Type A people, of course.  Type B people probably stopped reading this lunchtime series long ago because they were straining muscles from all the eye-rolling.)

Learn to start a no-till garden in Weekend Homesteader: April.



This post is part of our Gratuitous Vacation Photos lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:
Posted Wed Oct 23 12:01:17 2013 Tags:
troubleshooting a starting issue on the ATV

A new battery did not fix our ATV starting problem.

We cleaned the solenoid and tried starting it bypassed with a jumper cable.

The starter turned at that point, but just barely...and the jumper got very hot after just a few seconds. We think this indicates that the solenoid is bad and needs to be replaced. Any gear head comments would be greatly appreciated if you've got any experience with this troubleshooting procedure.

Posted Wed Oct 23 16:20:32 2013 Tags:
Digging carrots

Previously, I've waited to dig our carrots until November, but this year I had a reason to move sooner.  Rye did well last year as a late-planted cover crop, so I've been pushing to find bare ground to finish up my 50-pound bag before the end of rye-planting season (a few Cutting ryeweeks after the first frost).  Carrot beds looked like perfect rye habitat, so out come the carrots and in go the cover crops.

In case you're curious, I only made it about halfway through my buckwheat challenge, but I've already passed that mark in my bag of rye.  It's been a cool, wet year and the spot I most wanted to improve was too waterlogged for buckwheat.  Oh well --- any extra organic matter is better than none.

Can you tell I got sidetracked less than a third of the way through the carrot harvest and went to help Mark troubleshoot the ATV?  I'll dig the rest today (barring other pressing projects) and stock the carrots away in the fridge root cellar for the winter.

Our chicken waterer is the POOP-free solution to a dirty homesteading problem.
Posted Thu Oct 24 07:47:56 2013 Tags:
Bookstore

Perfect vacation tip #9: Buy souvenirs for somebody else

This tip really speaks for itself.  I've always found it's much more fun to pick one or two gift recipients and buy for them instead of for yourself.  Of course, if you happen to get a book, you can read it before gifting it....

Fish counter
Perfect vacation tip #10: Splurge a little

One of Mark's fondest memories of Pawleys Island was going to an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet.  The prices have risen considerably since then, though, and even eating out at the cheapest of the non-fried seafood restaurants felt like something we didn't want to do more than once.  However, buying fish from the upscale Fresh Market was a great compromise, since most selections came prepared to the point that even a seafood know-nothing like me could cook them easily.  And dinners on our porch overlooking the ocean were vastly preferable to a restaurant meal for us three introverts.  Given the ambiance, a little splurge felt like decadence!

Beach breakfast

Perfect vacation tip #11: Bring vegetables from home

"Now I understand why Mark won't eat vegetables away from your house," Mom said as she bit into a homegrown tomato.  "And these sugar snap peas might as well be fruit, they're so sweet!"

I packed the car up with summer squash, peas, tomatoes, apples, and green beans from home, not so much to save money, as to ensure we had delicious, nutritious meals on the road.  After you start growing your own, even the vegetables at fancy restaurants seem subpar, and vacation is all about excellence!

Dive into Weekend Homesteader this month with season extension in the garden and vegetables you can store on a kitchen shelf.



This post is part of our Gratuitous Vacation Photos lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:
Posted Thu Oct 24 12:01:52 2013 Tags:
bringing lion's mane mushroom log out of the wild and into our garden

This is one of the Lion's mane logs I hauled in last week.

It's parked under an apple tree near the trailer so we can see it everyday.

Watering it with a hose might help to stimulate more delicious growth.

Posted Thu Oct 24 16:03:57 2013 Tags:
Baby brussels
sprouts

Last year, we didn't top our Brussels sprouts because it was our first year growing and we wanted to try the simplest method.  But Throwback at Trapper Creek reminded me of the possibility, and even though it's really much later than you should top the plants, I decided to try lopping the tips off a few.

Topping brussels sproutsThe theory behind topping Brussels sprouts is that if you cut off the growing tip, the plant stops elongating (and making new Brussels sprouts) and puts that energy into plumping up the sprouts that have already started.  This is a bit like the way you might top tomatoes at a certain point so they ripen fruits faster rather than setting lots of little tomatoes that won't have time to fully form before the frost.

In the case of Brussels sprouts, all of the sprouts will keep enlarging until extremely cold weather sets in, and it's true that the plants will also make sprouts in the early spring if they over-winter.  However, we found last year that the over-wintered sprouts were pretty damaged and only moderately worth eating, while the fall and early winter sprouts were delectable.  So even though topping Brussels sprouts reduces yields by about 30%, I figured it was worth a try if the 70% we get are much higher quality.

I wasn't entirely sure it was worth topping so late, though, so I only hit plants sporadically.  The tops came into the kitchen where I sauteed them in a bit of oil with salt and pepper and relished the first taste of Brussels sprouts in months.  A forecast of delicacies to come!

Our chicken waterer is the POOP-free treat for pampered backyard birds.
Posted Fri Oct 25 08:16:43 2013 Tags:
Rocking chair and beach towel

Perfect vacation tip #12: Stay just long enough, but not too long

Some vacations leave you feeling like you need a vacation from your vacation, but this trip instead recharged our batteries.  Why?  We were only gone for four nights, which was just long enough to really get into the zone and then be happy to see home again.  (If you're less of a homebody, you might be able to stay longer.)

Road trip

Perfect vacation tip #13: Don't drive too far

Even though Mark does all the driving (because I hate it), hours in the car can be a drag after a while.  Seven hours seems close to the maximum amount we'd want to go, since much further would tempt us to stop for the night and would make the vacation too long for homebodies.

Swimming in the
ocean

Perfect vacation tip #14: Don't go too often

On the beachBefore this trip, I hadn't been in the ocean for about ten or twelve years.  When I walked out into the waves, I laughed out loud from delight and suddenly I was the person I'd been a decade or more ago.  I don't think I would have had such an extremely good time if I'd been to the beach last month or even last year, so even though Mark, Mom, and I all rated this trip a 10 out of 10, we probably won't go back to Pawleys Island right away.

Thanks for looking at all my gratuitous vacation photos!  Before I return you to your regularly scheduled homesteading posts, do you want to add any tips you have about creating the best possible vacation?

Save $2.61 when you buy the compiled Weekend Homesteader ebook rather than each month.



This post is part of our Gratuitous Vacation Photos lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:
Posted Fri Oct 25 12:01:21 2013 Tags:
using jumper cables to make sure our problem is the solenoid and not the starter motor

Anna figured out today that our starter is good and the solenoid is bad.

She brought in the jumper cables from the truck this morning, shorted the two main connections on the solenoid and was rewarded with a healthy sounding starter when she turned the ignition switch.

Why did Anna do this instead of me? I'm not quite sure...she sort of did it behind my back. I was still putting my boots on when I heard that wonderful cranking sound. Am I upset that she ran ahead to take all the glory? Heck no! A woman who can fix your dinner and your ATV is a fantasy that most men around here would trade their favorite deer rifle for.

Posted Fri Oct 25 16:07:15 2013 Tags:
Wrapped fig

Last year, I didn't wrap up our fig trees until early November, but the current cold snap is treating us to unseasonable lows in the lower twenties (with flurries of snow!), so I decided we'd rather be safe than sorry.  Plus, this cold weather produced a large leaf fall on the driveway, which made for easy raking, so the time seemed right.

Frost protecting a
figLast year's method of freeze-protecting a young fig tree worked great, so I repeated the method on all of our baby fig trees.  I wasn't quite as thrilled with my previous frost-protection of our larger fig, though, for a couple of reasons.  First, last year's tarp tended to blow off the top, and that plus natural settling matted down the leaves so the upper third of the tree wasn't protected.  I also felt like I didn't get much of an early (breba) crop because of cutting off so much of the top of the fig.  So, even though I pruned this year, I left the full height of the branches remaining, and used a tarp to completely encompass the tree, as you can see in the photo at the top of this post.

If you live north of zone 7 and still want to give figs a try, you might want to first read this post about cold-hardy figs.  The bit of winter protection required, in my opinion, is very much worth it for the heavy yields from a completely trouble-free plant.

Our chicken waterer makes your backyard flock easy to care for and keeps the coop dry.
Posted Sat Oct 26 08:04:53 2013 Tags:
Ground fault interrupeter outlet

This GFCI outlet stopped working less than a year after I installed it.

It got invaded by some kind of mud daubing insect.

I replaced it with the same type of outlet, but if it happens again I'll have to upgrade it to one of those outdoor outlets with a door covering the sensitive areas.

Posted Sat Oct 26 15:29:35 2013 Tags:
Hard frost

Warm fireI woke Saturday morning to a very heavy frost and discovered the low (forecast to be 27) had dropped to 18.  This is an extremely cold snap for not-even-Halloween --- for the sake of comparison, last year we didn't get down into the teens until the beginning of December.

If I'd realized it was going to descend this low, I would have done a lot of prep work --- covered up a lot more plants (like Asian greens and early lettuce and maybe even Brussels sprouts) and plugged in the heated chicken waterers and the light bulb in the fridge root cellar.  By the time the frost melted, I was outside, worriedly checking for damage.

Winter greens

In the process, I found out that soil temperature is much more important than air temperature for a lot of these issues.  Yes, the chicken waterers were frozen, but the plants and fridge root cellar mostly weren't.  The earth is still pretty warm from summer sun, so a low that would have killed most uncovered plants in February just nipped back the Swiss chard, Frost-nipped Swiss chardtokyo bekana, and oilseed radishes a bit, with everything else thriving.  The fridge root cellar only dropped to 39 degrees, perfect for the carrots and apples therein.

The one thing I did learn was to start subtracting nine degrees, rather than five, from our local weather forecast.  Our movie-star neighbor has started calling our farm Little Alaska since we always get significantly colder weather than his mid-south-facing-slope does, even though we're less than a mile and a half away (as the crow flies).  He only saw lows of 23 during our cold snap, but guessed we would have gone down to 20.  Little did he know, it gets even colder than that here.

Posted Sun Oct 27 08:23:51 2013 Tags:
using walnuts to prevent perching on top of the waterer

A stack of walnuts is all it took to stop our rooster from perching on top of the new EZ Miser waterer.

Posted Sun Oct 27 17:10:31 2013 Tags:
Small-diameter firewood

I suspect that in most parts of the world, firewood looks a lot more like the photo above than like the big split rounds most Americans are familiar with.  These were some of the smallest trees we cleared out of the newest pasture this spring, and they taught me a lot about the pros and cons of using small-diameter wood for fires. 

On the plus side, the sticks were easy to carry home full-length, allowing Mark to cut them with the miter saw (which feels safer and cleaner than the chainsaw).  We left them uncut in a pile in the yard for most of the summer (due to pure laziness), so they went into the shed later than the other logs, but the wood appears to be just as dry (or drier), probably due to the large surface area per unit volume in the thin branches.  And they're very handy for me to use since I don't need Mark's help splitting them --- it's easy to feed the little branches into the stove whole.

Coppiced box-elderThere are downsides, of course.  You'd need an awful lot of small-diameter firewood to add up to much heat, and they tend to burn up quickly (due to that big surface area, again), so they won't last the night.  Plus, they're harder to start a fire with since the unsplit wood seems to repel the first tender licks of flame.

But (especially in our wet climate), this type of firewood would be very sustainable to grow.  I've been watching our powerline cut ever since the electric company whacked back the big trees in 2006, and most stumps sprouted several new stems that became large enough to use for firewood within two to four years.  Now those branches are actually getting a bit too big to cut with the miter saw, but we never harvested them because we always seem to be awash in firewood simply due to clearing areas for new projects.  If you had no wooded acreage, though, and needed to heat your home, an area of coppiced trees like those in our powerline cut might do the trick nicely.

Our chicken waterer keeps hens happy with clean water.
Posted Mon Oct 28 07:38:55 2013 Tags:

Growing Into a FarmMy newest ebook, Growing into a Farm: Before the Walden Effect, is now live on Amazon.  Thanks to everyone who gave me title and cover suggestions!  If you missed it, you can read the introduction here, and the blurb is below:

"This is a love story in three parts about how I ended up with much more than I bargained for, and grew beyond the person I thought I'd be."

Anna Hess spent her early childhood chasing ornery cows back into the barn, eating all the strawberries before they got ripe so she didn't have to share them, and climbing sap-riddled pine trees.  The reality of farm life seemed to be summed up in one word --- bliss.  So when her back-to-the-lander parents threw in the towel and moved the family to a nearby town, Anna resolved to save her pennies and find a farm of her own, one that she would never have to leave.

A couple of decades later, Anna had bought the property, but soon realized she couldn't make her dreams come true alone.  When a friend set her up with a potential mate, Anna went along grudgingly.  "To be honest, at the time I was still pretty sure that a farm and a man were incompatible," Anna wrote, "and given the choice I leaned toward the farm."  Little did she know that the best partnership was a threesome --- a man, a woman, and a farm.

Full of photos, this book serves as a preface to the popular homesteading blog, Walden Effect.


The rest of this week's lunchtime series is going to regale you with the first section of Growing into a Farm, but if you want to see the parts with Mark in it, you'll have to splurge $1.99 on a copy of the complete book (which
can be read on nearly any device).  I'll also be setting the book free on Friday so my loyal readers can pick up a copy without paying, and those of you who prefer a pdf copy can email me Friday to get an emailed copy instead.  Thanks for reading (and double thanks if you find the time to leave a review on Amazon).  I hope you enjoy this light read to round out a busy gardening season!


This post is part of our Growing into a Farm lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:
Posted Mon Oct 28 12:01:29 2013 Tags:
how to fix a broken refrigerator handle the easy and cheap way

I started to use epoxy on this broken plastic handle and had second thoughts.

A 1/4 inch pilot hole and a medium sized drywall screw secured it nicely.

Posted Mon Oct 28 16:03:56 2013 Tags:

Jayne with calendar
Homesteading calendar

The 2014 Homesteading Calendar is now ready to preorder!  You can see all the pages and read far more than you probably care to hear on its official page.  The most relevant points are:

  • Mark's step-Mom, Jayne, is 80% responsible for making this calendar a reality.  Thank you, Jayne!
  • It's pretty!  The proof copy is shown above --- the real calendar will look slightly different, mostly in that it will be stitched instead of spiral bound.  I liked the proof so much I immediately sent it on to my mother, who was over the moon about it.
  • It costs $11.99 plus $2 shipping (with the shipping not increasing no matter how many calendars you buy).  (Sorry we weren't able to keep the price down to $9.99 --- we went for pretty instead of cheap.)

My only reservation about this calendar project was my terror that we'd end up with boxes of perishable product that are suddenly useless on January 1.  So I hope you'll help me spread the word so that all 300 copies find happy homes in the next two months!

To sweeten the pot, we're going to draw a name out of the hat and give away a free calendar next week.  To enter the drawing, spread the word in any way you want --- in person, on facebook, on your blog, etc. --- then leave a comment with a note on your efforts by midnight November 3, 2013.  I'll add your name into the hat once for every venue you hit, and then I'll use a random number generator to pick the winner.  Be sure to check back here Monday to see who wins so you can collect your prize!

Posted Tue Oct 29 08:21:20 2013 Tags:

Old farmhouse(If you haven't already, you'll want to start with this excerpt from the very beginning of Growing Into a Farm.)

My homesteading dream began nearly as soon as I was born onto another southwest-Virginia farm owned by my back-to-the-lander parents.  When you spend your early childhood chasing ornery cows back into the barn, eating all the strawberries before they get ripe so you don't have to share them, and climbing sap-riddled pine trees, the reality of farm life seems to be summed up in one word—bliss.  The signs of my parents' rough path through farm ownership were all around me in their stress-induced arguments, but I only took in the joy of wading through creeks all summer and catching minnows for my cat.

When my parents finally threw in the towel and dragged us to town, I was eight years old and unwilling to go.  Too timid to pull a My-Side-of-the-Mountain and live up to my threat of running away to reside on the farm by myself, I still vowed that one day I would buy a farm of my own that I would never leave.

By the time I graduated from college, my childhood vision had solidified into a plan.  At that time (2000), property in my part of Appalachia could still be had for about $1,000 per acre if you selected a spot in the boondocks, so I figured I should be able to save up $10,000 and buy ten acres within ten years.  I'd pay for the land with cash and live in my car and tent until I'd saved again, this time enough to build a small house.  My goal was self-sufficiency—for the farm to provide for enough of my needs that I hardly had to work in the outside world.  Simple and feasible, right?

Stay tuned for the next installment tomorrow, or read the entire book here.


This post is part of our Growing into a Farm lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:
Posted Tue Oct 29 12:01:37 2013 Tags:
how to replace a bad solenoid on an ATV Polaris Sportsman 700

The new ATV solenoid showed up today and we just ordered it late Friday.

It took a star bit to loosen and tighten the mounting bracket.

We ordered this part from Amazon. It's an aftermarket starter solenoid that fits all Polaris ATVs except the Expedition.

Posted Tue Oct 29 16:25:59 2013 Tags:
Backyard terraforming

'Tis the season to be terraforming, tra la la la la, la la la la....

That early killing frost was the bane of my fall garden, but a boon to future gardens.  By nipping back a lot of the current growth, the hard frost made it easy to dig while it's still early enough that I can probably sneak rye seeds in to cover the bare ground for the winter.  I decided to take advantage of the opportunity by terraforming the upper quarter of the gully.
Clearing the gully
Long-time readers will be aware that this gully probably formed when previous owners of our farm let all the topsoil erode away from half of our core homestead.  The result is a swampy, weedy area that Mark has been slowly reclaiming with hand saws, clippers, and weedeaters for the last few years

Kill mulchBy this time last year, the upper quarter of the gully had changed from briers to sedges and grasses, so I figured it was safe to throw down a kill mulch and grow subirrigated tomatoes there this year.  The idea made sense, but I wasn't aware how swampy that part of the gully becomes during a wet summer, so the tomatoes caught the blight quickly and perished.  My current method for dealing with parts of the garden that make me sad is to avert my eyes and go somewhere else (not recommended), so I never weeded the tomato beds after the crop died, and moderate weeds started coming back in.

Current gully

This week's task was to ensure that the next crop planted in that part of the gully doesn't drown, achieved by mounding all the topsoil from the aisles onto the beds.  These rows may turn out to be a set of chinampas in wet years, but I'm willing to weed in muck boots if that's what it takes to turn this sunny spot into a productive part of the garden.

Making raised beds

And the results already thrill me!  I shouldn't have been so surprised when each shovelful of dirt came up dark and rich --- after all, if the topsoil eroded out of the gardens above, it had to collect somewhere, right?  Since the roots of the plants in these new raised beds won't be submerged in water any longer, I suspect this might become one of my best growing areas.

Next up on the terraforming list is some swales in the newest pasture, and kill mulching another zone of the gully so it'll be just as easy to dig next year as this zone was.  The gully is definitely shaping up to be one of our longest-term projects, but worth the tidbits of attention here and there devoted to the oft-ignored corner.

Posted Wed Oct 30 07:40:22 2013 Tags:

Barn in the woods(If you haven't already, you'll want to start with part 1 and part 2 from the very beginning of Growing Into a Farm.)

After reading my endless letters about this farm dream (and about rototillers, seeds, and chickens), my college friend, Melissa, decided to put me out of my misery.  Melissa used her computer-programming skills to join Amazon.com in its infancy, so by 2003, her stock options provided a healthy sum she hadn't expected.  "How would you feel if I bought into your farm idea?" Melissa asked.  "We could use my money to purchase it sooner, I'd own half of it, so the farm could be bigger, and you could pay me back over the course of ten years with a no-interest loan."


To anyone else, this offer would sound almost too good to be true, but I was fiercely independent back in 2003.  I'd held off on dating anyone since I figured a man would only stand in the way of allowing me to achieve my dream of roughing it on a farm, and I didn't want to be beholden to anyone.  However, Melissa was (and still is) one of the few chinks in my armor.  The two years we'd shared at college (before she graduated and went off to help Amazon build an empire) were some of the happiest of my life, and anything that made our post-college diaspora likely to reverse, bringing Melissa closer to my Appalachian stomping grounds, was fine by me.

Box turtleSo I accepted Melissa's kindness and started hunting for property.  I knew I wanted water, at least an acre of arable land, and lots of space between me and my neighbors— everything else was optional.  By the time I stumbled across an ad for 58 acres on Sinking Creek, I felt like I'd been on a dozen blind dates with grossly incompatible partners.  There was the mountainside acreage completely covered in kudzu, the recent hillside clearcut with tree carcasses littering the ground and soil already eroding away, and the $300-per-acre tract that was poisoned by runoff from a coal strip-mine.

When I showed up at Sinking Creek, I actually walked through the wrong property first.  There was no for-sale sign in evidence—my land-to-be had been on the market for so long that everyone had forgotten about it—and the realtor's instructions were vague.  But I finally backtracked and ended up in the right spot, where wood frogs, chorus frogs, and spring peepers had combined their calls into a symphony reverberating across the damp floodplain.  I had to park along the county road and trek up a right-of-way for about half a mile, fording a creek and sinking up to my knees in the swamp, but I finally came around a bend and saw a huge tobacco barn towering through the trees.

I was barely able to push my way through the blackberries and honeysuckle to reach the old house, half of which had collapsed with age, but once I got there, the peace was overwhelming.  I couldn't see or hear any signs of human life, although bird songs had joined the frog chorus and flowers were scattered across the hillsides.  Finally, the far-off rumble of a coal train reminded me that humanity existed...but at a distance.  It was love at first sight.

Old newspaperThe world's worst bargainer, I tried to talk the realtor down from the already low-ball figure of $600 per acre.  Despite my rose-tinted glasses, I was well aware that most of the land was good for nothing by human standards, and that the long, wet driveway was going to be a thorn in my side for years to come.  For a few months, I pretended to myself (and to the realtor) that I was going to go elsewhere, but I didn't look at any other land—the Sinking Creek farm had already won over my imagination.

By November, I was planting ginseng seeds on a north-facing slope, and soon thereafter, Melissa sent me a cashier's check so I could close on the property.  I was $17,000 in debt and 58 acres rich.

I thought I'd reached the happily-ever-after stage of my love story, but as anyone who's been in an actual relationship knows, tying the knot is only the beginning.  Luckily for me, my dating experience had all been in secondhand, book form, so I wasn't jaded enough to foresee the future.  I figured the land and I would work together seamlessly, I'd be relishing homegrown apples in no time, and jobs were a thing of the past.  Ah, the innocence of youth.

Stay tuned for the next installment tomorrow, or read the entire book here.


This post is part of our Growing into a Farm lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:
Posted Wed Oct 30 12:01:32 2013 Tags:
how I fixed a broken 2x6 with two pieces of angle iron

The ATV garbage hauler broke when I overloaded it with buckets of gravel.

I got this length of angle iron for 6 dollars and cut it into two pieces.

Wood screws with washers hold it to each corner making it stronger than before.

Posted Wed Oct 30 16:24:18 2013 Tags:
Anna Salad box
Ripening peppers and tomatoes

Every year, I say I'm not going to pick the green peppers and tomatoes before the frost and ripen them inside over the next few weeks.  And every year I do it anyway --- it's just too hard to let summer go.

I call my this my salad box since the fruits will go on top of lettuce out of the garden.  The first few fruits to ripen after being take in were as good as the ones picked off the vine, but I'm already starting to sense a decline in flavor.  Pretty soon, the ripening tomatoes and peppers will taste like store-bought, at which point they'll go to the chickens.  Still, I guess it's worth getting an extra couple of weeks of salad toppings, if only for moral support (and prettiness).

Posted Thu Oct 31 06:42:24 2013 Tags:

Tent in the woods(If you haven't already, you'll want to start with part 1, part 2, and part 3 from the very beginning of Growing Into a Farm.)

A few days before closing (October 25, 2003), I wrote in my journal:

"I already hauled my father up to look at the buildings—the house isn't worth fixing since the foundation would have had to be jacked up, among other things, but I can use the wood.  The barn is in good shape, just needs a new roof.  (That's really high up, but, penny-pincher that I am, I guess I'll learn to deal with heights.)

"I found a beautiful site for a 169-square-foot, underground, passive-solar-heated house.  (No, those last two aren't oxymorons.)  And some beautiful forest at least 50 years old.  My bedtime reading has mutated from fluffy fantasy to books on building your own home.  And I'm planning an orchard."


Creek crossingAt first, my love affair with the land seemed to be off to a good start.  Sure, everyone who I dragged out to look at the property warned me away from such a rough partner, but the price was right and she had such an engaging twinkle in her eye that I brushed off their concerns.  That first glorious autumn, I pitched a tent every chance I got and set to work tearing down the old house, carefully pulling out each nail to be straightened and reused, then setting the wood aside as building material.

During our honeymoon, I was cheerfully oblivious to the inevitable setbacks.  A month after closing, I wrote:

"Finished tearing down the southwest addition to the old farmhouse.  Destruction is so pleasant, especially since I know that I can use the wood that I tear off either to build with or for firewood (depending on its condition).  Too bad I broke my hammer, or I would have gotten all of the nails out of the salvaged wood.  Next time!"


Even discovering that the creek running along the edge of the property flows into a sinkhole that frequently clogs, causing the water to back up and flood the entire valley, felt like an adventure that first winter.  In early March 2004, I wrote:

"Flood!  Friday night, the sky opened up and rain pounded down on the tin roof of my current home.  In a short time period, we netted nearly an inch of water.  I suspect the Sinking Creek area got the same, because when we arrived on Saturday morning, the creek was raging and muddy.

House elevation"Daddy had come up from South Carolina to give the house one more look over.  I badly wanted to be able to salvage one room, to speed my moving in, and he had promised to look at the house more thoroughly.  All that stood in our way was the creek.  The creek—which was currently over five feet high, overflowing its banks, and racing along at an amazing clip.  I jumped into the water on the creek's edge, hoping to get across, but even clinging to a spicebush I nearly got swept away by the cold water.  Downhearted, we turned back (though the brownies I'd brought cheered people up considerably).

"I had been told that Sinking Creek rises quickly but falls just as quickly, so we made plans to come back the next day and try our luck again.  When we returned on Sunday, after a day of dry weather, the creek had gone down two or three feet.  At our usual ford, I could wade across with water only up to my knees.  We did so, and Daddy gave sentence on the house— tear it down, he told me.  I was saddened, but he said the wide oak planks were very good and that a good deal of the wood can be reused."


My plans for accommodations shifted with the wind that winter and spring.  At first, I dreamed of going underground, but soon learned that "the groundwater is very high and an underground house would be more of a boat in that location."  Next, I considered fixing up the best part of the old farmhouse, but Daddy shot that dream down, so I moved on to considering a small straw-bale house on two levels, with the framing lumber salvaged from the farmhouse.

Found chairUnfortunately, my physical strength and skills didn't live up to the grandiosity of my dreams.  Even though I didn't write about it in my journal (remember, I was thoroughly in love), the deconstruction work was already taking its toll.  I started waking up in the night with hands that had fallen asleep and tingled painfully, and I eventually discovered working in the cold was causing my wrists to develop carpal tunnel syndrome.  I didn't mind (much) when I camped out on a night so cold my water bottle froze solid beside me, but when I stopped being able to hold the crowbar, I knew I was in trouble.

Still, I wasn't willing to change my dream one iota.  Instead, I kept pain and suffering out of my journal and wrote:

"I've noticed that the property has suddenly started feeling like home.  Maybe because it's warmer, so I don't feel like I'm just trying to survive while I'm there.  Or maybe it's because I'm getting to know the neighbors.  But I really think it's because of that chair I hauled up from the floodplain.  I don't sit in it—I like sitting on the ground—but the chair makes it feel very homey."


(As a side note, I'm sitting in that chair I once hauled out of the floodplain as I type today.)

Stay tuned for the next installment tomorrow, or read the entire book here.


This post is part of our Growing into a Farm lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:
Posted Thu Oct 31 12:00:17 2013 Tags:

ATV solenoid testing


Anna and I made a short ATV troubleshooting video on our recent experience with fixing the ATV by replacing a solenoid.




Posted Thu Oct 31 16:03:32 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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