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

archives for 04/2014

Apr 2014
Weather forecast

The weather forecast this week seems just right for transplanting.  Not only is it supposed to be warm at night, it's due to start raining at the end of the week, which will give transplants a leg up.  Even the 10-day forecast shows no sign of freezes (which I take with a grain of salt since Sunday night was supposed to be 30 and instead dropped down to 23).  That's good because, while onions, broccoli, and cabbage can handle temperatures in the upper twenties once they're established, it's nice to set the seedlings out when they won't have to deal with freezing until they've got their legs under them.

Broccoli seedlings

The seedlings I started inside two and a half weeks ago are leggy and yellowed, despite their doses of manure tea (so they're not pictured).  Hopefully, those inside starts will catch back up once they're in the ground, but I have a backup plan.  The babies under quick hoops are just now sprouting into hefty, healthy seedlings, which will be ready to fill any gaps in two or three weeks.  This way we'll get the best of both worlds --- an early start on some seedlings and definite good health for others.  Mark's mantra is "Backups, backups, backups!" and I'm always glad when I apply it to the garden.

Posted Tue Apr 1 07:40:44 2014 Tags:
cedar chicken roost in the Star Plate coop

This cedar roosting station has something for everybody.

The bottom rung is for small chicks to practice on while the medium level is for the birds that need a step before you get to the top sleeping roost.

Posted Tue Apr 1 16:12:26 2014 Tags:
Pruning a transplant

Mom and I like to swap plants, so on her most recent visit, she brought me a sucker from a flowering quince bush and I gave her a few suckers from an elderberry bush.  None of the suckers had many roots, and the quince had a pretty tall stem.  Would it survive?

The first step when you end up with a perennial that has far more top growth than bottom growth is to whack back the stems to be more proportional to the roots.  You definitely want to remove any flower buds, too, since your little transplant shouldn't be worrying about reproduction this year.  (But feel free to put those bud-covered stems in a vase for a bit of early spring color inside.)

Forcing a quince flower

If you've got several plants like this, it's generally a good gamble to go ahead and plant them outside after pruning, but if you really want to make sure that each plant survives, throw it in a pot and let it grow in the house for a while.  Moderate light levels and ease of watering will help the plant get its feet under it over the next few months, at which point it will fare much better when returned to the outside world.

This type of babying is also handy if you get plants from a friend who lives in a warmer climate than you do.  Mom's quince was already leafing out, and I knew we were going to get freezes the next few nights, so I figured it would be happier indoors than out in the cold ground.

Thanks for the quince, Mom!  I'm looking forward to sour fruits and pretty flowers in a year or two.

Posted Wed Apr 2 08:04:55 2014 Tags:
Best way to start sweet potatoes?

When is the best time to start propagating sweet potatoes? The first week in April.

Moist gravel is our medium of choice, sunk half way down.

Our yields got a lot better when we started using a heat pad.

Posted Wed Apr 2 15:41:51 2014 Tags:
Grafting apples

When I first walked into our grafting workshop and saw the selection of scionwood, I was a bit disappointed.  The extension agent had teamed up with a local farmer, who brought in prime scionwood from his trees in exchange for some free rootstock.  That part was good.  The bad part was that the only options were pretty mainstream: Red Delicious, Yellow Delicious, Granny Smith, Lodi, Winesap, Stayman Winesap, Wolf River, and Early Harvest.  Only Early Harvest was on my wish list, although I did go ahead and get a Red Delicious (for Mark), a Winesap (for backup), and a Wolf River (as an experiment).

Scionwood smaller than rootstock

But Kayla and I are slow grafters, so as others left, they offered us the remnants of special scionwood they'd brought to the class.  Much of this scionwood was so skinny that I had to match only one side of the scionwood to the rootstock, so it might or might not take.  Despite the sub-par scionwood, though, I couldn't turn down varieties I'd never heard of like Wood's Favorite (a seedling of Maiden's Blush) and Pound Pippin (aka Fall Pippin, a popular commercial variety in the nineteenth century), plus a modern variety Apple scionwoodthat Kayla adores (Jonagold) and one that Mark adores (HoneyCrisp).  I also snagged a variety of Winesap that the attendee swore was the "real old-fashioned Winesap," and I took a gamble on a pear that the owner told me was an early, red variety, name unknown.  (There were a few pear rootstock available at the workshop --- the pear, of course, didn't go on apple rootstock.)

Some of my gambles will probably perish.  For example, when I came home and looked up Jonagold, I discovered that the variety is rated as very susceptible to cedar apple rust, which is our worst apple disease and which I treat only with variety selection.  On the other hand, perhaps I should have taken another grafter up on his offer of a White Apple, which I thought was just a vague term but which actually turns out to possibly be a synonym for Belmont, another rare variety.  Even though each unknown type will take up space and a bit of time, I don't mind gambling on the chance of getting a truly astounding apple variety or two when these plants start bearing between 2019 and 2022.

Watering in newly grafted applesBack at home, I soaked the roots of the baby trees overnight to make up for them sitting out during the workshop, then I made them a good home.  Mark reminded me that every tree that came home from the first two grafting workshops I attended died from deer nibbling, weed explosions, and lack of water.  Our farm is much more established now, but I still went a bit overboard on protecting our babies.  I planted them about a foot or so apart in the row where I'd ripped out cultivated blackberries last fall, within easy hose reach of the trailer and in soil that's rich and weed-free.  After watering the trees in and mulching them well, I even erected a deer-proof cage out of trellis material and U-posts just in case those few deer who make it into our homestead every year make a bee line for the baby apples.  Hopefully our new trees will all survive and thrive!

Posted Thu Apr 3 07:39:17 2014 Tags:
cutting firewood from stump with chainsaw

We cleared some stumps out of the new Star Plate pasture today.

I like to cut logs off the top for firewood if the stump is long enough.

Anna's part in this dance is to collect the pieces in a wheelbarrow.

Posted Thu Apr 3 15:59:52 2014 Tags:

Starting sweet potatoes on a heating pad"Fascinating - I have never seen this before!   I thought you just plant [sweet potatoes] like regular potatoes.  Can you post pictures as they sprout and what you do with them later?  Thank you!"  --- Alice R.

I thought I'd already made a cohesive post about propagating sweet potatoes, then realized I was thinking of the chapter I included on sweet potatoes in the second edition of Homegrown Humus.  For those of you who haven't given that ebook a read, here's my tried-and-true method of making homegrown slips --- the little rooted plants that you use to grow sweet potatoes in the garden.

Sprouting sweet potatoAs Mark posted earlier this week, we start by sinking a few skinny tubers halfway into wet gravel in the bottom of a seed-starting tray (with the insert removed).  I generally save out skinny tubers on purpose, selecting ones that are less than two inches in diameter since they seem to spit out slips quickly without wasting too much food.

I place a heating pad turned to medium or high (depending on the weather) under the flat, and then mostly ignore it for a few weeks.  You can choose to put the clear top on the seed-starting tray, in which case you really can ignore the contents (although mold might start to form).  Alternatively, you can leave the top off and just add water as needed to keep the gravel moist.  The warm, moist environment will soon tempt your tubers to grow little sprouts like the one pictured above.

Once these sprouts start popping up, it's time to take off the top of the tray (and to make sure you keep the tray well watered).  The sprouts will grow quickly, and several will pop up on each end of most tubers.  Once a sprout is about four inches long, simply snap it off the tuber and place it in a vase or other container of water so the bottom half inch of the sprout is Rooting a sweet potato slipunder water.  Within a week, each sprout should have at least two or three roots an inch or so long --- you've grown your own sweet potato slips!

Sweet potatoes like it warm, so wait until after the frost-free date to plant them out in your garden.  Pick an overcast day (or set them out in the evening) and plant each slip so the leaves are above ground and the roots are below ground.  Water them in well, and come back by the next day to water again as needed.  After that, they'll take off and will provide a carefree crop (as long as you keep the deer away).  Happy sweet potatoing!

Posted Fri Apr 4 07:50:15 2014 Tags:
Natural Tunnel State Park airplane throwing
A good place to meet for paper airplanes and birthday cake.
Posted Fri Apr 4 15:11:27 2014 Tags:
Spring tuna salad

Here's another egg-related recipe to use up those delicious morsels, mixed in with canned tuna, fresh chives, and sweet potatoes stored from last winter.  (Of course, I added bacon, too, to tempt Mark's appetite.)  The ingredients:

  • 4 hard-boiled eggs.  (You can increase this up to 8 eggs if you have them on hand and want the salad to be eggier rather than tunaier.)
  • 1 large (12 oz) can of tuna, drained
  • 5 slices of bacon, cooked
  • 1 large sweet potato, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 0.25 cups of chives, cut into small pieces
  • about 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
  • about 4.5 teaspoons of honey
  • salt and pepper
Cut sweet potato

Bake the bacon on a tray in the oven at 350 degrees, flipping the slices over as they start to brown on one side, then removing them when they brown on the other.  Chop the sweet potato into bite-size chunks, mix the potato into the bacon grease, add salt and pepper, then put the tray back in the oven to cook the sweet potato (stirring once or twice).

Salad dressing and chives

Meanwhile, mix the balsamic vinegar, honey, and chives.  Drain the tuna (and make Huckleberry's day by giving him the juices), then add the tuna to the bowl.  Spoon the hard-boiled eggs out of their shells, break them into small pieces, and add them as well.  Break the bacon into bite-size pieces and add it to the salad, then spoon the hot sweet potato out of the pan and into the bowl, leaving as much of the grease behind as you can.

Tuna and egg salad

Mix and serve over a bed of homegrown baby lettuce.  Serves four happy spring campers.

Posted Sat Apr 5 07:54:24 2014 Tags:
using old chicken feathers as mulch layer

Use them as a layer of mulch for the new baby apple tree bed?

That's the best idea we've come up with so far.

Posted Sat Apr 5 16:10:19 2014 Tags:
Nanking cherry flowers

The Nanking cherries always lead the way, heralding bloom time for our woody perennials.  This year, one bush is completely coated in flowers, suggesting we'll have quite a crop of these small fruits (which we primarily grow for the chickens).

Apple and peach buds

Although I enjoy the cherry flowers, I spend much more time watching the buds on my favorite fruit trees.  While pruning six weeks ago, I saw a lot of dead wood on the peach trees, so I wasn't terribly surprised to notice that the flower buds weren't swelling the way they should have been in late March.  Most peach trees are rated to survive up through zone 5, but I'm now guessing that folks in zone 5 probably see many years with no fruits, even if their peach trees live through the cold.  A low of -12 this past winter nipped between 90% and 99% of the flower buds on our peach trees, and only time will tell whether the few flowers left are enough to produce even a scanty crop.

On the other hand, the apples were largely unfazed by the wold weather.  Plump buds are starting to open into flower clusters, although I reminded them that the coming week will be more seasonable, so they might want to slow back down.

Hardy kiwi buds

Speaking of slowing things down, the hardy kiwis are also starting to open their first buds.  Of all of our woody perennials, hardy kiwis are the most prone to being nipped by late spring freezes, but there's not much I can do about the situation other than to wait and hope.

New strawberry leaves

One task I did add to my agenda for the week to come is to get the strawberry beds weeded and ready to go as they start thinking about blooming.  The first new leaves are opening over the plants and I can already see the flower buds pushing out of each plant's core, so I want to hurry up and weed before my efforts would risk breaking off precious blooms.  Unlike with fruit trees, where you thin many flowers off, every single strawberry bloom could turn into a fruit, and I want them all!  We're still enjoying strawberry leather and jam from last year, but are quite ready to taste fresh, homegrown fruit again in less than two months.

Posted Sun Apr 6 07:57:34 2014 Tags:
new chick looking out on the day

Our new chicks are still a little timid and only roam a few feet from home.

Posted Sun Apr 6 15:29:43 2014 Tags:
Stooling an apple

It seems a bit counter-intuitive to go out in the spring and cut down a baby apple tree, but that's exactly why I planted the tree below.  I set out the Budagovski 9 (aka Bud 9) rootstock last spring with the intention of using it to create more rootstocks for grafting in spring 2015.  To that end, I let the tree grow for a year, and now I'm cutting it back to prompt the tree to send out shoots.

Cutting back apple rootstockThe image above, from the 1957 Oregon Extension Service document "Propagating Clonal Rootstocks," sums up the process of stooling very succinctly.  I'll keep my eye on my little tree this spring, and once the shoots are four to six inches tall, I'll mound up sawdust (or perhaps dirt) around the lower half.  Just like hilling potatoes, I'll come back through a couple of times during May and June, adding more sawdust until my mounds are 12 to 15 inches tall.

After that, it's a waiting game.  The tree will send out roots into the sawdust around the base of each shoot, and by this time next year I'll be able to rake back the sawdust, clip off the rooted shoots, and use them as rootstocks for another dwarf tree planting.  I only expect a few shoots this first year, but the stool (plant I'm cutting from) should increase production over time, and can keep churning out shoots for over a decade.  Not a bad return on my few dollar investment.

Although I don't know for sure that my stooling experiment will work out, I'm confident enough that I'm adding three more rootstock varieties to the row this year --- MM111 and M7 for apples, plus OHxF for pears.  I know that seems a little overboard since I just grafted a dozen new trees last month, but I love propagating, and I've never had any of my new perennials go to waste.  If we don't use them, they make great gifts!

Posted Mon Apr 7 07:34:19 2014 Tags:
close up of some dried up Loctite Epoxy

I used to think it was a good idea to have an epoxy kit handy for emergencies.

We've had this unopened container of Loctite's Plastic Bonder in a drawer for a couple of years now, and when I went to try to fix Anna's favorite stainless steel pot handle today I realized it was all dried up.

Not sure what went wrong, maybe if I stored it in a Mason Jar or Ziplock bag it would still be fresh and ready to go?

Posted Mon Apr 7 16:13:14 2014 Tags:
Newly cleared pasture

Mark and I have just about finished clearing out the closer half of the starplate pasture.  Last year, Mark cut down all the big trees, but there were still stumps and logs to be cut into firewood, briars and honeysuckle to be ripped out, and plenty of punky wood to be thrown into the swales.

We've learned the hard way that making the ground relatively even is a good idea in new pastures so that mowing is simplified and non-chicken-friendly weeds don't get out of control.  Right now, all of the trip hazards are obvious, but in a month or two, our exuberant greenery will take over the ground, covering up stumps and vines.  As my grand-nephew would say, "That's a recipe for a lost flywheel shaft key."

Punky wood in swales

Another thing we're doing differently in this new forest pasture is to plant the fruit trees in rows, making easier-to-care-for tree alleys.  By fencing all of the fruit trees into their own rows, any eventual larger livestock can be kept out, and chickens can be allowed into the alleys in small doses only so as not to over-fertilize the trees.

I'm getting a little stuck on planning out the fencing for these tree alleys, though.  My goal is to minimize the number of gates involved, since each one takes Mark an afternoon or so to build, making them the most time-consuming part of the fencing process.  I also want to ensure easy human access to all parts of the pasture, limited chicken access to the tree alleys and the other paddocks, and hypothetical large animal access to the non-tree paddocks.

Possible pasture map

Here's one possibility, which uses a central paddock the animals always have access to in order to ease fencing and gates.  I think that I can just unlatch a corner of a livestock panel and prop it open to let chickens into each paddock, which would mean we'd just need two gates to make it easy on humans entering the pasture and then entering the permanent paddock in the middle.  The downside is that any permanent pasture will get scratched bare in no time, so I'll either have to deal with mud around the coop or will have to plan for some kind of mulch in this permanent yard.  One final upside is that the permanent yard can open out onto the woods for winter chicken pasturing without scratching up pasture areas I care about.

Another fencing possibility

Another option is to do what we usually do and use popholes to let chickens into the paddocks we want them in.  The upside of this method is --- no muddy mess around the coop!  The downside is --- if we want to add larger animals, we'll have to come back in and make real doors for access, which might be tough.  Another potential issue is that there's no easy way to shunt chickens into the woods for winter pasturing, but we work around that issue now using temporary fencing and can do that again.

Using either of these methods, I'll also need to decide how wide the tree alleys should be.  We'll be planting semi-dwarf apples and pears here, which are usually spaced about 15 feet apart, but if I make the tree alleys 15 feet wide, there won't be much room in between.  Once again, I'm forced to decide between two imperfect scenarios: wide tree alleys that "waste" a lot of pasture space but ensure large animals will never nibble on the tree limbs, or narrow tree alleys that maximize pasture area but possibly let hypothetical livestock eat lower limbs.  Which would you choose?

Posted Tue Apr 8 07:50:31 2014 Tags:
Starplate gutter anchor attachment

Hanging gutters is pretty easy once you figure out the front end goes first.

Posted Tue Apr 8 16:14:48 2014 Tags:
Door step

Month-old chicksAt one month old, our chicks still fit into their brooder, but quarters are starting to get cramped.  So we're beginning to get more serious about putting the finishing touches on the starplate coop to ready it for move-in day.

While Mark worked on gutters and popholes Tuesday, I took over the door step in front of the coop.  The deep bedding system is a great way to manage manure, but it does make doors difficult to close since bedding tends to push through the opening.  For this coop, we opted to raise the doors up above the eventual height of the bedding, then to add a door step to hold the bedding in place (and to keep chicks from running under the door while the bedding is low).  Sinking cinderblocks partway into the soil behind the door seemed to do the trick, but only time will tell how they'll hold up to daily traffic.

I figure we'll be 100% finished with the coop the first time a chick starts scratching where it shouldn't.  Nothing like a living deadline to finish up a complicated project.

Posted Wed Apr 9 06:38:34 2014 Tags:
mark Hazelnut
hazlenut planting day 1 Eta and Jefferson

Today was the first day of our 2 new Hazelnut varieties. Jefferson and Eta.

Posted Wed Apr 9 17:03:32 2014 Tags:
New perennials

GraftingWhen I placed my perennial order last fall, I hadn't planned on attending a grafting workshop.  So, in addition to a couple of second-generation hybrid hazels, another hardy kiwi, and a blueberry gift for Kayla, I ordered five pear rootstocks and eight apple rootstocks for the two of us to split.

You'd think those rootstocks would be going begging with ten newly grafted plants in a nursery bed, but I still had five pieces of carefully collected scionwood waiting to be put to the knife.  I remind myself that these apples will be going onto M7 instead of MM111 rootstock, so they can be planted a few feet closer together --- surely I'll be able to find them a home at this time next year when they're ready to leave the nursery bed?

Calloused scionwood

Calloused scionwood closeupOne of the apple varieties I wanted to try this year is the chestnut crab, which I think might make the sweet, tiny apples I used to pick from a street tree when I was a kid.  A reader sent me some extra scionwood, and when I pulled the twigs out of their protective wrapping, I discovered that the bases had callused.  This enlarged white area is what often happens when a cutting is starting to root, so I figured I'd take the extra pieces and stick them in a pot of soil in my propagation area to see what will happen.  My understanding is that most crabapples don't get much bigger than an apple grafted onto semi-dwarf rootstock, and since crabapples can also be used as rootstocks for other apples, if these two cuttings root, I'm sure they'll have a use on the homestead.  (Yes, I am incapable of turning away from anything perennial that shows potential for rooting.)

Apple seedling

Sprouting apple seedsOn a final appley note, I pulled my Arkansas Black seeds out of the fridge a week or so ago and noticed there was ice on the damp rag I'd put in their container.  So I let the whole thing sit out for a few days and soon noticed little roots pushing their way out of the dark seed coats!  I carefully transplanted each sprouted seed into a depression in a pot of stump dirt and now the baby apples are opening up their leaves.  Yet another fun fruiting experiment in the making!

Posted Thu Apr 10 07:37:03 2014 Tags:
close up of grass on first day of mowing 2014

The sound our mower makes when it starts on the first pull is my favorite Spring sound next to toad songs and grouse thumping.

Posted Thu Apr 10 16:25:15 2014 Tags:

Hardening off tomatoesWe nearly always see frosts right up to our frost-free date of May 15, but starting in mid-April, we also enjoy multiple-day periods without freezing temperatures.  It's worth taking the seedlings outside for some of those warm days, especially as they get bigger and more able to handle breezes and blazing sun.

Sunbathing-seedling afternoons also give me a chance to overwater pots so water runs out the bottom without making a mess inside.  This type of watering helps prevent salt buildup in the growing zone of the pots, and while it's probably not necessary with short-term potted plants, flushing out the pots makes me happy.

If we lived in a normal, climate-controlled dwelling, I'd have to be more careful of my first stages of hardening off.  But since our trailer often drops down into the mid-forties at night at this time of  year, similar temperatures outside are no big deal for our seedlings.  I do continue to take them inside at night, though, if the forecast low is below 45 --- our microclimate seldom matches the forecast, and it would be a shame to lose all of these little tomatoes and peppers to a freak frost.

Posted Fri Apr 11 07:23:50 2014 Tags:
IBC hose hookup conversion

Our Intermediate Bulk Containers have a 2.5 inch fitting that we needed reduced down to a typical 3/4 inch hose hookup. The difficulty is guessing what kind of threading it is.

These rubber connectors snug up to any threading and are easy to install.

Posted Fri Apr 11 16:10:48 2014 Tags:

The garden bounty is starting to come in, which is lucky since our freezer and larder are nearly bare.  We're eating leaf lettuce every day, kale nearly daily, shiitake mushrooms from the old logs under the fruit trees whenever they feel like popping up, lots of chives and Egyptian onions, and masses of eggs.  Working with what's in season, I made this recipe with shiitakes and dandelion greens in place of the sweet potatoes, and it was delectable!

The new crop coming in this week is rhubarb.  I have two neglected plants...neglected because I rarely think of eating rhubarb.  The trouble is that the sour stalks require so much sweetening, they don't push my good-for-you buttons.  Does anyone have a recipe for rhubarb that doesn't rely on copious sweeteners?  If all else fails, I'll do what I usually do --- give the stalks to my mother or brother to bake into a pie.

Posted Sat Apr 12 08:02:17 2014 Tags:
Bays Mountain sun watch day
Observing sun spots is a nice way to end an afternoon hike.
Posted Sat Apr 12 17:22:15 2014 Tags:
Apple flower buds

Mark and I only tasted our first homegrown apples last year, and those trees were already two or three years old when we put them in the ground four years ago.  By that math, the little trees I grafted this spring won't fruit until 2020 or 2021.  It's hard to imagine waiting five to eight years to taste the fruits from the trees we just grafted.

On the other hand, you can also look at those non-fruiting years as an opportunity to really get the orchard in stellar order so the eventual fruits are so chock-full of micronutrients they knock your socks off.  To that end, I'll be growing cover crops in the tree alleys where this year's babies will be set out next year, and then I'll probably grow vegetables or raspberries in between the baby trees in later years until the trees begin to fill in their space.  The bed I pulled blackberries out of last fall is proof that simply topdressing soil with manure and mulch every year will result in supremely dark and loose earth in no time, and I'm sure my apple trees would love some soil like that to grow into.

Cabbage transplant

That mental perambulation reminded me that I have some spare room in between the new grape vines I installed this past fall.  I mulched the grape rows well to begin the battle against weeds, but the transplants won't have spread their roots far yet.  Why not sneak in an extra two dozen cabbage transplants into that ground?  In an effort to hedge my bets against weird weather, I started about 200 more cabbage seedlings under the quick hoops than I actually need, and they all came up, thrived, and need homes.  I know I have a plant-propagation problem...but I can quit any time....

Posted Sun Apr 13 07:51:55 2014 Tags:
Star Plate pop hole close up

We made this first Star Plate chicken door out of 1/4 inch plywood.

Past experience tells me it's better to have the lock on the inside.

Posted Sun Apr 13 15:34:56 2014 Tags:
Carolina wren

All winter, our farm grows toward the sun.  I plant most of our fall and early spring crops in the mule garden, the furthest away from the shade of the hill.  We bask in the warmth that comes in the south-facing bank of windows in front of the trailer, and our tractored chickens do the same with their open-fronted living quarters.

Chicken tractor in the garden

But as April brings a spell of days in the low 80s, everything turns around.  First comes the chicken tractor, which I literally turn 180 degrees so the solid back creates a shaded zone for hot afternoons.  I start to close the shades on the trailer's west windows to block out afternoon heat.  And soon we'll even switch our work schedule so we do outside tasks in the morning instead of the afternoon.

Four-leaf clover

This heat spell won't last long, and by tomorrow I'll be scurrying around to cover up seedlings, glad the strawberries haven't yet opened their blooms.  The hint of summer was fun, though, since it gave me the chance to lounge in the yard and find the year's first four-leaf clovers (two in one patch).

Roast rhubarb salad

As a completely unrelated side note, I really appreciated everyone's rhubarb suggestions!  I merged several pieces of advice together by tossing about a cup of chopped stalks with about two tablespoons of strawberry freezer jam and roasting them at 450 degrees for about ten minutes until they were just becoming soft.  Adding the strawberry-roasted rhubarb to a spring salad of lettuce, baby kale, and arugula, topped with hard-boiled eggs, a store-bought avocado, and a bit more strawberry jam drizzled on top was delicious!

Posted Mon Apr 14 07:11:11 2014 Tags:
ATV leaf hauling to new Star Plate coop

Today was the day I tested out the repair job on the ATV garbage hauler.

I think it's going to hold together for many future trips.

It also comes in handy for hauling bags of leaves back to the garden.

Posted Mon Apr 14 16:32:37 2014 Tags:
Small-scale chinampas

Baby snapping turtleAs one of our readers commented, my terraforming project created tiny chinampas.  All winter, the rye I sowed on the raised parts of the beds thrived despite the soggy aisles, and come spring, wildlife moved into the little ponds between the beds.  I found two baby snapping turtles hanging out in the shallow water this weekend, and plenty of tadpoles are escaping their eggs to join in the fun.

As long-time readers will realize, we struggle to deal with the wet ground in certain parts of our garden, so seeing how well these little chinampas do has been an eye-opening experience.  I decided to go ahead and dig the back garden into similar raised beds to ensure that this year's tomatoes don't suffer from wet feet.

Building a raised bed

You'll know if your soil is wet enough to need small-scale chinampas because rushes and sedges will be growing in the mown aisles along with grass.  To confirm that the groundwater is too high for the soil to be planted into as-is, dig around a clump of earth, then grab the grass on top as if lifting the clump up by its hair.  If the soil is well-drained, the whole clump will stay together since roots go straight down into the subsoil.  If the soil is waterlogged, the top will peel off since the plant roots stayed in the inch or two of soil above the water.

Raking a bed flat

I dug one long chinampa Monday, which is about all my wrists can take before they start to complain.  I mostly tried to place the sod grass-side down so it will rot quickly, but I wasn't all that particular about it, knowing that I can always lay down some cardboard over top before transplanting in my tomato sets.

Of course, the down-side of turning the garden into chinampas is that I may be walking through an inch or two of water in the aisles if the summer is wet.  But better my feet get wet than my tomatoes complain!  Plus, if the aisles turn into ponds, they won't have to be mowed, right?

Posted Tue Apr 15 08:02:38 2014 Tags:
poking fun at fig protection

We've been having a problem with our young fig tree "accidentally" exposing herself.

I've tried to explain to her how "good" fig trees stay buttoned up, but the only response I get is the classic rolling of the eyes with some lame excuse about how other fig trees are dressed these days.

Posted Tue Apr 15 15:58:29 2014 Tags:

Swarm trap baitsLast year, I started researching swarm traps just as the garden was heating up, so we didn't really manage to get anything going in time to catch a swarm (although a swarm did end up in the barn anyway).  But now that we have all of our ducks in a row, it's simple to bait a few hives with lemongrass oil and hope we'll catch free bees.

This is a bit early in the year to be setting up swarm traps, but Mark noticed some honeybees nosing around the porch over the weekend, and we wondered if they were looking for a new hive cavity.  The colony in our Warre hive still hasn't started building comb in the empty third box, but bees don't always read books, so it's possible the bees figured it would be easier to swarm than to build down the way they're supposed to.  I could know for sure what's going on if I opened up the hive and looked for developing queen cells, but I'd rather toe the Warre line and leave the hive closed, then hedge my bets with swarm traps.

I baited three different hives, and need to put in an hour to finish building last year's real swarm trap and install it as well.  It will be interesting to see which of the following a swarm of honeybees prefers:

  • A Langstroth hive made up of two shallows, one box with fully drawn comb and one box empty.
  • A Warre hive made up of two boxes, both with fully drawn comb.
  • A top bar hive with no comb and smelling of mouse.  (Over the winter, a pesky rodent nested under the lid, and even though I brushed away the nest, the scent remains.)

While this experiment is far from scientific, I'm always curious which of the main beekeeping methods the bees themselves would prefer, and this should give me some indication.  Here's hoping we catch a swarm early enough that it makes it through the winter!

Posted Wed Apr 16 07:27:20 2014 Tags:
hitch pin substitute

What do you do if your hitch pin is lost somewhere along a muddy driveway?

Poke around the barn till you find an old, rusty socket wrench.

Posted Wed Apr 16 15:19:37 2014 Tags:
Frozen apple blossom

Forecast low: 26.  Actual low: 23.  Fruit damage: high.

I've tried protecting tree blooms in the past, but haven't had any luck with wrapping trees and don't want to try to run sprinklers all night.  So we just roll with the weather, some years not getting any tree fruits at all.

I had hoped that this year's slow spring meant our trees would bloom late enough to miss the hard freezes, and the blooms were slow, but the freeze still came.  The question is --- did it kill everything?  It's hard to say how low the temperature actually got at various levels above the ground and in different parts of the yard.  The apple blossom above was clearly nipped, but many of the dwarf apples closer to the hillside are running slower and are at first pink or even tight cluster stage --- some of them might have made it.  (Here's a chart of critical temperatures in case you're dealing with a similar late freeze and want to guess which of your trees are in danger.)

Freeze protection in the garden

Strawberry flowers at popcorn stageLow-lying plants are much easier to protect.  I pulled out all of my old pieces of row-cover fabric to shelter tender vegetable seedlings like lettuce, broccoli, and cabbages.

At this time of year, I often cover up strawberries too, but only a few had even opened as far as the flowers shown to the right --- "popcorn stage."  The popcorn flowers will have gotten nipped, since they can be damaged when the temperature drops to 26.5, but tight flower buds are okay down to 22.  I figured it was better to miss five or ten of the earliest strawberries than to lose whole beds of broccoli.

Protecting lettuce seedlings

Under their covers, all of the seedlings came through with flying colors, even though the freeze was so hard that weeds in the yard like clover and dock were nipped back.  I usually don't cover peas, but I was a little concerned about them and carefully laid a row cover over half of the beds.  Interestingly, of the uncovered beds, one (in front of the trailer) was moderately nipped and one (in the mule garden beside quick hoops) looked just fine.  A few pea seedlings elsewhere in the mule garden came out from under their cover and those were nipped, so it seems like microclimate effects are hard at work in the garden.

The good news is that, even if we don't get any tree fruits this year, we should have plenty of berries to go around.  Our blueberry flowers are in what's called a tight cluster, safe down to 20 to 23 degrees, so most should be okay.  Blackberries and raspberries haven't enough thought about blooming, and their leaves came through the freeze just fine.  Add in strawberries and figs and we'll definitely enjoy fruits this summer --- yet another reason to grow berries even though they take a bit more work day to day than fruit trees do.

Posted Thu Apr 17 07:55:39 2014 Tags:
Star Plate exit door number 2

We installed another chicken door in the Star Plate coop today along with sealing up the front door to keep any small chicks from squeezing through the crack.

Tomorrow is their move in date.

Posted Thu Apr 17 16:13:22 2014 Tags:

Leafing out rootstockOne of my favorite parts of homesteading is the daily surprises.  Sunday, the hummingbirds showed up and I learned that the tiny birds sustain themselves in the early spring on peach blossoms and the like.  Monday, I harvested our first two asparagus spears in preparation for the hard freeze.  And Tuesday I noticed that my baby apple trees were starting to leaf out.

Most of the trees' action so far is on the rootstock, which is normal but which requires a little care.  With newly grafted trees, you don't want the rootstock to put its energy into growing leaves and branches.  Instead, you'd like the plant to focus on healing up that junction between rootstock and scionwood, then to start feeding energy into the scionwood above.  To keep the baby trees in line, I went through and carefully picked off the sprouts coming off the rootstocks, and will repeat the task as needed until the scionwood is growing strong.

Like many aspects of homesteading, care of a baby tree doesn't take much time, but should be timely.  I think the biggest difference between someone with a green thumb and someone who kills every plant they try to raise is the willingness to spend a few minutes a day with their eyes wide open, then a few more minutes tending to whatever needs their care.  Just walking through our core homestead with my senses wide open is another of my favorite parts about homesteading.

Posted Fri Apr 18 07:17:12 2014 Tags:
installing swarm trap on back of Star Plate chicken coop

Once we moved the new chicks in to the Star Plate coop Anna decided the back wall would be a good place to mount the swarm trap we built last year.

Posted Fri Apr 18 16:14:20 2014 Tags:
Paperback interior

Readers of my book blog will know that I considered signing back on with my old publisher to make Naturally Bug-Free available as a print book, but decided to self-publish this paperback instead so I could maintain the e-rights.

Naturally Bug-FreeWhile making that decision, I spent a couple of weeks turning the interior into a work of art, with big color pictures that should really suck you in (even though the paper isn't glossy).  And then I decided to also make a black-and-white edition for those of you who can't afford the high price tag of the color version.

The black-and-white copies are on sale for only $4.99 on Amazon, and the full color version is on sale for $16.62.  Both are eligible for Amazon's usual free shipping offers.  Plus, you get a free copy of the ebook through Amazon's matchbook program with the purchase of either paper edition, so you can see those color pictures even if you buy the cheaper black and white edition on paper.

To celebrate (and spread the word), I'm running a giveaway --- one lucky reader will win a signed color paperback copy of Naturally Bug-Free, a starter culture of kefir, a Walden Effect t-shirt (only sizes medium, large, or 2XL are now available), and a seed starter pack (containing some of our favorite vegetable varieties).  That's a $72.49 value just for spending a minute plugging my new paperback.  Use the form below to enter, and thanks for your help!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Posted Sat Apr 19 06:14:20 2014 Tags:
Huckleberry sitting on Swiss Chard seedlings

A crushed Swiss Chard seedling is a small price to pay for the help Huckleberry provides in the garden at this time of year.

Posted Sat Apr 19 17:39:16 2014 Tags:
Watering asparagus

My weather guru reports that (despite the high groundwater from a wet winter), spring 2014 has been unusually dry.  As in previous years, this sets up a feedback loop, which in the current instance will likely lead to a hot, dry summer.

Honeyberry flowerI have to admit, even though I don't like heat that much, I do like this forecast.  From a gardening perspective, it's much easier to add water than to take it away, so a hot, dry summer could mean lots of tomatoes and other crops that sometimes flounder in our wet climate.  Plus, we might finally be able to drive the truck back to our core homestead, making it much easier to stock up on firewood, manure, and other essentials.

In the short term, the forecast was simply a reminder to pull out the sprinklers.  I knew the ground was getting dry, but didn't realize quite how parched the garden had become until Kayla and I were out weeding Friday.  Maybe some artificial rain will tempt those asparagus spears to push the rest of the way out of the soil?

Posted Sun Apr 20 07:55:59 2014 Tags:
close up of creek powered sprinkler

Running the creek sprinklers all day felt like a good way to celebrate Easter.

Posted Sun Apr 20 15:26:13 2014 Tags:

Chicks on pastureWhen moving chickens to a new home, I generally lock them inside their night-time accommodations for one or two days so they home in on the spot.  After that, I open the door and let them roam.

Our chicks loved the starplate coop so much, they didn't even feel the need to go outside for the first eight hours of door-opened freedom.  Instead, they enjoyed the inside perches --- despite their small size, multiple little chickens hung out on the top-most roost.

Eventually, though, the whole flock came tumbling out the door and wandered a full ten feet away from the hen house.  The ground is still winter-brown in this shady spot close to the hillside, but our chicks enjoyed pecking at new leaves coming out on tiny tree saplings.

Soon, we'll have the chicks fenced into rotational paddocks, but for now they're small enough not to cause much damage if just allowed to free range.  As long as they're not in the garden, this is probably my favorite chick age --- all they need is to be shut in at night, given free-choice feed and a poop-free waterer, and they're golden.

Posted Mon Apr 21 07:26:10 2014 Tags:

The Resilient GardenerI've had Carol Deppe's The Resilient Gardener on my shelf for a couple of years, but only read it from cover to cover this spring.  Why the wait?  I'm ashamed to say that part of my foot-dragging was due to an assumption that the book was very dry since the only photos are in a central insert.  Despite lack of images in the text, though, the book is very engagingly written.

A more important issue is that Deppe and I have very different gardening and dietary habits, so much of her information isn't relevant to me.  In many ways, she follows the gardening advice of Steve Solomon, which is probably a great way to grow in the Pacific Northwest, but doesn't suit our farm or palates.  On the other hand, it might suit many of you better than it did me --- the information is definitely well-researched and is based on personal experience, which is what I always look for in a homesteading book.

With all of those caveats, what finally got me to crack the cover?  Now that we're going to try ducks (arriving this Friday!), I figured I should go straight to the source and learn from an expert.  Stay tuned for helpful hints on ducks and more in this week's lunchtime series.

This post is part of our The Resilient Gardener lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:
Posted Mon Apr 21 12:01:15 2014 Tags:
Tomato seedlings

Two parts manure and one part stump dirt will keep these tomato seedlings bright green until they go into the ground. I wonder if hefty transplants will turn into extra early tomatoes?

Posted Mon Apr 21 16:29:47 2014 Tags:
Strawberry bloom

Frost-damaged strawberry flowerLess than a week after the hard freeze, I'm able to start assessing what got nipped.  The bad news is that the strawberries were harder hit than the numbers suggested --- lots of flowers are opening and most have black centers, meaning they aren't going to turn into fruits.  On the other hand, the first undamaged flowers are also starting to open, which means we only lost about the first four of five days worth of strawberry fruits.

Frost-damaged apple flower

Opening kiwi budThe apples are also starting to open flowers that were tightly closed last week.  Most are clearly damaged, with brown stamens, but a few look okay like the one above.  The big question will be whether the female parts of the flowers survived --- it doesn't take all that much pollen to fertilize every tree, but if the ovaries are damaged, there won't be any fruit.

I was also heartened to see that a few of the hardy kiwi buds were slowpokes and missed the freeze.  Maybe we'll still get a chance to taste homegrown kiwis this year?

Posted Tue Apr 22 07:26:04 2014 Tags:

Carol DeppeAs the subtitle of her book attests, the primary theme of Carol Deppe's book is finding ways to grow food that will work even when times are tough.  If you can't afford store-bought groceries, break your leg and can't spend every minute in the garden, and have to deal with crazy weather, would you still be bringing in a harvest?  Carol Deppe would.

What's her secret?  Mark would sum it up in one word --- backups.  Deppe goes into more depth, recommending diverse plantings of multiple varieties and types of crops, no single main crop, succession planting, using short-season varieties to work around erratic weather, and including animals in your homestead.  Due to climate change, she recommends not counting on crops that are on the edge of their hardiness range in your area, and instead says you should focus on crops that are being grown commercially by your neighbors since these tend to be dependable.

This post is part of our The Resilient Gardener lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:
Posted Tue Apr 22 12:00:23 2014 Tags:
Bucket handle replacement

The handles seem to be the weakest link in our bucket brigade.  Anna made this replacement grip out of a feed sack and tape last year, and it has held up well.

Some buckets have lost their entire handle, though.  Maybe rope replacements will do the trick?

Posted Tue Apr 22 15:34:23 2014 Tags:
Cabbage seedling

There are a lot more gaps than usual to fill in the garden this spring.  The cold, wet winter killed two-thirds of our potato onions and softneck garlic (although our hardneck garlic, Music, is plugging right along unhindered).  A dry spell when I didn't think to water made for holey germination in the carrot and Swiss chard beds, and Huckleberry's hard work scratched up some peas and poppies.  Time to fill in the gaps!

For some crops, it's not too late to just replant.  I scattered another round of carrot seeds on the appropriate bed and popped Swiss chard seeds into hoed rows (after teasing apart the one seed cluster that had fully germinated, leading to three seedlings in one spot).  There were enough poppy seedlings clustered too close together that I could just transplant them to fill in the gaps, and then I slipped broccoli starts into the holes between garlic plants.

Spacing out poppies

PeasAfter that, I started getting whimsical.  How about a few carrots in the gaps in the pea beds?  Maybe some Red Russian kale in the spaces between potato onions?

The trick with filling in gaps is to add crops that will mature at about the same time as the vegetables that originally owned the bed.  You also don't want to plant something that's going to get too big, shading out the vegetables you really care about, and you definitely don't want to add anything that will need trellising.  So no cabbages, even though I have plenty more starts on hand, and nothing that will need more than two months to mature.  (The carrots are small hybrids, listed at 54 days to harvest.)

I seeded and transplanted Monday and Tuesday, knowing a rainy spell was due to blow in Tuesday afternoon.  Hopefully water from the sky will sprout my seeds and settle my transplants, filling the garden with life.

Posted Wed Apr 23 06:43:28 2014 Tags:

Winter squashCarol Deppe puts her advice on garden resiliency to work by growing different staples to feed herself at different times of the year.  Corn and dried beans fill her belly in the spring; she eats fruit all summer; potatoes, winter squash, and fruit feed her in the fall;  and potatoes and winter squash are on the menu in the winter.  To these garden staples, Deppe adds duck eggs (and a bit of meat) from her flock, along with some purchased pastured meat and canned tuna.

Deppe's staples are one one of the reasons I didn't get as much out of her book as I'd hoped to.  Although I like the lack of wheat in Deppe's diet (due to her struggles with celiac's disease), Mark and I strive for a higher protein diet, so Deppe's focus on potatoes and other high-carb staples didn't sit well with me.  I also don't really believe in the notion that you can stay healthy primarily based on supplements, so her use of cod liver oil to replace most meat in her diet doesn't seem like a nutritious long-term solution.

On the other hand, I was intrigued by how well Deppe seems to listen to her body.  She notes that she feels most full after eating foods high in water and fiber, and she used her own varying hunger levels to discover that she needed to eat animal-based omega 3s.  After noticing that plant-based sources of omega 3s didn't fulfill her cravings, she did some research and discovered that only some people are able to turn 18-carbon plant omega 3s into 20- and 22-carbon animal omega 3s.  Perhaps that's why some people crave meat much more than others do?

This post is part of our The Resilient Gardener lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:
Posted Wed Apr 23 12:01:13 2014 Tags:
A box of new books

The thrill of picking up a box of Anna's newest paperback at the mailbox can only compare to when the first box of Weekend Homesteaders arrived.  A few of these books will be gifts, but most are earmarked for giveaways here on the blog.

Nearly as good was the smile on Anna's face when she saw that some of our readers had purchased paper volumes of Naturally Bug-Free.  If you're on the fence about getting your own copy of this beautiful and informative text, Amazon has marked down both the color and black-and-white versions another 5%.  Act now while they're on sale.

Posted Wed Apr 23 16:24:18 2014 Tags:
Laundry day

Late April is the perfect time to slip in some extra laundry days.  And Wednesday was a perfect late April drying day, with lots of sun and some gentle breezes to blow the sheets dry.

Comforter drying rack

I always come up upon a problem in my washing campaign at this time of year, though.  I like to wash some heavy things like comforters and winter coats right around now, but these items are too big to fit through the wringer.  And, un-wrung, the wet items are too heavy for me to carry to the line and too heavy for the line to hold up.  But I figured out last year that if I just wash one bulky item per day, I can drape it over the wringer washer, flip it over once and squeeze out some of the water collecting in the bottom edges, and have a clean, dry comforter in less than 24 hours.  That's right --- a wringer washer does double duty as a drying rack!

Posted Thu Apr 24 07:17:31 2014 Tags:

Ancona ducksMy favorite part of The Resilient Gardener, by far, was Deppe's chapter on ducks.  She keeps her ducks the way we keep our chickens --- on pasture as part of a diverse homestead.  By the time you read her duck chapter, you'll want some waterfowl too.

Why the focus on ducks?  Deppe considers ducks to be the perfect livestock for the Pacific Northwest, and sings their praises in great depth.  She believes ducks forage better than chickens, lay better at an older age and in the winter, are easier to keep out of the garden with two-foot fences, and are happy even during cold, wet winters.  On the other hand, Deppe warns that ducks aren't for everyone.  Ducks are more vulnerable to predators than chickens are, the ducklings cost more and usually can't be sexed at hatching, they need water to dabble in, they don't do well in confinement and can't live in tractors, they can't stand frozen winters, and they require more coop space since they roost on the ground.  But if you have a larger homestead with plenty of room for the ducks to forage, Deppe believes ducks are the way to go.

I won't go into depth about Deppe's duck advice since you'll really want to read the whole chapter if you're interested in following her lead.  However, I did want to end with a few of her tips on making duck-care more sustainable.  During the proper seasons, Deppe feeds her ducks cooked potatoes and winter squash, the former of which cuts feed costs by 67%  if ducks are also given lots of space to forage.  (Winter squash is lower in protein, so Deppe finds that addition doesn't cut feed costs nearly as much.)  Deppe's ducks get the cull squash Feeding ducksthat are small or were harvested not quite ripe, and the ducks seem to enjoy Delicata and Sweet Meat especially.

Another hint Deppe gave for making your ducks homestead-worthy pertains to ducklings.  She notes that if you let ducklings swim in warm water during their first few days of life (carefully drying them in their brooder afterwards), the activity turns on the ducklings' wax glands so they quickly become waterproofed and able to forage in damp conditions.  On the other hand, if you skip that early swim, the wax glands won't activate until the ducks are eight weeks old, and you'll have to baby your ducklings that whole time so they don't get wet and chilled.

I love how passionate Deppe is on the subject of ducks, but Mark and I are equally passionate about chickens.  So even though we're trying ducks this spring on her advice, we'll be keeping careful records of which type of bird does best on our homestead.  Stay tuned for lots of number crunching (and cute photos) all season!

This post is part of our The Resilient Gardener lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:
Posted Thu Apr 24 12:00:58 2014 Tags:
T-post driver

When we bought our t-post driver last year, I considered welding a weight on the top to give each stroke more oomph.

But it turns out Anna has become the primary pounder now that we don't use a sledge hammer.

The Tractor Supply Deluxe Post Driver is just the right weight for Anna as-is.  So we'll keep the driver weight-free.

Posted Thu Apr 24 15:42:22 2014 Tags:
Loopy apple blooms

We got Mom two dwarf apple trees a year ago --- an Early Transparent and a Cox's Orange Pippin.  They've already paid for themselves, in my opinion, because Mom's close observation opened my eyes to a characteristic I should have been thinking about when choosing fruit tree varieties --- bloom time.  During that hard freeze a couple of weeks ago, Mom noted that her Early Transparent hadn't started blooming yet, so its flowers weren't impacted.  With my mother's observation fresh on my mind, I noticed that my own Early Transparents were also late bloomers that might have missed the worst of the freeze.

Suddenly, I understand why Early Transparent is probably the most common apple variety planted in our area.  The tree stands up to cedar apple rust and is also less likely to be nipped by our (quite common) late spring freezes.  In case you're in the market for a late-blooming apple, other choices include Arkansas Black, Bedan, Belmac, CrimsonCrisp, Gala, Golden Delicious, GoldRush, Haraldred, Honeycrisp, Indian Summer Crab, King, Melrose, Michelin, Nittany, Northern Spy, Northwest Greening, Queen Cox, Ramey York, Red Boskoop, Red Rome, Red Yorking, Rome Beauty, Sweet Sixteen, Winter Banana, Winesap, Wise, and Wolf River.

By the way, isn't it cool how my loops turned an eight-year-old non-blooming dwarf apple into a tree loaded with flowers in one season?  Now I just have to wait and see if any of them survived the freeze and turn into fruits.

Posted Fri Apr 25 07:40:34 2014 Tags:

Sow bugThere's much more information in The Resilient Gardener than I touched on in this week's lunchtime series, and I especially recommend checking out her book if you want to read more about growing winter squash, dried beans, and corn as staple crops.  In the meantime, I'll end with a few fascinating tidbits that didn't fit into any other post.

Last spring, I had problems with some kind of tiny critters eating the tops off my seedlings, so I perked right up when Deppe mentioned her cure to this pesky problem.  When she pulls weeds, she leaves some of them lying along the edges of the beds in clumps to feed slugs and sowbugs, which she finds makes the critters leave her seedlings alone.  The trick is worth a try, even though weeds left in the garden often re-root in our wet weather.

Speaking of weather, Deppe recommends some good tricks for dealing with drought.  If you're unable to water, try removing every other plant in your vegetable rows so the ones left behind can spread their roots further in search of water.  And if you know a drought is coming and you won't be able to irrigate, don't fertilize beforehand since the plants' growth spurt will require more liquid to sustain itself.

The final tip has to do with long-term seed storage.  Deppe saves a lot of her own seeds, and stores some for long periods as a backup.  If you want to follow her lead and put away a stock of emergency seeds, she recommends drying the seeds at 95 degrees in a dehydrator until the seeds are dry enough to shatter when hit with a hammer (for corn and beans).  Then place the dried seeds in a jar in the freezer and they're likely to stay alive for many years.

I hope that whetted your appetite enough to give Carol Deppe's book a try!  Even though Mark and I won't be replicating a lot of her methods on our homestead, the book is definitely one of my favorites for providing realistic advice that is tried and true on the author's homestead.  Every permaculture homesteader should give The Resilient Gardener a read.

This post is part of our The Resilient Gardener lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:
Posted Fri Apr 25 12:00:31 2014 Tags:
Day one of Ducks

We picked up our box of ducks and chicks this morning from the post office.

26 Jumbo Cornish Cross chicks along with 10 Ancona ducks.

They came from Lebannon Missouri. Total price was $121.45.

Posted Fri Apr 25 15:35:25 2014 Tags:

Since I don't have any experience with ducks, I'm doing everything by the book at first.  (In case you're curious, "the book" means the duck chapter in The Resilient Gardener combined with Storey's Guide to Raising Ducks.)  But I'm already starting to wonder which troublesome aspects of duckling care I can safely change. 

First up is the waterer situation.  Ten ducklings managed to empty a pint of water out of a traditional waterer in an hour and a half, and I suspect most of that liquid ended up in their bedding or feathers.  Although ducks do need to submerged their heads from time to time to Ancona ducklingsclean their eyes, I'm wondering if a nipple-based waterer can be their primary drinking source if I give them an open container of water once a day for eyeball purposes.

Books also recommend that you not brood chicks and ducklings together, the primary reason being that ducks empty their waterers all over the bedding and all over the chicks, making the latter sick.  But if we keep the bedding dry with a better waterer, perhaps it will be okay to raise all 36 fluffballs in the same place?  I'm on the fence about this one, though, because it would be pretty interesting to keep feed consumption data on both types of birds separately (although that would also require Mark to build another outdoor brooder).

The other big difference between chicks and ducklings is that the latter need more niacin in their diet.  I plan to offer the ducklings some brewer's yeast instead of a chemical supplement, but I've also read that the real solution is to make sure ducklings have access to plenty of bugs.  That shouldn't be a problem since we'll have them out on pasture by next week!

Posted Sat Apr 26 07:26:30 2014 Tags:
Maple syrup spile close up

A recent article about the nutrional benefits of maple syrup has got me thinking we should expand our syrup collection plans to an additional tree.

According to the article maple syrup has some of the same beneficial compounds found in berries, tea, and flaxseed.

Posted Sat Apr 26 15:26:43 2014 Tags:
Raspberry jam on salad

Last year, we had an astonishing fruit harvest, and I took advantage of the opportunity to try out different ways of preserving the bounty.  We've enjoyed large quantities of strawberries for years now, so we know that strawberry freezer jam is astonishingly good when heated enough to pour sparingly over spring salads and that strawberry leather is a delicious dessert.  But how about ways of preserving extra peaches, raspberries, and blackberries?

Last summer, I tried a bunch of different preservation methods, and after a winter of eating out of the larder, I now know which techniques are worth repeating and which aren't.  White peaches are best fresh, and I was disappointed by the leather I made out of those that weren't quite ripe (but had to be cut into before brown rot overtook the whole fruit).  On the other hand, cooking down those not-quite-ripe peaches until they were quite thick and then freezing the sauce turned out to be a delicious addition to my morning bowls of kefir.

With the extra berries, I tried out various kinds of jam.  I have to admit that even though I had fun experimenting with traditional types of jam-making, the results were too sweet and too cooked for my palate.  On the other hand raspberry freezer jam and blackberry freezer Roasting asparagusjam were quite possibly even better than strawberry freezer jam...although next year I might strain the seeds out of the bramble fruits since they're a bit harder between your teeth than strawberry seeds are.

On a mostly unrelated note, we're also tasting the first asparagus of the year this week.  We haven't had to get creative there because asparagus roasted with a bit of oil, salt, and pepper is so good, we eat it like candy.  Like strawberries, we feel like there can never be too much asparagus in our kitchen and on our table.

Posted Sun Apr 27 07:32:38 2014 Tags:
Chick and duckling comparison

Which are cuter, chicks or ducklings?

Anna and I both think the ducklings have the land fowl beat, but Adrianne is partial to fluffy chicks.

Which do you vote for?
Posted Sun Apr 27 15:35:16 2014 Tags:
Outdoor chick and duck brooder

Looking ducklingI often keep chicks inside for up to a week before tossing them into the outdoor brooder, but this batch was already two days old when they arrived, and the weather had been so warm, I opted to move everyone outside Saturday morning.  By Saturday afternoon, I was sitting and watching them through the open door when chicks started tumbling out onto the ground, so I figured, why not let them go outside early too?  I did have to babysit the youngsters a bit when a few of them couldn't figure out how to get back inside, but soon both ducklings and chicks were busy pecking at ants, crowfoot seeds, and dead nettle flowers.

Swimming ducklings

Duck watererSunday, Mom came over, and I figured it was time to let our ducklings go for a swim.  Mark found a glass pie pan in the barn that was just the right depth for safe escapes, and the ducklings took to it like, well, like ducks to water.

The chicks soon came running over to see what all the excitement was about, but most ran right back inside to drink from our EZ Miser.

(We did decide to stick to a nipple waterer for both ducks and chicks in the brooder, but will be giving the ducklings daily swims to keep their eyes and nostrils happy.)

Taming ducklings

The Ancona ducklings and Cornish Cross chicks are much tamer than the Australorps we usually raise, so I showed Mom that they'd clamber right onto her hand if she left it on the Chick and ducklingground.  She baited the hand with dead nettles, and soon was snuggling with ducklings.

Despite their cuteness, though, I don't think Mark needs to worry that the adorable livestock will be impossible to turn into dinner.  If ducks are anything like chickens, they grow out of their cuteness about the time they start to lose their fluff --- around week two or three.  I'll enjoy the cuteness while it lasts and will enjoy chicken and duck dinners in July just as much.

Posted Mon Apr 28 07:06:21 2014 Tags:
how we cut a cattle panel to shorten it

Cutting these cattle panels with baby bolt cutters takes a lot of elbow grease.

A battery powered reciprocating saw takes only 15 seconds per junction.

Posted Mon Apr 28 16:10:44 2014 Tags:

Signing the contractAlthough the announcement makes me feel a bit flaky, I'm excited to tell you that I've signed a contract with Skyhorse to make Naturally Bug-Free available in print in spring 2015!  The book will probably be slightly renamed (to The Naturally Bug-Free Garden) and will be a moderately expanded version of the ebook currently up on Amazon.

Why the change of tune?  Close readers will recall that I had offered the book to Skyhorse, but thought the deal was off when they balked at leaving me the ebook rights.  I'd like to say that I'm a keen negotiator, but I think that Skyhorse is instead a smart publisher willing to change with the times.  Whatever the reason, the publishing house decided to take a chance on me --- the first time they've ever bought a title without the ebook rights attached --- and they came back to me last Friday with a new offer.

I was more than happy to accept a slightly lower advance in exchange for keeping the e-rights for myself while having the paper edition put together and distributed by pros.  Skyhorse sold many more copies of The Weekend Homesteader on paper than I thought they would, and they definitely moved far more than I ever could have shifted on my own, so I'll be thrilled to have them work their print magic on my bug book.

What's relevant to you, the reader?  Three things.  First, if you've already bought the ebook or plan to buy it in the near future, you'll have the old version, but I'll update the ebook with the Skyhorse version in a month or two.  At that time, Amazon will let you upgrade to the revised version for free.  As always, when you buy one of my ebooks, you get free upgrades forever!

Sweat beeSecond, I plan to unpublish the homemade paper version tomorrow (although I'll still have a few on hand for giveaways), so if you really, really want my original version rather than waiting a year to get the official version on paper, you'd better grab it now.  This is especially relevant for those of you who want the cheap black and white version since the official version will be full color and more expensive, although probably cheaper than the full-color version I offered.

Finally, I'm taking this opportunity to expand the book a bit, so some of you may see your garden featured in print!  Drop an email to with high-resolution photos (anything except pictures from a camera phone will probably work) and an explanation of your experience with controlling pest insects in the garden without chemicals and you might be featured in the print edition.  To sweeten the pot, anyone whose contributions make the cut will win one of our homesteading care packages --- a paperback of your choice (The Weekend Homesteader, Watermelon Summer, or my color version of Naturally Bug-Free), a kefir starter culture, some of our favorite seeds, and a Walden Effect t-shirt (size L or 2XL).

Mark likes to say, "Anna always gets what she wants."  And after this experience working with my publisher, I'm starting to think he's right....

Posted Tue Apr 29 06:50:18 2014 Tags:
attaching a cattle panel to a 2x6 door extension

We attached this cattle panel to a 2x6 extension by drilling holes in the wood and threading through some 14 gauge galvanized wire securing each corner.

Posted Tue Apr 29 16:05:56 2014 Tags:
Anna Mind games
Dig a planting furrow
Mark and I like to play the "what's the best thing about today" game, mostly as a way of keeping positive thought at the forefront of our minds.  (Okay, I'm the only one who ever needs this mental exercise, but my long-suffering husband goes along with it because he's much happier when I'm happy.)  The game has very simple rules --- we each just have to think back on the day and figure out which part made us the happiest.

Planting beansYou would have thought that the best thing about Monday would have been signing a book contract, but my favorite part was actually sneaking in some bean, corn, basil, and squash seeds between thunderstorms.  There's nothing like rushing to plant while the first raindrops fall to get your heart racing.  Plus, I always love the first summer planting, even if it is a gamble.

Runnersup included signing the book contract, watching by flashlight with Mark as twenty male toads hollered for females in the sky pond, and watching the ducklings dabbling.  The big influx of neotropical migrants that came over the weekend and the first lightning bugs were highlights of previous days.

What kind of mind games do you play with yourself to keep your moods mellow and your days a delight?
Posted Wed Apr 30 07:02:07 2014 Tags:
morel mushroom hunting

A Spring storm brought down a dead tree recently.

We were cutting it up for firewood today when Anna found this yummy morel.

The last couple of weeks have been prime time for morel hunting around here.

Posted Wed Apr 30 16:10:34 2014 Tags:

Anna Hess's books
Want more in-depth information? Browse through our books.

Or explore more posts by date or by subject.

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.

profile counter myspace

Powered by Branchable Wiki Hosting.

Required disclosures:

As an Amazon Associate, I earn a few pennies every time you buy something using one of my affiliate links. Don't worry, though --- I only recommend products I thoroughly stand behind!

Also, this site has Google ads on it. Third party vendors, including Google, use cookies to serve ads based on a user's prior visits to a website. Google's use of advertising cookies enables it and its partners to serve ads to users based on their visit to various sites. You can opt out of personalized advertising by visiting this site.