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

archives for 10/2014

Oct 2014
Mulching with fresh oats

One of my long-term goals is to make our mulching campaign more sustainable.  Buying in straw has really helped build our soil and make my weeding work easier, but it has Blooming oatscaused problems too.  First, there's the unique-to-us problem --- we can only haul in heavy materials a few days a year due to the muddiness of our driveway, so getting the straw back to our garden during wet times is difficult.  Then there are the more general problems --- price and the introduction of weed seeds (notably curly dock last year and the grains themselves this year).  All of those problems make me wonder if we wouldn't be better off growing the straw ourselves.

As a very basic experiment, I decided to try to mulch a bit more than we usually do with cover crops.  In the past, I've let the tops of cover crops break down on the beds I planted them into as a way of building soil, but when the oats I planted on August 1 began to bloom in mid-September, I had Mark cut them with the weedeater and then Kayla and I gathered the tops to mulch our strawberries.

Spreading oats

It took about six beds of oats to mulch one bed of strawberries, and even though we spread the leaves and stems pretty heavily, I'm not sure if that will be enough to suppress weeds once the oats dry down.  I also suspect that the C:N ratio of the oats will be relatively low at bloom stage (as opposed to post-fruiting, which is when straw is collected), so this oat mulch might not last as long as I'm accustomed to.  But it's worth a shot, especially since it's an ultra-easy way to start growing a bit more of our own mulch.  I'll keep you posted as the experimental bed goes into the winter, and as we try out cutting other cover crops for mulch.

Posted Wed Oct 1 07:00:11 2014 Tags:

nest box crowding update
It's been a year since we upgraded to a nest box for two.

Every now and then we'll find an egg in the extra box, which makes it worth the effort in my book.

Posted Wed Oct 1 17:00:23 2014 Tags:
Deficient soil

Experts recommend that you take your soil samples in the fall if you're likely to need to add lime (or, presumably, sulfur) to change the pH of your soil since the addition requires time to react.  Personally, I prefer to take soil samples in the winter because the ground is very easy to dig into at that time of year (and since our soil is already sweet).  But, in reality, the best time to take a soil sample is whenever you think about it and need some data.

Soil sampleWhich is a long explanation of why I was filling a flower pot with dirt from several spots in our starplate pastures, mixing it up, and then tossing a representative sample in a ziploc bag to go in the mail.  Although the texture of the earth in that area is excellent, there's clearly a major deficiency at play since very few plants felt like growing over the summer.  When the primary trees in an area are black locust and sassafras and when even comfrey fails to thrive, you know you need a soil test.

Why did I feel the soil test was so critical that it couldn't wait a few more months?  I've been itching to add a ruminant to our farm because they can get most or all of their nutrition from pasture, but there's a flip side to that coin.  If your soil is deficient in a mineral and you expect animals to get all of their food from that plot of earth, they'll end up deficient in the same mineral.  Starved soil could mean starved goats, and I don't want to risk it.  So soil-testing in September it is.

Posted Thu Oct 2 07:00:12 2014 Tags:
how to sharpen dull pruning shears

It only takes a few minutes of filing to make our favorite high end Fiskars pruning shears cut like the day we bought it.

Posted Thu Oct 2 17:00:06 2014 Tags:

Battery-powered chainsawWhen we started researching battery-powered chainsaws, I quickly narrowed down the options to three for serious homesteaders.  I actually asked each of these manufacturers for a review saw, with varied results --- Stihl didn't even answer my query, Greenworks turned me down, and Oregon sent out the sample saw we've been playing with.  Since we've only had the pleasure of trying out one of the options, this comparison is largely based on reviews from other sites, combined with firsthand information from the Oregon saw.

Stihl makes a battery-powered saw (MSA 160 C-BQ) that might head the pack.  However, it's hard to get any solid data on how the saw operates since Stihl only sells through their dealers, so online reviews are scanty.  The price at our local dealer is $329.95 plus the cost of the 36V battery (an additional $260), making this the most expensive option by far.  However, one review site felt like the Stihl saw was twice as fast and cut twice as long as the Oregon saw, so if you want a battery chainsaw to take over all of the work of a gas saw, this might be the right choice for you.

Oregon makes the chainsaw that looked the most enticing from Amazon reviews (CS250).  The saw costs $249 with no battery, $349 with the smallest available battery, and $449 with the largest available battery (which is what we're using).  In addition to being in the power class (40V) that is somewhat comparable with gas-powered chainsaws, the CS250 has the added perk of having a stone built into the saw so you can sharpen your chain with the pull of a lever.  I suspect that this feature will prove to be especially handy since a battery saws are very sensitive to dull chains that make the motor work harder.  Reviewers (and our own experience) suggest that one Battery-powered chainsawsbattery will cut for about an hour and that the saw can easily buck trees up to 9 to 12 inches in diameter (depending on the hardness of the wood).  In a pinch you can cut down larger trees as well --- our saw made it through a 17-inch box-elder (a soft wood) without much trouble, but the job did require a faster battery charge than usual.  As a side note, if you cut too aggressively, the Oregon saw will shut off to protect the motor, which we've only noticed once but which some reviewers have had trouble with.

Greenworks sells a saw (20312 DigiPro) that is cheaper but possibly less powerful than Oregon's offering.  On Amazon, Greenworks' saw costs $140 with no battery, or $267 with a battery equivalent to Oregon's largest.  The lower price seems to equate to a slightly less powerful saw (even though the batteries are 40V just like Oregon's).  On the other hand, it's hard to say whether the possibly shorter run time and reported struggle with bigger trees is just a result of the larger bar making people more likely to be overambitious.

I'd love to hear from anyone who has used these saws and can provide first-hand information.  Do you feel like your saw is able to handle moderate-scale homesteading tasks, even if it would lose a battle against a gas-powered chainsaw?  Why did you choose the model you ended up bringing home?

Posted Fri Oct 3 07:00:10 2014 Tags:
mark Lid drip
Freezer vent update

When I checked up on the freezer vent hole I discovered a drip from the lid.

Maybe water is flowing off the lid and past the seal into the inner lid?

I'm thinking of cutting a tarp just big enough to cover the lid with enough left over surface area to drape over the seal.

Posted Fri Oct 3 17:00:09 2014 Tags:
Roast figs

Is it worth babying a Brown Turkey fig by giving it the prime warm spot beside our wood-stove alcove?  Since we already have two fig varieties that are hardier in our climate (Chicago Hardy and Celeste), the answer will be based on taste.  Daddy was kind enough to give me one of his Brown Turkey figs, which we roasted along with three Chicago Hardy figs and then sampled to solve the mystery.

The upshot?  I thought that the Brown Turkey fig had a slightly figgier flavor than the Chicago Hardy and contained less acidity, but both varieties ranked about the same in terms of quality of overall flavor.  Mark preferred our Chicago Hardy (although I didn't blindfold him, and he's always kind about saying that whatever I put in front of him from our farm is better than any other option).

Looks like I'll be saving that ultra-special spot for a different not-quite-hardy-here edible.  The possibilities are endless!

Posted Sat Oct 4 07:00:08 2014 Tags:
photo of the wrong way to install sharpening stone

I wasn't feeling any resistance when I first engaged the sharpening stone on the 40 volt Oregon battery powered chainsaw.

Turns out you can install the stone backwards and the cover still fits.

Expect to see sparks flying for the few seconds of sharpening.

Posted Sat Oct 4 17:00:07 2014 Tags:
Fava bean flower

Our fava beans are starting to bloom!  The flowers are definitely photogenic, but will the resulting beans be tasty?

Fava beans in oats

Of course, since I'm primarily interested in the fava beans as a cover crop, the real question is --- how much biomass will they produce and do they mix well with others?  The jury's still out on the first question, but the mixing results are starting to come in.

The photo above shows some fava beans I interplanted with oats --- even though the beans are a bit hard to see to the human eye, the plants are doing nearly as well as those grown alone and mulched in another bed.  On the other hand, fava beans at the feet of sunflowers are much more spindly, perhaps because they're in
soil that I haven't babied into top productivity yet.  Or perhaps the sunflowers simply shade the fava beans too much, or the sunflowers' established roots are hard to compete with?  This second hypothesis seems more likely since fava beans in poor soil interplanted with oilseed radishes look nearly as good as those interplanted with oats.

Have you tried mixing fava beans with other cover crops?  I'm always curious to hear about cover crop mixtures that do and don't make the cut.

Posted Sun Oct 5 07:00:09 2014 Tags:
Anna walking on east coast beach

How long does it take us to get to an East Coast beach?

It's about an 8 hour drive depending on lunch breaks and wrong turns.

We always enjoy resting at the beach, but we really start missing our place in the mountains after only a few days.

Posted Sun Oct 5 15:22:37 2014 Tags:
Crab on the beach

Sand circlesWe really hadn't planned a second beach vacation just a year after our Pawleys Island excursion, but when I started getting crabby in the middle of this past summer, we decided something to anticipate would be good for morale.  Pawleys Island was Mark's childhood haunt, so it seemed like we should visit my old stomping grounds this time around for balance.  My family always used to hare off to camp on Ocracoke every summer, but Mark and I instead opted to stay in a beach-front condo in Rodanthe, an hour's drive and a ferry ride further north up the island chain.

Wind surfers

Dredging machineI was excited to get to enjoy Outer Banks waves again, since Pawleys Island's waterworks are puny in comparison.  Unfortunately, a dredger made swimming a bit different than I was used to since it churned up masses of seaweed while harvesting sand to rebuild hurricane-damaged dunes.  I didn't mind swimming amid seaweed, though (and I even stole a bagful for a garden experiment --- more on that in a later post).

Sound side

Boardwalk across the dunesEither Mark or I will regale you with the tale of our biggest adventure --- a visit to the Wright Brothers National Memorial --- in a later post.  Otherwise, we mostly just soaked up the sounds of the ocean, with occasional sunrise walks on the beach (for me), jaunts to the seafood market (for Mark), and general relaxation.  One of my favorite events was a morning walk up the road to a little gift shop where they baked fresh cinnamon buns, during which time I talked to the lady in charge about the raccoon that had shown up on her porch and about local sights.  I never quite caught the lady's name, but I'm still thinking of sending her a postcard since I felt like if we'd stayed longer, she and I might have become friends.


Kayla dropped by to check on the animals once during our five-day absence, and it sounded like the only problem was a few broken eggs in one nest box.  The ducks miraculously learned to use their own nest box right before we left, so the sea of eggs we came home to was mostly clean-shelled, and the opossum who came to visit while we were Metal turtlegone was eliminated by Lucy.  We even arrived back home in time to scurry around for about an hour before dark Saturday evening preparing for the first-frost-that-didn't-quite-happen.

Mark and I both agreed that our farm is even more beautiful than the ocean...but that we might not have enjoyed its current beauty as thoroughly if we'd never left home.  Next year, we might be due for a staycation, or perhaps we'll explore something else entirely --- the Outer Banks was fun, but the landscape was almost too familiar for me.  I like vacations to be an adventure, so we'll have to put on our thinking caps for next year!

Posted Mon Oct 6 08:07:26 2014 Tags:
Wright Brothers memorial photo collage

It was nice seeing a full size replica of the original Wright flyer, but what Anna and I both enjoyed the most was the 30 minute talk given by one of the park guides named Amanda.

The details and enthusiasm she expressed really brought those years in the early 1900's alive in a way that pushed my invention buttons.

At one point the brothers were frustrated and announced it would take 1000 years for man to fly, but their clever sister convinced them to give it another try.

Posted Mon Oct 6 16:13:36 2014 Tags:
Vacation vegetables

There are two kinds of gardener responses to the first fall frost.  Some of you are probably sick of garden tasks and are quite happy for the cold weather to come and put your garden to sleep.  (This is probably the more healthy reaction to the inevitable loss of summer.)  Then there are the obsessive people (like me) who will spend days protecting every single plant in hopes that this current frost is just going to be a fluke.  We obsessive types figure that (previous data to the contrary), there's bound to be another month or two of Indian summer to enjoy...if we can just ease our gardens through that one bad night.

In an effort to keep my obsessive side under control, we often plan our vacation around the first-frost date, figuring that if we're off-farm, I won't be able to run around like a chicken with its head cut off.  And that strategy kinda works.  The photo above shows what I picked to take with us on vacation, just in case the frost came while we were gone...

Sorting peppers

...and this photo shows some of what I picked in the two hours of daylight left when we got home (with a frost predicted for that very night).  I plucked figs and raspberries and tomatoes, then ran out of time and just cut the whole pepper plants to be managed inside the next morning.

Steaming food

And, after all that, it didn't quite frost.  Yes, one of my outside thermometers read 32 degrees on Sunday morning and there was a little bit of ice in the wheelbarrow, but only the basil and summer squash looked nipped and I saw no frost on the ground.  Still, I was glad that I'd taken the time to bring in vegetables curing on the front porch, and that I'd picked the last summer treats.  The baskets full of food gave me an excuse to fire up the oven and bake some troubled butternuts, taking a bit of the edge off a cold morning.  With similar temperatures Monday morning, though, Huckleberry required an actual fire in the wood stove, so I guess I failed in my other obsessive campaign --- to hold off on fire-building until after the first frost.

Posted Tue Oct 7 05:52:58 2014 Tags:
goat in the back seat of a car

We picked up our first goat today!

A tarp covering the backseat and a junk sheet to absorb any accidents worked like a charm in getting our goat safely home.

Total travel time with our new goat was just over 2 hours.

Posted Tue Oct 7 16:55:42 2014 Tags:
Bringing a goat home

We brought home our first goat Tuesday!  We're planning on getting a second goat this week (who's all picked out --- more on her later), but for the day, goat #1 got to be an only child.  She also appears to be nameless --- we're taking suggestions if you can think of just the right appellation for our farm's first caprine resident.

Dragging a goat

Names aside, goat #1 wasn't entirely thrilled at spending two hours winding down country roads in the backseat of our car, but she only bleated a few times.  Once we disembarked, though, the struggles began.  As total neophytes to goat wrangling, we hadn't considered the species' extreme aversion to water, so we chose to bring home goat #1 on a day when the creek was about knee high and the floodplain was one big mass of puddles.  Our nanny was just starting to get the hang of walking on a leash when we came to the first body of water...and then she decided that being dragged was superior to walking.  I ended up carrying the poor (and heavy) beast about halfway up the floodplain, stopping to drag and cajole her through drier spots, and the goat and I were both pretty tuckered out by the time we got home.

Goat creek crossing

Poor Mark had just driven for two hours in heavy rain with goat horns jabbing him in the back of the head, so he wasn't much better off.  Still, he managed to leash Lucy and take her for a walk, then to introduce our obedient dog to the new goat with no major trauma on either side.  We'll do a more serious training session later, but I'm about 75% sure our smart farm dog got the message --- goats are to be protected, not chased.  (Rolling in their manure, though, is definitely high on Lucy's list.)

Mini SaanenBefore shutting our new nanny away in the starplate coop for her much-deserved rest, I let her browse some oat cover crops (which she probably would have eaten all day if I'd let her, but I started getting worried about bloat even though that probably wouldn't be a problem at this time of year).  A few feet further down the trail (with the goat walking nicely now that we were out of the marsh), she found a fenceline covered with Japanese honeysuckle and began to chow down --- or, rather, to daintily pick the leaves off the stems, proving that she may be a goat, but that she's also a lady.

Once our nanny saw the dry straw inside the coop, though, all thoughts of food were forgotten.  I brought Unnamed Goat some stalks from sweet corn, sorghum, and sunflowers to tide her over until morning, then shut her in so she could begin learning her new home.

My conclusions so far?  Goats --- even ones with long horns --- are extremely gentle even when manhandled.  And their ability to eat the weeds is very satisfactory.  Only time will tell how well we work the species into our farm, but I'm excited to begin to learn the ways of goats.

Posted Wed Oct 8 06:35:37 2014 Tags:
building goat gate frame with battery powered chainsaw

We got our first goat gate frame finished today.

The Oregon battery powered chainsaw made it easy to cut 2x4's where I would normally need to stretch an extension cord.

Posted Wed Oct 8 16:32:59 2014 Tags:
Goat and sunflowers

I suspect that by the end of the week, you're going to be thoroughly sick of reading about goats.  Oh well....


Trotting goatI loved all of your name suggestions, but when Mark and I finally had time to sit down and talk Wednesday, I learned that a name had come into his head nearly as soon as we saw our goat: Abigail.  Mark told me that I had final say in the name department, but I liked his choice --- simple and pretty.  So Abigail she is!

As I mentioned previously, Abigail is a hybrid between a Saanen and a Nigerian (plus a smidge of Nubian blood), which makes her moderately sized even though she's fully grown.  We hope she's all knocked up, the father of her upcoming kids being a similar mixture of Saanen and Nigerian genes.  Unfortunately, Abigail's owner wasn't keeping track of her cycles, so our goat might be due any time between the beginning of February and the beginning of March.  Chances are relatively good that she'll have twins, like she did this year.

Temporary pasture

The photo above shows Abigail in situ in her old habitat, where she shared a rotational pasture with a buck, a doe, two kids, and a milk cow.  Her previous owner explained that she's been breeding away from the dairy look with all of her animals, aiming for a chunkier body type instead that does better on pasture.

Skinny goatI'm just beginning my hands-on goat education (despite copious reading), so I'm not 100% sure whether my gut feeling that Abigail could use a bit more body weight is accurate.  Her previous owner showed me how to feel for fat along her spine, illustrating that Abigail isn't as emaciated as she looks to the untrained eye.  It will be a learning process to start gauging the fullness of her rumen (the indentation in the photo to the right) and her fat stores, a bit of a tricky campaign since I hope to get away without feeding Abigail any appreciable grain (at least until she kids).  Trickiness aside, I'm already in love with the idea of an herbivore who can get most or all of her nutrition from weeds and brush rather than feed from a bag.

Tethered goat

Training a dog to like goatsI've read that goats need a caprine friend, and Abigail's buddy will be arriving soon.  In the meantime, though, I was surprised by how much our first goat craved being close to us.  Wednesday morning, I made her a little goat tractor out of four cattle panels in the weedy area at the top of the front garden, but our poor little goat just stood at the fence and bleated instead of chowing down.

Some of her agitation was initially due to being unsure about Lucy, since Abigail's previous owner used dogs to herd her animals (extremely well!), meaning that our goat was sensitive to a canine hanging out nearby.  But, mostly, Abigail was just lonely.  So we instead opted to tether her within reach of a bed of oat cover crops right beside where Mark and I were working, which made her much happier.

Goat tractor

It's a good thing that Abigail isn't bound for the freezer, because I could feel myself bonding with her nearly immediately.  She's a little shy, but quickly learned to come toward me rather than running away once I gave her a little dried sweet corn and an over-size summer squash.  She's getting better at walking on a leash already, and hopefully will soon be coming when she's called.  Now I just need to learn some goat noises since the clucks I'd originally been using made Lucy think I was talking to her....

Posted Thu Oct 9 06:18:27 2014 Tags:
Kid in the car
Sorry to leave you all hanging without a post last night.  What was supposed to be a six-hour round trip to pick up goat #2 turned into a nine-hour marathon due to road work in both directions on the highway and an excellent hour of goat training at Newland Nubians.

Pastured nubians
What's with the excessively long drive to pick up a goat?  Well, our first goat nearly fell into our laps, but I hit a lot of snags trying to find an appropriate companion for Abigail.  We didn't want a large goat, and the only small goats for sale nearby were being bred for looks and were going for about $300 a pop.  We figured if we were going to have to pay top dollar for a goat, she might as well have traits we wanted (pasture potential and milking genetics), so we looked further afield.

Parent goats
The photo above shows the parents of our new doeling (name yet to be determined).  In the foreground, you can see Aowen, who is ten years old and pretty skinny at the moment, but who has proven herself over the years and has been the mother of quite a lot of Newland Nubians' current herd.  Aowen is a purebred Nubian who typically milks through (meaning that you don't have to breed her every year to get milk) and she's still giving a quart a day at her advanced age.  The father, in the background, is Hunting with Emmet from Tiny Town Goats, whose mother was the champion Jingle and who brings small size to the equation. 

Four-month-old kids
Our new doeling is four months old and has charisma in spades.  She kept nuzzling us on the ride home, and when I carried her up our swampy floodplain, she was unworried enough to grab bites of leaves as we passed by.  Here's hoping she and Abigail get along well and turn into BFFs.

More seriously, our doeling is also a prime pastured animal since she and her cohorts have been raised on browse (and milk) alone since birth.  That should result in a well-developed rumen that will serve them well during their pasturing career.  A few other doelings (and, I believe a wether) are currently available from the same breeder if you're looking for small pastured milk goats and are willing to drive to the Roanoke/Blacksburg area.  The links up above in the post will lead you to the breeder's facebook page and website for more details.  Tell her I sent you and she'll give you the $300 price on the Aowen's granddaughter!
Posted Fri Oct 10 07:10:53 2014 Tags:
Anna picking last of bean shade trellis

We harvested our Scarlet runner bean shade trellis this week.

Summer is now officially over.

Posted Fri Oct 10 15:06:27 2014 Tags:
Wild fodder for goats
"You mentioned in today's post that you wouldn't be feeding grain to Abigail (great name) until after the kids are here...  I know nothing about goats.  I am however a dog breeder.  And in dogs that would be backwards.  You want the pregnant bitch to have all the nutrition she can handle so the developing fetuses are healthy when they are born....  Maybe that's not what you meant, and since I know nothing about goats, except they are cute, maybe that doesn't apply to them.  But as a breeder, just wanted to say that sounded backwards."  --- Sidney

Feeding goats naturally seems to be a complicated subject, which I'm just starting to wrap my head around (so readers should feel free to jump in if you think I'm off base).  From what I understand, the ancestors of our cultivated goats would have been eating browse --- rough plant matter like tree leaves, blackberry brambles, and so forth.  They needed to consume lots of this roughage to get enough energy to live and grow, and their digestive system has evolved to require that kind of bulk fiber.

New goatGrain is a recent introduction to the goat's diet, and while it can help a doe keep on weight when she's producing lots of milk, grain can also be hard on a goat's gut since she isn't really adapted to eat it.  That makes the supplement more of a tradeoff than you'd find with your dogs --- fancier rations will probably just make your canines happy, but more grain can make a goat sick.

So why give her any grain at all?  Humans generally want the most that we can get out of our livestock, so we've bred dairy goats to produce much more milk than their ancestors would have in the wild.  Producing that milk requires extra energy and protein, and most goats will get really skinny if milked hard on pasture alone.  Think of this as a bit like Appalachian Trail thru-hikers --- they physically can't carry enough food to keep them well nourished while on the trail, so they often gorge on ice cream and other concentrates when they hit towns.  Grain is the dairy goat's ice cream --- it helps a doe put back on the pounds, but it's not necessarily good for her in the long run.

Now, there are alternatives to grain that still provide concentrated nutrition.  For example, Nita provided some excellent guest information in my ebook $10 Root Cellar about how she grows and prepares carrots, beets, parsnips, rutabagas, and (sometimes) mangels to keep her milk cow in fine flesh while milking over the winter.  And there's also something to be said for choosing individual milking animals that have well-developed rumens from a childhood on pasture and that don't produce quite as much milk, since animals like this probably won't need as much nutritional supplementation.  But, in the end, most people end up giving at least a little bit of grain to their milking animals at certain times.

Lucy sniffs Abigail

Returning to your point, there is some controversy about when a doe most needs extra nutrition --- while milking heavily, or when pregnant.  Most sources will only mention the latter, but others tell you that it's imperative to have your doe in relatively good condition at the start of her pregnancy if you want her to easily get and stay pregnant.  The trouble is that if you feed much grain while she's actually pregnant, the kid(s) will grow extra large, which can result in complications during birth.  So, your best bet is to get your doe in tip-top shape before she gets pregnant, to cool it on the grain while she's actually pregnant, then to pick back up with grain (or other supplements) in proportion to how much milk she's producing after she gives birth.

Of course, all of this is still book learning at the moment.  In a year or two, I'll probably laugh at the lack of nuance in my understanding of the subject but, for now, I'll keep Abigail's treats to a minimum but will provide her with lots of excellent browse to keep her healthy.
Two goats
(As a side note, during day one with two goats, it rained like crazy, so our girls have been enjoying room service --- masses of Japanese honeysuckle torn off the side of the barn, a handful of oat leaves, several sweet-corn stalks, two sunflower plants, some comfrey leaves, and a sorghum stalk.  Abigail thinks the oats are the best, followed by honeysuckle and comfrey, while our little doeling still looks a bit befuddled by her new home but chowed down on quite a bit of honeysuckle.  Hopefully it'll dry off enough to get them out on pasture for a better quality photo shoot soon!)

Posted Sat Oct 11 07:08:44 2014 Tags:
mark Artemisia
goat shelter made from goat panels

We came up with a name for our second goat.

Artemisia. Anna came up with it today over lunch.

The above shelter is where she slept during her first few months.

Posted Sat Oct 11 14:52:51 2014 Tags:
Dwarf doeling

One of the new requirements that we're having to get used to with goats is the need to provide free-choice minerals.  With chickens, additives are included in the bagged feed, and I've lazily assumed that the feed company knows what they're doing.  But since goats get most of their nutrition from pasture, I need to choose a mineral supplement to make sure their diet is well-rounded.

Goats in the woodsWhile I'd like to buy goat minerals locally, my research thus far has turned up only solid mineral blocks at our nearby feed stores.  Unlike horses and cows, solid minerals aren't recommended for goats since the caprines' smaller teeth can't get enough minerals off the block to keep them healthy.  So I started hunting down loose goat minerals online.

Your first decision when choosing between different types of loose goat minerals is whether you want to go with a scientifically formulated product, or whether you want to follow the advice of Pat Coleby in Natural Goat Care and figure your goat will get all of her trace minerals from kelp, to which you add only sulfur, copper, and dolomite.  I'll probably take a hybrid approach --- providing free-choice kelp but also giving our goats access to a mineral mix.  In terms of the latter, the table below includes the five main sources I've found online for loose goat minerals to be shipped to your door.  The only option that doesn't require shipping is Manna Pro from Tractor Supply, which can probably be found semi-locally if we call around (and which is cheapest on my chart since shipping isn't included).


Purina (Valley Vet) Manna Pro (Tractor Supply) Jolly German Ultimate Goat Mineral Sweetlix Meat Maker (Jeffers Pet) Golden Blend (Hoegger)
Protein (%)

Calcium (%) 10 17.6 10 15.4 14.3
Phosphorus (%) 8 8 8 8 7
Salt (%) 43 13.2 43.5 11 22
Potassium (%) 0.1 1.5 0.1 1.5 0.9
Magnesium (%) 1 1.5 1 1.5 1
Sulfur (%)

Iron (%)

Cobalt (varies)

240 ppm
Copper (ppm) 1775 1350 1775 1780 1500
Iodine (varies)

450% 0.0007%
Manganese (varies) 2750 ppm 1.25% 0.03%
Selenium (ppm) 25 12 25 50 26
Zinc (ppm) 7500 5500 8000 12500 4000
Vitamin A (IU/lb) 130000 300000 140000 300000 220000
Vitamin D (IU/lb) 11000 30000 11000 30000 45000
Vitamin E (IU/lb) 750 400 750 400 220
Price 42.8 9.99 35.99 39.95 54.95
Pounds 25 8 15 18? 25
$/lb 1.71 1.25 2.40
2.22? 2.20

Assuming you don't need to choose your goat minerals based solely on price, there are a few other things to consider as you peruse the chart above.  Plain salt can be provided free choice Goat reaching for leavesin a separate compartment, so you might want to choose something like Mannapro or Sweetlix with a low salt content so that your goats will only eat the trace minerals if they're craving something other than (cheap) salt.  You might also want to look at your soil test results if you plan to feed your goats primarily on pasture, then to select a mineral mix high in the ingredients that are scarce in your soil.

And then there's the big copper debate, which will be fodder for another post.  Goats need a lot more copper than other livestock, and some breeders provide boluses (huge pills) of copper every few months to keep their goats healthy and to combat worms.  Others follow Pat Coleby's advice and add copper sulfate to their goats' mineral ration for the same reason.  More on pros and cons of copper supplementation in a later post, but feel free to chime in now if you have thoughts one way or another on any goat-mineral-related issue.  And I'd love to hear your feedback on which mineral mixes you've used and on how well they've done at keeping your goats healthy.

Leash-training goats

(As for the photos --- yep, I'm busy leash-training our goats.  When Lucy isn't involved, the training sessions go quite well.)

Posted Sun Oct 12 08:02:26 2014 Tags:
using stair tamer to load the car

The room we had for our recent vacation had a 400 pound dumb waiter that made staying on the third floor easy and fun.

It's called the Stair Tamer. Invented by Ricky Edwards you can buy them from his welding shop in Shiloh North Carolina.

He also sells a 1000 pound model that would make loading hay bales in a barn loft a lot easier than the old fashioned method.

Posted Sun Oct 12 15:09:19 2014 Tags:
Miniature goat

I promise to write about something other than goats within the next week....or so.  Would you believe me if I said this post is about cover crops and fences?

Goats on fence

Way back when we started making chicken pastures, we built our fences out of chicken wire.  The theory was simple --- chicken wire's cheap, and that's all we could afford.  Now, many of those fences are nearly lost beneath impenetrable hedges of Japanese honeysuckle...which happens to be a plant that goats adore.  The question became --- although a chicken-wire fence obviously isn't going to keep in a determined goat long term, would it be sufficient for goat retention until the honeysuckle was gone?

Within half an hour, I learned that the answer was no.  Perhaps if the only goats involved were little shrimps like Artemisia, my experiment would have worked, but the fence bowed down under Abigail's hooves, and soon our doe decided that the honeysuckle was greener on the other side of the fence.  Luckily, I was sitting on the porch watching at the time because the result was a scary race around the yard, Lucy having decided that anything running should be chased and Abigail having decided that if she was being chased she would have to keep running.  Once Mark came out and collared Lucy, though, peace descended immediately --- Abigail came right to me and so did Artemisia, and soon they were both safely behind cattle panels (although on less exciting browse).  At least now I know that worry number two isn't a concern --- a loose goat isn't going to disappear into the woods, not if she knows I dole out dried sweet corn every day or two.

Goat eating oat leaves

The other thing I've been learning this weekend is goat dietary preferences.  In addition to honeysuckle, Abigail adores oat leaves, red clover, plantain, and broccoli leaves.  She's also quite fond of the tops of oilseed radishes, but is totally uninterested in the roots, suggesting that I can put this cover crop to dual duty, feeding our herd and the soil with the same planting.  In fact, I suspect, I can do something similar with oats since Abigail tends to browse the plants high enough that they should regrow as well.

What about Artemisia?  She eats whatever's close to Abigail, since our little doeling is much more interested in being sociable than in being fed.  Luckily, her pint-sized rumen fills up fast, and she always seems fat and happy when I run my hands over her little round body.  It's extremely satisfying to watch our goats grow on weeds alone.

Posted Mon Oct 13 07:34:49 2014 Tags:
bird cage handle on a 2 gallon plastic bucket lid

We're making a limited run of heated chicken waterers that utilize a nifty, heavy duty heated bucket from a company called Farm Innovations.

I could've chose any number of cheap handles for the lid, but decided to go with a fancy, high end bird cage handle that tops the project off with a bit of class.

You can save a little money by making one yourself. We made a video on how to make a heated chicken waterer that gives all the details if you've got the time, tools, skills, and patience.

Posted Mon Oct 13 16:00:56 2014 Tags:

Soil analysisI got my soil test results back, and it's no wonder nothing wants to grow in the Starplate pasture --- the pH is 5.2 and the soil is seriously deficient in calcium (and also rather low on sulfur, phosphorus, boron, copper, and zinc).  Luckily, I was able to look back at my old lunchtime series for The Intelligent Gardener and generate a prescription to fix the issues.

When liming soil, it's best to apply the minerals in advance of other additions since the calcium can cause other cations to wash out of the soil.  So my plan is to apply lime this fall, then gypsum, borax, copper sulfate, and zinc sulfate in the spring.  The hardest part of the endeavor will be hauling 550 pounds of lime back through the muck to our core homestead!

Posted Tue Oct 14 07:58:17 2014 Tags:
heated bucket chicken waterer thread sealant

We've been making heated bucket chicken waterers today.

My favorite pipe thread sealant is this Rectorseal No.5.

A thin coat on the threads is all it takes for a tight seal.

Posted Tue Oct 14 16:03:44 2014 Tags:
Wet autumn woods

A week ago, the ground was so dry that I was considering turning on the sprinklers to get our last round of lettuce seeds germinated in a timely manner.  Since then, it's rained and rained and rained.  Six inches in seven days, enough that we spent five of those days flooded in.

Yellow hickory leavesI soon settled into donning wet clothes whenever I went outside --- better to have only one set of damp pants and tops strewn around the trailer, even though pulling on clammy clothing is never fun.  Otherwise, though, the rain isn't too difficult, especially since it gives me the gumption to edit (my least favorite part of writing, but more palatable when the alternative is getting soaked).

I wouldn't mind a dry spell soon, though (just in case the weather gods are reading this blog post).  Now's prime leaf-raking weather, but it's not worth hauling wet leaves home for bedding the coops and mulching the garden, so the first fall of early leaves is going to waste at the moment.  The goats seem less scared of rain than I'd thought, their annoyed bleating when stuck in the tractor more closely correlated to the amount of honeysuckle present than to rainfall, but I know they'd be happier if it were dry.  Even our water dog has been spending a lot of time in her doghouse, and our younger rooster has a long-suffering look about him as he minds his puddle-loving ducks.

I know that many of you are currently facing drought conditions.  I'd send you some of this rain if I could!  In the meantime, can you send us some sunny thoughts in exchange?

Posted Wed Oct 15 07:30:32 2014 Tags:
mark Goat gate
new goat gate with Lucy

We finished our first goat gate today.

I used 2x2's for the frame to keep it light and treated furring strips for the slats.

Posted Wed Oct 15 16:23:26 2014 Tags:
Goat tractor
"So, basically, you have two weedcutters now?" --- Roland

You got it!  Cleaning up weedy edges has been one of the major selling points of goats, and I was excited (after the rain finally let up) to see how our girls would fare in that department.  To that end, I made a temporary pasture using six cattle panels, encircling a roughly 650-square-foot problem area.  This spot is where the old house used to stand, and where blackberry brambles and honeysuckle have since taken over the decaying wood.  Could Abigail and Artemesia help us with this thorny problem?

High weeds"Glad to!" they chorused.  The top photo shows the area a day and a half after goat action began, at which point I was already starting to be able to see wood rather than simply a huge thicket of weeds.  In contrast, the photo on the right is the before shot, taken moments after our goats were let into the pasture on their first day.  Our girls enjoyed the browse so much that I had to bribe them with a little sweet corn Tuesday evening before Abigail would let me put on her leash for the walk back to the starplate coop.  (I've learned that Artemesia doesn't need her own leash --- she just trips along behind.)

The bad news for those of you who are itching to go out and get goats is --- I don't think our girls are going to take the weeds down to the ground.  They're so good at carefully plucking the leaves off the stems that the blackberry brambles and honeysuckle vines are still left standing even after the girls are done eating.  Perhaps in the dead of winter, when pickings are slimmer, our goats will be more prone to do a total rehab on a weedy spot like this, but I suspect we'll instead be sending Mark in with the Swisher to bring this area back under human control.  I guess that's why we got two weedcutters, right?

Posted Thu Oct 16 07:50:44 2014 Tags:
crossing creek with hip waders

We shipped out 8 more heated bucket chicken waterers today.

The creek was just high enough to need proper neoprene hip waders.

Posted Thu Oct 16 16:22:50 2014 Tags:

Harvesting carrots in the rainLast year, I wrote that I dug our carrots early.  And this year...I dug them even sooner.  All this rain made a couple of my cabbage heads split over the weekend, and I know that carrots are prone to the same ailment.  I'd rather get those orange roots out of the ground before problems arise.  They probably wouldn't grow too much bigger over the next week or two anyway since many were already heftier than store-bought!

The downside of this fall's carrot harvest is that it's much smaller than in years past.  I dropped the ball and didn't replant after a dry spell caused sporadic carrot germination in July.  Then the straw I mulched with (which was supposed to be weed-free, since it was the second round from the feed store) sprouted scads of little grain plants.  As a result, carrots were getting lost in the sea of cover crops, and I opted to pull the vegetables out before they completely disappeared.

Of course, half a bushel of carrots is nothing to sneeze at.  And, if I'm honest, I would admit that I actually grew twice as many as we wanted last year --- Mark was getting heartily sick of carrot sticks before the winter ended.  Our fridge root cellar will keep the carrots we did grow this year crisp and sweet deep into the winter, and next year we'll plant many more to feed the goats.

Posted Fri Oct 17 07:24:41 2014 Tags:
mark Big headed
big headed sunflower plants harvested

Today was a good day to harvest sunflowers.

We planted so many that the birds only had a chance to nibble in a few spots.

Posted Fri Oct 17 15:44:50 2014 Tags:
Hay field
Old house and pond
Logging road

A friend of a friend is selling some land about twenty minutes from our farm, and I promised to spread the word in case any of you were interested.  It's priced at a thousand bucks an acre and has a lot of potential, full of ponds, forested mountain-land, and open fields.  There's an electric hookup on site and spring water piped down to an old house, plus logging roads make for relatively easy access.  Here's the Craigslist ad for more information.

Livestock pond

At 177 acres, the property has the potential to be bought by several homesteaders and managed as an eco-village or education center.  Or, perhaps more realistically, if two or three homesteading families went in on the property together, you could share the land without anyone digging their financial hole too deep.  If you're interested in these shared options, leave a comment below and chat with each other --- it would make my day if several of our readers got together and relocated nearby!

Posted Sat Oct 18 07:50:12 2014 Tags:
mark Fig height
documenting the height of our Chicago Hardy fig

How tall did our Chicago Hardy fig get this year?

Just shy of 10 feet, even after the hard frost it suffered last year.

The Celeste was almost half as high.

Posted Sat Oct 18 16:04:44 2014 Tags:
Goats eating oats

When you start providing livestock with free-choice minerals, suddenly the options become a bit overwhelming.  We've narrowed our goats' selections down to:

  • Goat mineralsa pre-mixed goat mineral
  • kelp (for extra trace minerals)
  • table salt (iodized or noniodized is debatable.  We add the extra salt because we chose a mineral mix that's only 11% salt, but you should be aware that some people believe you shouldn't provide additional salt since it might prevent your goats from eating enough of the pre-mixed minerals.  If you do opt for additional salt, sea salt would be a better choice, although more expensive.)
  • baking soda (as a safety valve in case our goats' rumens get out of balance due to eating grain)

Some goat-keepers also provide:

  • Browsing goatnutritional yeast (aka brewer's yeast, for extra protein.  This is more often mixed with a processed feed that provided free choice, though.)
  • Diamond V XPC Yeast Culture (as a probiotic.  This is generally mixed with feed rather than being put out for free-choice eating.)
  • diatomaceous earth (for internal parasite control, although data suggests this may not actually do any good when taken internally)

And if you're worried about your soil being particularly deficient in one or two minerals, presumably you could provide those nutrients free choice as well if you weren't worried about overconsumption.  This last option might hypothetically help remineralize your soil...or you might just end up with a very healthy dog if your canine, like ours, runs along behind the goats to slurp up their "berries."

More cute goats
I'll close with two extra goat shots...because they're cute.  And getting fatter?

Posted Sun Oct 19 08:24:21 2014 Tags:

goat gate latch barrel bolt

The new goat gate uses a Zinc coated 4 inch barrel bolt latch to keep our new girls in.

This pasture is connected to their Star Plate home, where they get tucked into every night before it gets dark.

Posted Sun Oct 19 14:34:21 2014 Tags:
Celeste fig

The first figs on our Celeste bush started turning maroon a couple of weeks ago, and ever since I've been waiting with baited breath, hoping to taste a new fig variety.  Unfortunately, cool weather has slowed down ripening considerably, and the only summer plants that are still bearing like crazy are our red raspberries.  The Celeste fig seemed to be stuck halfway ripe.

Ripe and unripe figs

With another potential frost forecast, I decided to see if those Celeste figs were tasteable.  I plucked the fruits off the bush, cut them open...and was disappointed to see colorless flesh inside.  Unlike most fruits, the telling color-change on a ripening fig occurs hidden inside --- in the photo above, the fig on the left is a ripe Chicago Hardy fig for comparison.  I guess we'll have to wait until next year to taste a ripe Celeste fig!

In the meantime, I should note that despite last winter's cold killing our Chicago Hardy plant to the ground, we've still enjoyed perhaps a gallon of figs this year.  That harvest doesn't hold a candle to last year's bounty, but it's not bad for a tree that started from the ground up this spring!

Posted Mon Oct 20 07:52:58 2014 Tags:
shitake mushroom drying

I found several shitake mushrooms hiding in the weeds today.

They were a little too damp, but a couple of hours in the Excalibur fixed that.

Posted Mon Oct 20 16:18:59 2014 Tags:
Yellow jackets on fava beans

I've been noticing little snippets of cover-crop observations lately, none of which is quite enough to make its own post.  But maybe you won't mind a hodge podge.

The photo above shows how the yellow jackets are swarming around unopened fava-bean buds.  I assume they're stealing nectar somehow, a bit like the ants I noticed on okra flowers a few years ago.  Presumably unrelated to the yellow jackets, our fava beans have been blooming for weeks, but keep dropping the ovaries without setting fruit, so they might not be a good edible in our location after all.

Cutting oats for goats

Then there's the observation two of you made in comments, that the puny fava beans between my sunflowers are due to allelopathy.  I hadn't realized that sunflowers were allelopathic, but the internet suggests that is indeed the case, and that water dripping off sunflower leaves can carry chemicals that make surrounding plants do poorly.  I guess sunflowers aren't the best candidate for multi-species cover-cropping campaigns!

My last observation is four-footed.  Goats love oat leaves so much that I've been earmarking a large proportion of that cover crop for goat treats.  I can't help it!  I know the soil loves oat biomass too, but when Artemesia blats at me, I give in and provide any treat I can think of.  In case you're curious, my ability to spoil animals is nearly unparalleled....

Posted Tue Oct 21 07:28:10 2014 Tags:
how to improve on the isolation coop design

We retired some old hens today.

They made it to the ripe age of 1.5.

We had some escapes during the process. I think that could be fixed by making the top of the kill coop so we could open only one half at a time.

Posted Tue Oct 21 15:42:11 2014 Tags:

Opening a fridge root cellar

"Would you mind putting up an article about the pros and cons of making and using your Fridge Root Cellar?" --- John

This is a very timely comment because many of you are probably trying to figure out what to do with all of those root crops (and fall fruits).  I'll hit the highlights in this post, but if you want to dig deeper, I've also set my ebook version on sale to $1.99 this week so you can learn the rest of the story for very little cash.  (I guess that would turn your replica into a $12 root cellar?)  And while you're over there, you'll probably want to snap up Low-Cost Sunroom, which is free today!

Humid conditions within a root cellar
Anyhow, back to the point.  The advantages of our fridge root cellar are pretty obvious.  It was cheap and easy to build and it really works.  I particularly love how accessible the contents are --- the cook in your family will be thrilled to be able to just pop open the door like you would in a powered refrigerator and remove a few carrots or a head of cabbage.  And the dampness of the earth means that your roots stay crisp and delicious for months after harvest.

Keeping a root cellar from freezing with a light bulb
$10 Root CellarThe downsides are relatively minor, but they are present.  We use a very small amount of electricity to ensure that the contents of our fridge root cellar don't freeze when outside temperatures drop below the mid-teens Fahrenheit.  If you lived in Alaska, you'd probably have to do a lot more.  And a fridge root cellar won't do much during the summer months, so you'll need a different storage method for your spring carrots.  (I just stick them in the real fridge inside.)  Finally, youtube viewers will call you white trash if you post a video showing how to build a fridge root cellar, and your neighbors might feel the same way, so this project is not for the thin-skinned.

I hope that helps you make your fridge-root-cellaring decision!  And I'd love to see some reader photos of your own incarnations of the cheap root-storage device if anyone's given our method (or something related) a try.  Email me at and I'll share your root cellars with our readers (and maybe even add them to the next edition of the book if they're unique enough!).

Posted Wed Oct 22 07:12:26 2014 Tags:
close up of cute newt

We used a kiddie pool for the ducks when we first got them, but it mostly got used as a place for frogs to meet and mate this year.

Dumping the pool was bad news for a bunch of late tadpoles, but we managed to transfer the above cute newt to the Sky Pond for his new Winter home.

Posted Wed Oct 22 15:29:13 2014 Tags:

Goats cleaning up a fencelineI was a bit disappointed by our goats' inability to eat a thicket of weeds to the ground, but I've been thrilled at how well they do at cleaning honeysuckle off our fencelines.  Every evening, after walking the girls back to their coop, I move five cattle panels into a new arrangement to prepare for the next day.  Two panels lean up against the honeysuckle-covered fence, and the other three (and two fence posts and a bit of rope) complete the enclosure.

The next morning when I bring the goats to their new pasture, Abigail runs right for the honeysuckle and Artemesia soon follows suit.  They gorge for a couple of hours, then chew their cuds, then gorge again.  By dinnertime, that side of the fence is bare of honeysuckle leaves (although some stems remain, proving that the goats will have to regraze the same areas next year).

Honeysuckle on the fence

For the sake of comparison, the photos above show yesterday's fenceline (left) and the edge of tomorrow's fenceline (right).  After reading that honeysuckle leaves are equivalent in protein and total digestible nutrients to alfalfa hay, I can understand why our girls do such a good job removing the wily vine.

Goat eating cattails

Back when I was just reading about goats, I hadn't planned to let our new livestock within our core homestead.  In fact, I was going to keep them at least two fences away just in case the tame deer (which is how I thought of them) escaped and headed for my precious apple trees.  Now I'm thinking that maybe I overreacted.  The only goat escape from my cattle-panel tractors has been when I didn't tie one panel securely and our little doeling slid out through the gap...then grazed right beside the fence until I put her back in.

Now I'm thinking that goats are like chickens --- they don't want to put in the energy to escape as long as you keep them fat and happy.  The big question becomes: Can we keep the honysuckle buffet coming all winter?  Only time will tell!

Posted Thu Oct 23 07:34:55 2014 Tags:
goats on the porch

Today makes the 2nd goat escape so far.

How bad are they when they get out?

Not that bad...Artemesia yells a bit, but they seem fine once we tuck them back in.

Posted Thu Oct 23 15:42:34 2014 Tags:

Bad dog(Don't worry, no animals were actually harmed during the creation of this post.  I know I just ruined the dramatic impact of the story, but I couldn't have kept reading without that warning, so there you have it.)

Wednesday morning, Mark and I were supposed to go to the big city to get our teeth cleaned. Instead, we had to wrap our minds around the possibility of killing a dog.

Over the eight years we've lived way back in the woods, we've had only a handful of uninvited human visitors (good job, moat!), but nearly an equal number uninvited hunting dogs.  It seems like when hunting dogs get lost, they can feel Mark's good dog energy, and they come wagging their tails at our door.

Unfortunately, the two dogs I found beside the chicken coop Wednesday morning weren't wagging their tails.  One was sweet and submissive, but when I went to put a leash on her, the other dog growled and rushed at me with bared teeth.  Only standing tall and yelling with my voice in its deepest possible register prevented me from getting bitten, and I quickly retreated out of harm's way.

Good dogLuckily, the sweet dog had an owner's number on the collar, and I was able to catch his girlfriend on the phone.  She said her boyfriend was unreachable on a construction site, but she and her father would be right over.  We tied up Lucy just to be on the safe side, called the dentist to say we would be late, then settled down to wait.

When I finally heard the voices, father and daughter were fleeing up the floodplain away from the dog.  "He's never acted like that before," the girlfriend said, tears slipping out of her eyes.  Her father explained that he'd gone to put a leash on the dog, but had gotten bit for his trouble.  The teeth hadn't broken his skin, but the father still told us: "If you have to do something to protect yourselves or your animals, we'll understand."

We knew what he meant --- shoot the dog.  The trouble is, while we can be hard-hearted about chickens, dogs are people to us.  Did I ever mention that my brother once turned off Old Yeller partway through, telling me that was the end, because he knew what was coming and didn't want to have to soothe a grief-stricken sister?  Killing a dog in real life seems nearly unthinkable.

Preparing guns

But, as Mark pointed out after the dog's owners left, we also have a responsibility to our own chickens, goats, cats, and dog.  The biting dog had been lost in the woods for two days, and whether that was long enough for something like rabies to turn up or not, we had to protect the farm.  So we called the dentist once again to cancel, and then Mark went around checking on the state of our guns.  We didn't plan to do anything drastic while the dogs were simply resting at the edge of our core perimeter, but if they went after something, Mark resolved to shoot first and ask questions later.

Luckily, as I mentioned above, this story has a happy ending.  The dog's real owner couldn't be tracked down, but his hunting buddy could.  The young man showed up with a heavy stick, which he thrust into the dog's jaws as it came after him.  And as soon as the man snapped a leash onto the dog's collar, the canine calmed right down.  It turned out that the submissive dog was in heat, and the other dog was merely guarding his territory, but a calm, familiar face was enough to defuse the situation.  In the end, both dogs went home safely.

The moral of the story?  Have friends good enough to face down a possibly rabid dog to save man's best friend.  Or, maybe, have guns on hand to protect your homestead from four-footed beasts.  I'm not sure what I took away from the experience, actually, except for an overwhelming urge to sit in front of a fire with a cat on my lap, sipping some hot chocolate.  But I will be more cautious the next time I approach a strange dog...because hunting dogs sometimes bite.

Posted Fri Oct 24 08:00:56 2014 Tags:
hose collection

We got one step closer to being ready for Winter with today's hose collection.

Posted Fri Oct 24 15:20:40 2014 Tags:

Draining the rain barrelYour first frost has come, or it's due any day, and you're probably ready for winter's slowdown. But taking a few hours now to get your homestead in order will save a few days in the spring. Here are the items at the top of our winterizing list this fall:

  • Drain and put away hoses.
  • Drain rain barrels and return gutter water to the ground.
  • Run your mower and any other summer-only motorized equipment dry. This will make engines start much better come spring!
  • Pull up and put away tomato stakes and other garden supports. Discard those old, blighted tomato plants somewhere far away from the garden.
  • Wait until the leaves drop, then wrap fig trees and other plants you're trying to grow beyond their usual hardiness range.

Cover crops

  • Plant any bare ground with cover crops if you've got time. (I'll plant rye for another week or so, but only in areas that I won't want to plant into until late May 2015.) If it's too late in the year for cover crops, mulch heavily, preferably with deep bedding from the chicken coop so the manure will have time to mellow before spring.
  • Kill mulch new garden areas for next year.

Overgrazed pasture

  • Cull excess animals and move chickens off pasture. We let ours run in the woods during the down season, but others move their poultry into greenhouses. Tractored chickens can be kept on pasture over the winter, but you'll tear up the ground a bit. Four-legged livestock can be put on stockpiled pasture, or can be moved inside onto deep bedding. The photo above shows what will happen if you skip this step...and that's after the ducks were only on an overused pasture for one extra week!
  • Reward yourself for all this extra effort by ordering any new perennials you have planned for fall planting. Ah, dreams of apples and hazels....

I'm sure I'm forgetting some essential winterizing elements, but that should get you started. What else is top of the list at this time of year on your homestead?

Posted Sat Oct 25 07:54:37 2014 Tags:
goat gate upgrade

Why am I adding a bottom slat to our new goat gate?

It turns out Artemesia can squeeze through an opening only a few inches wide.

I don't think she was trying to run away, she just wasn't ready to be tucked in.

Posted Sat Oct 25 15:01:47 2014 Tags:

One of our Wetknee Books authors recently turned her novel into an audiobook, and the result is inspiring! In fact, ever since listening to Kelly McCall Fumo's take on werewolves, Mark's been talking about turning my non-fiction ebooks into audiobooks too. I've dragged my feet so far because images are so important to my writing process, but you can get fired up along with Mark by listening to Aimee's novel "on tape" (as we old-fashioned people still think of audiobooks).

And if the embedded sample entices you in, why not enter the giveaway below and win one of three free audiobooks? Alternatively, if you're not a member of Audible, you can download a free audio copy right now by signing up for
Audible's free trial. Here are the links to Aimee's book on Audible and Amazon (and you can also find it by searching for "Shiftless" in the iTunes store). Happy listening!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Posted Sun Oct 26 07:09:21 2014 Tags:
brussel sprouts with barn in background

The 2014 crop of brussel sprouts has not been doing too well.

Maybe it was too much rain at the wrong time?

I think we'll switch back to the old variety for next year.

Posted Sun Oct 26 12:55:21 2014 Tags:
Bees on marigold

I don't usually think of marigolds as particularly bee-friendly plants. But anything blooming on a warm, sunny day in late October is a plus. I guess the ten cents I spent on last-chance seeds at the dollar store this summer was worth it.

Goat on a logSpeaking of "worth it," our goats continue to fill my days with pleasure. I don't really know what we'll do in about a week once they're done clearing all of our fencelines, but Abigail says they aren't going anywhere damp. Artemesia enjoyed her Saturday walk through the gully to browse on honysuckle and multiflora rose, but Abigail said that she didn't even want to get her feet damp. Nope, she'd just stand on the log and wait until we were ready to move on.

Posted Mon Oct 27 07:45:24 2014 Tags:

using a laundry basket for a roll out nest box
We've been having a problem with our duck eggs getting dirty.

Tilting this laundry basket at an angle should make it into a roll out nest box.

The eggs roll back where we can get to them and the ducks can't step on them.

Posted Mon Oct 27 16:24:40 2014 Tags:

How to Make Money HomesteadingWhen Mark and I first started sharing Microbusiness Independence with the world, I was surprised by how many readers came back to me and said one of two things. First came: "Can we sell your chicken waterers for you?" I tried to explain that it was the uniqueness of our product that helped our microbusiness grow and thrive, but then I got the second comment: "I can't think of a unique product to make and sell!"

For me and Mark, ideas have always been the easy part. I probably come up with an ebook idea every week, only a small percentage of which I'll ever have time to write. Meanwhile Mark dreams up a similar number of undeveloped product ideas. But if you're among the multitude of readers who got stuck at the "What can I sell?" stage, Tim Young's How to Make Money Homesteading is the solution to your problem!

Tim splits his book up into three types of money-making ideas --- ways to make money from the land itself, ways to use your skills to make money, and ways to produce products to sell. There are probably hundreds of ideas scattered throughout the relevant chapters, including gems such as making chicken tractors for your neighbors, becoming an artificial insemination expert, and hiring others to provide classes on your land. There's also a stern admonition to eliminate your debt before embarking on your homestead microbusiness, which I thoroughly agree with, along with a chapter on saving money on the homestead and one on rethinking retirement.

My only complaint with How to Make Money Homesteading is that Tim doesn't separate the wheat from the chaff when presenting his money-making ideas. In my experience, unless you scale way up and/or bring your wares to a big-city population, selling farm-fresh eggs and similar products won't even pay minimum wage. But a chapter near the end of the book on marketing helps you disentangle some of the pros and cons of different types of businesses. Plus, the eighteen profiles of homesteading families (including one on us) show what's worked for other people on-the-ground, giving you an idea about the advantages and disadvantages of each money-making endeavor suggested in the book.

Which is all a long way of saying --- if you're scratching your head about how to make a living off the land, you should definitely read this book as part of your brainstorming session. And you're in luck because Tim has kindly offered to give one of our readers a free paperback copy of How to Make Money Homesteading. Enter the giveaway below for a chance to win!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Posted Tue Oct 28 08:02:09 2014 Tags:
ATV prop shaft repair

Our ATV stopped working due to a broken prop shaft piece.

We got a new part in, but I forgot to order the seal kit.

Posted Tue Oct 28 15:44:04 2014 Tags:
Morning goat, evening goat

I'm starting to wrap my head around goat digestion, but it's slow going since ruminants are so very different from any other animal I've ever spent time with. Goats are especially interesting because they're able to eat really fast, filling up their rumen, then they slowly digest that food over the course of the day. Which begs the question --- do our girls need to fill up their rumen once daily? Twice? Keep it full all day? Or what?

Artemesia's full tummy

I suspect that the lack of an easy answer is due to the vast differences in nutritional value of different food sources. Our girls have been gorging on honeysuckle leaves for the last week or so, which probably means that Artemesia's round evening belly is providing plenty of calories. Abigail's belly never looks as round, but I suspect that's just the older animal's natural shape since she's the head goat and surely eats quite a bit more than Artemesia does on an average day.

Goats eating honeysuckle

I'd be curious to hear from other ruminant wranglers (and especially from others captivated by caprines). Do you have a rule of thumb for how much a healthy goat should eat per day?

Posted Wed Oct 29 07:20:55 2014 Tags:
Lucy and two goats separated by a cattle panel

How well do the goats and Lucy get along?

Artemesia wants to be friends, while Abigail is still standoffish.

Lucy seems most interested in what they leave behind and is learning to be respectful of their space when we move them.

Posted Wed Oct 29 15:56:29 2014 Tags:
Indian summer

Two glorious days of Indian Summer made the garden part of our winterization list move along very quickly this week. I yanked out the big weeds between the oilseed radishes in the forest garden, where I'd mounded up the earth and tossed down cover-crop seeds without any sort of kill mulch to maintain my cover-crop monoculture. In the process, I found one last hazelnut, plus a half-ripe butternut that the goats greatly enjoyed.

Putting the garden to bed

Next stop was the back garden, where I yanked out all of the dying tomatoes along with their stakes. Despite lack of a killing frost, I'd actually stopped picking tomatoes a couple of weeks ago when cold weather turned the offerings insipid. But as I worked Monday, I stumbled across a cache of about ten fruits that were ripe red and luscious. A nice treat!

Meanwhile, I enjoyed the way the oats had filled in between the tomatoes and formed a near-solid sea of green. A much more pleasant view than the dwindling tomato plants!

Swiss chard

Finally, Kayla and I got to work on the active mule garden, where kale, mustard, lettuce, garlic, tatsoi, tokyo bekana, Swiss chard, peas, parsley, and strawberries are all still hard at work. I'll need at least one more day of pretty weather to bring this zone into line --- maybe I can squeeze that in before the forecast snow this weekend?

Posted Thu Oct 30 07:49:21 2014 Tags:
feeding sorghum stalks to our goats

We're expecting a killer frost just in time for Halloween.

That's why we cut the seed heads off the sorghum to be dried and saved for hens.

Anna gave the stalks to our goats thinking the leaves won't be as good after the frost.

Posted Thu Oct 30 15:59:59 2014 Tags:
Barn cleanup

About a week ago, Mark walked past one of my fenceline cleanup zones and pulled a bit of honeysuckle from the top to within goat reach. Why didn't I think of that? With a little bit of effort, I realized, we could double the amount of honeysuckle that goes into our goats' rumens while also cleaning up our fencelines twice as quickly. Brilliant!

Feeding goatsNow that we've worked our way around to the barn, the out-of-reach honeysuckle is much further off the ground. In fact, I need a ladder to get to some of it. Artemesia climbs up the lower rungs to grab the falling vines and Abigail joins in the fun. I just have to be careful not to step on goat heads when I come down.

The trick with this method of feeding goats is not to give them too much at one time. Goats are awfully ornery about not wanting to eat anything that's been sitting on the ground for too long. Better to pull down one set of vines for breakfast and another for lunch than to beg them to eat the trodden-upon leaves that are now off the menu. Yes, even honeysuckle loses its luster after a few hours if you're Queen Abigail.

Posted Fri Oct 31 07:57:50 2014 Tags:
broccoli and goats

Seems like everything we do these days revolves around the goats.

Today was their first taste of broccoli leaves.

Posted Fri Oct 31 16:16:15 2014 Tags:

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

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