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

archives for 11/2014

Nov 2014
Picking peas

The first widespread frost blanketed the farm Halloween morning. I've been harvesting the broccoli and peas a bit at a time over the last month, but a low of 28 was enough to start damaging the remainder, so Mark and I spent the afternoon bringing in the last of the early-fall harvest. Cabbages, broccoli, peas, raspberries, and the last few figs soon lined the kitchen counter, and then it was time to head back outside to protect the late-fall bounty.

Measuring row cover fabric

I've learned over the years that it's not worth covering up tatsoi, tokyo bekana, and mustard. These tender greens do okay in the early fall, but even with frost-protection, they soon perish during November nights. So, instead, I just erect quick hoops over the last planting of lettuce --- currently in tender two-leaf stage --- and over most of our beds of kale. One kale bed I'll leave uncovered to give us more variety in our greens harvests before we begin delving into our covered beds in late November or early December.

Covering quick hoops

Goats eating broccoliAt this time of year, I always get lots of question about quick hoops, and I don't blame you. They're a beautiful sight in the garden, and tender kale leaves deep into the winter are a beautiful sight in the kitchen! All of your questions are answered in my 99-cent ebook Weekend Homesteader: October, and if you want to splurge, you can collect all of the Weekend Homesteader months in the paperback form. I hope that helps turn your garden into a year-round affair!

(Yes, the last shot is a totally unrelated cute goat photo. After all these weeks, you're still surprised?)

Posted Sat Nov 1 07:50:54 2014 Tags:
ducks in the floodplain

The good thing about letting our ducks forage in the woods is the water.

What's not so good is when they stay out all night and lay who knows where?

We'll herd them back in the coop tonight before least that's the plan.

Posted Sat Nov 1 16:05:26 2014 Tags:

Five Acres and a DreamI first noticed Leigh Tate's 5 Acres & A Dream The Book when it popped up in the top 100 Sustainable Living books list on Amazon (where many of my books reside on their good days). Once I realized the book was a self-published paperback, I became even more intrigued because, while self-published non-fiction ebooks are relatively easy to get into Amazon's top 100 lists, paperbacks tend to be trickier. In case you're curious about reproducing Leigh's success, I suspect it boils down to:

  • An excellent title and cover.
  • Choosing a black-and-white interior, which allowed her to include lots of great photos but to still price the book very reasonably.
  • Quite a bit of promotion at launch (podcasts, a well-established blog with lots of fans, etc.)
  • And, of course, an excellent book.

Okay, self-publishing tips aside, I'm sure many of you are simply interested in the book itself. If you enjoy our blog, chances are that 5 Acres & A Dream The Book will be right up your alley. Leigh explains that her book isn't a how to or a why to; it's simply the story of how she and her husband found their farm and spent four years bringing the land to life.

Perhaps the most powerful part of the book is the way Leigh records changes in the couple's thought processes as they began to homestead, transitions that I suspect are near-universal since Mark and I worked our way across many of the same hurdles during our early years here. That's why I particularly recommend Leigh's book to folks who are still in the dreaming stage or who have recently moved to a homestead. Chances are, her book will help lower your own hurdles, in the process making the obstacles look more familiar when the time comes for you to leap across.

Mowing goatAs a more established homesteader, I mostly read Leigh's book as a fun farm memoir, but I definitely pored over the chapter on feeding animals with homegrown products. The Tates experimented with planting field corn (a heavy nitrogen feeder, but easy to grow and process), wheat (very tough to process, but chickens will eat the grains out of the head), Ozark Razorback cowpeas (can be fed to goats in the pod), and sunflowers (can be fed in shells to goats). Since we're just getting started with goats, Leigh's tips were very timely, especially since she's very realistic about homestead-scale processing and storage.

Want to enjoy 5 Acres & a Dream The Book? You're in luck because one reader will win a copy just by entering the giveaway below! If you don't win and want a free sampling of Leigh's writing, head on over to her blog for cute pig photos and much more. Leigh is also branching out into ebooks, and her first two offerings, How to Preserve Eggs and How to Make a Buck Rag are now available on Amazon for 99 cents each. I hope you enjoy the ebooks and paperback as much as I did!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Posted Sun Nov 2 07:05:41 2014 Tags:
hose coil on sprinkler

Some of our sprinklers are cheap and don't have the ability to unscrew the hose without turning the whole sprinkler or the hose.

A faucet kink protector makes it easy to disconnect hoses and eliminates that drastic kink that happens when the hose bends down.

Posted Sun Nov 2 14:38:41 2014 Tags:

Snaking a treeWhat do you do if your dwarf apple tree is as tall as you want it to get...and it keeps on growing? Whacking the top off a tree is seldom a good idea since that type of pruning often prompts a tree to use up its energy sending out lots of useless watersprouts. Enter a technique known as snaking.

The photo to the right shows one of our high-density apple trees that exceeded Mark's ability to easily reach the top this past summer. As a result, I tied down all of the limbs at the top of the tree so they became horizontal, instead of vertical, branches. Inevitably, one or more of these limbs will bend upwards again next summer, at which point I'll pull the top back down on itself accordion-style. This method of slowing a tree's upward growth prevents the accumulation of watersprouts, while also keeping a tree's fruits within easy reach.

The other alternative? You can do as my older sister did and go out after dark as snow starts to fall and climb your apple tree all by yourself in an effort to reach the fruits at the very tip top. But I can't say I recommend it....

Posted Mon Nov 3 06:51:16 2014 Tags:
root cellar alternative supplemental heat

The carrots survived last night's temperatures in the refrigerator root cellar.

Experience tells us that when it gets down in the teens we need the above supplemental heat to keep our carrots from freezing.

A thermocube kicks on when it gets too cold and shuts off when it gets above 45. The Kill a Watt meter is there to tell us how much electricity it uses.

Posted Mon Nov 3 16:09:36 2014 Tags:
Trimming a goat hoof

This week marks our one-month anniversary of having goats on the farm. Time to trim their hooves!

Growing goat hoof

Hoof trimming was on my list of things I was uncertain about, which is why I opted to splurge on a special hoof-trimming tool rather than just using a pocket knife. Of course, now that I've trimmed hooves, I can see how a pocket knife could work --- the part of the hoof you pare off is very easy to distinguish from the not-to-be-cut area, and it's also quite soft. But clippers made the operation very painless, and I'm glad we have them.

In the photos above, the picture on the left shows a hoof pre-trimming. Notice that the edges stick out further than the center? All you have to do is snip that bit off, a process which is simple if you do it frequently (but can get tricky if you wait too long).

Goat wrangling

Once I figured out what I was doing, front hooves were easy on both girls. Artemesia thought she was being petted the whole time, so even our doeling's hind hooves weren't bad, but Abigail didn't understand why something kept grabbing her feet and not letting them go. In the end, Mark and I had to work together to get Abigail's hind feet trimmed --- he corralled her and I clipped.

Goat pedicure

Now that I've trained both of our girls to walk easily on a leash and to do (mostly) as I say, it's time for the second round of training --- milking prep. Abigail is (hopefully) pregnant (more on that later), so Mark will be building a milking station shortly. Then I'll start giving Abigail her treats (more on those later too) while up on the milking station. That will give me an opportunity to get our doe used to being manhandled, and should also make trimming her hind hooves easier.

As a side note, I recently learned that you can tell the age of a goat from looking at her teeth. Abigail's previous owner wasn't sure how old she was, so I decided to take advantage of already being on her bad list by prying open our doe's jaw to take a peek. I had to look fast (so no photo), but the two big teeth in the middle of six smaller teeth proved that our doe is around 1.5 years old --- the kids she had this past spring were almost certainly her first. Hopefully she'll come through again in February or March, at which point we'll start enjoying homegrown milk in addition to cute goats.

Posted Tue Nov 4 07:08:28 2014 Tags:
goat milking stand 2x4's

I got the base of our new goat milking stand finished today.

It's 20 inches high, 48 inches long and 22 inches wide.

Milking day is still far off, but we want to start using it to trim their hooves.

Posted Tue Nov 4 16:22:03 2014 Tags:
Fig after a killing frost

Even though it was hard to believe when I stripped down to a t-shirt five hours later, we had a low of 21 on Sunday night. The killing frost was definitely enough to nip our fig leaves and put the tree to sleep, which meant it was time to protect our fig from winter cold.

Regular readers will probably know all about our fig trees (which I talk about almost as much as cute goats). But if you're new, here are some answers to obvious questions:

Fig winter protection

Snipping off the top of a figOkay, now that you're all up to speed, it's time to protect that fig! I opted to return to the 2012 method, figuring that more leaves around the base of the plant will protect the sensitive junction of stem and root from winter injury. Brian suggested stones around the base, which is a great idea, but I never seem to have extra rocks to throw around. (It's a momentous occasion when a new stone turns up in the garden.) Assuming we don't have a repeat of last year's ultra-cold winter, and assuming that I secured the tarp well enough, hopefully the three stems I kept will produce an early crop (which we missed out on this year).

Rooted fig cutting

As I pruned, I was excited to see that several of the small stems that had grown horizontally out from the tree base had sprouted roots over the summer! I snipped the rooted segments off and wrapped them in damp newspaper in case any of our readers want to give Chicago Hardy figs a try. Enter the giveaway using the widget below if you're interested (and be sure to plan ahead for five cuttings that should be potted up and spend the winter in a cool spot inside while they finish growing roots).

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Posted Wed Nov 5 07:07:59 2014 Tags:
goats getting wet in the rain

What do we do with the goats on a rainy day like today?

Walk-em back to their Star Plate barn.

Artemesia likes to lead the way...I like to take pictures from the porch.

Posted Wed Nov 5 15:41:51 2014 Tags:
Goat in the brush

Back when we first paid for Abigail, the owner seemed confident that she'd be able to breed her and let us take home a pregnant goat. However, when the time came to pick up our new addition, the owner seemed a little less sure. Yes, she thought she'd bred Abigail a month previously, but she'd just gotten her buck back from his visit to a friend's farm and the buck had acted very interested in Abigail again. "So if she didn't get bred then, she got bred now."

That left me with a lot of question marks. If this was the same buck who had tried previously, are we sure he did the job this time around? Is Abigail actually pregnant? Enter the urine test.

Testing goat pee

Leigh posted that one technique people think is pretty accurate is to add a little less than half a teaspoon of goat urine to a cup of bleach. Based on the amount of fizz you see, you can determine whether or not your goat is pregnant. Extended fizz = knocked up. No fizz = she's not knocked up. Since Abigail nearly always pees right before I take her out of the coop in the morning and then again right after I bring her back in at night, it was pretty easy to stick a container underneath and run a test. Unfortunately, the results weren't what I was looking for --- no fizz. Even after I poured a whole lot of urine into that bleach, the only thing that happened is that the combined liquid turned a very dark brown/yellow color.

So now I'm back at the buck-rag method of testing Abigail's status. When we got Artemesia, that goat lady was kind enough to rub a rag (which I'd brought along just in case) all over her buck, then I sealed the aromatic fabric in a ziplock bag and forgot about it. This week, I finally started pulling out the buck rag every day for Abigail to sniff. The idea is that, if she's not pregnant, sometime within the next three weeks our goat will be cycling and will suddenly grow interested in eau de buck. Here's hoping she keeps telling me that eating oat leaves is far more interesting than going on the rag!

Posted Thu Nov 6 06:23:38 2014 Tags:
goats on a tether

We tethered our goats for about an hour this afternoon for the first time.

No need to tether Artemesia because she likes to be close to Abigail.

I've heard some goats can be left unattended on a tether, but we're not comfortable trying it with these girls.

Posted Thu Nov 6 14:55:07 2014 Tags:
Garlicky pea pods

Frost-damaged peasIn their prime, it seems like sacrilege to cook sugar-snap peas. But I allowed a few frosts to damage the last peas before we picked the vines bare last week, which means that the peas we harvested were subprime. They were still crunchy and sweet, but the pods had started to turn a bit fibrous and the aesthetics were much reduced (as you can see to the right). Time to saute the remaining vegetables with garlic and turn so-so fare into a feast!

(As a side note, this recipe would be perfect for grocery-store peas. That's when we start turning up our noses --- when our residual summer vegetables start to taste like store-bought.)

Cooked sugar snap peas

There's really not much to this recipe, but here's an ingredients list to make it even easier:

  • 2 cups of sugar snap peas
  • about 2 tablespoons of peanut oil (or other high-heat oil)
  • 2 smallish cloves of garlic, minced
  • salt and pepper to taste

Excellent sugar-snap peas can be used whole, but if yours are turning fibrous like ours were, you'll want to string the pods as if they were beans. Otherwise, leave the pods whole and drop them into a skillet full of a little hot oil. Turn down the heat to medium-high, add the garlic, salt, and pepper, and cook for about five minutes (stirring often) until the beans turn bright green.

Voila! Deliciousness from so-so produce! Now, with the last of the summer bounty down the gullet, it's time to eat up all of those stockpiled cabbages.

Posted Fri Nov 7 07:04:52 2014 Tags:
clearing the road with Stihl quick start

We went over our neighbor's for lunch today and got blocked by a fallen tree.

It was my first time seeing his new Stihl chainsaw with a spring loaded quick start.

I was impressed with what little effort it took to get the saw started. He says the guy he bought it from says the only trouble they have with this type of mechanism is people with muscle memory still wanting to pull like the old style which can break the spring.

Posted Fri Nov 7 15:48:45 2014 Tags:

Seaweed mulchIn Weekend Homesteader: October, one of the projects I suggest is spending some time scavenging free biomass for use on the garden. I barely touched on seaweed in that chapter, including it only because I'd read that some people use seaweed as mulch. But while Mark and I were at the beach last month, I decided to collect a bagful and bring it home as an experiment.

My first impulse, actually, was to feed the seaweed to the goats instead. After all, we offer kelp as a source of salt and micronutrients, so surely seaweed would be even better, right? A search of the internet found that some people do feed seaweed to goats, but that you really have to find a source of fresh, live seaweed and scrape it off the rocks (at which point I'd start to worry about damaging the ecosystem). The seaweed that so copiously washes up on our shores is instead dead and beginning to rot, so isn't very healthy for our caprine friends.

But when applied to the garden, the same seaweed shines. The bag I brought home went a long way, mulching around a sage plant, a newly-transplanted grape, and a young hardy kiwi. With a C:N of 19:1, the mulch will probably rot down quickly, and I'd have to keep an eye on salt levels if I used seaweed as a mulch on a regular basis. But as it is, I suspect the top-dressed plants will get a boost in the trace-mineral department and should grow quite well.

I'll keep you posted about the results of my experiment, but in the meantime I'd love to hear from those of you who live by the shore and presumably have plenty of seaweed to throw at your gardens. Do you love it? Hate it? Somewhere in between? Does it make up for painfully sandy, low-organic-matter soil?

Posted Sat Nov 8 07:49:09 2014 Tags:
Kale close up

Our kale seems to stop growing at this time of year, but it makes up for it by getting a little bit sweeter with each cold snap.

Posted Sat Nov 8 15:41:59 2014 Tags:

Janet WilliamsMy favorite college professor wasn't a "real" professor at all. The "real" professor was her husband Tim, who taught ornithology and animal behavior. But Tim and Janet were true partners, which I suspect is why she opted to accept a job as assistant professor (if I've got my terminology correct) at the same college where her husband taught. Or perhaps Janet was just the smartest person I knew, who managed to create a job doing exactly the things she loved --- leading field trips and looking at birds --- within no administration to sully the mix.

I liked birds, but I loved Janet. She was exuberant and inquisitive, and she felt the same awe toward the natural world that I did. Janet was just as mature anyone else, but she was also unabashedly childlike. I remember walking through the upstairs of her house one day and seeing stuffed animals arranged across her bedspread, which Janet told me she set out every day despite her children being grown and gone. The task made her happy, and that was purpose enough.

Janet wore peasant blouses and skirts and she loved to dance. She and Tim attended folk dance classes with the students, where we all enjoyed taking part in her favorite dance --- Levi Jackson's Rag. And like me, Janet couldn't stop smiling because life was just so much fun.


Janet was the only college professor who I considered to be a true friend. During my student days, I'd drop by her office and watch enviously as she mixed homemade granola with yogurt and a cut-up apple for lunch, and we'd talk about our lives. Janet once told me that she didn't feel any different than she had when she was my age, and, years later, I finally understand what she meant. Looking back at the few snapshots I have from my college days, I'm surprised to see that I looked so young since I still feel so similar to that girl who loved to track down the source of a scent in the woods and who followed Janet across the creek one spring morning in hopes of capturing a deciduous magnolia in bloom.

Janet challenged me, but in such a gentle way that I didn't realize I was being helped to grow until I'd already filled the shoes she always assumed I could fit into. Janet aided me by writing letters of recommendation, but more importantly, she told me that of course I could remember how to ride a bike despite not having been on wheels in nearly a decade, of course I could lead bird walks as her T.A., and of course I could spend a year exploring foreign countries on my own. And she was always right.

Birding class

Janet and her husband eventually "graduated" and moved to their home in New Hampshire, where they had spent their non-college years (and summers). I visited the college only once after Janet left, and couldn't talk myself into going back thereafter --- the beautiful campus simply felt empty without my favorite professor to drop in on.

And, last week, the whole world became a little emptier when Janet passed away. She had been sick for some time, and near the end, her son sent out an email to all of her family and friends to alert us of the situation. He said that Janet was too weak to visit with us in person, but that she loved receiving emails, and that she especially loved seeing photos and hearing about what was happening in our own lives. And that was Janet to a T --- even at the bitter end, she wanted to hear about our lives rather than to talk about her own.

Chickadees make a single high-pitched call that Janet was always able to identify because I could hear it and she could not. But my teacher never bemoaned her failing hearing and instead simply reveled in walking through the woods and catching a wood duck perched on a slanted tree. And, in true Janet fashion, I choose not to mourn her passing, and instead to let birds remind me of the one professor who changed my life. She was very much real, and she will be missed.

Posted Sun Nov 9 07:50:19 2014 Tags:
goats eating oats

We had some trouble with Abigail chasing her little sister today.

Letting them graze on some oats seems to have fixed the problem for now.

Hopefully they'll be more bonded by the time we run out of oats.

Posted Sun Nov 9 14:30:42 2014 Tags:

Duck and chicken eggsWhen I talked Mark into letting me experiment with ducks, what interested me the most was the waterfowls' reputation for laying well in the winter months even without lights in the coop. And I'm now ready to say that their reputation is well deserved! We currently have three point-of-lay pullets in the chicken department and five similarly-aged ducks, and we receive about four eggs a day from the latter (80% lay rate) and one egg a day (if we're lucky) from the former (25% lay rate). Granted, this is without supplemental lighting in the chicken coop, which would have increased our chicken-egg numbers, but that's definitely a striking difference and a major mark in the pro-duck column!

However, I've also learned that not all eggs are created equal. Duck and chicken eggs look similar but taste and cook quite differently. The first thing you'll notice is how dirty duck eggs get if you don't harvest them from the coop very promptly --- ducks can't hop up into raised nest boxes, so they'll walk all over their eggs after laying and coat them with filth. This can be a health issue since washing can sometimes push bad bacteria through the shell and into the eggs, so we usually give dirty eggs to Lucy (who thinks all eggs are created equal).

Lemon meringue pie

Assuming you manage to swoop up the clean eggs in time (which we're getting better at), the next distinction comes when you crack a few eggs open. Duck eggshells are harder, and they have a thicker membrane underneath, which means that tiny fragments of shell are more likely to end up in your egg if you're not very careful. I'm getting better at preventing this, but I still spend quite a bit of time chasing tiny egg fragments through my uncooked eggs each morning. Unfortunately, I haven't found any solution for the very glutinous whites in the duck eggs, which tend to leave a streak of goo on the counter every time I try to decant the filling from the center of an uncooked egg.

Duck egg whiteWhich brings me to cooking. Here, I'm on the fence about which type of egg I prefer. In cakes, duck eggs shine, resulting in a pastry that is so perfect that it's nearly impossible to stop eating after one piece. (No, despite what you think, that isn't the bad part about cooking with duck eggs.) However, when scrambled, I'm less of a fan. It's important to cook duck eggs more slowly and at a lower heat than chicken eggs, but if you don't want to go over the edge into burning, the result always feels just a tiny bit less cooked than it should be. In a perfect world, I like to mix in at least 40% chicken eggs when scrambling so that the result tastes "normal."

I'd be curious from other duck-keepers. What do you feel are the advantages and disadvantages of duck eggs?

Posted Mon Nov 10 06:56:09 2014 Tags:
goat milking stand part 1

We tested our new goat milking stand today.

It's close...but needs some small adjustments to make it work.

Posted Mon Nov 10 15:52:09 2014 Tags:
Fattening a goat

When we went to pick up Artemesia, her previous owner warned me: "You'll want to get in some good hay now." I looked at the lady's dozen-plus full-sized goats and mentally rolled my eyes. Of course I wouldn't need hay with just two little goats to feed on our ultra-weedy farm.

Five weeks later, pickings are starting to get more slim. Part of the trouble is that I've spoiled our goats to want only oat leaves and honeysuckle, on which diet Abigail is actually putting on a bit of fat despite getting basically no concentrated feed. (I do give our girls an overmature summer squash or a bit of dried sweet corn or some butternut seeds every other day or so --- whenever I think about it.) Artemesia still looks a bit skinny, probably because she's going through a growth spurt, but it appears that high-quality pasture is quite sufficient for a dried-off, full-grown goat, even if she's (hopefully) pregnant.

Goats in brush

But my snooty goats are far less excited by low-quality pasture. Last week, I penned them into a brushy area, hoping that after they ate the honeysuckle covering the young trees, they might eat up the twigs of the trees underneath. No such luck. Instead, my usually-quiet Abigail yelled at me all morning until I relented and tethered her in the oat patch for the afternoon. And while my oat supply also seemed pretty unlimited a few weeks ago, our girls are starting to eat the lush greenery down to the ground, which means their afternoon fill-up sessions are going to be harder to come by in the near future.

Resting goat

Which is all a long way of saying --- once the ATV gets fixed, we're going to have to get in some hay. Drat! Oh well --- it's still inspiring to think that, if we planned far enough in advance, we might be able to feed our goats on farm-only feed pretty easily. After all, they gorged for over a month without me spending a penny, so twelve months wouldn't be all that much harder, right?

Posted Tue Nov 11 07:21:02 2014 Tags:
Persimmons in a colander

Persimmon treeAbout forty years ago, when visiting friends near Dungannon, Virginia, I asked what fruit were under the big tree in their front yard.  That was my first taste of persimmons.  They were close in flavor to a date, and very sweet.  I loved them.

Once, when hiking in Maryland at a reserve reservoir for the DC water supply, I passed through a field of young persimmons and gorged myself on the sweet fruit.

So when I moved to our acreage in South Carolina I planted a foot-tall sapling.  This is its second year bearing, and it is loaded.  

But what to do with so much fruit?  According to my online search, the skin is inedible (though when I eat it, I eat the whole fruit and spit out the seeds).  The source I read recommended peeling the persimmons and scraping the pulp off the seeds.  An hour of this got me 0.8 ounces (see photo below).  After a complete search online I found only one article on separating the pulp from skin and seed.  A Mother Earth News article recommended using an old fashioned potato ricer.

Persimmon pulp

Extracting persimmon pulpI rinsed a quart of the fruit in warm water and drained it.  Then I filled the bottom of the ricer with fruit and squeezed.  Sure enough, pulp oozed out of its holes.  I quickly learned that a steady but gentle pressure was needed and that three squeezes would get all that would come.  Between squeezes I stirred the fruit with a table knife and poked at any that hadn't split open.

The result was eight ounces of fruit in an hour.  If you notice in the picture, the fruit color in the earlier attempt is lighter and clearer.  That is because the machine method will render some stem and seed pieces.  These don't affect the flavor.  

As I was finishing, I looked in the corner at the box with our steam juicer and a little light bulb went off.  It did a wonderful job juicing grapes.  Why not persimmons?

Posted Tue Nov 11 12:00:08 2014 Tags:
using Oregon battery powered saw to cut down tree

We cut down a small tree loaded with honeysuckle today.

It might be enough to get the goats through another day or two.

The Oregon battery powered chainsaw continues to be a perfect fit for small jobs like this.

Posted Tue Nov 11 16:07:46 2014 Tags:

Growing into a FarmI enjoy spending chilly mornings writing in front of a fire, and once I finish up my stockpiled projects from earlier in the year, the question becomes --- what to write next? I probably won't start any new projects until the first of next year since I'm currently cleaning up old covers (what do you think of Growing into a Farm version 3?), finishing the expanded manuscript of Trailersteading for my publisher, and generally getting all of the things I let slide during the summer back into shape. But it's good to start ruminating, and I'd love your opinion on which of these books you'd most like to read:

Eating the Working Chicken expansion --- The short ebook that currently goes by this name is very basic, with concise butchering advise and a small amount on cooking. But since writing the first edition, I've learned at least half a dozen delicious ways to cook tough, old hens without ending up gnawing for hours on stringy meat. So an update seems to be in order.

Gardening in a Wet Climate --- This new ebook would be just what the title suggests. We've definitely learned a lot about how to make gardens thrive when it rains all the time and when your soil is so waterlogged you have to garden in knee-boots, so I'd love to share the results of our experiments. But perhaps this is too much of a niche subject since most people probably didn't get seven inches of rain during the first two weeks of October?

Permaculture Cliff Notes --- I give away Best Books For Homesteaders to anyone who joins my email list. But I was thinking of adding in page-length summaries of each recommended title so you could, conceivably, get quite a good education in just an hour of reading.

Keeping Deer out of the Garden --- Mark and I have certainly experimented with this topic like mad over the last eight years, and I have a lot of permaculture tips to share on the topic. However, my advice is pretty non-mainstream --- I think that working with deer's behavior is the long-term solution rather than purchasing repellents. So people in search of a quick fix might be disappointed.

Even though I sell my ebooks on the open market, my blog readers are the ones I really write for. So I'm putting it up for suggestions --- does one of these ebooks speak to you more than others? Or is there something else you'd really like to hear about instead? Please leave a comment and let me know!

Posted Wed Nov 12 07:16:09 2014 Tags:
ATV prop shaft repair

We finally found a local mechanic that can fix our rear prop shaft.

The operation requires some tools and experience I don't have.

With any luck we'll be able to haul in some hay for the goats next week.

Posted Wed Nov 12 15:20:04 2014 Tags:

Adding a bottom boardI probably should have done this last month, but I took a few minutes this week to close up our hives for winter. Hive winterization involves adding a bottom board beneath the screened bottom and removing any boxes that aren't currently in use, with the purpose of both tasks being to make the hive easier to heat over the winter. Many people do the same thing in their domiciles, in fact --- if you really only use your bedroom and kitchen in the winter, why pay to heat the whole house?

Unfortunately (but unsurprisingly) I found the daughter hive empty when I went to remove the bottom box. Six weeks ago, I could tell that this hive was ailing, and even though though I tried to double down on feeding them, the bees didn't seem very interested in sucking up sugar water. In retrospect, I suspect the colony I was trying to feed was already gone at that point, with bees from our other hive flying over to suck down the sweet Empty combmoisture. My guess is based on the fact that this hive didn't actually die out --- like the one we treated with powdered sugar last fall, the entire colony simply absconded, leaving only half a dozen dead bees behind.

So we're back down to one hive heading into the winter, and even that colony felt a bit light when I lifted the two top boxes to take out the cleaned-out box underneath. I definitely don't seem very good at keeping bees alive without chemicals and copious sugar water (and I'm unwilling to resort to the methods other beekeepers use to keep their hives humming). But we've got another trick up our sleeve for next year, so I'm not giving up!

Posted Thu Nov 13 07:04:52 2014 Tags:
chopping firewood

Are we ready for temperatures 40 degrees lower than normal?

I think so after some last minute Winterizing this afternoon.

Posted Thu Nov 13 16:14:37 2014 Tags:
Snowy goat

With the snow starting to fall, I let our girls top off their bellies with oat leaves Thursday afternoon, then put them to bed early with a sunflower-seed head.

Goat catchup

As she's gotten bigger, Artemesia has grown an independent streak. She now has a bad habit of lagging behind for But our doeling soon gallops to catch up.

Begging goat

"Gee, I almost missed the treat?!"

Goats eating sunflower seeds

Both goats enjoy eating the sunflower-seed head right down to the stem, but Artemesia isn't nearly as good at it. Our little doeling always takes one big bite that doesn't quite fit in her mouth, then she spends several minutes trying to wrestle the seeds into her throat. Meanwhile, Abigail takes little bites --- gulp, gulp, gulp, down the gullet --- and ends up consuming 85% of the head. No wonder our doe is getting fat while our doeling just holds her ground.

Sorry for the dark pictures, but hopefully you enjoyed walking the goats back to the coop with me!

Posted Fri Nov 14 06:46:24 2014 Tags:
blueberry leaf turning a shade of red
The view from the top of our hill of blueberries.
Posted Fri Nov 14 15:53:33 2014 Tags:
Protecting strawberry plants

Oilseed radishes for goatsI've written a lot already about how much our goats love oat leaves. Always a softy, I've taken to tethering our girls in the garden for half an hour or an hour every afternoon to fill them to bursting, during which time I mostly monitor them (but also cover any strawberry plants with a bit of plastic trellis material for an added layer of protection). But as our oat stores dwindle, I decided to try our goats on another winter cover crop --- oilseed radishes.

Actually, I'd experimented with this offering before, including some oilseed beds into various enclosures while letting the goats eat the honeysuckle off the side of the barn. Interestingly, our girls seemed totally uninterested in what were then beautiful green leaves...until we had a killing frost. I suspect the oilseed radishes changed at that point, perhaps the way carrots and kale both get sweeter after a frost. Guesswork aside, the only thing I know definitively is that our girls ate the oilseed radish plants to the ground from that point on.

Milking stand

Since determining that our goats do enjoy frost-bitten oilseed radishes, I've pulled up a few plants for them now and then when no radishes are within their enclosures. But my offerings were often abandoned, presumably because it's a lot harder for a goat to break off bite-size pieces when a plant isn't anchored firmly in the ground.

So, Friday, I decided to chop up the roots and see if that made the radishes more palatable.
Did it ever! Artemesia got sick of radishes before too long, but Abigail ate about three big plants' worth.

The photo above shows me starting to train Abigail to her milking stand, the tray of which was full of radish roots plus a little bit of corn. Our doe still doesn't always get on the stand immediately, but she
did jump up one day without me even asking because she wanted to look in the trough for food. As with most things, I think training Abigail to the milking stand will come easy --- goats are definitely the smartest livestock we've so far had on our farm. (Which means we have to be ultra-careful not to let them learn bad habits!)

Posted Sat Nov 15 07:35:54 2014 Tags:
Patch of greens

Canola leavesTalk about a vegetable with an undeserved bad rap.  In Canada they changed its name to canola.  If you want a recipe you need to look up broccoli raab or rapini.  It's one of my standard, easy-to-grow winter vegetables.  A ten-by-ten foot patch provides a never ending supply of fresh and healthy greens.

Yesterday in the dentist's waiting room, a cooking show was on TV with the sound muted.  I watched the cook put greens on a cookie sheet and into the oven.  After the commercial when it came out the words "oven roasted rapini" flashed on the screen.  I was planning on sauteeing mixed greens for a supper side dish, but decided to try this instead.

First I soaked the picked greens in cold water and drained them.

Chopping greens

Then I cut them in two-or-three-inch-long sections.

Preparing greens

A coating of olive oil with salt preceded putting them on baking sheets and placing in a 350 degree oven.  A stir or two, then, fifteen minutes later--ready to eat along with crock-pot navy beans cooked with chopped onions and green pepper.

Roast greens


(Note from Anna: For those of you who aren't in the know, Errol is my father, who homesteads in South Carolina and is the primary author of Low-Cost Sunroom. I'm tempted to nitpick about his use of the term "rapini," which I understand to mean the broccoli-like flower buds from various types of crucifers. But maybe he's right and I'm wrong and the whole plant can be called rapini? It definitely sounds better than rape....)

Posted Sat Nov 15 12:00:12 2014 Tags:
putting battery in truck

We hiked what we thought was a fresh battery to the truck today.

Now we think something is wrong with our ancient trickle charger.

Posted Sat Nov 15 15:57:05 2014 Tags:
Cold farm

We've enjoyed such a nice, gentle fall...but all good things must come to an end. When I woke to a low of 12 Saturday morning, I realized that I'd forgotten some of the winter tasks that I should probably have been more on top of. Yep, our water line had frozen (as it generally does in extreme cold weather...especially if I forget to put insulation back around the summer access points), and I hadn't filled up any backup water sources. So I had to steal half of the contents of Huckleberry's water bucket for the goats, which prompted our grumpy cat to stalk outside in a snit and then bring a junco back to lay across the kitchen floor. I picked up the bird, thinking it was dead, opened the back door to toss the critter out...and Huckleberry's prey lifted off from my hands and flew away, stunned but unharmed by our cat's attention-getting move.

Warm fire

So winter is here at last! Happily, I realized that twelve doesn't really feel all that cold when you've gotten used to mid-fifties inside the trailer. And now maybe those last few leaves will drop off our baby apple trees so I can enjoy one of my favorite seasons --- fall perennial planting! After the ground thaws, of course.

Posted Sun Nov 16 07:10:44 2014 Tags:

A short video showing what's involved in putting up a quick hoop.
Posted Sun Nov 16 15:48:04 2014 Tags:

Split firewood"I was wondering whether this feels like it might be a longer winter than normal and if the woodshed was full enough to make it through to the warmer weather of spring? In our two years having a woodstove at our cabin, we are still learning just how much wood we will need to keep us warm during the cold months.

Also - I was curious if you have to deal with mice in the trailer? Our cabin was invaded recently and I was looking for more good ideas to make them less inclined to visit."

--- Karen B.

Two great questions, Karen! As for the wood --- we never seem to have quite enough, but we manage. In order to really get ahead on firewood, we'd need to change our system so that we can stock up on wood during the winter that comes a year before we plan to burn it, since that's a season when our lives are less busy. But since I need to be able to get to last year's firewood during the winter, we instead empty the woodshed out and then fill it back up. In the end, that method means that cutting firewood has to compete with the garden --- I'll bet you can guess which one wins! To make up for our slacker habits, I tend to earmark a standing dead tree or two for spring firewood since the dry wood can often be burned soon after cutting, which generally ekes us through late February, March, and April.

Trapped mice

The mouse issue is more interesting to me because we're finally starting to figure it out. Every fall, the local mouse population does tend to invade our trailer, and even though Huckleberry catches an occasional mouse, he's not our first line of defense. (Our other cat, Strider, is a lover, not a fighter.) We've learned the hard way that it's essential to be hyper vigilant at this time of year --- at the first sound of nibbling in the walls or sight of mouse droppings on the counter, we pull out the traps with a vengeance. Mark talked me into buying this super fancy trap years ago, and it did work for a little while (as you can see above), but then the scent of death built up and the mice started to avoid it. Now, we tend to use cheaper traps, which we can reuse a few times until they lose efficacy and then toss. Our favorite trap is currently one a lot like this.

When trapping mice, you'll want to put the trap where you think a mouse might run. Mice are skittish little varmints, so they're unlikely to head to your bait in the middle of the floor; instead, set your trap against a wall in an out-of-the-way spot (but near where you saw their signs). We sometimes bait with peanut butter, but cheese has a higher success rate, especially cheddar. I probably don't need to say it, but don't bother with live traps --- moving animals around is never a good idea, and unless you live way out in the country, the mouse is likely to head into another home after you release it, where it will get killed anyway.

Another factor to keep in mind is sealing away anything that a mouse might like. Food is obvious, but clothing and toilet paper are also in great demand for bedding. An average bureau doesn't really keep a mouse out, I've found, so rubbermaid bins can sometimes be better. Barring that, I try to at least go through each drawer on occasion so I don't miss a mouse nest being built. If you have storage areas inside your home, don't pile things up in such a manner that a cat can't get into the center to hunt, and do check those little-used areas at intervals as well. Catching the first few mice who drop by in the fall is only of middling difficulty, but if you let them breed and have fifty mice to hunt down, your work will really be cut out for you!

I hope that helps, and I'm glad you're being proactive. In the city, roaches are probably the most common vermin, but in the country, it's all about beating the mice. And as cruel as it seems to kill them off in the fall, you'll be rewarded by a winter sitting by the fire without the sound of nibbling in the walls.

Posted Mon Nov 17 07:30:10 2014 Tags:
goat manger do it yourself style

We got the first part of our goat manger done today.

The access slots will be 2 inches wide and 4 inches tall.

Posted Mon Nov 17 16:13:20 2014 Tags:
Goats grazing in the woods

Ever since we got goats, I've been building them a new "tractor" every day out of cattle panels. At first, that effort seemed very worthwhile, since I was moving the girls around to eat all of the honeysuckle off our fencelines and barn. But once I ran out of easy honeysuckle buffets, it seemed like twenty minutes of labor for half a belly of so-so food might not be as efficient a use of my time.

AbigailMonday afternoon, I decided to let the girls run out in the woods...and boy did they love it! If I don't have to ensure that the honeysuckle is all concentrated in one place, there's still quite a bit out there, maybe a few weeks' worth within a stone's throw of the coop. The question is --- will I regret letting our goats run wild outside our core homestead?

The worst-case scenario is that a trespassing hunter will think Abigail is a deer, or that the pack of wild dogs who roam through our woods will get past Lucy's defenses and try to eat Artemesia up. More likely (but only slightly less heart-wrenching) is the possibility that our girls will hop right over the chicken-wire fences that surround our core homestead and start chowing down on apple-tree twigs.

To be entirely honest, our goats have gotten out and ended up free in the yard a few times already. So far, they seem much more interested in oat leaves than in apple trees, so I'm willing to risk a few nibbles as long as I'm right here to catch them in the act. Chances are good that if Artemesia got loose in the garden, she'd just end up on the porch, as she has before, asking why we haven't come out to play, so I'll try letting them out into the woods for longer today. Here's hoping our goats aren't too capricious and that they behave!

Posted Tue Nov 18 07:45:41 2014 Tags:
fixing Abigail's gate

Abigail discovered how to escape from one of her pastures today.

We think she used an edge on the other side of this stump to climb up and over.

Trimming the stump and adding a few pieces of wood might be enough to keep her in.

Posted Tue Nov 18 15:20:27 2014 Tags:
Roast brussels sprouts

We enjoyed our first and possibly only roast brussels sprouts of the season Tuesday, the combination of a new variety and an extremely wet fall meaning that the plants blighted instead of thrived. The experience made me think about how frequently home gardeners give up on a crop because of a single failure, when what they really should have gotten out of the experience was an impulse to figure out what made their plants refuse to grow.

For example, I often hear from folks who think carrots aren't worth growing, while for us the tasty roots are an easy crop. Well, an easy crop as long as I pay attention and make sure their seeds germinate during the summer heat. And as long as I locate the root vegetables in loose, humus-rich soil. So, not really an easy crop, but easy once you figure out what factors of your unique site are standing in the way of getting a stellar carrot crop.

Garden vegetables

Now that the cold weather has truly set in and most of you have nothing left to plant for the year, why not spend a few hours thinking back over your garden past? When you look at all of those luscious-looking pictures in the seed catalogs this winter, try to ignore the pretty photos and tantalizing descriptions. Instead, seek out the less sensational but more important notes on which blights each variety is resistant to and how well they do in other difficult situations that your garden will throw at them in the year to come.

And, as a reward, next year your garden will grow twice as well!

Posted Wed Nov 19 08:10:33 2014 Tags:
hauling hay in the backseat

Riding in our backseat lately is a rough equivalent to an old fashion hay ride.

Posted Wed Nov 19 16:10:38 2014 Tags:

Storey's Guide to Raising Dairy GoatsI know that some weeks it seems like all I do is talk about goats and books. So why not shake it up...and talk about goat books?!

When I first started researching goats, my first stop was Storey's Guide to Raising Dairy Goats. The Storey series is usually a safe bet for encyclopedia-style information on livestock combined with beautiful pictures, and this book was no different (although a little less in-depth than some). If you've never met a goat before and are only going to get one book, this is probably the one to buy.

But once I finished that beginner guide...I still felt like a beginner. So I moved on to Raising Goats Naturally. Deborah Niemann's book is also an introduction to goat care, but it's written in a more chatty, first-person fashion (a lot like my own books), which I suspect turns some people away. However, since I'm aware that all one-author books inevitably share that person's biases and Raising Goats Naturallyknowledge gaps, I enjoyed the honesty of Niemann's book and definitely pulled out some interesting tidbits that weren't covered in the Storey guide. Specifically, I learned that you should always breed miniature or partially miniature goats with bucks that are as small as the doe or smaller so that you don't have to worry about extra-large kids causing problems coming out. This and other factoids probably seem obvious to many of you, but I sucked them up happily, glad to have someone else's experiences to help me avoid beginner mistakes.

By the time I finished Niemann's book, I was starting to feel more like an accomplished goatkeeper...but I still didn't have goats. Since I couldn't move up our goat-arrival date, I settled on getting another book instead, this time Natural Goat Care by Pat Coleby. I'll admit up front that our two spoiled darlings arrived when I was only a Natural Goat Carequarter of the way through Coleby's book and my attention quickly turned to real, live goats, so I've still got a lot left to read, but I think that this book makes a very good addition to the beginning goatkeeper's long as you take the contents with a grain of salt. Coleby veers a little too far toward the personal-experience/no-science side for my tastes in a few spots, but most of her book walks a more middle ground. And she presents intriguing suggestions about how the prehistory of goats impacts their current needs, explaining that goats' tendency to browse on tree leaves means that the animals can develop mineral deficiencies when dining primarily on short-rooted grasses in human-build pastures. In turn, Coleby asserts that those cravings are what spur goats to break out of our pastures...which may be wishful thinking, but is worth considering.

I'd be curious to hear from our readers. Which other goat books do you feel help beginners turn into permaculture goat herders? Did I miss an obvious introductory text from my lineup?

Posted Thu Nov 20 07:23:57 2014 Tags:
goat manger in action

Of course the goats wanted to be on top of the new manger.

The thin plywood lid was collapsing when they stood on it, which could be a safety issue if they fall the wrong way.

Adding some 2x4's for support makes it more standable.

Posted Thu Nov 20 15:38:31 2014 Tags:
Frozen fava beans

There's something psychologically colder about nights that get down into the single digits. Or maybe it's not completely psychological. Gates freeze shut, my hands ache when I go out to do my morning chores, and the uncovered winter crops begin to die back.

Wood stove

Last year at this time, we enjoyed a similar cold spell, but the lowest low in November 2013 was 15. No wonder I ran through the firewood I had alloted for November 2014 by the middle of this month and have already started into December's wood.

Frosty dog

Everyone else on the farm is glad that we're due to enjoy a bit more fall weather this coming week as the current Arctic burst goes back where it belongs. But Lucy loves the cold, so she might be sad to see it go. Don't worry, Lucy --- there are many more frosty mornings ahead!

Posted Fri Nov 21 07:49:19 2014 Tags:
post pounding

We transplanted some apple trees this afternoon.

Honey Crisp will be in the middle of Mr Winesap and Ms Red Delicious.

Posted Fri Nov 21 14:54:48 2014 Tags:
Goats eating honeysuckle

So, my goats-in-the-woods experiment lasted all of about two hours. I let the girls loose, settled down to write...and soon heard Artemesia yelling at the top of her lungs. Abigail had circled around to the part of our boundary that has the lowest fence and had hopped right over, but our doeling's stubby little legs didn't allow her to follow. I guess it's a good thing that Artemesia is part Nubian since there was no missing her anguished yells as she was left Dwarf doelingbehind. Or maybe our doeling was just telling on her big sister? Either way, I pulled Abigail out of the garden before she could do any damage, then I stuffed both goats back into the pasture with the honeysuckle trees shown above.

For experiment number two, I decided to open the door on the far side of the starplate coop, meaning that our goats would have to walk through some rough terrain to circle around the fenced pastures and reach our core homestead. Sure enough, when I came back from walking Lucy, I discovered that our goats had decided to explore in the opposite direction. But Artemesia was yelling again, and I got worried (even though our doeling sometimes just likes to yell) and went to see what was up. No one was in trouble, but both goats followed me right home, negating that experiment.

Doe with horns

Next, I decided to try tethering Abigail on the far side of the starplate coop. I figured that Artemesia would stay close to her companion, and that everyone would be happy. So when I heard non-Nubian yelling I guessed that our doe must have gotten her chain hung up. Nope. Artemesia had decided to wander far afield in search of honeysuckle, and her big sister was having a fit at being left alone. So, once again, I stuffed the girls back into the pasture for safe keeping. I guess they're stuck eating hay now except when I take them out on monitored walks...unless I come up with another supposedly bright technique for letting them run wild in the woods.

Posted Sat Nov 22 08:06:06 2014 Tags:
apple planting day

I was a little worried about having the goats grazing on oats so close to our new apple trees, but it seems like they're not interested in anything with bark yet.

Posted Sat Nov 22 15:15:08 2014 Tags:

Dwarf apple rootballAlthough it's a little premature to count our two-year-old high-density apple experiment as a success (since frost nipped all of the blooms this spring), I'm feeling very positive about the system. Planting the apple trees close together allows me to try out lots of different varieties, which in turn makes it easy to select varieties that resist cedar apple rust and our other local bugaboos. The high-density row doesn't take up much precious garden space, and the summer pruning (although frequent) is simple and fun. No wonder Mark and I chose to plant two more high-density apple rows this fall!

With this second planting, I'm experimenting in three different directions. Two years ago, I mostly chose trees grafted onto Bud 9, M26, and Geneva 11 rootstock, meaning that the trees are true dwarfs, but I also included two trees on a semi-dwarf (MM111) rootstock. The semidwarf trees grew very well...but they've already gotten quite a bit bigger than their neighbors. So, when I grafted Planting an apple treeonto MM111 for some of this year's new trees, I expanded the within-row spacing to 6 feet, hoping that the additional elbow room will help our semidwarf apples achieve their full potential while still toeing the high-density line. I also plan to train the MM111 trees' limbs down considerably below the horizontal this time around, which I was a bit more cautious about in previous years but which I've since decided is definitely a good option for high-density apples in the backyard.

I also opted to branch out and try yet another rootstock this year --- M7, which will produce trees midway in size between the true dwarfs on Bud 9 and the semidwarfs on MM111. My M7 trees went into the ground at 53-inch spacing but will otherwise be treated the same as the MM111 trees. I'll be curious to see, over the next few years, which rootstock turns out to be the best fit for high-density plantings on our farm. It's a bit of a tradeoff --- the more dwarfing the rootstock, the more precocious the tree, meaning that we'll get more fruits faster. But, at the same time, truly dwarf rootstocks have a hard time growing if you don't give them constant TLC, and a few of the trees in my original planting (on Geneva-11 or Bud 9 rootstock) did fail to thrive. Hopefully, either the M7 or MM111 trees (or both) will provide a happy middle ground --- apple trees that do pretty well without watering and other bonus attention, but that also produce within a few years after planting.

Espaliering an apple

I've read lots of good and bad about espaliers (my third high-density apple experiment), so I earmarked only one tree for this final endeavor. I settled on an informal design set against the south side of our front porch and began by bending the young tree so the top was nearly horizontal. As watersprouts inevitably pop up from the flattened trunk, I'll probably bend them at a 45-degree angle to create a type of lattice pattern...or whatever seems to make sense from the growth pattern of the tree. Since I'm far from confident that my espalier will thrive, though, I chose our Chestnut Crab for the experiment ---after all, I'm mostly growing this sweet crabapple variety out of sentimental attachment to a similar tree of my youth, so I won't feel too bad if I don't get high yields.

I'll keep you posted on all three new plantings in the years ahead...and hopefully will be able to report in summer 2015 about our first big crop from our older high-density planting. In the meantime, stay tuned for another post about next year's high-density experiment, which will veer off in yet another direction.

Posted Sun Nov 23 07:33:00 2014 Tags:
mark New tricks
making a door to block cats from hallway

This is the first year we've trained Huckleberry and Strider to be good in the morning.

They've had to sleep on the porch at night due to Huckleberry's problem of waking everybody up at the crack of dawn.

With this new hallway door we block off his chance to be a morning cat.

Posted Sun Nov 23 15:15:21 2014 Tags:

Chicken booksThe chicken-lovers among you will be thrilled to hear that I'm celebrating Thanksgiving early by putting my chicken books on sale! But before you go nodding off, you can get the first book without plunking down a cent --- The Working Chicken is currently free on Smashwords and at Barnes & Noble. Find out why hard-nosed homesteaders don't name their chickens and much more in this photo-rich introduction to backyard chicken care.

If that introduction tempts your appetite, my more in-depth series, Permaculture Chicken, includes three books bound to make your chicken-keeping adventure run more smoothly. And each ebook is marked down to 99 cents this week --- buy them all and save 74%! Here are the links: Permaculture Chicken: Incubation Handbook, Pasture Basics, and Thrifty Chicken Breeds. Maybe next year you can grow your own free-range chicken for Thanksgiving!

Thanks for reading! And if you like what you read, why not make my day by leaving a review?

Posted Mon Nov 24 07:00:07 2014 Tags:
pulling honeysuckle vines from top of tall tree

The trick to pulling honeysuckle vines from tall trees is pressure.

Pull too quick and the leaves can strip off.

A slow and steady pace seems to yield the best results.

Posted Mon Nov 24 14:35:01 2014 Tags:
Disgruntled quick hoop

Wind chimesWe live deep down in a valley (known locally as a holler) where we seldom feel breezes and even less seldom are faced with strong winds. So...I get lazy. I lay down cardboard kill mulches with just a rock or two to weigh the sheets down (if that), and this fall I minimized the number of bricks holding down the sides of our quick hoops to a mere six per 15-foot span.

But I've noticed recently that big changes in temperature do bring winds, even down here in our holler. And those roaring winds toss cardboard around the yard and whip right through lazily built quick hoops. The results are shown above.

When I went out to fix my quick hoops Monday afternoon, though, I still didn't increase the brick count. With one wind rushing through our valley already this winter, chances are we won't see another until March.

Posted Tue Nov 25 07:40:18 2014 Tags:
Fruiting high density pears

In an earlier post, I teased you by saying that next year's high-density experiment will veer off in an entirely new direction. But, really, it's the same experiment...just with a different species of tree.

High-density apple orchards have become big business in the U.S., but at this time, pears are mostly grown in a more traditional, spaced-out setting. However, one report I read mentioned that high-density pear plantings are already common in Europe, suggesting that close plantings can be appropriate for this other pome as well. Since I have several additional pear varieties that I want to try out but not enough space for several additional full-size trees, I figured --- why not experiment with a high-density planting for pears?

The best option for high-density pear trees appears to be a 4-foot spacing with the limbs tied down to 45 degrees below the horizontal. To make this work, the New York State Horticultural Society experimenters recommend using semidwarf rootstocks like OHF87, which appeared to be quite acceptable in high-density plantings during the eight years of their study (and, the author thought, most likely also for the entire life span of the orchard). I ended up buying OHF513 instead for my own planting since the nursery I wanted to order from uses this similarly-sized rootstock rather than OHF87, so I guess in a few years I'll be able to report on how well OHF513 does for high-density plantings.

High density pears

There are a few downsides to high-density pear plantings that aren't a factor when similar strategies are used on apples. First, the fruits on high-density pear trees tend to be on the small side, and pear rootstocks also aren't as precocious as those used to dwarf apples. As a result, the high-density pear researchers found that, even when planting feathered trees, you really shouldn't expect your first small pear crop until the third year after planting, and major production won't begin until the fourth year. If you're starting with rootstocks that you graft at home, you should add another year onto that figure, meaning that we probably won't see any pears from our planned row until about 2018.

But what could be more fun than grafting five little pear trees and setting aside another garden row for planting out the young trees at this time next year? Nothing! So, of course, I have to give it a shot.

Posted Wed Nov 26 08:05:38 2014 Tags:
chainsaw sharpening stone in action

I was skeptical about how well the shapening stone on the Oregon battery powered chainsaw would work, but I've used it several times now and it really makes the chain sharper with just a short pull on the sharpening lever.

Posted Wed Nov 26 16:16:49 2014 Tags:
Pies in progress

I know, I know, pies are meant to be round. But this Thanksgiving, pies are squared (or at least rectangular). In the past, I've carefully carried pies out across our floodplain...only to find specks of mud atop my perfect crust or meringue once we reached our destination. Not this year! Instead, I've upgraded to lidded casserole dishes...which have the added benefit of making a very deep-dish pie.

I hope your pies are similarly mud-free! Happy Thanksgiving!

Posted Thu Nov 27 07:35:02 2014 Tags:
Thanksgiving break image
We took the day off for some Thanksgiving day fun.
Posted Thu Nov 27 17:43:45 2014 Tags:

Wood stove humidifierLack of humidity is not something our farm usually suffers from. But last week's cold spell was notable in the extremely low water content of the air, which led to all kinds of minor discomforts in my nose and lips.

Luckily, Mark can fix just about anything. He was less than impressed with the pots I pulled out of kitchen circulation to fill with water and place atop the wood stove, so he instead went out and tracked down an old tea kettle. The vessel had been used as part of a deer deterrent, but with our deer situation much more under control lately, we felt comfortable repurposing the kettle as a wood-stove humidifier.

I wonder what this repurposed kettle will turn into next. Heck, maybe we'll even use it to make tea!

Posted Fri Nov 28 07:39:17 2014 Tags:
The view from on top of Sugar Hill with barn in background
The view from on top of Sugar Hill.
Posted Fri Nov 28 16:03:47 2014 Tags:

I killed another camera. I'm sure the painfully short, 1.5-year life cycle of my fancy cameras has nothing to do with the way I use the devices in the garden with muddy hands, take photos in the drizzling rain, and leave cameras lying in the grass all afternoon while I work. Surely the malfunctions are really all shoddy manufacturing, right?

Weather resistant cameraAnyway, to cut a long story short, I had no camera with me for Thanksgiving, and Mark took only four photos, so the unstructured view above of our family will have to do. More relevantly, this is your warning that photos will be a bit scanty for the next week here on the blog. But I have opted to splurge on a supposedly water- and dust-resistant camera, which should arrive in early December. Maybe I'll manage not to kill it too quickly?

(Because, yes, the more obvious solution of only using my camera with dry, clean hands just isn't going to happen.)

Posted Sat Nov 29 08:07:44 2014 Tags:
electric fence solar charger

We borrowed a new electric fence system over the Holiday. (Thanks Errol)

I think it might take a few days of cloudy sunshine to charge up the solar charger?

If it works the goats will have a bigger pasture area to roam around in.

Posted Sat Nov 29 15:33:48 2014 Tags:
Electric poultry netting

Daddy lent us a solar charger plus two 164-foot lengths of poultry netting for goat experimentation. (Thank you!!) Of course, I immediately came up with a slew of questions, such as...

...Will the fencing work if I run it through heavy weeds, just knocking a path open with my foot?

Grounding instructions

...Do we really need the three deep grounding rods we're instructed to install if I'm grounding the fencing in what's basically a swamp? And do people who move temporary electric fencing daily really drive in multiple grounding rods (and then pull them back out) at each location?

...How long will the charger have to soak up sunlight during a cloudy, winter period to save up enough juice to shock our goats?

...Will our goats remember the electric netting both were living in a couple of months ago, or will they have to be retrained?

...Did Daddy really think that, if this works, he's ever getting his expensive hardware back?

Posted Sun Nov 30 07:47:04 2014 Tags:
testing electric fence the old fashioned way

We've got an electric fence tester, but it's hard to see the lights during the day.

Someone should make one that uses beeps to tell how much voltage you have.

I prefer the old fashion method of touching the fence.

Posted Sun Nov 30 15:34:33 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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