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

archives for 12/2014

Dec 2014
Under the salad quick hoop

The time has come to delve into the quick hoops....

Outside the quick hoops

Beyond our frost-protected areas, the garden is pretty much dead. There are still hints of green here and there, but most plants are too damaged to be easily harvestable and even the most winter-hardy kales and Swiss chard aren't worth eating. (Well, Artemesia begs to differ, but this is meant to be a goat-free post....)

Winter salad greens

On the other hand, under the quick hoops, the world is much brighter. Yes, that 8-degree night did damage even my protected greens more than I would have liked, but there's plenty of delicious lettuce, arugula, and kale just waiting for harvest anyhow.

Ready for some nitty-gritty details? We cut new fabric for our quick hoops this year, meaning that the first round of fabric lasted 36 months. When I first started with quick hoops, I estimated that our supplies cost 29 cents per square foot, which comes to about 10 cents per square foot per year over the three-year life span of the fabric. (Yes, that's an overestimate of the cost since I'll keep using the non-fabric parts of the quick hoops for many years to come, but you can think of that as a worst-case scenario.) Would you pay $4.50 plus an hour of your time for a 15-foot by 3-foot bed of fresh salad greens ready at the beginning of December? I know we would! That's why quick hoops continue to be one of my favorite parts of our gardening year even though they cost money and I'm a certified skinflint.

Posted Mon Dec 1 07:54:48 2014 Tags:
milking stand

I made some progress on the new goat milking stand today.

Abigail barely fits in it.

Making the neck brace a few inches taller might make it easier to use.

Posted Mon Dec 1 14:58:48 2014 Tags:
Dwarf doeling

Guess what? It's time to talk about poop! I'm sure you're excited...and if not, you can just look at the cute snapshot of Artemesia and then move along.

Goat manure

When you start reading goat books and websites, you'll soon run across mention of "goat berries." I guess the cute euphemism is meant to make up for the fact that goat keepers spend a lot of time thinking about manure...and not just about how well that manure will incorporate into their gardens.

Clumpy goat manureOver a decade ago, a naturalist once told me that clumps of deer manure like the photo shown to to the left were a sign that the deer in question was a buck. Wrong! If deer are anything like goats (and the two species do seem to be remarkably similar), manure that clumps instead of separating into individual berries is an early warning sign. I notice a few clumps every time I get lazy and let our girls dine solely on hay for a few days, then allow them to gorge on oat leaves when their guts have lost some of their acclimation to the greenery. The clumpy manure tells me to be a bit more careful, to feed oat leaves every day in moderation rather than expecting the caprine gut to change on a dime. (Still, as long as I just see one clump and a lot of berries, I don't worry much.)

Clumpy manure can also be a sign of worms, but that doesn't seem to be the case in our situation since I only see a clump occasionally, and only after their feeding regimen has abruptly changed. Still, the worm potential is worth noting since intestinal parasites are such a big deal with goats.

Goat nose

Speaking of the health issues associated with goat manure, I should mention that I've been letting our girls spend most of their time in the same pasture for the last couple of weeks. While lack of pasture rotation is generally a very bad idea with goats, this pen is more a spot for our girls to run around in between dipping into the hay trough and talking a walk with me to honeysuckle patches rather than a spot to dine.

Still, manure is beginning to build up on the ground, which could be a health hazard if the goats got hungry and nibbled at the low grass. (Unlikely given their as-much-hay-as-they-can-eat diet combined with a very finicky nature.) On the other hand, I like to think of goat manure feeding this poor soil, so rather than moving the goats to a new spot, I'll probably spread some straw over the current manure load and turn this patch into a bit of an exterior deep-bedding zone. The goats get to keep running around right outside their coop door, while the soil gets to slurp up the high-quality manure --- a win-win.

That should work until we get our electric fence finished. At which point our girls will be spending more time rustling up their own grub...rather than watching me carry their hay in from the parking area half a bale at a time. Good thing two small goats eat less than a bale between them every week....

Posted Tue Dec 2 07:47:58 2014 Tags:
Leaky gas line

When your car's old enough to drink, sometimes key components spring a leak.

Our mechanic fixed two holes in the gas line before Thanksgiving, but vibrations during servicing busted an even bigger cavity into the rust. Now, when we stop at a gas station, liquid hits the pavement on its way into the tank.

After fillups, there are no leaks...unless the front of the car is higher than the rear. So, until we get hole number three fixed, there will be no more parking on hills.

Posted Tue Dec 2 15:43:19 2014 Tags:
Melina's quick hoops
"what weight row cover are you guys using out there? we don't have near the harsh winters you've got but i do have several beds under low tunnels with agribon-19 on them just to keep things a bit warmer. i'm into my second season with this batch of fabric but it does tend to tear pretty easily---nothing a little duct tape won't take care of though. haven't figured out if it's less expensive to use the ag-19 or go with something heavier that might last longer."
--- melina w staal

I hope you don't mind me sharing the photo above from your blog, Melina. I get this question a lot, so I thought the answer deserved its own post.

Eliot Coleman did some research with different fabric weights and found that, counterintuitively, lighter-weight fabrics are actually better at protecting the plants underneath. The heavier fabrics block more sun, and it's really the sun-concentration effect that protects your plants, not the night-time quilting effect. So, go for the thinnest fabric, which in our experience (like yours) has been agribon-19. Yes, it might not last quite as long, but it will do a much better job in the interim.

Cutting row-cover fabric

I haven't done as much experimentation as Coleman has, but I did originally begin with thicker fabric, which I used on cold frames instead of quick hoops. I've since retired that cloth, though, because even though it doesn't tear as easily, it blocks way too much light to leave on plants 24-7. If you feel you need an extra layer of protection (which Melina shouldn't, but which northerners might), then a layer of greenhouse plastic on top of the quick hoops during the coldest part of winter will help. But you'll have to remove plastic during hot days since, unlike row-cover fabric, plastic won't breathe!

Finally, I should briefly address Nayan's comment, since she complained that her row cover fabric "didn't even last from spring into summer. They literally crumbled into dust." Row-cover fabric is fragile, but if you take care not to tear it and always put it away dry, I've found that the fabric easily lasts two years with no mending and three-plus years if you're willing to sew a little. We definitely have not experienced any crumbling into dust!

Posted Wed Dec 3 08:08:51 2014 Tags:
Homestead walk

How much water is too much water to wade through in search of a waterproof camera?

Anna decided mid-thigh was acceptable.

The creek was too high for hip waders to be safe, though, so she stripped down and crossed barefoot and pantsless. Brr!

Posted Wed Dec 3 16:05:52 2014 Tags:
Editing a proof copy

My editor dropped me an email Tuesday at lunchtime with a formatted proof copy of The Naturally Bug-Free Garden to look over. And, by the way, could I get it back to her by Wednesday morning? That didn't give me much room to be an over-achiever, but I still managed to get my corrections back to her by 5 pm Tuesday. (Good thing it was pouring down rain and thus being outside held little appeal.)

Cover pages

I've been waiting with baited breath to see what Skyhorse would come up with for the interior design of this book since half of the reason I signed a deal with them in the first place was because I felt like the images deserved to be seen in print. Of course, Skyhorse's designer made very different decisions than I did when I first laid out the book, planning to self-publish it on paper...but in many cases I like Skyhorse's version much better. For example, take a look at the two-page title spreads above, my version on the top and Skyhorse's below. I'm not ashamed to say that theirs makes mine look homemade.

(By the way, if you're not used to looking at files like this, ignore the white space around the edges and the black lines on the corners. The book is set up with "bleed," meaning that the images will go right off the edge of the page like you'd see in a glossy magazine rather than having a white border around them. This is fancy formatting that gave me fits when I tried to do it myself.)

Duck page

Our duckies will be enjoying full-page billing, as will one of my favorite toads, but for some reason Skyhorse's designer didn't opt to turn my awesome slug photo into a two-page spread. I can't imagine why not! Don't they realize that my readers will want to post those slugs on their walls as pin-up models?

Interestingly, despite having added 31% more words between formatting the manuscript for myself and sending the file to my publisher, the page count remains the same --- 126 pages even. I'm not sure why Amazon thinks the book will be 208 pages long, but I guess preorder pages are often based on guesswork. Here are a few pre-order links in case you'd like to enjoy this glossy paperback when it comes to life this spring:

I hope seeing a book slowly make its way into print is almost as interesting as my usual posting goat poop. Now isn't that memory making slug pinups look pretty good?

Posted Thu Dec 4 07:50:15 2014 Tags:
Bright side of the moon

We've never had a camera with such a phenomenal zoom. A 50x optical zoom makes binoculars redundant.
Posted Thu Dec 4 13:38:43 2014 Tags:
Oat mulch

Winter is a good time to put more thought into systems within your homestead that need a little tuneup. What do I mean by "systems"? Well, mulching is a good example. In our garden, the advantages of a permanent mulch vastly outweigh the disadvantages, but cost and time mean that I don't always keep the ground fully covered. A good system would make mulch easier to come by, ensuring that our garden soil stays in tip-top health.

Forest gardeners talk about chop 'n drop as their primary mulching system, but in my own experience, the result is a lot of work without fully covering the ground. In our wet climate, halfway-mulched soil is almost worst than unmulched soil since weeds come up through the mulch and you're stuck trying to rip out the former without removing the latter. In drier regions, chop 'n drop might work, but around here, we need a more serious mulching campaign.

For the annual garden, my favorite winter solution is a fall cover crop of oats (or oilseed radishes if I want to plant into the ground in the very early spring). So, this year, I decided to try the same thing in our perennial beds. The photo at the top of this post shows the result, which is good but not yet perfect. The flaw came about because the soil around my blueberries was already partially mulched when I sprinkled oat seeds onto the ground, so germination wasn't perfect, leaving me with a partially-mulched situation. But the experiment is a good start, and suggests that perhaps if I raked in the oat seeds when I planted them rather than scattering the seeds on the soil surface (which seems to work fine in the vegetable garden), then I might get better mulch coverage around the perennials. The possible negative side effect that I'd anticipated --- oats competing with the blueberries during the growing season --- didn't seem to be a factor.

Inquisitive goat

Goats are the other new addition to our mulching system. In the past, the manurey deep bedding from our chicken coops has served as a partial mulch solution, but the greater quantities coming from the goat coop should increase the amount of garden area we can cover with this prime amendment. As an added bonus, deep bedding acts as fertilizer as well as a weed suppressant, which means we won't have to haul in as much off-farm manure this year. Yet another system that I've been wanting to tweak....

Posted Fri Dec 5 05:57:34 2014 Tags:
in hot water

Our low pressure hot water heater has been going for a little over a year now.

We've worked out a pretty good system where I turn it on about an hour before dinner which gives more than enough hot water for the dishes.

Makes me wonder how much energy we've saved over this past year compared to a hot water heater going all the time?

Posted Fri Dec 5 15:18:25 2014 Tags:

I accidentally created a feeder for the local titmouse population when I left our sunflowers on the drying racks too long. I had planned to put the sunflowers away in the feed freezer...but I wasn't positive the heads were dry enough and didn't want them to mold. And then the local songbirds started dropping by for a snack.

Next year, I'll take that as my cue to protect the seeds, but this year, we still have about 40 pounds of sunflower seeds from the feed store to go through, and I suspect we won't use it all before spring. So I've just been enjoying letting the titmice dine. It takes a titmouse about as long to eat one seed as it takes Abigail to eat the whole head, so we may continue seeing bird traffic into the new year.

Posted Sat Dec 6 08:08:22 2014 Tags:
Goat collars

Artemesia is growing into her independence, so sometimes we have to give her a nudge in the right direction.

A collar makes nudges easier.

Abigail's collar is blue and sturdy, but Artemesia's is pink and delicate. Perfect for our little princess.

Posted Sat Dec 6 13:20:08 2014 Tags:
Ancona ducks
"Are those Ancona ducks? We have four and I love them. Such clowns and I enjoy helping a rare breed. Can you tell me when yours stopped laying for the year? I can't figure out why my eggs stopped in August!!"
--- Meg

Those are indeed Ancona ducks, Meg! You can read all about our duck adventures here and here.

Chickens that are more than a year old stop laying in the fall when they molt, and ducks molt too (although, the internet reports, on a bit more of a sporadic schedule). That said, when our ducks "stopped laying" we soon discovered that they'd decided to hide their eggs in the woods instead of laying in the coop. Even though it was a hassle, locking the ducks in at night broke them of the woods-laying habit. Since waterfowl tend to lay quite early in the morning, all of the eggs had been deposited in the coop by the time I let them out at 9 am.

I hope that helps turn up your missing eggs!

Posted Sun Dec 7 07:53:22 2014 Tags:
heated bucket mom's house

Due to popular demand we hunted down some more heated buckets.

Once we finish the back orders we'll have a few available if you missed the first round.

Posted Sun Dec 7 14:57:46 2014 Tags:

I often feel like I have the opposite of Seasonal Affective Disorder. My personal affliction, GLADS, means that, after a week of solid gray, when the clouds finally break, I'm Gaily Laughing at da Sun.

Sun appearing
It's astonishing how different 36 degrees and sunny feels from 54 degrees and rainy. Even though it's nearly twenty degrees colder, I have to remind myself to wear a coat --- the whole world seems bright and warm.  Time to do some laundry!

Posted Mon Dec 8 07:01:23 2014 Tags:
mark TLC
fixing frayed sleeves

I visited my Mom recently and she was not impressed with my frayed sleeves.

Before I knew it she was cutting up an old pair of black jeans and attaching the pieces to my tired old Carhart coat with her sewing machine.

Thanks Mom.

Posted Mon Dec 8 15:50:02 2014 Tags:

Draped clothes

The day after
the sun, realities of winter set back in.

Even flipped once, thicker clothes failed to dry fully during our five-hour window of sunshine, so I take them in to drape around the house.

The fire is once again raging, to the cats' delight, and Mark and I get busy splitting wood to feed the cats' addiction.

Maybe we'll get another sunny day Friday?

Posted Tue Dec 9 07:59:53 2014 Tags:
using bicycle hooks to hang hay out of reach from goats

How do we keep hay out of reach from the girls?

Bicycle storage hooks seemed like a good idea today.

Posted Tue Dec 9 16:00:51 2014 Tags:
Heated chicken waterer

In the summer of 2013, Mark and I were seriously considering bringing a heated chicken waterer to market. Mark had constructed a waterer that kept working at least into the low teens Fahrenheit, and we both thought other chicken keepers would love the waterer as much as we did.

Unfortunately, not all products are worthy of going to market. The base of Mark's heated chicken waterer was a two-gallon heated bucket produced by Farm Innovators, and we weren't able to get them to sell us the buckets at a low enough price to make it worth our while to produce the heated waterers and then sell them to you for under $150. So, we instead made a video tutorial showing you how to make the heated waterer yourself, then we moved on to the next project.

But we kept getting emails from customers who said that making their own heated waterer was just too hard. Could we possibly sell them a premade heated chicken waterer...just one? This fall, we cleaned off the porch and realized we had fourteen heated buckets taking up space, so we did a limited edition run and sold out in 24 hours.

Mark with his heated waterer

People kept emailing and asking for heated chicken waterers, but a second limited edition run didn't seem possible because the company now wasn't willing to even sell us the buckets at the slightly-reduced price they'd offered earlier. Enter my awesome mother-in-law, who tracked down the same heated bucket on sale at Rural King and bought up a carload.

To cut a long story short, we now have seventeen more premade heated chicken bucket waterers ready to keep your chickens happy this winter...and this really will be the last run for the winter. So snap up your waterer below ASAP!

Here are the stats:

  • 2 gallon volume with two nipples (sufficient for 34 chickens for at least two winter days).
  • Comes with a lid with a birdcage knob for easy removal. In addition, brackets within the bucket prevent your lid from falling in.
  • Free shipping within the U.S. (We can't ship these out of the country at all --- sorry!). Shipping time is approximately 6 to 10 business days, so order by this weekend if you want your waterer by Christmas.
  • Cost: $100

To buy, just click on the button below and paypal will check you out, allowing you to pay by credit card, echeck, or paypal balance. I hope your chickens love the warm water as much as ours do!

Posted Wed Dec 10 07:22:16 2014 Tags:
Anna digging in the forest garden area
Our forest garden area got its own island today.
Posted Wed Dec 10 16:10:39 2014 Tags:
Goats eating oats

I've been intrigued to realize that the beds of oats that our goats have repeatedly nibbled throughout the fall and early winter are staying green longer than the un-nibbled beds (which are pretty much dead by now). I wonder if the nibbled beds are producing more underground biomass as well as regrowing their leaves repeatedly? After all, I've read that, when grass is grazed, the plants slough off a proportional amount of root mass (although I've yet to see a scientific study to this effect). If the root-sloughing is more than a permaculture legend, then you might actually add more Goats in a tangle of brushbiomass to the soil by letting goats graze your cover crops a couple of times than by simply letting the oat plants mature and then die in situ.

Of course, even re-nibbled, there's only so much oat growth at this time of year. So I've been taking the girls up in the woods every day or two to hunt down honeysuckle. This week, we found a huge tangle not far from their pasture, where a fallen pine held honeysuckle branches high enough off the ground that deer were unable to dine. Enter the biped and the caprines! Artemesia thinks that humans are pretty darn awesome because we can pull vines down from way up high with our flexible fingers and opposable thumbs. But Abigail gets sick of waiting, so she simply hops up onto the trunk of the fallen pine (three feet off the ground) and chows down. If our local deer were as agile as Abigail, there would be no honeysuckle left at all!

Posted Thu Dec 11 07:47:20 2014 Tags:
duck nest box update

We couldn't get our ducks to even look at the alternative roll out nest box.

Some days they'll scoot inside the old duck nest box, but lately they've been insisting on laying all their eggs on the floor behind the box.

Posted Thu Dec 11 15:42:03 2014 Tags:
Chopped roots

Pampered Chef chopperOur goats aren't precisely spoiled...they just like things a particular way. So, when I started giving them apple cores and a carrot in the morning, they informed me that the food choices were good but the presentation was way off. "Chop our roots!" Abigail demanded.

Luckily, Mark's mom had just found me a Pampered Chef Chopper at a yard sale. This is a fun little device that basically does the job of a food processor, but is hand powered. With carrots, you have to be careful not to overload the reservoir, but with that caveat aside, a few pounds of my palm reduced the root to a pile of splinters just the right size for Artemesia's little mouth.

I suspect there are better choppers out there for roots since the Pampered Chef Chopper feels a little flimsy with its all-plastic construction (except for the cutting blade). But it's definitely making my morning routine easier, so I'll try to be gentle and will hope it serves us a good long time. "I don't care how you do it," Abigail chimes in. "Just keep chopping my roots!"

Posted Fri Dec 12 07:47:58 2014 Tags:
mark Frozen mud
splitting firewood

Chopping up firewood is a whole lot easier when the ground is frozen like today.

Posted Fri Dec 12 15:54:56 2014 Tags:
Cluttered porch

The trouble with our big, beautiful front porch is that it's dry, so Mark and I both tend to set things there...just for a little while. The fire in the smoker isn't quite out when I get done checking on the bees? Set it on the porch. Cardboard boxes not quite ready for kill mulching? Set them on the porch. Seeds need a bit more drying time? Set them on the porch.

After a few months, the results look like the photo above.

Porch sweeping

It gets to the point where I'm too scared to even start picking things up because the project begins to feel too tremendous for one. Luckily, Kayla came over full of good spirits and energy, and Mark also lent a hand. In only an hour, the porch was reclaimed!

Stacking firewood

Birthday signLook at all that empty space! Better fill it up with firewood.

Thank you so much, Kayla! And thank you for the awesome Bee Crossing sign too!

Next time, do you think we can tackle the barn?

Posted Sat Dec 13 08:21:58 2014 Tags:
bags of birthday leaves
We spent the day celebrating Anna's birthday in Bristol.
Posted Sat Dec 13 16:02:30 2014 Tags:
Feeding a goat
"I noticed you referred to taking/leading your goats into the woods. How do you get your goats to follow? Do you have very many? I have twelve. They do not always follow...even with a bucket of food. I want to rotate them on pasture, but for their safety, we have to pen them at night (coyotes, neighboring dogs, etc.). Let's just say, I have 8 children and when we try to get them into the pasture/pen it can be quite the prospect for America's Funniest Home Video. I would love to know if you have a trick."
--- K Hill

The first thing I taught Abigail was how to walk on a leash. This involved a bit of pulling, but mostly holding grain in my hand just out of nose reach each time she stopped moving. Goats are smart. Soon, Abigail was nearly as well leash-trained as Lucy is (although our goat gets much more recalcitrant when she knows I'm about to lock her back in her boring pasture).

My guess would be that, if you can figure out who the lead goat is, leash training that goat might do the trick. But I've obviously never worked with a dozen goats. And Artemesia is willing to trot along at my heels whether or not Abigail is on the leash --- I think she was a bottle baby, and she adores humans.

Pair of goats
Unlike Artemesia, Abigail has a mind of her own, but I can usually get her to obey by using goat psychology. Lately, I've been taking Abigail out into the woods san leash, which works well because she knows I'm going to lead her to something tasty, and because she hates being left behind alone. (Artemesia, if giving the choice, follows me rather than Abigail.)

The trouble comes when we return to the coop, since Abigail would far rather keep exploring the woods rather than get shut back up. If I'm in a hurry, I'll snap on a leash to make sure Abigail doesn't get her panties in a twist about the end of walktime, but I'm also working on training her to behave there too. My method involves taking Artemesia off somewhere so that Abigail can't see us, then Abigail freaks out, thinking she's been abandoned by her entire herd, and she starts sticking much closer to my heels in the future.

That method isn't foolproof yet, though --- the last time Abigail came galloping down off the hill with me and Artemesia...and then ran right past us to a new patch of honeysuckle within sight line of the coop. She figured she could graze, Artemesia could get shut in, and we'd all be happy. So I've got a bit more work ahead of me there.

I'd be curious to hear from others who have worked with bigger goat herds than I have. Do you have tips for getting your goats to follow where you lead?

Posted Sun Dec 14 08:16:40 2014 Tags:

testing out the new Bounty Hunter TK4 metal detector
2014 is the year I finally talked Anna into a metal detector.

On the list of things I want to find is an old chain we lost in the weeds and a small bolt for the rear prop shaft on the ATV.

We got the Bounty Hunter TK4, and it seems to be good at weeding out the junk if you know how to listen for the right kind of tone. Picking better target rich terrain might be another skill we need to learn, but I can already tell it's the kind of activity that's more fun with two people. Anna likes to do the digging while I do the scanning.

Posted Sun Dec 14 15:26:27 2014 Tags:
Christmas ball

Wooden ornamentI'm still feeling my way through Christmas decorations for our trailer. On the one hand, it's very easy to go overboard and turn decorations into clutter in such a small space. On the other hand, when the days are so short and gray, lights and greenery are much appreciated.

Last year, I went with a homemade garland above our table, which smelled good and looked pretty...but started dropping needles awfully quickly. This year, I changed gears a bit, keeping the lights (which we added to the garland after I made the post linked to above), and adding the bare minimum of ornaments. Mom let me go through our childhood Christmas box and pull out some ancient wooden ornaments and glass balls, which definitely make me smile every time I look at them, both because they're pretty and because they remind me of long-ago trees.

I'm curious to hear from others who like holiday decorations but live in a small space. What's your favorite nod toward the winter season?

Posted Mon Dec 15 08:13:38 2014 Tags:
Wood shed roof repair

I think we got our wood shed roof fixed for good today.

Our next wood shed will have a metal roof.

Posted Mon Dec 15 15:47:49 2014 Tags:

"So, is Abigail pregnant?" Mom asked during my pre-birthday bash. I had to admit that I didn't really know. Some goats begin to show a bit on their right side (opposite the rumen) by the beginning of their fourth month of pregnancy, but others pop out kids without putting on any apparent weight at all. Still other goats have bellies so tremendous you'd think they were pregnant with quintuplets...but they never give birth because all that mass is just digesting hay.

My urine test said Abigail wasn't pregnant, but I didn't really believe it. Short of taking a blood test or finding an ultrasound machine, was there a more definitive way to find out whether Abigail had been properly bred?

Goat butts

"You could also try the pooch test," reader Sheree Clopton suggested. And thus began my obsession with peering up under Abigail's tail.

If your goat is pregnant, by two to three months after breeding, her anus (the hole on top) should be dropping down further away from her tail while her vulva (the pointy thing at the bottom) should become more elongated and tear-drop shaped. The trouble is that I hadn't take a before photo right when Abigail came to stay with us (because who really takes a closeup of their goat's butt during an introductory photo shoot?). And the test depends on deciphering individualistic changes in your goat's unique hind end. So I still don't have a definitive answer, although I think that perhaps Abigail's anus has dropped some over the last five weeks.

Goat eating honeysuckle

Grazing goatsOne way to be sure that milk is in our near future would be to go ahead and breed Artemesia, who is six months old and thus mature enough to get pregnant by some folks' standards. However, I've read lots of horror stories about breeding dwarf doelings on the young side, so Mark and I decided that it's probably safer to let Artemesia keep growing for a while, breeding her in the spring if she comes into heat then (which some Nigerian dwarfs do), or just waiting until next fall if necessary. Either way, I'll be sure to take some closeups before the breeding next time...just in case.

In the meantime, I'd love to hear from some goat gynecologists. Do you think Abigail is pregnant from the photos in this post?

Posted Tue Dec 16 07:50:41 2014 Tags:

Anna found a meal sized Oyster mushroom on one of our old totems this morning.

We used the Excalibur to dry it out and went a little too dry.

In the future we'll make sure to check the drying progress every 30 minutes.

Posted Tue Dec 16 15:57:44 2014 Tags:
Apple roots

The so-called forest garden is now officially defunct. Due to extremely high groundwater (and some vole damage last winter), all three of the apple trees living there had died way back over the past summer, so Mark wiggled and wiggled and then ripped them out by the roots. Only one even had enough root mass left to make it seem worth trying to replant somewhere else, where the ground is more dependably dry.

Paring down an apple tree

Mark suggested planting the moved tree about eight inches deeper than it had been originally, which means the plant might root above the graft union. If so, I hope that I'll still be able to use my high-density training techniques to keep the tree relatively small.

In the meantime, we also did some drastic pruning to make the branch area more in keeping with the root area. This is very much an experimental tree, so it won't break my heart if it doesn't recover from the transplant shock and drastic pruning, but perhaps the tree will get its feet back under it in this better soil and will try once again to grow.

Digging raised beds

So, what's to become of the defunct forest garden? As I've mentioned off and on over the last six months, I'm busy mounding the area up into long raised beds for annual vegetables (and for hazels, which seem to be the only woody perennial that thrives in our waterlogged soil). The good news is that after years of hugelkultur, the soil is black and rich in many spots, so as long as I can get plants' roots up out of the underground ocean, perhaps this zone will turn into a prime growing spot after all. The big test will be tomatoes in 2015. Stay tuned for more details on drainage patterns (this winter) and on plant growth (next summer).

Posted Wed Dec 17 08:24:53 2014 Tags:
Lucy and the Chipmunks
Alvin will not be making it home for Christmas this year.
Posted Wed Dec 17 15:08:23 2014 Tags:
Book giveaway

It's time for me to make a little extra space on my shelves...which means one lucky reader is going to have a very special Christmas present show up in their mailbox next week. The seven books and one DVD below have a value of $166, and if you enter this week's giveaway, you can win all eight:

In exchange, I hope you'll help me plug this week's sale --- I've marked the two books in my Permaculture Gardener series (Homegrown Humus and The Naturally Bug-Free Garden) down to 99 cents apiece this week. I'd like to move a lot of copies so the books move up the rankings and are more visible to folks unwrapping kindles this Christmas, so any word-spreading you do would be much appreciated.

Here's the giveaway widget --- thanks in advance for joining in the fun!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Posted Thu Dec 18 07:00:23 2014 Tags:
St Paul Falls overlook
We hiked the St Paul Falls overlook trail this afternoon for Anna's Birthday.
Posted Thu Dec 18 16:59:36 2014 Tags:
Greywater wetland in winter

One of our readers asked for an update on our greywater wetland and I'm glad she did. There are two kinds of projects that I seldom post followups about here on the blog --- ones that fail unspectacularly and ones that work so well I never have to think about them again. Our greywater wetland falls into the latter category.

Specifically, Kathleen asked:

"I wonder, do you ever get a foul smell from stagnant water? Do you send big chunks down the "drain" and do you do anything to winterize your system?"

We did have a short period the first summer when we smelled a bit of stagnant water wafting back up the pipes...but before we got around to fixing the problem, nature took over. I assume the right bacteria colonized the wetland and broke down the odor-causing problem, because we didn't notice a troubling smell again.

In terms of sending big chunks down the drain, we don't do so on purpose (like you might with a garbage disposal unit in a modern sink), but we also aren't careful when letting Looking down into the greywater wetlanddishwater drain out, so some pretty big chunks do get through. Due to our big pipes, and perhaps to the roof water I channeled in to flush out those pipes every time it rains, we haven't had any problems resulting from food chunks causing blockages.

Finally, no, we don't winterize our system in any way. Water is more likely to stand in the wetland over the winter, but it still sinks in pretty quickly, and we haven't noticed any problems. Overall, I'd say this is a system that you should feel free to replicate exactly as we built it --- it's an awesome addition to our farm, and the cattails are both pretty and (as we learned this fall) can be fed to goats when fresh and green. What's not to love?

Posted Fri Dec 19 07:39:22 2014 Tags:
new shade trellis area
Our first shade trellis turned out so well we decided to start version 2.0.
Posted Fri Dec 19 15:31:32 2014 Tags:
Winter hike

"Do you want me to come over this week?" Kayla asked on Monday.

"Of course," I replied. "How does Thursday sound?"

"But that's your birthday," Kayla rebutted. "Mark won't let you work on your birthday."

She was so right. In fact, after we came back home that day and Mark posted about our adventure, my father (who knows us both far too well), emailed to say: "Glad  Mark got you out."

Gee, how did everyone guess that I'd originally planned to split some wood and then spend a few hours writing as my birthday activities of choice?

As a thank-you for his fun-filled nudge, I told Mark that he's in charge of deciding what we do on Christmas. Any guesses what he'll come up with next?

I sure am lucky to have a husband who reminds me how to play!

Posted Sat Dec 20 08:12:18 2014 Tags:

close up of very cold water
Our Cinder Block stepping stones are a little over three years old now and starting to show signs of wear from the constant water pressure.

If we're smart we'll get around to securing the steps that have a wobble before Mother Nature resets that portion of the creek back to like it was before.

Posted Sat Dec 20 14:28:29 2014 Tags:
Skirting the trailer

It's that time of year when homesteaders like me start to dream of new and crazy garden ideas. With the success of last year's shade trellis plantings under my belt, I'm considering two new planting beds encompassing the rest of the south-west side of the trailer and the entirety of the west side (where we have a big bay window at the edge of the kitchen). As usual, there are some restrictions and goals to keep in mind as I assess these areas:

  • I can't put any woody perennials right up against this side of the wood-stove alcove because that's where we set the ladder during Mark's annual chimney cleaning expedition. Perennials that die back to the ground or annuals are fine, though.
  • My main goal is to provide summer shade, which can be supported by an overhead trellis for the south-facing spot, but should be a vertical wall for the west-facing spot since light and heat from the setting sun streams in those windows during the summer.
  • Edibles are always top priority, but a few flowers would be nice.
New plantings

The photo above shows my current thoughts for filling in these two zones. Rather than building an overhead trellis along the south-facing wall (since I think Mark would hit his head on it while climbing the ladder), I'm thinking of a temporary trellis like we use for peas, perhaps populated with the scarlet runner beans that did so well for us this past summer. As an added color boost, maybe I'll scatter in some sunflowers or Jerusalem artichokes?

I'm still indecisive about the west-facing bed. On the one hand, I'd originally thought of putting grapes there like we have growing up to our first shade trellis, but we'd have to trellis these grapes vertically rather than horizontally in order to block the setting summer sun...and that much trellis might also block our winter views. Perhaps some closely-planted pear trees could provide that vertical growth just as quickly...but would the trees be leafy enough to block significant amounts of sun? Maybe bamboo would do better for speed of growth and sun blockage, although the species might keep its leaves during the cold season and reduce winter visibility even more than grapes would. What do you think?

Shade trellisAs for this past summer's experimental area, the bed now has a grape vine at each end, but I'll probably plant scarlet runner beans there for one more year as well while waiting for the grapes to fully colonize their overhead trellis. I'm starting to change this area over to a fully perennial bed, though, with the addition of sage, columbine, foxgloves, and some crocuses that I accidentally dug up while terraforming the forest garden. My goal is to have the bed become a profusion of blooms and fruits in a few years with little or no work on my part --- it's off to a good start!

Posted Sun Dec 21 07:57:19 2014 Tags:
biochar sifter

Collecting charcoal from wood stove ashes is easy with a DIY charcoal sifter.

We've been using this simple design for 4 years with no problems.

Posted Sun Dec 21 13:04:14 2014 Tags:
Honeysuckle on an ironwood

For the last month or so, I've been taking the goats out for a half-hour honeysuckle walk after my own lunch. As a result, our woods are becoming considerably less green.

Not long ago, Mom emailed me to share her concern that I might denude our forest of honeysuckle. She's right --- I probably will. Whether that will actually be a bad thing, though, remains to be seen.

Japanese honeysuckle is an invasive species here in the U.S., and it can actually strangle trees when the vine's growth is particularly luxuriant. The photo at the top of this post shows an ironwood that was sturdy enough to handle several thick honeysuckle vines, but for every tree like this, there are two or three that I end up just cutting down rather than pulling the vines out of their canopies --- the tree is simply too mangled to survive.

Honeysuckle eater

Of course, that's just looking at the forest --- what about the goats? Our girls do seem to be thriving on a diet rich in honeysuckle (although, when given the choice, Abigail still makes a beeline for the garden to munch on half-dead oat stalks). In fact, when I look back at photos from two months ago, our girls look like entirely different goats, and I don't think all of their new bulk is due to their thick winter coats.

So what will we do once we run out of honeysuckle? I have various thoughts in mind for next winter, and they mostly revolve around cover crops. This fall, our girls liked oilseed radishes okay and loved oats, and they currently like rye pretty well. Since those cover crops have prime green periods that span October, November, and December, that would be a good start for providing our girls with some early to mid-winter fodder, as long as I plant quite a bit more of the last two. I suspect it would be thinking too big to say that I'll replace most or all of this winter's store-bought hay with homegrown cover crops for next year, but we should definitely be able to provide our goats with that essential half-hour nibble of green!

And, in the meantime, I'll keep pulling honeysuckle out of the trees. I suspect that both trees and goats will appreciate the gesture.

Posted Mon Dec 22 07:59:47 2014 Tags:
DIY insulated trailer skirting

Last year's DIY insulated trailer skirting worked so well that we're continuing with no changes this year.

Twenty feet down. One hundred feet to go.
Posted Mon Dec 22 16:22:00 2014 Tags:

Cookbook coverAfter all of your good feedback on what I should write next...I decided to do something entirely different. My father's been telling me for years that I need to compile our recipes into an in-season, homegrown cookbook, and I've been ignoring him...but the time finally seemed right! Which means, you'll soon have several polished recipes in ebook form to enjoy in the near future. And, in the meantime, I'm in search of the perfect title.

Titles are my weak point, but they seem to make or break a non-fiction book. I could go with a boring, literal (but likely to capture keyword searchers) title like Locavore's Cookbook or In Season Cookbook. I could piggy-back on possible name-brand recognition with The Walden Effect Table or (if my publisher says it's okay) The Weekend Homesteader's Kitchen. Or I could go with something entirely outside-the-box...which I haven't come up with yet.

Feel free to submit your title suggestions using the comment form below. To sweeten the pot (and to continue cleaning out my bookshelves), if I choose your title, I'll mail you slightly used paperback copies of Moosewood Cookbook, Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning, and Wild Fermentation. I'm looking forward to hearing from you!

Posted Tue Dec 23 08:01:15 2014 Tags:
old Radio Shack battery tester AKA Enercell

Sometimes these old Radio Shack battery testers can stop working due to the paint rubbing off the spring that puts pressure on each battery.

Once the paint is gone the spring shorts everything out and reads bad battery.

It's easy to fix by taking the back cover off and inserting a piece of electrical tape behind the spring.

Posted Tue Dec 23 16:13:25 2014 Tags:

KaleLong-time readers will recall that when I reviewed Gardening for Maximum Nutrition, I was a bit dubious of the author's methodology in determining the most nutritious vegetables. I was much more impressed by the Tennessee Extension Service document entitled "Gardening for Nutrition" that Mom gave me for my birthday, and I was also pleasantly surprised to see that many of our own favorite vegetables received top billing therein. Based on 100-gram samples, the top vegetables for providing vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, calcium, and potassium were (in order of descending quality):

  1. Kale (our winter staple, and an overall best vegetable since it ranks among the top four vegetables for all five nutrients measured)
  2. Spinach (tops the charts for potassium)
  3. Mustard
  4. Turnip greens (top the charts for calcium)
  5. Broccoli (our fall and spring staple that's high in vitamin C and in the top 15 for all five nutrients)
  6. Butternut squash (so I'm not the only one who thinks this is the best winter squash! An excellent source of vitamin A and a good source of potassium)
  7. Lima beans (top the charts for iron, but the nutrient is in a form not readily absorbed by the human body, so take that with a grain of salt)
  8. Hot peppers (top the charts for vitamin C, but how many can you really eat? (No, don't answer that, Joey.))
  9. Leaf lettuce (faring dramatically better than head lettuce, it's a particularly good source of iron and calcium)
  10. Okra
  11. English peas
  12. Snow peas
  13. Cauliflower (interesting --- I don't grow cauliflower because its whiteness always made me think it wasn't as good for me. And I guess it does trail its cousin broccoli by a pretty wide margin.)
  14. Collards (my least favorite leafy green. Coincidence?)
  15. Southern peas
  16. Asparagus
  17. Carrots (top the charts for most vitamin A per pound)
  18. Acorn squash
  19. Pumpkin (see why we grow butternuts instead?)
  20. Chinese cabbage
  21. Sweet potatoes
  22. Cabbage
  23. Snap beans
  24. Sweet peppers (after hot peppers, sweet peppers top the charts for most vitamin C per pound)
  25. Kohlrabi
  26. Cantaloupe (I guess the study's authors went by family for their "vegetables" and included cantaloupes because they're cucurbits?)
  27. Hubbard squash
  28. Irish potatoes
  29. Beets
  30. Tomatoes
  31. Eggplant
  32. Zucchini
  33. Crookneck squash
  34. Radish
  35. Turnip roots
  36. Scallop squash
  37. Head lettuce
  38. Corn
  39. Onions
  40. Watermelon
  41. Cucumbers

So now you know what you should be growing (and training your family to eat) if you want to live long and prosper! Plant some kale!

Posted Wed Dec 24 08:25:29 2014 Tags:
A volcano kettle in action AKA Kelly Kettle

We fired up our Kelly Kettle for the first time today.

It's like a rocket stove with a double-walled chamber for heating water.

Handy to have around during a power outage. You can boil water in about 3 to 5 minutes with a few pages of junk mail and some sticks.

Posted Wed Dec 24 15:59:50 2014 Tags:
Dining goat

I always wonder when I see one of our goats chowing down on a wild plant that our other goat ignores. Was Abigail fulfilling a pregnancy craving when she spent a few days chowing down on golden ragwort leaves? The plants' green abundance in the brown winter woods suggests that ragwort might be toxic to deer, and data on a related species shows that the leaves are very high in copper. But everyone knows that goats have higher copper requirements than some of their relatives, and Abigail's previous owner didn't administer Ragwort leaves in winterboluses while Artemesia's previous owner did. I've yet to cross the copper bridge myself, other than providing free-choice minerals and kelp in the coop, so maybe that's why Abigail spent a few days gorging on ragwort...then went off it cold turkey.

Meanwhile, our littler goat always hunts down hog-peanut seeds, even while Abigail is busy chowing down on mountains of honeysuckle leaves a few feet away. Perhaps Artemesia simply likes the nutty flavor, or perhaps she needs more protein to feed her teenage growth spurt.

And then there are the times I catch Abigail scarfing down some dried oak leaves off the forest floor. Could they really have any nutritional value after sitting out in the rain for months? Or does our older goat just need something tough to settle her stomach after gorging on honeysuckle?

After noticing that my own list of favorite vegetables closely matches the list of the most nutritious vegetables, I have to assume that goats and humans alike can tell by taste which natural supplements we need. The trick, I suspect, is to listen to our bodies and learn that just because our eyes want chocolate ice cream, that doesn't mean our stomachs don't want kale and garlic.

Posted Thu Dec 25 08:10:36 2014 Tags:
Huckleberry with styrofoam

Huckleberry and Strider get extra treats on Christmas day.

Sometimes I wonder if they can tell the difference from tantalizing turkey or savory salmon?

Posted Thu Dec 25 14:41:17 2014 Tags:
Dried oregano

Drying basilOn a whim, I decided to air-dry some herbs this past summer. After leaving the plants on the drying racks for a few weeks, I loosely packed the dried leaves into jelly jars, only adding a lid recently since I was initially afraid that our high humidity would prompt the supposedly dried herbs to mold. While I was putting on lids, I crinkled each herb between my fingers and did a sniff test, deciding that the basil smelled just like summer, the oregano smelled just like the plants it came from (but not very much like store-bought dried oregano --- I really need to find a more intense-flavored variety), and that the chives and Egyptian onions weren't worth saving. Two successes out of four isn't bad for a first shot!

Christmas dinner

Then, in a Christmas relaxation of our low-wheat menu, I added the dried basil and oregano into the sausage and sauce for a holiday pizza. Delicious! I'm going to have to remember to dry more herbs in this ultra-easy manner next summer. And probably to plant some more fennel too since the seeds we harvested in 2011 are finally running low....

Posted Fri Dec 26 07:56:11 2014 Tags:
Kelly Kettle instruction sheet

This picture on the Kelly Kettle instruction sheet got me wondering if the technology could be adapted to fit over a common wood stove chimney pipe to function as a crude humidifier.

Posted Fri Dec 26 12:55:12 2014 Tags:
Sifting biochar"Both charcoal and ash are important soil amendments on my homestead. I was surprised to see your ash just dumped on the ground. I store mine out of the rain until I need to use it. Just this past week I spread three trashcanfuls on the back pasture and still need another 1/2 can full to finish the job. As for the charcoal, I soak it in urine prior to adding it to the compost. What do you do with yours?" --- Su Ba

I'll start out with the ash side of the equation. Wood ashes are a good source of garden nutrients...for some soil. Unfortunately, they're a bad match with our ground since wood ashes sweeten your soil and add a hearty dose of potassium...and our garden soil already veers almost too far toward the alkaline and definitely contains more potassium than it should. We are planning on raising the pH of some pastures this year, but those areas are also overabundant in potassium already, so we'll be purchasing lime instead of applying ashes. In the end, I highly recommend that gardeners perform a soil test before adding wood ashes to their soil willy-nilly or you may end up doing more harm than good. (On the other hand, you might find that your soil is a perfect fit for wood ashes! Either way, it's good to know.) That explanation (plus the fact that we're not soapmakers) is the reason why our ashes are simply sitting in a pile of waste on the ground.

The charcoal, though, we sift out with greedy little fingers to turn into biochar. Please do read the lunchtime series I've linked to in my previous sentence for more information, but the short version is that we tried activating our charcoal with urine just like Su Ba does, and didn't seem much effect. So last year's charcoal went down the composting-toilet hole to create a combination much more like the terra preta that modern biochar is trying to replicate. I won't be applying that compost until this coming fall and probably won't have any results for you until 2016, but that's the direction we're aiming for at the moment. Stay tuned for more information on about eighteen months.

Posted Sat Dec 27 07:57:07 2014 Tags:
non lethal force

Our last encounter with stray hunting dogs got me thinking how we need a non lethal option to supplement our home defense tools.

We ordered 5 shot gun shells with rubber slugs for just under 20 dollars.

Posted Sat Dec 27 15:58:23 2014 Tags:
Oyster mushrooms

If you really know your wild mushrooms, you can pick them after dark, without a flashlight, by smell and by feel.

Okay, I'll be honest. I'd already scoped out the oyster mushrooms beside the driveway during my morning walk, but they were too frozen to easily pluck at that time. So I waited until we were coming home with our movie-star neighbor from our annual movie out in the big world to pick the next day's dinner.

By the way, The Theory of Everything is the most totally Anna movie I've seen in a long time. No violence, no explicit sex, high geek factor, and so well done that I cried rivers at the end. Almost as good as picking wild mushrooms in the dark. Almost.

Posted Sun Dec 28 08:19:30 2014 Tags:
using wood shavings with a Kelly Kettle

We saved some wood shavings from the last chainsaw session in anticipation of trying out the Kelly Kettle.

It made starting the fire pretty easy and dropping the shavings through the chimney once the fire is going really heats things up.

Posted Sun Dec 28 15:58:33 2014 Tags:
Climbing goat

In the wild, goats would primarily eat tree leaves, which tend to be higher in minerals than grass and carry a lower risk for spreading internal parasites. So it's no surprise that when people talk about winter fodder for goats, they often talk about feeding them dried tree leaves. I love the idea, but, unfortunately, that's all it is to most people --- an idea. Only one website that I've found so far has provided actual information on how to gather tree leaves for goats, so if you want the long version, feel free to follow that link. For the short version, read on....

First of all, I should mention that, while goats will sometimes eat fallen autumn leaves, this isn't the kind of high-nutrition foodstuff that the goat owner should be looking for. As you probably learned in elementary school, tree leaves turn color in the fall as the plant sucks Winter goat foddermany of the important nutrients back out of the leaf and into the trunk, so fallen leaves are more akin to straw than they are to hay. A goat might eat some fallen leaves, but they're not going to fare very well on a diet of fallen leaves alone. Instead, if you opt to save tree leaves for winter feed, your goal should be to strip the leaves from the trees while they're still green, dry them, and then store the leaves like you would hay.

Okay, so how does one go about this process, which I've seen called "shredding," or making "tree hay" or "pollard hay"? Since trees leaves are often out of reach, the first step is usually to create a coppice or pollard system --- which we luckily have growing up in our powerline cut at this very moment. (No, we didn't create it. When the electric company whacked down all of the big trees after a storm, many small sprouts came up from their base --- instant coppice.) Once you have a coppice system, you harvest the small stems and their attached leaves in the summer at two-to-six-year intervals. At this time, the young branches are usually around four or five feet long, and they can be allowed to dry for a day on the ground, then are tied up into bundles (a bit like corn shocks) to dry another two or three days in the field before being moved to the barn.

AbigailThe trick seems to be finding tree species that handle coppicing well and that also hold onto their leaves when dry, since you don't want to be stuck raking dried leaves out of the summer grass --- it's much easier to simply carry leafy branches to winter storage all in one bundle. In Bulgaria, maple, hornbeam, ash, mulberry, some oaks, willow, linden, and elm are most frequently used and are harvested any time between mid July and the end of September, while in Italy, farmers focus primarily on ash and harvest in late August.

This process of harvesting tree leaves for winter fodder is often called shredding, probably because the leaves are plucked from the twigs in the winter before feeding. Then the branches that are left behind can be used for firewood.
I love the elegance of the system, and am curious to see how time-consuming it would be to pack away fodder for two small goats. The biggest stumbling block at the moment is where to store the tree hay --- I guess we'll need to put a hay loft on our winter to-do list!

Posted Mon Dec 29 07:54:09 2014 Tags:
mark Puny studs
prep work for new range hood

Looks like our last project of 2014 will be a new range hood for the stove.

Prep work today included taking out the old cabinets and beefing up the trailer's puny stud framework.

Posted Mon Dec 29 16:08:00 2014 Tags:
Fun and games

It's all fun and games...until I get the 2015 planner. Then I get ambitious and start making lists, and poor Mark has to put his nose back to the grindstone.

Planning the homesteading year

If you're a relatively new reader, you might find this post about our annual tasks helpful as you plan out your own homesteading year. I even included a spreadsheet with our yearly planting dates at the end of that post --- the first seeds go in the ground around here at the beginning of February under quick hoops unless the ground is ultra cold, so you don't have as much planning time as you might think!

We haven't added any big projects to our list this year, but we are spending some time expanding certain systems. First, we've decided to streamline our mushroom operation, perhaps with some sort of small shade house to keep the mushrooms cool and moist on summer days (since sticking them under the fruit trees just didn't cut it), and we're also splurging on two new colonies of chemical-free bees for which we'll be returning to our original Langstroth hives. Meanwhile, if Abigail is pregnant, I'll be learning to milk, and we'll definitely be growing more goat fodder plants in the garden during the summer months. Finally, we had so much fun with our limited sugar mapling this past winter that we might expand a bit this year, and there are always new perennials on the horizon. So stay tuned for lots of furry, leafy, and sweet fun in the year to come!

Posted Tue Dec 30 08:07:24 2014 Tags:
Range hood support board

We'll be mounting our new range hood onto this 2x6.

The bottom of the hood will be 24 inches above the stove.

Posted Tue Dec 30 16:26:59 2014 Tags:

Mulching with deep beddingBoth Cornish Cross and ducks shocked me this year with their copious manure production. I was used to heirloom hens, whose poop is pretty easy to sop up with a minimum of straw or tree leaves, but I ended up using at least twice as much deep-bedding material for 2014's more poopy poultry.

Which is now a huge plus since I have extra deep bedding to use in the garden! In years past, I've applied deep bedding as a mulch around our perennials, but the high-nitrogen manure makes the straw and/or leaves break down pretty quickly once the combination hits damp ground. So this year I decided to instead treat the bedding mixture as fertilizer for annual garden beds. I figure that if I apply it to bare ground now, the bedding will be well composted by the time I insert tomatoes in the middle of May.

As a side note, 1.67 inches of rain in the last week has been enough to push us back over the edge into wet. You can see that my extra-deep raised beds are a necessity in this part of the garden since the groundwater is sitting at what used to be the soil surface. With the help of my new mounds, though, there is now about a foot of "dry" soil on top of the waterlogged ground. I may use ditching and piping to move some of that excess water to a wet-weather pond, but that's an experiment for another day.

Posted Wed Dec 31 07:48:45 2014 Tags:

Cutting out a stud

Could you see
the sunlight shining in through the wall in yesterday's picture? Mud-dauber and paper-wasp nests suggested that light wasn't the only thing coming in those cracks.

After taking out a stud to make room for the range duct and adding a two-by-three header, I sealed up all the cracks with silicone.

Maybe next summer, we won't have any wasps in the kitchen.

Posted Wed Dec 31 15:54:25 2014 Tags:

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

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