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

archives for 01/2015

Jan 2015
Four-leaf clover

I really enjoyed wrapping up 2013 with a post highlighting my favorite on-farm moments, so I couldn't resist picking a top-10 for 2014 as well.

Miniature goat

Starplate coop1. Goats! How could my list not begin with these delightful caprine companions who've made the last three months fly by? It was also a thrill to finish the starplate coop, which initially housed chickens and soon turned into a goat shed. But, really, 2014 is all about the goats.

Goat on a log

Flowers on our homestead

Hatching braconid wasps2. Flowers. Taking the time to turn the front of the trailer into a riot of blooms (that later produced edible beans) added about five hundred smiles to 2014. (Yes, of course I counted them all.) Plus, getting to watch braconid wasps hatch along with other bits of daily life right outside my window was truly inspiring.


3. Working with friends. My favorite times on the farm are nearly always when Mark and I are working together as a team. Add in Kayla's occasional smiling presence, and chores become a party.

Training high density apples
Broccoli and strawberries4. The year of the apple tree. Even though a late frost wiped out most incipient fruits, I had a ball training our high-density apples on a monthly basis. Adding in a grafting workshop shared with a friend, then the pleasure of watching those little grafted apple trees grow all summer, and 2014 definitely became the year of the apple tree. While I'm talking plants, 2014 was also a particularly awesome year for blueberries, peppers, and broccoli, and we tasted our first homegrown hazelnuts this fall, which was quite a treat!

Tapping a sugar maple

5. Maple syruping. The great thing about homesteading is that every kind of weird weather is an opportunity for something. A very hard winter made it worthwhile to harvest maple syrup in February, even though the sap is usually too watery to be worth collecting our climate. Cold weather never tasted so sweet!

Building rain barrels

6. Rain barrel. Speaking of attending workshops with Kayla, I was surprised by how much the rain barrel we made together brightened my summer life. The reservoir saved hours of lugging water and also made it easy to wash hands and feet right outside the front door. Plus, the blue color just looks cheerful.

Invading deer
7. (Almost) no deer in the garden. Boy do my stress levels stay lower when four-footed nibblers don't come in the night to wipe out all my hard work. In a year or two, I may forget to applaud Mark's fences, but for now, I'm still reveling in the ability to keep deer out of the garden. (Unfortunately, lack of deer in the garden equates to lack of deer in the freezer, but that's a compromise I can live with.)

Mulching with humanure

Black-soldier-fly bin8. Full-circle compost. Scooping out the first humanure to feed the garden felt good since our fertility cycles are now more complete. Meanwhile, we also added a black-soldier-fly bin to our composting complex, which provided hours of entertainment for me and lots of yummy pupae for our chickens.

Building a raised bed
Tree frog amid the tomatoes9. Experiments with terraforming. I get a geeky kick out of trying out different methods of raising soil above our high water table. As an added bonus, we were able to eat the results of my experiments. Plus, wildlife loved the open water.

Winter camping

Snow man10. Remembering to have fun. Okay, so I only had about a 40% success rate in my goal of making up my own holiday for each month of the year, but there were also several additional fun days thrown in here and there. For 2015, I'm trying a new technique for chipping away at my workaholic tendencies --- I used a random-number generator to pick one day per month as a flash holiday, and marked all of the dates down on my planner immediately. Let's see if I can hit at least an 80% success rate this time around!

Ducklings learning to swim

Us at the beachI should also mention the ducks, who were absolutely adorable when young but soon turned out to be not quite our cup of tea. On the other hand, I always would have wondered whether waterfowl were better than chickens if we hadn't given them a try.

And then there were minor events like a trip to the beach and signing a contract for two more print books to hit bookstores in 2015...but how could any of that compete with the endless pleasure of apple trees, teamwork, and goats?

Starting a mowerBattery-powered chainsawAs a final caveat, I feel obliged to add that this list is completely Anna-centric. If Mark were writing a best-of-2014 post, I'll bet it would include the battery-powered chainsaw and fancy new mower. Or maybe all the time he got to rest and relax while I was writing up a storm this fall and early winter? Regardless, 2014 has turned out to be a top-notch year. Let's see if 2015 can top it!

Posted Thu Jan 1 07:52:52 2015 Tags:
carrying in hay
Celebrating the New Year by hiking in some hay for the girls.
Posted Thu Jan 1 14:40:45 2015 Tags:
Brown goat

Goat bellyWe don't know when or if Abigail is due --- could be early February, could be early March, or could be never. But I figure it's far better to be prepared for something that might not happen rather than being caught without supplies when kids start popping out.

To that end, we had three major decisions to make. The first choice was already decided by my weak wrists --- carpal tunnel means that an automatic milker was a necessity. We ended up choosing the Dansha Farm model due to good reviews and low price, and realized in the process that we won't have to buy a milking pail and strainer after all since the milk stays clean with an automatic milker and goes right into a glass jar.

The other two decisions were thornier --- do we buy supplies for castrating males and for disbudding both sexes? Our goal is to eat any male kids, which means we won't need to castrate them --- here's hoping the cuteness quotient won't hold us back when the time comes. (As a halfway house, we may take the kids to the packing plant to be dispatched if we want the meat but can't quite stand to pull out the knife.)

Horned vs. hornless goat

As for disbudding, Mark does prefer our hornless goat, but he also isn't keen on the act of disbudding (and he knows that the unpleasant task would inevitably fall to him). Since Abigail is a mutt goat whose female kids probably won't have too much value, we decided to skip the disbudding process and plan to eat any of her girl children along with any males. After all, the kids' value as pastured meat for us is probably greater than the cash value they'd bring on the open market.

Queen of the ashes

Decisions made, we can now sit back and wait and hope. In the last couple of days, Abigail's right side (where babies go) has suddenly started to look more like her left side (where hay goes)...or maybe that's just wishful thinking. Either way, Artemesia is still regaling us with kid-like cuteness and sweetness, so I guess we'll survive even if Abigail didn't get knocked up, although we would miss a spring full of milk.

Posted Fri Jan 2 07:43:45 2015 Tags:
how not to remove a pin from Universal Joint

No luck trying to substitute a bolt for a proper punch tool today.

It took a trip to our nice local mechanic who had just the right size punch with some advice on banging it back once we get it seated on the ATV.

Posted Fri Jan 2 16:03:21 2015 Tags:
Jars of beans

Working on polishing up our recipes to turn into a cookbook has spurred me on to cook some of our homegrown dried goods that I often forget about. I gave my sister some of our scarlet runner beans in December, and she recently told me that they tasted exceptional when just stewed up in water. Mark's a reluctant bean-eater, so when I cooked my own Refried beansbatch, I resorted to diversionary tactics involving bacon, onions, frozen red peppers, sweet corn, and cheddar...and my anti-bean husband liked the dish so much that he snuck some extra beans out of the fridge while cleaning up the kitchen!

Now I just need to work on a good recipe for mung beans. In the past, we've sprouted them and used the sprouts in tuna salad and (sometimes) stir fries, but nothing I've made has really hit the spot yet. Time to experiment!

As a side note, David is the winner of our cookbook-naming contest, with the awesome suggestion (slightly tweaked) of Farmstead Feast. David, be sure to email to claim your prize!

Posted Sat Jan 3 07:36:12 2015 Tags:
punch and chisel set

The next step in our ATV repair saga involves installing the repaired rear prop shaft pieces back onto the drive gears.

Once we've got them on I'll need some sort of brace to absorb the impact of banging in the final pin.

An old scissor jack might do the trick.

Posted Sat Jan 3 15:44:25 2015 Tags:
Seed-sprouting test

Around the first of the year, the days start getting noticeably longer. As a photoperiod-sensitive gardener, that means I suddenly crave earth beneath my fingertips and green leaves in front of my nose.

For the first week, I tide myself over by doing a seed-starting test on old seeds and browsing online seed offerings to round out this year's stash. In case you're curious, I've settled on Johnny's as my favorite seed company --- their prices are about twice what you'd find elsewhere, but the varieties nearly all make the cut, while my experience with other companies suggests that many of their varieties are geared toward the hobbyist rather than the serious food producer. Although my skinflint-nature tries to tell me otherwise, I'm positive we make that $100 back many times over during the course of the growing season in the form of bountiful produce.

Soaking grape cuttings

Hardwood cuttingsSeeds sprouted and ordered, the next order of business is hardwood cuttings. In my early days on the farm, I've started hardwood cuttings out in the garden --- and that definitely works. But I get higher success rates indoors...and being able to check on a plant (even if it is just a stick in a pot) soothes my gardening itch for a little while longer. This year, I'm rooting grape cuttings to expand our sun-shielding vines around the trailer.

Next on the agenda? Hunting down scionwood for the spring-grafting extravaganza. If you're interested in swapping, I've got scads of interesting things to trade and am looking for named American persimmon varieties (especially Szukis and Mohler) and fire-blight-resistant pears (specifically Blake's Pride, Magness, Moonglow, and Potomac). Want to trade? Email me at and we'll talk!

Posted Sun Jan 4 07:49:16 2015 Tags:
battery powered chainsaw

Sometimes during firewood chopping we get a knotty log that takes more than a few whacks to split.

That's when the ease of starting up the Oregon battery powered chainsaw really shines.

A lot less calories burned compared to fueling up the old chainsaw and pulling her to life.

Posted Sun Jan 4 14:53:32 2015 Tags:
Sprouting chives

Weather forecastIf there's one thing you can depend on about our weather, it's that the weather's always changing. After a very harsh November, December was remarkably mild, but January is coming in with a vengeance. We enjoyed a spring-like day in which I didn't even bother to light a fire, but then roaring winds up above the hills (which I can hear but not feel) marked the beginning of the end of the warm weather. By Tuesday, the low is forecast to drop to 4 degrees Fahrenheit, which could be -4 here in our frost pocket. I guess the bees won't come out flying again this week!

Laughing BuddhaMark and I pondered whether we should be doing anything special to prepare for the deep freeze, but we're used to winter cold by now and don't foresee many difficulties. Our water line will freeze, so we'll stock up on a pail of water in the kitchen, and we'll make sure to have extra waterers for goats and chickens inside and ready to take out during cold mornings. I'll probably take the carrots in from our fridge root cellar since we're down to the last quarter bushel, but I have high hopes that residual warmth in the ground will prevent this cold spell from doing too much damage to living things in the garden.

In other news, the Laughing Buddha that my father bought for me when I was in high school, recently relocated to our farm, doesn't seem fazed by the forecast cold. Both of his hands broke off long ago, but he just keeps smiling and dancing --- how can we do anything but emulate his mirth?

Posted Mon Jan 5 07:53:32 2015 Tags:
using tractor to pull truck free

Our neighbor brought his 4 wheel drive tractor over and pulled our truck to freedom!

We were planning on getting everything staged for the big freeze, but Frankie wanted to give it a try today and we're so glad he did.

He had an extra long cable and knew just how to hook it up.

Posted Mon Jan 5 15:51:28 2015 Tags:
Friendly neighborhood tractor

Tractor fording a creekAfter five months stuck in the mud of the floodplain, our truck is finally free! Our movie-star neighbor deserves a medal for knowing just how to use a long cable with a tree as a fulcrum point to yank out the truck on the other side of a bend without getting bogged down in the muck. Plus, his tractor just happens to be almost-but-not-quite-too-big to go up the ford --- what luck!

Stuck truck yoga

A short chain and a long cable turned out to be the perfect attachment for full-frontal pulling. I think I'm doing a yoga position in this photo --- perhaps Stuck Truck Warrior?

Testing a chain

No, Mark, you can't pull the truck out all by yourself. (Actually, Mark's testing the chain in this photo to make sure it's hooked in properly.)


I'll admit up front that Mark and I were both dubious of our neighbor's choice of days. I mean, look at the driveway --- it was wetter than ever. Shouldn't we wait until the deep freeze, at least?
Driveway swamp
"Nope," our neighbor replied. He kept the tractor in the (semi-)dry, then let a long cable rub up against a tree at the curve. With Mark steering the truck and our neighbor driving the tractor, our mud-encrusted vehicle was yanked free in no time. The diciest part of the whole endeavor was the way Lucy kept trying to jump up into the moving truck in search of a mouse that had taken up residence under the hood.

Here's where I admit that our neighbor was 100% right and we were 100% wrong. We owe you one, Frankie! I'll never doubt you again.

Crossing the creek

Coiling a cableOf course, this doesn't mean we have two vehicles on the road once again. Frankie actually pulled the truck another mile down the road to our other neighbor's garage since the truck no longer wants to run after you get the engine going. Surprise, surprise --- five months in a swamp wasn't good for the truck's moving parts.

But we're thrilled anyway. Not seeing the truck sunk nearly up to its axles as we walk past will make us much happier on a daily basis. And today also marked the day when yet another neighbor (this time the one who gave us our trailer many moons ago) dropped by to scope out the possibility of carving a non-swampy driveway into the side of our hill. More details on that potential project in a later post.

Posted Tue Jan 6 07:56:19 2015 Tags:
range hood vent installation

We installed the wall cap today for the new range hood.

It's got a damper on it that blocks air from coming in while the hood is not being used, but we might make an additional cover to help reduce as much heat loss as possible.

Posted Tue Jan 6 16:01:41 2015 Tags:
Mung bean falafels

Preparing for falafelsI've had falafels a few times in restaurants, but only nibbled because I had no clue what was in them and wasn't sure if they passed the good-for-you test. This week, I made my own for the first time and discovered that falafels are a unique combination of very high-quality ingredients...and deep frying.

What makes the ingredients so good? You basically begin to sprout the beans (traditionally garbanzos or favas, but we used mung beans) by soaking them for 24 hours, so they probably have many of the nutritional qualities of sprouts. To that, you add herbs and spices, then fry just barely long enough to cook the centers. (As this was my first learning experience, I actually didn't quite cook some of the centers --- smaller balls or flattening them into cakes would be called for next time around.)

I used this recipe, slightly tweaked, and found the result very tasty, although perhaps a bit higher in onion than I'd like. For our next experiment, Mark suggested replacing half of the beans with canned salmon, then frying like cakes rather than deep-frying. Good thing we've got more mung beans to experiment with!

Posted Wed Jan 7 07:46:44 2015 Tags:
rear prop shaft ATV

We got our repaired rear prop shaft installed on the ATV today.

I decided to replace the pin with a bolt and locking nut.

Next up is to figure out why it won't start.

Posted Wed Jan 7 15:46:27 2015 Tags:
Insulating around the base of a trailer

Skirting around a trailer hitchThe last gasp of warmth (high of 41) before the cold hit seemed like a good time to continue my skirting project, which is now moving around to the west side of the trailer. This area is home to the hitch --- the big metal thing that connects to a truck when a mobile home is being hauled to a new location. As a result of the hitch, I ended up having to do a bit of piecework with the insulation, but hopefully it will still mostly do its job.

Meanwhile, since our trailer is set atop slanted ground, the downhill part of the west face of the trailer presented yet another obstacle --- the flashing is no longer wide enough to reach from the walls to the ground. I overlapped two pieces of flashing and sealed the seam with that metal tape you use to seal ductwork (not duct tape --- or perhaps this is real duct tape?). Only time will tell whether the little bit of rain this area gets beneath its large overhang will be sufficient to work the tape loose, but since I only taped the seam for aesthetic purposes, we can live with untaped seams if they occur.

West face

Next step will be mounding soil up around the base of the skirting the way I did on the southwest end of the trailer. I let Mark be the final deciding vote on planting this area and he chose grapes, so the cuttings I started will end up in this area come spring. And, in the meantime, I'll keep plugging away at skirting as weather permits. Next up is the soggy north face of the trailer, where I hope to include an access door just in case we someday need to crawl beneath our mobile home.

Posted Thu Jan 8 06:50:56 2015 Tags:
range hood installation

We got the new range hood wired up and mounted.

Next up is to install some rock board on top with a shelf on top of that.

Posted Thu Jan 8 14:50:44 2015 Tags:
Cold goat hay

Sometimes, I think that humans would be 100% happier if we were 25% dumber. I woke at 4:30 on Thursday morning, worried about what the deep freeze would do to our animals, but when the day finally dawned at a chilly 1 degree Fahrenheit, the animals were happy as can be. Lucy seems to become bouncier the colder it gets, the goats were waiting at the gate for their breakfast, and the ducks ran straight out the door and into the creek, where flowing water must have felt like a sauna at 31 degrees warmer than the air.

Tractored hens

I heated everyone's morning drinking water, but only the tractored hens seemed particularly interested. They were also the only ones who ran to the lunchtime waterer I brought out to refresh their now-frozen morning offering. I guess everyone else was too busy exploring the frozen world to want fresh water.

Goat eating sorghum

Head-butting goatOur goats seemed more interested in the sorghum seed head that I treated them too --- a rare bit of grain for a cold day. Perhaps I should have brought two heads, but Artemesia seems to hold her own nowadays. Our larger goat inevitably head-butts the smaller goat when they're supposed to be sharing, but Artemesia simply ignores the jab in the ribs and keeps eating away. In fact, this time around, Artemesia got the lion's share of the treat since Abigail was too busy fighting to chow down. Maybe there's a lesson there? The sweetest goat gets the grain?

Stay warm out there!

Posted Fri Jan 9 08:12:48 2015 Tags:
ATV stuck at creek

We got the ATV running today.

The 4 wheel drive gave out as I was trying to drive up the ford.

Anna and I spent most of the afternoon winching and pushing to get it back out to the parking area so we can haul it to an expert.


Posted Fri Jan 9 16:24:46 2015 Tags:
Dolomitic limestone

If you're thinking of adding lime to your garden, be sure to select the right kind --- dolomitic if your soil needs a boost in magnesium as well as calcium or non-dolomitic if your soil (like ours) is already too high in the former mineral.

Unfortunately, our local feed-store clerks have no clue what I'm talking about when I ask for non-dolomitic lime. Poor Mark had hefted all three of these bags onto the ATV in preparation for carting them back to our core homestead before he noticed the error. Next time, maybe I'll break outside my hermit patterns and go along to help him select the proper minerals.

Posted Sat Jan 10 07:59:40 2015 Tags:
Lucy helping with water bucket

It's the first time this Winter we've had to break an ice hole in the tank for some fresh dish water.

One of these days I'm going to make a shoulder yoke and see if carrying a bucket on each side would be smarter.

Posted Sat Jan 10 15:07:00 2015 Tags:
Hive game

Goat on iceEvery few years, Joey buys me a new homesteading-related game. The newest addition is Hive, a game that reminds me a bit of Carcassonne mixed with chess.

Mom and Mark were kind enough to let me try it out before Joey's next visit. Gotta get a headstart if I want to be any competition at all for my big brother.

My review? Hive is a fast, fun game that I could play all day...if the goats weren't hollering for a honeysuckle-and-oats snack.

Posted Sun Jan 11 08:03:51 2015 Tags:

After playing Hive last night and this afternoon Anna and I have decided this is a fun and addictive game, kind of like chess with bugs.

Posted Sun Jan 11 15:25:56 2015 Tags:

TrailersteadingThanks to the cold weather keeping me indoors last week, the expanded and updated second edition of Trailersteading is now live on Amazon. I know that the right thing to do from a marketing perspective is to withhold this second edition until the paperback comes out this fall...but instead I'm doing exactly the opposite. For one day only, I've set Trailersteading free on Amazon so that all of my loyal fans can download a copy!

For those of you who already have a copy, stay tuned --- hopefully Amazon will be contacting you soon to give you a chance to download an updated version to your kindle. And, if you're not familiar with Amazon ebooks, it's easy to read them even if you don't own a kindle. My favorite way is to simply read in Amazon's cloud reader, which means you see the ebook in your web browser. But Amazon has lots of apps available too so you can read on your computer, phone, or other device. See this page for more details.

Finally, unlike the recent sales that were only active in the U.S. (sorry!), this freebie should be available world-wide. But you probably can't use the link I provided --- instead, go to your country's Amazon store and type "Trailersteading" into the search box to get your free copy.

Thanks for reading, and if you like what you see, please consider leaving me a review. Your kind words are what help strangers decide to take a chance on my books and they earn my undying gratitude.

Posted Mon Jan 12 07:49:23 2015 Tags:
inflection day 2015
We decided to celebrate inflection day with a trip to the Wise library.
Posted Mon Jan 12 15:58:32 2015 Tags:

Natural Goat CareBack when I posted about goat books for beginners, I said that I was just starting to read Natural Goat Care by Pat Coleby and was really enjoying it so far. Unfortunately, as I kept turning pages, I slowly lost my faith in the author's analyses as they relate to American farms.

The trouble is twofold: Coleby isn't very scientifically minded and she lives in Australia, so the American reader needs to take all of her assertions with a major grain of salt. For example, I suspect that Coleby is right that minerals are essential to keeping goats healthy, but I cringe a bit when I hear American goatkeepers using her feeding formula precisely as she lists it in her book. Our soils are completely different from Australian soils, which suggests that the supplements our goats need are also likely to be quite different. Coleby pushes dolomite very hard as one of her cure-alls, but are goats raised on browse in an area like ours with very high magnesium in the soil likely to be deficient in magnesium? Probably not. Similarly, she feeds a lot of grain to her goats because Australia is so dry that it's probably close to impossible to keep goats happy on pasture and root vegetables, but grain isn't a good choice for most American goatkeepers. In the end, this isn't so much a fault in the book as a fault in the lack of critical thinking on the part of her American readers, who follow Coleby's lead blindly without assessing their differing habitats.

Honeysuckle hillsideHowever, the book does have its own faults. As one small example, Coleby talks about Mendelian genetics in the chapter on breeding, and shows a clear misunderstanding of statistics. Mendelian genetics is all about percentages --- if you're likely to see 50% of one phenotype, that doesn't mean that if your goat has two kids, one is definitely going to show the phenotype and one definitely isn't. However, Coleby clearly thinks that's the case, which throws her understanding of basic biological principles into question.

The trouble is that after a few assertions that are obviously not universally true, I began to lose faith in the author of the book. I feel that this book would have been a much better fit for an American audience if it had come with an introduction explaining the differences between Australian and American goatkeeping, and if the author had made clear which of her assertions were backed up with data and which were simply her own guesswork. As it is, I would hesitate to recommend this book to anyone without a science background since I suspect Coleby's regimen could do more harm than good if followed blindly. On the other hand, if you're able to think critically, this book will provide some food for thought and is a good addition to your goat-keeping library.

Posted Tue Jan 13 08:11:36 2015 Tags:
Mystery dog shows up unannounced

A lost dog found his way back to our farm today.

He's got a choke chain but no tag, and he's very friendly and obedient.

We posted a photo at the local post office bulletin board. Hopefully we'll find his owner, but if that fails we'll try to find him a good home.

Posted Tue Jan 13 15:36:41 2015 Tags:

My scionwood swaps this year are intended to expand our pear varieties in preparation for a planned high-density planting. To that end, I'll soon be receiving Shinko, Leona, Potomac, Maxine, Moonglow, and Blake's Pride scionwood, and I recently mailed out heirloom apple and pear scionwood to pay back my pear sources. I won't go into more details about swapping in this post because I've written previously about how to match yourself up with other scionwood swappers, along with the basics of how to turn your found scionwood into new trees. Suffice it to say that scionwood swapping is easy, cheap, and fun!

When it comes to grafting that scionwood onto roostocks, though, pears can be trickier to graft than their appley cousins because some pear varieties aren't compatible with certain rootstocks (especially the quinces that used to be used as dwarfing rootstocks for pears). Luckily, the introduction of OHxF (Old Home x Farmington) rootstocks, which are in the same species as the European pear (Pyrus communis) while still providing some dwarfing characteristics, make the incompatability issue less pressing. Asian pears, on the other hand, are often grafted onto more vigorous rootstocks in the species Pyrus betulaefolia, but I'm hoping that my one Asian pear (Shinko) will do okay on OHxF 513 like the rest of my new trees.

I know, I know --- too much plant geekery for certain readers. But I'll bet you'll enjoy the pretty pictures of pears dripping off our dwarf trees in a few years! Imagining the eventual fruits resulting from this year's swaps is how I lull myself to sleep on winter nights.

Posted Wed Jan 14 08:01:08 2015 Tags:
rock board shelf for range hood

We got the shelf portion of the range hood project done today.

I attached a 1/4 inch layer of rock board to the underside of a shelf board. In theory this should stop a stove fire from reaching the wall and ceiling long enough to extinguish or evacuate.

Posted Wed Jan 14 16:18:43 2015 Tags:
Australian shepherd"Looks like [the dog has] already found a good home." --- Errol

Mark and I did consider keeping the stray, even though he killed a chicken, requiring us to tie him up. He's very responsive, and I'm confident we could turn him into an asset to the farm just like Lucy is...but it would take a lot of work. We had to give Lucy about an hour of training per day for a month or two before she turned into the well-behaved guardian she is, and neither Mark nor I feel up to throwing that kind of concerted attention at a dog while we're waiting for our first goat-kidding experience.

So, instead, we called two local vets and the animal-control officer and put up a flier in the post office an an ad on craigslist...but no nibbles yet. In the meantime, I've been grumpy because a tied dog makes me sad, and his presence also means that our shy cat only came inside for two hours Monday night before fleeing back to a dog-free zone. I never realize how carefully managed our farm is until someone inserts a monkey wrench and our systems all get twisted askew.

Mark and I have learned one very important thing from this experience, though: no matter how well-behaved a dog seems, it should be treated as a chicken-killer until proven otherwise. The next nice stray who arrives will be tied up immediately to protect our flock.

Posted Thu Jan 15 07:52:40 2015 Tags:

Kitchen cabinet

Our trailer came with lots of shoddy cabinets.

I took the door off the last one this week and added extra shelves to turn it into a clutter-free storage location.

Next item on the rainy-weather organization list is to take a stab at the barn.

Posted Thu Jan 15 16:00:21 2015 Tags:

Journeying EarthwardNote from Anna: One of our readers kindly sent along a copy of his parents' homesteading memoir several months ago, and I promptly passed the book on to my mother, who enjoys memoirs a lot more than I do. She, in turn, emailed me a review, which I'm including in slightly edited form below.

In reading Journeying Earthward by Edith and John Rylander, I was sort of transported to their Minnesota countryside more than to their way of life. But partly because the way of life was more known to me, while the place is so new. As I read amazing facts (about the long winters, for example, and all the returning birds in spring), I kept, in my soul, looking upward, as if up along the trunks of the remaining 2% of white pines, and actually breathing in the wonderful piney smell.

Their life story as both English teachers and writers, is partly comparable to the Nearings, but so unique because of their own personal experiences in their youths. John helped his grandfather bring in the hay when he was five or six, driving the horse-drawn haywagon. Then he worked, at about age 15 or so, in lumberjacking logjams on the Upper Mississippi. Edith's was the cannery experience for five summers in Sunnyvale, California, where she learned from her co-workers that education was the answer because "they can't take away what is in your mind." She also learned to distrust and resist the regimentation of mindless, menial work in a factory setting. Working that way, she "sold her life," and it was this that made her want to try the "Walden interlude" in Minnesota.

The Rylanders in front of their underground houseThe authors must be at least 85 and 80 yrs old by now, people who have earned a role in their choice of location because they have carved out a unique place in it. Back when they were experiencing the adventures that gave rise to the book, the Rylanders had a purpose: starting a small farm from scratch, with chickens, rabbits, and later sheep and pigs. Pumping their water!

Edith and John chose the site for their earth-sheltered house on the winter solstice. But they had lived in that area for many years, and knew the whole pattern of weather, with the terrible five to six months of hard winter. The fact that their underground house only needed about 2 1/2 cords of wood the whole winter, compared to about 30 cords of wood for their first, uninsulated house, is amazing. But, so too, is the awareness that of all the white pine forest, the Big Woods of Laura Ingalls Wilder, there is barely 2% left.

Note from Anna: The title doesn't appear to be available as an ebook, but used paperback copies can be had for $4, including shipping, at the moment. If you'd like to immerse yourself into an authentic back-to-the-land adventure, Journeying Earthward is a great read for a long, cold winter night. Alternatively, you can enjoy a photo tour of the Rylanders' underground house on this site, from which I stole the photo in this post.

Posted Fri Jan 16 07:49:19 2015 Tags:
Edgar's new owner

It took most of yesterday morning to hunt down a safe place for our latest stray dog and a trip out of state in the afternoon, but this happy ending was worth the effort.

As soon as Melissa saw her new visitor down the hall we knew we were in the right place. She greeted him with a super nice welcome and announced that his name is Edgar Allan Poe.

Melissa runs a pet rescue operation, but decided Edgar was special enough to join her personal family of critters.

On the way home Anna and I recalled some of the other strays we've been lucky enough to find homes for. Edgar makes the 7th stray since we moved here that either made their way back home or found a new one.

Big thanks to for making it easy to search rescue options within a comfortable driving range.

Posted Fri Jan 16 15:52:55 2015 Tags:

Cleaning out the coopOn the one hand, deep bedding with ducks is a pain in the butt. The waterfowl's wet poop and big feet mean that the bedding gets mashed down into matted clumps within a couple of days. In contrast, deep bedding in a chicken coop goes a lot further because the chicken manure is drier and the hens scratch through the bedding, mixing the manure in.

On the other hand, the same wetness that makes duck manure hard to stay on top of also means that the lower levels of the deep bedding truly compost into a perfect, crumbly substance ready to get the spring garden off to a great start. In this photo, Kayla is reaching the bottom of the bedding and is hitting a bit of clay, but if you were to reach into that wheelbarrow, you'd find lots of pillbugs and other microorganisms happily digesting the manure, straw, and leaves.

I'm always keeping notes on how far my deep bedding goes because I dream of someday having enough for my entire garden without bringing in off-farm manure. Our main chicken coop (which houses the layers year-round) made enough compost this year for 20 garden beds (about 300 square feet), while the coop that houses our summer broilers made enough compost for 15 beds (about 225 square feet). Over the course of a year, we plant about 220 vegetable beds, which means our chickens only provide 16% of the fertility we need (without even considering our woody perennials).

Of course, we're slowly developing other homegrown sources of compost. Last summer, I was thrilled to discover that a year of humanure feeds about 72 square feet beneath our woody perennials, and the goats will help us take another step in the manure-self-sufficiency direction (once I figure out the level of composting necessary to kill the weed seeds in their discarded hay). But there's still a lot of garden that needs to be fed, so I guess Mark will have to keep
shoveling horse manure for the foreseeable future.

Posted Sat Jan 17 08:33:03 2015 Tags:
fixing a broken plastic hamper

A small strip of 1/4 inch plywood and a scrap piece of 1x1 to bite into was all it took to give this broken handle a little bit more life.

Posted Sat Jan 17 14:41:14 2015 Tags:
Mulching tall raised beds
Hugelkultur"What have you thought of tall hugelculture mounds?" --- Terry

I've been making lots of raised beds that are a bit like Sepp Holzer's tall hugelkultur mounds lately, although only some have had wood inside. These mounds are my current method of raising the root zone out of the very high groundwater in two sectors of our garden. Despite what some gardeners have tried to tell me, even water-loving vegetables like tomatoes and watermelons have shriveled and died when there's only an inch or two of drained soil to spread their roots through. So I dig out the aisles and build the beds up.

My tall mounds definitely solve the waterlogging problem, but they do present challenges of their own. In the photo at the top of this post, I'm actually taking apart a kill mulch rather than putting one together. Try as we might, Kayla and I couldn't get the cardboard and feed bags to stay put atop this tall bed, so I'll just mulch without the kill layer and weed out any grasses that try to pop up through. The smart solution would have been to kill mulch this area to remove lawn grasses before I dug the area into raised beds, but...twenty-twenty hindsight, right?

Sepp Holzer's hugelkulturThe other problem with my tall raised beds is that I'm often gardening in knee boots, and it's impossible to run a lawnmower through the waterlogged aisles. On the plus side, the local frog population adores the wetlands I created, and after Lucy transfered duckweed from our sky pond, the aisles actually started turning into rather biologically diverse pondlets.

So, in the long run, tall mounds have become my favorite solution for dealing with very high groundwater, although I might tweak the technique a bit by adding drainage into more sky ponds in the future. However, I'm not sure I'd recommend tall hugelkultur mounds if you're not trying to raise your root zone up out of the wet. In a less rainy climate than ours, the tall mounds would dry out on top pretty quickly (although the rotting lumber would mitigate that in a few years once the wood broke down), and the mulching problem would only be exacerbated if we ever saw wind. Plus, it's hard to get your precious compost to stay put on a bed that's mounded up to the soil's angle of repose, so you definitely see more erosion with this technique than with the shallower, flat-topped beds I use in other parts of the garden. But if you farm in a swamp like we do, by all means, mound that ground up!

Posted Sun Jan 18 08:19:29 2015 Tags:
cutting plywood with circular saw

The last touch to our range hood project was to make the ceiling pretty.

A long sheet of 1/4 inch plywood seemed like an easier option than painting.

Posted Sun Jan 18 15:35:21 2015 Tags:

Shredded-paper mulchThe shelves behind my desk saw a major overhaul this past weekend. The area probably still looks cluttered and messy to you, but believe me, if I'd taken a before photo, you would be able to tell the difference!

As a bonus, I scored three shredder-runs worth of old phone books, junk mail, and no-longer-needed-written-in notebooks to turn into garden mulch. This time around, the blueberries were the lucky recipients --- three plants are now all mulched and ready to repel the weeds of spring.

Posted Mon Jan 19 07:47:07 2015 Tags:
taking down old drying rack

We decided to make some changes to our old drying rack.

The plan is to take the roof off and make a platform to store mushroom logs on.

Posted Mon Jan 19 15:50:31 2015 Tags:
Jar of screws

If you're like me, you should be building with screws. Sure, they're easy to install, but more importantly, they're also easy to uninstall. Perhaps you're able to guess exactly how each piece of homesteading paraphernalia should be constructed the first time around, but most of us make mistakes and have to take our projects apart, then we put the materials back together in a slightly different configuration. Using screws, Mark and I easily saved 99.5% of our fasteners from our current project to reuse, and we also saved quite a bit of swearing and hassle.

Garlic curing racksSo what are we taking apart and what are we rebuilding? The garlic curing racks a friend built for us 2.5 years ago served us well for a season, but once we had porches and Mark's mom gave us our current drying racks, there was no going back. Curing rack version 2.0 stays drier during heavy rains, and the vegetables are also much easier to access. As always, the gardener's attention is the best fertilizer (or, in this case, drying agent).

So the racks are coming down, and the lumber and location will become our new-and-improved mushroom station instead. As with our curing racks, our mushroom operation needed a face lift, and Mark and I think we've figured out exactly how to make our mushroom station more dependable for version 5.0.

We've tried various mushroom permutations in the past, but none has fit into my busy summer schedule. Sticking logs under fruit trees does produce some mushrooms, but I often miss the fruits because who crawls under their peach canopy on a regular basis? Rafts didn't work at all for me, while totems do so-so, but the top of each log tends to dry out and die while mushrooms pop up just above the soil line and get dirty. The more mainstream Demolitionmethod of stacking the logs in a shady spot and then soaking them in a kiddie pool to prompt fruiting also fell through because I get too busy in the summer to reliably soak my logs (or I leave them in too long and the fungi drown). Plus, soaked logs are heavy and unpleasant to manhandle. That version also suffered from two other problems --- the logs were too close to the ground and thus accumulated weed fungi, and they were also hard to access and thus tended to be overlooked.

So, version 5.0 is in the works, and Mark and I want all of our infrastructure in place before we inoculate new logs this spring. The shady north face of the trailer is now relatively weed-free (due to years of Mark's weed-eating efforts), so building elevated racks for the logs will provide them with a good permanent home. Meanwhile, the skeleton of the previous vegetable-curing-rack setup can be tweaked to support an IBC tank, which we'll hook into the gutters and turn into an elevated rain barrel for summer watering. Add in some low-pressure sprinklers (and maybe even a valve on a timer to automate the process), and we should be able to provide our mushrooms with the inch of rain per week they need to fully colonize their logs, then extra water as needed to promote fruiting.

But it all starts with a ladder and a screw gun. There are few things more fun than helping my husband tear things apart on a rare, sunny January day when you can work outside in shirt sleeves and I can hardly wait for part two this afternoon!

Posted Tue Jan 20 07:58:09 2015 Tags:
support for mushroom logs

We got the support section of our new mushroom log station done today.

It will give us about 16 feet at 12 inches off the ground.

Posted Tue Jan 20 15:44:37 2015 Tags:
Sprouting seeds

While cleaning up my unruly bookshelf, I discovered several large containers of homegrown vegetable seeds from 2012. I planted some in 2013, kept the containers as backup for 2014 just in case my next round of seeds didn't work...but here it is 2015 and the seeds are still there. So I decided to sprout them as a special treat for the goats and chickens.

With large seeds like this, my current favorite method for mass-sprouting is to soak the seeds in water for 12 to 24 hours, then pour them out in a colander and leave them in the sink. Whenever I think about it (usually two or three times a day), I splash on some fresh water and shake the colander around a bit. In our cool kitchen, mung beans sprout fully in about a week using this method, and hopefully my current combination of green beans, peas, swiss chard, summer squash, and okra will do the same. I'll keep you posted once I find out if our livestock appreciate the extra attention.

As a side note, I did a little research to determine whether any vegetable seeds are poisonous, and found very little data. I'm operating under the assumption that seeds we consume as part of the vegetable (beans, summer squash, peas) are edible even when mature and dried, while plants that we eat as greens (swiss chard) are also edible in the sprout stage. I might steer clear of feeding livestock tomato sprouts since their foliage is semi-poisonous and I definitely wouldn't sprout apple or peach seeds for animals, but otherwise, my guess is that most vegetable seeds are safe. I'd be curious to hear from anyone who has further data, though!

Posted Wed Jan 21 07:57:50 2015 Tags:
mounting an IBC tank on a platform

We got our IBC rain barrel mounted today.

It's resting on a couple of treated 2x6's mounted to each 4x4 post.

Posted Wed Jan 21 15:53:44 2015 Tags:
Drilling a hole for a carriage bolt

I suspect this is a simple math problem for an engineer, but I don't know where to begin to determine whether our water tower is going to collapse under the weight of approximately 2,294 pounds of water. Roland, do you have some handy load-bearing tables at your beck and call?

Screwing in a carriage bolt

I figure each four-by-four post has to support 574 pounds when the tank is full, and that probably won't be a problem since we've got cross-supports in place so the legs can't twist. Meanwhile (and potentially more problematically), the eight-foot-long two-by-six crosspieces have to support about 765 and 1,529 pounds apiece (since the tank isn't centered due to the tower's proximity to the trailer), and I think maybe this is too much --- one table (if I read it right) said that an 8-foot 2-by-6 can only support 567 pounds. Finally, the 5/8-inch carriage bolts are each holding about 574 pounds, which I think is safely below the 1,210-pound load limit on this chart.

IBC tower

Anti-tip boardIn the meantime, there's always the scary proposition that the unbalanced tank might tip all the way over. I'm still not 100% sure we don't need some additional support for the front edge, but so far I'm pretty happy with Mark's solution of adding two boards across the top so the tank physically can't tip forward. (Only one board is in place so far. The other will go at the same elevation near the front of the tank.)

So, engineers out there, what do you think? If we put water in the tank, will our tower crumble, or is it safely built? If you cringe as you look at our photos, what would you add to the structure to beef it up and keep our water tank elevated?

On a less geeky note, adding a huge rain barrel to the back of the trailer suddenly changed it from a blah space to an intriguing area full of possibilities. I can hardly wait until I've added some plant life to give the region even wider appeal.

Posted Thu Jan 22 07:48:03 2015 Tags:
how we protected our sugar maple splie from the rain

We tapped our easy to get to Sugar Maple tree today.

It's got a nice and steady drip rate.

Attaching a couple of shelf brackets with bungee cords was an easy way to make a roof for the bucket without damaging the tree with screws or nails which is a whole lot prettier than the way we did it last year.

Posted Thu Jan 22 15:46:26 2015 Tags:
Grazing goats

At first, my primary question with our new goats was: is Abigail pregnant? More recently, since Abigail's previous owner didn't know her exact breeding date, the question has morphed into: when is our goat due? I'm thinking the answer to that second question is: soon.

Signs of goat pregnancy

Goat butt near birthWithin the last week, Abigail has started showing lots of signs of impending birth. I've been keeping an eye on her butt for the primary purpose of seeking out mucous (a sure sign that delivery of kids is imminent), but less obvious changes arise a bit sooner. When you look at these three months of goat-butt photos, can you tell how the most recent butt shows very little wrinkling? In order to prepare for pushing a whole 'nother creature out of her body, Abigail is loosening up tendons and relaxing this area, and the change is quite obvious once you take a look at time-lapse photos.

Experienced goatkeepers also feel for the tendons above where the tail attaches to the rest of the body, expecting those tendons to nearly disappear as birth approaches. Unfortunately, I didn't feel Abigail up in advance, so I can't make that comparison now.

Dry udder

Other more subtle changes are also taking place in Abigail's body. Beginners always want to look to the udder to see if a goat is going to give birth soon, but the enlargement of the bag might not occur until right before birth in does (like ours) who have kidded previously. Mark and Goat belly drops near deliveryI both feel like Abigail's teats have become a bit more obvious, but I didn't take any before photos, so am not positive about the change.

On the other hand, I feel like the little baby bump on Abigail's right side (the left side of this photo) has changed considerably in shape over the last week. The bulge seems to have dropped down and become pointier, and if Abigail were a more patient mother-to-be, I probably could even feel for hooves right in front of her udder on the underside of her belly. However, our goat seemed less than excited about being fondled there, so I let that non-essential test slide.

Mind the gap

The final change I've noticed is behavioral. Abigail has always been a more greedy eater than Artemesia, whose little belly fills up in short order, allowing our doeling to get into mischief while our older goat keeps chowing down. But lately, Abigail has been even more adamant about rushing through her own breakfast in time to snatch part of Artemesia's much smaller portion, so I've increased our pregnant goat's ration to include an extra carrot and more sunflower seeds in the morning, and I'm also allowing her a full forty-five minutes of honeysuckle-or-oat grazing in the afternoon. From what I've read, the last few weeks of pregnancy require a lot of extra nutrients, so I suspect Abigail is just hungrier than she used to be, and I'm more than willing to indulge her expanding appetite.

As each of these signs appear, I turn into more and more of a nervous goat doula, and I have to keep reminding myself that, by all reports, most does kid easily with no help from their human lackeys. Since I don't know much about milking either, though, the unknown has left me feeling a bit jittery. But I'm also excited at the thought of tasting our farm's first homegrown milk and enjoying the antics of baby goats, so I'm continuing to watch Abigail with an eagle eye.

Posted Fri Jan 23 08:05:42 2015 Tags:
close up of new spile dripping sap

I had some trouble remembering where I put our old fashioned lead spiles last year so we decided to upgrade to a set of new modern spiles.

The instructions call for a 7/16th bit, but we got by with a 1/2 inch spade bit.

Between the time we installed it yesterday and this morning it dripped out almost a half gallon of sap.

Posted Fri Jan 23 15:35:28 2015 Tags:
Sapsucker holes

Large-scale maple-syrup operations in New England like to have all their taps in place around the first of March. But we southerners can get a head start on the season and tap earlier. As you can see, sapsucker holes in our favorite sugar maple are already bleeding sap, so why let the tree's sweet juices go to waste?

Drilling a hole for a spile

Interestingly, while I was researching the timing of maple tapping, I stumbled across a study in which researchers tapped some trees early (in late January or early February), some at the March 1 time most traditional farmers aim for, and some late. While late-tapped trees did produce lower yields, both early and midseason taps netted the same amount of liquid. Why? Early taps catch sap that midseason taps miss, but those early holes tend to close up before the flow is finished and thus miss the latest sap. So, it's really up to you when you want to tap, and for us, earlier is better --- there's much less to do on our farm in January and February than in March.

Maple spile

Mark and I had a lot of fun tapping our sugar maple last year, and we considered expanding beyond one measly spile in 2015. However, my usual morning walk goes past only this one sugar maple, and I'm not sure if I have the gumption to check on trees daily if they aren't on my normal route. Maybe if I get antsy waiting for Abigail to pop out some kids, though, I might expand my walks and our maple syruping operation.

Posted Sat Jan 24 08:15:47 2015 Tags:
lumber in back of car

We really appreciate all the helpful comments on the structual strength of our new IBC water tower.

The truck has been in the shop so we had to use the car to pick up some lumber to increase both support and bracing.

I could probably haul twice as much lumber if the back window could open and close.

Posted Sat Jan 24 15:17:28 2015 Tags:

While scanning the hillside for other sugar maples along my usual morning walk, Mark and I discussed the possibility of planting some new maples for tapping later in our lives. The hillside I walk past daily is a perfect location for sugar maples --- a damp, north-facing spot --- and I suspect the only reason sugar maples aren't currently in residence is because the area was logged too recently for this semi-old-growth species to thrive in the young woods.

But when I got home and did some research, I discovered that planted sugar maples won't be ready to tap for at least forty years. I consider myself a long-term thinker...but that's really long term (especially given current climate fluctuations and our location at the southern extreme of the sugar maple's range). Instead, I started wondering whether the intriguing experiments carried out at the Proctor Maple Research Center might not be a better avenue to explore. The scientists in charge have been experimenting with a high-density, pollarded maple operation and have found that you can harvest up to ten times as much sap per acre using high-density trees, with the initial harvest only seven years after planting. Now that sounds like something I'd like to try!

Collecting sap from a pollarded treeThe big negative about this high-density maple system from a backyard standpoint is that you have to use a vacuum system to get the sap out of the trees. Timothy Perkins of the Proctor Maple Research Center kindly wrote back to me within hours with answers to my numerous questions, and he noted: "Vacuum is REQUIRED. You will get almost no sap without it. In addition, the 'sap caps' are not commercially available. We are working with maple equipment manufacturers now, and expect there will be a product available for the 2017 sap season." I'm not too worried about the lack of commercial sap caps --- it looks like something we can easily cobble together --- and Mark suspects that we could also come up with a backyard-style vacuum system using a breast pump (like we'll be using on our goats) or a shop vac. Plus, I don't have to figure that out until 2022, so why not go ahead and plant now?

Unfortunately, the system is very new, so Perkins had less concrete answers for my other questions. When asked how close together the trees should be planted, Perkins said that his experiments utilized an already-existing nursery, and thus he doesn't have solid data on optimal spacing. However, one news article suggested a trees-per-acre density that would come down to one sugar maple every three feet, which seems like a good start. In terms of frequency of harvest, Perkins said that after the first seven years of growth "you can harvest for several years prior to letting the saplings 'rest.'" (And, keep in mind that like with other pollarding systems, you'd also get firewood for energy and leaves for mulch out of the planting.)

So will we be planting high-density sugar maples this winter? I suspect Mark will talk me into setting aside at least one experimental row, but first I need to do some more research. "It would be best to plant high-sap sugar-content saplings," Perkins now I need to do a bit more research and track down a source.

Posted Sun Jan 25 08:08:14 2015 Tags:
drilling through a 4x4

How did we get a hole through a 4x4 next to a 2x6?

An extra long 5/8" drill bit with a medium sized electric drill.

It should come in handy if we need to use long carriage bolts again.

Posted Sun Jan 25 12:50:44 2015 Tags:

Grazing goatsWhat's the best use for seedy manure? As I drooled over the combination of straw, dropped weedy hay, and goat manure and urine in our goat coop, these are the options I came up with:

  • Try to get a compost pile hot enough to kill all of the seeds in the goats' dropped hay. Pro: Much-needed compost for the vegetable garden. Con: Loss of a lot of nitrogen due to the contents sitting out in our rainy climate, plus a relatively long wait and quite a bit of pile-turning. And, to be honest, I don't really believe I'd kill all the seeds despite all the effort.
  • Turn in the chickens and hope they scratch through and eat up all the seeds. Pro: Maybe the compost would be weed-free enough for the garden afterwards, and the chickens would enjoy the adventure. Con: I'd either have to move all of the bedding from the goat coop to the chicken coop (at opposite ends of our core homestead), or I'd have to move the chickens to the bedding and hope our birds get along well with the goats. And, once again, I don't really believe the result would be weed-free.
  • Mangel definitionPut the weedy compost under a kill mulch. Pro: A very easy solution, and I do want to kill mulch a few new areas this spring. Con: I won't be getting compost where it's needed most --- in the main garden.
  • Deposit the kill mulch as a thin layer in the tree alleys, then use chickens to scratch up any sprouting seeds so I can plant goat-fodder crops there in the summer. Pros: This solution is even easier than the last since the bedding would be used close to the source, and I wouldn't even need masses of cardboard to cover everything over. Con: The chickens might not kill all the weed seeds, meaning that the area would stay unplantable (but would get some much-needed nutrition).

At the moment, I'm leaning toward the last option, especially since the whole point of my new kill mulches this spring was going to be to make some spots for the mangels and field corn I want to plant for next winter's goat feed. But I'm open to suggestions. What would you do with a mixture of straw, dropped hay, and goat urine and manure? I feel so rich having another source of organic matter to deposit into our farm's ecosystem!

Posted Mon Jan 26 07:40:46 2015 Tags:
Jump starting

Our old farm truck is still limping along. Five months in the swamp and getting yanked out by a tractor necessitated repairing the gas tank and putting the universal joint back in after it fell out.

But we're still suffering from a short that drains the battery after a few days of disuse. That wouldn't be so bad if the hood latch didn't stick and require four hands every time we needed to open it.

Our mechanic repaired the sticking hood latch, but was left scratching his head over the short. I think I'll install a switch on the battery so I can turn it off when not in use.

Posted Mon Jan 26 14:57:35 2015 Tags:

Farmstead Feast: WinterOkay, so I could tease you with tantalizing tidbits from my newest ebook. I could tell you that it's got recipes that will help you tenderize the tougher cuts of pastured meat and to substitute wholesome vegetables for grains in delicious recipes.

Or I could just set the book free for one day only so you can pick up your own copy and give it a read. (And, maybe, if you want to make my day a little brighter, you'll leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads when you're done.)

Hmm, that second option sounds better for everybody involved. So, go download right now while it's free! Enjoy!

Posted Tue Jan 27 07:53:05 2015 Tags:

plastic shed for storing hay
How many bales of hay can our little plastic shed hold?

We figure 9 with some space on top.

I think I might add some hinges to one of the doors that got a little wonky when the shed shifted.

Posted Tue Jan 27 15:44:46 2015 Tags:
Goat soap

People keep giving me soap. Do you think it's a hint?

Happy goatsMore seriously, Donna and Jessica from Happy Goats Soap Company recently sent us a sampler pack of their homemade products to try out. I'm a hard woman to please when it comes to beauty products since I don't like scented anything, but the duo came through with a special-order bar of unscented soap (which you can buy on their website by clicking the "Request Special Order" button). The soap does the trick, providing a good lather but washing off clean while also providing the gentle moisturizing action that goat-milk soap is known for.

Although mildly scented, I also immediately fell in love with their Minty Man No Shine Lip Salve. I once had an awesome tube of lip balm from Aveeno, but everything I've tried to replace it with (primarily Burt's Bees) has turned my lips white and my husband off. Happy Goats' lip balm is even better than I recall the Aveeno stick being, providing an invisible coating that helps dry winter lips return to a happy state in short order.

Do you want to try your own Happy Goats skin-care products? Donna and Jessica have a bar of rose soap and a tube of lip balm with one lucky reader's name on it. Enter the giveaway below to win!

Posted Wed Jan 28 08:02:16 2015 Tags:
hay shortage

Do you guys make your own hay? --- Alice

No, but we plan to plant more oats and Sunflowers this year.

A few Feed Stores around us have already run out of hay so I had to drive all the way to Abingdon to get these 9 bales.

Posted Wed Jan 28 16:22:20 2015 Tags:
Goat in wheelbarrow
"I must say, you've made selling my girlfriend on the benefits of having a small farm both easier, and more difficult. She is obsessed with having goats, and when she found out that they're about the only thing that eats Japanese honeysuckle and kudzu, she seized on that as her justification for having a couple, 'since you wanted a farm anyway.' You've been absolutely no help at all in that battle, what with all the pictures of your ridiculously cute and well-behaved goats. Couldn't you vilify them just a *little*? I dunno, maybe make a post saying how they broke out and committed arson or something?

"Otherwise, I swear, I'm going to come home from work one of these days and there's going to be a goat in my apartment..."

--- Dave

Blue-eyed goatWell, Dave, let me tell you about how Artemesia broke out this week and committed arson....

Okay, maybe she really just jumped up into the wheelbarrow while I was cleaning out the coop and ensured that her picture would be found in the next edition of the dictionary under "adorable."

More seriously, I have to admit that after four months with goats, I wouldn't recommend them for 90% of homesteaders. Artemesia is like a delightful hybrid between a loyal dog and a rainbow, but I'd feel terribly guilty if I didn't give our goats at least half an hour of attention per day.

And boy do they eat! We're currently giving our duo lots of hay and are letting them graze down several decades' worth of honeysuckle, but we'll be scrambling pretty hard this summer to get enough pasture areas established to ensure that Gardening with a goatour goats don't eat us out of house and home. And I'll also be putting more effort into gardening so we can grow enough fodder crops to make up for the honeysuckle, which won't be here next year if our goats' current appetites are any indication.

Then there's the expense. We actually haven't had any real escapes, but that's because we're paying top dollar by fencing with cattle panels (and because we chose half-miniature goats and keep them quite happy). That makes goats a very pricey endeavor (although the fencing should last for a lifetime and can be used with any other livestock we end up acquiring). Yes, you can fence with cheaper materials...but I suspect I'd love Artemesia much less if she ended up gnawing on my dwarf apple trees.

Goat with pitchfork

I lobbied hard for goats nearly from the beginning, and even though I pouted at the time when Mark said no, I can see now that we weren't ready for goats until the last year or two. A new homestead is a huge time- and money-sink, and we just wouldn't have had the ability to truly enjoy goats at that time. So, I have to admit that I'm probably on Dave's side on this issue and would recommend that he and his girlfriend not get goats quite yet.

On the other hand, if you don't want any goats in your apartment, you might want to pry the computer out of your girlfriend's hands right now. Because once Abigail's kids show up, the goat pictures are going to get even cuter.... You've been warned!

Posted Thu Jan 29 07:44:58 2015 Tags:
goat divider construction

We made some modifications to the Star Plate goat barn today.

Once it's finished we'll be able to manage the future baby goats better.

Posted Thu Jan 29 15:45:57 2015 Tags:

Red maple flowerHave any of you planted super-sweet sugar maples? Apparently, a scientist went around and tested the sugar levels in the sap of a lot of maples, gathered seeds from the sweetest individuals, tested the sap of those seedlings, then cloned the ones that showed the most potential. Unfortunately, Forest Keeling is the only definitive source I've found for the super-sweet sugar maples, and they don't sell to individuals online (although you can drop by their garden center if you live in Missouri). On the internet, the Improved Sugar Maples at Garden Delights may or may not be the same type of sugar maple, and there are also supposedly high-sugar Silver Maples available from St. Lawrence Nurseries (although the price tag for the latter gave me a bit of a shock).

I'm leaning more and more toward just planting locally-adapted seedlings out of my own woods after checking out those prices, but Dave Marshall's comment about tapping silver maples did make me wonder whether these wet-loving, fast-growing maples might be a better choice for our farm. Of course, if we're going in that direction, maybe we should just tap our ubiquitous box elder. Has anyone tried syrup-making from these less-popular maple species? I know you'd have to cook the sap down further and be more careful not to collect buddy sap, but what I'd really like to know is --- what did you think of the flavor? I guess we really should just tap a box elder and see for ourselves!

Posted Fri Jan 30 07:34:55 2015 Tags:
kidding stall hardware fence barrier

We got the fence portion of our kidding stall finished today.

Posted Fri Jan 30 15:46:23 2015 Tags:
Shiitakes fruiting on sycamore logs

The word "shiitake" literally means "oak mushroom," so it's no surprise that red and white oaks are widely considered to be the best American trees to cut for shiitake production. But what if you live in a low and wet area with few oaks present? We've successfully fruited shiitakes on sycamores in the past (as you can see above), but with another set of plugs arriving in the middle of February, I wanted to expand our host trees. Based on about a dozen websites, here's an analysis of the best to worst eastern U.S. trees for shiitake production.


  • White oak --- a bit slower to produce the first harvest than red oak, but widely considered to be the best species for shiitake production
  • Red oak --- a close second

Nearly as good:

  • Sweetgum --- Logs only last two to three years, but very productive
  • Ironwood --- Logs only last two to three years, and are slow to fruit in the first place, but produce good harvests in the interim
  • Sugar maple --- Bark can damage easily when logs are moved, but otherwise a good species
  • Beech --- Same caveat as sugar maple

Some sites list these as excellent, some as only fair:

  • Chestnut
  • Hop hornbeam
  • Black willow

Good to fair:

  • Cherry --- Specifically good for warm-weather strains and Night Velvet
  • Bitternut hickory (and possibly other hickories, but several sites list bitternut as good and all other hickories as bad)
  • Black birch --- The mushrooms in early flushes are small, but the logs improve with age. Good for Double Jewel and Native Harvest.
  • Black gum --- Logs don't last long.
  • Red maple --- Some say to avoid, but Field and Forest says to use with warm-weather strains, Double Jewel, and Native Harvest
  • Live oak
  • Alder
  • Eucalyptus
  • Sycamore
  • Basswood
  • Yellow birch
  • Butternut
  • River birch
  • Silver maple

Possibly to be avoided (although some sites list these as fair to good):

  • Ash
  • Sassafras (Field and Forest says these logs are okay and have the benefit of being drought tolerant)
  • Tulip poplar
  • Aspen
  • Paper birch
  • Elm

Definitely to be avoided:

  • Conifers
  • Fruit trees
  • Hackberry
  • Sourwood
  • Dogwood
  • Black locust
  • Walnut

In addition to species, you should consider the growth habit and location of the tree. Fertile sites produce good mushroom logs, probably because the trees grow quickly and have little of the inedible-to-shiitakes heartwood and lots of sapwood instead. Similarly, rocky hillsides and wet places tend to produce logs lower in nutrients from a mushroom point of view.

Mark and I need about eighteen logs for our upcoming mushroom-plugging day, and I'm thinking of trying at least three or four species from the top of this list to get an idea for which species work best here. I can definitely come up with some ironwood and beech, and maybe even an oak within carrying distance of our core homestead. Time to explore the woods with shiitakes in mind!

Posted Sat Jan 31 08:03:28 2015 Tags:
new manger design

The first manger we built was flawed because the goats could jump up on the lid and it only took a few days of that behavior before they broke the lid.

Adding this fencing material prevents any more activity where they can stand on the hay and has the added bonus of holding a lot more.

Posted Sat Jan 31 15:51:28 2015 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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