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

archives for 04/2015

Apr 2015
Goats mowing the lawn

The great thing about only having 2.5 goats is that it's possible to use our tiny herd to mow the lawn in areas where more goats would cause more trouble. As you can see, our grass is starting to green up in the sunniest part of the yard, even though the pastures around our starplate coop are still nearly entirely winter brown. Usually, Mark pulls out the power mower around this time of year to cut back the newly growing grass, but I decided to take another stab at tethering our goats to see how much mowing they would do for us.

The answer? Our goats at least cut back some of the tallest weeds, although they definitely don't leave the result looking like a mown lawn. Good thing we don't care what our grass looks like!

Goat nanny

When I last tried tethered, Artemesia didn't really need to be tied since she was more interested in clinging to Abigail's side than getting into trouble. Now, both does require tethering, and I plan their lines so they can barely meet in the middle. This way Abigail doesn't get terrified of having her herd-mate out of sight, but the two animals also can't get tangled in each others' tether ropes. I still don't leave our herd unsupervised since there's just too muchGoat kid grazing that could go wrong with tethering goats, but the ropes do mean that I can walk over to the wringer washer and do a load of laundry while our goats chow down.

As a side note, you can see in the picture above that Artemesia is a true nanny goat in both senses of the term. Our doeling is nearly always willing to let our buckling graze right beside her, training the kid to eat the good stuff and eschew the bad stuff. When Lamb Chop follows me to the house (100 feet away) then starts crying because I closed the door in his face, it's Artemesia rather than the kid's mother who bawls her upset at having the buckling so far away. Abigail is content to chew and chew and chew and chew --- she knows someone else will mind her kid.

Goat udder

Of course, Abigail has other things on her mind --- like making milk! We're still only getting about 1.25 cups of milk per day, despite shutting Lamb Chop away from his mother overnight. I'm pretty sure our doe holds back quite a bit of milk for her kid in the morning because she's got to be feeding him a whole lot more than a cup of milk per day. After all, Lamb Chop is still only nibbling at solid food, but he's managing to put on nearly a pound a day in weight gain. I'll be very curious to see what milk production is like once our kid is weaned to entirely eating dry food.

White buckling

The downside of Lamb Chop growing so fast is that I can tell tethering is going to become problematic in the near future. I tried to tie our buckling along with his herdmates, but he bounces and runs so fast that I was afraid he would break his little neck. Oh well --- even though it seems like there's a huge amount of grass and rye to mow down at the edges of the garden, at the rate Abigail is going, we'll have to move the herd out beyond our core perimeter by the end of the week.

Goats grazing near garden

One thing I've noticed is how very malleable our goats are, making them the easiest animals I've ever had the pleasure of training. Abigail and Artemesia both know they're not allowed to eat kale, strawberries, and other garden goodies. Of course, knowing that only means that when I walk our goats on a leash beside garden plants, the does don't reach out and nab a snack. Turn my back, and there wouldn't be any kale left, so I'm careful to tether where anything I love is well out of reach. Abigail is right at the end of her rope in the photo above.


Finally, I wanted to mention Artemesia's newly scruffy fur, which I suspect is due to some combination of shedding her winter underfur, having a huge buckling crawl all over her back on a regular basis, and me running low on kelp. Since the supplier I ordered from took a few weeks to ship, I had to take away our free-choice kelp to ensure that our lactating doe could continue to get enough of the mineral supplement on her daily ration. Of course, there are minerals of a non-biological nature available to our goats all the time, but neither doe will touch the stuff. In fact, when I made the mistake of trying to trick Abigail into eating some extra minerals by pouring the powder on top of her morning ration, she tipped the whole bowl over to get those minerals out! Good thing more kelp arrived in the mail Monday so that Artemesia can get back to her usual shiny self.

Posted Wed Apr 1 07:31:57 2015 Tags:
drill press vise on stump
sspiral tie out stake close up

These spiral tie out stakes are good for tethering goats.

It only took a few minutes to temporarily mount our drill press vise to the chopping block so I could bang the top open part closed.

Yes....Abigail figured out how to move her leash so it was slipping out at the open part of the spiral tie out stake.

Posted Wed Apr 1 16:21:59 2015 Tags:
Overwintered broccoli stem

Did you ever wonder whether you have a healthy microorganism population in your soil? There's a simple way to check. Assuming you haven't tilled up the ground since last year's garden, you can go out at this time of year and look for stems of fall broccoli.

Dried up broccoli stemI usually find one or two broccoli stems just barely standing at this time of year, with the rest having dissolved completely into the soil. When I break the remaining stems apart, I see that the once-woody debris will soon have disappeared into the ground as well. On the other hand, if I still saw lots of standing broccoli stems when the time came to plant peas and cabbages, I'd start worrying that I'd done something to get the microorganism population out of whack.

Of course, you don't have to plant fall broccoli to test your microorganism levels. Cover crops also do a fine job as well. In beds where I planted oilseed radishes last fall, there's now almost no debris left on top of the ground, simply a nearly weed-free patch of soil waiting for the spring onion planting. Oat beds tend to still have some debris left at this time of year, but even that will be largely gone by our frost-free date.

I'd be curious to hear from our readers. Do your fall broccoli plants melt into the ground by early April (or by May for those of you who live way up north)?

Posted Thu Apr 2 07:19:27 2015 Tags:
apple tree planting

We planted some new baby apple trees from last week's grafting workshop today.

Allowing the new trees to rest in a cold, dark place for a week gives them some time to heal before being planted.

Posted Thu Apr 2 16:07:54 2015 Tags:
Frost-nipped rhubarb

"My second cookbook is almost ready to go," I told Mark at lunch on Thursday. "But I'm going to have to ask Daddy to take some photos of my asparagus recipe since the spears won't pop up here for a few more weeks. Good thing he lives further south and already has scads of asparagus to play with."

Mark looked at me quizzically and then stated the obvious. "You know they have asparagus in the grocery store, don't you? I could buy you some Friday to work with."

Oh, right. Vegetables can come from the store. I'd forgotten! I guess I can take the photos myself and still get the spring cookbook out in a timely fashion.

Posted Fri Apr 3 07:01:43 2015 Tags:
Anna pruning high density apple trees

This is the time of year we prune the high density apple trees.

We also cut off any old training twine from last year that might girdle a branch.

Posted Fri Apr 3 15:02:02 2015 Tags:
Goat grazing on rye

A club I once attended had a saying, "If we hold an event twice in a row, then it becomes a tradition." With a goat, this is even more true.

After tethering our girls after the human lunch for three days running, during which time we allowed the caprines to graze until Abigail could barely waddle home afterwards, our goats decided there was no point in eating morning hay. Why not just wait for afternoon rye and clover? So, on day four, when life got in the way and I didn't let the girls out until 4 pm, the moaning and bellyaching coming from the goat area was overwhelming. Abigail told me she was starving to death...even though she still had plenty of hay in the manger.

Grazing clover

Goat laundryUnfortunately, it's not quite the season for daily gorging yet. Over the course of three short days, our goat herd mowed down all of the high rye areas in our yard, and now there are just patches of newly growing grasses and clover for them to eat. I guess our girls will have to make do with half-full bellies for another week or two until the grass catches up with the overwintering grains. (Or they'll have to resort to eating hay. Horrors!)

Goat closeup

As a side note, I was considering starting to milk Abigail out in the evenings after our milk production nearly doubled one day this week to a pint during our morning milking. But when I got our doe on the milking stand that evening, I discovered that her udders were much emptier than I've ever seen them. In other words, I'm now confident that Abigail holds back about half of her morning milk for the little rascal, which means she's likely producing at least a quart a day (even though she only gives us a cup). Maybe that one high-production day she just forgot to hold back Lamb Chop's milk, or he hadn't drunk her quite as dry the night before? Either way, as I watch Abigail's kid eat a little more grass every day, I dream of the milk production once he's weaned.

Posted Sat Apr 4 07:22:20 2015 Tags:
overflow outlet on an IBC tank rain barrel

We drilled a hole at the top of our IBC rain barrel for an overflow elbow connection.

Posted Sat Apr 4 15:04:11 2015 Tags:

Mark has wanted a zipline to run from our parking area to our core homestead for years, both as a way of moving people and of moving stuff. Over and over, I explained the reasons I didn't think it would work:

  • The cable would have to run across our neighbor's field to go in a straight line, and I don't think said neighbor would be thrilled at the idea.
  • We'd actually have to run two ziplines to be able to go in both directions, and that would also require hauling supplies up onto the hill above our cars before attaching said supplies to the zipline.
  • We'd have to cut down a lot of trees to give the zipline a straight shot.
  • The total distance (about 900 feet in a straight line) is pretty daunting.
Route map

However, I've been wondering lately if a different cable-related scheme might be the way to expedite hauling while the floodplain is sodden and our eventual driveway upgrade is slow in coming. Glad of any line-based solution, Mark was quick to remind me that we really only need to span the worst of the swamp, which would be a smaller distance and would require cutting fewer trees out of the way.

our new access point by the goat shed, we could potentially run a 350-foot cable from a hill above the driveway near the ford (point A) to the goat-shed area (point B), hauling supplies in the ATV to point A (since an old logging road runs up onto that knoll) and then in a cart from point B to our garden along another old logging road. This would cut off the entirety of the terrible-driveway areas and allow me to haul in the manure I so badly a few short weeks. (Yes, we're hitting crunch time around here.)

Pulley system

A zipline might be dicey for hauling supplies, but what about a circular line designed like a hefty pulley clothesline? One person would stand at point A loading buckets onto the line, then someone else would pull the line at point B and unload the buckets.

I'm thinking of using galvanized "aircraft" cable just like people use for ziplines, either 7x7 or 7x19 strands. Does anyone know how to figure out the weight limit on a system like this (so I can decide which diameter cable to spring for --- 3/8", 5/16", or 1/4")? And how would you suspend the load --- make a little carriage for the buckets to ride in that is suspended from the cable by some kind of hook? Or make the cable support a single line like a zipline (instead of my pulley system) with a carriage that rolls along it pulled by a rope on both sides? Either way, do you think this system is even feasible over a 350-foot span? Please tell me why my idea is every bit as crazy as Mark's was (or how you would design the system to make it work)!

Posted Sun Apr 5 07:24:23 2015 Tags:
goats standing on tires

Artemesia has claimed ownership of the new goat tire toy and likes pushing Lamb Chop off every chance she gets.

Posted Sun Apr 5 15:02:16 2015 Tags:

TrailersteadingTrailersteading began as a joke, turned into an inspiration for aspiring homesteaders, and now --- in its expanded second edition --- the ebook contains dozens of pages of additional hands-on information to help turn that inspiration into a reality.

Even if you don't want to live in a mobile home, this book contains step-by-step instructions for replicating some of our permaculture systems, like treating greywater in a wetland that provides beautiful wildlife habitat and also grow cattails for the table.

There are sections on rain barrels and humanure, along with thirteen case studies of homesteaders who have embraced voluntary simplicity in a mobile home.

And, of course, if you think a trailer might be in your future, the book will be even more helpful with tips on insulating, fire-proofing, and much more.

Trailersteading usually goes for $5.99, but it's on sale right now for 99 cents. So snag your copy and enjoy!


On a related note, I want to thank Buck Books for featuring Trailersteading (a link to which will go out in their daily deals email tomorrow). If you're like me and read voraciously (and especially if your library is very small), it can be a struggle to feed your literary appetite. Since authors often run free or very cheap price promotions as a way of getting our books in front of new eyes, it's possible to stock up on books for no or very little cash. Buck Books is one of the services that helps hook up authors with readers, and if you're in either camp, then I recommend you check them out!

Posted Mon Apr 6 07:00:16 2015 Tags:
Anna learning to use the Sur Form shaver tool

People say a Stanley SurForm shaver works good at finishing off a goat hoof trimming, but Anna is still figuring out the proper technique.

Posted Mon Apr 6 15:15:49 2015 Tags:
Water tower

For those of you concerned about the safety of Mark's jack-support hack --- don't worry, he's going to beef up the tower some more.

In the meantime, I wanted to let a little rain flow into the IBC tank to get an idea for how much precipitation it would take to fill the reservoir. The photo above was taken in the middle of the rain event, but, much to my distress, even after the full 1.2 inches fell, the tank still looked nearly empty.

Goat kid on mushroom logs

"You know, we only have the tank plumbed to a small section of the roof," Mark reminded me. True, but surely a 50-square-foot section of roof was enough to fill up an IBC tank in short order? Time for a little math! 275 gallons of capacity equals 63,525 cubic inches. Divide that by the 7,200 square inches of roof area we have plumbed to the tank...and it would require nearly 9 inches of rainfall to fill 'er up.

Which is actually good news, although the realization will make more work for Mark. There's another nearby gutter section currently draining into what has turned into a swamp along the backside of the trailer. If we add another T and include this gutter into the IBC-collection line, then we should be able to fill up the tank with only 4.5 inches of rainfall (while drying up problematic ground). That means we'd fill the tank up every month on average, giving us plenty of water to keep the mushroom logs below well hydrated. Back to work!

Posted Tue Apr 7 07:29:55 2015 Tags:
Anna crossing creek on log with rope

Anna was feeling the need to exercise her inner girl scout today.

Posted Tue Apr 7 14:49:31 2015 Tags:
Willow bush

Salix purpurea catkinI've been holding off on my willow-building experiment because I couldn't quite decide whether our native black willow (Salix nigra) was too tree-like (eventual height 33 to 98 feet) to keep small in the format of a living sculpture. Then, while out hunting cattail spears for lunch, I stumbled across a stand of what are probably planted purple willows (Salix purpurea) and decided that this smaller (up to 15 feet), introduced species would be easier to keep within bounds.

Preparing willow cuttings

It's good that I found the willow stand when I did because the bushes were already blooming and a few leaves were even popping out on the most advanced branches. For my experiment, I chose young branches, cut off any blooming tops, snipped the wood down to about eighteen inches, then whittled each base into a point. Willow cuttings ready to go into the ground!

Rooting willow cuttings

Back home, I prepared the ground by laying down chicken-feed bags, cut open, which will act as a weed barrier. (This is important --- it's hard for even a willow to grow roots and get established if it has to compete with weeds.) Next, I used a rebar to punch holes through the paper and about eight inches into the earth, then I pushed my willow cuttings into the holes.

Now it's time to wait for the show to begin. In the meantime, I fed the willow tops to the goats, and Abigail deemed them "highly palatable --- hey, get away from my willow twigs, Artemesia!" So I guess the eventual prunings are already spoken for.

Posted Wed Apr 8 07:27:31 2015 Tags:
Black Birch sap tap

We took our Black Birch spile out today.

It only lasted a few weeks which means we may have started a little on the late side.

Posted Wed Apr 8 15:41:06 2015 Tags:
Cabbage seedling

I'm extremely picky about transplanting weather at this time of year. Sure, I prefer to pick an overcast day with rain on the horizon, but I also aim for a day when there will be no frosts for at least a week. The cabbage I set out a few weeks ago and the broccoli and onions I transplanted Monday can all handle light freezes once they're established but transplant stress + freeze = unhappy seedlings. Thus waiting until the perfect day comes around, even if it doesn't match the planting date on my calendar.

Of course, with our variable weather, I'm pretty much guaranteed to still have to cover our transplants (and early sprouters like peas) with row-cover fabric a time or two before our frost-free date. After all, even established cabbages can be damaged by freezes below about 25 degrees (aka killing frosts). But it's worth that inevitable babying to get the jumpstart on the season since early broccoli and cabbages have much less pressure from cabbageworms, while early peas produce more fruits before hot weather makes the vines unhappy.

As usual, gardening is a balancing act between planting too late and too early. Maybe that endless puzzle is why I stay entertained with growing the same vegetables year after year...or maybe it's just the delicious flavor of homegrown food that makes the weeding worthwhile.

Posted Thu Apr 9 07:31:50 2015 Tags:
Medium sized dump truck dumping 4 inch gravel

We finally found someone local with a medium dump truck to deliver some gravel.

It was just under 4 tons for 80 dollars.

Posted Thu Apr 9 15:38:41 2015 Tags:
Woody plant propagation

Every year, I treat myself to $100 worth of perennials. This is my big splurge so I squash my usual skinflint tendencies and allow myself to be experimental. As a result of my whims, maybe a third of the perennials bought during these splurges perish and I learn that almonds are beloved by Japanese beetles and get a lot of diseases to boot (making them unworthy of babying on our farm) and that honeyberries taste more like sour blackberries than honey. On the other hand, I also discover that Bocking 4 comfrey is indeed the very tastiest variety from a livestock point of view and that Caroline red raspberries are both delicious and extremely prolific.

This year, I added two additional hazelnut varieties to our forest garden, but I spent the entire rest of my perennial budget on shipping out scionwood (to swap for varieties I wanted) and on ordering rootstock. The most experimental of my graftees this year are the plums, which are really supposed to be grafted by budding during the growing season. However, snow from the barn roof completely snapped off one of our plum trees and did a number on the other, so I decided to try dormant-season grafting to keep Imperial Epineuse and Seneca alive on our farm. And, while I was at it, I also swapped for Mirabelle de Nancy, Late Transparent Gage, and Reine de Mirabelle to round out our planting. All types of scionwood were grafted onto St. Juliene rootstock, then went into pots to sit inside where it's warm since pros warn that, with dormant-season grafting of plums, any cold weather during the callousing process will lower your chances of success dramatically.


My main grafting episode, though, involved pears. We've decided to add a couple of rows of high-density pear trees since our high-density apple trees are growing so well...and since the high-density system makes it much more feasible for me to try out a large number of varieties in a small space. I mostly aimed for disease-resistant pears, Seckel bloom budbut I added in some other varieties as well when swappers offered types I'd never heard of. If all of my grafts take, Moonglow, Leona, Hosui, Warren, Blake's Pride, Potomac, Honey Sweet, Shinko, Maxine, and Carl's Favorite will be joining the ranks of our farmyard pomes. I'll be sure to tell you how the trees fare and the fruits 2022 at the latest.

And, in other pear news, out in the orchard, Seckel looks like she's about to bloom for us for the first time in 2015! Now, if everyone will send "no freezes below 25 degrees" thoughts wafting toward our farm, maybe we'll get to taste what is sometimes colloquially known as a "honey pear" this fall.

Posted Fri Apr 10 07:17:15 2015 Tags:
chopper one repair

I've discovered a small piece of duct tape helps to keep the Chopper One spring pin from working loose.

Posted Fri Apr 10 14:58:29 2015 Tags:
Feeding bees

We'd get a lot more honey if we fed our bees more. But I try to use sugar water as a last resort, only feeding when the bees wouldn't have enough stores to survive without the helping hand.

Still, when I took out the bottom board of our warre hive, tried to take a photo up through the screen...and couldn't because the entire bottom of the hive was covered with mouse debris, I knew that only a weak hive would let a rodent move in. Time to feed.

Taking apart a warre hive

And also time to take apart the hive to get rid of that mouse nest. From my aborted photo, I'd assumed that I really needed to get into the bottom box to deal with the mouse, but it turns out that I could have just lifted up the whole hive the way you do when you nadir and cleaned off the bottom board that way. Because the mouse hadn't damaged any of the comb in the bottom box at all, as I discovered when I broke warre rules and took the hive apart.

Since the two boxes were already apart, I also took a quick peek in the top box, saw some capped brood, and quickly closed the colony back up. Although the boxes are light and thus clearly very low on honey, sugar water and dandelions should carry the colony through. Looks like our three-year-old hive is still buzzing along!

Posted Sat Apr 11 07:37:59 2015 Tags:
Bays Mountain

We had a fun afternoon celebrating Joey's birthday.

Posted Sat Apr 11 17:47:39 2015 Tags:
Wet pear flowers

Apple flowers in a fistWhen extreme winter cold nips the peach bloom buds before they can even start to swell, spring feels very slow in coming. But I think we're only running about three or four days behind last year, based on the emergence date of the first nanking cherry flower (April 9) and pear blossom (April 10). That sets us perhaps two weeks behind some much warmer springs...which might mean our tree flowers will sidestep the freezes of dogwood and blackberry winters.

Honeyberry flower

This is the time of year when it's so hard not to count your fruits before they set. My rule of thumb with perennials flowering for the first time is that they won't keep their developing flowers all the way to fruition unless there are dozens of blooms present. That means the crazy Kidd's Orange Red apple tree, who appears to have a clump of bloom buds despite having only been grafted this time last year, has almost no chance of setting fruit. But the Seckel pear, with dozens of flower buds in evidence even though the tree hadn't bloomed before, might just make my day sometime this fall.

Lettuce bed

RaabOf course, there's enough going on in the vegetable garden right now that I really shouldn't be wasting time drooling over fruit-tree flowers. We enjoyed our first spring salad Thursday and raab is finally popping up with its broccoli-like cooking opportunities. To celebrate, the second cookbook in my Farmstead Feast series will go live tomorrow and will be free for one day only. Be sure to check back and download your copy!

Posted Sun Apr 12 07:20:23 2015 Tags:
IBC overflow elbow silicone seal

It only took about 1/4 of a tube of silicone to seal our IBC overflow elbow.

Posted Sun Apr 12 14:24:42 2015 Tags:

Farmstead Feast: SpringFirst of all, I owe a huge thank-you to everyone who read and reviewed my first cookbook so quickly! Your kind words then make it cost effective now to list the second book in the series free for one day only. So nab Farmstead Feast: Spring while it's hot...and if you have a minute to write a review after you're done reading, then chances are I'll give you the next book in the series free too.

(I hope that doesn't count as bribery. I like to think of the technique as more like the teacher who promises the whole class a pizza party if no one is absent for an entire month.)

Not sure if my cookbook is worth your time? You'll find another
dozen-plus recipes inside that are easy and delicious to fix using homegrown ingredients, so Farmstead Feast: Spring should hit the spot. As a bonus, I've included a step-by-step guide to harvesting dandelions and to taking maple syrup from tree to table, along with a quick primer on planting for a 12-month harvest. So hopefully everyone will find something to love in this short book!

On a related note, I'm well aware that cookbooks are a bit annoying to use in ereader form. So I've created a print version of Farmstead Feast: Winter, and marked the print price down to the bare minimum Amazon would allow --- $3.99. There will be a print edition of Farmstead Feast: Spring coming down the pipe soon, too, so stay tuned!

Finally, if you're not sure whether Farmstead Feast: Winter is worth keeping on your shelf, come back to Amazon tomorrow and the first ebook in the series will be free for a limited time as well. I hope that helps you round out your cookbook collection. And, as always, thanks for reading!

Posted Mon Apr 13 06:59:25 2015 Tags:
farm monorail system also called MonoRack

We've been thinking about solving our driveway problem with a farm monorail.

They're called Monoracks in Japan and they've been used since 1966.

We're not quite sure how much or how to order one. The website hasn't responded to our inquiry. Have any of our readers seen one of these operating in the United States? Maybe we could be the first?

Posted Mon Apr 13 16:01:56 2015 Tags:
Mowing the garden aisles

Monday was a day of firsts for 2015. First pass of the lawn mower through the garden...

Strawberry flower

...first blooming strawberry (which would have been more photogenic if I'd snapped the shot before the lawn mower dusted the plant with grass clippings)...

Tomatoes in cold frame

...first day I trusted the long-range forecast enough to put our tomatoes and basil outside in the cold frame (you sure can tell the difference between the plants that were right up against the window and those who had to cope with less light inside)...

Asparagus and spring greens

...and the first delicious taste of homegrown asparagus (which we promptly roasted).

Grazing goats

Nursing goat kidThe garden excitement was punctuated by the sound of three tethered goats chomping as quickly as they could through the new greenery. Well, Artemesia tried to jump up in my wheelbarrow as I passed by, Lamb Chop did his level best to tangle everyone up in his lead, and Abigail stood guard against the terrifying sound of the lawn mower. But our herd did some grazing too.

Do you think Abigail will keep letting her son nurse if he grows taller than she is before he's two months old?

Posted Tue Apr 14 07:16:45 2015 Tags:
IBC mushroom tower

We collected enough water in the IBC rain barrel to soak the mushroom logs.

I thought we could set up a misting system on a timer, but I think our water pressure might be a problem.

Posted Tue Apr 14 16:11:02 2015 Tags:
Muddy weeding

Do you weed during rainy days or stay inside where's it's dry? My answer depends on the season. In March, no way am I weeding in rain that freezes my fingers and leaves me shivering. But in April? When it's t-shirt weather and a gentle shower makes dandelions pop out of the soil with a gentle tug? Sure, I'll weed in the rain. Once your pants and shirt are fully soaked, you don't even notice the water (and mud) anymore.

Weed pile

The real conundrum is what to do with all that weedy biomass. I once read a novel that I was thoroughly enjoying...until the author had her heroine weed the garden and stuff the weeds into garbage bags to go out with the trash. I stopped reading in horror. Sure, weeds have troubling seeds and the perennials have roots that will start growing again under the right conditions, but no way am I letting all that organic matter leave the farm.

Lately, I've been dumping weeds in big piles at the ends of perennial rows where a few resprouting weeds won't present a problem. The weed piles rot down into excellent soil that --- with a cardboard layer on top --- is perfect for planting a new tree or bush into. I started one of this past fall's new high-density apple rows that way, and the trees seem to be thriving in the rich ground.

But I'm always looking for new weed solutions. What do you do with your weeds?

Posted Wed Apr 15 07:06:30 2015 Tags:
goat standing in a wheel barrow
Artemesia likes to be the center of attention.
Posted Wed Apr 15 16:05:45 2015 Tags:
Rainy cardinal

Ten weeks after its first cleaning, the goat bedding had once again built up to the point where straw was overflowing the cinderblocks on the downhill side of the coop. In early February, I used the manure/straw/hay mixture in an experimental area, but this time around I needed the biomass in the main garden. So I deposited the goat bedding around blueberries, gooseberries, Cleaning out deep beddingcurrants, a few apple trees, and on beds that will be planted with corn and cucumbers in two weeks. Here's hoping weed seeds don't make me regret this use (but you'll notice I only spread the bedding in areas where it will be simple to kill mulch if necessary to keep sprouting grasses in line).

You'll also notice that I was too engrossed in my task to get Mark to photograph me this time around --- the photo above is from February when I cleaned out the coop with goats inside. This time, I tethered our little herd near the blueberries, which went great until Abigail pulled up her tether at the bitter end and got three good mouthfuls of apple leaves. Bad goat!

Two variety apple tree

Speaking of apple trees, the first blossoms are opening on the earliest apple varieties. The tree shown above is primarily Virginia Beauty, but I grafted a little bit of William's Pride onto one limb two years ago. The graft union has nearly disappeared, but I can tell where one variety stops and the other starts because the Virginia Beauty buds are just barely unfurling while the William's Pride is in full bloom. Maybe we'll get to taste both types of apples this fall?

Chickens and ducks on pasture

This was also the week when we shut our hens and ducks into the pasture for the growing season. One of you mentioned in the comments a few weeks ago that you didn't remember we still had chickens --- if you want to read more about our poultry, be sure to check out our chicken blog where we give many more details about our feathered friends.

Empty honeycomb

I'll end this disjointed post with a look up under the bee hive. There's not much going on in the bottom box yet, but our colony is working hard and will hopefully reach their basement level soon. We've got another package shipping next week, so our apiary will be even more abuzz in short order!

Can you tell it was a beautiful and exhausting spring day Wednesday?

Posted Thu Apr 16 06:49:46 2015 Tags:
Brinsea EcoGlow brooder power cord repair

Our Brinsea EcoGlow chick brooder we love so much stopped working.

The power cord broke at the little nub. Some careful plastic surgery freed the nub enough to reach the wires on the other side.

Splicing the wire and deleting the nub brought it back to life. The wires aren't color coded, so you have to figure out the polarity by trial and error. A dab of silicone is all it took to seal up the hole.

Posted Thu Apr 16 15:47:24 2015 Tags:

We're moving along to phase three of our bokashi experiment, with the Lactobacillus bokashi in the waiting phase, sealed away in its full bucket. This time around, we're using store-bought bokashi starter, and I have to admit that I have seen a different within the first two days of the experiment.

What differences could I notice so quickly? I applied a light sprinkling of starter on top of the sawdust in the bokashi bucket and then again on top of the food scraps two days ago, and when I opened the bucket for my next deposit I could see white fungi beginning to grow on many food surfaces. In addition, while the Lactobacillus bokashi bucket smelled like composting food scraps each time I opened it (no surprise there), the store-bought starter did live up to the marketing and seemed to have no odor at all from a couple of feet away. (I should note that the gamma-seal lid means that neither bucket smells when closed, though, so don't worry about foul odors in your kitchen.)

* Of course, I'm well aware that this "experiment" is far from scientific. With a sample size of one for each of the three treatments, with slightly different food scraps in each bucket, and with a different time of year (especially temperature) for each treatment, all I can do is get ideas for further research.

Food scraps in the soil

In the meantime, it was the one-month-after-application mark for my control food scraps, which had spent a month in an unsealed bucket with no microbial starter, then were buried in a shallow trench in a very poor-soil area. According to the bokashi literature, food scraps should have become compost by this point if treated with bokashi starter during the bucket stage. Un-bokashi food scraps, though, look very much like rotten food after one month in the soil, with a few worms starting to move in but with the outlines of the scraps well recognizable. The only really surprising part about this phase of the experiment is that Lucy didn't dig up the trench to eat the scraps --- I guess I chose a spot far enough out of her usual stomping grounds.

Stay tuned for more updates as our Lactobacillus and store-bought bokashi buckets hit the soil!

Posted Fri Apr 17 07:01:36 2015 Tags:
Goodreads giveaway

This is a short bonus post to give you a quick cookbook update. I was surprised by the interest in the paper version of Farmstead Feast: Winter, so I decided to go ahead and put out the paperback version of Farmstead Feast: Spring ASAP. Both books are still priced at the bargain-basement price of $3.99 and are eligible for Amazon's free shipping, so nab a copy now while they're cheap.

Meanwhile, if you want to throw your hat in the ring, I'm giving away a copy of both cookbooks to one lucky reader over on Goodreads. Click here to enter. (You'll need a Goodreads account, I believe.)

Finally, I wanted to thank those of you who took the time to read and review so quickly. With the help of a Bookbub ad and your kind words, Farmstead Feast: Winter spent 24 hours as the number one free book on Amazon this week! It's thrilling to get in front of 40,000 new eyes and I hope my recipes make everyone's spring a little more delicious. Thank you so much for helping make it happen!

Posted Fri Apr 17 13:43:22 2015 Tags:
gaot pasture gate frame

I built our 2nd goat pasture gate frame today.

We plan to make the gate like our first goat gate. It's working out well.

Posted Fri Apr 17 16:17:35 2015 Tags:
Baby chicks

We usually like to hatch our own chicks, but due to dogs, ducks, and other dilemmas, we only have five hens at the moment. And when I tried to hatch the eggs of three of those hens (Red Stars) last year, there seemed to be some sort of genetic problem that caused the chicks to die in the shell, so we really only have two hens with hatchable eggs at the moment. In the end, rather than saving eggs for two weeks to fill the incubator, we bit the bullet and ordered 25 unsexed chicks from Cackle Hatchery.

Chick lineup

Australorps are currently my favorite all-around chicken for our farm --- they're only okay layers, but they're meaty enough to make it worthwhile to eat the males as broilers and the birds are heavy enough that they don't usually fly fences and get into trouble in the garden. But I couldn't resist trying out four other breeds as well: Rhode Island Red, New Hampshire Red, Buff Orpington, and Dominique. I have a feeling the Rhode Islands and Orpingtons might end up being tractored hens due to flying fences (the former) and being too people-centric (the latter), but only time will tell. Hopefully next year we'll be back on track with a quality flock who will allow me to raise all of our meat chickens and eggs for the year.

By the way, in case you're curious, those chicks on the left do have a blue dot on their foreheads. The hatchery wanted to make sure I could tell the two types of yellow chicks apart, so they dabbed some dye on the Buff Orpingtons. Now, if someone can tell me whether the reddish-brown chicks are Rhode Island Reds or New Hampshire Reds, I should be all set with my chick-ID skills....

Posted Sat Apr 18 07:25:01 2015 Tags:
sweet potato start close up
Our sweet potato starts are going a little fast this year.
Posted Sat Apr 18 13:52:21 2015 Tags:
Goat hide and seek

I've been wanting to write about my milking adventures for a while, but I never seem to manage to bring the camera during my morning chores. Plus, it's dim up in the starplate coop on cloudy mornings (which seems to be most of them lately), and our milking routine doesn't go as smoothly when a cameraman is present. So you'll have to settle for these shots of our little herd grazing in the woods while I write about milking.

Goats in the woods

As I've mentioned before, I opted to buy an electric milking machine because my carpal tunnel syndrome can barely handle the amount of garden weeding I do --- adding milking on top of that sounded like a recipe for disaster. Of course, it was an added benefit that the milking machine does the work for me, making it less problematic that I don't know how to milk a goat.

I say less problematic, because you really need to know how to milk even if you own a machine to do the job for you. Never mind the fact that your goat isn't going to wait for a new machine to come in the mail if the equipment ever breaks. What's important here and now is that most of the bacteria in milk are found in the first squirt, which has been sitting in the teat since the kid took his last sip twelve hours ago. By milking out and discarding that first squirt by hand, you keep bacterial counts much lower in the final product.

Goat balancing on a log

I'd had one lesson years ago about how to milk a goat and had read books on the subject, but I'll be honest --- it's taken me about a month to finally feel proficient with the process. Since I'd read that it's actually more hygienic not to wash the udder, I instead massage that area to stimulate milk letdown, and I've recently begun to be able to tell by feel whether or not there's any milk in the teat to squirt out. This is what gave me a tough time at first --- I was trying to squeeze out milk that wasn't there! Plus, I was being a little too gentle, imagining what it would feel like if someone squeezed that sensitive part of my anatomy. Watching Lamb Chop head butt his mother in the udder, though, reminded me that goats are more rough and tumble than humans, and Abigail responded well to my firm but gentle touch.

This weekend, I finally got to the point where Abigail and I were working enough in sync that I was able to leave her head out of the stanchion, easily discard the first squirts, and then hook up the machine to harvest the human share. The entire process takes about ten minutes or less (plus about the same amount of time inside preparing the goat ration and then washing out the milking lines). As I'd read elsewhere, milking really isn't the most onerous part of keeping goats --- I spend much more time tethering them around the yard since we're always short of fenced pasture.

Goat eating multiflora rose

Six weeks into Abigail's lactation, we're still only getting about 8 to 10 ounces of milk per day. This is up a little bit since I started tricking Abigail by milking out one teat, then the other, then returning to the first for another round, but Abigail is clearly holding back milk Dwarf doelingfor her kid. I'm guessing that Lamb Chop is consuming maybe a quart of milk per day, although he's finally eating a lot more solid food as well and should be old enough to wean (if Abigail feels like it) in two more weeks.

So we're not getting much milk yet, but what we are consuming is absolutely delicious. I can hardly wait until Artemesia (with her supreme millking genetics) joins the productive portion of our herd. For now, our little doeling only produces smiles and laughter --- not a bad harvest from a goat who costs very little to feed.

Posted Sun Apr 19 07:22:11 2015 Tags:
a big pile of saw dust

We get our saw dust from a local lumber cutter a few 5 gallon buckets at a time.

The guys there are nice and give to us for free.

Posted Sun Apr 19 15:06:17 2015 Tags:
White goat in the grass

I'm going to talk about a lot of dead plants in this post, so here's a cute shot of Lamb Chop as preemptive mitigation. Feel free to scroll back up here if you start to get depressed.

Winter-killed peach

I used to think that late spring freezes were the primary bane of fruit-growers in our region, but this past winter taught me otherwise. With a low of -22 Fahrenheit, which is more typical of zone 4 than zone 6, all of our peach trees not only lost their bloom buds midwinter...they also lost most of their branches. Each tree has a couple of dozen leaves finally coming out of winter-bare limbs, and once I'm confident that all living buds have sprouted, I'll prune the trees way back to start their lives nearly over. At last, I'm beginning to understand why so few people in our region try to grow peach trees --- the stone fruits aren't really reliably hardy here in the mountains, despite being supposedly able to handle weather up through zone 5.

Strawberry blooms passing by

Similarly, this is the second or third winter when nearly all of our blackberries have been killed back to the ground, and a few of our black raspberries were similarly affected for the first time this year as well. Once again, blackberries and black raspberries are only hardy to zone 5, while red raspberries and strawberries (both of which came through this winter unscathed) are hardy to zone 3. Climate change seems to be reliably introducing an element of unreliable extremes to our winters, so I think it's safe to say that we're better off focusing on fruits like plums and red raspberries that can handle bouts of extreme cold rather than depending on species that are turning out to be undependable in our region. (Good thing red raspberries and strawberries are Mark's and my favorite berries, respectively.)

Apple bloom buds

Blooming apple treeI can't be sure, but I feel like even some of our apple bloom buds were affected by the winter's extreme cold, even though the species is supposed to be hardy to zone 3. The tree that gets more winter sun is loaded with flowers, but the high-density planting closer to our north-facing hillside has opened far fewer flowers than the number of bloom buds this winter seemed to suggest.

As a result, I'm putting more thought into protected locations that are likely to mitigate winter's extreme cold when I plan ahead for locating our newly grafted fruit trees. Budbreak on grafted appleCurrently, I'm eying the south-facing side of the gully which, if terraced just above the waterlog-line, would provide a warm and protected environment for quite a few tender fruit trees. Maybe that's where I'll plant our new plums?

In more pleasant news, leaves are starting to appear on the scionwood of many of my newly grafted fruit trees. I'm pretty sure that when these buds burst, that means the cambial layers of the scionwood and rootstock have merged (i.e. the graft has taken). So far, 14 out of 16 apples, 8 out of 10 pears, and 1 out of 5 plums have begun to unfurl leaves on the scionwood. Since the pears and plums were only grafted a little over a week ago, I have high hopes that the success percentages of the latter two species will rise to match the apples in time. So it looks like I'll have plenty of experimental material to replace what we lost last winter --- I'll have to use my new trees wisely!

Posted Mon Apr 20 07:09:21 2015 Tags:
asparagus handful

We harvested our biggest bunch of asparagus today.

Anna cuts the extra fat stalks down the middle before roasting.

The increased surface area equals a crunchier taste experience.

Posted Mon Apr 20 15:23:36 2015 Tags:
Shiitake mycelium

When we inoculated three mini-logs with shiitake mycelium in late February, my primary purpose was to deal with the winter doldrums. But I also wanted to experiment with a method Tradd Cotter suggested for propagating shiitake logs without lab conditions. If you've been reading for a while, you'll know that oyster mushroom spawn is pretty easy to expand on cardboard, but shiitake spawn is more particular. Traditional shiitake farmers simply lay new logs beneath older, fruiting logs and hoped some spores would take, while modern farmers get their shiitake mycelium from a lab.

Propagating shiitake mushroom logsI'm looking for something more reliable than the traditional method but less expensive and painstaking than the modern method. Enter Tradd's expansion totems! Once the mycelium started spreading across one end of my mini-log (about 5 weeks after inoculation), I soaked a small sheet of cardboard and stacked a fresh mini-log, the cardboard, and then the colonized mini-log (with the most mycelium-rich side down). My little tower went into a trash bag on the living room floor, which I tied loosely closed...and then ignored for a while.

After two weeks, I took a look inside and noticed that bad molds were starting to grow. You don't have to be a fungal expert to tell the difference between good and bad here --- shiitake mycelium is white, so any other color is a bad mold. In this case, what I was seeing was little black dots on the cardboard where the paper product stuck out past the logs. Bad molds are a sign of excessively high humidity, so I opened up the trash bag (but also poured a bit of water on the cardboard so it wouldn't dry out). Then I went away for another week.

Disassembled mushroom totem

At the three-week mark, I decided it was time for the moment of truth. Not expecting much, I lifted off the top log...and the cardboard came along with it, proof that the mycelium had run out of the wood and into the cardboard. So far, so good --- but was there mycelium on the log below? Yes there was, as you can see from the photo above!

Step two involved soaking the cardboard and both logs for another couple of hours, then reassembling, this time with the untouched side of the newly colonized log up. I'm pretty confident now that this log-colonization method works, so the next experiment will answer the question: are these mini-logs big enough to be worth fruiting, or do I need to let multiple mini-logs fuse together before asking the mycelium to make me a mushroom? Stay tuned for further experiments as the summer progresses.

Posted Tue Apr 21 07:06:52 2015 Tags:
using battery powered chainsaw to cut down peach tree

We decided to give up on our peach trees.

Making room for something more reliable.

Got most of the tree cut up with the awesome Oregon battery powered chainsaw. I monitor the battery level and try not to take it down past 25% which is usually when I'm ready for a break anyway.

Posted Tue Apr 21 15:56:51 2015 Tags:
Mulch paper

It feels a bit decadent to be trying out this store-bought mulch paper, even though the price per square foot is comparable to the cost of straw. On the up side, unlike other manufactured sheet mulches, this paper is reputed to be fully biodegradable, so we won't have the issue that black plastic causes, where you're picking your "mulch" out of the soil for years to come. On the down side, the paper won't add nearly as much organic matter to the soil as straw would, water penetration may or may not be an issue, and I'm not sure how the paper will fare once the areas beneath the weights begin to rot away. That's why we're only experimenting on a small scale.

Honestly, I probably wouldn't have even tried it, but the last year has been so absurdly wet that I've finally ended up carrying in my mulch half a bale at a time on my shoulder. After daily mulch walks, the garden is starting to shape up and my stamina is much improved...but I know I won't be able to keep up with the weed pressure of a summer garden. One roll of mulch paper will take the place of several bales of straw and might serve as a stopgap measure while we're waiting for either the weather to dry out or for other people to find time in their busy schedules to work on our driveway.

Cardboard mulch

Of course, cardboard mulch is much preferable to any kind of paper, especially amid the perennials. The tree row above hasn't been weeded yet this year, but it's looking pretty good regardless due to cardboard laid down last fall. In a perfect world, I'd add mulch on top of the cardboard, but during this stopgap year, I've instead taken to weighing down the paper product with bits of prunings and other debris --- just enough to keep the mulch from blowing away in our non-windy climate. Cardboard is midway in carry-ability between the paper mulch and straw, the sticking point there usually being sourcing the waste product.

To cut a long story short, growing our own mulch has become much more of a priority this year. I'm actually cutting back on nonessential parts of the vegetable garden this year in order to have more room for cutting beds of oats, barley, sorghum-sudangrass, and pearl millet. There's nothing like a problem in the supply chain to make me want to become yet more self-sufficient in the garden!

Posted Wed Apr 22 07:30:13 2015 Tags:
mounting fence charger to temporary pole

A scrap piece of 1x6 makes a good place to mount an electric fence charger.

Two small drywall screws poke out about 1/4 of an inch to hang the charger on.

Posted Wed Apr 22 16:05:55 2015 Tags:
Goats in the garden

We finally hooked up the temporary electric fencing as a way of leaving the goats alone in the garden unattended. Okay, so I sat with the herd for an hour first while Lamb Chop learned that the fence bites (this took four tries and he finally ended up lying in the middle of the temporary pasture with a very glum  look on his face). And even after that, I checked in every five minutes just in case. But both Artemesia and Abigail came from electric-fence-friendly households and gave the netting a wide berth. No need to re-up any training there.

Fence charger

When Daddy "lent" us this electric fence system, he included a solar charger. I'm no sure if the battery had died in his charger while it had been sitting in his shed for a few years or what, but we had no luck getting the solar charger to work. A new plug-in charger won't let us fence the goats as far afield, but it worked like a charm (even though Mark had to test the wire with his fingers since our fence tester apparently doesn't work either).

Figuring out grounding rods was the other part of the endeavor that left us scratching our heads for a while. The instructions suggested pounding in three grounding rods six feet deep and ten feet apart. We instead settled for one grounding rod pushed about 18 inches into the ground so it will be easy to move to the next location, which seems to be quite sufficient in our wet ground.

Goat learning an electric fence

The electric fence will definitely have a niche in our goat-grazing campaign, but I have to admit that I find tethering simpler to set up and easier to manage. Sure, Lamb Chop can't nurse while he's tethered, and it would be tougher to tether goats in areas with high weeds or brush, but for grazing little corners of our core homestead, the tethers seem to be the way to go. After all, I don't trust our girls alone in the garden even with an electric shock standing between them and my cabbages, so I might as well just let them graze while I weed and keep my blood pressure low.

Posted Thu Apr 23 07:11:20 2015 Tags:
pulling up black berry roots

We deleted 3 more peach trees and our thorn less Blackberries today.

Posted Thu Apr 23 16:08:24 2015 Tags:
Goat eating oats

Our next garden-experiment-that-I-may-live-to-regret is solarization. I'm trying all of these experiments for my upcoming soil book, but this one was also spurred on by my fall oats cover crop not dying as expected. I suspect the uncharacteristic overwintering ability of the oats came about because I grazed it repeatedly in the fall, which kept the plants at a vegetative state rather than ever getting close to flowering. No matter why the oats survived, I was left with a conundrum --- how to turn that area back into plantable ground without tilling up the oats or lots of hand weeding?

Garden solarization

Solarization might be the answer. The idea is that you prepare your beds (in my case by letting Abigail eat the oats as low as she could and then begging Mark come in with the weedwhacker to finish off the job), then you stretch a piece of clear plastic tight over the ground to bake what's left behind. Solarization only works during the sunny part of the year and can take anywhere from one to three months to kill weeds and pests in the earth. Of course, the biologist in me says --- what's to prevent solarization from killing all of the beneficial soil microorganisms too? And, since the plastic dropcloths often used for solarization aren't UV-stabilized, will we end up having to pick plastic out of our soil when the greenhouse layer disintegrates in the garden?

Weighing down garden plastic

Mark always rolls his eyes when I poke holes in techniques I haven't even tried, so I shrugged and decided to give solarization a whirl. Worst-case scenario, we'll have a biologically dead bed that I can perk back up with some well-behaved cover crops and compost. Best-case scenario, we'll have a bed ready to plant into in June with very little work on my part. Stay tuned for more details as the experiment progresses!

Update: It works! Check out my ebook Small-Scale No-Till Gardening Basics for more information.

Posted Fri Apr 24 06:59:21 2015 Tags:
mark Coop scoop
scooping good dirt from bottom of coop

We scraped enough chicken dirt from the used pallet chicken coop to fill multiple wheel barrows.

It was the total from 4 years of accumulation, and it gave Anna the feeling of being at the beach.

Posted Fri Apr 24 16:17:44 2015 Tags:

Hunting PenniesI accumulated so much book news that I have to take a break from my usual garden geekery and goat obsession to share. I hope you don't mind this commercial break....

The first piece of book news is a freebie today only, so I hope you'll consider snapping it up! My father has been writing poetry for roughly half a century, and I've spent a lot of the winter and now part of the spring sorting huge boxes of his poems. The result was five themes that threaded through his works, and Hunting Pennies showcases the first of those themes --- growing up poor in Appalachia in the 40s and 50s.

I generally figure that Appalachia is at least a decade behind the rest of the nation culturally, and Daddy's poems definitely showcase things most of us probably don't remember, like an era when housewives saved their rags to sell to the ragman and when boys ran nearly wild in the hills and rivers. I could write a lot more, but the book is free, so I'll only add --- I don't even like poetry and I thoroughly enjoyed this book, so give it a try!

TrailersteadingIn other news, the paper version of Trailersteading is up for preorder on Amazon...and, look, Artemesia made the front cover!

Look inside trailersteading
The interior is also looking good, and I'm very excited to get my hands on a copy of my third print book. Trailersteading isn't due to ship until the winter, but Amazon gives a preorder price guarantee. So if the book goes on sale anytime between now and when it ships, you'll get the lowest price available. I hope you'll consider taking a chance on a book that has inspired hundreds of homesteaders in ebook form already!

Finally, I have to close by begging for a few reviews. Most of all, I hope you'll consider leaving a review of my father's poetry book if you take a look and like what you read. Those early reviews make or break a book, and since poetry is already a very hard sell, I figure Hunting Pennies needs all of the momentum it can get.

Second, I've been a grumpy guss all week because my efforts to reach a wider audience by setting Farmstead Feast: Winter free last week backfired badly. Sure, I reached tens of thousands of new readers, but many seemed offended by the very idea of homesteading Bad review(and of eating meat), with the result that I received a flurry of negative reviews. So if you read and enjoyed the cookbook but didn't think it was worth taking the time to leave a review on Amazon, you'll improve my mood markedly if you take a minute to rate the book. Plus, Mark would like to thank you in advance for improving his standard of living since he's always the one in charge of talking me down off the the-world-hates-me ledge....

Posted Sat Apr 25 07:35:26 2015 Tags:
IBC rain barrel water junction

We added a 2nd tee to our IBC rain barrel to accommodate another gutter.

Posted Sat Apr 25 19:01:08 2015 Tags:
Goat licking lips

Whoever suggested that Abigail wouldn't be as able to hold back her milk if I handmilked rather than using the machine was right. I wasn't able to test the hypothesis until I got my milking technique down, though.

Pint of milkBut Friday morning, after Abigail stopped letting down milk for the machine to suck up, I decided to just try handmilking a few squirts to see how much I'd get. The result? A full pint for the morning, 50% more than I'd gotten the day before.

Actually, I probably could have stripped out a little more milk, but I figured if Lamb Chop was used to a huge breakfast, I shouldn't take it all away immediately. Plus, Abigail wiggled and grumbled a lot more when I began squeezing her teats compared to when I simply let the machine gently suck out her production. I figure everyone will be a little more used to the new routine tomorrow, and hopefully I'll get yet more milk.

"But what about your problematic wrists?" you may be asking. Apparently, milking half of one goat (after the machine does the other half) is nothing compared to the weed-grasping I've been doing lately. I didn't feel a single twinge, so am quite comfortable squeezing again tomorrow. Such a pleasant surprise to be able to handmilk our goat and to enjoy extra milk for our nightly hot cocoa!

Posted Sun Apr 26 07:14:43 2015 Tags:
pulling up a young Zee star apple tree

We tried adding Zestar to our high density apple trees last year.

Not sure what went wrong. There was no signs of life during our Spring inspection and when I tried pulling on it there was almost zero root resistance.

Posted Sun Apr 26 15:47:08 2015 Tags:
Dogwood winter

We're currently in the middle of Dogwood Winter 2015, an annual event that seems to determine whether or not we get fruit from our trees each year. In 2014, the Dogwood Low was 25, which meant no fruit. The year before, the Dogwood Low was 29, which meant good fruit production. This year, we dropped down to 27 --- only time will tell which way the fruit teeter-totter tipped.

Farm view

This is what our farm looks like during Dogwood Winter. The white splotches are row-cover fabric laid over potentially tender broccoli and blooming strawberries. The figs are also still covered --- maybe I'll take off their tarps once the beautiful, sunny weather returns.

Chicks exploring the outdoors

Unlike the garden, our chicks are largely unfazed by the cold weather. Starting when they're a week old, I let the baby birds run out the door of their brooder if the grass is dry, if no rain is in the forecast, and if I'm going to be nearby. Their first day out, the chicks always wander out of sight of the doorway and then get terrified that they're alone in the wide world...meaning that I have to herd them back home. But by day three, the baby chickens are largely self sufficient, picking their way through the tall (to them) grasses in search of bugs.

Yes, the chicks do go back inside by themselves at night (and then I shut the door for predator protection). Yes, we do keep the baby chicks within ten feet of our back door, also for predator protection. No, I wouldn't recommend using even this ultra-safe pasturing technique with one-week-old Cornish Cross.

Cucumber seedlings

In other news, the crazy warm spell that preceded Dogwood Winter tempted germination of the cucumbers and watermelons I plant under quick hoops at this time of year to jumpstart the season. I was relieved to see that 27 degrees outside was warm enough under the quick hoops not to nip the cucurbits' tender leaves. So maybe we'll get early cucumbers again this year --- always a treat when the spring harvests start to expand out into summer offerings.

Weedy carrots

Elsewhere in the garden, we're raking in the lettuce and asparagus (best year ever for the latter!), and are watching our other spring crops slowly grow and mature. Our carrots always require a meticulous hand-weed at this time of year since they're so slow to germinate, meaning that weeds have time to slip under their emerging canopy. That task is on the agenda for the week to come. I'll be thinning the seedlings too...except in the bed where I forgot to lay down my Huckleberry deterrent, with the result that the carrot seedlings were naturally thinned. Thanks, you ornery old cat....

Looking up into a bee hive

Next door, a photo up under the hive shows that a week or two of sugar water was enough to get the colony growing like crazy. With the bees working down in the bottom box, it's time to nadir on a new living space.

In other bee news, we were supposed to be getting our bees this week, but apparently rain slowed down the works so they'll be yet another week late. Here's hoping this very tardy start on the new colony doesn't prevent the bees from storing up enough honey to make it through the winter. I guess I'll have to commit to more feeding than usual....

Curious goat

Hungry goatOf course, I couldn't wrap up this here-and-there post without a shot or two of the goats, out enjoying a beautiful sunny day before the cold weather hit. It's amazing how different Abigail looks now that she's getting nearly as much grass as she can eat. Her hair seems to be more shiny and her weight --- which was slowly drifting downward ever since she popped out her kid --- has stabilized. I guess eating hay and eating grass are as different as subsisting on canned soups versus gorging on spring asparagus. The former will keep you alive, but the latter makes your whole outlook brighter....

Posted Mon Apr 27 07:38:07 2015 Tags:
goat gate number two
I used an extra big turnbuckle on our new goat gate today.
Posted Mon Apr 27 16:21:17 2015 Tags:
Forest water garden

Will the excess nutrients that ran off from our high forest-garden beds and caused a minor algal bloom in the nearby depressions be harvestable as tadpole manure once the water bodies dry up? Only time will tell....

Posted Tue Apr 28 07:09:56 2015 Tags:
goat gate slats

I finished up our second goat gate today.

We made this one wide enough to handle the ATV.

Posted Tue Apr 28 15:32:41 2015 Tags:

I found one big, beautiful morel Sunday in the exact same spot where Mark found one big, beautiful morel last year. We'd probably try harder to find these elusive mushrooms, but we Morelboth think shiitakes beat morels in a taste test, hands down. As a result, our total morel count for the last decade might come to five mushrooms total.

If you don't have shiitake logs, though, this is probably a good year to go out hunting morels. I've heard reports of family and friends finding these tasty morsels in city cemeteries and in neighbors' yards. If there's any tree-covered green space near you, you might find one...or a bucketful...too!

Posted Wed Apr 29 07:24:45 2015 Tags:
goat muzzle preventing strawberries from being munched

Why did we get a goat muzzle for our little Lamb Chop?

To keep him from munching on our strawberry leaves during the short goat hike from their barn to a temporary tethering spot.

It seems to fit best when you pull the strap past the ears.

Posted Wed Apr 29 15:32:50 2015 Tags:

Thanks to one of our kind readers, I'm trying yet another new biomass-producing crop this year --- Tithonia diversifolia. This relative of the ornamental Mexican sunflower is a weed in tropical areas but has also shown promise in improving soil conditions for African farmers. Since we're definitely not tropical, the plant will have to work hard to prove itself worthy of being babied over the winter in the form of cuttings on our farm. Still, I have high hopes for the species' potential as a cut-and-come-again mulch and goat-fodder plant.

Stay tuned for more details (and let's hope I remember to cover my cuttings if we get another freeze since I excitedly rushed out and planted my 13 cuttings in the garden right away). Thanks, T.!

Posted Thu Apr 30 07:44:04 2015 Tags:
milking stanchion move

The last two nights our little Lamb Chop has been jumping out of his stall.

We think he makes his leap from the milking stanchion, which is why I moved it away from the gate today.

Posted Thu Apr 30 16:09:16 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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