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

archives for 05/2015

May 2015
Goat eating comfrey

There's no doubt that our goats enjoy comfrey. I have patches here and there throughout the farm, and Abigail especially is always looking to grab a mouthful as she passes by. But of my three types --- Common Comfrey, Bocking 4, and Bocking 14 --- which should I most focus on propagating for goats?

Comfrey taste test

On a rainy afternoon when tethering didn't seem to be an option, I decided to run a comfrey taste test. First, I brought the goats a bucketful of Common Comfrey, which they seemed to adore. However, when I came back a couple of hours later, most of the comfrey was still in the bucket. Maybe another variety would be better received?

This time, I grabbed a handful of each of the three varieties and presented two handfuls at a time to the goats to try to get a taste preference. Their answer? All comfrey tastes delicious when handfed! They slurped up every leaf of all three types (while continuing to ignore the container of older comfrey leaves at their feet).

So I guess the solution isn't to focus on a particular variety, but to instead figure out a better presentation option for feeding cut comfrey to our goats. Any ideas? (No, I'd rather not stand in the rain and feed our goats leaf after leaf, even if that method is Abigail-approved....)

Posted Fri May 1 07:03:18 2015 Tags:
Warre hive box adapter

We decided to give up on the Warre hive box method of raising bees.

The plan is to lure the hive now living in one of our Warre boxes to migrate into a Langstroth box with a hole cut in the top.

I attached a piece of wood on each side to prevent any accidental bumps.

Posted Fri May 1 15:56:25 2015 Tags:
May Day planting

May Day is my traditional planting of the first big round of summer crops. Our frost-free date isn't until May 15, but it takes seeds a few days to come up and late frosts are usually quite mild. As a result, a bit of row cover fabric is generally sufficient protection for the tender-but-not-excessively-tender crops like green beans, sweet corn, and summer squash. (We save true tenderfoots like sweet potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, and okra for after the frost-free date, when I plant a second round of the early birds too.)

Actually, the first three weeks of April were so warm this year that I started thinking I might get away with presprouting some of this first set of summer seeds. So the green beans and (perhaps not the brightest idea) the experimental arava melons went into the ground as seedlings just barely starting to poke their cotyledons above the soil surface. Only time will tell whether I regret this move, or whether pre-sprouting gives me crops a week or two earlier than their seed-started bedmates.

Planting into the cold frame

Meanwhile, I'm now regretting having jumped the gun by starting my tomatoes inside during the last week of February. The plants thrived for quite a while, but they really needed more space and more sun by early April. I suspect that's why a damping-off fungus leapt from a tray of zinnia seedlings into the tomatoes and began to wreak havoc once warm weather hit. I've never seen such mature plants succumb to damping off, but something caused about half of my tomatoes to decline and several to outright kick the bucket.

I thought I didn't have any more seeds of the disease-resistant varieties I'm trying out this year, but last weekend I realized that I did, in fact, have quite a few more seeds in my storage box. So I started another flat of seedlings who will be barely big enough to go into the ground at our frost-free date. In the meantime, I also set out three of my best-looking tomato plants in the cold frame in front of the trailer. I don't like to plant tomatoes outside before frost is definitely in the rear-view mirror, but by sinking the plants pretty far into the soil, I should still be able to close the cold-frame lid for the next two weeks if frost comes to call one more time.

(Okay, yes, I snuck two borage plants and a row of zinnias into the front of the cold frame as well. Here's hoping I don't regret planting so close to the tomatoes, but I can always weed the flowers out!)

Posted Sat May 2 07:20:45 2015 Tags:
Jig saw cutting on porch

The square hole for the Warre Langstroth adapter is 12 inches on each side.

Posted Sat May 2 15:14:40 2015 Tags:
DIY shiitake propagation

It took less than two weeks after flipping my experimental shiitake logs over before the second side of the new round was well colonized. At this point, the two logs and the cardboard sandwiched in between were all fused together with mycelium, and I had to tug gently to break them apart.

Soaking a mini mushroom log

I'm assuming that means the new round can now take care of itself, with the mycelium moving in from each direction to colonize all of the wood in the middle. So it's time to see if I can force fruit my mini-log using common kitchen items. First, an overnight soak in a tupperware container full of water, then a few days in the fridge to simulate winter. If all goes as planned, we could see mushrooms beginning to bud on the log surface as early as next week, about ten weeks after inoculation.

Posted Sun May 3 07:43:32 2015 Tags:
Monorail monorack system

We made contact with a super nice guy at the monorail factory in Japan who has agreed to put a Briggs and Stratton engine on one so they can ship it to us here.

The new engine configuration has to go through 300 hours of testing first, which means we'll have to wait a few months.

We'll be their first sale in the United States.

Posted Sun May 3 15:24:54 2015 Tags:
Grazing goat

"Do you think you'll run out of weeds for the goats to eat?" Joey asked when he was over this weekend. The answer will depend on whether or not tethering our little herd in the woods works out.

Dry weather has finally slowed the growth of grass within our core homestead, so I've started taking the goats beyond our fences to graze. The trouble is that the goats don't feel quite so safe outside the boundaries...and I'm not sure whether it's really safe for them to be that far away, tied down so our local pack of wild dogs could make short work of them. Of course, I'm always home, Lucy is always on patrol, Abigail has big horns, and the goats are always well within ear shot, so I think Abigail and I are probably both overreacting.

Goat eating tree leaves

My tethering method currently involves putting Artemesia on a long line, leaving Lamb Chop untethered (if we're safely away from the garden), and then putting Abigail on the shortest leash with the deepest anchor. It sounds counterintuitive, but Abigail is such a browser that if she has a long leash, she spends most of her time wandering around picking out which morsel looks the tastiest. On the other hand, if you put her on a short line, then she hunkers down and eats for nearly two which point I go out and move her to the other side of Artemesia's spot. If the weather permits, Abigail seems to fill her belly within about four or five hours, even in the slimmer pickings of the woods, which works well with my daily routine.

Playing goat kid

Lamb Chop is generally done eating within the first half an hour...especially if he's broken out of his stall and stolen the morning milk again. (Bad Lamb Chop! And here Abigail had upgraded to three cups a day too!) Luckily, Artemesia doesn't need much more grazing time than that and is quite willing to butt heads or nap with her charge while Abigail continues stuffing her rumen.

Goat moat

I keep hoping to see signs of heat from our doeling since both Nubians and Nigerians (her two lineages) can sometimes go into heat out of season, but Artemesia always likes spending time with the buckling, is always a loud mouth, and always wags her tail a lot. She even lets Lamb Chop mount her, but it seems to be in more of a "whatever, he's a kid, let him play" sort of way. I'm hopeful that when they're both really serious about mating I'll be able to tell the difference, but I'm not so sure. From an animal-management perspective, it sure would be nice if Artemesia got pregnant now for a fall kidding and Lamb Chop went in the freezer, but there's not really much I can do about goat sex....

Posted Mon May 4 07:10:09 2015 Tags:
white lithium grease

We got the sprinkler system going today for the first time this year.

Adding a coat of White Lithium Grease before it gets wet seems to make some of the sprinklers go all Summer without a re-greasing.

Posted Mon May 4 15:20:38 2015 Tags:
Chicks going outside

After so many years of raising chicks annually, we've got chick care down to a science....until I forget to follow the rules. Problem one this year was when I started out with the automatic feeder you can see at the top of this post instead of the tray feeder I usually use with very young chicks. I had forgotten that minuscule feet can hop right in the larger automatic feeder and scratch grain all over the ground. After wasting about half a gallon of feed, I remembered and went back to the old way. I'll upgrade to the automatic feeder once the chicks are eating the entire contents of the tray feeder in a day and need a bigger reservoir.

Chicks in grass

The bigger mistake I made was completely forgetting to shut the brooder door on Friday night. Keep in mind that the brooder is located only a few feet from our back door, in an area fenced off from the wilds and patrolled by Lucy at regular intervals. Despite this supposed safety, I woke up to one dead chick, a spooked flock, and perhaps four other birds missing. (It's hard to count when they're all cowering in the weeds.) It always hurts when you lose plants or animals due to human error, but hopefully the sad reminder (plus Mark's backup memory) will suffice to keep the brooder door closed every night in the future.

On the plus side, the surviving chicks are growing like crazy and have reached that perfect age where they like to ramble through the nearby raspberry patch. It's fun watching each breed grow into its unique feathers!

Posted Tue May 5 06:56:36 2015 Tags:
uncovering the Chicago hardy fig

We uncovered our fig trees today and were relieved to see signs of life.

I'd say if they can survive the extreme cold of this past Winter then they can make it through anything.

Posted Tue May 5 14:09:17 2015 Tags:
Planting tomatoes

My weather guru doesn't want to commit to no more frosts this early in May. But the 10-day forecast shows lows only descending in the mid-50s to low-60s between now and our frost-free date, so I decided to go ahead and set out our tomatoes. Worst-cast scenario, we can always cover the plants with buckets during the inevitable Blackberry Winter. Best-case scenario, there won't be any more freezes and our little plants can finally start perking up with their feet in the earth. I know it's just my imagination, but the plants look happier already.

Sweet potato slips

Meanwhile, I went ahead and set out eight sweet potato slips as well. I've got lots more slips coming off my tubers inside or rooting in a cup of water, and those will go in the ground throughout the month of May. But since these guys were rooted and ready (and since the highs are suddenly very summery), I decided to set them out early.

On the other hand, I really will wait to transplant the peppers and basil until after our frost-free date. Probably. Maybe....

Posted Wed May 6 06:57:08 2015 Tags:
cabbage worm close up

We noticed our first cabbage worm of the year today.

Feels like a good time to plug Anna's new book "The Naturally Bug-Free Garden".

Its got 4.5 out of 5 stars and makes a great Mother's Day gift.

Posted Wed May 6 15:58:25 2015 Tags:
Baby pear fruits

It's that time of year again --- fruit-dreaming season! This year, the crop I'm watching most closely is my seckel pear, which does appear to have set around half a dozen fruits.

Falling flowers

Of course, lots can happen between now and fruit-ripening season, but spring freeze damage and the plants' ability to hold onto the developing ovaries are usually the deciding factors in whether or not we'll get to enjoy a given fruit each year. For example, our apples are right at the stage where failed flowers fall off at the lightest brush of a finger. The photos above show the same twig before and after my test touch --- there might be one apple staying in that cluster...if I'm lucky.

Winter-killed blueberries

Blueberry flowersUp in the blueberry patch, there's yet more bad winter-kill news. None of the rabbiteye blueberries outright perished in last winter's cold, but all were damaged. On the other hand, our two northern highbush blueberries are a year or two slower to fruit, but they shrugged off the extreme cold and are now coated with flowers. I guess I'll be digging up the rabbiteyes and giving them to my mom (who lives in town, at least one zone warmer), then focusing on northern highbush blueberries in the future.

Developing gooseberry

Next door, gooseberries and currants continue to prove themselves as ultra-dependable berries. Last summer, something defoliated our gooseberries long before their time...but despite the damage, the bushes are loaded with fruits once again. Winter cold, spring snaps, and apparently whatever ate their leaves aren't nearly enough to faze this thorny but productive bush.

Growing strawberry fruits

Speaking of ultra-dependable, our strawberry fruits are plumping up as always. Whenever I wonder why everyone doesn't focus on strawberries as one of their primary fruits, I remind myself of the hard work that goes into weeding out runners to ensure my plants stay big and the fruits taste delicious. But if you're willing to weed, it's hard to go wrong with this fast, productive fruit.

Strawberry comparisonIn other strawberry news, now's a good time to report on my oat-mulch experiment. As I suspected, oats seeded around strawberry plants in the fall competed with the main crop, resulting in much smaller plants with many fewer flowers in the spring. The plant on the left was in the control half of the bed, mulched with straw, and the little plant on the right further back was surrounded by a living oat mulch. I had to try the technique after reading about it...but I'm glad I only experimented on a very small scale. I estimate production under the living-mulch system will be a third to a fourth of that under my usual system.

Returning to the point of this post.... In the end, it feels a bit strange to be focusing so hard on fewer species --- apples, pears, raspberries, strawberries, northern highbush blueberries, Red raspberry flowerand gooseberries --- with so many experimental species being ripped out this spring. (Hardy kiwis, figs, and grapes are still borderline enough to stay...for now.) On the other hand, I learned from each "failed" species, and I'm now realizing that keeping only the dependable producers will mean nearly as much fruit with only half the work.

Mark and I envision a farm where we grow all of our food in half or a quarter of the current time in just a few years, and I can definitely see our garden working toward that point as we expand the top producers and cull the duds. Of course, I'll probably spend any time saved on further experiments. But what can you do? I like to try new things....

Posted Thu May 7 07:01:36 2015 Tags:
Warre Langstroth transfer

We installed our new Warre Langstroth adapter box underneath the active Warre hive today.

The transfer was very smooth and sting free.

Posted Thu May 7 15:21:52 2015 Tags:
Gasing up the ATV

The floodplain isn't precisely dry, but after quite a bit of hot weather, the groundwater has sunk about six or eight inches below the surface. Which means that Mark is now able to get the ATV to the edge of our new footbridge, about 370 feet from the trailer. And roughly two-thirds of the distance from motorized transport to garden is easily traversable by wheelbarrow. Yep, the combination of factors finally makes it worthwhile to haul in ten bales of straw!

Walking down the hill

This isn't the time of year to buy straw. Since no one has cut their overwintering grains yet, any straw available hails from last year and is expensive --- $8 a bale, and only available a 45-minute drive away. But I couldn't stock up on our usual supply of straw last year because the offerings turned out to be full of grain seeds, so the extra time and money is worth it now to keep the spring garden in good shape. It's even worthwhile to haul the straw one bale at a time up the hill pictured above.

Newspaper mulch

Back in the garden, I made short work of my delicious new organic matter. I've been hoarding newspapers since 2012 (according to the dates on the pages), and I put most of my stash to good use acting as a weed barrier beneath the straw. That meant I didn't have to hand-weed each bed before mulching, and I could also use the straw more lightly than I would have needed to otherwise. Between Mark's hard work with the weedeater and the newspaper-straw combination, our garden is finally starting to look presentable! (Mom and Kayla, any chance you'll start saving me newspaper once again?)

Posted Fri May 8 07:10:07 2015 Tags:
stainless steel strainer

Hand milking our goat means we have to filter out any stray hairs.

This stainless steel funnel with filter works about the same as a clean cloth but is a whole lot easier to clean.

Posted Fri May 8 14:27:45 2015 Tags:
Preparing for budding

Grafting plums using dormant scionwood and rootstock is not usually recommended, so I was much heartened when two of my five grafts took immediately and sent vigorous shoots up from the scionwood. Of the other three rootstock/scionwood combinations, I was willing to give one plant a little more time to make up its mind since the scionwood looked good Plum graftsand there were no sprouts yet from the rootstock either. But I assumed that the grafts on the last two plants had failed. After all, the plants in question were growing from the rootstock and the scionwood didn't look particularly promising.

You may recall that the purpose of this experiment was to save two plum trees who were flattened by snow falling off the barn roof last winter. Of those trees, one perished...but luckily the deceased was the same variety as one of my successful grafts! The second tree is alive (although not thriving), so I decided to try budding active growth from that variety onto two of my failed rootstocks.

Healing graft

But imagine my surprise when I removed the parafilm from one of the "failed" grafts and saw the above. That green stuff growing between rootstock and scionwood...could that be cambium beginning to join the two pieces of wood together? I'm not positive, but decided it wouldn't hurt to give the tree a little more time to get its act together. So I rewrapped the graft, plucked off the rootstock sprout (to give the plant notice that it needed to sprout from the scionwood) and set it back in the low light of our living room.

Failed graft

The second failed graft, though, was truly failed. The scionwood came right out and there appears to be no life (green) left in the wood. Time to try again with tomorrow's post!

Posted Sat May 9 07:01:54 2015 Tags:

paper mulch update
The store bought paper mulch product we tried last month is doing a good job at blocking sunlight to the weeds, but don't expect it to stay black more than a few weeks.

Posted Sat May 9 14:32:32 2015 Tags:
Bud for transplant

When grafting during the growing season, most people turn to some permutation of budding (aka bud grafting). The idea is that you cut a bud off the variety you prefer, slip the bud into an incision in the bark of the rootstock, let the wound heal, then bend down the rootstock's top growth to prompt a new stem to grow out of the transplanted bud. Yes, this technique does require more TLC than the simple whip-and-tongue grafts used during the dormant season, but budding is much more successful than dormant grafting on stone fruits like peaches and plums.

This is my very first time budding, so I did the deed with book in hand (and without much confidence). In other words --- who knows if this will work, so do some research on your own before following my lead!

T incision in rootstock bark

The first step was to make a T-shaped incision in the side of the rootstock. You want to cut down through the cambium (green layer) so the bud can slide all the way underneath, right up against the wood. I've been told it's easier to do this step in August, but I was able to pry the cambium up in early May.

Insert bud into rootstock

Next, I sliced a bud (and the surrounding wood) off a growing stem on the plum tree I want to propagate. (See photo at top of this post.) I snipped off the leaf, then slid the bud down Wrapped graftinto the incision on the rootstock.

The top of the scionwood above the bud is just a handle. So once the bud was in place, I cut the scionwood off flush with the top of the T incision.

Next, I wrapped the graft carefully, leaving an opening for the bud to burst through. Now it's time to wait a month or two (or more?) and then see if I can get the scionwood bud to grow!

Now I see why the experts recommended that I try dormant grafting my plums. Sure, my success rate so far using that method has only been 40% (possibly as high as 80% when all is said and done), but at least I knew within a month whether the grafts had healed! Patiently keeping an eye on my budded plum this summer will probably be the hardest part of this new experiment.

Posted Sun May 10 07:24:11 2015 Tags:
Chevy S-10 loaded down with bales of straw

I made two Big City trips this past week to pick up straw.

This post is to help me remember that the load rides a bit smoother when I leave the tailgate down and ratchet strap from the wheel wells.

It was 8 dollars a bale. Quite a jump up from last year.

Posted Sun May 10 13:53:22 2015 Tags:
Goats in the woods

I read a lot of blogs written by aspiring and actual homesteaders, and one theme that often comes up is --- "This simple life isn't all that simple, is it?"

Goats grazing together

Of course, the bloggers are right. The intricacies of growing your own food and trying to be more self-sufficient can be daunting and exhausting. But I find that the complicated lifestyle simplifies me.

Resting goat

I was thinking about this over the weekend while enjoying our usual weekly Mark-mandated respite. "I'm a pretty boring person," I thought as I loosed the goats in the floodplain, then settled down with a book to watch them graze. Lamb Chop curled up in the crook of my legs and I reached down to scratch that itchy spot at the base of his horns. In that moment, all of us (boring or not) were 100% happy.

Goat eating grass

After a couple of hours, even Abigail was starting to waddle as she walked, and I figured it was time to come home. Standing, I saw for the first time a huge patch of yellow flags --- a wild water iris that I rarely see --- about thirty feet away from my resting spot. Even though I'd walked directly toward the flowers while heading out for our weekend browse, I hadn't noticed the blooms until I rose at last, my head completely emptied by an afternoon with a novel and three goats.

White buckling

And that, to me, is the purpose of the simple life. When my usually far-to-busy brain slows down and completely empties, when I can't think of anything I want that's not within reach of my fingertips, when the sight of a flower makes me happy...that's the simple life.

Posted Mon May 11 07:09:36 2015 Tags:
Hardy Kiwi update 2015

Our Hardy Kiwi got nipped by the recent Dogwood Winter, but we've still got hope that the new leaf life will lead to flowers and then fruit.

Posted Mon May 11 15:53:15 2015 Tags:

Adapter to change from a warre to langstroth hiveAs I've mentioned, I like parts of both the Warre and Langstroth hive systems. So even though we're currently converting our colony from the former to the latter, I'm not ready to throw in the towel on Warre methods. Here are some Warre components I'm considering incorporating into our new system:

  • The insulated "quilt" box. I can't see anything not to love about helping the hive retain heat in the winter by adding a layer of insulation on top. However, straw doesn't seem to be the best filler material since it breeds ants. I'm thinking of transferring over to a sheet of solid styrofoam insulation in the next iteration of the hive.
  • Leaving the bees alone as much as possible. In all honesty, I suspect this is why bees survive so well in Warre hives, and I hope to maintain hands-off methods despite returning to Langstroth boxes.
  • Nadiring instead of supering. I'm undecided on this one. On the one hand, nadiring makes it possible for me not to disrupt the hive while still knowing when the bees need more space, since the empty box is just above the screened bottom board and can be examined photographically. On the other hand, nadiring becomes physically difficult once a hive reaches a certain size, and one of the reasons to return to the Langstroth hive is to get more (heavy) honey. I suspect I might use the modified Warre method of nadiring the first box or two in the spring, then supering for later honey flows.

By the way, I should mention that the primary reason we're converting our Warre hive back to Langstroth is because both places we ordered bees from this year fell through. One company changed their shipping method to the US Postal Service (which I'm okay with) but refused to insure the bees traveling that way (which I'm not okay with). The other company pushed back their shipping date twice and then threw in the towel and said they wouldn't be sending out bees at all this year. Two refunds behind me, I figured I'd better focus on the hive I have on hand. Maybe next year we'll be able to expand our apiary and will be able to put what I'm learning this year to use!

Posted Tue May 12 06:49:24 2015 Tags:
tow strap shoulder harness dolly

We carried the rest of our straw up a hill that's equivalent to a few flights of stairs.

Anna improvised this clever shoulder dolly from one of our cloth tow straps.

The tow hooks transfer most of the weight to her back and shoulders and away from the wrists.

Posted Tue May 12 15:42:50 2015 Tags:
Curds and whey

I made our first trial cheese! I suspect this is most people's first cheese because it can be made with normal kitchen supplies --- a quart of goat's milk, 1/4 cup of lemon juice, a jelly thermometer, a clean cloth, and a collander. Just slowly heat the milk to 180 degrees, add the vinegar, watch curds form, then strain through the cloth. Nearly instant cheese!

If you want, you can finish by adding salt, garlic, herbs, or other seasonings. I kept it simple with a dash of salt and found the cheese tasty, but nothing like the goat's cheese I've had from the store. Instead, this simple lemon cheese tasted more like mozzarella.

Acid cheese

The amount of whey to discard is rather daunting, though. A search of the internet turned up the fact that there are two types of whey --- acid whey (which this is) and sweet whey (from cultured cheeses). Sweet whey has scads of uses, but acid whey is less malleable. So I'll probably end up giving the whey to our animals (whichever one likes it best).

When I started researching cheeses, most people reported that they soon moved on from acid cheeses to cultured cheeses, and I can see why. Our lemon cheese was tasty, but I prefer the more complicated flavors of cultured cheeses. I guess it's time to bite the bullet and buy some cultures and rennet....

Posted Wed May 13 07:23:38 2015 Tags:
Lanb Chopper's little abode

Lamb Chop can now jump over his kidding stall with almost no running start.

We debated making the wall taller but decided to give him his own room.

Posted Wed May 13 15:43:54 2015 Tags:
Herb sets

Clear plastic potThere's almost too much going on the garden right now to post about. Time for a disjointed catch-up post!

The biggest deal this week, as usual in the middle of May, is planting. May 15 is traditionally our frost-free date, so everything I've been holding back goes in the ground now. Tuesday I set out basil and sweet potatoes; Wednesday Kayla and I direct-seeded corn, okra, and melons; and today I'll seed butternut squash, summer squash, cucumbers, and bush beans, then set out our sweet peppers.

As if that isn't fun enough, Friday is my icing-on-the-cake day. So I'll get to plant grape vines rooted inside over the winter out in front of the trailer, then set out some flowers between them. A great way to end planting week, with some long-term dreams and short-term beauty.

Training an espaliered apple

In the perennial sphere, I found time last Friday to summer-train our youngest apple trees, although our older trees are still waiting for their turn. The photo above shows our espalier experiment (before I picked up the porch). I lopped off the top of the tree this past winter and am now training two new limbs along angled pieces of string. The third incipient limb was pinched off to maintain symmetry.

Limb spreadersOur normal high-density trees aren't so particular, but they do get the usual light pruning and heavy training monthly in the summer. The only new innovation I came up with there is to make simple spreaders out of asparagus stalks dredged up out of the mulch at the base of the plants. A notch in each end and I have a spreader that will hopefully stay in place until the little branches solidify their shape.

Weedy asparagus

Of course, weeding is always on the agenda, although the task goes on the back burner during planting week. I do a lot of hand weeding, but most of our soil is now so good that the job is easy and fun...even when the beds are ignored too long like around the asparagus plants shown above.


Speaking of weeds, I made a mistake last winter by planting rye in my flower bed/grapevine area in front of the trailer. While rye is a good cover crop, it's a weed in my flower bed Buddha in the ryebecause the plant is in the wrong place!

Luckily, ten minutes of yanking up the grain reclaimed the space with no hassle. Columbine and chamomile are now blooming, and most of
the little herbs I set out there far too early survived and thrived as well. With the ground finally bare, I poked some scarlet runner bean seeds into the earth and set out some fennel, borage, and nasturtiums one evening last week, so hopefully we'll have a vibrant flowerbed in the near future.

Of course, it would take a whole 'nother post to tell you about how all of our other garden plants are faring. The cliff notes version is: first strawberry fruit Monday, first pea flowers and tomato flower Wednesday, lettuce by the gallon, asparagus finally starting to slow down from a daily dinner option to tri-weekly. Delicious!

Posted Thu May 14 07:42:39 2015 Tags:
weed trimmer rye cutting

A quick left to right motion helps the Rye to lay in neat rows.

Posted Thu May 14 15:51:14 2015 Tags:
Rye comparison

Cutting ryeI went out with Mark to decide whether each rye bed was ready to be cut or not, and in the process I was struck by the difference in biomass production of various beds. My bed-by-bed approach to the garden means that some beds are extremely rich from lots of manure and cover crops, while other beds have managed to miss the boat on organic matter accumulation. The latter beds produced rye plants less than half as tall as the former beds with flower heads that are more like a quarter of the size. Those puny beds will get to keep their rye mulch, while I'll harvest the tops from the taller beds to use as mulch in other parts of the garden.

Carrot seedlings

Kayla reminded me that it was also time to take the first set of measurements from our broadfork experiment. The first bed I looked at was the mangels in the photo below. The top half of the bed was broadforked while the bottom half wasn't.
Mangel seedlings
Aha! I thought. Broadforking promotes better germination! (And boy do I need to thin those seedlings.)

Then I checked out the other beds I'd included in my first experiment. Of those, one other bed had germinated better on the broadforked side, two beds had germinated better on the non-broadforked side, and two beds looked the same on both sides. I guess there's not yet any clear result of broadforking on our root crops...but Kayla and I went ahead and broadforked half of a few more beds anyway to test out the results on summer crops.

Developing apple fruit

Another pressing question I'd been meaning to follow up on was --- does a low of 27 nip our fruit-tree flowers? Unfortunately, the answer appears to be yes. The developing apple Hardy kiwi flower budfruit pictured above is the only one I could find on all of our trees, and the pear fruits I'd been keeping my eye on have since dropped off.

On the other hand, there's at least one flower bud on one of our hardy kiwis. So maybe we wrote them off for the year too soon?

I'm starting to wonder if it would be worth making little anti-deer enclosures in other parts of the property just to see whether a hilltop location would beat these perilous late freezes. Of course, the smarter solution would be to scatter max-min thermometers around all the places I'm interested in during next year's dogwood winter before going to all the trouble of planting fruit trees outside our core perimeter. Something to ponder on a cold winter night....

Posted Fri May 15 06:45:56 2015 Tags:
expanding the goat pasture

The big excitement for our goats this week was some pasture expansion.

We decided to delete one of the cattle panel walls to double the area where they like to hang out when not being tethered to a fresh spot where the greenery is young and lush.

Posted Fri May 15 15:52:29 2015 Tags:
Sprouts from a rootstock

Measuring rootstock sproutsIf one of your fruit trees dies a wintry death, but the yank test says there's still life left in the roots, you can choose to either wait a year and then graft onto that rootstock, or to turn the area into a rootstock-propagation zone. I opted for the latter with the winter-killed apple tree shown above.

If you're interested in propagating apple rootstocks, you should read this post first since it explains the whys and hows of stooling. Do it now. I'll wait.

Are you back? Okay, so you'll notice that my winterkilled apple sent up five sprouts of various sizes from the rootstock (the largest four of which you can see in the photo above). The Grafter's Handbook recommends waiting until those sprouts are five to six inches tall (I waited a bit too long), then hilling them up just like you would a bed of 'taters.

Hilling up a rootstock stool

The idea is to cover about half of each sprout's length with earth, and it's worth taking some time to work the soil in with your fingers to thoroughly fill all the air gaps between sprouts. Once the sprouts grow a little higher, I'll hill a little more so I continue to have half of each stem's length (hopefully six to eight inches by the end of the season) buried in the soil.

(You'll notice we also fenced the little scratchers out. Always a good idea to make sure your chickens don't knock down the mounds of soil you build up....)

Less advanced rootstock stool

Varieties are chosen to be rootstocks in part because they're keen rooters, so in my official stooling areas, I chopped the tops off the one-year-old trees in early spring and stuck those tops halfway into the ground several inches away from the original stool. In the photo above, the stem is on the left and the rootstock is on the right (by the rebar). As you can see, both parts of the tree are currently leafed out and growing. Since this stool is younger than the one shown in the previous photos (one year old versus 2.5 years old), it's not as advanced and won't be hilled for a few more weeks.

The good news is that it looks like, if everything goes smoothly, I won't have to buy apple rootstocks this year. Now, the question is, where will I put another half dozen home-grafted apple trees?

Posted Sat May 16 07:23:38 2015 Tags:
new chick drinking from nipple bucket

Our new chicks have gotten big enough to need another layer of bricks under their EZ Miser bucket waterer.

Posted Sat May 16 19:20:32 2015 Tags:
Experimental garden beds
This spring, I set out to answer the question --- is there a fast no-till way to eradicate overwintering weeds in a month or less? A tall order, I know, but my slow-and-sure kill mulches don't work for a lot of gardeners because they aren't able to think ahead to prepare the soil a few months before planting. The photo above shows four experimental beds (and a control bed that's simply been weed-whacked repeatedly) attempting to answer that question.

Weighing down plastic mulch

Option A involved a type of very thin, biodegradable black plastic. The photo above shows Kayla helping me lay down the plastic three weeks ago. The photo below shows completely dead oats underneath the plastic this past Thursday.

Dead weeds under plasticThis product worked much faster than I thought it would, probably because we've had crazy summer weather in April and early May (highs up to 90 some days), which surely heated up the soil underneath very quickly.

On the down side, all it took was Huckleberry walking across the plastic to tear little holes, which a light wind quickly turned into long tears. (I'm telling you Huckleberry really isn't that big of a cat!) So, although effective, I'd caution against using this product anywhere that pets will be walking even a little bit.


Laying down plastic for solarizationOption 2 was solarization, which I explained in more depth in this post. The solarization worked about equally as fast as the black plastic, with the bonus that this clear plastic didn't shred after light pet traffic. The clear plastic also held in the soil moisture, which was handy since rainfall for the last few weeks has been nearly nonexistant.

The downside of solarization is that my raised beds in this area are tall enough that the north-facing side of the bed didn't heat up fully, so the oats underneath the plastic on that side are still somewhat green. So if you plan to use solarization to prepare soil, you'll want to stick to areas where the ground is as flat as possible. With that caveat and assuming hot weather, you can also plant into solarized ground in about three weeks if your weeds are only moderatly tenacious. (Add a few more weeks for both Option A and Option B if you're trying to kill a wily perennial like wiregrass.)

Under the paper mulch

Roll paper mulchOption 3 was a storebought roll of paper mulch. This mulch was the least effective as a fast weedkill, although it looks to be the most effective as a long-term ground cover.

As Mark mentioned, the first rain bleached the dye out of the paper, and the lighter color left behind meant that the mulch simply acted like a barrier between the weeds and the sun rather than heating the soil underneath. The result is that the weeds beneath the paper mulch aren't quite dead yet, although the paper is still providing a good barrier around the high-density apple trees. I suspect I'll need to wait about 4 to 6 weeks between laying down this mulch over an oat cover crop and planting into the bare soil.

As another downside, Lucy running across the mulch did poke holes in the paper layer, allowing some weeds to come up through. That said, the paper has much more structural integrity than the very thin black plastic, so only the paw-print areas were affected rather than the whole sheet of mulch. So I'd say the plastic mulch is acceptable over areas with light pet traffic.

Comfrey chop and drop with newspaper

Option 4 was mad of entirely free materials, but I didn't lay them down until later than the previous options and thus don't have a comparison yet to the other methods. Kayla's father came through with a big box of newspaper (thanks, Jimmy!), and I've been applying the sheets using different methods in different parts of the garden.

Blowing newspaper mulchThe photo to the left shows how I laid the paper down dry and then anchored it with deep-bedding material from the goat coop. Unfortunately, some of the sheets have blown away, which is why I started soaking the paper in a bucket of water before applying.

The top photo in this section shows some newspaper-mulched areas around the hazelnut bushes. Since I have comfrey plants growing along the aisles in that part of the garden, it was easy to yank handfuls of the greenery as a short of chop-'n-drop to weigh the wetted newspapers down. I'll post a followup in a few weeks once I know more about how the newspaper mulches compare to the other methods, but my guess is that they'll be comparable to the storebought paper mulch.

Black plastic kill mulch

The final method I'm trying is a more long-lived type of black plastic that is supposed to be good for 12 years (assuming you don't puncture the fabric in the interim). I laid down an experimental span in the proto-tree-alley a week ago, with the plan of taking up the plastic at the end of the month and planting sweet potatoes there. I'll keep you posted about weed control there as well.

Phew! I know that's a lot of data, but I hope it'll help you decide on a weed barrier that'll fit your particular garden needs. And perhaps there's another method I haven't considered that you've used with success in your garden? Be sure to let me know in the comments!

Posted Sun May 17 06:31:26 2015 Tags:
strawberry and asparagus

Our asparagus is slowing down, but the strawberries are just getting started.

Posted Sun May 17 14:39:47 2015 Tags:
Goat family

I suspect one of the reason women love goats is because the caprine herd has the exact opposite problem we have. As a goatkeeper, one of your primary goals is to keep the weight on your goats. Between intestinal parasites (usually present at low levels but sometimes veering way out of control) and the energetic expense of creating baby goats and milk out of grass, dairy goats have a bad tendency to waste away to skin and bones. Enter my weekly bout with the measuring tape to reassure myself that our goats are in fine form.

Goat weightsLamb Chop has never given me any worries on the weight front, though. The most I've been concerned about is that our buckling will get bigger than his mother before his date with the butcher, making it impossible to carry the lad across the creek to his doom. Barring that issue, he seems bound to surpass his 11-month-old herdmate's size in short order. As of this week, Lamb Chop has officially caught up with Artemesia; in fact, I think he now stands a little taller at the shoulder.

Abigail and Artemesia, on the other hand, worried me a bit in April, although I now think that their weight "losses" then were merely an artifact of shedding their winter fur. Less fur for the tape to wrap Goats in the greenaround simulates the loss of fat. Regardless, I dosed the whole herd with daily helpings of chopped garlic, which they all ate happily whether or not they needed the herbal dewormer. Now both are well above their winter weights, even without the furry padding.

I'm glad that I seem to be able to keep the weight on Abigail without adding grain to her diet, but I'll admit that I'd probably get more milk if I fed our doe more concentrates. As she started gaining weight on grass, I started easing off the carrots, alfalfa pellets, and sunflower seeds I was offering...with the result that milk production slowed down a bit (from about 3 cups a day to about 2.5 cups a day). Bringing those concentrates back up to previous levels (plus locking Lamb Chop away an hour earlier in the evening) quickly increased milk back to normal, then all the way up to a quart at my morning milking.

I suspect one of the dicey issues with dairy goats is deciding when we're being greedy humans and pushing our goats too hard, and when it's worth feeding a little more for a little more milk. Since I want to experiment a bit more with cheese, I think I'll be greedy just a little longer.

Posted Mon May 18 06:57:29 2015 Tags:
yet another goat gate

When I get this one done we'll have 3 paddocks we can cycle the goats through.

Posted Mon May 18 15:59:46 2015 Tags:
Cheesemaking supplies

After deciding that our first cheese --- an acid cheese --- was too simple, it was time to move on to a cultured cheese. I followed this recipe for neufchatel, which uses buttermilk as the starter culture and rennet to make the curds separate from the whey.

Rennet, I learned when hunting down these supplies, comes in several forms --- liquid animal, liquid vegetable, tablets, and powders. The powders are usually for bulk purchasers, tablets have a very long shelf life, liquid animal is easy to utilize in small quantities for fractions of the recipe, and liquid vegetable (as best I can tell) is a slightly bitter replica used by vegetarians. Since I wanted to be able to try half recipes, I opted for this liquid animal rennet.

Clean break

I'm not going to run through all of the instructions for making this cheese since you can find them at the link in the previous section. The shorthand version is: take 2 quarts of room-temperature milk, add two tablespoons of cultured buttermilk, dissolve two drops of liquid rennet in a quarter of a cup of water and add to the milk mixture, stir, then cover and let sit for about eight hours. You'll know your cheese is ready for the next step when you see a clean break as is shown above.

Cutting curds

Now you're ready to cut the curds...

Draining off whey

...and drain off the whey by pouring the contents of your pot into a clean towel in a colander. You're then supposed to hang this bag of proto-cheese for a while until the rest of the whey works its way out, but I was impatient and simply squeezed the bag, stirred the contents, and then squeezed some more until the cheese was dry. (Someone please tell me why this method is wrong --- it seemed to efficient!)

Homemade goat cheese

The final result gets half a teaspoon of salt mixed in and is then ready to eat!

Goat cheese taste test

Mark and I tasted the neufchatel (top container), the same cheese mixed with some Hollywood sun-dried tomatoes, and ricotta made from the whey. (More on the ricotta in a later post.) Mark doesn't like goat cheese from the store, but he enjoyed this completely non-goaty cheese...while I actually missed the goatish overtones. Meanwhile, I've never been a fan of ricotta, but I thoroughly enjoyed the homemade version, while finding the Neufchatel a bit bland.

As best I can tell, the reason this cheese is neufchatel instead of chevre is because it uses buttermilk as the starter culture. However, when I looked up the biology of chevre and buttermilk cultures, I learned that both contain some combination of Lactococcus lactis lactis, Lactococcus lactis cremoris, Lactococcus lactis diacetylactis, and Leuconostoc mesenteroides cremoris. It's probably still worth buying a chevre culture to see what I come up with using the other starter since my taste buds say this Neufchatel isn't the same as chevre.

Posted Tue May 19 07:22:08 2015 Tags:
goat gate latch close up

This sliding bolt gate latch is my new favorite way to keep goats out.

Posted Tue May 19 15:47:10 2015 Tags:

Homemade ricottaI'll admit that when my parents made lasagna with ricotta when I was a kid, I tried to pick around the grainy cheese. But I now that I'm experimenting with cheesemaking, I've learned the purpose of ricotta --- turning all that cultured whey into something useful. And, sure enough, two quarts of milk turned into 9.5 ounces of neufchatel, while leaving enough proteins in the whey to create another 2.9 ounces of ricotta. Thus, I've decided this subtly acidic cheese is hereafter to be referred to as "bonus cheese."

(Okay, not really. You can keep calling it ricotta. But doesn't "bonus cheese" sound good?)

Making ricotta

Ricotta is almost too simple to post about. You take your leftover whey and allow the liquid to sit, covered, at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours. Next, boil to separate the curds from the whey, then strain out the chemically altered (greenish) whey off your new cheese.

The boiling step is supposed to be a near-boil, using a double boiler to heat the cultured whey to 203 degrees Fahrenheit. However, after an hour in our double boiler, the whey was beginning to separate out little curds...but still hadn't surpassed 180 degrees. Only after decanting the whey into a pot to cook it the rest of the way directly on the stove, at which point it boiled at around 198 degrees Fahrenheit, did I realize that I really should have factored in changing boiling temperatures due to elevation. (Or, perhaps, the fact that my candy thermomter might not be accurate?) So, to cut a long story short --- you can make ricotta just fine by simply bringing the whey to a boil then removing it from the heat.

Straining ricotta

Anyway, after you boil your whey, you let it cool for a couple of hours, then pour the curds and whey into a clean cloth above a strainer. I used our new straining funnel for this step.

You'll also notice that I moved to a white cloth instead of the colored one I'd used for my previous cheeses. I learned the hard way that cheese picks up a little bit of lint from the cloth, which is unsightly if the fabric is colored. But if the cloth is white, no one ever knows....

I actually loved the flavor of this ricotta plain, but I'm thinking of trying it in a chocolate cheesecake with some of the neufchatel. Because everything tastes better with a little chocolate....

Posted Wed May 20 07:00:02 2015 Tags:
new goat door

The Star Plate goat barn now has a third door to access the new paddock.

Posted Wed May 20 16:05:49 2015 Tags:
Strawberries, cookies, and cream

Despite some bird pressure that's been forcing me to pick berries a little on the pale side, we've been enjoying delicious strawberry desserts for the last week and a half or so. That said, I've decided it's finally time to pull the plug on our Honeoyes. Not the variety --- this early season strawberry is still a favorite. But after expanding my patch from gifted expansions of someone else's patch for the last eight years, viruses (I assume) are building up in the clones and the berries are slowly becoming less flavorful. When even I want a little honey on my fruit (unlike Mark, who always does), I know that it's time to make a fresh start.

Ripening strawberry

And, while I'm at it, maybe I should try a second variety as well? Now that Kayla's in my life, I can get away with ordering 25 plants of both Honeoye and Galleta (an ultra-early variety) without worrying that the new plants will take over my entire garden. Last year's addition of Sparkle was a great boon to our homestead, so hopefully Galleta will be as well. And even though the plants cost 70 cents apiece once you add in shipping, when you figure that they and their children will likely feed us for another eight years at a rate of at least a gallon a day, the plants are definitely a bargain! That's my kind of homestead math.

Posted Thu May 21 07:27:38 2015 Tags:
battery powered chainsaw chain replacement

Our Oregon battery powered chainsaw needed a new chain today.

The sharpening stone still had about 1/4 of its surface area left, but one close look at the teeth will tell you why it stopped cutting.

I like to flip the bar upside down when a new chain goes on to even out the wear on the little bar sprockets.

We are very happy with how much cutting we got done on the first chain.

Posted Thu May 21 15:48:35 2015 Tags:
Cracked earth

The weather and I can be moody. After a crazy wet fall, winter, and spring, we started measuring precipitation in hundredths of an inch this month. A quarter of an inch of rain Thursday morning eased the earth's woes a little, but it took Mark's cheerful demeanor and calm problem solving to ease my own bad mood.

Pea flowers

You'd think I'd realize that I always get overwhelmed around the middle to the end of May. I keep a mood diary (who, me obsessive?) and this is the time of year when my homemade cheerfulness report card dips into Cs and Ds. All of the spring plantings need to be weeded, our chicks are growing out of the easy stage and require more frequent pasture changes, and learning goats has also added to my load this year.

The trouble is, I love the garden and chickens and goats. I just don't love it when a lengthy to-do list pulls me out of my slumber too early and I turn irritable and grumpy. Time to offload a few tasks.

Nursing buckling

Some chores are easy to spread around. I pull Mark off his normal tasks to help me for a morning in the garden, and together we move the chicks to a new bit of yard. After a lesson in goat tethering, we figure he can halve my chores there too.

But some headaches aren't lighter when carried on two sets of shoulders. For example --- Lamb Chop. At eleven weeks of age, our buckling is enormous, still nursing...and starting to get ornery. Artemesia went into her first clearly discernible heat this week, which suddenly made goat wrangling much more difficult. Between the screaming from the woods, Lamb Chop's need to mount our doeling in the middle of the garden, and the egg-laying snapping turtle guarding the path on the way home, I was glad Mark was along or I don't think I would have been able to get all three goats back into the pasture. So our buckling has a date with the local butcher (aka meat packing facility) in two weeks, and we'll just hope Lamb Chop manages to knock Artemesia up beforehand.

Garlic scapes and asparagus

Speaking of offloading, I've decided to let my Winter and Spring cookbooks stand alone for the moment. I had thought my book about living in a trailer would be my most controversial and criticism-inspiring text, but apparently our unusual food choices are much more divisive. Lacking the energy to push a product that the world isn't ready for, I'm moving on to one of the other creative projects that I always have waiting in the wings.

Decisions made and tasks offloaded, I step out into the garden and notice that the grass is green, the flowers are beautiful, and the garlic scapes are ready to eat. It's amazing what a shift in perspective will do to remind me that, despite temporary troubles, we're still living in paradise!

Posted Fri May 22 07:49:59 2015 Tags:
mark Bad onions
bad onion close up

Some of our onions started sprouting and going bad on us.

This post is to remind me around next Mother's Day to delete any bad onions.

Posted Fri May 22 15:48:07 2015 Tags:
Talking goat

"I don't want to go out," Abigail said on Wednesday morning when I went to tether our little herd in the woods.

I was gobsmacked. Abigail not only always wants to go out, she wants to get to her fresh forage now, ASAP, hurry up, do you get the message?!

But I think the deer flies the day before got to be too much for her. We had a light rain in the morning, so I put the herd out later than usual. And when I went to bring the goats home, the pesky deer flies were buzzing in their loops so annoyingly that I was barely able to gather three goats before rushing for cover myself. I should have worn a hat...and I'm sure that, as a tethered goat, the deer flies were twice as annoying. (They do bite, but it's really the buzzing that drives you mad.)

Feeding tree leaves to goats

Goat eating black locust leavesSo I met Abigail in the middle. I tethered her out early, took her in a bit after lunch, then cut some locust boughs in the evening to top off her belly. No, Mark, I don't know what you're talking about when you say I spoil our goats....

More seriously, I do dream of eventually having large enough pastures so our goats can get all of their nutrition on their own schedule, retreating to the barn when necessary to beat the flies. In the interim, tree boughs seem to be a quick-and-easy solution for supplemental feeding when it doesn't make sense to bring the goats out into the woods to eat. Like tree hay...but for summer nutrition rather than winter feed.

Posted Sat May 23 07:08:02 2015 Tags:
stump cutting

Kayla's husband Andy helped us out with some firewood cutting yesterday.

He gave us 2 hours of aggressive tree cutting for only 50 dollars.

If you're within driving distance and need some trees cut leave a comment and we'll give him your number.

Posted Sat May 23 12:47:51 2015 Tags:
magnet car puzzle

I saw a perpetual motion Youtube video recently that tickled my curiosity.

Anna was intrigued as well, so we ordered some pinewood derby wheels and a box of magnets to see if we could understand this puzzle a little better.

We had fun tinkering with it for a few evenings before we came to the conclusion that the video is a trick that uses gravity instead of magnetism to move the car.

Posted Sat May 23 13:44:19 2015 Tags:

Draining cheeseAfter some research and great input from our readers, I decided to make a few changes before repeating my neufchatel/chevre endeavor. First, even though the instructions called for two drops of liquid rennet in my half-gallon recipe, raw goat milk is notorious for not needing nearly as much thickening agent --- pure milk is just very alive. So this time around I backed off to one drop of rennet, looking for more of a soft cheese consistency instead of the more chewy cheese I ended up with last time.

I also decided to try to boost the flavor with a bit more buttermilk (three tablespoons instead of two) and a much longer culturing period (24 hours instead of 6, although I should mention that the weather was much cooler during round two). After that elongated culture period, there was quite a bit of clear whey on top of the curd, and the curd had also begun to pull away from the walls of the pot. This is all an effort to give the bacteria more time to work, since I suspect microbial byproducts are what gives soft cheese most of its flavor.

Finally, I drained the cheese the right way for four hours instead of squeezing out the whey, and I upped the salt to 0.75 teaspoons. The result? Nearly perfect! The salt was too much --- I'll be going back down to half a teaspoon next time around --- and I think the culturing period might have been just a hair on the long side as well. But the flavor was much more full-bodied than last time and the cheese felt much moister rather than dry and crumbly. Success!

Posted Sun May 24 07:21:39 2015 Tags:

Foxglove flowers

My young flower beds aren't quite to the stage where they stand up to distance shots, but the closeups are delightful.

Foxgloves from a family friend, chamomile because it reminds me of my mother (who enjoys the tea), columbine from another friend, borage (not quite blooming yet) because one of our blog readers suggested it as a high-quality feeder of native pollinators, some zinnias and nasturtiums (also not blooming yet) just because.

Every time I look at one of the plants, I smile!

Posted Mon May 25 07:04:19 2015 Tags:
using JB weld to repair Anna's sandals

One of the Teva sandals I glued for Anna last year came apart.

I used JB Weld again because the other sandal is holding up nicely.

The plan is to use some Plumbers Goop to seal up the edges to keep any water or dirt from finding a way in.

Posted Mon May 25 16:00:04 2015 Tags:

Planting persimmon seedlingsI set out ten persimmon seedlings in our chicken pastures 2.5 years ago, figuring there were all kinds of experimental possibilities for the young trees. Option 1 would be to simply let them grow up to adult size, but a seedling persimmon has a 50/50 chance of being male (meaning no fruit), grows very large, and takes a long time to bear. Option 2 (my favorite at that time) was to graft hardy Asian persimmons onto the seedling rootstocks...but my hardy persimmon varieties kept dying back to the ground over the winter, so I decided to ditch that plan. Instead, I moved on to option 3 --- to trade for named American persimmon varieties (Yates, Proc, I-94, and Early Golden) and graft those onto my seedling rootstocks.

Overgrown persimmon seedling

Persimmons are trickier than some other fruits to graft, so I tried two different approaches. I also followed the experts' advice by waiting until it seems far too late to graft --- late May when the leaves on the seedling trees were nearly fully formed.

The first step for both methods, though, was the same --- yank out the weeds that had grown up within each tree's enclosure since the last time I dropped by. Out in the chicken pastures, these little trees are lucky to catch my eye more than once a year, so I wasn't surprised to find that two of my seedlings had died and that one wasn't big enough to graft onto. The rest --- despite being a bit winter-nipped from our -22 Fahrenheit cold spell --- had stems thick enough to graft onto.

Whip grafted persimmon

Whip-grafting persimmonI grafted the first four plants before doing any research, so they got my usual whip-and-tongue graft. It was definitely tougher to graft in situ than to bench graft, and both the rootstock and scionwood were on the small side (compared to apples) for most of the trees, so I'm not sure how many will take.

After I was done grafting, I still wasn't entirely sure what to do with the existing growth on the trees. So I just cut the branches back but left some leaves present to keep the tree alive until the graft union heals. Again, I'm not sure if this was the best choice, or whether the existing growth will prevent the graft union from healing. I guess time will tell....

Bark-grafting persimmon

Parafilm on graftWhile I took a water break in front of the computer, I found this interesting file suggesting an alternative method of grafting persimmons, so I followed the author's lead for my last three trees. First, I snipped the entire top off each seedling, then I slit a strip of bark and peeled it down (carefully!) before cutting away a bit of the rootstock to make room for another stick of wood to fit in.

Next, it was time to prepare the scionwood by cutting one side of the bottom at a slant and then using the knife blade to scrape the bark on the rest of the bottom of the scionwood down to the green cambium. The prepared scionwood slid under the rootstock's bark flap, and the whole thing was wrapped with parafilm. (Okay, I didn't wrap my entire piece of scionwood since that just seemed too extreme, but I may regret that omission!)

With seven trees grafted to four varieties, I'm hopeful I'll see at least a 50% success rate and will end up with several different types of persimmons to continue their slow growth in the chicken pastures. Since the trees there don't get much TLC, chances are I won't see fruit until 2020, but hopefully the results will be worth the (very little) effort I've so far put into my experimental trees.

Posted Tue May 26 07:17:34 2015 Tags:
Garden watering

It's been a few years since we hooked up sprinklers in the back garden. But the groundwater has sunk too low for subirrigation to do much good.

In preparation for planting another round of beans, corn, and squash, we let the sprinklers run all day to moisten the parched earth.

Posted Tue May 26 15:03:34 2015 Tags:
First tomato pruning

It's that time of year again --- the season for weekly doting upon our tomato plants! The first round of pruning is simple --- I snip off the bottom leaves so none are touching the ground, then I pinch off any suckers, no matter how small. If suckers have grown too large to pinch, First tomato bloomsI instead cut them with clippers. Then I look at the many beautiful bloom buds (and the open flowers on the plants I set out a week earlier) and smile for the rest of the day.

That said, I am doing a few things differently this year. Most significant (I hope) will be growing only blight-resistant varieties (although given our current weather, blight might not be an issue this year anyway). I've also set out plants much closer together than usual and am pruning each to one main stem instead of to three. I feel like my previous efforts to beat the blight with maximum air flow between plants didn't do much good, so why waste space?

On a different note, I'm not surprised but I continue to be charmed by how the earth perks up so-so transplants. I started another set of seedlings in early May just in case my started-too-early transplants didn't make it, but I've only had to replace two of the first round of thirty transplants. Within a week of hitting real soil, everyone else perked up and grew happy new leaves, proving that our natural ecosystem is 100% better than anything I can replicate in pots in a sunny window. If I was listing the top ten things I love, growing in real earth would be one near the top of the list!

Posted Wed May 27 07:05:36 2015 Tags:
new pex garden drip system

We decided our tomatoes needed a drip irrigation system.

This white PEX material is cheap and easy to work with. It won't kink and you can get a 100 foot roll for less than 30 dollars. Once I had the tubing secured to each post I went in and drilled a small hole next to each plant.

The hole is three times bigger than most drip systems due to the heavy sediment in the creek water we use for irrigation.

Posted Wed May 27 16:08:34 2015 Tags:
Swamp drying up

An unusually dry May has its pros and cons. On the plus side, if the summer stays like this, our garden may bypass its usual wide range of fungal diseases. And, already, the weeding pressure is much lower than in normal seasons...

Butternut squash seedling

...because the weed seeds simply aren't sprouting. Unfortunately, unless I give them some TLC, neither are the vegetable seeds.

Usually, the only times I have trouble with seed germination are in early spring (pushing the envelope with cold soil) and in midsummer (when I plant cool-loving fall crops that aren't impressed by summer heat). But, this year, I'm having to replant some of my usually dependable vegetables --- like green beans and sweet corn --- because even the sprinklers aren't enough to get them off to a good start. Heaven forbid I try to plant (the way I usually Young basil plantdo) outside the spread of our irrigation system.

Luckily, the lack of a spring this year is actually working in my favor. It was cold so late into the so-called spring that I started lots of transplants inside, and most are loving their new habitats in the garden. Those pre-sprouted beans I mentioned a few weeks ago failed miserably --- only three of the nine plants survived --- but I've been snipping off a few basil leaves here and there for the last two weeks, and our pepper plants are up and running.

Meanwhile, the summer vegetables that I started before the weather turned dry --- either under quick hoops or just early in the garden --- are also doing well. I hope to see cucumber blooms next week and maybe we'll eat the first broccoli head at the same time. The heat is Cucumber flower budgiving some plants pause --- notably the peas (currently producing) and crucifers, who wilt a bit in the afternoons even if they've been recently watered. But, overall, these early vegetables seem to be thriving beneath the bright summer sun.

I still can't decide if I should be wishing for rain. Everyone else is --- non-rotational pastures in the area are brown and nearly bare and unwatered gardens aren't doing much better. But I keep thinking that if we have a few more weeks of drought, we'll be able to drive in some manure....

Luckily --- since I'm so conflicted --- my wishes have no impact on the weather at all. Rain will come when it comes, and in the meantime I'll give my seeds a little daily water to make sure they sprout.

Posted Thu May 28 06:40:00 2015 Tags:
late Spring straw delivery 2015

We got a big straw bale delivery today.

80 bales at 5 dollars per bale.

The guy felt bad about last year's issue with seed heads and gave us a discount to make up for it.

Posted Thu May 28 15:15:17 2015 Tags:
Goats riding an ATV

Lamb Chop's date with the butcher was supposed to be coming up next week. But, soon after Artemesia's heat subsided... (R-rated information after the next photo)

Goat eating sedge nuts

...our buckling finally matured enough to do the deed.

Lamb Chop currently runs back and forth between our two does all day long. "Can I nurse?" he asks mama goat, who is trying to wean him (with little success). Next, he moves on to Artemesia and asks "Can we have sex now?"

It used to be that Artemesia would always reply: "Yeah, whatever," for which the internet supplied an explanation. Apparently, a buckling can't actually poke his penis out of its sheath until he hits a certain age. So our buckling was merely climbing up on Artemesia's back, and our doeling is a gentle enough goat not to mind being mauled.

However, this past week, I finally saw penis extrusion, and Artemesia started saying "No!" every time Lamb Chop asked for sex. Which means that, hopefully, waiting for Artemesia's next heat cycle will result in baby goats in the middle of November.

Goats eating willow seeds

I hate to say it, but I can hardly wait to see the back of our little buckling. He's actually still quite sweet, but I've had to give up on tethering since he's impossible to walk through the garden with two other goats in my hand. Instead, our herd is subsisting on pasture goodies (less than a third of their food at the moment), tree leaves from cut saplings, and a daily guided walk into the floodplain. I dream of the time when I only have two manageable goats and can fold our caprine herd deeper into our homestead once again.

(Yes, literally, this is what I dream about. Most recently, Artemesia and her hypothetical daughter, who apparently is called Estella, went along with me to my 15-year college reunion. It was quite a dream. And, as I type this, I realize that Artemesia's daughter looks just like and has a name similar to one of my e-buddy's goats. Hmmm....)

Posted Fri May 29 06:54:23 2015 Tags:
rooster and hens on a heavy hauler cart
Our Heavy Hauler dump cart is now a prime roosting spot.
Posted Fri May 29 12:09:45 2015 Tags:
Picking strawberries

It rained! Two-thirds of an inch is usually something we roll our eyes at. But when it amounts to 59% of the precipitation for the month, we inviting Mom to come over and pick strawberries.

DIY computer

Joey showed up too to install a DIY-computer-turned-server, which he plans to use for (insert technical explanation I didn't really understand here). I think he'll eventually post about it on his blog.

Much fun was had by all! And, once again, I squeaked in just under the wire, barely managing to take one just-for-fun holiday per month. So far, my one resolution for 2015 is still on track to be a success.

Posted Sat May 30 07:25:41 2015 Tags:
rain barrel concrete mixer

Dan's Workshop Blog is a good place to learn about making your own concrete mixer, charcoal powered transportation, and thermoelectric camp stove chargers.

Posted Sat May 30 15:10:13 2015 Tags:

One of my favorite ways to use up milk is by turning it into chocolate pudding. This fast and easy dessert tastes decadent when boiled up from homegrown goat milk, and it would taste pretty good using whole milk from the store too.


3.5 cups of whole milk

3/4 cup of honey

1/2 cup of cocoa

6 tablespoons of corn starch

1/4 teaspoon of salt

1 teaspoon of vanilla

Berries for a garnish (optional)

For the easiest pudding with no risk of scorching, you'll want to make this dish in a double boiler. However, if you're lazy like me, it works nearly as well if you cook the ingredients directly over medium heat while stirring constantly.

Regardless of your risk-taking level, it's simple to make this pudding. Mix up the milk, honey, cocoa, corn starch, and salt, then stir until the pudding just barely comes to a boil. Turn off the heat and continue to stir as the pudding thickens, then add the vanilla at the end.

Spoon into bowls and cool thoroughly. Garnish with berries if you want, or simply dig into the delicious dessert plain. Serves four.

Posted Sun May 31 07:23:50 2015 Tags:
ducks dipping in tub of water next to bucket
Our ducks seem to prefer a dish tub to a bucket when given a choice.
Posted Sun May 31 15:05:29 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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