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

archives for 06/2015

Jun 2015
Cucumber flower

For me, the first day of summer occurs when I notice the initial brilliant yellow cucurbit flower. Which means my own solstice was Sunday when our cucumbers heralded the sun and promised fruits in the near future.

Baby apple

Ripening black raspberrySpeaking of fruits, it looks like four apple fruits made it through dogwood winter intact. My neighbor who lives a mile away on a south-facing hillside tells me that his trees are loaded, though, which makes me think I need to get more serious about finding non-frost-pocket locations for tree fruits if I want real harvests of apples and pears.

Of course, berries continue to do well for us. This is actually only a so-so year for strawberries due to our "straw" mulch sprouting cover crops last winter, a hard dogwood winter that nipped some blooms even beneath row covers, and lack of rain resulting in small berries. Despite these setbacks, though, we're each still enjoying a big bowl of berries twice a day and have put a few sheets of leather away in the freezer.

Meanwhile, our second black raspberry variety --- Jewel --- looks like it's going
Weedy raspberryto be ultra early, ripening up before our Caroline red raspberries this year. So soon there will be more types of berries in our daily bowl.

Now, if I can just manage to weed the red raspberries before they ripen --- and before the wild lettuce outgrows my cultivated plants --- we'll be back in business. I'd been waiting for rain to soften the ground before hitting those holdout beds, but I guess I'll just irrigate harder and pull those weeds.

Baby tomato

In other garden news, between last week's jolt of precipitation and Mark's irrigation, our tomato plants nearly doubled in size over the last seven days. If I had to pick one favorite vegetable, tomatoes might be it, so I watch the developing fruits with an eagle eye. The fruit pictured above is our biggest so far.

Broccoli head

Mark instead keeps his attention attuned to the broccoli and peas. The latter have been producing for a couple of weeks now, but dry weather and highs near 90 mean peas are only trickling in.

On the other hand, this year's broccoli has surprised me by doing well despite only getting not-really-composted chicken bedding for fertilizer, then having to deal with the same summery temperatures that the peas hate. I've been watching lots of cabbage whites flutter around the broccoli plants, but my weekly caterpillar-squashing sessions have seen very few pest insects. Maybe something about this year's conditions made the plants less tasty to bugs? The broccoli certainly didn't taste anything less than excellent to us when we enjoyed our first heads this weekend!

I hope your garden is shaping up well despite inevitable setbacks. It's time to start enjoying the bounty!

Posted Mon Jun 1 07:29:27 2015 Tags:
homesteading hula hoop
Phase two of our PEX drip irrigation looks a little like a Jumbo Hula Hoop.
Posted Mon Jun 1 15:56:14 2015 Tags:
IBC rain barrel

Mark's words of wisdom: "Build a rain barrel; call a drought."

Sure enough, once our IBC-tank rain barrel was ready to stopped raining. We used up the few inches of water in the bottom pretty quickly, and then we had to run a hose to the mushroom area to irrigate using water that began in the creek. Not a huge deal, but it would be nicer to use straight rainwater with no electric pump as a middle man.

So I was thrilled when the tank started to fill back up! We haven't had enough precipitation yet to fully test our tank supports, but I hear it's drying up in Texas and thus might be getting wetter here again. (My weather guru says these events actually are linked.) Mark tells me he likes it dry, though, so maybe he'll build another rain barrel to slow the shift in weather down.

Growing willow cutting

Meanwhile, the willow cuttings I stuck into the ground near the mushroom area (in the wettest part of our core homestead) all rooted with alacrity. They're growing so quickly now that I probably need to start training them to one trunk so I can begin to weave with the living wands. What fun!

Posted Tue Jun 2 07:38:53 2015 Tags:
Anna with weed barrier 12 year fabric

We used the rest of our new fancy weed barrier material on high density apples.

It should last until 2027.

Posted Tue Jun 2 15:31:20 2015 Tags:
Blooming borage

It's time for another update on this year's mulch experiments! And, since I know many of you only drop by for the photos and will be disappointed by what follows, here's a pretty borage flower to start your day off right.

Under a kill mulch

Okay, back to the point. A couple of weeks ago, I posted about several quick no-till garden prep options I'm trying out this year (shown below in a photo taken in the mid May). The time came to plant into the first round of beds this week --- one that was solarized and then covered with goat bedding for two weeks, one that was solarized and then left bare for two weeks, and one that was treated to a kill mulch of newspaper topped with goat bedding. All had received their initial treatment at about the same time, around six weeks ago.

No-till soil preparationI have a bias against solarization, so I was prepared to be annoyed by those beds. However, the bed that was solarized and then immediately treated with a topdressing of goat manure/straw was home to the most worms of all treatments. Second best was the kill mulched bed, suggesting that the manurey bedding was what attracted the worms in both cases. Presumably the newspaper barrier in the kill mulched bed slowed down the worm-attracting powers of the manure, although the paper did make that bed ultra-easy to prepare for planting since there were no weeds present after only a few weeks of kill mulching.

After digging in the dirt, my least favorite bed was the one that had been solarized and then left bare. My goal there was to keep the nitrogen levels in that bed to a minimum so my green beans wouldn't attract as many bad bugs, but the short-term result was that a lot of warm-season grasses sprouted under the heating effects of the solarization and I had to do a lot of handweeding before planting. Worms were also absent from the top few inches of that bed. So I think that these quick fixes really should be paired with a yummy source of organic matter like compost or manure if you want to keep your microorganisms happy.

I've got more to tell you about experimental mulches, but this post got too long. So stay tuned for another round of information tomorrow!

Posted Wed Jun 3 07:16:34 2015 Tags:
mark Bee swarm
bee swarm in a tree

Half our bees decided to swarm away yesterday after lunch.

A little too high up in a tree to safely capture the queen, but luck was on our side and it rained enough to make them go back home.

Now we have to figure out how to split the hive before they take off again.

Posted Wed Jun 3 16:42:28 2015 Tags:
Bees on entrance to the hive

The swarm lifted out of our hive at around 2 pm on Tuesday. It wasn't swarming weather, though. By the time the cluster had formed around a branch high in a box-elder tree, rain was coming down fast and it continued to rain for the rest of the day.

Honeybee swarmI sat on the back porch and watched the swarm for that entire time period, but I still wasn't quite able to see what happened between raindrops. However, I'm pretty sure I would have seen and heard if the swarm flew away en masse --- noticing their roar from the back porch was how I was alerted to the swarm in the first place, after all.

My best guess is that the swarm settled back down into the hive soon after it started to rain. This suspicion arose when I went to check the hive out around 4:30 pm and saw bees fanning a lemony odor into the entrance, which is what swarms do to attract stragglers once they find a new home. To confirm, I pushed my ear up against the boxes and heard a roar just as loud (or louder) than usual. Yes, I was 80% sure the swarm had gone back home.

Unfortunately, we didn't bait any swarm traps this year. So chances were pretty good that if the swarm left, it would disappear into the ether like our first one did. Not wanting to lose half of the hive's productivity for the year, I opted instead to beg them to stay.

Inspecting a hive"Beg them to stay?" you say. "What in the world are you talking about?" Well, a hive split can sometimes prevent an incipient swarm, especially if the queen ends up in one hive and the queen cells (which will soon hatch into new queens) end up in the other. The best way to ensure this happens is to go through frame by frame in search of both the queen and the queen cells, but a Warre hive isn't set up for fine-scale manipulation. So Mark and I instead opted to simply split the hive as best we could and hope we'd get lucky.

Langstroth frame

When I first saw this year's swarm, I suspected that our Warre-to-Langstroth converter had been a failure. Why else would the bees swarm if they had two empty boxes to build into? However, after removing the Warre half of the hive and placing it on a piece of plywood to keep buzz-bys to a minimum, I found that the top Langstroth box was entirely full of drawn comb neatly packed with honey and pollen! In other words, the converter was a resounding success.

Now that I do the math, though, I realize that I probably waited until too late in the spring to add more space. If there are queen cells about to hatch in the hive right now, then their eggs would have been laid in the first week of May...and we didn't put our converter in place until May 7. Next year, we clearly need to add more space to our hive in April, especially if we treat the bees to a bit of early spring feeding.

Capped honey and brood

Unfortunately, there was no brood in the Langstroth box. My hope had been that I could split the hive at the converter, ending up with one Langstroth hive and one Warre hive. But bees don't stay in a hive with no brood, so I had to instead leave the converter in place and divvy up the two Warre boxes between the two hives.

Best-case scenario, the queen will be in one hive and the queen cells in the other, and both will be ready for business as usual shortly. Worst-case scenario, hopefully there will at least be eggs in each hive that will allow the workers to make a new queen if all of the current monarchs end up stuffed together. In that worst-case scenario, we'd probably still see a swarm within the next few days, so I'll likely know one way or another pretty soon.

So now we have one Warre/Langstroth hybrid and one Warre hive and are crossing our fingers that they both take. Mark thinks he might be able to rig a way to set Warre frames inside a Langstroth hive so we can convert the other hive over to Langstroth with a shortcut method, and I'm looking forward to the basswood flowers opening on our tree soon, so there's lots of buzz to come in the apiary. Stay tuned!

Posted Thu Jun 4 07:28:55 2015 Tags:
garden hose mechanical timer review

We decided to put the mushroom station on the same waterline as the new tomato drip irrigation so we could use this mechanical hose timer to automate all the soaking times.

It works like an egg timer so it doesn't need batteries and comes in 5 other rainbow colors if you don't mind paying a little extra.

Posted Thu Jun 4 15:49:31 2015 Tags:

Dwarf apples with paper mulchA couple of our experiments this spring have focused on trying out new methods of mulching around our perennials, and I thought it was time to give you an update on my successes and failures. I've never been entirely pleased with my mulch campaign in our berry and high-density tree rows because I never have enough of my favorite mulch --- rotted wood chips --- to go around. For the last couple of years, I've instead mulched these guys with bedding from our chicken coops, but that material rots down pretty fast, is really too nitrogen-rich for woody perennials, and would be better used in the vegetable garden. Time to try something new!

Disintegrating paper mulch

First of all, the roll of paper mulch we tried around our high-density apples has now been marked down as an official failure. Don't get me wrong --- the paper held back weeds very well (as long as the beds started out weed free). But the paper only lasted about six weeks before it developed big holes, even where no pets walked across the garden beds. With a price tag equivalent to covering this area with a healthy layer of straw (a mulch that would have lasted much longer while adding a lot more organic matter to the soil), I don't think we'll be trying rolls of paper again.

Mulching with cardboard

On the other hand, I'm falling more and more in love with using plain old flattened cardboard boxes around our woody perennials. I'd never laid down cardboard with nothing on top before, so I've been surprised by how well the cardboard stands up to the weather while also making the soil underneath loose, damp, and happy. For example, the apple row in the foreground of the photo above was treated to a layer of cardboard last fall, which has since rotted enough that I had to double up the layers around the fruit trees. But that left happy, bare soil behind where tree roots haven't yet colonized the soil, so I scattered on some buckwheat and I suspect we'll be good to go for quite a while. One layer of cardboard lasting perhaps all year is a pretty good deal!

Mulching with weeds

The straw-like substance on top of the cardboard in my previous photo is simply garden weeds that I had piled up nearby. Cardboard does require some sort of object on top to weigh it down, so my new method involves a quick weed of the biggest plants in the area I'm planning to mulch with cardboard, followed by a layer of cardboard topped off with a sprinkling of the weeds just pulled. The cardboard barrier prevents weed roots from recolonizing the soil, and the dying weeds hold the cardboard down until it melds with the soil. Just don't do this with creeping plants (certain grasses, ground ivy, etc.), or you'll end up with a weed problem on top of your mulch.

I suspect my slapdash cardboard mulches wouldn't fly in a city garden. But if you live out in the country (and have a city person to collect cardboard boxes from the side of the road for you --- thanks, Mom!), I highly recommend that you give this perennial mulching option a shot.

Posted Fri Jun 5 06:15:19 2015 Tags:
Starplate door hole

Latching our latest goat door on both sides was a design flaw.

Sometimes Anna would have to go all the way around if she didn't remember which side was latched.

A 4 inch hole saw made a clean looking access hole that solved the problem.

Posted Fri Jun 5 15:59:31 2015 Tags:

Embedding garlic and thyme directly in the flesh of a leg of lamb imbues the meat with rich flavors. This recipe is perfect for a special occasion when you need to feed the masses, or simply as a way to prepare a week of meat for a family of two. We've even repeated this recipe using a venison haunch, which was nearly as delectable as the lamb, although the venison needed to cook a bit longer.

As a side note, I should mention that the juices that result from this dish are almost too good to waste. In the winter, I usually roast root vegetables at the base of the meat to soak up the fats, but for a summer dish, the juices might be better saved to make a gravy. Whatever you do, don't throw them away!


4 pound leg of lamb

3 cloves of garlic

1 tablespoon of fresh thyme

2 tablespoons of olive oil

salt and black pepper

Start by bringing the leg of lamb to room temperature three hours before you want to begin cooking. As the lamb warms up, make about 15 slices evenly spaced around all sides of the hunk of meat, then push a sliver of garlic and a sprig of thyme into each gap. Drizzle olive oil over the lamb and liberally sprinkle on salt and pepper.

After the leg of lamb is warm, preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit and place the prepared lamb in a roasting pan. Bake for half an hour, basting with the accumulated juices after fifteen minutes, then turn down the heat to 325.

Continue basting every fifteen minutes, baking until the internal temperature of the meat has attained 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Total cook time for a 4-pound leg of lamb (including the initial half hour at a higher temperature) should be about 1 hour and 50 minutes.

When the lamb is done, remove the pan from the heat and allow the meat to sit for ten to fifteen minutes before carving. Serves 12.

Posted Sat Jun 6 06:20:26 2015 Tags:
goats in the sun
Our goats spend a lot of time lounging in the sun.
Posted Sat Jun 6 15:47:38 2015 Tags:
Goat grazing in swamp

I read a lot about forest succession during my misspent youth. But only after spending an hour a day down in the floodplain with the goats have I realized that our very own farm is home to a sister ecological process --- swamp succession.

Dead trees

Yes, our floodplain looks very different now than it did last year at this time. Part of the change is due to dead and dying box-elders and walnuts, leaving only ash and elm trees to thrive in soil that was simply too waterlogged for most of the winter to allow root breathing room. Fewer trees means more light on the floodplain floor, which in turn means lots more herbaceous growth for the goats to enjoy.

Dead spicebushes

Another major shift became visible this spring when most of our spicebushes failed to leaf out. This could be a waterlogging problem as well. But since I've seen dead spicebushes in the woods this spring, I suspect the issue instead was caused by last winter's deep freeze.

Spicebush and sassafras are both tropical plants that moved north from their Central American strongholds a long time ago. Will we lose these odiferous denizens of the forest as our winters become more harsh? For now, the bushes are sprouting back from the roots, but who knows how many similar winters it would take to kill them dead.

Wetland plants

The thing about ecology is that change is neither bad nor good. Change is simply...change. The sunny, wet forest floor is now home to dense stands of sedges, which are mostly ignored by the goats in favor of Canada moonseed, hog-peanut, multiflora rose, and various tree leaves. But once Abigail's belly is 95% of the way full, she'll spend as long as I'll let her picking the brown sedge seeds in the middle of the photo above off their plants. These are the only grains our doe gets in her diet, and she tells me they are delicious.

Yearling goat

This part of the floodplain was open pasture/hay field about fifty years ago, and I can see how that would be a good use for the land now too. In the absence of heavy machinery, though, the goats and I simply go down to frolic whenever I have a spare hour to "waste." I lie atop the swamp bridge or unroll a yoga mat further out under the trees, and our herd grazes happily as long as I'll let them.

Then I call Artemesia's name, or chant "Let's go, girls!" (yes, Lamb Chop is an honorary girl), and all three come running. I no longer even bother to grab Abigail's leash, but instead let our herd queen lead the way to the back door of the starplate coop, where I finally assert my dominance by shutting them all in. I like to pretend I've trained our goats to obey my commands...but sometimes I think they've instead trained me to spend my evenings relaxing in the floodplain and looking at the trees.

Posted Sun Jun 7 06:25:28 2015 Tags:
close up of cabbage worm on cabbage leaf

Our old friend the cabbage worm showed up this week about a week behind the first White Moth sighting.

Posted Sun Jun 7 15:30:05 2015 Tags:
Anna Big cheese
Draining cheese

With my recipe perfected at last, it started making sense to freeze our excess milk in preparation for a big batch of chevre. Two weeks and twenty-three cups later, I thawed the milk out in the fridge (and on the counter for the last couple of hours) and then whipped up the big cheese.

Goat cheeseIt looks like each quart of milk gives me about a cup of goat cheese...and a big batch is just as delicious as a small one! Five of those cups of chevre will go back in the freezer for the winter and the sixth cup will go into our bellies ASAP. (No, really --- I barely managed to put the lid on the container long enough to write this post.)

What's up next? Dr. Fankhauser's cheese tutorial suggests a basic pressed cheese or American mozarella, while my milking trainer instead recommends trying feta with the lipase she's giving when we pick up our annual lambs. Since we haven't yet rigged a cheese press, we'll probably try the feta or mozarella next, but I'm open to suggestions. What do you recommend as an easy beginner cheese?

Posted Mon Jun 8 06:23:54 2015 Tags:
20x30 tarp

We got almost three years out of our cheap tarp that covers the straw before it started to get thin and holey.

Turns out we could have saved 5 dollars on today's new tarp if we would've bought it on Amazon compared to our local feed store.

Posted Mon Jun 8 15:53:34 2015 Tags:
Queen cell

In my last bee post, I explained how I split our hive in an attempt to prevent a swarm. However, due to the less-then-movable frames in our Warre hive, I wasn't sure where the queen had ended up and whether the other hive had the potential to make a queen of their own.

So, five days later, I decided to take another peek inside each hive. What I found was reassuring. In the old hive (not pictured), I was able to wiggle one frame loose in the middle of the brood chamber and found a few eggs. Since honeybee eggs hatch out into larvae three to four days after being laid, this is proof that I have a laying queen --- almost certainly the original queen --- in the old hive.

The other hive resisted my efforts to pry loose a frame without unduly tearing the comb. So I had to take another approach to hunting for queens inside that hive. Assuming the old Hatched queen cellqueen was in the old hive, my best chance for this hive would be if queen cells were present and ready to hatch into new queens. Luckily, queen cells often show up on the bottoms of frames, so they're relatively easy to hunt for by simply sliding the box over to the edge of the hive and peering up underneath.

Sure enough, a peek up through the bottom of our new hive's brood box showed both hatched and unhatched queen cells. Since this hive will have to wait about three weeks for the virgin queen to mate and then begin to lay, it's a good thing I accidentally included most of the capped honey in this hive. In the meantime, it might be a smart idea for me to feed the daughter hive since nearly all of  the foraging workers stayed with the mother hive and there will continue to be fewer workers present in the daughter until the new queen begins to lay.

So it looks like luck was with me --- I have two queen-right hives and the mother hive still has the potential to sock away a lot of honey this year since she didn't lose as many workers as she would have during a swarm. I guess it's a good thing my honeybee purchases fell through this spring after all since I ended up doubling the number of hives in my apiary the old-fashioned way!

Posted Tue Jun 9 06:47:36 2015 Tags:
Seasonal produce

Lettuce is out, sugar snap peas are in.

Raspberries are waxing, strawberries are waning.

An in-season menu keeps our taste buds hopping.
Posted Tue Jun 9 13:48:00 2015 Tags:
Soaking strawberry roots

We love fresh strawberries, so we plant a range of varieties to extend the harvest season. Galletta is a bit of a gamble in that regard --- the plants might give us an extra week of strawberries very early in the season...or they might bloom so prematurely that we're unable to prevent freeze damage.

June garden

Planting location for an ultra-early variety like this depends on how much we're willing to risk. Should we plant in the sunniest part of the garden, ensuring blooms a week before strawberry flowers open up in the shade of our hillside (and resulting in similarly early strawberries)? Or should we plant in the colder part of the garden to retard flowers that will get nipped by late frosts?

I decided to live large and set out our Galletta strawberries in the sunny mule garden. But I hedged my bets by placing them all together in one raised bed that will be easy to cover with quick hoops or other frost-protection. Here's hoping I won't regret taking the high-risk approach to early strawberries!

Posted Wed Jun 10 06:57:35 2015 Tags:
Rainy day sprinklers

It's been so dry that we've started leaving the sprinklers on even when it storms. That extra tenth of an inch here and there doesn't amount to much.

But after we soaked each part of the garden Monday, Texas finally gave us back our rain.

One inch of wild-harvested water should keep most garden plants happy for a week. Time to turn off the sprinklers.
Posted Wed Jun 10 14:54:57 2015 Tags:

Goat climbing a tree
Writers are fond of telling new goat-keepers that our herds are browsers, not grazers. In other words, goats are supposed to crave tree leaves. But do they really?

Goats eating black locust leaves

Watching our goats graze, my answer is --- sometimes yes, sometimes no. If given a choice between a lush stand of vegetatively growing oats and nearly all tree leaves, Abigail makes a beeline for the oats. On the other hand, black locust leaves always hit the spot over vegetation on the ground.

In the end it seems to come down to succulence, protein, and energy content. Even though goats are ruminants, their bellies are relatively small compared to those of cows. And milk production uses up a lot of calories. So a milking doe like Abigail needs to choose plants of optimal nutrition, which seems to consist of honeysuckle, multiflora rose, black locust leaves, spring grass, and oats. She'll eat tidbits of lots of other plants, but those few offerings seem to make up the bulk of her diet when I allow it.

Cutting trees for goats

In the summer and with insufficient pastures, black locust is the easiest high-quality leaf matter to wrangle for our goats. Luckily, our herd's pastures are located in subpar soil, which is the preferred habitat of this nitrogen-fixing tree.
Black locust resprouting
The trouble is, my current method of cutting one large limb a day for our herd isn't a long-term strategy. Cut limbs do resprout (as you can see to the right), but I suspect I can only get away with coppicing a tree once or twice a year if I want it to survive.

On the other hand, goats have such sensitive mouths that they're able to pick off leaves one at a time, leaving the thorny branches intact. Which makes me think that if I plan it right, I might be able to bend branches down so they're within nibbling reach, then let them bound back up Pastured pulletsto regrow. Or, since we rotate our pastures frequently, it's possible I might get away with simply letting tree leaves regrow while the goats are absent on limbs that are always within goat reach.

Plenty of fun observation and experimentation ahead as we build the optimal goat pastures. What fun! I almost miss the days before we figured out the best way to pasture chickens...but not quite.

Posted Thu Jun 11 06:29:32 2015 Tags:
Solarizing perennial weeds

Solarization was effective at killing common garden annuals. But can the technique overcome difficult perennial weeds?

Two weeks with clear plastic on top of a mass of ground ivy and comfrey turned the leaves crunchy. Now the question is --- will the weeds regrow?

Posted Thu Jun 11 15:51:31 2015 Tags:

Barley heads
Preliminary results are trickling in from this year's cover-crop experiments. I'll start with the least successful --- barley. Barley works fine as a fall-planted cover crop, assuming you have a way to kill the overwintering plants in the spring. And I'd read that you can also plant barley in spring as an early ground cover that heads up in time to let you plant summer vegetables afterwards. Unfortunately, I didn't give the species a very good test.

The barley pictured above went into the bare soil of the forest garden aisles, which had been dug down to near the level of the groundwater in order to mound up the surrounding beds. But soon after planting in early April, the aisles flooded and (I suspect) killed emerging seedlings. After that, our weather took an extreme turn in the other direction and turned hot and dry, making for bad spring-crop conditions.

I did plant another test bed in the main garden, but, unfortunately, that bed fell prey to Mark's weedeater. In his defense, baby barley looks just like grass. And I hadn't done a good job of weeding that area yet this spring, so my long-suffering husband wasn't entirely sure where the aisles ended and the beds began. To cut a long story short --- most of the barley planted there didn't manage to regrow and the bed instead went to weeds.

Alfalfa in aisles

I planted alfalfa at about the same time and in about the same place, but with more trepidation. However, to my surprise, the legume turned out to be much more hardy than the grain. The forest-garden aisle of alfalfa had to deal with the same flooding-then-parching conditions, and the control bed in the front garden also got accidentally mowed. But alfalfa in both spots managed to resprout and make at least a moderate stand. In fact, in areas where I planted alfalfa and protected them from the weedeater, the cover crop nearly looks ready to be cut as a come-again mulch producer. Not bad work for two months of growth!

Young soybean

Cover crop polycultureLegumes are one of the themes of this summer as well. Sure, I largely depend on animal manures to add nitrogen to our garden, but it never hurts to have a vegetative source of the high-demand nutrient. So I'm trying out soybeans in several locations ranging from rye stubble in prime soil beds to the pure clay that has been recently solarized. I'll keep you posted about the results.

In the photo to the right, you can actually see three different cover-crop species if you look closely. In addition to soybeans and scarlet runner beans (to train onto the trellis not visible above the picture), I also interplanted both millet and sorghum-sudangrass in this bed. I'm not sure whether the millet is actually coming up, but the sorghum-sudangrass is growing, albeit slowly. More on these warm-season grasses as the season progresses.

Buckwheat groundcover

Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention my favorite summer cover crop, the old standby buckwheat. This non-grassy grain managed to sprout despite our recent drought and is pictured above filling in empty bed areas between young apple trees. Honestly, I wouldn't be at all surprised if, after trying six new species in 2015, I plant all buckwheat again next year. But stay posted for updates as they come down the pike!

Posted Fri Jun 12 07:02:06 2015 Tags:
Rabbit manure

A friend gave us a couple of bags of rabbit manure to experiment with. (Thanks, Dennis!) Anna was ecstatic.

Some gardeners report that rabbit pellets are cool enough to use close to plants pre-composting. But if urine is mixed in and you can smell ammonia, even rabbit manure can burn your plants.

We plan to topdress our new strawberry beds with manure, but to keep the pellets several inches away from young roots.

Posted Fri Jun 12 15:08:09 2015 Tags:
Time lapse scything

Did you ever wonder how long it takes to scythe a field? The photos above were taken on a 60-second delay as I cut ragweed growing up in one of our goat pastures. (Yes, our spoiled goats turn up their noses at ragweed.)

I'm ashamed to admit that I hadn't put my scythe together in years prior to playing around up on the goat pasture Friday. Scything fills a similar niche to weedeating, and it's always much easier to ask Mark to weedeat than to scythe myself. But my favorite mechanically-minded husband was visiting his mom in Ohio this past week, so I opted to do it myself rather than wait.

On a related note, I've been wondering lately whether a better cutting tool for me wouldn't be a sickle. I often find myself wanting a handheld cutter that can easily be used to spot-weed dock coming up in the pasture or harvest clumps of comfrey for the goats. A bit of research suggests that the top contenders for that job are Japanese sickles (aka kamas) and European grass hooks. I'd love to hear it if you've had good or bad experiences with either!

Posted Sat Jun 13 07:50:28 2015 Tags:
Trimming a goat hoof

White bucklingWe let our goats' hooves slide for six weeks recently instead of trimming them at the month mark. The edges of Abigail's front hooves had just started to curve in, but everything else looked fine.

Lambchop didn't get trimmed this time around because his date with the butcher is only a week and a half away.

Posted Sat Jun 13 14:09:30 2015 Tags:
Brooder in the apiary

Ever since we split the bees and then dragged the brooder into the apiary, the pasture in question has felt like a mini-metropolis. Well, maybe not so mini. I estimate our two hives together house perhaps 30,000 bees...about the size of my original home town.

Busy bee hive

More seriously, the foragers in the mother hive are working like crazy, even though the basswood is still in the bud stage. In contrast, the daughter hive appears to be doing nothing...until you peer closely and see workers walking back and forth between hive and feeder, then tap the hive and hear the roar. Some of those nurse bees should graduate into foragers before too long, at which point the daughter hive will also be packing away winter stores.

Posted Sun Jun 14 06:42:21 2015 Tags:
reciprocating meat saw

I helped my Mom cut up a large piece of pork recently.

She taught me how to poke a finishing blade through a ziplock bag to protect the saw and keep things sterile.

It took us almost 2 hours to work up the above slab into pork chops.

Posted Sun Jun 14 14:27:35 2015 Tags:
Mulching with paper

Our junk mail built up to fill its box at the same speed as last year, meaning that I had a big bin of shredded paper ready to hit the garden once again in early June. I've decided that this windfall is best used around the red raspberries, which are my hardest perennials to mulch because canes come up in new spots every year. Shredded paper fills in all the gaps nicely, and I only wish I had more of it.

Speaking of raspberries, we're now harvesting a couple of cups a day of reds and blacks. Add that to the broccoli and cabbages that need to be processed this week and the cucumbers that are just getting ripe and we're eating well in the middle of June!

Posted Mon Jun 15 07:12:45 2015 Tags:
big sale on EZ Misers at Amazon

Today begins the first day of our big Amazon sale.

23 percent off a bucket EZ Miser or 12 percent of an EZ Miser kit that allows you to install 2 EZ Miser spouts on just about any size container.

A big thanks to those who took a minute to give us 5 stars and a nice review. We had a 1 star review due to some leakage but didn't get a chance to make it right. Sometimes a poultry nipple will get a small piece of dirt clogging the nipple valve causing a leak and usually can be fixed by tapping the nipple with your finger a few times. It's also possible that hard water can leave calcium deposits on the valve. If that's the case soaking with some vinegar can make it right.

Posted Mon Jun 15 15:57:05 2015 Tags:
Homesteading harvest

As Thoreau might say, I went to the woods in search of leaves for chicken-coop bedding and came home with a bright orange fungus as a bonus.

Okay, so Thoreau's quote doesn't go quite like that. But what can be better than stumbling across a choice edible within my usual stomping grounds?

Chicken of the woods

Laetiporus undersideActually, I always get a little nervous when I bring home a wild mushroom species I've never prepared before. Granted, chicken of the woods is relatively easy to identify due to its bright yellow, gill-less (pored) underside, so it's considered one of the hard-to-kill-yourself-with fungi. On the other hand, even properly identified chicken of the woods can make some people sick, especially if harvested from eucalyptus or conifers. Luckily, our mushroom was sprouting out of the base of a dead red oak and was quite young, making it less likely to irritate allergies.

Chicken of the woods pieces

I sauted up the flesh in oil with a clove of just-harvested garlic and some salt and pepper. Then I teased our palates with just one piece of mushroom on each plate for lunch in case we turned out to be allergic.

There were no negative reactions. Instead, we both found the taste to be extraordinary, like a more richly flavored piece of chicken. I think chicken of the woods just moved to the top of my favorite-mushrooms list!

Posted Tue Jun 16 06:50:17 2015 Tags:
garlic harvest day

We now only grow one variety of garlic called Music.

The yield is great but what we like most is the resistance to cold.

Posted Tue Jun 16 15:47:43 2015 Tags:
Tomatoes starting to bulk up

For the past three years, by this part of June, I've been keeping secrets from my husband. I'd come in for lunch on Mondays disgruntled and would dread walking down the tomato row. That's right --- my weekly pruning sessions inevitably turned into a game of fight-the-blight.

It's been drier this year, but based on neighborly reports, I think the real reason blight has yet to hit our farm is because I paid the big bucks for blight-resistant tomato varieties. I've been cutting off lower leaves so they don't drag on the ground, but otherwise have nothing to do during my Monday sessions except tying up stems that have grown a foot or more during the last week. Never mind the eventual yield, those pricey seeds have already paid for themselves in anti-depressant effect!

Plum regal tomato

Nasturtium flowerMost of the new tomato varieties act just the way you'd expect, but Plum Regal seems to be a little odd. I've grown determinate varieties before, but none have topped out so short --- right around knee high. To keep the plants growing, I've taken to leaving the suckers in place since the main stem seems to have already achieved its preferred height.

What's with the nasturtium? It's just another burst of happiness in the tomato zone this year! I planted our 2015 tomatoes in old hugelkultur beds, and one spot contained relatively unrotted wood that made it hard to dig tomato-planting holes. So I instead filled that gap with nasturtiums, borage, zinnias, and chamomile. It's fun to have a colorful collection of flowers in between two of my tomato plants!

Posted Wed Jun 17 07:37:06 2015 Tags:
pulling up garlic at harvest time

Got a few more beds of garlic harvested today before it got too hot.

Posted Wed Jun 17 15:03:33 2015 Tags:
Goat walk

It's been blazing hot, with highs in the mid nineties. So, after supper, the goats and I head to the creek for a cool-down.

Summer creek

I jump in one of the deep holes while the herd looks on in horror. Actually, on day one, all three goats ran up and down the bank and cried, "Please get out! You'll drown! Or the alligators will get you!" No matter how much I explained that naming one of our wettest areas "the alligator swamp" was poetic license, they wouldn't calm down.

On day two, Artemesia was the only one worried about me, though. And by day three, the whole herd just quietly grazed along the shore, although my favorite little doeling did keep her eye on me the whole time. I guess it's handy to have a goat lifeguard, even if the water is less than waist deep.

Grazing goats

By the time my core body temperature has cooled down sufficiently to make life enjoyable again, the goats are deep into their grazing cycle. This week, they're spending their days in our poorest pasture, which wasn't even grazed by chickens last year and which runs out of goat-friendly greens after about day 1. I want the goats to keep depositing manure there, though, so I bring tree branches each morning and drop by with cabbage and carrot leaves midday. Still, by dinner time, the goats are hungry.

Head butt

So I settle onto my yoga mat with a book or a notebook (depending on my mood) and relax for an hour or so. I know when each belly fills because the attached goat drifts back to visit with me, and make trouble (Lamb Chop) or act cute (Artemesia).

Of course, the herd isn't ready to go home until the herd queen is 100% full. So when Abigail makes an appearance and decides head butting is more fun than eating, I pack up and we walk back down the driveway to our core homestead.

Goat on a bridge

The goats scurry alongside with little or no verbal prodding, Artemesia often right at heel with her ears perked back to make sure I'm still coming. The other goats are less concerned about a human's presence, so they just make a beeline for the coop where the deer flies they've accumulated will be confused and will soon fly away.

Goats running up a hill

And that's my post-supper goat hour in a nutshell. The only part I left out is the frolicking leap of goats 1, 2, and 3 down the hill at the beginning, during which time they really do appear to be clicking their heels together in joy. I'm still working on catching that on camera, so you'll just have to imagine goat glee at 6 pm today.

Posted Thu Jun 18 06:47:53 2015 Tags:
ATV straw bale hauling

The last trouble we had with the ATV was it not going into All Wheel Drive.

We took it into the local mechanic and he figured out that the battery was too weak even though it started up on the second try.

Posted Thu Jun 18 14:49:02 2015 Tags:
Webworm caterpillar

I haven't seen a single tent caterpillar this year, but the fall webworms (Hyphantria cunea) have come to visit our farm for the first time ever. I'm not glad to see them.

Caterpillar web

Like tent caterpillars, webworms hatch out in large groups and then spin webs around themselves to protect their tender bodies. Since predators can't easily get to the caterpillars inside, the insects make short work of leaves within their webs. In our yard, the webworms have invaded the red raspberries, elderberries, pears, and hazels.

The good news is, clipping off the affected limb and throwing it over the hill seems to do a pretty good job of protecting the plant in question. So I guess webworms are more of an annoyance than a scourge. They would have been even less annoying if I hadn't waited two weeks to identify and deal with them, afraid that a new and terrifying invasive had come to call!

Posted Fri Jun 19 07:16:30 2015 Tags:
organic hornet control measures

We had a problem today with some aggressive hornets on a pear tree.

There was a short debate on who would suit up and move the nest.

Anna wanted to do it but I had to pull the Head of the Household card and asked her to take pictures from a safe distance while I snipped the problem limb and threw the whole thing over a hillside.

Posted Fri Jun 19 15:47:29 2015 Tags:
Cabbage harvest

We harvested our cabbages in three sittings this week because our bushel basket would only hold four or five heads at a time. Plus, I learned that the goats will eat at least some of the outer leaves, but that they're more interested if I only bring up half a wheelbarrow-full at a time.

Husking cabbageWe'll eat some of these cabbages right away, then will freeze some and store some in the fridge to be added to harvest catch-all soup for winter. Unfortunately, despite last year's experiments with lactofermenting, we haven't come up with a fermented cabbage recipe that we enjoy.

On the plus side, goat cheese seems to feed our guts with the same bacteria and fungi you'd get in sauerkraut, and Mark notes that his tummy feels better this year than ever before. My stomach, on the other hand, never needs any help, presumably because of those gallons of dirt I ate as a child.

Posted Sat Jun 20 07:08:00 2015 Tags:
mark Field Beet
close up of new mangel

This is the first year we're growing mangel beets to feed our goats this Winter.

Posted Sat Jun 20 15:34:19 2015 Tags:
Butternut squash

Sometimes I get so engrossed in the minutiae of homesteading that I forget to share the big picture. So here's a disjointed post with a few photos of last week's triumphs. Above --- the forest garden weeded and mulched, with tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and butternut squash thriving.

Baby seckel pears

Summer pruning completed...and three baby seckel pears discovered amid the foliage! I guess that late frost didn't get quite all the blooms (although it did twist the developing fruits a little).

Young hazelnuts

Another happy surprise --- our hazel bush is completely loaded! The only troubling fact? For the first time ever, squirrels entered our yard last year, as evidenced by the dozens of walnut seedlings I've been pulling out of various parts of the garden this spring. Will the tree rats get our delicious nuts?

Young carrot

In the vegetable garden, we're starting to hit the stage where there's so much produce that the freezer and larder are slowly filling back up. The newcomer this week is baby carrots, which I pull out to thin the beds. Nothing like carrots to remind me of how much our soil has improved over the last nine years!

I hope you'll take a step back from frowning at the weeds and pests today to enjoy the beauty of summer. Now's a great time to take pictures so green they'll make your eyes pop in January. Happy solstice!

Posted Sun Jun 21 07:24:38 2015 Tags:
chicken of the woods

It's a long shot...but we decided to try to propagate some Chicken of the Woods pieces in a bowl of wet corrugated cardboard.

Posted Sun Jun 21 15:07:31 2015 Tags:
Congregating swarm

I feel like such an amateur at beekeeping, even though we've kept hives for six years now. Which is my way of saying --- I messed up.

When I visited our bees a few days after our swarm-prevention split, I was pretty sure I knew which hive had kept the old queen. And I was 100% sure that the queen-right hive had swarm cells in it. But, I left the extra queen cells alone because...what if I was wrong about that hive having a mature queen? And what if I killed all of the colony's new potential queens and the whole hive bit the dust?

I should have been brave, though. Because one of those queens hatched out Friday Honeybeesafternoon. As a result, a tremendous mass of bees rose out of the hive with the old queen, sat for three hours on a very tall limb, then flew away. The photo at the top of this post captures the swarm when about 70% of the bees were still in the air, if that gives you an idea of how many bees flew the coop.

Which isn't the end of the world since the swarm's old home now boasts a new queen and at least some workers to carry them through. And the break in brood cycles is a sure-fire way of lowering varroa-mite levels. But it also dramatically lowers our chance of honey this year.

Now both mother and daugher hive are back on the sugar-water wagon for the foreseeable future as they raise new queens and get their feet back under them. Hopefully they'll at least go into winter as two healthy colonies...and by this time next year, the bees will be back in Langstroth hardware so I can manipulate them more easily and prevent future swarms.

And maybe in another decade or so, I'll stop feeling like such an an amateur apiarist....

Posted Mon Jun 22 06:54:05 2015 Tags:
12 volt fan hooked up to car battery

We lost power yesterday about an hour before sunset.

It only took a few minutes to hook up what might be the best DC fan money can buy.

I have tried several battery powered fans and this one is in a class by itself. The battery I used was from the old truck we took to the crusher over three years ago. I was surprised it still had enough charge to last all night on low...maybe I could've increased to the next speed without draining the battery.

Posted Mon Jun 22 15:38:18 2015 Tags:
Carrying a goat across the creek

As an omnivorous homesteader, there comes a time when you have to put your money where your mouth is and kill that animal. For our first trial with homegrown red meat, we opted to take the halfway-house approach and drive Lamb Chop to the butcher. But I'll admit I still shed more than one tear over the endeavor.

Traveling with a goat

Honestly, I'd thought the hardest part would be getting our buckling across the creek and into the car, but he's used to following my lead. Yes, Lamb Chop and his mother (and Artemesia) cried as if the entire world was on fire as I led him away...but once I paused and let our buckling nibble on a mouthful of leaves he forgot all about the herd in a heartbeat. Instead, he followed me agreeably, submitted to being hoisted across the creek, hopped up onto the tarp-covered backseat with a bribe of alfalfa pellets, and then simply lay quietly with my arm across his back for the entire drive.

Goat on a leash

Only when we emerged from the car did he balk, and that was merely because the world was big and scary with a highway only a few yards away.


Without much prodding, our kid followed me into the slaughter room. Then I took off his collar, and we drove away.

(That's when I cried.)

Grazing goats

And, yes, the truth is that I let myself love our first homegrown kid a little too much. Even though he'd started harassing Artemesia (despite never quite finishing the job) and headbutting my legs when we walked together (in jest...he said!) and gnawing on my yoga mat (even though I continually pushed his nose away), I nicknamed our buckling Choppy and scratched behind his horns and let him lay down beside me as I read. Yes, despite protestations to the contrary, Lamb Chop and I were friends.

Goat on a log

I expected Abigail to cry all day after losing her kid, but the coop was ominously silent after Mark and I got home. And I'll admit that I dreaded my usually lusted-after evening grazing session that day --- I halfway expected our doe to call me a murderer when I came out to play. Instead, she was ready to eat, only looking up twice to call out Lamb Chop's name before putting her mind back to the serious business of grazing.

It was quieter in the woods without Lamb Chop present, but more peaceful too. And I learned at dusk that our buckling had been getting two thirds of Abigail's daily milk. Choppy, I thought we'd agreed to go halfsies!

Farewell, Lamb Chop

Which brings me back to the reality of homesteading --- if you want milk, there are offspring about once a year and 99% of the boys are really only good for meat. (The world would overflow with wethers in short order if we castrated all the males and tried to give them away as pets.)

So even though I shed a tear when I said farewell to Choppy, Mark and I still felt like we were doing the right thing. Next year, I'll probably be a little more distant with our kids...and maybe they'll be a little less magical in response. But as Tennyson said (about something else entirely), it's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. So, for this year at least, I wouldn't have changed a thing.

Posted Tue Jun 23 06:35:14 2015 Tags:
scything old strawberry bed

Anna has gotten so good at scything I decided to put her in charge of our little hillside near the gully.

I think it's one of those occasions where the scythe is less calories burned compared to holding a weed trimmer at that angle.

Posted Tue Jun 23 15:52:26 2015 Tags:

Summer books aleNow's your chance to snap up four of my ebooks at a dramatically reduced price! You'll need to mark your calendar, though, to catch each sale on the proper day.

I start off today, June 24, with Homegrown Humus marked down to 99 cents.

Tomorrow, June 25, I'll bring you Thrifty Chicken Breeds at 99 cents.

We'll take the weekend off so you have time to digest this week's cheap books. Then next Monday, June 29, we'll jump back on the sale bandwagon with Pasture Basics marked down to 99 cents.

And we'll finish our sale next Thursday, July 2, when Growing into a Farm is also 99 cents.

As a side note, if you want to be reminded on each of these sale dates, you'll see my books in Buck Books' daily newsletter during this time period. Click here to subscribe and find lots of other 99-cent books too!

Finally, in case you're interested, I'm currently hard at work on The Ultimate Guide to Soil, which will reach you in ebook form this winter and in print form next summer. One of the holes in my rough draft is container gardening --- I haven't done much of it but know that many people only have space for a few pots on their patio. If you've got some great photos and tips about container gardening that you'd like to share, I hope you'll take a minute to email me back and I may include your information in the final book.

Thanks for letting me take a day out of my usual round of gardening geekery and goat gallivanting for a bit of shameless self-promotion. I hope you enjoy the books!

Posted Wed Jun 24 06:41:05 2015 Tags:
close up of failed cheese
Too much buttermilk culture=blob that looks like bread dough.
Posted Wed Jun 24 15:22:39 2015 Tags:
Soybeans in solarized ground

The photo above shows the results of two different solarization experiments. On the right, two-week-old soybeans are happily growing in ground that used to be a mass of ground ivy prior to solarization (begun two weeks before planting). The weeds have nearly completely decayed into the soil and the soybeans appear to be thriving. There are a few smartweeds coming up from seeds, but none of the perennial weeds have regrown at all.

On the left, you can see a newly solarized area, the ground-ivy debris still lying dead on the soil surface. I could have ripped up those weeds by hand, but the bed would have lost all of that organic matter and my fingers would have been exhausted afterwards. Instead, five minutes of work results in richer soil ready for a round of cover crops.

Preparing for solarization

I've been pretty tentative with my solarization experiments so far because I initially didn't buy into the technique. But with so many successes under my belt, I asked Mark to buy me another roll of clear plastic and am preparing half of our brussels sprouts beds using the lazy-gardener method. The photo above shows a bed that used to be weedy lettuce (full of red clover), which I scythed, then topdressed with soiled goat bedding, and (after the photo was taken) covered with a sheet of clear plastic. I'm excited to see what the soil will look like in three weeks when the brussels sprouts are ready to go into the ground. Maybe solarization will become my fast-and-easy soil prep step in future garden years?

Posted Thu Jun 25 06:48:51 2015 Tags:
relocation of hornet nest

Our hornets from last week moved back into that same pear tree.

Maybe I should've burned them like Sheila suggested, but this time I just walked them a lot further from our perimeter.

Posted Thu Jun 25 15:33:05 2015 Tags:

Pair of goats
One of the most joyful parts of having our herd whittled back down to two is that I can return to morning tethering. I still take the girls out for their woodland grazing in the evening, so now I just tether until Abigail grows bored about an hour into her grazing period. To me, our doe doesn't look full after sixty minutes of tethering, but I have to accept that our goat knows what she wants.

Goat and dog

Which isn't to say that our pair of capricious beasties don't stop for a few more mouthfuls of succulent treats on the way back to the coop. Here, Lucy is reminding the goats that the porches (a couple of feet to the left of the photo) belong to her.

Goats eating alfalfa

A few mouthfuls of alfalfa make a good post-breakfast dessert. Then back to the coop to nap and chew their cuds until after the humans' dinner. Such a fun way to start the day, with an hour weeding beside the goats!

Posted Fri Jun 26 07:15:59 2015 Tags:

tomato close up

This is shaping up to be one of our best tomato years ever!
Posted Fri Jun 26 15:18:48 2015 Tags:
Botanical postcards

I used to write letters to a few college friends and family members long-hand. The trouble is that, in this age of computers, writing by hand feels terribly slow, so we all got behind in our correspondence and began to consider the letters a chore. Plus, it's hard to fill a letter with unique information now that I share 90% of my daily thoughts with the world on our blog.

Enter the postcard. This summer, I've been playing with these beautiful botanical postcards, dashing off a line whenever I think of it and sending them to all and sundry. Paper correspondence quickly became fun once again!

Kid cards

The first few weeks, it felt like I was fishing. I'd send out postcards to people I hadn't heard from in a while...then wait to see if they'd bite. My mom and I soon settled into a weekly postcard routine, and my grand-niece and grand-nephew came through with the amusing replies above. Glad I'm not the only one who likes strawberries!

I know this post has very little to do with homesteading. But the moral is --- if something used to be fun but became a chore, shake it up and make it fun again! And, if you can't think of your own unique spin, you could do far worse than joining me in the summer of the postcard.

Posted Sat Jun 27 06:00:11 2015 Tags:

This is the year we'll be giving up on rabbiteye blueberries and replacing them with more northern highbush.

Posted Sat Jun 27 16:04:32 2015 Tags:
Compost pile of weeds

I often use garden weeds to hold down newspaper or cardboard kill mulches around berries or to lower weed pressure under large fruit trees. But the weeds were growing faster than I could use them in June, so this week I gathered up two days worth of weeds to make a compost pile.

The photo above shows the pile before I added a bucket of bokashi-food-scraps and another two wheelbarrow-loads of weeds on top. Next up --- daily urine deposits to start rotting down the relatively high-carbon compost pile. It sure was fun to mound up my weeds, so I might make another compost pile next week!


In other soil-related news, Mark had the bright idea of solarizing the last remaining weed patch within our core homestead. This area gets mowed maybe once a year, and in between it tends to grow up into blackberries and ragweed. My hard-working husband whacked the weeds to the ground and then we laid down a sheet of plastic to see if this technique can work its magic in an area with much higher weed pressure than we've tried it on previously.

Washing green beans

And now that you've seen the weediest parts of our core homestead, I'll end with a happier photo --- the summer's first green beans. Sauted with homegrown garlic and a bit of salt, they were delicious!

Posted Sun Jun 28 07:56:07 2015 Tags:
scarlet runner beans

The scarlet runner beans are over 7 feet tall.

I'll bet they could go as high as 50 feet under the right conditions?

Posted Sun Jun 28 14:09:27 2015 Tags:
Steam engine

Between morning and evening milkings Saturday, I collected my mom and went back in time to the nineteenth century. The age of steam!

Old and new trains

Mom and MaggieBack when steam trains were starting to go out of style, the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum started buying up engines and passenger cars in an effort to keep at least a few of these old-timey trains on the rails. They renovated the steam trains, and now you can take short or slightly longer trips behind a coal-powered locomotive. When I saw that a day trip was leaving from Bristol (1.25 hours from our farm and a five minute walk from my mom's house), I was hooked. My summer adventure had been decided!

Appalachian farm country

After enjoying the rush of watching the steam locomotive back the train up to the historic Bristol train station, Mom and I climbed aboard and settled in to watch the scenery pass by. Although we were paralleling a minor highway (11E) the whole way, it was intriguing to see the countryside from a different perspective. Even just a few miles from the highway, the landscape was pastoral, full of cattle pastures, ancient farm houses, and the occasional backyard garden.

Tennessee mountains

I'm pretty sure I noticed someone emulating Salatin's egg-mobile along with an example of Bartholomew's Square Foot Gardening method. There were blooming mimosas and trumpet vines, one wild deer, and at least a hundred interested people parked at crossroads with cameras in hand, ready to record the steam locomotive's charismatic presence (and to wave us on our way).

Me smiling

About halfway through the journey, Mom and I decided it was time to explore! So we set out to walk to the commissary car in the middle of the train, four cars forward. I loved the gaps between cars, where you could hear the wheels turning beneath you and felt closer to the world whooshing by outside.

Bull's Gap festival

And then, before we knew it, we'd reached our destination --- the tiny town of Bulls Gap, Tennessee. It felt like all 719 residents were involved in welcoming us with a festival erected in our honor. There were tents full of sale items, two museums opened for our perusal, and a delightful bluegrass band playing live music.

Bulls Gap, TN

Yes, with nearly a quarter of the town's population living below the poverty line, I'm sure the goal was to grab some much-needed tourist dollars. But the event had the feel of a down-home welcome anyway, and Mom and I dove right in.

Old wringer washer

Old seed packetsThe museums were a little too packed for comfort (at least for this introvert), but the homeplace of Archie Campbell was more my style. The house is furnished with period stoves, beds, and other paraphernalia, and nothing is marked as hands-off. You can play with the wringer washer and hand-cranked record player and can pick through ancient packets of flower seeds to enjoy the artwork. If you're ever in the area, I recommend dropping by Bulls Gap to see for yourself.

Train painted on saw

Back in the melee of tents, Mom picked up a book by a local herbalist (which came with a free plant), and then we marveled over a scene painted on a saw blade. The section photographed above shows the very engine we rode into town behind.

Mom eating blueberry

We were allotted an hour in Bulls Gap, which was just about right. Although the train folks kindly provided us box lunches before we reached our destination, I'd also packed homegrown goodies since I don't trust the outside world to feed me properly anymore. So Mom and I munched on cucumber sticks, blueberries, and brownies, washing it down with slowly-thawing jars of frozen goat's milk. I felt a bit bad for the folks trying to sell us hot dogs, popcorn, and soft drinks...but, really, which snack would you prefer?

Train coming around the bend

And then engine 4501 pulled back into the Bulls Gap downtown and we climbed aboard.

Mom in front of the train

(Here's an extra photo of Mom with her plant in front of the locomotive, just because.)

Looking ahead

The ride home was quieter as we all drifted back into the beauty of the surrounding scenery.

Home in the rain

And just when I was starting to think that Abigail would be pissed if I was gone much longer, we pulled up to the Bristol station in a pounding rain. Maggie had kindly brought the car down to pick us up so we didn't get soaked, and she'd cooked up Lamb Chop's right front leg into a delicious supper.

But more on that later since this post is already far too long. In the meantime, I hope you enjoyed coming along for the ride!

Posted Mon Jun 29 07:40:13 2015 Tags:
Secret Worlds box set

I don't usually bore you with too many book posts, but I'm hoping you'll bear with a bit more publishing news. First of all, if you missed last week's summer sale post, Homegrown Humus is marked down to 99 cents for one more day, you've got two days left to snap up Thrifty Chicken Breeds on sale, Pasture Basics went on sale this morning, and Growing into a Farm will join the 99-cent ranks on Thursday.

But that's not what I really want to tell you about this afternoon. Instead, I'm escaping the world of homesteading for a few minutes in order to share Aimee Easterling's big news. I've been helping Aimee publish her novels through Wetknee Books, and one of those titles is now included in a box set that went on sale this morning. For a limited time, you can snap up all 21 novels for only 99 cents, meaning that even speed readers like me could have a whole month of reading for less than a buck. What a great deal!

Secret Worlds box set teaser

The overarching goal is to help the box set hit the USA Today and New York Times bestseller lists. We have the first of these in the bag (we hope), but it's going to take some serious book-selling if we want Aimee to be able to call herself a New York Times bestseller.

Girl in greenTo that end, I hope you'll take a minute to share the news with anyone who enjoys paranormal fantasy. And, if you wrote a review of Shiftless when it first went live, I hope you'll take a minute to copy and paste that review over onto the box set page. Then email me with a link to your review by the end of the day today and I'll put your name in the hat. One lucky reviewer will be receiving signed paperback copies of both of Aimee's werewolf books (or, if you prefer, of The Naturally Bug-Free Garden and The Weekend Homesteader). I hope that sweetens the pot and makes you more likely to spend three minutes at the keyboard this afternoon.

Book sales are what give me the leisure to experiment in the garden all day and share my learnings with you, so I really appreciate your efforts to make Aimee's box set a success.
And thank you so much for bearing with this commercial break!

Posted Mon Jun 29 14:47:11 2015 Tags:
Lucy and me cutting tree down

We're getting a little behind schedule on our firewood cutting.

The Oregon battery powered chainsaw has been my main saw since the gas powered Stihl developed compression problems and had to be put out to pasture.

Posted Mon Jun 29 16:07:01 2015 Tags:
Early transparent apple

Espaliered apple tree

In my last post, I left you at the train station, but my girl's day out wasn't over quite so soon. Mom and Maggie brought me home for supper...and to ooh and aah over their dwarf apple tree.

I can't remember the exact dates, but I'm guessing this tree has been in the ground for only three years. It's trained as a natural-form espalier, and due to the city location (pavement holds heat), late spring freezes don't harm the blooms. You can see the result...a tree dripping with apples even after about a dozen fruits have been harvested. I'm green with envy!
Goat poetry
The other excitement major enough to keep me away from my milking for an extra half hour was tasting Lamb Chop's first culinary debut. I brought Maggie a pound of ground goat meat the morning of our adventure, and while Mom and I were on the train, Maggie was cooking up a storm. The result was so delectable that I thawed out some chops, marinated them, and cooked them up for me and Mark the next day.

The consensus is that 3.75-month-old goat tastes every bit as good as lamb...possibly even better. There's no gamy flavor (although the meat is very slightly tougher than lamb) and the fat-to-meat ratio is the best of all the pastured meats we've tried so far (purchased lamb and beef and hunted venison).

Goat versus lamb meat

As for cost --- the $55 we paid to the slaughterhouse was very much worth it. We ended up with 26 pounds of goat meat (which I think includes the weight of the bones I requested to have returned to me for broth-making), and the thinly sliced steaks and ground meat will definitely making cooking with our homegrown chevon much easier. Considering that we've been willing to pay top dollar for pastured lamb in the past, the slaughterhouse fee is Pair of goatsquite acceptable for meat that is otherwise nearly free. Suddenly, I'm wishing Abigail had popped out two kids instead of one, and I'm looking forward to an even larger goat harvest next summer.

Finally, I should end by mentioning that there doesn't seem to be a perfect age for harvesting goats for meat. A quick search of the internet turns up dates ranging from two months to two years, with the data that growth starts to slow (meaning the meat gets much tougher and feed costs rise if you're purchasing food) at an age of about five to six months. So, even if Lamb Chop hadn't been making my life more difficult, butchering him at four months was probably a relatively good idea.

And, despite my angst at the time, I haven't experienced a single qualm as we gorge on our first buckling's meat. Instead, I fall more and more in love with our caprine homestead addition every day. The only real question is --- which is the most valuable goat product? Milk, manure, or meat?

Posted Tue Jun 30 07:08:14 2015 Tags:
sickle cutting

Our new harvest sickle has a stainless steel blade with deep serrations.

It's an impressive cutter that made short work of this large comfrey.

Posted Tue Jun 30 15:28:35 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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