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

archives for 07/2015

Jul 2015
Persimmon graft success

Young American persimmonAbout a month ago, I grafted named varieties onto our seedling American persimmons. I used two different techniques, whip grafting the hard-to-get-to plants up in the powerline pasture and bark grafting the more accessible plants where our pullets and cockerels are currently grazing. Since I'm a lazy farmer whenever possible, I'd only been watching the accessible plants, and was disappointed to see that one piece of scionwood had broken off and that the other two pieces of scionwood showed no signs of life.

But when the weeds in the powerline pasture got tall enough to make it worthwhile to tether our goats up on the hill, I brought along the camera and took a look at the whip-grafted persimmons. The result? 75% success, which is pretty awesome for this notoriously difficult-to-graft species!

Goat grazing in high weeds

Goat and roosterNow, if only I hadn't tethered Artemesia quite so close the the Yates persimmon, bringing my success rate on that hillside back down to 50%....

On the plus side, I still have hopes that some more of the grafted persimmons might sprout from the scionwood later this summer. After all, the scionwood on three trees looks good...just seemingly dormant. But if I was going to repeat my endeavor, based on this data, I'd go entirely for whip grafts in the future.

Since it looks like all of the seedling rootstock is still alive, I should get a second chance on those trees, snipping scionwood off the successful grafts and adding them to the unsuccessful trees next spring. In the meantime, I'll be babying our successful grafts and hoping for fruits as early as 2018...if Artemesia keeps her mouth to herself.

Posted Wed Jul 1 07:35:40 2015 Tags:
battery powered chainsaw companion brush

I usually clean out the wood chips on our Oregon battery powered chainsaw with a nearby twig, but a small paintbrush gets the job done faster and cleaner.

Two bungee cord straps on the chainsaw handlebar keeps the brush handy.

If the brush had a flat head screwdriver as part of the handle it would make tightening the chain in the field easier.

Posted Wed Jul 1 15:45:08 2015 Tags:
Emerging honeybee

Both the basswood and the sourwood are blooming right now, so the hives are hopping. Which means it's time to look inside and make sure there's enough space for the bees to sock away all that honey.

Capped honey

You may recall that our mother hive has been weakened twice this year. First, I took a swarm-prevention split, then the hive swarmed anyway. And yet, despite losing all of those workers (and me not finding a second feeder to boost their stores with sugar water), there's quite a bit of capped honey in the hive. The top box (a Warre box above a hive converter, which was the original box in this hive) seems to be about half full of honey and half full of capped brood. The next box down (a Langstroth super) is similarly full. And the final box (another Langstroth super) is full of drawn comb with some honey already stored therein.

Capped brood

I took the hive all the way apart for two reasons. First, I was hoping to be able to take off the Warre box and call the conversion a success. Unfortunately, there's still brood in the Warre box, so I'll have to wait on finishing our conversion.

My second reason was to hunt for eggs, to see whether the newly hatched queen had begun to lay. It's really too early to expect a virgin queen to have mated and started to lay, though. And, sure enough, the only brood I found was capped (some of which was hatching, like in the photo at the very top of this post). So I'll have to wait there as well to see whether the new hive has produced a successful queen.

However, I did use the intrusion to good effect in the end. Since I had the hive entirely dismantled, I took the opportunity to add another empty super, although I put it at the very bottom in the Warre manner. Hopefully that will give the bees room to continue drawing comb and socking away the massive amounts of nectar that seem to be winging into the apiary this week. After all, I can hear the bees flying from the back porch, about 150 feet away, so I know they're working hard!

Inside a warre hive

Meanwhile, the daughter hive (from an early June split) is much less populous, but seems to be doing quite well nonetheless. The top box is very heavy with honey and brood, while the bottom box is fully drawn but appears mostly empty. It's much harder to delve into a Warre hive in search of queen signs, but the presence of brood four weeks after the split suggests that there is a queen present and hard at work doing what she does best --- expanding the hive.

I put the daughter hive back together as-is and left the bees to their colony chores. Except for sugar water for the daughter hive, the apiary should take care of itself for a few weeks now.

Posted Thu Jul 2 07:08:34 2015 Tags:
6 quart goat feeder little giant

Our goats have already broken their first mineral feeder trays.

These new 6 quart feeders are made of thick Dura-Flex plastic.

I added some large washers in case Abigail tries to step into one again.

Posted Thu Jul 2 15:52:29 2015 Tags:
Pruned tomatoes

Ripe tomatoIn our garden, it's always a case of good news/bad news. Good news: we started eating our first tomatoes (Jasper) this week and there is technically still no blight in the patch. Bad news: septoria leaf spot has reared its ugly head and required me to snip off half the plants' leaves anyway.

Although not a blight by name, septoria leaf spot is a fungal disease of tomatoes (making it a blight in my book). In our garden, septoria is usually the first such disease to appear, and it seems to weaken the plants sufficiently to let the other fungi get a toehold. But maybe this year our blight-resistant varieties will come through and septoria will be our only fungal problem. Only time will tell.

(As a side note, I feel dumb/condescending typing this, but several of you have asked me about our blight-resistant tomato varieties despite me linking copiously in my posts. If you follow the link above, you can read much more about them. And, in general, if you follow the links in my posts, you'll learn more about the topics in question. And now I'll end my quick course in Web-browsing 101....after an apology for insulting your intelligence!)

Butternut squash plants

Back to the point, you can see our tomatoes in the background of the photo above. The plants look a little naked now with their bottom leaves all gone, but I'm hoping the serious pruning will slow down fungal spread despite a rainy week.

Baby butternut squashIn the foreground are happy, healthy butternuts, thriving and setting fruit in what will probably be next year's tomato patch. Like cabbages, squashes are such a joy in the garden simply because they grow so vigorously that they make me feel like a pro. Honestly, though, other than feeding the soil with a bunch of chicken bedding a few months before planting then mulching the emerging vines, I've done nothing to those plants. Cucurbits, unlike tomatoes, require very little babying in our climate to party all the way across the aisles and into the next beds. I love our naughty butternuts!

Posted Fri Jul 3 07:38:55 2015 Tags:
making repairs on the milking stanchion

Abigail found a weak spot on the milking stanchion neck brace and nearly worked one of the side panels free.

Two brackets made it feel more stable.

Posted Fri Jul 3 15:04:38 2015 Tags:
Pink zinnia

Sometimes I get so deeply focused on tomato blight or persimmon grafting that I forget to show you the big-picture garden. So I snuck out between rain showers Friday to snap some shots of this and that.

Summer garden

Young cucumbersJune was weeding month, when I did my best to uproot interlopers between young vegetable seedlings and then mulched the growing plants left behind. The task is ongoing, but by the beginning of July I'm officially ahead of the weeds and can finally breathe a sigh of relief.

We're also eating quite a few summer vegetables already, making all that weeding worthwhile. Cucumbers, summer squash, tommy-toe tomatoes, green beans, and Swiss chard are all making regular appearances on our plates now, with more contenders still to come.

Renovated strawberry bed

Young strawberry plantI also took a bit of time this week to start working on our strawberry beds. Midsummer strawberry tasks include renovating keeper beds, ripping out old beds, and clipping blooms off any newly bought plants. These last have been sitting in cold storage since winter, so they think it's spring when they arrive at our farm. But June blooms in 2015 will mean fewer strawberries in 2016, so I pinch off flowers as they form.

The only difference in my strawberry campaign this year is that I opted to fertilize and mulch our renovated beds with fresh goat bedding. I hope I don't see burning and regret this shortcut! I definitely wouldn't apply fresh chicken bedding around growing plants, but goat bedding seems to be lower in nitrogen and might make the cut. We'll see....

Alfalfa flower

Soybean plantsSpeaking of nitrogen, I'm keeping an eye on the two new nitrogen-fixing cover crops we're trying out this year --- alfalfa (above) and soybeans (to the left). I'm not sure if alfalfa puts out enough growth to really count as a cover crop, although the goats adore the leaves. The soybeans are more intriguing from a garden perspective, since they appear to be thriving in very poor soil. That's a cover-crop niche I'd been looking to fill --- what to plant before your earth has been improved enough to keep buckwheat and oats happy. But it's early days yet, so I'm not ready to pass judgment on either cover crop right now.

Sick borage

On a less utilitarian note, borage doesn't look like it's going to make the cut as an Anna-friendly flower. To survive on our farm, flowers have to be able to thrive with absolutely no care, and our borage seems to be failing. I could look up the disease and take steps to fix it...but with happy nasturtiums and zinnias, I see no point in babying a flower.

Hodge podge flower bed

Scarlet runner beans, of course, continue to prove themselves to be Anna-friendly flowers. This area in front of the trailer is entirely subsoil, dug out of a bank nearby and mounded up into a little bed that partially hides our skirting. But despite poor soil, the beans are already growing so fast that I've pulled Mark off other projects to start building them a trellis.

The bed and trellis were really meant to house grapevines, three of which are hidden amid the beans in the photo above. Mark will tell you more about the trellis soon, I'm sure, but suffice it to say that the eventual goal is to shade this west-facing window from the hot summer sun.

Developing hazelnuts

And that's a quick tour of bits of the garden that caught my eye before it started to rain. Happy Fourth of July!

Posted Sat Jul 4 07:42:55 2015 Tags:
Anna milking Abigail

Anna has been teaching me how to milk Abigail.

It might take me a while to learn the hand action and milking machine suction.

Posted Sat Jul 4 14:50:12 2015 Tags:
Grazing goats

It's time for us to cross another goat-keeping hurtle --- breeding our does. I was hoping to do this the lazy way, letting our buckling mate with our (unrelated) doeling this summer for a fall birth. But Lamb Chop didn't mature fast enough to do the deed before my self-imposed deadline, and any matings now would result in kids being born too late in the season to be safe.

Goat eating multiflora rose

So we've got a bit of breathing room to figure out a better way to get our does knocked up. For an early April birth, we'd need to breed our does in early November. Which seems like a lot of time to make up our minds...but probably isn't.

There are lots of ways to find goat sperm, which vary in dependability, safety, and quality. Honestly, Mark and I would prefer artificial insemination (AI) for our high-class doeling for reasons of safety and since she's a quality goat whose offspring could be equally high quality (if dad supplies the right genes). But we haven't found anyone local who can do goat AI, and driving a few hours to get our goat bred could be problematic if the first time doesn't take. (Success rates with frozen semen run about 60% with goats.)

Option 2 is to buy a liquid nitrogen tank and supplies so we can inseminate on our own. My understanding is that this would cost about $500 (plus ongoing liquid nitrogen costs), which seems pretty expensive for goat sex.

Billy goatOption 3, the simplest and probably cheapest option, is to find a local buck whom our does can have a date with. The trouble is that I'm working hard to keep our farm's parasite levels very low, so I wouldn't want a run-of-the-mill buck sleeping over and spreading his worms. (All goats have worms, and if you've been deworming your herd monthly the way most people around here do, those worms are most likely vermicide-resistant "superbugs." Doesn't sound good, does it?) And the bucks I've heard about nearby probably won't produce offspring that are worth keeping, which would be a shame since a daughter of Artemesia's could potentially be a top-notch goat. The closest milking-quality Dwarf Nigerians or Mini-Nubians (Artemesia's breed) that I've found so far are a couple of hours away, which adds another layer of complication to the breeding endeavor if I want to produce keeper kids.

Option 4 is to buy a buck, presumably one with good genetics and who has a clean bill of health. The trouble here is that our farm is small and our infrastructure is minimal, so we wouldn't really have anywhere to keep him. Granted, if he didn't cost too much, we could simply buy a buck in the fall, make sure he mates with our does, then eat him, which would lower the hassle factor dramatically. But high-quality bucks tend to cost high-quality money, making it less feasible to turn him into sausage after he breeds with our does. And there's still the parasite issue to consider.

Reaching goat

I'd be curious to hear from more experienced goatkeepers among you. Is there an option I'm missing? And, given our goals and infrastructure, which breeding technique would you choose? I suspect November will be here before we know it, and it would be great if I had our breeding plans all lined up before those fall heats.

Posted Sun Jul 5 07:11:12 2015 Tags:
stunted fig

Our Chicago Hardy Fig is limping along this year due to a harsh Winter.

Makes me wonder if a support post might encourage more vertical growth?

Posted Sun Jul 5 15:13:05 2015 Tags:
Four days of milk

My first try with mozzarella tasted and looked a little funny since I used balsamic vinegar to acidify the milk. (That was the only acid I had in the house.) But after a trip to the store to pick up a bottle of lemon juice, my second attempt came together quite easily. Total time: 30 minutes active, 2 hours total in the kitchen, 3 days wait on the milk.

Skimming goat milk

First of all, Leigh warns not to try to make mozzarella until goat's milk is at least three days old. So I started a careful milk-aging system in the fridge --- new jars went in the right side, wrapped around the back, and we drank out of the jar in the front left. The great part about aging the milk before turning it into cheese is that I was able to skim off enough cream to whip as berry topping. Yum!

(Edited to add: I made this later with the cream left in, and I have to admit that whole mozzarella was tastier than skim mozzarella. So you might consider skipping the skimming step.)

Candy thermometerOkay, back to the point. I poured eight cups of three-day-old milk into a stainless-steel pot. Next, I mixed 1/4 cup of lemon juice (bottled) with one cup of water and poured that mixture into the milk, stirring well.

The next step was to warm the milk to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. My jelly thermometer doesn't go down that low, so I used the inside-of-your-wrist test that is recommended for warming water for bread-yeast proofing.

Once the milk was warm, I mixed 1 drop of liquid rennet into 1/4 cup of cold water. Our raw goat milk requires very little rennet, so I then poured half of the rennet-water mixture into my acidified milk. In other words, I ended up only using half a drop of rennet for this recipe, which makes the mozzarella come out at more the consistency I was looking for than the harder, chewier cheese resulting from following a recipe.

After mixing the rennet-water into the acidified milk, I was ready for the first waiting step --- 1 hour for curds to form.

Cheese curd

When you gently tilt your pot of proto-mozzarella and the clearish whey slides away from the solid curd, you're ready to move on to the next stage. Use a knife to cut the curd into squares, then put the pot back on the stove over medium-low heat.

This is where the candy thermometer comes into play. Your goal is to achieve a temperature of 105 to 108 degrees Fahrenheit, then to hold your liquid at that temperature (stirring every five minutes) for thirty-five minutes. During this time, the curds will shrivel and clump together to form a substance much more like mozzarella. Be careful because I feel like overdoing the heat here makes the mozzarella a little chewier than I would have liked.

Mozzarella curds and whey

Now strain the curds from the whey by passing the contents of your pot through a stainless-steel sieve.

Homemade mozzarella

Add 1/4 teaspoon of salt to the curds, then put them in the microwave (in a microwavable dish) for between 30 seconds. The mozzarella should melt enough to be stretched and easily formed into a ball. If not, put it back in for 15 to 30 seconds before stretching a few times and calling the cheese done.

The result is about six ounces of cheese from two quarts of milk, with the possibility to get more cheese out of the whey later. All told, mozzarella seems a bit more wasteful of milk than cultured cheeses, but it's definitely quick and easy. In fact, there's a 30-minute version knocking around the web that cuts out some of these steps, if you don't mind trading a bit of flavor for time.

What fun to add another homemade cheese to my arsenal!

Posted Mon Jul 6 07:05:26 2015 Tags:
trellis installation

We put up a new shade trellis today for grapes and scarlet runner beans.

The increased shade on these West facing windows will help to cool the kitchen.

Posted Mon Jul 6 15:46:32 2015 Tags:
Carrot shapes

Gnarly carrotIt's hard not to be intrigued by the shape of carrots when they come out of the ground twisted or gnarly. For example, the photo to the left (from our 2009 garden) made me think one carrot was giving his buddy a hug.

However, after a while, most gardeners realize that the goal is long, straight carrots that are easy to clean and chop. So why, we begin to wonder, are some carrots fine, upstanding members of our gardening community...while others split and twist and make trouble?

The answer is usually in your soil. The carrots in the photo to the left probably should have been thinned, while the carrots on the right side of the photo at the top of this post likely hit something hard in the soil and split to grow around it. Since we don't have any rocks, those were likely tough spots within the earth itself, a sign that our soil isn't yet perfect. Luckily, more of our carrots come out of the ground long and straight every year --- a good sign!

Sorting carrots

I harvested one of our beds of spring carrots early this year because the plants were starting to rot. It's possible the rot is due to our recent bout of wet weather (2.7 inches in the last week). Perhaps more likely (since only one bed was affected and the roots are rotting from the tips up) is carrot fly larvae tunneling down into the roots. I'll probably pull the other three beds this week just in case.

On the plus side, I planted twice as many carrots as we needed so Abigail could get off the storebought-carrot wagon. So I sorted our harvest into straight, easy-to-handle carrots for the humans and partially rotted or gnarly carrots for the goats. Even though I had to take care of twice as many beds in the garden, I think the goats just saved us time overall since I don't have to scrub those gnarly roots!

Posted Tue Jul 7 06:58:26 2015 Tags:
more weed trimming

Our Stihl FS-90R weed trimmer is just over 4 years old and still runs great!

The trimmer head needs to be replaced. I was going to order an after market trimmer head on Amazon but changed my mind when I saw all the bad reviews.

Better to wait and pay a little more at a Stihl dealership. My new favorite place to take Stihl products is the feed store in Gate City.

Posted Tue Jul 7 16:10:33 2015 Tags:
July harvest

It's that time of year again --- when a couple of hours weeding in the garden has the side effect of bringing home a bigger harvest than we can possibly eat in the next few days. Our local librarians are going to have to add more cucumbers and squash to their diets. (We'll keep the carrots.)

Garden before and after

The photos above show the part of the garden I hit Tuesday, before (above) and after (below). I pushed back the squash (who were trying to eat the onions), yanked out our first planting of cucumbers (since we have another bed in full production now), and harvested the carrots. Other beds had been home to oats (which didn't die properly and turned into weeds) or garlic (harvested a few weeks ago). The result is that most of this area is now fallow until it turns back into a fall garden. So I scattered buckwheat seeds liberally across the bare ground and can write this area off my agenda until planting time for kale, lettuce, and brussels sprouts.

Posted Wed Jul 8 07:02:11 2015 Tags:
Masai beans being picked

Why have we only grown Masai beans for the last 7 years?

Because they taste delicious with a little garlic and oil with salt and pepper.

Posted Wed Jul 8 16:09:55 2015 Tags:
Summer harvest

Wednesday's carrot harvest put Monday's and Tuesday's to shame. These are Bolero carrots, which get much bigger (although not as tasty) compared to the Sugarsnax I harvested earlier in the week. The Bolero also seem much less affected by carrot flies, which is a good thing given this year's infestation.

Without the carrot-fly depredations, I was able to get a better feel for the difference between broadforked soil and unbroadforked soil. You may recall that I broadforked half of each carrot bed before planting in an effort to see what effect this soil-loosening step would have on the root crop. Overall yields seemed roughly comparable on the two halves of the bed, but I thought the carrots in the broadforked side averaged a bit larger and they were definitely easier to pull up. I'll get Kayla's unbiased conclusions on the last carrot bed tomorrow...if I can think of somewhere to store another near-bushel of carrots.

Rinsing carrots

Speaking of storage, upgrading the quantity of carrots we're growing so we can feed some to the goats means changes in our harvesting habits. In the past, I've sometimes stored carrots unwashed, but our heavy soil tends to really stick to the vegetables if I dig them during a rainy spell as I'm doing this year. Mark had the bright idea of filling up our huge sink with water, pouring in the carrots, then swishing them around. After draining out the muddy water, I then sprayed the carrots down well. The combination of quick-and-dirty cleaning techniques probably removed about 95% of the soil, which is pretty good for ten minutes of work! Now if my inventive husband can just put his mind to work figuring out where to put excess carrots when the weather is too hot to use our refrigerator root cellar....

Posted Thu Jul 9 07:08:58 2015 Tags:
chimney sweeping

We sweep the chimney every year and each time the build up is tiny.

I think it's a testament to how efficient the Jotul stove burns.

Posted Thu Jul 9 15:51:04 2015 Tags:
Tomato comparison

It's easy to get engrossed in soil improvement and forget how important sun is to vegetable production. Various lists suggest that some edibles do well in partial shade, but my experiences have shown that full sun is mandatory for full production of even supposedly tolerant species like asparagus.

Of course, no one will tell you to plant tomatoes in partial shade. The photos above show the huge difference between plants set out in partial shade (photo on the left, in an area shaded by our wood stove alcove during the morning) versus what counts for full sun on our farm. All of the plants pictured (in the foreground at least) are the same variety, and the ones in partial shade were actually set out five days before the other. Guess who's going to give us the first tomato of that variety? The same plant who has fewer fungal problems and will produce more overall --- the one who enjoys more sun!

Posted Fri Jul 10 07:06:00 2015 Tags:
water snake being chased off by hose spraying

We had a water snake visitor today.

She's probably this far from the creek to lay some eggs.

Anna chased her away with the hose and a stern warning not to come back.

Posted Fri Jul 10 13:55:54 2015 Tags:

Airplane ear goatOne of our readers commented to ask what the parasite-prevention program looks like for our goats. I haven't posted about it previously because I'm a bit afraid to be told that you absolutely can't raise goats without dewormers. So far, though, that's been our plan. Instead of a regular deworming program, we:

  • Rotate goats weekly (although the goats do return to used pastures much sooner than the 90 days recommended for total worm eradication).
  • Primarily feed goats outside the pasture, through morning tethering and afternoon rambles, so they're very rarely eating where they've pooped. (We also work hard not to make them so hungry they have to eat weeds low to the ground where worms are more likely to hang out.)
  • Keep kelp (which they scarf down) and minerals (which they largely ignore) available free-choice at all times.
  • Keep a close eye on condition to see if worm loads are getting too high.
  • Use garlic as our first line of defense if we begin to see problems.
  • Cross the dewormer bridge when we come to it. (We've never reached this stage yet, and I'd probably head for copper first.)

What do I mean by keeping a close eye on condition? Parasites get first dibs on your goat's feed, so an animal with too many worms will be skinny even though she's getting plenty to eat. I was intially testing for fat deposits using a weight tape...but then one of our spoiled darlings knocked the ribbon down from its high shelf and chewed it apart. So I've moved on to body-condition scoring, which requires no supplies except your fingers and a goat. As long as our voracious beasts don't eat my fingers, I'm all set.

Goat body condition 3

This factsheet walks you through scoring your goat's body condition, so I won't repeat the same information here. To cut a long story short, you're really looking for fat in two locations --- under the goat between her front legs (the sternal fat, which is what a weight tape really measures) and in the area between the spine and the jutty-out bit (aka the transverse process) above the hind legs (the lumbar fat).

Body condition goalThe image to the right is a quick cheat sheet on body-condition goals for milk goats, stolen from this page. The graph was made for dairy sheep, but is similar to the goals for milk goats. As you can see, it's best to have a goat bred at a body-condition score of around 3, then she naturally drops some fat as she makes milk. However, if you can't keep your milk goat above a body-condition score of 2, then it's time to dry her off and feed her up for next time.

So where do our goats stand? Artemesia's body-condition score is a good estimate of her parasite loads since she's not doing anything difficult (like milking) and is barely getting any supplemental feed. My estimate is that she's a solid 3, which is just about perfect. (Much higher and she'd count as a fat goat.)

Estimating goat body fat

Abigail is a bit thinner, with the fat deposit between the peak of her spine and the transverse process being very slightly concave rather than in a straight line. Even though it's not technically part of the body-condition score, I think it's also relevant data that Abigail's hair doesn't shine in the sun quite the way Artemesia's does. As a result, I'd estimate that our older doe's body-condition score is 2.5 --- not too bad for four months into her lactation cycle. I probably should increase her carrot rations, though, since I'd let them dwindle recently in favor of feeding mostly alfalfa pellets in her daily rations.

I should mention that inside-the-eyelid color is another way of keeping track of a goat's parasite load, but I haven't crossed that bridge yet. It just seems easier to feel up our goats externally than to flip their eyelid out to look inside. However, I feel pretty good about worms at the moment, given how sleek and healthy our goats appear.

Goat on a log

And that's the far-too-long answer about our parasite-prevention program. Here's a cute picture of Artemesia to wake you back up in case your eyes glazed over....

Posted Sat Jul 11 06:59:07 2015 Tags:
mark Timber
pushing a tree down
Sometimes it's difficult to predict where a tree wants to fall.
Posted Sat Jul 11 15:48:23 2015 Tags:
Egyptian onion top bulbs

It's that time of year again --- when I fulfill my end of the coevolutionary bargain with our perennial vegetables. In other words --- several readers will get free Egyptian onion top bulbs this month in order to turn their garden into a delicious place year-round!

Jaguar at the PortalWant to enter the giveaway? I'm keeping it simple this year. Book sales fund postage for all of our giveaways, so all you have to do to enter is to help push our books along. Most relevantly, Aimee's newest novel, Jaguar at the Portal, just went live today at 99 cents (and is also available for free borrowing if you have Amazon Prime or Kindle Unlimited). I'd love to help the title launch with a bang rather than a fizzle. Buy or borrow a copy, then click on the proper giveaway button below to share the first word of chapter 10, and you've got a good chance of having a free box of onions arrive on your doorstep next week.

Of course, I realize that many of you aren't interested in fantasy. So I've also included an option of helping promote my non-fiction books (or any other Wetknee Book). Reviews make or break our titles, so if you've bought (or downloaded a free copy of) one of my books in the past but never got around to leaving a review, here's your nudge to do so. Leave your honest review on Amazon then put the link in the widget below.

I know I have at least five boxes of Egyptian onions ready to wing to a new home this month, but it might turn into more once I sort through my basket. Thanks so much for helping our books reach a wider audience, and I hope you enjoy your new perennial vegetables!

Posted Sun Jul 12 06:34:51 2015 Tags:
tomato height in July
The tallest tomato plant we have is a little over 7 feet high and climbing.
Posted Sun Jul 12 15:09:41 2015 Tags:
Four-month-old pullet

It occurred to me the other day that the things I don't talk about much here on the blog are the things all of our readers really should be doing. The things that are so easy and successful that I barely give then a moment of my attention...until it's time to harvest the results. So, without further ado, four things I don't often write about:

Pastured chickens. It took us a while to work the kinks out of the system, but our laying flock is mostly a set-it-and-forget-it homesteading project nowadays.


Low-work vegetables. I know I post (far too much) about struggling with fungal diseases in our tomatoes and trying to harvest apples despite living in a frost pocket. But large parts of our garden are as simple as plant, weed and mulch once, then harvest. I write in more depth about the easiest vegetables in Weekend Homesteader, but here's the cliff notes' version (slightly updated over the last four years): swiss chard, okra, crookneck and butternut squash, green beans, kale, and lettuce are hard to go wrong with.

Young buckwheat

Easy cover crops. Once again, I post mostly about my experiments in this department. But the trinity of buckwheat in summer and oats and oilseed radishes in winter build soil while keeping weeds at bay. I adore them and plant them copiously.

Greywater wetland

Greywater wetland. Mark weedate around the greywater wetland last week...which is the first time we'd touched the area in about a year. The cattails are thriving and our kitchen-sink water disappears without a trace. In case you want to learn more, I write in great depth about our greywater wetland (and other infrastructure projects worth their salt) in Trailersteading.

What do these four facets of homesteading have in common? They all started out as problems --- smelly chicken runs, ailing vegetables, poor soil, and a mucky drain out back. Then we tweaked and tucked and soon created systems that worked with very little effort on our part. Maybe in ten more years, my things-I-never-write-about list will include goats and tomatoes and frost-bitten apples. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy tagging along with our trial and error. And, I hope you'll consider posting your own things-too-easy-to-blog-about list below.

Posted Mon Jul 13 05:38:47 2015 Tags:
holder for trimmer string on Swisher

Our Swisher self propelled trimmer mower is a true advancement in weed control.

One problem I had was carrying the pieces of string in my pocket.

They had a tendency to pop out while I was mowing until I started clipping them on the middle support bar with a small spring clip.

Posted Mon Jul 13 15:22:19 2015 Tags:

And laptop battery is too low to post. Hopefully we'll be back online tonight, but please don't worry if you don't hear from us!

Posted Tue Jul 14 06:08:55 2015 Tags:

off grid cooking breakfast
Power outages have made Anna an expert at cooking breakfast with propane.

Total time off the grid was a little over 20 hours.

Two thumbs up for the battery powered fan that kept me cool all night.

Posted Tue Jul 14 14:34:19 2015 Tags:
Sea of squash leaves

I might've gone a little bit overboard on our butternut squash planting this year. The photo above shows about half of our planting, growth fueled by chicken deep bedding.

Now that the vines have thoroughly filled in, the patch is pretty impressive. There aren't even any aisles left to mow!

Escaping butternut

In fact, the squash are already starting to run out of bounds. This particular stem has passed over a bed of buckwheat and is moving into our main avenue. Maybe I shouldn't have used the electric fence on the chickens and should have saved it for our naughty butternuts?

Immature butternut squash

Nearly full-size fruits are already abundant beneath the leaves. I expanded our butternut planting this year for the sake of our goats, who particularly enjoy the seeds (a natural dewormer and all-around tasty treat). But if everything keeps going at this rate, both humans and goats might have a hard time eating our way through the bushels of cucurbits when winter rolls around!

A good problem to have....

Posted Wed Jul 15 06:41:48 2015 Tags:
Milking stanchion removable feed tray

We liked our Little Giant feed trays so much we got one for the milking stanchion.

Now we can lift it off to empty out the crumbs that Abigail leaves behind.

Posted Wed Jul 15 15:47:15 2015 Tags:
Ripening tomatoes

Our tomatoes are finally ripening fast enough that I think we'll be able to make our first pot of soup this week. That's good news since vegetable soup is a mainstay of our winter diet --- time to get cracking!

Pruned tomatoes

The bad news is that I'm pruning the plants higher and higher as the blights spread. Septoria was soon joined by small outbreaks of early blight, and I'm very afraid that the dreaded late blight has entered the fray now. I'm ready to deem these new blight-resistant tomato varieties a dismal failure --- flavor isn't nearly as good as the heirlooms I'd been growing, and they don't appear to showcase any extra blight resistance at all.

Next year, we may try yet another anti-blight experiment --- creating an anti-rain canopy out of clear plastic over the tomato patch. Like a greenhouse with no walls....

Dead hornworm

On the positive side again, hornworms are appearing...and disappearing nearly as quickly as they show up. This little guy doesn't even appear to have lived long enough to get parasitized by wasps. Perhaps this is an example of the plant creating anti-nibbler pesticides within its leaves?

Bird nest in a tomato plant

Meanwhile, a song sparrow family has moved into one of my tomato plants. I'd thought that the mother bird would give up on the nest once I pruned away blighted leaves that used to shield the contents from rain and view. But Tuesday I found a tiny spotted egg inside, nestled atop Abigail's hair. Looks like our resident sparrow couple will have another successful nesting this year! Round one occurred in the hardy kiwis, and I was treated to the inspiring view of one of the babies waking up from its nap and gaping for food before I let the vines curl back over nest #1. Here's hoping Mama Sparrow does as well with round two.

Posted Thu Jul 16 07:06:59 2015 Tags:
cattle panel damage

We crushed one of our cattle panels last week with a falling tree.

The new plan is to lay them all flat on the ground before we cut another tree.

Posted Thu Jul 16 15:48:31 2015 Tags:
Bearding honeybees

I'd been putting off adding a third box to our daughter hive, hoping that the mother hive would be done moving into the Langstroth boxes so I could begin converting the daughter hive with the same hardware. But when I dropped by the daughter hive Thursday morning to refill their feeder, the photo above shows what I saw. Unless the weather is very hot, bearding is a sign that the bees in your hive need more room. Time to get my act together and add another box!

Looking into a Warre box

Inspecting a Langstroth hiveAfter waiting until the sun was blazing and the foragers were out in the field, Mark and I stopped by the mother hive first. The one Warre box in this hive was very heavy, full of capped honey, and at first I thought I'd be able to call the conversion a success.

But when I delved into the Langstroth box underneath, I found only honey and pollen, no brood. And when I peered more carefully up under that single Warre box, I saw some capped brood, signaling that the queen is still working up in the attic. So I put the hive back together as-is and headed over to the Warre hive with plan B in mind.

Bee smoker

Although we could have made another Langstroth-to-Warre converter, I opted to instead go the simple route and just nadir another Warre box under the daughter hive. The bees will have space to keep expanding, and we'll wait until next year to convert them over to a Langstroth hive.

On a different note, I was heartened by how hard both colonies of bees are working this year. The daughter hive is on the dole (sugar water), which seems to have helped them bulk up well (although they still have a lot fewer foragers than the mother hive). And the mother hive is doing well also, although they appear to have eaten some of their honey since I last checked. If nothing else, I hope both hives will be ready to go into winter without any (or much) additional fall feeding.

Posted Fri Jul 17 05:50:28 2015 Tags:
Bird nesting in tomatoes

The bird nest in the tomato patch is right along the main walkway to the composting toilet, so I see Mama Bird several times a day. As long as I look in the other direction when I walk past, she stays put, lack of eye contacting tricking the song sparrow into thinking she hasn't been noticed.

Song Sparrow eggs

But when I pulled out the camera, even using the zoom from a distance was enough to spook Mama Bird. I figured I might as well look in the nest since she'd flown away for the moment, and I was pleasantly surprised to find four eggs clustered atop goat hair.

Song sparrows are one of my favorite birds, mostly because of their ubiquity in human habitats and tolerance toward people. But this is the first time I've had such an up-close-and-personal experience with their nesting behavior. I'm looking forward to daily views of baby birds, perhaps in a week or two.

Posted Sat Jul 18 07:02:15 2015 Tags:
bee botom screen install

I couldn't find hardware cloth with 1/8 inch holes at any store around here.

It's the perfect screen material for beehive bottom boards.

Anna found us a 10 foot roll for 25 dollars on Amazon.

Posted Sat Jul 18 15:24:20 2015 Tags:
Falling tree

I've learned a lot about firewood this year. For example, this gem courtesy of Kayla's father (slightly tweaked): Tulip-trees are always longer than they are tall.

Cutting firewood

Or how about this one: If you want to create a sugar-bush/goat-pasture hillside, cut down your trees before putting up your fences.

Goat shaking her head

Here's a word to the wise: Let the goats eat up the poison ivy before sticking your head into the thicket to cut up logs.

Cutting tulip-trees

And I'll end with: An hour a day fills up the woodshed (with a little help from your friends).

Now, if we can just remember to starting cutting firewood in March instead of June next year, we might finally have a fully dry stash of combustibles when winter rolls around. In the meantime, I'll just enjoy the fact that we're nearly on quota for this coming winter, and that the hillside above the starplate coop now has a canopy open enough to let goat-friendly herbs grow on the forest floor. Here's hoping the sugar maples and black birches we carefully left behind will also benefit from the extra light and will produce plenty of sugar next spring.

Posted Sun Jul 19 07:18:47 2015 Tags:
step stool cloce up

Our new step stool developed a small crack on the top step.

Attaching a furring strip with small screws through the plastic seems to have made it stable again.

Posted Sun Jul 19 15:43:12 2015 Tags:
Summer vegetables

Homesteading can feel so surreal in the summer, when the temperature is in the 90s but you know that only about three months remain until the first frost. Then you do the math and realize that 58% of the year isn't safe for tender summer herbs and vegetables. But even with those warnings of the long, cold months ahead, how can you resist living in the restful sea of summer green?

Cat in front of curing garlic

If you want to feed yourself homegrown vegetables all year, though, it's time to eschew the grasshopper lifestyle and turn into the ant. We've already got a bit over a gallon of summer produce stored away in the freezer, and much more will be hitting the ice box shortly. Meanwhile, the garlic is nearly done curing and the onions will soon hit those drying racks. We're planting fall crucifers and lettuce and carrots for fresh winter eating, and I'm dreaming of upgrading from quick hoops to a movable greenhouse for more serious frost-protection some year soon.

Goat in the weeds

But I'm also taking advantage of the hot weather to take the goats out in the woods for extended bouts of grimming (they graze, I swim). The living may not be easy on a farm in the summertime, but it sure is satisfying!

Posted Mon Jul 20 07:34:58 2015 Tags:
ceiling fan mount with lazy susan

Mounting a pole fan to the ceiling on a lazy susan bearing makes it easy to change direction and keep the fan out of the way.

Posted Mon Jul 20 15:27:35 2015 Tags:
Firewood"Is there a five, ten year or longer plan for wood? That is will there be a rotating supply for the future growing in time? Good idea on let [the goats] eat poison ivy. Any trouble touching them after they have brushed up against the leaves?" --- Jim

Jim has a very good question about developing a sustainable firewood supply. To be entirely honest, we haven't had to cross this bridge yet because we own 56 acres of woods and seem to be constantly needing to take out trees to give me more room for pasture or orchards or to keep our driveway clear. I suspect we'll continue on this getting-established track for several years to come.

In the long run, we will need to develop a plan for firewood harvest, though. One option is to coppice the trees in the powerline cut that aren't supposed to grow too high anyway. The plus side of this is that small wood is very easy to harvest with our electric chainsaw, it dries quickly, and the limbs require little or no splitting in the winter. The downside is that it takes about three times as long to sock away the same volume of firewood when working with small branches versus larger trunks.

Gaps in the canopyAnother option is to develop a woodlot plan for the areas close enough to our core homestead to make transport of the firewood simple. Selecting a maybe 5- to 10-acre zone in which our goals are promoting trees for sugar tapping (for the humans), nectar production (for the bees), and log production for mushrooms would give us an incentive to take out competing trees in that area. I've already started this plan in my head, but should probably commit it to paper soon while I still know where all those useful trees stand.

Goat with fly on her head

To answer your second question --- I'm not actually allergic to poison ivy, and was (I'm ashamed to say) ripping poison ivy away from our newly cut trees with my bare hands Friday evening. Unsurprisingly, I didn't notice any issues when petting on our darling doeling after her cleanup job. That said, I definitely wouldn't have let my mom touch a goat who has been on poison-ivy duty since she seems able to contract poison ivy just by looking at a plant funny. So your mileage will definitely vary.

Posted Tue Jul 21 06:23:20 2015 Tags:
Lucy helping harvest carrots

We harvested about 10 pounds of carrots today.

Lucy likes to watch anything we do that happens close to the ground.

Posted Tue Jul 21 15:34:47 2015 Tags:
Pearl millet

You may recall that I planted some experimental cover crops this year hoping they'd be cut-and-come-again mulch producers. The ones I was most excited about --- pearl millet and sorghum-sudangrass hybrids --- aren't really living up to their potential. These warm-season grasses remind me of corn in that they grow big stalks that require interim weeding and mulching, but the cover crop versions actually appear to produce less biomass than corn does. As a result, I feel like I would have been better off planting these beds with sweet corn or field corn then using the corn stalks if I wanted to harvest biomass from warm-season grasses. All told, I'm not very impressed by the warm-season grasses, even though sorghum-sudangrass hybrids are reputed to produce more biomass per acre than any other cover crop.

Scything soybeans

On the other hand, soybeans as a cover crop continue to intrigue me. The soybeans we planted on June 10 are just starting to bloom, so I chose one patch to scythe a few inches above the ground in hopes the plants will grow back and let me cut again in a few more weeks. While I was at it, I also scythed the buckwheat growing next door (planted two weeks later) and then I replanted the whole patch with new buckwheat seeds.

Before I go into the results, I should tell you that I'd been out cutting pasture weeds before embarking on this experiment, so my scythe was a little dull. As a result, the tool yanked up (rather than cut down) perhaps 10% of the soybeans. Gathering up the cut tops was easy, but I only got an armload out of this whole patch, which would probably be about enough to mulch 15 square feet in the garden. Lazily, I instead simply tossed the cut tops onto our compost pile.

Corn seedlings in dead soybeans

A perhaps better use of a soybean cover crop (although more expensive since the initial seed investment doesn't go as far) is to pull up entire soybean plants then use the legumes to feed the next crop. I yanked up the soybean plants in the bed pictured above less than a week ago, piling the cover crops in between rows of new sweet corn. The soybeans are so high in nitrogen that they're already disintegrating into the soil six days later, meaning they'll feed the corn plants by the time the roots reach the center of the bed. Whether or not the soybeans produce enough nitrogen to feed an entire bed of corn with no additional amendment remains to be seen. I'll keep an eye on leaf color and report back in a few more weeks.

Posted Wed Jul 22 07:15:12 2015 Tags:
Clemson spineless okra flower

We've been growing Clemson Spineless Okra since 2007 and have saved the seeds every year.

Posted Wed Jul 22 15:46:55 2015 Tags:
Anna Tree day
Baby box turtle

Apple-maintenance day is often my favorite time of the month. And not just because I find beauties like this hidden amid the weeds.

Stooling a rootstock

Spending a few hours manipulating and experimenting with perennials is simply rewarding. Here, I'm stooling one of our apple rootstocks in hopes I'll be able to graft onto homegrown roots next spring. (Because I'm in sore need of more apple trees...right?)

Buckwheat between apple trees

Mulched apple treesMeanwhile, this year's experiment of planting buckwheat within the rows between young apple trees is already deemed a resounding success. As you can see, it looks like I let this row go to weeds. But half an hour spent ripping out buckwheat and stacking the plants at the base of each tree (then replanting the cover crop in the gaps) provided nearly instant mulch. I can feel the soil turning darker nearly before my eyes.

Rooted willow cuttings

I even had a little time left after taking care of the apples (and trimming the goat hooves) to go check on my willow cuttings. The ones I'd stuck right up close to the trailer and then hidden behind mushroom logs had spotty success, but all of the ones out in the open survived...even though the soil there is terrible and I forgot to keep the weeds at bay. Okay, so Mark did accidentally mow one of the eight plants down since my mulch was pretty much nonexistent, but that doesn't mean we didn't have 100% rooting success first. I applied a quick newspaper kill mulch then snipped off the lower limbs to train each new willow tree to a central leader, preparing for my plan of building with living trees.

And that's the highlights of my fun morning with the trees (and turtles). I can hardly wait until tree day next month! (Yes, you only get one Arbor Day per year, but I treat myself to twelve Tree Days. I'm spoiled that way.)

Posted Thu Jul 23 07:03:10 2015 Tags:
ATV drive by tomato

Today was the first dry day in July we've been able to use the ATV.

Posted Thu Jul 23 15:40:13 2015 Tags:
Homemade cheeses

The internet was a bit unclear on whether the whey from mozzarella can be used to make ricotta. But I decided to give it a try anyway.

I'm no sure if this step is necessary since mozzarella whey is already acidified from the lemon juice, but I let the whey sit at room temperature overnight anyway. Then I brought the whey to a simmer just as I would when making any other kind of ricotta, strained out the liquids, and then let the solids drip in a bag of cheesecloth for a few hours.

The result is ricotta much tastier than that which I got from chevre whey! In fact, mozarella-offshoot ricotta is so tasty that I froze the mozzarella for later and set aside the ricotta as this week's cheese. It's delicious when added to sauteed summer squash right after you turn off the heat so the ricotta melts into the vegetables. And this ricotta is also a great addition to tomato-and-cucumber salad drizzled with a dressing of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, honey, salt, and pepper. Ricotta has now officially joined the ranks of my favorite cheeses!

Posted Fri Jul 24 06:38:03 2015 Tags:
rabbit manure enhanced strawberry plants

Our perkiest strawberry plants this year are the ones that got rabbit manure.

Posted Fri Jul 24 15:48:03 2015 Tags:
Friday on the farm

Onions nearly ready to harvest. Persimmon grafts (the ones that took anyway) growing like gangbusters, and a hint of red on the buckeyes. A beautiful Friday on the farm!

Posted Sat Jul 25 07:03:23 2015 Tags:
sweet corn close up
We're getting very close to the beginning of Sweet Corn season.
Posted Sat Jul 25 14:44:05 2015 Tags:
Scarlet runner beans on a trellis

Mom was very taken by our scarlet runner beans when she came over. She felt like I hadn't given an accurate picture of their impressive height and spread on the blog...but I'm afraid I've still been unable to capture the full awesomeness of this bean. The photo above shows beans who have only had about two and a half weeks to grow up their trellis. They've been at roof height for half that time!

Developing scarlet runner beans

The plants in the first picture haven't bushed out enough to provide much shade yet, but the ones on last year's trellis on the south side of the trailer are already doing a pretty good job breaking the summer sun. A hummingbird comes to these plants each morning --- a perfect view to eat my breakfast to. And, look, beans already being set to feed us this winter!

Posted Sun Jul 26 07:57:57 2015 Tags:
Ducks dipping in water
Our four ducks on average give us 3.5 eggs a day.
Posted Sun Jul 26 15:22:03 2015 Tags:
Mini-Nubian goat
"How long can you milk Abigail? Will you breed them both this fall?"
--- Deb

A lot of factors go into how long you decide to milk a goat. First, there's body condition, which I've discussed previously. If your goat has lost too much weight, you need to stop milking.

Lacation graph

The other issue is whether it's worthwhile for the human to keep milking as production slowly declines. The chart above shows Abigail's lactation curve to date (starting three weeks after Lamb Chop was born, when we started locking him away for the night). There was a lot of human learning involved in our first effort, so this curve doesn't look like they usually do --- with low production slowly rising to a peak at around 4 to 6 weeks post kidding, then declining back down. However, you can see that production is already dwindling markedly so we're now averaging about three and a third cups per day. I suspect that when I'm only bringing home one or two cups per day, I'll decide the milk is no longer worth the squeeze.

Goats on logs

One thing to keep in mind is that Abigail was a cheap starter goat. Artemesia's genetics are more high-brow, so there's a good chance our doeling will produce more milk for longer than Abigail has.

Why bother with a goat who doesn't give very much milk? I figured it was worth learning on a cheaper goat, and I stand by that decision as a good one. It would have been a shame to decide we didn't like goats after sinking much more money into the project, and Abigail has also proven to be an easy keeper, which might be better than an amazing milker in the long run. So I'm happy with what I've got...but am looking forward to much more milk next year.

Goat battle

And, in order to get that milk, we're going to have to breed both goats. You can read my thoughts on our options here, with the caveat that I'm leaning more toward buying a cheapish buck whom we can use and then eat in the fall. Now that I'm pretty sure we'll need to breed both goats (rather than milking Abigail through), the hassle of bringing two separate goats to be bred when they come into heat at two different times seems larger than the hassle of dealing with a buck for about a month.

Miniature goat in the woods

At the moment, though, we're just enjoying our happy little herd and our delectable milk products. I'm still thoroughly in love with our goats!

Posted Mon Jul 27 07:08:52 2015 Tags:
ATV oil additon time

We got in some more straw bale hauling today before getting rained out.

Seems like our older ATV needs about a quart of oil every year.

Posted Mon Jul 27 15:41:39 2015 Tags:
In my pockets

I usually try not to go down that slippery slope of filling up my pockets. But Monday, I realized I'd accumulated an odd assortment of odds and ends. The pocketknife is present to cut straw-bale strings since Monday is deep-bedding-top-up day. The seeds are to fill gaps in the garden where I noticed beans and cucumbers didn't come up as perfectly as I'd like. And the potato onions were found while planting the beans, overlooked during a previous harvest.

My Monday mornings are generally about as diverse as the contents of my pockets. I have to fill about an hour and a half before the dew dries off the tomatoes, but I don't want to get so engrossed in a big project that I'll forget about my primary purpose for the day. So I scythe pastures animals were recently rotated out of, feed the bees, tether the goats, and generally mark little things off my list. And then it's time to prune those tomatoes and make some pesto chicken salad for lunch...and empty out my pockets!

Posted Tue Jul 28 07:02:04 2015 Tags:
chicken in the hand

Our Spring chicks have reached the point where the roosters need to be retired.

We put 3 in the freezer today with another three planned for later this week.

Posted Tue Jul 28 15:25:09 2015 Tags:
Spotty corn germination

What's wrong with this picture?

(Guess before you peek!)

Spotty corn pollination

If you said that Artemesia was eating our sweet corn, you got tricked by the zoom-related flattening of the photograph. Our little doeling was actually about five feet beyond the corn in question when I clicked the shutter button on our camera.

On the other hand, if you noticed the large distance between the corn plants, you're on the right track. My germination test this past winter suggested that last year's corn seeds were fine. But in the real-world setting of our garden, those same seeds came up very spottily. That's a problem since corn is wind pollinated and relies on a relatively large stand to ensure the seeds develop well and the ears bulk up. In fact, I was expecting to see lots of cobs like the one pictured above when the time finally came to harvest our crop.

Sweet corn harvest

To my surprise, most of the seeds seem to have set even with less than a dozen plants to spread their pollen. While I'm glad the corn plants came through for us this time around, I've resolved to stick to buying corn seed every year rather than trying to eke out those packets for a second season. It appears that corn, like onions, is simply better planted during year one. Live and learn! At least we can still eat my mistakes.

Posted Wed Jul 29 05:59:10 2015 Tags:
june bug in a bucket

I found a June Bug in a bucket and thought the chickens might want it.

They seemed to enjoy watching it bounce around, but could'nt quite reach the bottom of the 2 gallon bucket.

The bug was snatched up by what I assume is the quickest hen when I dumped it.

Posted Wed Jul 29 15:20:36 2015 Tags:
Song Sparrow chick

I was a little concerned that Mama Song Sparrow might have decided she'd settled in too much of a high-traffic area and abandoned her nest, because she seemed to be off more than she was on. But I guess in the heat of July, you don't have to hug your nest to hatch eggs. Because when I peered into the tomato patch Tuesday, I saw two baby sparrows already out of their shells and looking for lunch.

Now to leave Mama Sparrow alone for a few more days and hope she hatches two more. It's been a couple of years since we've incubated our own chickens, so it's fun to vicariously enjoy a successful hatch, albeit of a much smaller species. And it's always a joy to watch wildlife move into our long as they're not eating our crops.

Posted Thu Jul 30 06:57:16 2015 Tags:
onions being dryed on the rack
We harvested all of our onions today just in time for soup season.
Posted Thu Jul 30 15:39:17 2015 Tags:

With three more cockerels in the freezer, I'm ready to pass judgment on this year's round of experimental chicken breeds. I didn't raise the five varieties separately, so I can't tell you who cost the least to feed, but I do have data on foraging ability, rooster weight at roughly fifteen weeks, and survivability. I'll start with the last.

We had quite a few predator losses this year, mostly due to human error (we forgot to shut in the chicks a few nights) but also partly because our guard dog is getting on in years and sleeps more soundly than she used to. It could be entirely random which chicks got picked off, but I wanted to mention that the australorps came through unscathed, the orpingtons only lost one bird, and the three other varieties lost two birds apiece. This is interesting because I'd read that dominiques are very good free-range birds because they're less likely to get picked off --- that wasn't the case in our very small sample.

Heirloom chickens

Moving on to meat qualities of the birds, I don't have any data on dominiques or New Hampshire reds. It turns out we did end up with one dominique cockerel, but his comb was so small when we went to snatch birds off the roost by flashlight that I thought he was a girl! And all of our surviving New Hampshire reds turned out to be girls as well. So you'll have to wait for an update on meat qualities of these two breeds at a later date.

My all-around favorite (without tasting any of the meat) is definitely the Rhode Island red (the dark brown bird in the photo above). Australorps grew a little bigger (averaging 2 pounds 13.9 ounces dressed for the australorps versus 2 pounds 11.9 ounces dressed for the Rhode Island red), but the Rhode Island red had the brightest fat. This is a key indicator if you're looking for high-quality pastured meat since yellow fat comes from birds that forage the most, meaning you're getting more omega 3s and the birds are probably eating less feed.

In contrast, our orpington cockerels were big losers, having quite pale fat that almost looked like the fat on a cornish cross. The orpingtons were also the lightest birds at fifteen weeks, clocking in at 2 pounds 6.2 ounces. Although they'll likely catch up to the other breeds later, this slow growth probably also means they eat more feed for every pound of meat that ends up on the table (although I can't be positive of that fact). As a final nail in the breed's coffin, the orpingtons are the only birds in this flock who have been causing trouble, refusing to abide by my pasture rotation and returning time after time to the first pasture we started them out in. So while Kayla assures me that orpingtons are good pet chickens, I'm afraid I have to take them off my list of prime thrifty chicken breeds.

Posted Fri Jul 31 08:12:30 2015 Tags:
oyster mushroom close up

One nice thing about Anna taking the goats out to graze is the bonus mushrooms they find and bring home.

Posted Fri Jul 31 15:42:47 2015 Tags:

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

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