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

archives for 08/2015

Aug 2015
Whitetop Band

I'm proud to report that I've so far met my New Year's resolution of taking one work day off per month in 2015. During the peak of weeding season, we did dodge a bit and take two Friday afternoons off per month instead of indulging in a full day all at once, but Mark said that counts. (He's easing me into taking time off gently.)

Kayla was my partner in crime during our most recent random holiday, providing moral support and acting as my dance partner at the square dancing class at Mountain Empire's Mountain Music School. We learned the (very) basics of both flatfooting and of the Virginia Reel and are all fired up to take another dance class soon. Next up: the classical Indian dance of Bharatha Natyam. Stay tuned!

Posted Sat Aug 1 06:43:07 2015 Tags:
wood shed

We got our wood shed past the half way mark this week.

There's still a lot more fallen tree material to cut up which has got us to consider building wood shed number two in the Fall.

Posted Sat Aug 1 13:11:48 2015 Tags:
August homestead

In July, I outlaw all talk of winter. We don't have enough firewood in, the garden seems like it will require a time machine to get all of the requisite work done, and winter stores of all sorts seem inevitably poised to fall short.

Sunflower chicks

In August, I embrace the changing seasons. The light is subtly different, a spell of cool nights is bracing and revitalizing. I freeze a sixth of our winter stores in one week and our wood shed is a little fuller than last year's. I look forward to the harvest successes and accept the inevitable failures as a simple part of gardening.

What a difference a month can make!

Posted Sun Aug 2 06:56:07 2015 Tags:
sunflower in bloom
This is our most vibrant Sunflower of 2015.
Posted Sun Aug 2 15:10:27 2015 Tags:
Brussels sprout seedling

In the middle of the summer, I'm so engrossed in the garden that I just don't have the mental energy to research deeply into the solutions to thorny problems. Then, in the winter, all I can remember is the beauty and deliciousness of our past successes. So I thought now might be a good time to note some problematic areas of our current garden for future research.

As basic as it sounds, I'm still a seed-starting amateur. When I start seeds inside under low-light conditions (I'm too cheap to use a grow light), they often succumb to damping off. I put the flats outside in the summer sun and they dry up in a heartbeat. Next, I try to start those same seeds in a shady damp bed outside, in which case they get eaten up by (I assume) slugs. And by the time I finally give up and just start the seeds in my happy garden soil under heavy irrigation, it's often too late for fall crucifers to have time to grow before our first hard freeze. As you can see, our brussels sprouts are a bit smaller than I'd hope for at this time of year, and our fall broccoli may be nonexistent. Definitely a topic to research! First stop will be The New Seed-Starter's Handbook.

Seckel pear with fireblight

With our tree fruits, I feel like we're 80% of the way to success...but close only counts in horse shoes and hand grenades. One obvious issue is the fire blight on our Seckel pear, but that's probably not worth researching. I already know that I should have cut out the problematic limbs when they first started appearing, and I also know that Seckel isn't as disease resistant as other pears we're now trying. Hopefully variety selection will nip this problem in future years.

Late spring freezes are a more pressing issue since this seems to be the biggest hurdle preventing us from getting tree fruits at the moment. This winter, I want to research freeze protection (it really might be worth wrapping some of our dwarf trees and hardy kiwis) and to start setting out thermometers at potential orchard areas to gather data on anti-frost pockets. It's painful to have mature, beautiful trees that simply don't bear because of one late spring frost, so this topic is near the top of my research priority list.

Sunny garden

It's not a research topic, but this year I've been more aware than ever before of how differently my vegetables perform in full sun (tiny patches of our homestead) versus partial sun. Our okra, for example, is providing about ten times as many fruits as in previous years. Why? Because I finally put this non-essential crop in the center of the sun zone. As our garden soil gets better and better and we're able to shrink our growing area, I want to be sure to focus our mulch- and fodder-producing crops in the partial-sun areas to save the full-sun for vegetables.

What's on your winter research list so your 2016 garden will blow this year's effort out of the water?

Posted Mon Aug 3 07:20:26 2015 Tags:
everbearing raspberries close up and tieing

We started eating a second round of delicious Everbearing Raspberries today.

Posted Mon Aug 3 16:30:44 2015 Tags:
Anna Happify

Inside a bee hiveI hesitated to make this post since I suspect most of you won't get anything out of it. Chances are pretty good that 40% of you don't need this information and another 50% of you will poo-poo it. That leaves only 10% of our readership who might benefit from this post, so feel free to look at the pretty picture inside our daughter hive and then move on if you're in the 90%.

Still here? Okay, I wanted to plug a website I've been using for the past month --- happify. Mark has been training me to use positive thought to boost my creativity and pleasure in daily life for years now, and this website's activities are helping me build on that foundation and take my mental hygiene to the next level.

I've worked my way through the track "Conquer your negative thoughts," finding some activities a bit basic but many others insightful and thought-provoking. This weekend, I started studying the Mindfulness track and I can tell it's going to continue to help me simplify and focus my thoughts so they don't look so much like the image above.

In case you're curious, I haven't paid for any of the potential upgrades they keep throwing at me (the one downside of the website), but I thoroughly recommend the free version of happify. Just be sure to click on the little "why it works" links to learn more about the science behind the projects.

Homesteading is all about choosing your own adventure, and that adventure can be terrible if your brain isn't in the right spot. So, go on, happify!

Posted Tue Aug 4 07:07:29 2015 Tags:
ATV sunflower hay bale

We got 9 bales of hay bought, hauled, and stowed in the Star Plate barn today.

Posted Tue Aug 4 16:02:33 2015 Tags:
Goats eating corn

I'll be honest --- this post is really an excuse to share cute pictures of goats.

But there's always something to say about our darling herd of two. For example, I've learned that they adore sweet-corn stalks (after we've harvested the good ears), picking off the leaves and eating the ears that didn't develop properly. I can smell the sweetness as I cut the spent stalks, so it's no surprise that our grain-free herd adores the fodder. Our goats look for sugar wherever they can find it.

Goats at the fence

Artemesia is thirteen months old now, and she's starting to act a bit more like a teenager. That means she's darling one minute, then the next minute she wanders off on her own and doesn't obey my request to return to the pasture after we've finished our evening hour of grazing in the woods. Luckily, our doeling's sunny personality inevitably comes through in the end, and those teenage moments are still much rarer than Abigail's more frequent strong-headedness. (Our older doe is an independent woman.)

Reaching goats

In other goat news, I'm solarizing weedy areas and prepping as much fallow garden ground as I can this month to really boost our fall oat cover crop. Our goats adore grazing on oats after summer weeds are only a memory, and I suspect that with careful management we could cut our hay needs in half using the cover crop. We're still in the early days of goatkeeping, though, so I keep my goals simpler --- plant what I can, and don't worry too much if I have to buy feed to fill in the gaps.

Posted Wed Aug 5 06:14:55 2015 Tags:
ATV cinder block

These new concrete deck blocks will be used for the new wood shed.

Posted Wed Aug 5 15:23:46 2015 Tags:
Indian dance for ballet students

In a shocking display of preemptive selfishness, I planned our August random holiday for only five days into the month. Kayla had found out about a workshop teaching a classical dance from the southern part of India, and she was kind enough to let me come along while she checked it out.

Indian dance bells

Bharatha Natyam looked so easy when I watched a youtube video before the class, a bit like a walking version of yoga. Boy was I wrong! Kayla and I were surrounded by a passel of young dancers who had been studying ballet for years, and they had no trouble picking up the steps. But figuring out how to move my feet and my arms and my hands all in sync was vastly beyond my skill level, especially once the teacher went at full speed. The dance was definitely beautiful and fun though!

Bharatha natyam

What I liked most about the class was the realization that the scenes I'd studied in art history class of Indian gods in strange poses involved catching those beings mid-dance. The teacher also opened the class with a simple earth blessing that I want to learn to incorporate into my own cobbled-together spiritual practices...but that will only happen if I can find a video to walk me through the motions on the internet. Drinking from the fire hose, I'm afraid none of the instruction actually stuck to my gut.

Despite my inability to recall the most basic steps, it was still so much fun to go outside my comfort zone and explore new things. I'm looking forward to seeing what Kayla comes up with for us to try next!

Posted Thu Aug 6 07:17:27 2015 Tags:
Canning fruit

On a weekend near the 4th of July we, my parents, two younger sisters and I  would pile into the family's 1948 Chevy and drive out in the county to a farm near Shultz, where my mother's classmate, Feeny, lived.  The road into his house went up a creekbed bordered by a hill on the right and a grown-up pasture on the left, where a few cows grazed around blackberry bushes.  We Hot-water-bath cannerpulled out of the trunk a washtub, five-gallon pail, and several picking buckets made by cutting the tops from grapefruit juice cans and punching two opposing holes to attach a wire bale.

We'd get there early, before the heat of the day.  With the picking-can bale fastened to my belt I would wander around avoiding others picking blackberries until my can was in danger of spilling.  Then I would take it to where Dad had left the pail and empty it.  When it was full, Dad would empty the pail into the washtub.  Before noon we'd leave with a trunkful of washtub, pail and picking buckets all filled to the brim with berries.

Canning jarsThat afternoon I'd help Mother sort out clean berries from a water-filled tub, pulling any stems, removing floating leaves and debris.  When a container was full of clean berries Mother would fill quart jars, seal them with zinc lids and a rubber gasket, add sweetened liquid, and place seven at a time into a water-bath canner.  When they were finished she removed the jars, tightening the lids firmly and setting them aside to cool while she prepared another container full. Meanwhile I was sorting clean berries.

We had enough from that day's work to eat a berry pie every Sunday till the next summer.

Steam juicer

I still use a water-bath canner to preserve fruit, including grape juice and tomatoes.

Bushels of grapesThe tomatoes are cleaned, skinned after a parboil, and packed in their own juice made by shaking each full jar till it has liquid to an inch from the top.  Tomato juice is easier to prepare using a Champion juicer.  But we learned the hard way that the juicer grinds up grape seeds, giving the juice a bitter taste.  So we use a steam juicer (pictured above) for our grapes, pears, and apples.

Of course, to can non-acid foods one needs a pressure canner.  Although I grew up eating corn and beans canned in a water-bath canner, the experts no longer advise it.  Today, I think, most just freeze these vegetables.

Errol Hess is the author of Hunting Pennies, a memoir in verse about his Appalachian childhood.

Posted Thu Aug 6 14:53:22 2015 Tags:
Appalachian crafts

After dancing, Kayla and I headed over to Heartwood to peruse some Appalachian crafts (and to eat some lunch). But we got sidetracked on the way by a sign bound to tug any homesteader astray: "Plant sale."

Virginia Highlands greenhouse

The Virginia Highlands Community College has a large greenhouse system, and they were taking advantage of visitors attending the Virginia Highlands Festival to show off their space (and to move a few plants to new homes). At 25 to 50 cents per plant, I splurged on about a dozen broccoli and brussels sprouts to add a bit of security to my own tardy plantings, and Kayla picked out some fall greens and flowers.

Ornamental aquaponics

But the most intriguing feature of the greenhouse wasn't for sale. Instead, a large aquaponics setup was filled with huge koi living happily in water filtered through the growing medium beneath a slew of plants. Granted, both fish and greenery were purely ornamental, but it was still intriguing to finally see an aquaponics system in action.

And that --- plus some chocolate --- filled up our girl's day out to the brim. Kayla called it a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Do you think that means she's never getting in the car with me again?

Posted Fri Aug 7 06:31:23 2015 Tags:
barn with straw bales stacked
We've mulched and stored almost half our original load of straw bales.
Posted Fri Aug 7 15:12:55 2015 Tags:
Pea seedling

We plant some of our fall crops in June (brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli) and July (carrots, peas). But August is really the make-or-break month for our fall garden. This is when I decide which beds are going to be seeded in oats or oilseed radishes and taken out of commission for the rest of the year, and which will instead feed us lettuce and leafy greens all fall and winter, along with slowly bulking up garlic and potato onion bulbs for next spring.

My August goal is always to have the entire garden planted in something by the end of the month. That might be lingering summer vegetables (sometimes with cover crops interplanted for fall), buckwheat to hold the ground for later plantings, fall cover crops, or the first tender shoots of autumn vegetables. There's no place for weed patches in our fall garden!

Cat silhouette

Once the August planting push is done, the garden slowly begins to calm down. While the landscape remains vibrant, there's less work after everything's planted and mulched, and Mark and I start thinking of our fall vacation. We're planning a staycation this year, probably in late September or early October. It's nice to have a carrot to dangle in front of our noses when the sun pounds down on our heads and the garden threatens to eat us alive (rather than vice versa). We hope to visit Bristol Caverns, go on a hike, and generally rest and relax. I can hardly wait!

Posted Sat Aug 8 06:39:52 2015 Tags:
ATV charge connection

I installed a quick connect battery tender snap cord on the ATV to make trickle charging more of a daily event instead of whenever we need it.

Posted Sat Aug 8 15:25:57 2015 Tags:
Bowl of okra

What do you do if you're harvesting two or three gallons of okra per week for a family of two? Freeze some for the winter, then try a new recipe to boost your current consumption, of course.

Cooking okra

My movie-star neighbor suggested a technique he calls blackened okra. He recommends starting with your biggest cast-iron skillet, but I instead opted for an even bigger stainless-steel skillet so we'd be sure to produce enough to serve three. I sliced the okra into rounds, placed them one layer deep on the oiled skillet, then cooked over medium-low heat for about an hour. I turned up the heat for the last fifteen minutes and stirred some, but didn't stir earlier since the goal is to drive off moisture (to prevent sliminess).

Blackened okra

Honestly, I think I could have cooked the okra a little longer/hotter, because it ended up browned instead of blackened. It was quite good, though, and half a gallon was quickly consumed by me, Joey, and Mark, with requests for more. Definitely a good start on using up all of that okra, but if you've got an even better recipe I'd love to hear it!

Posted Sun Aug 9 07:44:52 2015 Tags:

scarlet runner bean

The Scarlet Runner Beans are probably the most ornamental looking crop we have in the garden this Summer.

Posted Sun Aug 9 16:23:24 2015 Tags:
Goats in the woods

One of my favorite parts of goatkeeping (combined with our too-small pastures) is that our herd prompts me to wander in the woods on a regular basis. On previous summers, I've usually figured I'm too busy to go on extra walks, but our goats have taught me that there's always time for a good ramble.

Barren woods

During the week, we just spend an hour in the evening hanging out within a short distance of the coop. I read and relax while the goats browse. But on the weekends, I often like to explore...even if that means we end up in parts of the woods that are so deer browsed that they're nearly barren from a goat point of view.

Goat on a hill

(Note to self --- I definitely need to buckle down on the hunting this fall. The deer have been staying out of our garden, but their populations appear to be very high this year.)


Ah, this spot looks much more goat friendly.

Hillside treefall

There's nothing like a pair of goats to make a bipedal human feel even more ungainly than usual. Our darling does prance across deadfalls like this in a heartbeat while I slowly pick my way through the trip hazard with much more care.

Goat on a log

Of course, I shouldn't be surprised at their agility since the girls have been practicing on their balance beams for most of the summer. In case you can't tell, Abigail is repeatedly headbutting that tree in front of her while staying steady atop the log despite her trailing leash. Ah, to be a goat.

Grazing goats

GoldensealTop finds of the day Sunday included a small patch of goldenseal that I likely couldn't pinpoint again and a couple of blooming downy rattlesnake plantain (a relatively inconspicuous orchid). Plus some extra peace and joy to hoard for the busy week ahead.

Thanks for the boost, Abigail and Artemesia!

Posted Mon Aug 10 06:17:41 2015 Tags:
straw bale load limit

Three large straw bales seems to be right at the ATV load limit.

It was dry enough today to get in several trips before the dashboard started showing a temperature warning light.

Posted Mon Aug 10 15:21:39 2015 Tags:
Young sweet corn

We've eaten our way through 2.5 plantings of sweet corn, with three plantings left to mature before the frost. The final beds are right outside our front door, so I walk by them multiple times a day and watch their growth the way you'd watch sand slip through an hourglass. The first freeze seems remarkably close when measured by the height of sweet corn!

Blighted tomatoes

Elsewhere in the garden, I'm also shifting gears with winter in mind. A week ago, my gut said that it was time to stop pruning the tomatoes because blight had spread so much that I had to remove every leaf if I wanted to eradicate all signs of the problematic fungi. It turns out that was a good call --- even with blight (mostly septoria leaf spot) throughout the plants' foliage, our plants matured more tomatoes than the previous week due to their extra leaf area. It looks like we'll reach quota on soup this year after all. Phew!

Posted Tue Aug 11 07:05:26 2015 Tags:
Anna with mixer

Our new immersion hand blender makes mixing basil into soup easy and fun.

What I really like is the easy clean up compared to a traditional blender.

Posted Tue Aug 11 15:23:40 2015 Tags:

One of our new crops this year is Mammoth mangels, a kind of fodder beet often grown for livestock. In our case, we're hopeful the roots will supplement our milk goat's diet during the winter months. I only planted one bed, though, since I wasn't sure whether Abigail would actually eat the offering and also wasn't sure how well the fodder beets would grow in our garden. With new crops, it always makes sense to start small!

Thinning mature mangels

I'd been ignoring our mangel bed all summer, actually. But when I dropped by to weed the bed, I realized that forgetting to thin our plants this spring meant some roots would be best harvested early. So when I went ahead and pulled the largest plants and will hope that the smaller mangels left behind will still have time to bulk up this fall. I ended up with about half a bushel of thinnings --- pretty impressive from about nine square feet of growing area!

Mangel harvest

Mangels are reputed to be a high-quality feed for ruminants, but there are a couple of reasons why the crop has fallen out of favor. First is the thinning problem. Like their relative Swiss chard, each mangel "seed" is really a cluster of seeds. So you nearly always end up with two or three plants in each spot, meaning you absolutely have to hand thin. As I learned, if your seeds germinate well and you don't thin, mangels won't thrive since they're too close together. On the other hand, if you have so-so germination and forget to thin, the plants can still grow quite large even without thinning.

Basket of mangels

The other potential issue with mangels is that they can cause scouring (diarrhea) if fed in large quantities to ruminants. Johnny's (the source of our seeds) reports that small roots of our variety can be fed to livestock immediately, but that it's safer to wait at least a month before feeding larger roots. So I'll try a few of the fingerling mangels on Abigail today and will sock away the larger roots in the crisper drawer of our fridge, which has been halfway emptied after the huge influx of carrots this spring made their way into our goat's mouth. It looks like goat-feed season is shifting from orange to red roots --- I hope Abigail enjoys the mangels as much as the more labor-intensive carrots!

Posted Wed Aug 12 07:06:33 2015 Tags:
Artemesia climbing on cardboard
Artemesia is always in search of something she can climb to the top of.
Posted Wed Aug 12 15:14:40 2015 Tags:
Straining goat

Rule number one of goathood: The grass is always greener just out of reach. For the record, I took this photo five minutes after tethering our herd for the day, and there was millet exactly like the plants Artemesia was straining after within easy reach. Apparently that bite just beyond her rope looked much tastier, though.

Actually, I debated letting our girls chow down on the millet leaves (having originally tethered the herd in that spot thinking they'd go after the tick-trefoil instead). The trouble is that warm season grasses can produce hydrogen cyanide when stressed by drought or frost, and our weather has been relatively dry lately. On the other hand, I've been irrigating that area weekly if there's not sufficient rain, so I decided to risk a bit of grazing.

Goat eating pearl milletTwo hours after putting the goats back in their pen, though, I went up to pick blueberries and got concerned when Artemesia didn't meet me at the gate. I called her name and heard no reply, so quickly put down my bowl and headed to the coop, terrible images running through my mind.

Of course, our darling doeling was simply taking a break, chewing her cud while standing in the doorway of the starplate coop and gazing out at the world. "Hi!" she called as soon as I came into view. "I love you!"

(Yes, this is how I parse Artemesia's numerous bleats. Don't tell me what she's really saying --- I don't want to know.)

"No stomach ache?" I asked in response.

"Of course not!" Artemesia replied. "And millet leaves taste even better the second time around!"

For the record, the only weird food that has ever bothered our iron-tummy goats was when Artemesia drank a whole gallon of mozzarella whey in one afternoon (whey that Abigail refused to touch). Our doeling's stomach got a bit bulgy afterwards and her droppings were a little loose the next day, so now excess whey goes to our dog. Otherwise, our girls seem to know what is and isn't good for them, and pearl millet is apparently in the former category.

Posted Thu Aug 13 05:56:54 2015 Tags:
big stack of straw bales
We finished hauling the rest of the straw bales today.
Posted Thu Aug 13 15:44:21 2015 Tags:

Bokashi resultsI'm finally ready to pass judgment on this year's bokashi experiment. To recap, bokashi is a method of pre-decaying food scraps in an airtight container with the help of a microbial starter before applying that proto-compost to the soil. I tried three different versions this spring --- bokashi using a storebought starter, bokashi using a homemade (lactofermented) starter, and a control bucket with no starter.

It takes us about a month for us to fill a five-gallon bucket with food scraps during the non-preserving season. So I had to space my experiments out, applying the control to poor pasture soil March 17, digging in the lactofermented scraps on May 8, and the traditional bokashi on June 6. The photos to the left show that digging up those three patches in the middle of August resulted in a time-lapse image of decomposition, suggesting that neither type of bokashi sped up decomposition much, if at all.

Would I recommend bokashi to anyone? Well, the air-tight buckets were a nice way to consolidate lots of foods scraps, and the bokashi starter did cut down on bad odors when opening the bucket...although the starter became much less effective once the true heat of summer hit. But I don't feel like the method is really worth the expense unless you live in an air-conditioned apartment and have to hoard your scraps for a long time before use. Instead, our food scraps have been hitting the outside compost pile this summer, where I think we'll get just as much fertility with much less work (and no outlay of cash). It looks like bokashi isn't for us.

Posted Fri Aug 14 06:20:12 2015 Tags:
ATV with hay bales three
We got 9 bales of hay hauled and stored before 10 today.
Posted Fri Aug 14 15:13:03 2015 Tags:
Yellow-necked caterpillars

Defoliated apple treeThis has been a bad year for caterpillars on fruit trees. First came the fall webworms, who ate through leaves like nobody's business. And this month the yellow-necked caterpillars hit one of my dwarf apple trees.

I'm not used to worrying about caterpillars other than cabbageworms, actually. We have so many wild predators --- like wasps and birds --- that most infestations are gone in short order. But ignoring the issue didn't make it disappear in either case this year, so I resorted to hand picking.

As you can see in the photo to the right, I should have picked a little sooner. I only found about a dozen caterpillars in our apple tree, but they were all big and fat after eating about a third of the available leaves. Luckily, the nibblers died quickly when dropped in a jar of plain water --- problem solved!

Posted Sat Aug 15 07:42:40 2015 Tags:
deer deterrent

We had a small deer incursion last week that seems to have been thwarted thanks to this mechanical deer deterrent and the metallic noises it makes..

Posted Sat Aug 15 15:29:26 2015 Tags:
Pizza tomatoes

Want a summery side-dish treat? Pick some firm tomatoes (romas are a good bet, or slicers that are pink instead of red), slice each one, then cook the slices in a medium-heat, greased skillet until the bottom begins to turn orange-red instead of pink-red. Flip your tomatoes over and top each with a thin slice of homemade mozzarella, a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and a little grated parmesan. Put on the lid and cook some more, just until the cheese melts. Delicious!

And now I need to make more mozzarella....

Posted Sun Aug 16 08:01:43 2015 Tags:
dried pear close up

Joey dropped off some pears that were improved with a little Excalibur drying.

I broke a few cheap apple slicers before I upgraded to the best apple cutter.

We've used it a lot over the last 4 years and it will most likely last another 400.

Posted Sun Aug 16 15:58:16 2015 Tags:
Late summer garden
"I seeded some broccoli, cauliflower & radishes a bit ago-only the radishes flourished-and I think it is too late to reseed the broccoli & cauliflower, correct? I didn't get around to planting seeds of cabbage, carrots, etc. and am not sure about the dates on those, either...

"Is the below (more or less) the formula for planning on when to plant for our Persephone date?

Crop maturity date - a few days less so crop is not quite mature + a few days to allow for less sunshine in the fall = days needed by Persephone date.

Pea trellis"Or do you just have a chart already made up that you would be willing to let me try?

"My garden space is ready and waiting, and I still have a lot of good seeds."

--- Jeannette, zone 7, east Tennessee on a gentle southeast slope of a mountain

Jeannette, I've been getting lots of fall-gardening questions lately, so I thought I'd answer yours in a post instead of via email. Persephone Days are most relevant for people who garden in a mild climate, in a greenhouse, or are growing hardy leaf crops like kale and lettuce. The date tells you when these cut-and-come-again crops will stop producing due to lack of sunlight, but it doesn't take into account killing freezes that will completely wipe out your crops. Broccoli, for example, is going to kick the bucket at 25 degrees Fahrenheit unless you cover it well, so the Persephone Date (which comes much later than the hard-freeze date for most of us) is irrelevant.

Brussels sprout set

My favorite chart for fall planting is here, and I give you lots more information about how to choose planting dates and how to make easy frost-protection in my book Weekend Homesteader. The short version is --- it's too late for you to plant carrots, cabbages, and broccoli from seed, but you can still have a great fall garden with leafy greens (kale is our special favorite) and lettuce, which grow much faster than other fall vegetables. If you buy big sets, you might also get away with planting out brussels sprouts, cabbage, and broccoli now since you live further south than we do. We don't like radishes, but I believe they're pretty fast so planting another round of those as well as some turnips could fill in the gaps. Just be sure to check the days-to-maturity date on your packets and add two weeks for safety --- some varieties grow much faster than others!

I hope that helps, and good luck with your fall garden. I always feel like I get more food for my effort with the fall garden than at any other time of year, so it's definitely worth figuring out.

Posted Mon Aug 17 06:39:38 2015 Tags:
butternut squash rain barrel

We harvested 38 healthy sized butternut squashes today.

There's still a whole lot more that needs another week or two on the vine.

Posted Mon Aug 17 14:22:48 2015 Tags:
Bowl of berries

Monday is usually the day to catch up on pressing issues that caught my eye over the weekend. This week, that meant harvest, harvest, harvest!

Cooking from the garden

In addition to picking the butternuts Mark posted about yesterday, I froze just shy of three quarts of tomatoes and basil, picked some mung and scarlet runner beans, and served us fresh berries and blackened okra with our lunch. We're now up to 18 gallons of veggies in the freezer, which is a little less than we'd put away at this time last year but which is still on track for socking away our winter stores in a timely manner.

There are few more satisfying times of the year for a gardener than preservation season. Don't forget to enjoy the bounty!

Posted Tue Aug 18 06:54:13 2015 Tags:
mangel being cut in half

How does Abigail like small mangels that were recently harvested?

She hates them!

We're hoping maybe a month of curing will make them more delicious.

Posted Tue Aug 18 16:00:17 2015 Tags:
Goat and Tithonia

Now's a good time to go out and look at experimental crops to see if they're worth growing next year. I started out my exploration by tethering Abigail between our little patch of Tithonia diversifolia and a big patch of weeds. Since Tithonia was meant to be a cover-crop/goat-fodder-crop, I didn't give the cuttings the TLC I usually offer this spring (although I did plant them in a very damp spot as instructed). Given my neglect, it's no big surprise that only about a third of the cuttings took off. The other two plants are much smaller, but you can see our largest Tithonia on the far right side of the photo above.

Did you also notice how Abigail has wandered off in the totally opposite direction? She preferred ragweed, red clover, and plantain within her tether-circle to the Tithonia, completely ignoring the latter's leaves after one taste. So while this cover crop clearly has potential in the tropics, I'm going to have to say it isn't worth babying as cuttings over the winter in a temperate climate. (At least not if you have spoiled goats like we do.)

Goat eating soybeans

Soybean podSoybeans, in contrast, have proven themselves to be not only a great cover crop but also a goat favorite. At first, Abigail picked off all of the high-protein leaves in the patch she was tethered near. But soon our smart goat learned that if she delved a little deeper, she could daintily pluck the half-filled pods off the stems instead.

While you're supposed to cook dried soybeans in some way before feeding them to animals (or people) due to phytates, our doe seems to love the raw-soybean treat at the endamame stage. I'd be curious to hear from someone more knowledgable than me. Do you think phytates in young soybeans are problematic, or are these more like green beans and snap peas --- pretty harmless and delicious when young?

Posted Wed Aug 19 07:11:56 2015 Tags:
Artemsia eating a bent down rag weed stalk.

Artemesia prefers to bend down stalks of Rag Weed so she can reach the top where the leaves are new and tender.

Posted Wed Aug 19 14:55:03 2015 Tags:
Tossing weeds

From a biological perspective, I prefer a patchwork-quilt garden. I don't like actual companion planting because I feel like the companions always compete with each other. But a bed of one vegetable surrounded by a bed of four other types of vegetables tends to break pest and disease cycles and also promote pollination (especially if you slip in a buckwheat or flower bed here and there).

Weeding between the tomatoes

On the other hand, there are issues with the patchwork-quilt approach. Watering can be tricky if you use overhead irrigation, so I already pull my tomatoes out to live in their own dry patch with drip irrigation. Major runners like winter squash and sweet potatoes often fare better if given a compound rather than a single bed since you can let the vines intermingle rather than begging them to stay on their own side of the garden. And I've Goats eating oatslearned the hard way that it's very difficult to graze goats on an oat cover crop if that grain is next door to overwinterers like garlic and kale that you don't want nibbled.

So I'm setting aside entire zones of the garden for goat grazing this winter...which means weeding under the current plants and scattering oat seeds this month. I've had good luck with this technique in the past amid tall summer crops like tomatoes and corn, so am pretty confident I can turn the entire forest and back gardens into goat-forage zones. But there are only two weeks left to plant if I want the oats to have time to grow before winter cold sets in. So for the rest of August, oats are a top priority!

Posted Thu Aug 20 07:15:48 2015 Tags:
Masai bean picking lat August

We're still harvesting large bowls of Masai beans on a semi-regular basis.

Posted Thu Aug 20 15:23:25 2015 Tags:
Anna Fall rains
Tickseed sunflower

The fall rains have come.

Wet feet

1.6 inches over the course of a week is close to average around here. But we'd enjoyed a couple of dry months this summer, so the returning water feels like both a relief and a surprise.

Mushroom in the rain

Of course, given how wet it was last winter, our soil never really dried six inches below the surface. But as a gardener starting fall crops, it's the surface that counts.

So hauling gets pushed back into the maybe-it'll-dry-again future and planting takes a front seat. Time to cover the compost piles so those nutrients don't leach away!

Posted Fri Aug 21 07:32:04 2015 Tags:
stanchion repair close up

I had to repair the milking stanchion again today.

Our girls can be rough when they want to be. The damage usually happens when they fight each other for what treats are left after milking.

Posted Fri Aug 21 15:32:06 2015 Tags:
Nibbled hazelnut

Last year, our hazelnuts weren't ready to pick until early September. But when I was weeding around the bush on Friday, I noticed a few clusters had fallen to the ground, and several of those nuts were gnawed open on one end. That's a classic dining pattern for flying squirrels, so I figured I'd better bring in any nuts that were ready ASAP!

Harvesting hazelnuts

Our hazelnut bush is now six years old, and this is our first significant harvest. After a little handpicking, I realized that the easiest method was to clear away the few weeds that had grown up through the cardboard beneath the bush, then to shake each limb vigorously. About half of the nuts dropped and were easy to pluck off the ground. I'll go back next week to try to beat the squirrels to the remaining clusters.

Hazelnut katydid

(Look who joined me in my harvest morning --- a beautiful katydid!)

Dehulling hazelnuts

Back at the trailer, I decided to dehull the nuts right away. Really, I would have been better off waiting for the hulls to dry since some required prying action to get the leafy lobes apart. But it's been so wet that I was afraid the nuts would mold in their shells, so I went ahead and dehulled, ending up with about a cup of hazels in the shell for this first batch. Not a whole lot, but pretty exciting since we only got five hazelnuts total last year!

Next year's hazelnut flowers

Meanwhile, back in the garden, our bush has already created proto-flowers to produce next year's nuts, as you can see if you look closely at the photo above. Except for the multi-year wait for the first harvest and the possible squirrel problem, hybrid hazels seem to be an excellent low-work food plant. I'm glad we set out three extra bushes last fall!

Posted Sat Aug 22 07:39:13 2015 Tags:
Teva repair

The glue repair I did on Anna's sandals only lasted a few months.

I talked her into buying a replacement pair, but the new design had a problem staying fastened.

So far two zip ties locking down the front strap seems to be the solution.

Posted Sat Aug 22 14:48:47 2015 Tags:
Covered compost pile

One of my favorite things about having a traditional compost pile this year is that it makes it simple to use up all that high-nitrogen urine that often goes to waste on our farm. I figure about half our pee has made it onto the piles this summer, which has probably pushed the compost a little on the higher nitrogen side than was optimal.

How can I tell? When I forked through one pile to consolidate it with another, I found lots of black soldier fly larvae. These grubs usually show up in compost that's not quite optimally balanced, and they mean I probably should have added some extra ragweed or other carbon source to even things out.

On the plus side, the pee has made our compost piles decompose fast. Our two oldest piles, now merged into one, are in their final cooking stage, covered by plastic to keep excess rain at bay. I figure the summer's weeds (and pee) will result in maybe two to three wheelbarrows full of compost when all's said and done, or approximately 5% of the vegetable garden's needs for the year. Yes, it's a drop in the bucket, but a satisfying one!

Posted Sun Aug 23 06:33:30 2015 Tags:
processing garlic

We've been getting our garlic ready for Winter storage.

I can't remember the last time we bought garlic at the store.

Posted Sun Aug 23 15:47:15 2015 Tags:
Goat straining for hay

The world is green, the grass is lush...and now's the time to stock up on hay for the winter. But how much will we need?

You'd think that my relentless recordkeeping would have the answer to that question since we've already enjoyed one winter with goats. But we bought hay a bit at a time last year, and I have just a vague memory of using two bales per week for our herd of two during the peak of winter's cold. That was before we lowered our hay-wastage with a better manger, and I don't have solid estimates on hay usage during the shoulder seasons, though. So I'm not really sure how many bales we went through in the end and how that will relate to years to come.

Stacking hay

Luckily, the internet is always willing to come to the rescue. Various websites suggest that a full-size goat will eat about 5 pounds of hay per day and a dwarf will eat about 3 pounds per day. Since our goats are semi-dwarfs and I figure we have to feed them hay for about 6 months out of the year, I'm guessing we might need about 29 bales (roughly 50 pounds apiece, $6.50 per bale from the feed store).

On the other hand, good hay is much easier to find at this time of year than if you run out in March, so I'd really like to have more like 40 bales on hand for safety's sake. We've learned that our kidding stall holds 27 bales...but that the girls like to nibble down the edges (far more fun than eating out of the manger), bringing the actual stored total closer to 25 bales. Time to find a dry, accessible place to store another 15 bales of hay!

Posted Mon Aug 24 06:39:20 2015 Tags:
trail camera trouble

We had some more deer damage that's starting to threaten our Fall garden.

I dug out the trail camera, didn't have batteries but noticed an external power hole, found a universal plug, selected the proper voltage and turned it on. The screen powered up, but then went blank with a slight burning smell. I'm pretty sure I got the polarity wrong on the plug and burned it out.....Ouch.....

Posted Mon Aug 24 15:38:37 2015 Tags:

The Market GardenerI kept hearing good things about The Market Gardener by Jean-Martin Fortier, but I put off picking the book up because I have no inclination to sell any of our homegrown food. Having now consumed this easy-to-read and gorgeously illustrated text, I now recommend it to just about every reader on this blog. If you're interested in producing food for a CSA or farmer's market, the book is a no-brainer. But it's also invaluable for intermediate-level home gardeners who want to streamline their production by focusing on techniques that really work.

Fortier's thesis is simple --- those of us gardening or farming on less than two acres need to minimize our startup costs, to focus on hand tools and light power tools, and to plan for high productivity in a small space using intensive methodology and season extension. He explains that you can expect to net between $30,000 and $50,000 per acre per year by working (long hours) for ten months selling directly to the public. His CSA, located in zone 5 of Quebec, for example, feeds 200 customers off 1.5 acres and pays his family's bills while also employing 3.5 workers in the process.

I won't go deeper into Fortier's methodology because the book is such a delight to read with its extensive drawings and short, punchy chapters that you're really better off going straight to the source. However, you probably will hear more about caterpillar tunnels here in later posts since The Market Gardener explained just the method I think I've been looking for to protect crops a bit more than quick hoops do, but without the permanence and expense of high tunnels or a greenhouse. So stay tuned to follow along with our experimentation in that direction this fall!

Posted Tue Aug 25 06:46:55 2015 Tags:
going back to school with Lucy

I started a Film and Video class at ETSU today and will not be making a blog post on Tuesdays and Thursdays till December.

Posted Tue Aug 25 14:11:43 2015 Tags:
Song sparrow nest in raspberries

It's not as if I go hunting song sparrow nests throughout our yard. But I seem to have found each of our resident pair's nurseries this year.

The newest eggs are secreted away amid the raspberry canes, which I think will be a safer location than round two in the tomatoes. Because I'm pretty sure that my tomato-leaf pruning opened up the former nest too much and allowed a cowbird to lay one or more parasite eggs, which is probably one I found a chick pushed out of the nest and another disappeared days later.

Here's hoping three's the charm for our sparrows and Mama Bird will have a more successful hatch this time around.

Posted Wed Aug 26 07:18:07 2015 Tags:
new chicks

We picked up our new Fall chicks today.

The Post Office always calls us as soon as they arrive off the truck.

Lucy never gets tired of smelling a new poop filled box.

Posted Wed Aug 26 15:49:24 2015 Tags:
Manurey straw

This year, our garden has subsisted on 95% homegrown manure. This was more of an access issue than a planned experiment, so I ended up behind and unable to compost the bedding before application. I needed that fertility now rather than later.

As you might expect, my results have been affected by that shortcut --- I figure we're at about 75% productivity compared to previous years when I fed the garden well-composted horse manure. But we're finally caught up, so winter bedding will be composted and hopefully next year we'll be back up to speed. And, just think, homegrown manure means 70% less hauling work, 80% fewer weed invasions, and 100% more control --- a definite long-term plus for our farm!

Germination comparison

Interestingly, there have been some areas in which the uncomposted goat bedding trumped well-composted horse manure. My plan over the summer has been to apply the goat bedding two weeks to one month before planting to ensure there wouldn't be any seedling burn from fresh urine and goat berries. Then, if I was planting something large (like sweet corn), I raked back the manurey straw when I was ready to make planting furrows. If I was planting something smaller like carrots, I raked all of the bedding to the side of the bed, to be pulled back up around seedlings once they sprouted.

The photo above shows two beds planted with carrots on the same day. The bed on the right was topdressed with the last of my stockpiled, well-rotted horse manure. The bed on the left was treated as explained in the last paragraph with goat bedding. I had almost zero germination in the horse manure bed, which has been a common problem in previous years when getting the fall garden going --- small seeds fail to sprout during dry spells, despite what seems to be sufficient irrigation. So perhaps putting horse-manure compost on the surface was the issue all along. I assume the compost sucked up water and made the beds drier on the surface since the bed next door sprouted quite well. In contrast, goat manure on top of the soil kept the ground moist until planting day, then didn't get in the way of seedling germination since I raked the straw to one side.

Mulching asparagus

For new annuals, it's pretty easy to incorporate a waiting step between bedding application and plant growth. But what about when fertilizing perennials who are already in place? I was a bit leery when topdressing fresh goat bedding around our strawberries and asparagus, but I ended up seeing fewer issues than expected. The strawberries, actually had no complaints, presumably since there was already a layer of straw beneath the goat bedding to sop up any high-nitrogen effluent that floated down toward the ground. The asparagus was a bit less pleased, with the youngest fronts showing wilting of the top four inches or so, a clear sign of nitrogen burn.

Since my test asparagus beds showed issues with the straight goat bedding, I'm now trying out plan B on my other asparagus planting. I laid down a section of newspaper (for weed control), then a healthy layer of fresh straw (to buffer the nitrogen), then Mark and I scattered chicken manure from the spring brooder lightly over top. Hopefully the nitrogen will be more asparagus-friendly by the time it reaches the asparagus root zone this time around.

Bowl of beans

The other good news on the manure front is that most of our garden soil is now so good that we're moving out of the renovation stage and into the maintenance stage, meaning that some crops don't need pre-planting doses of manure at all. We no longer feed our beans or peas, and in certain beds I also skip feeding before planting leafy greens. I'm actually starting to imagine a time when the composted manure from two goats, a flock of layers and an annual round of broilers, plus the contributions of our composting toilet will provide more fertility than our farm needs. What a change from the eroded soil that required truckloads of manure before anything would grow at all!

Posted Thu Aug 27 07:40:12 2015 Tags:
Your new homestead

Do you want a beautiful, isolated homestead with the world's best neighbors? Two friends of mine --- Steve and Maxine --- are selling 90 acres and a house for $225,000. If that's too much for you to handle, they're also willing to split the land apart into two parcels, like so:

  • House + 5.4 acres --- $123,000 (Includes fields, woods, pond, spring and fenced yard)
  • 85 forested acres --- $102,000 (Heavily forested land above house to top of Clinch Mountain)
Property closeup

This property belonged to Maxine's mother and is a quarter of a mile from Steve and Maxine's beautiful homestead. Having neighbors who've homesteaded for as long as I've been alive is an invaluable resource that should really be factored into the already low price tag. And even though I can't promise they'll teach you everything they know, I have a feeling the couple would quickly take anyone with an interest in farming under their wings. (They're some of the nicest people I know, are very interested in folks of all shapes, colors, and creeds, and are much less introverted than I am.)

Clinch Mountain

The location is on the Clinch Mountain in Snowflake, Scott County, Virginia, a ten or fifteen minute drive from Gate City and less than half an hour from Kingsport (one of the towns we consider "the big city"). If you're planning on working in the area, chances are you'll be looking in Kingsport or Johnson City, and these towns are also good spots for shopping and entertainment.

Hiking in the fall forest

Land features:

  • Land extends to the top of the Clinch Mountain
  • Pristine forest with old-growth trees, abundant birds and wildlife, rare and endangered plant species. (Editorial note from me: This is a truly beautiful forest! Very steep, though, so you'll be in good shape if you go walking.)
  • Conservation easement on forested acres – protecting forest, mountain springs & reservoir (water supply for the house). This covers Steve and Maxine's property as well, so you won't suddenly be next door to a subdivision or a clearcut no matter how the land changes hands. The easement agreement is available upon request.
  • Three mown fields totaling about 1 acre in combined size – could be grazed or converted to garden space
  • Pond & dock
  • Private road
  • Fenced yard w/electric gate
House for sale

House features:

  • 6 rooms, 2 bedrooms, 2 baths  (1,164 sq. ft.)
  • Custom-built manufactured home (standard building materials)
  • Contractor-built large front porch and one-car garage
  • Red cedar siding
  • Hand-laid field stone over permanent block foundation
  • 30/yr shingles on roof (reroofed about 10 years ago)
  • 10” fiberglass insulation overhead; 4” fiberglass in walls and under floors
  • Heat Pump – relatively new Carrier w/digital thermostat
  • Windows – double glazed w/tilt-in feature for cleaning
  • Handicap assessable 36” doorways
  • Vaulted ceilings w/ceiling fans
  • Sheetrock walls/ceilings throughout
  • Hardwood floors in living room, dining room, hall and closets
  • High-end major appliances – stack washer/dryer, glass-top stove, large refrigerator
  • Tiled kitchen counter; oak cabinets
  • Bathroom #1 - Tiled floor w/ large tile and glass walk-in shower
  • Bathroom #2 – bathtub and stall shower
  • Porcelain sinks & commodes in bathrooms
  • High-speed internet access
Mountain stream

At only $1,200 per acre for the non-house portion, this property is a great deal (and if you get the house, it's move-in ready). So if you're looking for an inexpensive homestead in an area that I consider one of the most beautiful in the world, this might just be it! Contact Steve and Maxine for more information:

Posted Fri Aug 28 07:54:27 2015 Tags:
ATv lumber

We got the lumber needed for wood shed 2.0 staged today.

Having trouble finding roofing tin in our local area for some unknown reason.

Posted Fri Aug 28 15:27:54 2015 Tags:
Homegrown roast chicken
"Meat birds, I assume? I am contemplating a small batch, but not sure I want those cornish cross due to all the problems common for them, but is it economical to feed other breeds for a longer time before processing? Red Rangers look good, but the hatchery is out."
--- Deb

It sounds like you and I are on the same wavelength, Deb. Mark and I weren't very impressed with the Cornish Cross we raised last year. Yes, they were economical, but they barely foraged and I felt their meat was only slightly superior to store-bought.

Day one chicks

We've raised Australorps as broilers in the past and felt like their meat was extremely nutritious. But dogs and ducks and other problems meant we didn't have a large enough flock to hatch our own eggs this year. And when I pondered the hatchery catalog, I decided that if I was buying broilers, I might as well try something that would be a bit meatier and (hopefully) more economical. So, like you, we chose Red Rangers, which we reserved in midsummer for a fall broiler run.

Day three chicks

The previous photo showed the chicks the day we brought them home from the post office --- they already looked pretty big and spunky! But the comparison to the photo above, taken two days later, shows that the baby broilers are also growing fast. I plan to let them out on pasture this weekend and will keep you posted on how they fare.

Posted Sat Aug 29 07:36:01 2015 Tags:
covering hay with tarp

The goats have been bad again.

Somehow they figured out how to pull down a hay bale and use it to jump up to the remaining pile of bales.

Maybe this tarp will keep them out?

Posted Sat Aug 29 15:29:03 2015 Tags:
August harvest

The mercury dropped to 49 this past week, scaring me into thinking fall may be coming along a little faster than usual. Time to double down on preserving basil (the tenderest summer crop) and time to make sure the bees are ready for the winter.

Varroa mite test

I'll delve into the hives to check on winter stores next week, but for now I started with a varroa mite test. I expected the news here to be good since splitting and swarming both lower mite populations dramatically. So I wasn't entirely surprised to find only 5 mites beneath the daughter hive and 11 beneath the mother hive after 48 hours. Looks like our high-class bees came through for us again! (Now, if they'd just make some honey....)

Posted Sun Aug 30 07:25:33 2015 Tags:
Huckleberry love
Huckleberry and his favorite cousin.
Posted Sun Aug 30 14:03:35 2015 Tags:

Goat on a stepping stoolThe rallying cry among those of us who ascribe to voluntary simplicity is "Things don't make us happy." Why, then, are materialistic habits so hard to break?

In The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky both challenges and supports that rallying cry. She explains that money and possessions do make us happier...for a little while. If you by a brand new car or whatever else you've been craving, then your happiness levels receive an immediate boost. But that boost only lasts for a short period of time, at which point you tend to drop down to your normal happiness level.

Why? Because humans are extremely adaptable. Lose a leg, and within a couple of years the majority of amputees are just as happy as they were pre-surgery. Win the lottery, and that immediate elation is long gone by the end of twelve months. Even getting married --- which I've seen in other studies linked to long-term increases in health and happiness --- is only supposed to raise you above your own average happiness level for about two years.

Chicks on a rampThese examples are all types of hedonistic adaptation --- the human tendency to get used to both positive and negative changes in our lives. The good news is, you can counteract hedonistic adaptation, drawing out the positive effects of everything from that new handbag to that new spouse.

It takes conscious effort to extend the honeymoon period so you can keep savoring and appreciating the wonder of having fun-loving goats and cute, cuddly chicks on your farm, but the project is definitely worth the time. Similarly, if you've got some money to spend and want to go out and buy something new to make you happy, try selecting experiences instead of physical objects, and do so in small doses spread throughout the year rather than in one big chunk.

Or just be aware of your own tendency toward hedonistic adaptation and ask yourself --- "how long will that new wardrobe make me happy, and is that short boost in mood worth the expense?" The awareness just might be enough to help you achieve your goal of voluntary simplicity.

Posted Mon Aug 31 07:13:08 2015 Tags:
hay bales in the barn

We got our final set of 9 hay bales hauled in today.

The Star Plate barn is full to the brim so these bales will go in the barn.

Posted Mon Aug 31 15:58:21 2015 Tags:

Anna Hess's books
Want more in-depth information? Browse through our books.

Or explore more posts by date or by subject.

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.

profile counter myspace

Powered by Branchable Wiki Hosting.

Required disclosures:

As an Amazon Associate, I earn a few pennies every time you buy something using one of my affiliate links. Don't worry, though --- I only recommend products I thoroughly stand behind!

Also, this site has Google ads on it. Third party vendors, including Google, use cookies to serve ads based on a user's prior visits to a website. Google's use of advertising cookies enables it and its partners to serve ads to users based on their visit to various sites. You can opt out of personalized advertising by visiting this site.