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

archives for 09/2015

Beans and nuts

Another Monday, another big harvest push.

Dirty butternuts

Curing butternutsThis week, my primary goal was to completely clear out the main butternut patch to make way for planting an oat cover crop. To that end, I harvested every squash, whether it was ready or not. The few that were still greenish will go to the goats in the near future, so they won't be wasted.

With over sixty new fruits coming in, I had to stand up the previous harvests' butternuts to make way for this week's graduates. The photo at left shows about two-thirds of our butternut harvest to date...but I've still got at least a dozen growing in other parts of the garden.

The good news is that our spoiled goats adore butternuts. Both girls turned up their noses at fresh mangels, Abigail likes carrots while Artemesia is less sure, but chopped, raw butternuts disappear down the goat gullet immediately. I guess I now have about four months of goat concentrates figured out --- excellent!

Field corn

Speaking of goat concentrates, I also harvested my experimental field corn planting. I put in a couple of rows of Nothstine Dent corn this spring mostly because our goats enjoy sweet corn leaves so much. We can only consume so much sweet corn, but I figured a bit of field corn could either feed the goats (if I lower my standards), the chickens, or family members who consume grain. We'll see who these new ears go to and whether the not-quite-so-sugary leaves are as much like goat candy as those of sweet corn.

Newly hatched sparrows

Finally, in unrelated Monday news, Mama Song Sparrow's third hatch is now underway! Two babies grace her hidden nest, deep in the raspberry canes, and both are so tiny they have to be sparrows instead of cowbirds. Here's hoping she has better luck raising her own species this time around.

Posted Tue Sep 1 06:28:50 2015 Tags:

It's always handy when delving into a bee hive to spend a couple of minutes beforehand thinking through your goals for the operation. This time around, my plan was simple --- I wanted to check on the state of our two hives' honey stores to determine how much sugar water (if any) they need to stock up for the winter.

Active bee hive

The mother hive is shown on the left in the first photo in this post, and you can see the hardware is a weird Langstroth-Warre mixture. As long-term readers know, I've been trying to convert this colony from Warre to Langstroth boxes all summer, but the queen seems to want to stay up in the Warre box. The top photo in this conglomeration shows that Warre attic --- still disappointingly full of brood.

The good news is that the queen has finally at least started to lay in the Langstroth hive, suggesting I may be able to finish the conversion eventually. The two photos in the middle show frames from the top Langstroth super, some of which contain honey (mostly uncapped) and some of which contain brood. Yes, there is a lot less honey present than there was earlier in the summer --- we always see that pattern with a spring nectar flow followed by a summer dearth.

The third box from the top is shown in the bottom photo. The bees are still working on drawing out comb here, and they haven't even reached the Langstroth basement (the fourth box from the top).

So, the in-use area of this hive is primarily two boxes, much of which is brood. Yep, I need to keep feeding despite the fall nectar flow, and I should probably increase their ration from once a week to every time they empty the jar.

Warre hive

I didn't take as many photos of the daughter hive since it's much harder to pull out Warre frames and look inside. Like the mother hive, this colony has four boxes, and here all of the comb is drawn. But the daughter's attic is pretty much empty and so is the basement, so the bees are primarily working in the middle two boxes (just like in the mother hive). Based on weight, I'd say this colony might survive without feeding, but if I can track down my second feeder lid I'll probably put these girls back on the dole too.

I'm always disappointed when I have to feed honeybees, but it's not a surprise after a split and a swarm in the same year. On the other hand, it's reassuring to see such large numbers of workers in both hives, suggesting that if the weather doesn't cool too quickly they may do well on all of the fall flowers that are currently in bloom. So I'll provide sugar water and they'll stock up on wild nectar and pollen, and we'll both dream about honey next year.

Posted Wed Sep 2 07:22:38 2015 Tags:
goat being bad again

My quick tarp protection lasted a whopping 4 days.

Oh Artemesia.....why do you have to be so Bad.

Posted Wed Sep 2 15:10:24 2015 Tags:
Cat in the garden

My dirty little secret is that I'm a workaholic...until you leave me alone on the farm. Then I have a tendency to curl up with a book and a cat and not emerge for hours.

Since I had several items on my to-do list to complete while Mark was away at school, I figured I'd instead take the cat to the garden and see if Huckleberry is as good at prompting me to work as he is at telling me to play hookie.

Box turtle

Of course, once I'm outside, the wonder of nature always sucks me in. Tuesday, I was clearing off the butternut beds in preparation for planting oats. The weeds had grown high in the aisles and the remaining butternut vines turned this zone into a wild area, so I wasn't entirely surprised to find a box turtle happily hanging out amid the greenery (along with seven overlooked squash).

The rings on this turtle's shell tell me that she's about seven years old (not quite fully grown), and I amused myself for a while imagining that my totem animal had hatched right here soon after Mark and I started reclaiming our core homestead from the wilds. After Huckleberry said hi, I moved the visitor over under the hazelnut bush, where she can find some peace and quiet amid the comfrey.

Young oat cover crop

Next door, the broilers were already hard at work dismantling my earlier planting of oats at the feet of failing tomato vines. Mark and I put the brooder in this area because I assumed tiny chicks wouldn't be able to scratch up the plants before their roots became fully established. Apparently I was wrong! At only one week old, the Red Rangers are already prime scratchers, so I may have to write off some of the cover crops in this zone. Oh well --- no huge loss since we'll get to eat the meat.

Stalking cat

"You're not paying attention to me," complained Huckleberry. "This is boring. I'm going to take a nap."

Good call, cat. I guess it is time for lunch.

Posted Thu Sep 3 06:08:21 2015 Tags:
Queen of the hay pile

Our goat-jumping problem all started when Abigail informed me that late August grass was far too wet for morning tethering.

Abigail: "Did you ever notice that the words DEW and DEVIL look awfully darn similar?"

Me: "Um, no?"

Abigail: "Well, look it up! I wouldn't be surprised if they had the same Latin root. And while you're at it, stop making me wade through damp leaves before my coffee. Ugh! I'm wet to the knees."

Goat eating hay

So, in my neverending quest to produce the world's most spoiled herd of two, I conceded to our queen's demand.

Me: "What would you rather eat in the morning, your majesty?"

Abigail: "Sweet corn leaves, hand delivered to my paddock at dawn!"

Me: "You do realize that I can only feed you sweet corn leaves on the days we harvest sweet corn ears, right? How about some field corn leaves?"

Abigail: "Hmmph!!"

Cleaning out the manger

So Abigail and Artemesia were left in their paddock with only last winter's old hay in their manger plus sub-par weeds in the pasture. No wonder they wanted to climb the hay mountain and harvest this year's sweet, dried grasses in the warm, dry comfort of their coop.

Which made me think that perhaps resolving the feed issue would resolve the jumping issue. So I hauled every bit of last winter's hay out of the manger and used it to refresh the goats' bedding. (This isn't as crazy as it sounds since we bought this batch of "hay" in early spring when the feed stores were out of real hay and were selling what they called "wheat grass" instead. In other words, straw with some seed heads in it. The girls weren't fans.

Acrobatic goat

Anyway, with the manger empty, I filled its cavernous depths with 2015 hay that our girls appeared to be so enamored with. Then I opened the door so our goats could explore their new breakfast bar.

Abigail: "Finally! This is the kind of red-carpet treatment I deserve."

Artemesia: "Oh boy! Oh boy! If I jump up onto the hay pile and streeeetch across, I can eat out of the manger over top of Abigail's head!"

Goat conversation

Sigh. It looks like I need to have a chat with our bad doeling and see what makes her tick next. Good thing she's so cute....

Posted Fri Sep 4 06:52:33 2015 Tags:
roofing tin on ATV

We got our roofing tin in Johnson City at 10 bucks per sheet.

Hauling them back was made possible by securing a couple of 2x4s to the seat and rack for support on the bottom.

Posted Fri Sep 4 15:48:43 2015 Tags:
Fall harvest
Three new fall colors showed up on our farm this week. Red peppers...

Autumn colored soybean leaves
...yellow soybean leaves...

Baby kale
...and green of baby kale. Yum!
Posted Sat Sep 5 06:22:28 2015 Tags:
more bales of hay

We picked up another load of hay since the goats decided to not eat the old hay.

Posted Sat Sep 5 14:17:38 2015 Tags:
Drinking chicks

Our Red Rangers are very industrious. At less than two weeks old, they're already foraging widely, and I caught one eating a cricket larger than his head.

Unfortunately, their tendency to roam puts them in harm's way. After my head counts began to show declining numbers, I assumed the problem was a rat living in the wood shed. So Mark laboriously helped me heft the brooder up onto the garden cart and haul the chicks' abode around to a safer location right outside the back door.

Guard cat

That afternoon, I caught the predator in action. Not a rat at all, but a sharp-shinned hawk. Too bad our watch cats aren't quite enough to scare the raptor away. Time to put on our thinking caps again before our broiler population becomes any more depleted.

Posted Sun Sep 6 07:11:05 2015 Tags:
ATV ratchet strap set up

It took 2.5 ratchet straps to secure both 2x4s for the ATV load extension.

Posted Sun Sep 6 13:55:24 2015 Tags:
Soybean pods"What will you do with the soybeans?"
--- Deb

That's an excellent question, and one we haven't entirely answered yet ourselves. We planted the soybeans as a cover crop, and thus pulled up some at the first-bloom stage to act as green manure around sweet corn. (The sweet corn is growing very well, by the way.)

The remaining beds are an areas slated for fall garlic. But since the soybean pods are nearly fully mature already and the garlic won't be planted for another couple of weeks, I'm thinking I'll try to harvest at least enough soybean pods so I can thresh them and use the seeds to plant next year's cover crop.

The pods I'm too lazy to harvest will instead turn into goat fodder. I don't want to let our girls have too many of the rich beans all at once, but Abigail and Artemesia will definitely eat as many soybean pods as I'll let them...yes, even when they have to wade through wet grass to get there. I guess that's one way to make our herd queen deign to dine on a dewy day.

Posted Mon Sep 7 07:25:31 2015 Tags:
Anna trying to start old machine 1911
We had a fun time exploring the Russell County fair today.
Posted Mon Sep 7 16:15:52 2015 Tags:
Russell County fair

I wonder how different county fairs were two hundred years ago. Were random passersby like me left wondering how they judged the hay and decided that bale was better than this one --- did they put it to the goat test? Did folks walking through the barnyard exhibit wish that the goats had instead been on leashes walking through the crowd the way they obviously ought to be? Did milkmaids never get to ride the ferris wheel because the carnival portion of the fair doesn't open until after supper, awfully close to milking time?

Or perhaps I'm just a little too obsessed with goats....

Posted Tue Sep 8 06:39:32 2015 Tags:

My two female ducks (no specific breed, barnyard duck . . . may have some runner) started setting; the second time this season. This past spring every single egg they set on was infertile. When they became broody again, I researched the Muscovy drake/’normal’ duck breed cross a bit more. I learned that in natural breeding settings, these only have a 20-30% fertility rate. No wonder the spring eggs were all infertile! I ordered a dozen ducklings from a hatchery, for delivery the week the broody ducks would be hatching, if any of their eggs were fertile. I had grand plans of foster ducklings and happy foster mother ducks.

Duckling watererThe ducklings hatched August 31st and arrived at the local post office September 2nd. No foster duck success. What to do with all of this cuteness? I sort of forgot that I am off-grid!

Looking around, I have a greenhouse (although the sides are rolled up for summer), an old very small charcoal kettle grill, two bags of lump charcoal (leftover from making a charcoal walled evaporative coolbox which I use to keep food cooler on the hottest summer days), and a top of tank propane heater (normally used in the winter in my covered, but by no means enclosed propane camp shower.) I have 600Ah of battery capacity and 790W solar. I use about 60Ah/day for my normal living (~10% of my battery power.) I have the idea for charcoal heat from travel in Africa, where I’ve seen small-scale poultry producers use charcoal heaters for brooding. The ones they use last about 8 hours before needing refilling, per conversations with the producers.

Duck brooder

I set the ducklings up in a pen directly on a bed in the greenhouse. I placed small bits of plywood and cardboard all around the pen to limit drafts. Storey’s Guide to Raising Ducks mentions that in mild weather, a low insulated area can be used by the ducklings to keep warm utilizing their own body heat. I used remnants of 2x4’s for sides, against a cardboard draft guard as the back, and open on the front. It is only 3 2x4’s high, so about 5 inches high. I cut 4 pieces of cardboard to layer on top, as insulation. It is dark and I’ve had to herd the ducklings in a few times, so they can get used to it. Ducklings on top of haybox brooderThey actually haven’t really used it at all. That is meant to be a place to get warm during the day, when the sun goes behind the clouds. They have enjoyed climbing on top of it though. So far the ducklings haven’t shown any real signs of being chilly during the main part of the day between the draft guards and the protection and extra warmth of the greenhouse.

My principal heat has been the charcoal kettle grill and charcoal starter. I set up four bricks (flat – 2 bricks high.) They have a brick’s worth of space between the two stacks. This is the base. I set the small kettle grill on top of that (my little grill is very old and doesn’t have legs – the grill body goes directly on the bricks) and then start a full charcoal starter set inside. When I dumped the lit charcoal into the kettle, as if I were going to barbeque, it did heat the entire base Charcoal brooderwell, but the charcoal also burned out relatively quickly. If I leave the charcoal in the charcoal starter, and set the lid of the kettle grill perched on top, it will last ~3 hours and puts out a lot of heat. I start it about 6pm and then refresh the charcoal at 9pm, 12pm, 3am, and 6am. It takes not quite one 8.8lb bag of charcoal for that period.

I’ve borrowed a standard heatlamp from my neighbors. I use that for my shoulder periods. It warms up immediately and I have it hanging ready to plug in. It uses about 30amps/hour, or about 5% of my battery bank/hour. That is A LOT of power. My solar system can’t handle that all the time, but for a couple of hours a day it is a good backup – when the charcoal finishes in the morning, if the sun isn’t fully up, or if the greenhouse gets shaded, while I’m starting up some charcoal.

I haven’t yet used my top of tank propane heater (my plan C). I’m mostly concerned about risk of fire. If I had been planning ahead and ready to brood ducklings (instead of coming up with solutions on the fly), I would likely want to try a small propane hog farrower such as Gasolec makes. For now, I’m very happy with the heat the charcoal is giving, and the fact the ducks appear to be sufficiently warm during the day without extra heat due to the greenhouse.

Ducklings dining

The ducklings go under the kettle grill and between the bricks when charcoal is burning in the charcoal starter, set within the grill. It is very easy to light and heats up fairly quickly. I am sleeping within the greenhouse (the weather is quite beautiful and I want to be near, in case the ducklings need me while I’m working out the kinks). I set my alarm for about 3 hours. At times, there are still a few coals, and I only need to add more charcoal. Often the charcoal is out though. The ducklings are still doing well though and there is significant heat built up in the bricks the grill is setting on to tide them over until I get more charcoal going. I would like to get to up the 8 hours that my off-grid compatriots in Africa get. I’m going to try to rig a longer charcoal starter type of tool from 6” stove pipe.

I was worried that the ducklings might burn themselves on the charcoal kettle grill. They are walking underneath it and cuddling next to it (but it is just above them.) They could easily reach it, if they were interested. No one has singed themselves yet! I will likely need to raise it up another two bricks, as they grow.

I would love to hear other experiences with off-grid, non-traditional brooding. I didn’t really plan on brooding these babies, but my master foster mother plan was a complete fail. Now that I’m figuring it out, I might do it on purpose with meat birds in the spring. (My ducklings are Cayuga, the little black ones, and Buff; all from Metzer Hatchery.)

Charity Hanif homesteads in the paradise of the Oregon Coast, between international economic development visits to Africa.

Posted Tue Sep 8 13:47:52 2015 Tags:
Peppers and beans

A cool August slowed down a lot of heat-lovers, like the sweet peppers shown above. But they're starting to roll in now, better late than never! Last year, I chopped our sweet peppers Sweet potatoes and tomatoesinto small pieces and froze them in ziplock bags, which made for easy seasoning-dashes in winter dishes. I'm glad to be able to repeat the preservation trick this year. One pint down, as many as we can fit in before the frost still to go!

I'm also starting to harvest our sweet potatoes so they'll have plenty of time to cure before cold weather hits. I'd planned to only dig a few hills per day, figuring their vines would be enjoyed by the goats. But our spoiled ladies turned up their noses even after I told them how much deer adore sweet-potato tops. I guess I'll go ahead and harvest the rest of the planting today before whoever's been nibbling on the tubers does much more damage.

Fall harvest

Meanwhile, our porch dining table has been halfway taken over by my seed-saving station. Since I'm a far-too-speedy eater, I like having a stockpile of beans to shell or hazelnuts to husk to keep my hands busy while Mark finishes his meals at a more normal pace. Last week, I was shelling beans for planting from our Masai bushes, and this week I harvested another half gallon or so of scarlet runner bean pods from our shade vines, along with the last of the year's mung bean pods, both for eating. The field corn is being husked too since I learned the hard way that, even on drying racks, corn in the husk will mold instead of dry in our humid climate.

I didn't bother to take photos, but I also harvested another twenty pounds or so of butternuts, bringing our total 2015 yield up to about 225 pounds. Add in a batch of mozzarella plus a pot of soup over the weekend and it's been a pretty productive week already. But we've still got basil and okra and green beans and sweet corn to preserve in the days to come.

Nearly fledged chicks

Since I ended last week's harvest update with a Song Sparrow photo, I thought I'd snap a shot this week too. What a difference eight days make! I have a feeling these chickies will have left the nest and learned to fly before I regale you with a harvest post once again.

Posted Wed Sep 9 07:08:10 2015 Tags:
mark Gone goat
goat gate latch

Our goats got out today.

Luckily Anna spotted them before they could munch too many apple leaves.

The solution was to upgrade to the best heavy duty gate latch.

Posted Wed Sep 9 15:34:16 2015 Tags:
Flying chicks

This is going to be a disjointed post because this is a disjointed time of year. I tend to have ten items on my morning to-do list each day, which keeps me stimulated and the homestead healthy. It doesn't make for a very cohesive story, though.

First item of the morning --- letting out the chicks and doing a head count. They have a ramp to get up into their brooder, but I have to let the board down to close the door. And the chicks are always in such a hurry for a sip of water that they fly out without waiting for the easy route.

But their excitement also makes it relatively easy to count heads since there's a bottle neck at the brooder exit. Good news today! No new hawk attacks since we moved the brooder to the new location and startled the raptor in action twice in one afternoon. I guess being outside the back door is just as good as building the chicks an enclosed play area.

Newly sprouted oats

In the garden, oats are coming up here, there, and everywhere. For the first time, I made my way through an entire fifty-pound bag before oat-planting season ended. Since our goats adore this fall cover crop, Mark's going to get me another bag, and we'll see how much of it we can find room to plant in the next week before the season shifts into rye time.

Sweet potato harvest

One new spot where I'll be able to plant oats is in the sweet potato plots since the huge tubers have been disinterred from their raised beds. The potato in my hand is probably the largest one we've ever grown, clocking in just shy of three pounds. The nibbled potatoes on the left will go to Abigail, who enjoys the tubers even if she's not so keen on the vines.

Not pictured, I also planted another round of fall lettuce along with a couple of beds of mustard. Here's hoping the forecast rain soaks the ground and gets these leafy greens growing to join the kale and arugula that are already making their way into our kitchen.

A busy morning! Time for lunch.

Posted Thu Sep 10 06:43:10 2015 Tags:
Cutting corn off the cob

I might have gone a little overboard on our second-to-last sweet-corn planting this year. Some of the earlier plantings consisted of old seed that didn't sprout well, so I filled in a pretty big Sweet cornarea when the new seed came in the mail. But now I'm stuffing bags of sweet corn in every nook and cranny of our larger chest freezer, trying to decide if we need to plug in the smaller spillover freezer just for the sake of corn.

In the end, I froze five quarts of corn Thursday and I have nearly as many left to go before this planting is fully processed. The big question is --- will our final planting have time to mature, or will this weekend's forecast low of 44 turn into a first freeze nearly a month earlier than usual? (Yes, our lows are often at least 10 degrees below the forecast.)

Posted Fri Sep 11 06:56:33 2015 Tags:
mark Fall figs
We harvested our first figs of the year this week.
Posted Fri Sep 11 15:50:50 2015 Tags:
Chicks hiding under the brooder

I really know better than letting 2.5-week-old chicks out of their brooder on a rainy day. But our Red Rangers are so industrious, and they run back into the brooder every night on their own, so I figured they were smart enough to come in out of the rain.

Wrong! Instead, when drops started to fall, the chicks holed up underneath the brooder. That worked okay until water started splashing in and the fluffballs got chilled. At which point I rushed out in the wet to try to herd them up into the dry.

Wet chicksThis operation would have gone more smoothly had Mark been home. But he was away at school, which reduces my chicken-herding abilities by about 1,000%.

So I chased the boys out from under the brooder...and they took cover beneath a bush. Then I chased them away from the bush, at which point half ran up the ramp and the other half ran back under the brooder. In the end, I was stuck capturing the less domesticated chicks one by one on my hands and knees on the wet grass.

Looking at this after picture, I realize that the chicks really weren't all that damp anyway. And since the rain stopped an hour later, I might have gotten away with leaving them alone.

Instead, I'm the one who got soaked to the bone. Good thing my thermoregulation skills are vastly superior to those of half-feathered chicks, so we all dried off with no ill effects.

Posted Sat Sep 12 08:03:13 2015 Tags:
cargo net in action

Our trusty bungee cargo net helped to increase garbage hauling by 20 percent.

Posted Sat Sep 12 15:55:14 2015 Tags:
Basket of tomatoes

There comes a time in the life of every garden when the head gardener is just so overloaded with produce that she has to make tough decisions. The tomatoes --- yes, we'll preserve every ounce of those. But maybe that huge basket of okra and sweet corn would be better off visiting another household?

Basket of garden goodies

I figured if I sweetened the pot with some fresh carrots and peppers and hazelnuts and scarlet runner beans and zinnias, Mom wouldn't realize I was just trying to foist off my unwanted children on her.

Filling up on cardboard

In exchange, my kind mother filled the back seat of our car with found cardboard. One man's trash is definitely this woman's treasure! Thanks, Mom! Seems like a pretty fair trade.

Posted Sun Sep 13 07:32:21 2015 Tags:
okra height

Okra yields have been high this Fall.

Some of the plants are getting close to being 7 feet tall.

Posted Sun Sep 13 14:54:16 2015 Tags:
Goat at the gate

Sometimes I enjoy our goats' company so much that I forget to write (or even think) about our production goals. But I figured I owed you (and them) some goat geekery.

Previous milking graph

Six weeks ago, I shared Abigail's lactation chart to date. I couldn't seem to find my original spreadsheet, so I used a lazy approach to update it --- the thinner line shows her August and early September milk production figures.

Although our current average of a little less than three cups of milk per day is pretty measly by high-class goat standards, I'm actually quite happy with Abigail's perseverence and still have no plans to dry her off. However, I am considering changing our doe over to once a day milking.

The downsides --- production will probably drop a bit more and the chance of mastitis will increase slightly. The upsides --- I won't have to feed Abigail as many concentrates since I won't have to keep her busy during two milkings, I'll only have to clean milking equipment once per day, and I won't have to be so careful about always being home at the proper time in the evening. Experienced milkers --- feel free to share your thoughts on this unconventional choice!

Goat butts

On another note, after talking it over with Mark, I realized that we don't really have to breed both Artemesia and Abigail this fall. After all, milking one goat is quite enough for my carpal tunnel and for our bellies, and our farm isn't operating close enough to the poverty line that the resulting lack of efficiency will be a problem. So we're focusing on getting Artemesia knocked up this fall and giving Abigail a year of companion-goat duty.

To that end, I've found two potential suitors for our doeling's first date and have been watching carefully for signs of heat...but seeing none. Suddenly I started wondering if Lamb Chop could have done the job after all this spring. I still think that's unlikely, but I took some goat-butt photos just to consider the possibility. Results: uncertain. I'll keep looking for heats and chatting with buck owners in hope of getting our girl pregnant in late October for a late March birth.

Cute goat

Okay, that's enough geekery. Back to your usual round of cute-goat photos in subsequent posts.

Posted Mon Sep 14 07:30:58 2015 Tags:
new shelf for Winter storage

We converted our hallway closet into a butternut squash storage unit.

Posted Mon Sep 14 15:23:24 2015 Tags:
Oat cover crop

Mark spent $9 on another 25 pounds of oat seeds...because the first 50 pounds just weren't quite enough for me.


And then, long-suffering husband that he is, he obliged me by weedeating some experimental beds to use up the seeds I couldn't find room for in the garden. This patch was pure weeds this spring, then I solarized it for a month or so in the summer. As you can see, partial-shade conditions and the power of perennial weeds meant that some plants sprang back up from the roots despite the cooking time. I'm hopeful that scattering oat seeds and weedeating to the ground just before a rain will mean the cover crops sprout and make a goat-fodder patch. Then perhaps we can fold this area into garden production next year. Or, worst-case scenario, we just wasted a buck of oat seeds and will have to start from scratch here if the experiment fails.

Posted Tue Sep 15 07:09:32 2015 Tags:
Butternut storage

Just in case, we prepared for a potential early freeze by bringing in all of our storage vegetables off the porch. Some were ready to enter their final storage locations, while others need another couple of weeks curing on the rack. (And, since someone asked last week and I forgot to reply to their comment --- if you're curious about how to cure and store vegetables that don't require fancy preservation, you can read everything I know in Weekend Homesteader: October.)

Sun-bathing chicks

Next we covered up our pepper plants (the only summer crop that hasn't already reached quota in the preservation department) and settled in to wait for the Monday low.

DewpointOkay, I lied. I can't wait worth a darn, so I instead finally researched a topic I'd read a little bit about but never really delved into --- the dewpoint temperature. The idea is that gaseous water starts turning liquid at a certain temperature, and in the process a lot of heat is released. That release of heat makes it very difficult for moisture-laden air to drop below the dewpoint temperature. So unless a cold front is blowing in, you can guess the night's minimum temperature by using temperature and humidity at sunset to calculate the dewpoint. Here's a website that does the math for you.

Did my calculations work? Sunday night, it was 51 degrees with 76% humidity...and Monday at dawn it was 43 degrees outside. Exactly as estimated!

Of course, Tuesday was a little bit different. My weather guru had explained that our valley location means that the second day in a cold spell often attains lower temperatures than the official forecast. I can't recall his exact reasoning, but I think the deal is that the cold air from the previous day gathers in the mountains above us then flows down into our valley that second night. Sure enough, the second day of our cold spell saw temperatures a few degrees lower than our dewpoint estimate...but still above freezing. Phew!

Tired wheelbarrow

Okay, I say I'm relieved...but I'm actually just about ready for the gardening season to wind down. But it's worth a bit more pushing at this time of year to grow organic matter rather than weeds in fallow garden beds. So my tired wheelbarrow will get back to work for a few more weeks, and then we'll both enjoy our much deserved winter rest.

Posted Wed Sep 16 07:29:38 2015 Tags:
Christmas tree chicken light

This is the first year we're using Christmas lights as a supplemental chicken light.

We're about a month behind schedule in getting this started.

Posted Wed Sep 16 15:36:31 2015 Tags:
Garden map

Our front garden used to be my favorite growing spot. It began with B+ soil, while the rest of our core homestead was closer to a D. But, over time, I improved the soil everywhere else...which allowed the front garden's inherent flaws to shine through. First of all, there's the wacky layout, with lots of little beds dug before I knew any better. Then there's the fact that this area turns into permafrost in the winter and even in the summer only the very center of the front garden counts as full sun. Which is all a long way of saying --- the front garden is now my least favorite gardening spot, so it tends to get neglected. Time for a hard reboot!

Mown garden

First step --- a close mow of the aisles so we can see what we're working with. Next step --- trick Kayla into coming over to help me move dirt. Here's hoping she doesn't read this post before she heads out the door or she might just call in sick....

Posted Thu Sep 17 07:06:46 2015 Tags:

Broadforking in grassThe first step in my front-garden renovation involved de-compacting the cross aisles. I've tried to simply kill mulch these spots in the past and then plant into the bare ground. But after being walked on for nearly a decade, the soil is too compacted to turn directly into vegetable-garden soil the quick and easy way. So I pulled out the broadfork and gave a few of the cross-aisles some much-needed aeration.

Garden renovation

The other reason simply kill mulching cross aisles failed for me is because I'd already shoveled all of the topsoil out of those areas to apply to the garden beds. So, after laying down a layer of cardboard to block the weeds, I remedied that problem by bringing soil from garden areas I was deleting and applying it to the cross aisles. The photos above show four small beds that were merged into one long bed running the other direction to expedite mowing --- it really is much simpler if all of your beds are parallel to each other. This area is a bit too shady for vegetable gardening, so I'll plant some high-density apples here and hope they get enough sun to thrive.

Much more garden renovation is still to come. Stay tuned!

Posted Fri Sep 18 07:32:37 2015 Tags:
goat on a tarp covering pile of hay

We added another layer of tarp protection to our mountain of hay.

Another thing we did was to block off the 2x4 she was using as a step.

Posted Fri Sep 18 15:49:16 2015 Tags:
Red harvest

The harvest frenzy is finally starting to wind down. We've been using the extra time to kill off our old chickens and ducks and start getting the garden in order for the winter. I'm sure you won't be surprised to learn that I'm still adding more items to our to-do list every day than I remove, though.

Drying sorghum

The only relatively large harvest we made this week was sorghum. I'm mostly just playing around with grains at the moment, but have to admit that sorghum is a keeper. The heads are easy to cut free, they dry on our curing racks without molding, and then the goats eat the seeds right off the stems during the winter when I think they deserve a special treat. In the meantime, the sorghum stalks (well, leaves really) are superior even to sweet-corn stalks as morning goat fodder. Finally, our sorghum grew better than our field corn in the waterlogged, clayey soil where I stuck it, figuring an experimental crop didn't deserve better. I think next year we'll delete the field corn and stick to sorghum as our primary goat grain.

Posted Sat Sep 19 07:21:50 2015 Tags:
goat eating leaves off ground

Abigail likes to eat the new leaves that have freshly fallen to the ground.

Posted Sat Sep 19 15:06:09 2015 Tags:

Understanding RootsRobert Kourik recently sent me a review copy of his newest book, Understanding Roots, and I highly recommend it...for about 30% of our readers. Those of you who love my geekiest posts, who aren't afraid of numbers, and who are willing to read critically (Jake, I'm looking at you) will find Understanding Roots both intriguing and thought-provoking. On the other hand, readers who come here for the pretty pictures and whose eyes glaze over when I start rambling on at length should probably skip this one.

If you've read some of Kourik's other books, you'll know that the author has an intellectual crush on Dr. John Weaver, who spent his entire career excavating soil to draw meticulous maps of plants' roots in Nebraska. While Understanding Roots does include many additional Weaver root maps, though, Kourik delved a little deeper this time around and included drawings from other sources as well. This is handy since the German scientists he tracked down, for example, generally found much shallower roots for the same species of plants compared to those Weaver drew. This shouldn't be entirely surprising --- the deep soil of the Great Plains makes it much easier for roots to delve deep, so those of us with poorer soil will likely be dealing with considerably shallower roots than those shown in Kourik's previous books.

Another intriguing point from Understanding Roots pertains to dynamic accumulators. We've all heard the stories --- comfrey roots extend many feet into the ground and suck up leached nutrients, which they return to the soil surface for the use of other plants. But how true are the stories? Comfrey rootsKourik assessed the data and discovered that most dynamic accumulators merely concentrate nutrients from the topsoil, using deep roots (if present) to search for water during droughts. In fact, the vast majority of comfrey roots are found in the top foot of soil just like the roots of most other plants. This is where the nutrients are highest, oxygen is most plentiful, and beneficial microorganisms proliferate.

In the end, Kourik's book is bountifully illustrated and full of sound science. But it's definitely a text for the thinking gardener to curl up with in front of the wood stove during a long winter night rather than a how-to manual to inspire you to dive into the summer garden. So pick up this book only if you're looking for a thought-provoking text to help you reach the next level as a permaculture gardener.

Posted Sun Sep 20 07:47:31 2015 Tags:
goats as seen from above

Trying to do something with goats wanting your attention is more difficult...... but they make up for it with the fun they add.

Posted Sun Sep 20 15:01:26 2015 Tags:
Goat bridge

I decided to go for it and cut back to once-a-day milking. After all, the days are getting shorter all the time, and I'd really rather not end up milking in the dark.

Morning milking

Weighing milkThe first night, I felt so strange, not having a goat to milk. And production did drop, from 22.6 ounces per day to 18.3 ounces per day (a 19% reduction).

On the other hand, it doesn't look like changing over to once-a-day milking is going to increase the rate of decline. In other words, we're now getting a bit more than a pint of milk per day, and the amount seems to be staying pretty steady.

What about once-a-day milking from the goat's point of view? Abigail doesn't actually seem to mind. She's got plenty of room in her udder at this stage in the game, and twenty-four hours of milk in September is less than twelve hours of milk in May. So, no, she doesn't appear to be in any discomfort at all.

Goats in the sun

"Are we done talking about milk yet?" Artemesia asks. "Can't we go play?"

Yes, you're right, little goat. Skipping the evening milking does mean I have more time to watch you graze after supper. Let's go play!

Posted Mon Sep 21 07:35:55 2015 Tags:
mark Kale yield
kale in an aisle

Our Kale yield is above average this year and ready to be sweetened up by the future cold temperatures.

Posted Mon Sep 21 15:48:26 2015 Tags:
Butternut pie

I've been really enjoying our immersion blender. Not only does the tool allow me to cut up the skins of tomatoes in a flash, it also purees the batter for a butternut pie extremely well.

This pie also marks our first taste of the new hybrid butternut variety Metro. The result? Delicious! Of course, it's hard to go wrong with a butternut pie.

Posted Tue Sep 22 05:44:45 2015 Tags:
Autumnal equinox

Soak up the sunlight while you can --- solar luminosity is fading fast! And don't forget to mark your calendars for a super lunar eclipse this coming Sunday. The moon will begin to be blocked by the earth at 8:40 pm EST, with the full blackout lasting from 10:11 pm to 11:23 pm. Since the moon will also be at its closest approach to the earth during this particular eclipse, the orb will appear 14% larger than usual. Here's hoping there are no clouds to block the view!

Posted Wed Sep 23 06:27:20 2015 Tags:
ATV with buckets of manure

Today we hauled and banked our first 135 gallons of horse manure for the year.

Posted Wed Sep 23 15:55:22 2015 Tags:
Blanching peppers

This is such a blissful time of year. It's not too hot; it's not too cold. The huge summer preservation push is mostly over (although I've still got a few things left to pack away, like these peppers, recently blanched and fated for the freezer); the fall crops are starting to come in. And even though the garden needs some weeding still, I'm starting to feel like my work is making a difference rather than just pacing along on the summer treadmill.

Shady goat

Meanwhile, the oats I planted over the last six weeks are getting big enough that I'm starting to let our goats eat the largest plants even though there's still plenty of greenery elsewhere. The early feeding isn't really spoiling our herd, nor is it being wasteful. Instead, I know from experience that if I let this fall cover crop flower, the plants will perish faster when the cold weather hits. By grazing the oldest plantings now, our herd will set the cover crop back into vegetative mode so the goats can graze the same ground once again after winter comes knocking.

Wet carrots

I owe you some photos of the front garden renovations I'm still in the middle of, but you'll have to wait on those. Instead, here are some of the carrots I harvested to clear out beds so I could shovel dirt around and create one long row. I took the time to rinse off each root so I could easily sort the imperfect goat carrots out of the perfect human carrots. The picture above is the latter --- all straight and spotless, perfect for winter cooking.

Goats in the woods

If I make it sound like it's all work and no play around'd know I was lying. Sometimes, the goats suck me out into the woods two times a day instead of just one, in fact. So maybe our hooved friends aren't the only farm residents who are spoiled in late September.

Posted Thu Sep 24 06:08:12 2015 Tags:

New garden bedI promised you some photos of the next stage in my garden renovation project, so here they are! The first step was using the broadfork to loosen up aisle soil, then laying down cardboard to create one long, wide raised bed (first photo). Since I'm also widening the aisles, I was able to shovel topsoil from beds that were being deleted onto the cardboard, which will hopefully bring the whole area up to speed quickly.

I'm scurrying a bit with this project because it's garlic planting time, and these beds are slated to be home to next year's crop. So, after building the first bed (and a third of the next one --- you can see part of a new bed to the right of the long, finished bed), I planted my garlic. Then I laid down a two-sheet thickness of newspaper (second photo) between the cloves to hold back any potential weeds coming up around our precious crop.

Atop the newspaper, I added a sparse coating of chicken bedding (third photo), which consists of straw, leaves, and manure scraped out of the chicken coop. Finally, I topped that layer off with a deeper layer of fresh straw (final photo).

I'm a bit scared to put all of our eggs (garlic) in one basket (new raised bed). The previous aisle areas, especially, are potentially problematic since the garlic cloves there were planted right atop the cardboard and won't have much soil to grow into until the kill layer and the sod beneath decompose. But garlic is a shallow rooter and I plan to water the entire planting in hard to get the decomposition process moving along quickly. So I'm hoping I won't regret planting what I consider our easiest crop in an experimental area.

(You may be curious why I only planted 75% of our crop during this first garden spree. It's simple --- I ran out of cardboard and newspaper! I'm going to have to stockpile a bit more of both before I can complete our planting. Drat!)

Posted Fri Sep 25 06:52:47 2015 Tags:
Bristol caverns

We went 180 feet underground today in the beautiful Bristol Caverns.

Posted Fri Sep 25 16:29:37 2015 Tags:
Bristol Caverns guide

As Mark mentioned, we started off our staycation with a visit to Bristol Caverns. I grew up in Bristol and am pretty sure I went there once as a kid, but the wonder of this mile-long cave system must not have fully sunken in at that age. Returning as an adult, I was awestruck, and kept our poor tour guide walking at a snail's pace for an hour and a half as I soaked up the beauty...and took 108 photos.

Cave tour

It's hard to capture the full effect of the massive open spaces and intricate formations with still images. At times, I felt like I could barely breath because of the sheer beauty around me...or perhaps I was breathing even deeper than usual. The lighting was near perfect, highlighting features and drawing the eye further into the cavern with every glance. In fact, I felt a bit like I was walking through an art installation in the wild.

Underground creek

There were also interesting historical tales, about Indian raids and about a more modern human who stumbled across the cave entrance while building a root cellar. And geological facts about how the cave formed and shifted. But I have to admit I expended more of my energy tuning into the gurgle of the underground stream and feeling cool air encircle me than doing my usual mental notekeeping. We'll definitely have to go back, so maybe next time I'll pay closer attention.

If you want to visit, I heartily recommend this attraction. Ticket price is $15 per adult. School groups, I've been told, tend to tromp through the cave on weekday mornings, and weekends and summers are also busier. But if you
pick an off time as we did, you may end up on your own private tour, able to travel entirely at your own pace.

Posted Sat Sep 26 07:48:24 2015 Tags:
Lucy eating soy beans

Lucy has decided our Soy Bean experiment can double as a tasty dog treat.

Posted Sat Sep 26 18:04:57 2015 Tags:
Heirloom apples"My wife and I just bought a piece of land out in central MA (zone 6A), and I'm planning to put in a whole slew of fruit and nut trees next spring. It's exciting, but also a daunting exercise trying to figure out what to put in, how to arrange them, what spacing, etc. Do you have any advice for a novice? Anything you wish you knew when you were planting your first trees?"
--- Brett

Starting a new food forest is an exciting undertaking, although also fraught with a lot of difficulties. What I wish I'd known before I planted the first tree is that our initial site had such high deer pressure that nothing could survive, then the second site had such high groundwater that winter water once again killed all of my expensive trees, and finally that our entire homestead exists in a frost pocket where spring blooms are inevitably nipped by late frosts. Moral so you don't repeat my mistakes: spend a year growing annual crops in your future food forest site to find out which problems will need to be overcome before you throw a lot of money away with perennials.

Pear blossomDuring that year, you can learn grafting and can read up on forest gardening. However, be aware that many of the authors of bestselling forest gardening books are theorizers rather than practitioners with decades of success under their belts. For example, I learned the hard way that planting comfrey within the root zones of young fruit trees results in nitrogen-starved trees, despite the fact that many books advocate this type of interplanting. And even though many texts list dozens of fruiting plants that can handle heavy shade, scientific experiments suggest that yields are much reduced in these scenarios. To be honest, I'm working my way out of wishing to create forest gardening guilds and am focusing more on a diverse planting in which each productive plant is given lots of mulched elbow room.

Since I'm keen on no-spray organic gardening, I also wish I'd realized that many of the commonly sold varieties will flounder in these conditions. Hunting down disease-resistant apples, pears, and stone fruits will reduce future headaches dramatically. While you're at it, high-density methods with dwarf trees is a great way to get a head start on what will inevitably be a bit of a game of trial and error figuring out which varieties thrive in your unique conditions and suit your tastebuds. Of course, trees planted in this manner require more work in the weeding, mulching, and summer-pruning departments, but you'll cut years off your experiments and will enjoy fruit much sooner. Once you figure out what grows well for you, you can use that information to plant larger, less needy trees.

HazelnutsAfter almost a decade of experimentation, we're still very much getting our woody perennial legs under us. The only variety that has been an unabashed success has been the hybrid hazel bush that started producing last year. It survived everything our farm threw at we planted three more bushes. Luckily, various types of berries have filled in the gap, but I'm still waiting for those bushels of apples I dreamed about when we first moved to the farm. Maybe easily coverable espaliers or that sunny hillside across the way will overcome our spring freeze problems....

Posted Sun Sep 27 07:25:32 2015 Tags:
Tomatoes last days

Jasper Red Cherry tomatoes seem to want to produce to the very end.

Out of all the blight resistant varieties we tried this year Jasper is the only one we'll think about ordering again.

Posted Sun Sep 27 15:14:05 2015 Tags:
Dirty soybeans

As Mark mentioned, we've been harvesting some of our soybeans this fall. Since this is our first year growing the crop (and since I'm primarily growing them for soil-improvement purposes), my goal is pretty simple --- to end up with as many seeds as I bought with minimal work. (Meaning I don't want to shell the beans by hand and am willing to get much lower than maximum yields as a result.)

But before I delve into my threshing experiments, I wanted to answer Susie's question from this weekend. These are Viking 2265 soybeans from Johnny's, not an heirloom but also not GMO. They're meant to be grown as a cover crop, but you could presumably eat the seeds. (Our dog and goats sure like to.) If I lived in soybean country, though, I'd save my pennies and buy the seeds at a feed store (although that source would be much more likely to be GMO).

Okay, variety information aside --- how did I separate my seeds from the plants and what would I do differently next year? First, I yanked up plants once all the leaves had fallen off Drying soybeansand piled the tops on a tarp on the porch. If I had this to do over again, I would have cut the plants rather than yanked them --- the extra few minutes at harvest would be worth it for the much lower dirt quotient in the finished product. I also would have used a bigger tarp so the plants could lie in one or two layers rather than in a mound since, even though I harvested "dry" plants, some molded in the interior of the pile due to our high humidity.

Screening beans

It took a week or two for most of the soybean plants to start turning crinkly and dry. At that point, I shod myself with close-toed shoes and did a little dance on top of the plants as a rough-and-dirty threshing. Sure enough, quite a lot of soybeans turned up on the tarp when I pulled the plants aside to peak underneath.

I swept up soybeans, dirt, leaves, and all into a dust pan, then deposited the mass in my biochar sifter, retrofitted with a smaller screen that we'd bought for our honeybees. I just pushed the new screen into the sifter on top of the old screen, but it did its job --- preventing anything the size of a bean or larger from falling through the holes. A bit of shaking, and the beans --- plus dirt clods --- were separated from the smaller particles.

Screening beans
There are still quite a few beans left in the plants on my tarp, so I'll do another round of tromping and sifting once they dry a bit more. But I've already got enough seeds for next year's planting, so I'll call the breaking even part of this experiment a success. Looks like soybeans will be the first of my cover crops that come full circle on the farm!

Posted Mon Sep 28 07:37:39 2015 Tags:
chicken of the woods image montage

We went on a hike today and found a huge log by the river with a large flush of Chicken of the Woods mushrooms.

Posted Mon Sep 28 14:40:45 2015 Tags:
Mark in the woods

What's the recipe for a perfect staycation? One part adventure, one part spending time with friends and family, and one part relaxation. As with everything else, the trick is finding just the right balance.

Fall leaves on the windshield

It's completely un-homesteading related, but in case you're curious, my goal is to find one interesting event for each day of our week off. To that end, we've visited Bristol Caverns, watched Star Wars episode 1 with Kayla and her husband (working toward my goal of watching all six of the first movies in order before the next comes out), missed the super eclipse due to clouds (oh well!), and had a fun picnic in the park. Today, Mom's coming over, we'll probably head to the movie theater to see The Martian later in the week, and I'm also hoping I'll be brave enough to hike an 11.5 mile trail I've been eying.

And then we'll hit the ground running with renewed vigor when our staycation is over. Already, I can tell that it was a good decision to stay home this year. Ten days of rest with minimal driving is just the ticket to make our homesteading goals and projects come back into focus. And it's fun too!

Posted Tue Sep 29 06:49:05 2015 Tags:
Spoiled goat

Our goat pastures are flattish and dryish, but otherwise contain some of our farm's worst soil. Seriously, nothing but black locusts would grow there for the longest time. Even the ground was nearly bare of herbaceous growth (aka grasses and weeds). So I sent away a soil sample last fall, and the results confirmed my suspicions --- this area needs help. The CEC was 7 and the pH was 5.2. No wonder plants kicked the bucket before they had time to get their feet under them.

Deficient comfreyNow, I'd planned to use the fast, traditional approach to solving my acidic-soil problem --- adding lots of lime. But last winter was so wet I would have had to carry dozens of 50-pound bags back to our core homestead on my back. And our local feed stores suddenly only sold dolomitic limestone...which I don't want to apply because our soil is already overfull of magnesium. So I dropped the ball, ahem, decided to experiment with using ruminants to improve the soil.

My experimental protocol was simple --- use this pasture as a sacrifice area over the winter, letting the goats poop there with wild abandon. Then, this summer, I turned our herd of two into the same pasture at least a third of the time, even when the does were clearly too spoiled to eat the grass and weeds growing therein. In other words, I was taking hay from some other farmer along with weeds and tree leaves from our own woods and gardens, passing the plant matter through our goats' bellies, and using their manure to fertilize the pasture's poor soil.

Soil improvement with goatsThe results were astonishing. CEC increased by 30%, percent organic matter improved by 14%, and pH rose to 5.6. And plants also started to grow! Not lush, thriving jungles of weeds the way we see in other parts of our core homestead. But at least I stopped noticing comfrey so deficient in nutrients its leaves were pale yellow.

Meanwhile, calcium levels of the soil also rose, even though I applied no lime. If you're a proponent of remineralization, you want 60 to 70% of the cation exchange sites in your soil to be full of calcium. Pre-goats, our pasture soil was at a measly 33%; now the calcium percentage is 42%.

Maybe in another two or three years, this soil will have been entirely remineralized...all due to kelp-fed goats. Do you think then our darling does will then deign to dine on their own grasses?

Posted Wed Sep 30 06:08:59 2015 Tags:
chicken in motion

Our flock of future layers have developed a bad habit of flying over fences.

It might be a side effect of having multiple breeds in the same coop?

The solution will most likely be a height extension on our 5 foot high fence.

Posted Wed Sep 30 13:55:37 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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