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

archives for 10/2015

Oct 2015
Chief Benge scout trail

The Chief Benge Scout Trail has been calling my name for the better part of a decade. It's a 21ish-mile hike (if you tack on the optional addendums at each end) that begins on the top of a nearby knob and runs down nearly to the valley floor. A fascinating high-elevation ecosystem combined with the fact that you can easily divide the trip in half added to the appeal. So why haven't I hiked it yet?

West half of the Chief Benge Scout Trail

In the first place, the logistics have daunted me a bit in the past. While the trail is very close to our farm as the crow flies, it's at least a 40-minute drive up winding forest-service roads to get to any of the trailheads. And then I started figuring in the extra time it would take to leave a car at one trailhead while being dropped off at another, and the adventure suddenly seemed like less fun.

Long-suffering husband

Enter my long-suffering husband, who volunteered to not only drop me off, but to pick me up too. How could I refuse?

High Knob tower

Oh, yeah, there is the fact that I haven't gone on such a long hike in many years. Sure, I used to log about eight miles a day while carrying a 50-pound pack as a matter of course...when I was 22. But could I still go the distance? Tune in for tomorrow's post to find out.

(In the meantime, if you're local enough to want actual information about the Chief Benge Scout Trail, here's an excellent map and description of the west half.)

Posted Thu Oct 1 06:53:51 2015 Tags:

$10 Root CellarThis is just a quick post to alert you to two special deals. First the freebie --- we ended up with three more boxes of Egyptian onion top bulbs. The first three people to email their mailing address to me at will be the lucky winners of this delicious and easy perennial vegetable! (Unfortunately, we can only mail these within the U.S. --- sorry to our international readers.) The onions are now claimed!

In other news, my $10 Root Cellar ebook is marked down to half price today only. In addition to the project that led to the title, the book includes tips on growing roots, feeding roots to livestock, and much more. I hope you enjoy it!

Posted Thu Oct 1 12:19:04 2015 Tags:
Benges Trail

Mark made the excellent point that if I was going to challenge myself to a long hike that might push my capabilities, it was best to start as early as possible. To that end, I milked Abigail by flashlight before dawn, and we hit the top of High Knob a bit after 8. The mists were very heavy, so I didn't get to enjoy sunrise from the tower. But I was too excited to care.

High elevation fungi

Instead I walked with a big grin on my face...and photographed fungi. We've had a relatively rainy week down in our valley, but I could tell that High Knob is much wetter than even our soggy farm. How can I tell? I measure overall precipitation for an area by fungal proliferation, and High Knob definitely won out in that department.

(The astute naturalist will notice that there are two lichens above...or at least I think that one in front of my hand is a lichen. But they're related to fungi, so I included them in the collage. Also, don't miss the high-elevation birch polypore in the top shot!)

Fallen tree leaves

I also enjoyed the fact that high-elevation trees are already starting to sport their fall foliage, making the hike particularly beautiful. In fact, I was able to measure my downhill progress by the leaves beneath my feet. Up high, sugar maple leaves coated the forest floor, but I eventually dropped down into the land of tulip-trees, and then walked up onto a drier ridge where blackgums dominated.

Red eft(And, hey, look --- a newt! I actually saw seven of these along the trail.)

My hike was going swimmingly. After a couple of miles, my can-I-do-it? jitters had washed away. My first lunch of two peanut butter apples and my second lunch of homemade mozzarella with peppers, tomatoes, and snow peas hit the spot...especially when washed down with a thawing quart of goat milk. And I could tell that my planned timing --- 2 miles per hour, plus a spare hour for wiggle room --- was going to get me to the destination just a little early. Perfect!

And then I got lost....

Posted Fri Oct 2 06:48:29 2015 Tags:
Martian movie day

We went to see "The Martian" on our last day of staycation.

Science + space travel + humanure = an awesome movie adventure.

Posted Fri Oct 2 18:10:10 2015 Tags:
Trail blaze

Before I started on my hike, Mark admonished me "You'll stay on the trail, right?"

"Of course I will," I promised. And I really did mean to. The trouble was the blazes.

Actually, I was highly impressed by how well the trail was marked at first. If you understand blazes --- pay attention to the color and look for double-blazes to alert you to an unexpected turn --- following the trail from the High Knob Tower to Edith Gap was child's play.

National forest

Okay, yes, I'll admit that as I got closer to Edith Gap, the trail got slightly trickier. Orange blazes joined the yellow as a horse trail cohabited with my walking trail. And, in some spots, only orange blazes existed to mark both avenues. But after I figured out what was going on, I was okay with that.


The trouble happened when my trail crossed the next forest-service road...and seemed to disappear. While the higher-elevation portions of the Chief Benge trail could just as well have been located in a National Park, this region shows the reality of trail-building in the National Forest --- clearcuts. Through some oversight, a clearcut had been smacked down right in the middle of the trail, meaning that I was suddenly walking through a thicket of five-year-old trees with no blazes in sight. Gulp.

Repaired backpack

Enter my handy, dandy map. When walking over new ground, I try to bring along a high-quality topo map at all times. And here's why --- the visual helped me figure out how to bushwhack in just the right direction so I could meet back up with the trail less than half a mile downstream. Success!

Board walk

I think I probably used more calories during my fifteen minutes being lost than I did during the whole rest of the hike. And since the blazes were suddenly scanty from there on out, I tired myself out yet more wondering if I'd actually found the right trail and was heading in the right direction. Boy was I glad to see this boardwalk at the upper end of Bark Camp Lake, proving that I'd not only guessed correctly, but was also on the home stretch.

Bark Camp Lake
All told, I figure I might have walked about 13 miles that day. There's the half mile round trip from home to car to tack on, plus another mile or so from accidentally going around the long side of both High Knob Lake and Bark Camp Lake. (Oops.)

I'll admit that I wouldn't have wanted to walk longer, and I did end up with tired muscles and sore feet. But I learned that a hike of that magnitude is definitely not beyond my means, which is an empowering feeling.

I do think I'll wait a while before hiking the other half of the Chief Benge trail, though....

Posted Sat Oct 3 07:40:21 2015 Tags:
Anna holding pullet egg

Our new hens started laying two weeks after we installed Christmas lights.

Posted Sat Oct 3 15:44:12 2015 Tags:
Cute goat

So, I've been tearing up the virtual pavement trying to find Artemesia just the right date. There was that nice Mini-Nubian buck who wanted her to come stay over for a month...but Abigail and I begged our darling doeling not to go since we would have missed her too much. A high-class Dwarf Nigerian offered to meet Artemesia for a quick hookup, but he never told us his phone number and didn't call back after he saw her online profile. (Poor Artie felt so jilted.) Then there was the blue-collar guy who I was trying to set her up with...until I took a closer look and decided maybe I needed to be thinking about another sort of date entirely.

Goat pooch test

Goat from aboveTwo weeks, ago, the pooch test appeared negative. But now, considering this lineup of goat butts, I'm suddenly 50% sure Lamb Chop actually managed to do the deed in June after all. Meanwhile, my post on a goat forum resulted in two expert opinions, both in favor of Artemesia being knocked up.

Artemesia is a lot rounder lately too, but she and Abigail have been eating more hay since the weather turned wet and I cleared the old stuff out of the manger. I'd say our doeling appears just as big on the right side as the left side at the moment --- inconclusive.

The biggest point in favor of a possible pregnancy is that Artemesia doesn't seem to have come into heat at all this fall. Abigail has --- our usually quiet goat yelled like crazy this week and sported mucous under her tail. But Artie --- usually the chatty one --- has been mild-mannered and quiet for months.

Goat friends

So maybe I have a first freshener on my hands, not a doeling after all? This would be wonderful news --- winter milk starting up just about the time Abigail dries off, plus a doeling who will kid while fat and happy on summer browse.

Depending on whether a Mini-Nubian counts as a standard breed or a miniature breed, Artemesia would be due between November 5 and November 10. Gulp. I'd better start training her to enjoy butternuts and carrots if I want to keep that healthy layer of fat on her back. And if the signs of pregnancy continue to look positive, we can buckle down for the next step --- guessing how many kids will pop out.

Posted Sun Oct 4 07:34:14 2015 Tags:
Red Ranger update

Our flock of Fall broilers are growing like weeds.

We're both impressed with the foraging skills of Red Rangers.

Posted Sun Oct 4 15:48:04 2015 Tags:

Free homesteading booksIt's that time of year again when I purge my bookshelf of books I'm no longer reading so I can make room for new interests. Many of this year's texts come highly recommended --- I've just milked all of the knowledge I can from them and am ready to pass the carriers of information on.

Want free books of your very own? Head over here and take my four question survey about your reading habits and you'll be given a link to the rafflecopter form to enter the giveaway. I'm going to give away the books in groups of three or four to allow more people to win, so be sure to take a minute to decide which books you want the most now. Your options include:

As you'll be able to tell from my survey, I'm trying to decide whether to stick with Amazon's KDP Select program, which requires me to keep my books exclusive with them if I want readers to be able to borrow the titles for free using Kindle Unlimited. So consider this post a warning as well as an oportunity. If you were thinking of borrowing my books but haven't gotten around to it, you might want to do so now in case I start pulling them out of the program! Happy reading.

Posted Mon Oct 5 07:36:38 2015 Tags:
minox drinking water container

We've had the Minox 25 Liter stainless steel drinking container for almost three years now.

Our pump sends water from the well through a sediment filter and UV light where it gets stored in the Minox which is elevated on a shelf for gravity assistance.

Posted Mon Oct 5 15:55:00 2015 Tags:
Goat, oats, and hazels

Our staycation coincided perfectly with a week of seemingly endless rain. Then, when Monday told us to get back to work...the sun came out! The change in weather gave everyone on our farm the gumption to jump back into outside tasks joyfully.

Six week old Red Rangers

Mom asked what we're up to now that our staycation is over. I've still got a few beds of garlic and lettuce to plant this week, but mostly we're in renovation mode to make sure that this year's garden weeds don't get away from us the way they did last year. In fall 2014, the only straw we had on hand was seedy, so our mulch was worth than useless. This year, our straw is great and we've also got time to plant a rye cover crop in bare beds. Just gotta get rid of the results of last year's laxness before the ground becomes too cold for my tender fingers!

Posted Tue Oct 6 07:16:14 2015 Tags:
Garlic planting

How much garlic do we plant to feed the two of us all year? Now that we've entirely converted over to huge, hardneck Music heads, we get by with 96 plants. About 15 of those are our "seed" garlic, which I split up to plant at this time of year (rejecting the smallest cloves). The other 81 heads of garlic feed us well and also act as an occasional dewormer for our goat herd. We give a little bit away, too, and always have a few extra heads when the time comes to pull in next year's harvest in June.

On the other hand, if I were like my brother, who mentally translates "clove of garlic" into "head of garlic" in all recipes, I'd have to plant a lot more. But for more normal eaters, I'd say 40 heads of garlic a year per person is a pretty good amount.

Posted Wed Oct 7 07:28:00 2015 Tags:
Goat gentle leader

Ever since we started letting our goats eat oats again, Abigail has been very ornery on the way back to her pasture. She doesn't want to leave those tasty cover crops behind!

Anna got tired of dragging Abigail when she'd lie down and refuse to walk, so we found Lucy's old gentle leader. The harness makes it easy to win the battle of wills with our ornery goat, so now Abigail goes where we want her to.

We change back to a collar after walking to or from the garden, though. Even though the gentle leader doesn't make it impossible for a goat to open her mouth, we figure Abigail might as well be comfortable during her leisure time.

And maybe, as with Lucy, a few weeks training is all it will take before the gentle leader can be retired once again.

Posted Wed Oct 7 17:03:13 2015 Tags:
Digging carrots

Our last big harvest of the year is always carrots. I actually dug a few beds in September to spur along my garden renovation, but there were still several more beds to go. Good thing Kayla was willing to come over and turn a chore into a long morning of fun and gossip.

Sorting carrots

We dug, washed, and sorted nearly a bushel of carrots in a couple of hours, which leaves me perhaps a third that much to work up today. That's a lot of carrots, but only the cream of the crop will go to two-leggers, with the goats eating up the remainder.

Assuming, of course, that I can teach Artemesia to eat anything other that wild food, hay, and alfalfa pellets. Our littlest goat actually nosed the butternut squash out of her dish yesterday morning even though I drizzled molasses on top to sweeten her disposition.

Goat eating sweet corn

"I think she's already sweet enough," said Kayla, patting our darling doeling in the head.

"Yeah, but I'm worried she might not be getting enough carbs to keep her kids fed if she really is pregnant," I replied. And then I proceeded to tether our spoiled first freshener amid the sweet corn stalks.

"Now that's carbs worth eating," Artemesia proclaimed. Munch, munch, munch.

Posted Thu Oct 8 07:23:06 2015 Tags:

Fridge root cellarThe very best carrots ended up in the crisper drawer of our electrified fridge (which we use nearly 100% for that purpose). The rest were deemed goat carrots and headed over to the unelectrified fridge root cellar.

Which forced me to admit that we might actually run out of room in our fast, cheap root-cellar alternative this year. Because there are lots of mangels in the garden that will need to be harvested before our first hard freeze, and the carrots alone nearly fill our in-the-ground fridge up.

Of course, I'm still not sure whether Abigail will lower her standards enough to eat a mangel, or whether I'll end up giving them all to my mother, who said the fodder beets were at least moderately suitable for human consumption.
Yes, I'm well aware that this paragraph makes it abundantly clear to the whole world that my mother is less spoiled than my goat.

Posted Fri Oct 9 06:53:13 2015 Tags:
new chicken move day

We moved our broiler flock into a big bird coop this week.

I can carry two chickens and Anna has sometimes managed three.

Posted Fri Oct 9 16:13:09 2015 Tags:
Stockpiling compost

Summer 2014 was too wet to allow us to haul in horse manure for 2015, so we spent most of this year using homegrown fertility sources instead. Good thing we got goats! I used manurey bedding nearly as quickly as our animals made it all season, but now I'm starting to bank compost piles for next year.

The photo above shows the result of three goat-shed cleanings. On the right, I forked two cleanings-worth into one small pile after the bedding had been rained on a few times, then I covered the composting organic matter with plastic to prevent nitrogen leaching away during winter rains. The new pile to the left is this week's addition, which will be treated the same way once the straw hydrates and begins to rot.

Between goat and chicken bedding and garden weeds, I've now got three little compost nooks spread around our core homestead. Hopefully by the time spring rolls around, we'll have enough well-composted organic matter to make 2016 a better garden year!

Posted Sat Oct 10 06:43:11 2015 Tags:
Rocky Mount

Today we learned about life in the late 1700's from authentic living history actors.

Posted Sat Oct 10 16:54:10 2015 Tags:
Kindle Unlimited survey

A huge thank you to the 217 readers who took my survey last week! Four of you won my discarded paperbacks (and two of the winners haven't gotten back to me yet with their mailing check your email). I thought I'd go ahead and share the results here because I know many of you are interested in microbusinesses, and self-publishing ebooks on Amazon has actually turned into about half of our annual income in recent years. So if you're thinking of publishing a homesteading-related ebook, this market research might help you get off to a good start.

I'll begin my analysis with Kindle Unlimited. You can read my early thoughts on the program here. After writing that post, the large quantities of borrows meant that Amazon dropped their payout to about $1.30 per book read to the 10% mark...which was still a very good deal since so very many of my books were borrowed so very frequently. I loved what those in the industry call KU1.

Then KU2 came around in summer 2015 and started paying authors per page read rather than per borrow. I manage Aimee Easterling's novels, and they soared under the new program. Unfortunately, my how-to books were penalized for being short on words and long on pictures. Under KU2, I ended up getting only about 45 cents for a book read all the way through. And to make matters worse, many readers used my books as references and only read the pages they were interested in, lowering my borrow income yet further. In the end, I had to admit that the income from KU borrows wasn't making up for the fact that I had to commit not to sell my ebooks on any other retailer in order to be part of the program.

Preferred ebook retailers among homesteading audiences

Luckily, survey results proved that I won't be making too many readers angry by pulling out of Kindle Unlimited. Among my blog and email list audience, only 11% of you read much non-fiction using Kindle Unlimited while 20% of you actually prefer a non-Amazon ebook retailer. Looks like I'll better serve my readers by going wide (as indie authors refer to pulling their books from KDP Select and uploading to all retailers) rather than offering my titles through Kindle Unlimited. So I'm in the process of making that switch with my most popular titles now.

Non-fiction format
In the meantime, another survey question gave me something entirely different to chew on. I've come around to reading almost all fiction on my kindle, but I have to admit that I still prefer to read non-fiction on paper. So I wasn't surprised to find that 62% of you felt the same way. Lately, I've been focusing on expanding and polishing one or two titles per year to hit real, physical shelves, and it looks like that will continue to be my annual goal going forward.

Trailersteading book jacket

To that end, long-time readers are probably aware that Trailersteading is already up for preorder on Amazon. I got the finished cover file this week and am highly impressed by the designer's awesome job. My favorite cover yet!

Work in progressIn other book news, I'm about 70% of the way done writing my all-new and straight-to-paperback The Ultimate Guide to Soil, which will probably go up for preorder this winter. (Don't worry: there will be an e-version too.) I've been having so much fun writing this book, especially since I've forced myself to leave out any science geekery that gardeners can't feel, smell, or easily impact in their own dirt. The result is an entirely hands-on soil book that I hope will be perfect for those of you who like to get your hands muddy.

When I first wrote about The Ultimate Guide to Soil, actually, I told folks that the book was going to be an expansion of Homegrown Humus. But when the time came to fold the cover-crop information in, my soil book had already gone over my publisher's recommended word count and seemed quite full. So 2016's paperback will be an expanded and revised print version of Homegrown Humus to complete the tale. I'm actually glad the books will stay separate because I have a lot more I want to add to my cover-crop saga!

Phew! That's a long, nerdy post. I hope some of you aspiring or actual authors will get something out of it. And don't forget to have fun in the great frontier of indie or hybrid publishing. I know I do. Happy publishing!

Posted Sun Oct 11 07:32:40 2015 Tags:
prep work

We moved our new feed trays to make room for a new kidding stall.

Posted Sun Oct 11 14:10:07 2015 Tags:
Rocky Mount, Tennessee

Rocky Mount was another of those local attractions that I visited as a school kid but was clearly too young to fully appreciate at the time. Emily and her husband met us there for a tour, and we were all amazed by the museum and (even more so) by the re-creation of frontier life out back.

Shake roof

But I'll start in front, where Mark was quite taken by the shake roofs that covered the barn, sheds, and houses.

Cotswold sheep

I, of course, was more drawn to the heirloom sheep and to the orchard, where I snagged a few pears that otherwise seemed destined to rot on the ground.

Hand-cranked drill press

Inside, Mark's toolish eye immediately picked out the hand-cranked drill press...

Tree cores

...while I was more interested in the idea of using coring technology to learn about the trees that made up the log houses.

Frontier house with dogtrot

Speaking of log houses, the real adventure began when we finished our interior journey and stepped into the world of 1791. The farmstead of the Cobb family has been lovingly salvaged and restored and tour guides dressed in period clothing welcome you inside to learn about their life after the Revolutionary War.

Above, you can see the main house, with the typical dogtrot (covered porch) joining the original smaller house with the larger addition. The Cobbs were quite a wealthy family, evidenced by the size of their house and by the presence of glass windows. There is no kitchen in the main house either --- just living and sleeping accommodations --- since the family was rich enough to own slaves. As we learned later in our tour, all food was cooked in a separate building and delivered in stages to the family and to their numerous guests.

Block of tea

Pieces of eightMark called the tour guides actors, but I was able to suspend my disbelief most of the time and accept that they were real people of 1791 welcoming us into their lives. (Yes, I do find it particularly easy to live in a fantasy world. Why do you ask?) I could feel this woman's wonder and care as she unwrapped a block of tea from China, which she informed us would cost more than a day of a man's wages. And I was intrigued by the pieces of eight (called "bits" here on the frontier), by straw ticking for children's mattresses (easier to restuff than feathers if younguns wet the bed), and by standing writing desks.

Cooking hearth

But the best part of the tour came when we reached the kitchen, complete with drying herbs, huge cooking hearth, meat spit, and warming oven. Off to the left (not visible in this picture) was a bread oven, fired up once a week for a huge day of baking. "We never bake on Mondays," our guide explained, "Because it takes the entire day beforehand to prepare, and Sunday is the Sabbath."

Processing flax

Okay, I lied. The real best part was when the cook brought us down to the weaving house. I've seen spinning and weaving before, but had never watched flax being transformed from plant to thread. The process was astonishing.

First, you dry the plants for a couple of years, then you pound them with a heavy weight thing to loosen up the woody exterior fibers. (Yes, I missed all of the proper words --- I should have been taking notes.) Rubbing bundles of loosened flax across a post and then hitting it with a stick knocks off most of those woody fibers, but you really turn the flax into thread by pulling it through a metal brush. Add in some wool from the farm's sheep and you've got fire-resistant linsey woolsey, perfect for a cook who spends her days flapping a long skirt at an open flame.

Asclepias physocarpa

I won't write more because I don't want it to take you as long to read this post as it took us to suck up all that Rocky Mount has to offer. But I highly recommend this outing, which costs $7.50 apiece with a AAA card. We spent three full hours in the museum and on the grounds, and if I hadn't been starving we likely would have stayed longer. Go after lunch and stay all afternoon --- you won't regret it!

Posted Mon Oct 12 08:12:41 2015 Tags:
rooster close up

We retired our rooster today due to his aggressive mating habits.

He was so demanding that our hens were flying over fences to get away.

Posted Mon Oct 12 15:51:45 2015 Tags:
Chicken stew

I've been reading a pre-release copy of Leigh Tate's Critter Tales and really enjoying following along on her adventures. My favorite part, though, is quite personal. Leigh's journey toward meat independence has Cat licking the plate cleanbeen quite similar to ours, and so her book helps me see how far we've come.

Not only do we kill a problematic rooster without excessive angst nowadays, we also cook him up into soup to eat that same night. This may not sound like such a big deal, but putting your birds in the freezer for a few weeks before eating them is one way to gain that emotional distance necessary to think of the meat as food. Huckleberry and Lucy have no problem with this mental contortion, but it's taken me a full nine years to get to this point.

October harvest

What's the next step in our meat-education journey? We're probably going to upgrade our goat herd if Artemesia has a daughter, keeping the new doeling while deleting Abigail. I'm having trouble thinking of our current milker as anything other than a pet, though, so I haven't yet crossed over the bridge of deciding whether it's better to take her to the butcher or try to sell or give away an okay-but-not-top-notch goat. Clearly, we still have some meat angst to work through before we'll be real homesteaders at heart.

Posted Tue Oct 13 07:46:42 2015 Tags:
goat door repair

We finished the kidding stall today.

Now Artemesia has a semi private place for her future birth day.

Posted Tue Oct 13 15:40:06 2015 Tags:
Egg on ground

We had a chicken-flying-fences problem beginning in September, but it took until our staycation rested our minds before we were able to start getting a handle on the issue. With problems like this, I've found that clipping wings (dealing with the symptoms) doesn't hold a candle to rooting out the real cause of the problem. So I put on my thinking cap and realized there were several issues at play.

First of all, this year's rooster turned out to be a pouncer rather than a dancer, and he was especially fond of the Buff Orpingtons. As a result, those ladies started flying fences to escape his affections, and the other hens soon followed suit. I have a feeling that if I'd paid attention and nipped this in the bud, deleting the rooster would have been sufficient cure, but the cat is now out of the bag. Oh well!

Ground nest boxSince the pullets started flying over fences right when they started to lay, though, they ended up choosing random spots in the weeds to cache their eggs. Again, this problem was exacerbated by our neglect. The chickens were roosting in the coop nest boxes at that time, so the cavities were poopy and unpleasant. No wonder our hens didn't want to lay there. As a retroactive fix, Mark moved the roosts away from the nest boxes, cleaned out the latter, and then added one nest box on the floor. (Even though humans like raised nest boxes and chickens like raised roosts, in my experience a hen will always prefer a nest box on the ground.)

A few pullets started laying in the ground nest box, but half were still flying fences, so Tuesday we embarked on Project Shut-In. It's pretty simple and is a relatively effective way of breaking hens from roosting or laying outside the coop. Just leave your girls inside with no play time for a few days, and their short chicken attention spans seem to become refocused on home base.

Eggs and okra pods

I hope that puts the finishing touches on solving the fence-flying problem! As you can tell, we could have nipped the issue in the bud in several different ways in September, but in the midst of the planting/weeding/harvesting frenzy, something had to fall by the wayside. Good thing chickens are relatively easy to get back on the right track even after a month of neglect.

Posted Wed Oct 14 07:15:18 2015 Tags:
carrying cedar post

We deleted a 3 cedar post trellis line today that was 9 years old.

Two of the posts are still good despite being soaked in constant ground water.

Posted Wed Oct 14 15:51:06 2015 Tags:
Fall garden

My front-garden renovations are only about halfway complete, but I took a break this week to get the mule garden in order. I hadn't originally planned to do anything here except weed, mulch, and plant rye. But looking at the area with a critical eye made me realize that this zone could use some bed renovations as well.

Barn shadow

The mule garden is our sunniest winter spot, so I save it for spring and fall crops. But as you can see in the photo above, the beds closest to the barn don't get much morning sun at all in the off season. Meanwhile, the trellis you can barely see at the left side of this photo uses up prime sunny real estate. Looks like Kayla and I will be moving some dirt today from the shade to the sun!

Grazing goats

The new beds will be much appreciated since I've been slacking on my crop rotation in the mule garden. The trouble is that most of what I want to grow there is in the crucifer family, so I've been rotating species rather than families in an effort to squeeze everything in. As a result, diseases are starting to build up and make my fall crucifers much less vigorous. I'm eying the back garden as possible additional rotation area --- it's not quite as sunny in the dead of winter and the ground water is high between the beds, but a tiny bit more shade and harvesting in muck boots might be worth it to break those disease cycles and get our winter crops in order for next year.

Posted Thu Oct 15 06:48:31 2015 Tags:
Harvesting basil

Our first frost technically came early Thursday morning, when a thin skin of frozen dew formed on top of the woodshed roof. Luckily, it only hit 34 at garden level, so I gained an extra couple of days to get things done. I was glad that I'd picked the best of the basil to dry Wednesday, though, since this tender herb tends to get nipped around 40 Fahrenheit.

Cat and peppersWhen I thought we were going to get an ultra-early frost at the end of August, I was scurrying like crazy to cover things up. But our average first-frost date is now gone by, and I'm actually ready for the summer veggies to perish (and the cabbage worms along with them). So rather than covering things like peppers and tomatoes, we just picked the plants hard, planning to move on to fall edibles once the freeze makes the summer garden a thing of the past.

That said, I did cover our youngest lettuce bed. No need for a freeze to set back one of our most dependable autumn vegetables!

Maybe I'll even break down and light Huckleberry a fire?

Posted Fri Oct 16 06:56:39 2015 Tags:
cattle panel gate construction

We're trying something new with the kidding stall access gate.

The puzzle is trying to figure out the best way to attach hinges.

Posted Fri Oct 16 15:24:51 2015 Tags:
Spreading worm castings

Kayla picked up this free sample of worm castings at an agricultural conference last weekend. The producers had some pretty hefty claims --- they promised that if you spread the contents of their packet around a single plant, it would produce twice as much as its sisters. "That sounds like an experiment for your blog!" Kayla said.
Worm castings
I let her pick the most average-looking strawberry plant from from my recently weeded bed. (In case I lose my notes, it's the second one from the southeast corner.) Kayla then sprinkled the entire packet around the lucky winner, after which we laid down a newspaper-and-straw mulch around every plant in the bed.

I'm dubious of the producer's claims since I add so much organic matter to my beds in the first place. But time will tell! Here's hoping Kayla, I, or one of you thoughtful readers will remember to make me measure yields next May and June. The hard part will be keeping myself from eating the evidence....

Posted Sat Oct 17 07:30:45 2015 Tags:
making heated chicken waterer

We've still got a few high end heated chicken waterers left over from last year.

Posted Sat Oct 17 14:46:58 2015 Tags:
Last harvest

Trash fire

The end of that....

The beginning of this....

28 degrees, heavy frost, and the cold season has officially begun.

Posted Sun Oct 18 08:12:34 2015 Tags:
broken handle update

The repair job on our broken refrigerator handle lasted just under 2 years.

Luckily the mounting holes lined up with this replacement handle.

Posted Sun Oct 18 13:43:50 2015 Tags:
Grazing goats

A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. A week ago, the internet informed me that goats can actually go into heat one last time 21 days after they get pregnant, which made me wonder whether Lamb Chop might have knocked up our little girl on May 21 rather than during the lesser heat she exhibited three weeks later. So I pushed Mark to finish the kidding stall ASAP...and I watched our doeling with an eagle eye.

Nothing happened. And in the interim I was peering so closely at Artemesia that I began to doubt whether she was even pregnant in the first place. After all, her belly doesn't actually appear very big unless she's gorging on hay (quite usual for a goat whether she's pregnant or not), and Lamb Chop was only three months old when he would have done the deed. Plus, I haven't noticed any of the prekidding signs on Artemesia that I saw on Abigail this past spring. In case you're curious, here's the summary of my notes from our first goat home birth:

Day before kidding
First obvious change noticed in vulva (pooch test)
Ligaments seem to start loosening and a few drops of milk freeze onto ends of teats. (Ligaments later appeared to tighten back up, then loosen again repeatedly...suggesting that I'm terrible at discerning ligament changes.)
Slight bagging up of udder
Abigail suddenly looks thinner as baby drops into a different position
Cloudy discharge on vulva
Ripples across belly. (This might have been me overreacting to random movements.)
Whitish mucous on vulva
Vulva sunken in, udder bags up more
Vulva puffy and damp
Lamb Chop is born!
A trickle of bloody discharge
+15 - 16
Another round of bloody discharge

As a result of my confusion, I started pondering official goat-pregnancy tests. But after a moderate amount of research, Mark and I decided that all of the options are really too invasive to learn something we'll know one way or another in three short weeks.

If we had more goats, taking Artemesia to get an ultrasound wouldn't be a big deal since our doeling likes the car and the vet is only half an hour away. But Abigail would have a fit being left alone for the afternoon and I would have to carry a possibly pregnant goat across the creek. The other option --- taking a blood sample and mailing it to a lab --- also seems excessively scary since you're supposed to draw blood from your goat's neck. Why can't they make pee-on-a-stick pregnancy tests for goats?!

Goat pooch test

So I asked Mark to make an executive decision, and he said "Wait." With the decision made, I can now resolve to pamper our darling doeling for another three weeks. Then, if she really isn't pregnant, we'll cross the breeding bridge in early November, better late than never!

Posted Mon Oct 19 07:02:16 2015 Tags:
cattle panel hinge gate

I cut some 2x6 pieces to fit a few gaps in the panel and then sandwiched the pieces with two treated appearance boards.

Posted Mon Oct 19 16:04:11 2015 Tags:
Fall garden

It's that time again --- when I beg for contributions to round out a new book! As I complete the first draft of The Ultimate Guide to Soil, a few gaps in my own experience have become clear. So if you have photos and tips to share on any of the following topics, your name may show up in print. (And if I use your experiences, you'll also get to select from the second round of bookshelf discards mentioned at the end of this post!)

What do I want to hear about? Anything innovative and soil-related has a shot of making the cut, but I'd specifically like to see firsthand experiences with:

  • Seed meals as garden fertilizer
  • Pit gardens for moisture preservation in dry climates
  • Worm towers for in-garden composting
  • Biodynamic preparation 500 (or another biodynamic preparation you feel has real merit)
  • Your remineralization experiences (before and after photos, plus what you applied to improve your ground)
  • Any tricks you use to garden in sandy or cold soils
  • Your favorite plants for chop 'n drop

Photos need to be print-quality --- most shots taken with a camera will suffice. Email your contribution to and be sure to send only one photo per email so they don't bounce. Please mention your state and growing zone (and whether it's okay to use your last name).

Once the contributions stop trickling in, probably next Monday, I'll start doling out prizes. Here are the books you'll be able to choose between:

I'm looking forward to seeing what you've cooked up in your garden. Thanks in advance for sharing your experiences!

Posted Tue Oct 20 06:47:16 2015 Tags:
Goat eating a tomato

Despite what the forecast called for, it's been in the mid twenties every morning for the last four days. Frosty weather means we work inside during the early hours and don't head to the garden until the afternoon.

The goats are a bit confused by the change of schedule since they're accustomed to being tethered at 9:30 am, not 1 pm. But Artemesia got over her angst long enough to help me clean up the frosted tomato vines. Gardening with goats is always more fun.

Transplanting herbs

ZinniasAfter putting the girls back in the pasture to chew their cuds, I changed gears and got the front herb bed in order. I'm transplanting thyme, lavender, echinacea and chives into this area in front of the trailer to join the existing sage, Greek oregano, fennel, and grapevines for a variety of reasons.

The most pressing is that my front garden renovations mean I'll soon dig up the beds where these herbs used to live. Plus, the ground ivy in those spots is getting out of control (actually swallowing the thyme), so they needed some TLC anyway.

This warm, sheltered spot in front of the trailer is good for overwintering sensitive plants like the thyme and sage, too, and it's also very close to the kitchen for easy plucking. All-told, I think it'll be a plus to have my herbs all in one spot in the future --- I hope. And, either way, I'll still have room to slip some summer flowers in there to fill in the gaps and brighten up our metal home.

Posted Wed Oct 21 07:07:44 2015 Tags:
mark Rebel hens
tractor repair

We did some repair work to our chicken tractor today.

Now we have a place to put rebel hens who like to sneak into the garden.

Posted Wed Oct 21 15:51:38 2015 Tags:

"How are our girls?" Mark asked.

We use that term for our goats and our chickens...and apparently now our honeybees. "Oh, you mean our thousands of girls?" I answered. "They've got enough honey for the winter, but none for us...again."

Inspecting a bee boxThe mother hive --- our Langstroth/Warre hybrid --- was doing the best, probably because I fed them a couple of gallons of sugar water in September. The hive now consists of one very heavy Warre box chock full of honey, with a lighter honey-and-brood Langstroth box below.

Since we'll be overwintering the hive as a hybrid, I went ahead and took away the two Langstroth supers I'd optimistically placed on the bottom of the hive. The bees had built some comb in one of them, but clearly lacked the capacity to do any more after a spring split followed by a swarm. Oh well, there's always next year to get them all the way down into the Langstroth box and to hope for honey for us!


I thought the daughter hive was down to one very heavy honey box and a lighter honey-and-brood box as well. In fact, the photo above was meant to be my "after" picture, showing how I'd left the removed boxes beside the hives for the night so our girls could clean out any nectar they might have been dehydrating within those combs. But there sure seemed to be a lot of activity around one of those Warre boxes....

I walked back over to take a look, and sure enough that box included some capped honey! Not enough to make it easy to see by looking up through the bottom (my method of Inspecting a Warre hiveinspecting Warre boxes since the frames usually end up glued to the sides and tear if you try to lift them out). The visual inspection plus the lightness of the box had convinced me that it was mostly bare comb. Looks like I was wrong!

In a Langstroth hive, I would have gone through both light boxes and consolidated all the honey into one box so the bees would have less space to heat over the winter, but that's not really possible in a Warre hive. So I plopped the third box back on top, figuring our daughter colony could use the capped honey and whatever dehydrating nectar was in the other frames to top off their barely sufficient stores.

That's pretty much it for bee chores until spring since our fall varroa mite test came back very clean. I'll slip in the bottom-board inserts before long and cross my fingers that our hives will make it through the most dangerous time of their lives --- the winter.

In the meantime, I'll count my apicultural blessings. Even if we didn't end up with honey, we doubled our hives this year for the price of about thirty pounds of sugar, but with no purchased bees. Sounds like a success to me!

Posted Thu Oct 22 06:14:06 2015 Tags:

When I first read about Warre hives, the quilt box was perhaps my favorite part. It simply made so much sense --- insulating the hive from summer heat and winter cold while also soaking up moisture from dehydrating nectar.

Unfortunately, in practice, the quilt box has given me a neverending string of trouble. First of all, there's the fact that in our humid climate, I'd have to change the straw every week if I wanted it to actually sop up the hive's moisture. Then there's the fact that ants like to live up in the quilt and raid honey from the bees below.

Meanwhile, our bees don't seem to like the quilt box either. When I used the fabric- or burlap-lined quilt boxes that came with our hive, the bees gnawed right through. Then when I converted over to moderately impenetrable window screening, the bees instead propolized the entire screen...and glued it to the frames below for the sake of completeness. That was a hard top Insulated bee quiltto pry off!

So I'm changing gears yet again, filling the quilt box with layers of styrofoam this time around. I'm hoping the synthetic material will insulate the hive without providing such an ant-friendly habitat. And, if the insulation works, I'll probably put a solid wooden bottom on the quilt box as well. Perhaps Langstroth knew what he was doing after all....

Posted Fri Oct 23 06:58:41 2015 Tags:
shiitake mushroom close up

Our Shiitake mushroom logs are starting to fruit for the first time.

Posted Fri Oct 23 15:23:35 2015 Tags:

The Ultimate Guide to SoilI finished the first draft of The Ultimate Guide to Soil Friday...and also saw that the book is now up for preorder on Amazon! I'm thrilled by the cover, and I definitely feel like this is my best book yet.

In fact, I poured so much of my soul into its pages that I had to write to my editor and see whether she could fit an extra 15,000 words into the finished product. The answer, in case you're curious, is yes! So I won't have to cut the in-depth information on biochar, bokashi, black soldier flies, and many other topics that don't begin with "b." Phew!

There's a lot of information in this book that never made it to the blog, so I'll tempt you with a teaser today:

Growing vegetables in poor soil

Weeds are probably the largest deterrent to no-till gardening, but there are other issues you'll have to contend with. Most notably, no-till techniques are slower (if surer) than conventional soil preparation at creating plant-friendly soil in poor ground. That means you may be faced with subpar soil in certain parts of your garden during the first year or two while you're waiting for the earthworms to do your job. Which begs the question—which edibles can be successfully grown in extremely poor ground?

Had Tolstoy been a gardener, he would have warned that all happy soils are alike, but that each unhappy soil is unhappy in its own way. So I can't give you a one-size-fits-all list of vegetables that thrive in troubled ground. That said, if you've already used the tests in the first quarter of this book to figure out why your soil is ailing, you can likely select a vegetable that will fare well even in those specific poor conditions.

Let's start with shallow soil. This issue could be due to compaction in the subsoil, to a high water table, or to a newly applied kill mulch with only a few inches of compost on top. Although I don't usually recommend planting root crops in soils of limited depth, a few roots are actually good choices in this scenario. Specifically, onions, garlic, and radishes are reported to keep their roots closer to the surface than most other vegetables, so they're good growing choices in shallow soil. In contrast deep-rooters like beets, carrots, Swiss chard, parsnips, and winter squash should definitely be avoided in these scenarios.

How about low-nitrogen conditions? This is one of the most common soil problems in new organic gardens since biological sources of nitrogen often take time to release nutrients into the soil. Nitrogen-fixing vegetables—primarily peas and beans—are the obvious choice in this type of poor soil since these vegetables literally create nitrogen out of thin air. Otherwise, it's easier to tell you what not to grow. Vegetables with above-average nitrogen demands include potatoes, onions, cabbages, sweet corn, tomatoes, and celery. I recommend steering clear of these heavy feeders if you don't have enough nitrogen to go around and aren't able to pile on the compost.

Sweet potatoes thrive in certain types of ailing soil. In this photo, the tubers in the basket were harvested from the same square footage as the tubers stacked nearby, but the larger mess of taters came from poorer soil.

Another common issue involves poor soil structure. For example, the high raised beds I build in swampy parts of my homestead to pull vegetable roots out of wet soil often end up with clayey subsoil on the surface and with partially decomposing sod in the center. Although these beds mellow into rich growing ground eventually, the first year or two are rough with heavy soil that hinders seedling germination and root growth. Two crops that have thrived for me in this type of troubled soil are sweet potatoes and sunflowers. In contrast, carrots and butternut squash did so poorly in this type of ground that I might as well have skipped planting entirely. Medium-producers include large-seeded vegetables like beans and corn that can handle heavier soil as long as I increase compost applications for the latter.

Improper pH is another issue that often takes a few years resolve. Luckily, it's relatively easy to select vegetables that do well in excessively acidic or excessively alkaline soil. Carrots, cucumbers, eggplants, green beans, parsnips, peppers, potatoes, sweet corn, tomatoes, watermelon, and winter squash can handle sour soil with a pH as low as 5.5. In contrast, beets, cabbages, cantaloupe, peas, pumpkins, spinach, sweet corn, and tomatoes will grow in alkaline soil with a pH up to 7.5. Outside those ranges, though, you'll be better off sticking to blueberries (acidic soil) or certain ornamentals (alkaline soil).

All of these selections aside, you'll get even better results if you spend a year or two growing cover crops in that troubled ground. These soil-building species will not only add organic matter to your earth, they'll also often go a long way toward fixing the underlying issues that are keeping vegetables from thriving in the first place. For example, soybeans are a great cover crop for very low-nitrogen soil, oats thrive in waterlogged ground, and oilseed radishes are top-notch at both breaking up hardpan and making phosphorus more available near the soil surface. Be sure to check out the full book if you'd like to learn more about integrating these soil-improving crops into your no-till garden.


Are you sold? You can pre-order the paperback now and it will show up in your mailbox as soon as Amazon gets the first box of books in. And their preorder price guarantee means you'll actually pay less than the price listed if there are any sale periods between now and launch day. So snag a copy now! I don't think you'll regret it.

Posted Sat Oct 24 08:18:33 2015 Tags:
dog nail clippers

We use the Safari professional nail trimmer on Lucy's thick nails.

The list of over 2000 positive reviews makes it a top of the line choice.

Posted Sat Oct 24 15:16:16 2015 Tags:
Rhode Island Red

Egg gatheringThe good news is, Project Shut-in got all of our hens laying in the nest boxes within 48 hours. Clean, copious eggs at my fingertips --- what a treat!

The bad news is that two of our pullets absolutely refused to be broken of the habit of roosting outside the coop. Luckily, their favored perch was low enough that Mark could lift them inside at sunset every day, but it offends my sense of order to have hens where they don't belong. Okay, their unruliness is bad for the homestead too since those hens ended up in pastures that are supposed to be resting the fall garden.

So Mark fixed up our rickety old chicken tractor, and I put the two bad girls in a more extended time out. It's a bit tough to tell if it was always the same Buff Orpington and Rhode Island Red who were fans of open-air roosting, so I won't know if this project is a success for a few days. Fingers crossed....

Posted Sun Oct 25 06:28:51 2015 Tags:
gate latch

This latch lasted less than a year before it had to be upgraded.

Posted Sun Oct 25 14:51:16 2015 Tags:
Cracking hazelnuts

I gave Mom about a tenth of my hybrid hazelnut harvest, wanting to share the bounty. A few weeks later, I poked her with a nosy question: "What did you think of those nuts?"

"They were a little bit small," my usually frugal mother said evasively.

Hmmph, I thought to myself. See if I give you any more of my precious nuts! Then I went to crack my own hoarded hazelnuts...and found that the nuts inside the hard shells sure were awfully small!

European and American hazel bushes

The bush in question is the one on the right in the photo above, and you can tell by its brightly colored leaves that the American portion of its heritage is dominant. In contrast, the newer bushes I've put in are like Hazel budthe one shown on the left in the photo above --- greener foliage in autumn means the European parent dominates. Similarly, I've noticed that these newer varieties have buds that seem to break dormancy in late summer and sit through the winter in a half opened state. Hopefully these European traits will also be linked to that species' main claim to fame --- bigger nuts in thinner shells.

Of course, as Lee Reich found in his own trials, the dominance of the European parent in a hybrid hazelnut can mean blight concerns as well. So I'll just wait and hope that Eta, Theta, and Jefferson can handle our eastern diseases and that their nuts are a bit bigger than those from my unnamed Arbor Day experimental bush.

In the meantime, I'll crack my little nuts and be grateful for any hazelnut harvest at all. And as I do so, I'll apologize for thinking uncharitable thoughts toward my long-suffering mother....

Posted Mon Oct 26 07:35:43 2015 Tags:
screen for butternuts

We made a screen door for our butternut squash storage nook today.

The 1/8th inch holes will keep a random mouse from nibbling the merchandise.

Posted Mon Oct 26 15:58:20 2015 Tags:
Fall garden

Tatsoi, mustard, kale, swiss chard, lettuce --- 'tis the season for leafy greens of all shapes and flavors! In the photo above, you can also see brussels sprouts, mangels, parsley, potato onions, a chicken, and a deer deterrent --- sounds a bit like a Where's Waldo painting.

Garlic sprout

On the other side of our trailer, the garden is looking a lot sleepier. Here, the shade of the hillside will turn ground to permafrost before too long, so I don't do much winter planting (other than oats and rye). But I've found that Music garlic can handle even these deep-freeze conditions, and it's a pleasure to watch that allium's new green shoots pop up through the straw.

And did you notice the fall foliage? Tree leaves on our hillside have just passed their peak color, but this year's vibrancy seemed phenomenally bright to me. "Definitely in the top ten since we've moved here," Mark said definitively. Wait a minute --- this is only our tenth fall....

Posted Tue Oct 27 06:34:24 2015 Tags:

Worm towerNote from Anna: A huge thank you to Sarah Oler, who sent me this description of her method of using worm towers to encourage ordinary earthworms in her garden. I've included a shortened version in my upcoming soil book, but her writeup was far too good to be lost. So I thought I'd share the longer version here.

Benefits of Using Worm Towers:

  • Great for people with limited composting space in their yard
  • Very easy to construct, install and can be made from free or cheap materials
  • No smell and pest-resistant
  • You don't need to worry about turning compost piles and spreading the nutrients
In-garden worm bin


  • Since the worms are responsible for spreading the castings around the garden box there is an uneven concentration of nutrients around the tower.
  • Limited composting space for all of your biowaste. This works great for kitchen scraps and small amounts of excess organic matter, but it isn't large enough to incorporate large amounts of landscaping waste.
  • It can be hard to add biowaste to the towers when your garden is at full production. You have to fight your way through jungles of tomato plants to add your biowaste.

Worm-tower lidConstruction:
Use 4 to 6 inch diameter white or gray PVC pipe. Black pipe might make the compost too hot to be a suitable environment for worms. I also don't recommend using corrugated irrigation pipe. Not only did the drill create jagged holes, but I had to cover up the predrilled holes in the top half of the pipe that stick up out of the ground.

Cut the pipe into 2 foot sections and drill 1 to 1 1/2 in holes all around the bottom half of the pipe. Cover the top with a concave cup or bowl with tiny holes punched into the bottom. This will provide air circulation as well as capture water, keep out flies,  and keep your compost moist. I used small 16 oz plastic containers, like the kind that holds sour cream, and I poked many small holes in the bottom with a hot needle.

Dig a hole one foot deep where you want to put your tower. Insert the pipe into the hole and backfill with soil. Be careful not to push the soil through the holes. You can also add a layer of straw or leaves around the pipe to prevent soil from falling into your pipe. Make sure that all the top holes are properly covered with at least an inch of soil or mulch and add a few inches of leaves or straw to the bottom of your worm tower. I recommend placing your worm towers about every 3 feet apart.

Compost in a worm tower

How to Use Your Worm Tower:
Add your biowaste, such as fruit and vegetable scraps from the kitchen,  including large chunks like mango pits or small pieces like carrot peelings. You can use a large funnel to make it easy to fill your tubes or you can put your biowaste in a bag that is tightly fitted over the tower opening and dump in the contents.

Top each addition of biowaste with carbon-rich sources such as dry leaves, shredded newspaper or straw to balance your C:N ratio. Before adding another layer, use a long thick stick to gently push down your previously added material.

Pull out your tubes each spring and empty the castings to use for starting seeds or top dress your garden.

Posted Tue Oct 27 12:33:05 2015 Tags:
Gardening in the rain

Author Anna: Working your garden while the soil is excessively wet or dry can break apart those soil aggregates that I wrote so much about in the last section. And when soil aggregates break apart, it only takes a little bit of compaction to force them back together in a more rock-like fashion with no handy air holes in between to keep the soil loose. The result is clods...

Real-life Anna: Phew, I need a break from all this editing! But it's raining too hard to spend much time in the garden. How about some heavy-duty soil digging to get my heart pumping and make me feel like I accomplished something?

Soil clods and crusts

Author Anna: Do as I say, not as I do. And use a long-handled spade for this kind of shoveling.

Real-life Anna: I used up all your cardboard again, Mom. Could I have a little more, please?

Posted Wed Oct 28 06:54:48 2015 Tags:
water proofing boots

It took 2 coats of the Kiwi Boot Protector to make Anna's boots waterproof again.

Posted Wed Oct 28 15:37:46 2015 Tags:
Rainy day harvest

A cold week followed by a week of rain --- sounds like mushroom season to me! Changes in temperature often tempt these edible fungi to fruit, so now's a good time to check new logs in search of those first delicious shiitakes. Or, if you're lazy like me, just wander around your homestead and look for oyster mushrooms popping up on stumps and logs. This little haul hit the food dehydrator for an hour then perked up a bacon-and-mushroom quiche. (No, we didn't eat the flowers.)

Posted Thu Oct 29 06:36:25 2015 Tags:

Wide distributionOur readers spoke and I listened. 20% of you prefer a retailer other than Amazon, so I'm slowly but surely moving my books to a wider distribution. To that end, Growing into a Farm is now available at:

$10 Root Cellar is now available at:

Homegrown Humus is now available at:

And I'm hoping I can bribe you to copy and paste any reviews you may have made on Amazon onto one or more of these platforms. Since I know the request is a bit annoying, I'm sweetening the pot by giving away a signed paperback copy of The Weekend Homesteader to three lucky winners. Just leave your review, copy the link, and input your information into the rafflecopter widget below. Thanks in advance for your help!

Posted Thu Oct 29 12:46:20 2015 Tags:
Goats in the garden

After four days of pretty much solid rain, the girls finally told me they were willing to leave their hay and hunt down wild grub. With their help, I got the rest of the mule garden put to bed, which consisted of mulching around several more rows of kale and lettuce, then planting rye in any bare spots left over.

Goat eating lettuce

Okay, so maybe "help" wasn't quite the right word. You're not supposed to be able to reach that lettuce, Artemesia!

Posted Fri Oct 30 07:35:22 2015 Tags:
goat eating orange peel
Artemesia has a sweet spot for Clementine peels.
Posted Fri Oct 30 15:45:20 2015 Tags:
Selfie from above

This year has been my favorite one on the farm so far. Yes, I dropped the ball in certain areas and have also been babying a sprained ankle for the last two months. But we got enough done to feed ourselves and to stay happy and healthy, which is what really counts.

Meanwhile, Mark's class has been extremely inspirational, allowing me to thrive on his second-hand enthusiasm. And I've spent so many golden hours on my yoga mat watching the goats graze that I feel like I've lived more deeply than in years past.

At the end of her rope

One big epiphany I had this summer was --- there's no reason to always be at the end of my rope. Yes, a homestead will consume very ounce of your energy and time if you let it. But if you're in the adventure for the long haul, it's better to savor each new experience and eke it out to its fullest before expanding in yet another direction.

So I'm not actually yearning for any new perennials or animals this fall. I'm quite content to coast on my cover crop, goat, garden haze for quite a while longer before embarking on a new adventure. Here's hoping the happy glow of listening to the chomp, chomp, chomp of well-fed goats will last for many years to come.

Posted Sat Oct 31 07:55:18 2015 Tags:
Anna holding shiitake mushroom

We harvested and ate our first shiitake mushroom from the new logs.

It was delicious!

Posted Sat Oct 31 15:45:48 2015 Tags:

Anna Hess's books
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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.

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