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

archives for 02/2016

Goat eating brussels sprout

Around the beginning of January, goat greenery seemed to screech to a halt. Our does had been gorging on honeysuckle and oat leaves since September, but pickings were finally getting slim. Don't get me wrong --- none of the plants were completely wiped out. But Abigail told me the juice wasn't worth the squeeze.

When the herd queen speaks, I listen. So I changed gears, cutting the fresh greenery out of their daily diet and replacing it with an afternoon feeding of butternut squash, carrots, apples, and clementine peels instead. Since I missed spending time with the herd, I also took them out in the woods for walks a couple of times a week, but there wasn't really much for our girls to eat out there. Instead, they were reduced to living on their daily rations plus an unlimited supply of hay.

Farm clutter

Fast forward ahead nearly a month, and suddenly those slim pickings seemed worth eating once again! Mark would be horrified by this shot of the clutter beside our barn, but the debris did its job well --- it prevented me from grazing our herd on a lone patch of honeysuckle, saving those leaves for a midwinter treat. Meanwhile, I let the girls have a couple of brussels sprouts plants that had seen better days, and I'm hoping that once the snow melts later in the week our goats might be willing to munch on low oat leaves once again as well.

Good thing too --- we've finally run out of homegrown goat carrots and the butternut stores are even getting a little bit low. Friday night, I dreamed of tall grass, rich and ready for our goats to browse. I love the restful season of winter, but I'm beginning to anticipate the bounty of spring.

Posted Mon Feb 1 07:09:20 2016 Tags:
frisbee seed dispersal

I saw this fun, long range frisbee launcher and thought that a biodegradable frisbee could hold seeds and spin them out during its rather long flight.

Posted Mon Feb 1 15:26:09 2016 Tags:
Trailersteading with cat

The print edition of Trailersteading is now live! You can read our cats' half-hearted endorsements here or check out what human readers have to say here.

Trailersteading collageFeline back-stabbing aside, I've been amazed at how well received this book has been. After all, I originally envisioned it as a bit of a joke. Why would anyone want to learn about our choice to homestead in a dirt-cheap mobile home when they could dream about strawbale houses or cob domiciles?

What I didn't expect was the 150+ five-star reviews from homesteaders just like me who were itching for a less expensive and time-consuming alternative to the traditional path of home ownership. Readers called the book "new and exciting," "a groundbreaking literary effort," and "very informative," while several mentioned that Trailersteading had inspired them to retire early by embracing life within an old mobile home.

Want to see what all the fuss is about? Trailersteading should now be available at your local bookstore or library --- if not, just ask them to order a copy. And the book is also up for purchase on your favorite online retailers, whether that's Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or someplace else.

I hope you enjoy the read and a huge thank-you to everyone who has already given it a shot! Your early purchases and reviews help my books get out of the gate and ensure that Mark and I can continue to spend our time regaling you with our hopes, failures, and successes from the tranquility of our permaculture trailerstead. Thank you for helping to make our dreams a reality.

Posted Tue Feb 2 07:51:14 2016 Tags:
Anna Gray paint
Paint brush

We're taking full advantage of this dose of midwinter sun and warmth. Monday, we managed to get the creek pump going despite icy ground, filling the wash-water tank before it drained completely dry. Tuesday, I caught up on a bit of laundry while the sun was shining, Painting a cabinetthen pulled out the paint can and brush to coat some of our kitchen remodeling projects.

Mark chose this dark blue/gray based on the reality of our housekeeping skills. We'd originally considered just staining the boards since we both love the warm tones of plain wood. But our cats have free rein of the kitchen and like to leave dirty footprints everywhere. We wipe up after them now and then, but figured it might be smarter to just start with a darker color to begin with so those paw stains aren't so obvious.

Posted Wed Feb 3 07:26:47 2016 Tags:
Seedling cubes

We tried out our new soil block tool today.

Pure stump dirt cubes didn't hold together very well. But half-and-half stump dirt/potting soil cubes did much better.

We'll keep you posted about how well the herb seedlings fare once they germinate and start to grow.
Posted Wed Feb 3 15:20:13 2016 Tags:
Bad goats

"Oh, Abigail, why do you have to be so bad!" I exclaimed when I entered the goat shed Monday morning. I'm used to Artemesia jumping over into the kidding stall and then onto the tarp-covered pile of stored hay therein. But Abigail used to stay put in the main room where both goats belong.
Climbing goat
No longer. Our herd queen bent down the top of our wire manger then figured out how to leap from milking stanchion to a new perch atop the hay. Next, she proceeded to sleep there and poop there, meaning the loose hay was no longer on her goat-approved menu.

In her defense, though, I think Abigail was just trying to force my hand since I'd kept adding new hay on top of old hay that she wasn't entirely keen on. So I cleaned out the whole manger and put a much smaller layer of fresh hay back in. Hopefully that will be enough to make our herd queen obey the rules...although I have no hope that our little leaping charmer will keep her feet planted firmly on the ground.

Posted Thu Feb 4 07:24:12 2016 Tags:
Hazel catkins

The first cultivated bloom of the year for us is always the hazel bushes. From a bee standpoint, it's nearly time to look for pollen when you see the catkins begin to loosen and Hazel stamensyellow, meaning that stamens will soon emerge.

I don't think the bush really counts bloom time until a little later, though. The tiny female flowers won't open up until the male flowers are in full bloom, which probably won't be for a couple more weeks yet.

Meanwhile, for those of you keeping track in your own yards, I should mention that hazel is very different from witch hazel. The latter can bloom at any time between late fall and early spring, with the bloom time (according to
Lee Reich) depending on the number of chill hours the tree has enjoyed. Our witch hazels bloomed quite early this winter, which I hope isn't an ominous sign meaning our fruit trees will be similarly precipitous.

Posted Fri Feb 5 07:40:06 2016 Tags:
shooting scene for JuryWe helped our neighbor run some lines for a new television series today.
Posted Fri Feb 5 16:14:18 2016 Tags:
Stump dirt with goat

I took advantage of the warm weather to gather some stump dirt for onion seed starting this week. The goats "helped"...which means they poked their noses into the bucket repeatedly, completely confused about why I would waste energy gathering something that wasn't immediately edible.

Chicken tractor on fall oats

The tractored hens also assisted with early garden preparations. Day by day, I pulled the small flock across the downhill side of a high raised bed in the swampy back garden so they could eat up chickweed and scratch up dead oat stalks. This area will go under a quick hoop shortly to preheat the soil for the earliest lettuce and peas.

Posted Sat Feb 6 07:32:24 2016 Tags:
micro boom pole

My DIY boom pole worked okay, but it turned out to be a little too heavy.

It also created small amounts of noise whenever I shifted my body weight.

The Rode boom pole is the perfect size and weight but if your shock mount is 5/8 then you need to buy a 5/8 male to 3/8 female adapter.

Posted Sat Feb 6 15:39:54 2016 Tags:
Seed-starting flat

Onions are probably our biggest vegetable-gardening Achilles heel --- we ran out in January again this year. Wanting to be able to start these Old seed flatsseedlings inside in February was a big part of the impetus for my spare-no-cost improved seed-starting campaign in fact.

So it seems fitting that onions should be the first vegetables to enjoy our new flats. The containers I've been using are literally a decade old, so all are torn and not-quite waterproof. The new white ones are reputed to be a little hardier, although I can tell I'll still need to be careful with them. But maybe they'll be in a little better shape in 2026 when Mark once again talks me into buying new gear?

Seed-starting rows

Onion seedsI didn't use all new supplies, though. I found this wooden stick in Mark's workshop (hopefully it wasn't intended for anything important) and cut it to just the right length to make indented rows in my found stump dirt. Then I meticulously sprinkled in the seeds, half an inch apart. Finally, I added another thin coating of stump dirt atop each row and pressed down gently with my palms to compact the earth.

With potting soil, there'd be a moistening step in there too (preferably before the soil even hits the flats). But stump dirt comes out of the tree at the perfect hydration level for planting seeds.

Seed-starting setup

Mark growled when I took the heating pad out of Lucy's den and put it under my first set of flats. (Hey! That's why we bought the pad in the first place!) So I went ahead and splurged a little further, this time buying a heat mat that's waterproof and is just the right size and shape to fit beneath a seedling tray. My new humidity domes hadn't arrived in the mail yet, so I popped a larger dome we use for rooting perennial cuttings on top and called that flat complete.

Seedling heat matI'll admit that these are going to be some expensive onions since we spent nearly a hundred bucks on new seed-starting supplies. And that doesn't even count the lights (which Mark already had on hand) or the electricity we'll be using in the process.

On the other hand, all of the same equipment will be reused next month for starting broccoli, cabbage, and brussels sprouts. Then, since the flats came in a ten-pack, I'll probably even make soil blocks for watermelons and see if we can't get a crop of those heat-lovers in the ground a little early this year. All told, I'm positive that these supplies will more than pay for themselves many times over during the next decade...and that's not even counting the dose of winter greenery that will boost my spirits as I wait for spring.

Posted Sun Feb 7 07:54:50 2016 Tags:
lucy cold frame
It got warm enough today to give the cold frame greens an hour of fresh air.
Posted Sun Feb 7 15:35:46 2016 Tags:
River perch

The forecast said Sunday was going to be the last beautiful day for quite a while. So I packed a lunch and a camera and took to the woods.

Railroad tunnelThe explorer in me likes new trails...but I detest driving long distances in order to hike. So I ended up back at our old stomping grounds --- Sugar Hill in St. Paul.

Luckily, nature had changed the face of the riverside trail since Mark and I last walked it, so there was plenty to explore. Most striking was a tremendous rootball uprooted by a fallen sycamore at the river's edge. I couldn't resist clambering to the top and perching fifteen feet above the ground while listening to the swollen river rush past.

After sunning for a while, then walking another mile to St. Paul falls, I decided to bushwhack back to the parking lot. On the way, I was treated to several shows of cliffside seeps plus icicles in a railroad tunnel. A fun adventure for a sunny Sunday!

Posted Mon Feb 8 07:15:05 2016 Tags:
battery disconnect for a Chevy S-10

This battery disconnect switch is about a year old.

It turned out to be a great solution to our battery draining issue and the brass terminal is showing no signs of corrosion.

Posted Mon Feb 8 15:13:27 2016 Tags:
Tax reassessment

I think property taxes are one of the most-overlooked items that should be considered before buying new land. I read all the time about homesteaders who settle in wealthy areas and end up paying a thousand bucks or more per month in property taxes. If quitting your job is on your homesteading agenda, that kind of tax burden will make it exceedingly difficult to simplify your life enough to become self-sufficient financially.

I have to admit I didn't think about property taxes when I bought our land either. Luckily, I couldn't afford much, and ugly-duckling properties with junked singlewides on them command very little value on the open market. Which is a good thing! It means that even after our most recent tax reassessment, our property taxes are likely to stay below $35 per month. Now that's a tax burden we can afford.

Posted Tue Feb 9 07:13:48 2016 Tags:
Preheating the garden

During a warm winter, I'll start lettuce under quick hoops on February first and peas in the open on Valentine's Day. During a frigid winter like last year, I might not get anything out into the ground until the middle of March.

This year will likely fall somewhere in between with the determining factor being how Onion seedlingsmuch this week's cold snap chills the soil. I'm looking for soil temperatures that are at least 40 degrees Fahrenheit first thing in the morning to prevent seedlings from rotting in the ground. And to that end I'm preheating my pea/lettuce bed in three different ways.

Treatment one, in the foreground above, includes some solarization plastic from last summer weighed down with this and that. Treatment two, in the middle-ground, consists of solarization plastic under a quick hoop. And treatment three is the quick hoop alone. I'll check soil temperatures in a couple of weeks and see which, if any, area hit that critical 40-degree mark.

In the meantime, I'm starting more and more seeds inside. My first onion seedlings are already up, and I plan to play with broccoli and peas in soil blocks today. Maybe when the outdoor garden is warm enough, I'll have some starts ready to go and will end up with a harvest just as early as during warm winters in the past. Only time will tell.

Posted Wed Feb 10 07:25:38 2016 Tags:
daffodil in the snow
Daffodil leaves poking out of the snow.
Posted Wed Feb 10 16:01:54 2016 Tags:
Soil cubes

What's a gardener to do when on a bitter February day? Plant seeds, of course!

Planting into a soil cubeI ran out of storebought potting soil to mix with my stump dirt, so I'm trying a flat straight and hoping the cubes hold together. Worst-case scenario, the soil cubes disintegrate and fuse into a flat of intermingled roots. Since I'm sprouting pea seeds with the hope of getting seedlings out in the garden in two weeks or less, that shouldn't be too much of a problem.

The real issue is that, ever time a flat germinates and comes off the heating mats, I think of something else to fill a new tray with. Why not start some kale seeds to replace the plants that are pretty much dead in the garden for very early greens? And maybe some extra-early broccoli to set out under quick hoops? I'm going to run out of space fast at this rate....

Posted Thu Feb 11 07:21:19 2016 Tags:
Goat in the snow

MEN postMark's in school today, which means you're supposed to not get an evening post. But I couldn't resist sharing this link to a piece I recently wrote for Mother Earth News about using a wood stove.

I'd be curious to hear what those of you well-versed in wood heat would add to the list. You can comment here, of course, but I'd love to see a few comments on the Mother Earth News post itself. Maybe if it gets enough traffic, they'll put it in the print magazine!

(And, no, the photo of Abigail has nothing to do with wood heat. But doesn't she look sweet against the snow?)

Posted Thu Feb 11 16:44:11 2016 Tags:
Mini-dwarf goat

It seems like sacrilege to have such a cute, adorable goat and to waste a whole post looking at her hind end. So here's a starter photo of Artemesia cleaning up a fenceline for me. And now, on to the butts....

Goat buttsDuring Abigail's pregnancy last year, I tried a lot of home tests to figure out if she was pregnant. The only one that seemed at all diagnostic was peering at her vulva at intervals. The bottom photo in this series shows the marked change that occurred in Abigail's butt geography as she moved from her second to her fourth month of pregnancy. Notice how the wrinkles fled as the vulva widened in preparation for pushing a kid out a very small hole.

Looks diagnostic, right? Now peer at the first pair of photos to the right. Those pictures were taken in 2015 when I thought Artemesia might have been pregnant with Abigail's grandchild. The obvious change, though, turned out to be due to some combination of Artemesia maturing into her full sexuality (her first birthday was in June) and perhaps changes to her vulva as she went into heat. She wasn't pregnant after all.

Okay, now look at the middle photos. These are the ones I'm currently scratching my head over. We hope Artemesia is 2.5 months into her first pregnancy, assuming her post-Thanksgiving driveway date stuck. As a certified nervous nellie, I change my mind about whether Monte did the job every time our mini-Nubian (a cheerful, chatty girl) calls a hello to me from her pasture or wags her tail in greeting when I bring her breakfast. I haven't seen any mucous on her vulva since D-day, but wagging and talking can both be signs of heat...which would mean our first freshener hadn't freshened after all. And since we put all of our eggs (milk bottles?) in one basket this year, that would mean no homegrown dairy products in 2016.

Goat eating in the snow

Unfortunately, based on this series of butt shots, I have to conclude that I can't actually conclude anything for another month. A trip to the vet to utilize his ultrasound looks better and better, but I'll probably keep biting my fingernails and tough it out. After all, if we really wanted a summer kidding, the difference between a July and an August birth wouldn't be that great. Maybe I shouldn't have named Artemesia's hypothetical unborn daughter Aurora after all?

Posted Fri Feb 12 07:54:30 2016 Tags:
goat eating clementine peels in the snow
Artemesia is most gentle when she jumps on you wanting a treat.
Posted Fri Feb 12 14:39:38 2016 Tags:
Homemade mozzarella

While we dream about Artemesia's possible kids (and future milking habits), I'm slowly thawing out some of the cheese from Abigail's 2015 excess. The ricotta that I wasn't so sure would be interesting was quite a hit within a chicken parmesan recipe. And her mozzarella melts beautifully on top of homemade tomato soup. Thank you, Abigail! It's wonderful to have a little summer to brighten this winter day.

Posted Sat Feb 13 07:37:31 2016 Tags:
Porch steps

These porch steps only lasted 3.5 years before one of the four screws holding the boards in place snapped.

I added a piece of lumber under each side of the step as a brace. Hopefully that fix will last another third of a decade.
Posted Sat Feb 13 13:23:34 2016 Tags:
Snowy firewood

Assuming spring comes at least close to on schedule, it looks like this will be the first year ever when we didn't have to ration firewood toward the end of the winter. In fact, we're still burning wood marked for January and will likely continue to do so for another week. In other words --- there's quite a bit more fuel waiting in the shed.

Moving firewoodOne of my original plans for this winter was to build another woodshed so we could sock away the next year's firewood while burning the previous year's stores, allowing us to get a full twelve-plus month drying period in. But we've only been filling our shed about halfway full in the past, meaning we could actually keep two years' worth of wood under our existing roof if we rearranged the opening. So our new plan is to block off the current open side and open up one of the long sides, then divide the shed in two. Hopefully the result will be two stacking areas with very little extra expenditure of materials.

The only downside? We need to entirely empty this shed out before we can start refilling it since we'll be stacking wood in the opposite direction. Better start moving that extra wood to the back porch so we can clear our canvas and start reinvisioning our new shed.

Posted Sun Feb 14 07:53:49 2016 Tags:
Power outage

This is just a quick note to let you know our power's out. So, family and friends, if I don't answer your email or we don't post on schedule, please don't assume we got eaten by bears. We're hunkered down in front of the fire, hoarding our 79 minutes of backup power for when we really  need them and feeling lucky that lack of electricity doesn't cause any dramatic problems for us any more. I hope you're all staying warm!

Posted Sun Feb 14 14:17:22 2016 Tags:
chain suspended table

The new plan to make our convertible kitchen counter easy to remove was to suspend it with chains that hook into an eye bolt.

Posted Mon Feb 15 15:45:11 2016 Tags:
Opossum in the chicken coop

Anna: There's a opossum in the chicken coop! I need you to shoot it. Should I get the rifle?

Mark [perusing his half-clad wife]: First, you should put on some pants.

Opossum in the nest boxWhen we first moved to the farm, I wouldn't have dreamed of shooting a opossum (or asking Mark to shoot one). But our closest neighbors are all four-footed, and we soon realized that if we wanted to grow our own food, we had to protect that food from the wilds. To that end, we now hunt deer for our table and will occasionally kill varmints in the chicken coop. Not snakes or hawks --- I figure those guys have a bad reputation and need a bit of help. But a opossum or a raccoon who's stealing eggs and might make a stab at a living bird? Those guys see no mercy.

Farmer with gun

If it makes you feel any better, I'm pretty sure this wasn't Mr. Opossum's first offense. I'd seen signs of broken eggs in the nest box off and on over the last couple of weeks. But I'd just assumed someone was laying thin-shelled eggs. Wrong. Likely our egg predator had been snacking for quite a while.

Dog with opossumLucy used to be in charge of border patrol, and I remember seeing more than a few opossum carcasses over the years. But as our hardy farm dog has gotten older, Mark has taken over up-close-and-personal strikes like this one. So, Monday night, my steady husband took a deep breath, pulled the trigger, then we gave the carcass to Lucy to dispose of. With me to run out when the hens cackle after dark, Mark to kill the beast, and Lucy to eat what's left, we make a pretty good team.

Posted Tue Feb 16 06:43:20 2016 Tags:
Soil book formatting

My editor sent me the first formatted pass of The Ultimate Guide to Soil to look over this afternoon. The book still has to be line edited and copy edited, but I'm very happy with the interior. Look --- pretty shovel icons!

If you want a preview before the paperback goes live, the first quarter is already available in ebook format and the second quarter is up for preorder (launching March 8). Part three will go up for preorder early next month, so stay tuned....

Posted Tue Feb 16 15:15:25 2016 Tags:
Seed-starting station

In every part of gardening, there are inevitably setbacks when you try something new. My fancy seed-starting setup started off great, producing healthy onion seedlings and quickly sprouting lettuce and kale seeds. But the peas refused to come up. And when I poked in the dirt atop the latter, I discovered that every single seed had rotted in the ground.

Vegetable seedlings

Putting on my thinking cap, I came up with three potential problems. Possibility one --- peas hate stump dirt. Possibility two --- the year-old pea seeds just weren't viable. Or --- the possibility I suspected was actually the most relevant --- our new heating mats exceeded the maximum germination temperature for these cold-weather legumes.

Soil temperatureThe trouble was, I bought a cheap seed mat without a thermostat, and I soon found that the device runs a little hotter than the heating pad I'd been using previously. On a warm day with the heating mat on, soil temperature was right at 85, compared to a non-heated tray that clocked in closer to 72. Sure enough, 85 is listed as the maximum germination temperature for peas.

To test this hypothesis, I started another round of pea seeds, this time off the heating mat but using seeds from the same packet planted in the same stump dirt. Sure enough, three days later, this second round of peas had broken dormancy and were sending down roots. Success!

Moral of the story: keep peas off the heating mat but put everything else on the heating mat until they sprout. I'm curious to see what my new setup teaches me next.

Posted Wed Feb 17 06:55:52 2016 Tags:
Anna and Adrianne in Bristol on McDowel st
We had a nice day visiting Bristol and picking up some bags of leaf mulch.
Posted Wed Feb 17 15:45:00 2016 Tags:
Trailersteading sales

TrailersteadingOne of my favorite things about print books is waiting to see where they pop up in the wild. Recently, one of my readers emailed to say he'd seen The Naturally Bug-Free Garden at Longwood, and it made my day a couple of years ago when I spotted The Weekend Homesteader hiding amid other self-sufficiency books at an event in South Carolina.

Now Trailersteading has had two full weeks to hit shelves in bookstores and libraries, homes and Tractor Supply. I'm hoping you'll go on the hunt to find it!

It's simple to enter the scavenger-hunt giveaway. Just snap a shot of my newest paperback in the wild (preferably with you in the picture), then post it somewhere online and copy the link into the comments section below. Alternatively, you can email me the photo to share here. Either way, be sure to check back on March 1 when I'll pick a winner to be gifted with a signed paperback edition of the book in question. May the hunt begin!

Posted Thu Feb 18 07:47:08 2016 Tags:
Rootstock stool

I dug into my stooled rootstocks this week to see if I had any cuttings to turn into new trees. I could tell you lots of reasons why this was the right time to take a look inside the mound. But the truth is that our earth had been snow-covered for quite a while and I was antsy to get my fingers into the dirt.

Inside a rootstock mound

Rooting rootstockRootstock mound #1 looked good from the outside. I'd hilled up the dirt pretty high, and there were three good shoots sticking out the top. But when I broke through the frozen ground to reach the interior, all I found was one little cluster of roots --- not enough to keep the plant alive if I severed it from the base.

For those of you keeping track at home, this is a M26 rootstock leftover from a winter-top-killed tree planted a little over three years ago. I figured since the rootstock was still sprouting despite the loss of the scionwood, I'd turn the plant into a stool and use it to produce rootstock for the future. And that may still work --- we'll see how the interior looks in spring 2017. In the meantime, I covered the shoots back up and moved to the next stool along the line.

Homegorwn apple rootstocks

Mound #2 is younger, but is also a different variety. I bought an extra MM111 rootstock a little less than two years ago specifically for rootstock reproduction. As with the accidental rootstock, I cut back the primary shoot last spring, then mounded up around the new branches all through the summer. Digging into the stool now, I found two passable rootstocks ready to be harvested for spring grafting. Success!

Posted Fri Feb 19 07:41:19 2016 Tags:
LED shop light grow light

We decided to add another shop light to our new seed growing station.

This new one is LED. It was 35 dollars at Lowes and should last longer while using less juice compared to fluorescent.

Posted Fri Feb 19 15:57:50 2016 Tags:
Goat eating honeysuckle

While planning out our own garden year, it's also time to take stock of how our goat-fodder garden worked out over the last twelve months. You can see my number-crunching preparatory post here, and this is what we actually planted for our two spoiled darlings:

Square footage for goats
Butternut Squash
We'll probably run out in early March. This is the goat favorite and the seeds are natural dewormers, so I'm glad I grew far more than I planned to!
We ran out in January --- not bad since I planned on feeding concentrates to a single goat and ended up feeding two. (I'm currently feeding Abigail to help her regain weight after drying off and Artemesia to keep on her weight since she's hopefully pregnant.)
Our goats didn't really eat these without lots of begging and pleading, so I composted most of the fodder beets and won't grow them again.
Sweet potatoes
I planted these in a bad spot and didn't get a high yield. We've mostly been saving the crop for human consumption since they're one of Mom's favorites, but our goats like what I've given them too.
For some reason, almost none of my sunflowers came up in 2015. I know from past experience that our goats love them, though, so I'll do better next year.
Field corn
I grew this mostly for leaf-matter production since I'm dubious about feeding grain to ruminants. The goats loved eating the corn when I let them have it, but they refused field-corn stalks and leaves in favor of sweet-corn stalks and leaves. I won't grow field corn again for our spoiled darlings.
Our goats love sorghum stalks and leaves and the plants are easy to grow...but I got spooked when I realized the food could potentially poison our girls if eaten after a drought or freeze. Nothing bad happened, but I'm on the fence about growing it again.

Goat breakfast

So, focusing just on goat-approved crops that did well for us, a plan for one goat might consist of:

Square footage for goats
Butternut Squash
Sweet potatoes

Goat in the weeds

Of course, that's just concentrates above and beyond the hay/wild-grazing ration. In addition, I'll admit that we also feed our goats about a pint apiece of alfalfa pellets per day and we splurge on fancy kelp for minerals too. But the plan above is a good start on a healthy goat diet that will keep total feed costs for a herd of two goats about even with the cost for a flock of ten chickens --- not bad.

Posted Sat Feb 20 07:17:16 2016 Tags:
feed the bees
Today's the day we take the mouse guard off and start feeding the bees.
Posted Sat Feb 20 10:09:07 2016 Tags:

Pea transplantThe sun was shining, the snow was melting, the soil was warming...and I went a little nutty planting things.

I'll start with the least nutty part --- transplanting week-old pea seedlings. I've never tried starting peas inside before, and from various anecdotes on the internet it sounds like it's best to set them out as early as possible. Originally, I'd planned on keeping them inside for two weeks, but at a mere seven days the tap roots were already butting up against the bottom of the container. So I set the seedlings out inside a quick hoop where I'd used both plastic and row-cover fabric to preheat the soil. (In case you're curious, the combination gave me about a three-degree bonus over either layer alone.)

Lettuce and kale seedlings

Moving down the line to slightly nuttier behavior, I next set out a flat of week-old baby kale and lettuce that was mostly still at the cotyledon stage. I wouldn't have even considered this if I wasn't able to put the seedlings directly under quick hoops and to promise them a one-week grace period before winter returns. Still, the babies looked awfully tender out there in the winter dirt, and I'm not so sure they'll make it.

To hedge my bets, I set them out in three locations --- in the back garden where I'd been preheating soil for a while but where the ground was soggy wet, in the mule garden where I hadn't been preheating but where the sun had been shining hard on moist ground, and up against the west face of the trailer where the ground was actually a little too dry due to resting under the eaves. (I watered that last area lightly after planting.) Even if most of the crop fails, the experiment will be handy for pinpointing which zones are best for really pushing the spring envelope, so the seedlings' sacrifices won't have been in vain.

Speaking of pushing the spring envelope, I concluded my Friday craziness by moving a quick hoop off barely alive kale and onto dormant Galleta strawberries. The Galletas are already supposed to be an ultra-early variety, so I'm hopeful that a little soil preheating will net us homegrown fruit in early May...or maybe we'll just end up with early, frost-nipped blooms despite the row-cover fabric. Only time will tell.

(I know I didn't take enough photos to match the words in this post. Did I mention I was a little sun-crazed?! I'll do better next time.)

Posted Sun Feb 21 08:02:52 2016 Tags:
maverick hen looking for a place to brood

The warm weather has made our Maverick hen brave.

The chicken tractor is full which means we might have to choose between building a bigger chicken tractor and early retirement.

Posted Sun Feb 21 15:11:15 2016 Tags:
Bee feeder

As we near the end of our first decade homesteading, I'm slowly but surely realizing that there is no free lunch on a farm. Seed balls look pretty but produce few surviving plants, the dream of an entirely self-sufficient chicken is (for most of us) only a dream, and you have to feed bees if you want them to feed you.

Empty honeycomb

Natural beekeeping suggests that you should only feed your hive in the fall if they otherwise wouldn't have enough stores to make it through the winter. Using that methodology, I've finally learned to keep healthy bees...but not to harvest honey.

Maybe if we lived in a much warmer climate where bees can fly and flowers bloom copiously for nine months out of the year, our hive would make excess stores with no sugar-water pick-me-up. But here, where we only enjoy five months between first and last frost, I suspect spring feeding is mandatory to get hives bulked up enough that they can harvest sufficient wild nectar to feed both us and them.

Feeding bees

To that end, we're taking advantage of some warm days to feed the bees. This hybrid hive ate a pint in an afternoon, proving that their populations are high and that I need to add another box if I don't want early bulking up to turn into a swarm like last year's. The Warre hive, in contrast, only sipped daintily at their feeder, suggesting their numbers are low enough that they might not even have survived without the bonus feeding.

I'm slowly working my way toward a compromise between the high-impact, chemically treated bees that produce all the honey you can buy in stores and the entirely naturally raised bees that survive well but don't produce much at all. The end result might be Langstroth hives fed early to bulk up their numbers then managed with low-impact Warre methodology. Only time will tell....

Posted Mon Feb 22 07:22:35 2016 Tags:
manger update
We made this new cattle panel manger small to keep Abigail out.
Posted Mon Feb 22 15:51:59 2016 Tags:
Honeybee gathering hazel pollen

I'm not the only one going a little crazy in this late February warm spell. The bees are so busy gathering hazel pollen that our whole bush literally buzzes, and the wild birds are belting out their spring songs at peak pitch.

Mating wood frogs

The frogs are even louder though. Between the chorus frogs and the wood frogs, the calls are almost deafening during warm, rainy nights. Puddles are full of masses of eggs and I startle mating amphibians every time I walk past. Some folks would call this mud season, but I prefer to focus on the frogs.

Posted Tue Feb 23 07:15:44 2016 Tags:
Spring seedlings

I promised you some more baby pictures from my Friday planting, and I also wanted to see for myself if I'd been nuts to set out week-old seedlings. So I poked back under the quick hoops and row covers three days later...and discovered that everyone was not only holding steady but also putting out new growth! I'm sure it didn't hurt that it was warm and rainy during the intervening period, so both top and root shock was minimized. We'll see how well the babies do when the weather turns cool later in the week.

Early spring garden

Some of those babies are under the quick hoop closest to the camera. This spot is new ground created in the last six weeks by broadforking sod, laying down a one-thickness layer of corrugated cardboard, then shoveling good garden soil on top from beds that were in a shady spot and thus weren't providing peak vegetable growth despite high soil quality. I go into this sort of no-till practice in much more depth in my upcoming soil ebook Small-Scale No-Till Gardening Basics, so be sure to preorder a copy or mark your calendar for March 8 if you're interested!

Cold frame

Closer to home, the cold frame is still plugging along. We've been harvesting one small salad's worth of lettuce and/or greens per week from this area all through the coldest parts of winter. I consider that proof positive that soil temperature, not day length, is what keeps greens from producing in the dead of winter.

How's your winter garden growing?

Posted Wed Feb 24 07:41:06 2016 Tags:
LED shop light 4ft

I forgot to mention some details about our new LED shop light.

The company is called Utilitech. It's 4ft long with no chain pull switch.

Total cost was 35 after Lowes Military discount.

Our baby onion sets are thriving under its glow.

Posted Wed Feb 24 15:20:31 2016 Tags:

Goat in the mangerSo, the reason behind our most recent manger renovation is that Abby skinned her knee and I freaked out. A skinned knee on a goat just looks really scary! Our poor doe had torn all of the hair and hide away from a one-inch-diameter circle on her front leg, and I thought the world was coming to an end.

I doctored her up with hydrogen peroxide and homemade comfrey salve, then rushed inside to ask those near and dear to me for a dose of perspective. "Was there blood?" Kayla asked over the phone.

"Well, no," I answered.

Gently, Kayla told me how the first time her nephew skinned his knee on her watch, she'd cried real tears of anguish. "Did he cry?" I asked.

"Well, no," Kayla answered.

New goat manger

Now, I'm not going to tell you that Abigail's woes were as simple as a human skinned knee. But in the ensuing days she hasn't had trouble doing the important things in life --- eating, drinking, sleeping, and head butting her herd mate. And even though there's some swelling, there's no sign of heat when I cup her leg both above and below the wound. So I think she's going to be fine.

Still, the manger --- the source of the skinned knee --- had to go. Luckily, Abigail likes the replacement apparatus much better. The bigger holes and higher surface-to-volume ratio makes it easy to pick out her favorite strands of hay...and drop everything else on the floor. I know this almost certainly gives a blog buddy fits, but spoiled goats seem to need to spoil hay. Maybe one of these days we'll grow our own top-notch feed and then our goats won't be so persnickety.

In the meantime, I'll continue to give Abigail everything she wants for fear of her skinning another knee. After all, a contented goat stays on the ground...

Goat in a wheelbarrow


Posted Thu Feb 25 07:46:01 2016 Tags:

Cutting a hole in the floor
One of the joys of living is a trailer is how very malleable our abode is. Want to cut a hole in the floor for folding-bathtub drainage? No worries --- just pull out the hole saw and Big hole sawwhack on through.

A layer of
linoleum, a layer of subflooring, and a thin layer of particleboard that holds our supposed floor insulation in place later and we had an opening to the outside.

The next step was to push a corrugated black plastic pipe up through the hole, then attach the other end to the back of our below-the-sink drainage system. Instant access to the graywater wetland!

I've already enjoyed the wonders of our folding bathtub in action, but you'll have to wait for another post to see it in place. I know --- I'm such a tease!

Posted Fri Feb 26 07:07:11 2016 Tags:
goats playing on tire
We half buried a few more old car tires today to give the girls a little Winter boost.
Posted Fri Feb 26 14:26:52 2016 Tags:
Pruning raspberries

It's been rainy and gray for most of the week, which has kept my gardening to a minimum. There's not too much to do in the outside garden at this time of year, but I do have a few projects on the back burner --- notably extending my new mule garden bed, spreading compost and chicken bedding on various parts of the spring-garden-to-be, and pruning the berries.

I've actually been holding off on pruning since I've felt like midwinter pruning has prompted winterkilling during subsequent frigid spells during previous years. But maybe if I steer clear of the kiwis for a while, I can get away with a bit of cleanup. After all, it is almost March and these raspberry canes will start breaking dormancy in a few short weeks!

Posted Sat Feb 27 07:21:34 2016 Tags:
goats with crushed tire

It took less than a day for the girls to push the single tire on a slant.

I think the best thing to do is to merge the single tire with the others.

Posted Sat Feb 27 15:00:51 2016 Tags:
Goats on a log

Yawning goatWith a little less than two months to go until Artemesia's hypothetical B-day...

Abigail [interrupting]: Is this going to be another one of those goat-butt-collage posts? Because, if so, I'm outa here.

Anna [hastily closing the goat-butt collage she was building in the Gimp]: No, of course not, Abigail. Go stand on your tire.

Ahem, anyway, before I was so rudely interrupted....

Goat eating twigs

Artemesia has grown very rotund lately, but I'm 99% sure that most or all of that mass is hay. After all, on days when Abigail (using her herd-queen prerogative) declares that all goats are going to stand out in the rain rather than eating at their nice dry manger, our first freshener looks quite a bit skinnier.

First freshener teatsThat said, there are some small signs that give me hope our little doeling has a bun in the oven. This past week, I've felt like her teats are becoming subtly more noticeable --- they used to be tiny little things I couldn't even imagine squeezing milk out of, and now they're a bit more prominant. Possible sign #2: at hoof-trimming time, Artie's hooves hadn't grown much at all despite all of the concentrates we're feeding her (and the rather impressive amounts of hay she gorges on), suggesting that she's putting those calories to good use elsewhere. And possible sign #3: her chatty moods are even more frequent and are nowhere near on a 21-day cycle, suggesting that pregnancy hormones (rather than heat hormones) are at work.

That said, the goat-butt photos are as yet inconclusive. So we'll keep waiting and hoping that Artemesia will pop out a kid (or, more likely, a pair of twins) around April 24. Fingers crossed....

Posted Sun Feb 28 07:27:19 2016 Tags:
vornado fan on seed bed flat

We decided to spend a little extra money on a quality fan for the new seed flats.

The small, cheap fans I've used in the past are loud, weak, and don't seem to last longer than a few years.

The Vornado small air circulator is solid and quiet and nice to look at.

Posted Sun Feb 28 16:57:04 2016 Tags:
Anna UFB
Lakeside stroll

I haven't seen much of Kayla lately since she and her husband are new foster-parents to a five-month-old baby girl. For the sake of both biological parents and baby, I can't show you any identifiable photos, nor can I use her name. But Kayla and I and the UFB got together Sunday for a stroll and ice cream --- a beautiful afternoon and a much-needed dose of girl time. Thank you, Kayla, for taking time out of your new mothering responsibilities to cheer me up!

Posted Mon Feb 29 07:02:57 2016 Tags:
tapping black birch tree for first time of 2016

We first started tapping a Black Birch tree last year three weeks into March.

Today it only took a few minutes for the dripping to begin once the spile was in.

Maybe we'll start in the middle of February next year?

Posted Mon Feb 29 14:46:39 2016 Tags:

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

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