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

archives for 06/2016

Jun 2016
Summer pruning mistake

I'm learning more and more about apple pruning with each year that goes by. This week, for example, I learned the hard way not to prune bearing trees while wearing a hat. Yep, that peripheral vision is essential to prevent me from cutting off baby fruits!

Fruiting apple limbs

More seriously, I'm also starting to fully understand some of the high-density apple pruning advice that I'd been merely following by rote in previous years. For example, I'd broken the rules and let my limbs get a little longer than is recommended. But now I realize that those longer limbs are going to be in danger of breaking under the weight of developing fruits! For this year, I'll depend on Mark's careful touch to tie them up without losing the apples, but wherever I can I'm not whacking back limbs so they end much closer to the main trunk.

Apple fruiting spur in June

I also had a minor epiphany that relates to Michael Phillips' comment that apple trees decide whether a spot is going to fruit or not in June of the previous year. "How does he know that?" I thought while reading his excellent book. Now I realize he simply used his eyes.

Yep, those two clusters of leaves atop my fingers are flower spurs while the next two buds up the branch turned into vegetative growth (new long stems). In my high-density grove, I'm whacking back long stems just past the new flower spurs to keep next year's fruits while preventing the gangly limb sydrome I mentioned previously.

High-density apple trees

Here's our oldest high-density row post-pruning. I'll admit that the trees do look pretty shorn. But hopefully that severe summer pruning will keep the trees small and productive so we wind up with even more apples next year.

Posted Wed Jun 1 07:05:33 2016 Tags:
leveling cedar post
Re-designing one of our original chicken pasture gates today.
Posted Wed Jun 1 15:07:06 2016 Tags:
Grafting supplies

Grafted persimmonOf the two American persimmon grafts that took last year, one is puttering along very slowly while the other has exploded (see photo to the left). The scionwood on this variety is I-94, and despite the less than inspiring name the plant made enough growth for me to cut a bit of scionwood last winter. (Yes, all of the new greenery in the photo grew post-trimming.)

Rewinding back to the winter, I stuck the scionwood in the fridge in a ziploc bag to wait for persimmon-grafting season --- late May to early June when the rootstock plants are vigorously growing. Then I pulled out my shears and knife and turned two more seedling trees into a named variety.

Summer persimmon grafting

I have to admit that I'm not convinced this year's grafts will take. The scionwood was on the small side and it dried out a bit in the fridge despite its bag. But there's no reason not to try. And, if all else fails, I should be able to get some excellent scionwood off that I-94 plant this coming winter for 2017 grafting.

Posted Thu Jun 2 06:13:21 2016 Tags:
tomato prunning

Tomato plants are doing so well they already needed the first round of pruning.

Posted Thu Jun 2 15:01:36 2016 Tags:
Bird porch

The good news is, Mama Phoebe fledged five babies. Pretty impressive!

The bad news is, when those babies started hopping out of the nest for their couple of days on the ground learning to fly, Huckleberry started picking them off the way I gorge on ripe strawberries.

Putting bird back in nest

When we found the first baby on the ground, Mark installed a little porch beneath the nest to let the overflow spill out onto. We figured maybe that baby had simply fallen out of the nest because the receptacle was way too small to hold all those growing birds. After reading a snopes article debunking the notion that birds can smell human on returned babies, I put the dropped fledgling back up high.

Phoebe overflow

That worked fine until the rest of the fledglings tried to learn to fly...and ended up right in Huckleberry's jaws. I know for a fact he got two of the babies and have a sinking suspicion he might have tracked down yet more.

As much as I enjoyed watching the phoebe life cycle up close and personal, I'm hoping Mama Bird learned her lesson and will return to nesting in the barn next year. It's just safer there.

Posted Fri Jun 3 06:25:21 2016 Tags:
stihl chainsaw 039

June is firewood month for us.

Our Stihl 039 does not want to idle properly.

I'm hoping a new spark plug helps the situation.

Posted Fri Jun 3 16:02:06 2016 Tags:

Dwarf apple tree"Anna, you two seem to put so much effort into your highly managed orchard plot. What are the advantages of that effort vs just letting apple trees grow without interference?" --- doc

The advantages are more fruit faster, or at least so the theory goes. I'm too early in the experimentation process to say for sure whether it's working, but early results seem positive.

For example, take a look at the two trees in this post. Both are early transparent apples (aka yellow transparents). Both are on dwarfing rootstock.

The one illustrated in the top picture was planted in February 2009 and pruned using standard, minimal winter-pruning techniques. It seemed so averse to fruiting that I considered ripping it out a couple of years ago, but instead changed it over to a crazy looping method that I slowly morphed into my usual high-density training method. And this year, we finally have fruit on the limbs...although only seven apples over the whole rather large tree.

Loaded apple treeIn contrast, the second tree (same variety, same rootstock) was planted in late 2012 (so four growth seasons later). It's currently loaded with apples (36) and would have fruited last year too if we hadn't experienced a deep freeze.

I know many people enjoy the low-work approach and point to mature, standard apple trees that bear well with minimal pruning and training. The trouble is, those trees are humongous (one would take up a quarter of my garden) and they might not fruit for over a decade. A little extra work --- about 2 hours per month for all of our fruit trees combined --- really does seem worth a greater variety and volume of apples now rather than waiting until I'm completely gray to taste the first bite.

Posted Sat Jun 4 07:14:10 2016 Tags:
nice close up of berries in the sun

Strawberries will end soon and these berries will make a good replacement.

Posted Sat Jun 4 12:05:32 2016 Tags:
Garden transitioning from spring to summer

I always plan to maintain the garden by zones...but I get behind and have to spend the rest of the summer rushing around to catch up. This year, I've (mostly) managed the task by (mostly) planting cohorts of vegetables in the same area each week.

Berry rows

The benefit is profound --- full areas like the one shown above that are weeded, mulched, and pruned all at the same time. There's nothing quite like walking by a row of fruit on the way to the composting toilet every day and knowing there's nothing that needs to be done in that zone...except enjoy the first black raspberries.

Shaggy garden

Of course, the downside of zone gardening is that each area looks pretty shaggy by the time I get back to it. I had to zoom way in on the mule garden to make it look at all attractive --- from a distance, the area is simply a sea of green.

On the plus side, the mule garden is pretty much all that's on my list for next week. So I should have it back shipshape in no time.

Posted Sun Jun 5 07:14:05 2016 Tags:
12 year weed barrier update one year later

We are one year into our 12 year weed barrier life span.

It looks like it really might last another decade.

Posted Sun Jun 5 14:54:54 2016 Tags:
Cat in squash patch

Perception: My fancy, hybrid butternut seeds didn't germinate very well.

Test: I checked the packet to see how many seeds I planted --- 30. Then I counted how may seedlings had come up --- 24.

Reality: 80% germination in a wild, garden setting isn't bad at all. I did replant the gaps with saved, unfancy butternut seeds though. Gotta have plenty of our goats' favorite concentrate!

Posted Mon Jun 6 07:02:12 2016 Tags:
Rainy garden

Four inches of rain in four days is just right for frogs.

We won't need to water the garden for a little while.
Posted Mon Jun 6 15:34:43 2016 Tags:
Shade trellis

Our shade trellis is starting to fill in. Yes, this is the beginning of the grapes' third season of life --- they're done sleeping and creeping and are ready for leaping.

Grapevine on trellis

Grape phomopsisSome combination of sunny microclimate and good variety selection (Reliance) have resulted in vines that do much better than any of our grapes have in the past. But there is still some phomopsis trying to rear its ugly head.

This week, I pruned hard in hopes of cutting the fungal disease off at the pass. The big question is --- will any of those flower clusters manage to turn into ripe grapes?

Posted Tue Jun 7 06:25:26 2016 Tags:
Super sugarsnap peas

How super are Super Sugarsnap Peas?

Germination in cold garden soil was mediocre and some vines are succumbing to fusarium wilt just like every other year.

But yields are tremendous and the sweet pods are delicious. It's hard to complain about sugarsnap peas.
Posted Tue Jun 7 14:39:50 2016 Tags:
Sprouting corn

Last year, I decided that I wasn't going to grow field corn again for the goats. My reasoning? I'm leery of feeding ruminants grain unless you really have to, and our spoiled darlings didn't like the field corn leaves nearly as much as they enjoyed sweet corn leaves. Overall, the crop didn't seem like a good use of our limited compost.

But pictures don't lie. That's a long double row of field corn growing on my garden. What's up?

Goat kid

While Artemesia was getting her motherhood feet under her in late April and early May, she went through last year's field corn like it was candy. Our doe would eat greenery at the time, but only if I sat beside her and tended to her kids so she knew they were okay. I'm ashamed to say I didn't have two hours a day to feed even my favorite goat, so I babysat sometimes...and sometimes I fed the nervous mother corn that she could snarf down in a few short minutes at the end of a long, tiring day.

Grazing goat

I ran out of corn not too long after Artemesia finally started taking the kids out to graze. And while milk production lowered by about half a cup per day after she went off the grain, Artemesia's coat looked shinier and her fat deposits stayed at a good, healthy level on the new/old diet.

As a result, I don't plan to keep graining her (even though it would likely increase milk yields)...but I do want to have corn on hand for next year. In a perfect world, Artemesia's second go at motherhood will be less emotionally fraught for both of us. Still, it's good to have quick fixes available just in case.

Posted Wed Jun 8 05:57:37 2016 Tags:
chicken of the woods

This post is to remind us that last June we found some delicious chicken of the woods mushrooms from a red oak and it might pop up again this year.

Posted Wed Jun 8 14:44:46 2016 Tags:

Tomato bush

In May, I would have told you that the addition of lights to our seed-starting setup means that we need to move our starting date forward a couple of weeks. Since I started them at my usual time, the seedlings spent nearly two months inside and ended up leggy and yellowing despite having been potted up from their flats. We planted the tomatoes into the garden prematurely and had to bury the stems very deep to make up for their stunting. Still, the poor things lingered and frowned at me for two weeks before they started to grow.
Ripening tomato
But when they started to grow, they started to grow. And, look, a tommy-toe tomato that will likely ripen up this week, three weeks earlier than in previous years.

So maybe the headstart was worth it? Only the final yield and the plants' reaction to our inevitable round of blight will decide.

Posted Thu Jun 9 06:40:04 2016 Tags:
mark Blue
Today is the beginning of our delicious blueberry season.
Posted Thu Jun 9 15:28:53 2016 Tags:
Guest River

I went on a brain-cleansing hike Wednesday at the Guest River Gorge. As the name suggests, the river runs between steep cliffs, paralleling the trail and providing a soothing soundtrack for the entire day.

Rails to trails

The trail itself is one of those rails-to-trails deals, meaning that it's more of a road than a trail. If you go on a pretty weekend, the place is packed. But at 8 am on a Wednesday morning, I saw no one until I'd walked all the way to the end and was 50% of the way back. Perfect!

Trail terminus

The only really hard part of the trail is the length --- 5.8 miles one way...then you have to walk uphill for the entire return journey. I'm intrigued by the option to instead take a left just before the end and follow the Heart of Appalachia trail over to Sugar Hill. But I've never been able to find the connection on the Sugar Hill side, so I'm a bit leery. (The connection on this end was well-marked and obvious.)

Purple-flowering raspberry

Despite the high-trafficked nature of the upper two to three miles, the Guest River Gorge Trail is a good spot for botanizing since it's located at a high elevation. I was very taken with these purple-flowering raspberries, in full brilliant bloom. (Although my reading suggests it's not worth going back in search of the berries --- as with the Pacific Northwest's salmonberry, the prettier the flower, the more insipid the fruit.)

Insect-damaged umbrella tree

Views like this one put any slightly insect-damaged plants in my own garden into perspective.

Rock cliff

But my favorite spot was a particular part of the cliff that captured the sound of the river and turned it into an ocean-like symphony. I hesitate to tell you exactly where it is --- if I do, you have to promise not to leave your trash in my favorite location and not to show up at 8 am on a Wednesday morning to steal my hideaway.

Rock ledge

Promise? Good. Just at the two-mile marker, you'll see a ledge easily accessible via a short scramble up a scree slope. Clamber on up, then lie back and relax. 99% of passing hikers won't even know you're there and the roar of the river will lull you into true relaxation. Enjoy!

Posted Fri Jun 10 05:55:51 2016 Tags:
dock root the hard way

It's that time of year when dock weed is going to seed.

Dig it up now or make peace with its new offspring.

Posted Fri Jun 10 15:18:57 2016 Tags:
Red raspberry

Another day, another variety of berry on the table. I do miss the passing of peak strawberry season, when I was able to gorge on half a gallon of berries per day all by myself. But the blueberries and red and black raspberries are quickly picking up steam and promise to fill in the gap.

Baby grapes

Meanwhile, I'm trying not to get my hopes up about the grapes that are starting to swell on their vines. Monday's anti-blight campaign seems to have removed most of the fungal issues, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed that we won't end up with rot spots on the fruits once they reach full size and begin to fill with sugars.

Zinnia bud

All in all, a very fruitful week.

Posted Sat Jun 11 07:16:23 2016 Tags:
Our tallest sunflower is already 6 feet high and climbing fast.
Posted Sat Jun 11 11:33:51 2016 Tags:
Dipping candles

Kayla knows more than anyone I've ever met about having fun close to home and on a budget. She and baby D (face hidden for legal reasons) spirited me away to the Copper Creek Birds and Blooms Festival on Saturday. We dipped candles, won free rain barrels, and generally had a ball.


Nineteenth century dressThe event is located at the Old Russell County Courthouse, which I'd driven past approximately a million times without stopping. Although small, the historic area is well worth a visit if you're already in the area.

Our tour guide explained that the courthouse (active in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries) was important for land disputes, with criminal cases being tried down the road in Abingdon. Still, criminals were often brought to this courthouse, where they were held for the day in the basement cell then housed by the judge's family at night. Gives a whole new meaning to taking your work home with you....

(The second picture in this post, I know, isn't particularly historic even though it graces one of the upstairs walls in the courthouse. But I'm including the print for my mother since the shepherdess reminds me of the paintings hanging in her mother's upstairs hallway when I was a child.)

Posted Sun Jun 12 07:14:15 2016 Tags:

Anna holding big cabbage head
Anna harvested today what I think is our largest head of cabbage to date.

Posted Sun Jun 12 14:40:23 2016 Tags:

I made a fire pit in our outdoor living room last year...then never really used it. But I had a marinated chicken in the fridge Sunday morning and a grill-friendly brother coming over for lunch. So I decided to give it a whirl.

I whacked the chicken into four parts and put them on a the grate once the wood underneath had been burning for about an hour. I did end up having to slice the thickest part of the legs and breasts near the end to get everything well cooked without charring the skin, but the taste was delectable.

Bonus: the house didn't turn into an oven despite another day with highs in the mid nineties. I should obviously cook in the outdoor living room more often. It's even shaded until nearly noon!

Posted Mon Jun 13 07:17:12 2016 Tags:
scarlet bean creates problems with bean beetles

We decided to delete scarlet runner beans from our garden this year.

It seemed like they attracted bean beetles that impacted our Masai beans.

Posted Mon Jun 13 14:55:04 2016 Tags:
Mulberry tree

After learning the hard way that, no, mulberries really don't fruit much if half-pollarded each year, I regressed to the absolute opposite technique --- ignore the tree and see what happens. The result? Our tree is loaded with fruits this year.

Illinois everbearing mulberry

The downside of the leave-the-tree-alone technique is that I can't actually reach most of those berries. And since we chose an Illinois Everbearing tree (which ripens fruits slowly over multiple months), the techique of shaking the tree isn't really worth it. So the wild birds are getting most of the crop.

I think pruning/training experiment #3 will be pulling the limbs down into an open-center system like we did with our peach trees. Maybe the tree will still bear heavily and I'll still be able to reach the fruit? Only time will tell.

Posted Tue Jun 14 06:55:35 2016 Tags:

hose timer update
This mechanical hose timer does a good job at turning on and off.

The problem for us was how it decreased our already low water pressure and how that affected the drip irrigation we tried last year on the tomato plants.

Posted Tue Jun 14 16:03:30 2016 Tags:
Garden solarization

Prepped garden bedsWhat do you do if you cut your rye repeatedly for goat fodder, meaning that it never quite manages to bloom and thus to be easily killable by mowing? Solarize, of course!

It's been so blazing hot here recently that the clear plastic required less than a week to completely bake the rye underneath. Only the most shaded bed (in the foreground) had to remain covered when I checked my solarization beds Monday. The other sheets of plastic moved on to kill some old lettuce that I was too lazy to pull up.

Solarized rye

The solarized rye now looks like a thick coating of straw just waiting to be planted into...but it isn't. As with mow-killed rye, I'll need to wait at least two more weeks for microbes to decompose woody roots before it's safe to set out seeds or transplants into the dead cover crop. If I was in a big hurry, I could instead lay down a heavy dose of compost...but I've got more time than compost at the moment, so I'll cool my heels.

If the links above don't sate your interest, you can read more about solarization (and other small-scale no-till tricks) here and can read more about no-till cover crops here. Enjoy!

Posted Wed Jun 15 06:48:45 2016 Tags:
Chicken on waterer

At two months old, our pullets are big enough to perch on their waterer but not quite big enough to survive a raccoon attack.

I think we only lost one bird.

Regardless, we'll keep shutting them in at night a little longer.
Posted Wed Jun 15 15:54:50 2016 Tags:
Chocolate ice cream

It's been blazing hot here with local weather stations hitting record temperatures for June. Meanwhile, our fridge is full of excess milk that I'm too tired to turn into cheese.

"Homemade ice cream?" Mom suggested. You don't have to ask me twice --- I'm sold!

Ice cream churn

I wanted to make a very simple ice cream, so I first mixed the following ingredients and began to warm them over medium-high heat:

  • 3/4 cups milk
  • 3 tablespoons of cocoa
  • 3 tablespoons of sugar
  • 1/16 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup of dark chocolate chips

Meanwhile, I mixed these other ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup of milk
  • 1 tablespoon of cornstarch
  • 3 drops of mint extract

I added the cornstarch mixture to the warming chocolate mixture, then heated until just barely boiling to thicken my chocolate milk. After that, I removed the mixture from the heat and cooled it thoroughly in the refrigerator.

Part two began three hours later when I froze the ice cream. I don't have any fancy equipment, but I do have ice cube trays, table salt, random cleaned out food containers, and a hammer. That appeared to be quite sufficient.

Salted iceI crushed the ice cubes with the hammer, mixed in salt, and packed the frozen salt water around the small jar inside the larger container. Then I rocked the outer container with my foot (like a cradle) for about ten minutes, at which point I really should have added more ice.

Since I was out of ice, I instead, stirred the halfway frozen ice cream and put it in the freezer. Another couple of stirs at hour intervals resulted in a delicious dessert that didn't seem to suffer from lack of cream and eggs.

Yes, I'll definitely be trying this again with a larger batch soon. I think I'll freeze a tray of salted water next time, though --- after all, if I'm going to be whacking my ice with a hammer, I might as well get the colder cubes the easy way.

Posted Thu Jun 16 06:38:47 2016 Tags:
Newspaper mulch

It looks like our onions are right on track for a late July harvest.
Posted Thu Jun 16 15:47:58 2016 Tags:
Goat pasture

Last year, our goats barely nibbled in their summer pastures. But after twenty months of manure deposition, the soil is finally fertile enough for plants to grow. And grow they have!

Grazed goat pasture

This photo was taken six days after the first image in this post. Artemesia, with the help of her kids, has eaten away all of the choice greenery within neck reach of the fence and has squirted out three quarts of excess milk for us to enjoy in the process.

Goats eating ragweed

Time to bend down some of those extra-tall ragweed plants in the center of the pasture so our dwarf goats can continue chowing down!

Overall, I'd say Artemesia is now getting half of her daily greenery ration off the pasture, which is a good start. (I still take her out in the evenings to graze in the woods.) Perhaps in a year or two, we'll have a couple more pastures and yet more fertility in the soil and won't have to worry so much about rustling up extra-curricular forage for our goats.

Posted Fri Jun 17 07:02:31 2016 Tags:
Brussels sprouts sets

Fall brussels sprouts are waiting in the wings.

Next week, garlic will make way for their understudies.
Posted Fri Jun 17 14:39:11 2016 Tags:
Opening sunflower

ZinniaI don't leave much room for entirely ornamental flowers in our garden. Which isn't to say that the space isn't vibrant with color at certain times of the year. Sunflowers, for example, are one of Artemesia's favorite concentrates. Zinnias? Well, they're just around to be pretty, I guess.

Elderberry flowers

The elderberries I have here and there are technically both edible and medicinal. But I mostly just let the plants grow because they were here first and they're awfully tough to root out. Both bees and birds enjoy the plants at different times of the year.

Corn flower

Bean flowersThe flowers I watch more carefully aren't nearly as pretty...but they're going to be much tastier!

The first corn and bean flowers popped up this week, promising summer vegetables in the near future.

Squash flower

And then there are our crookneck squash plants, which combine beauty and edibility with their massive yellow blooms that turn into copious fruits. If the petals weren't so fleeting, I think city dwellers would plant these in their front yards.

Posted Sat Jun 18 07:28:28 2016 Tags:
Renovating strawberries

Once the last fruit is eaten, it's time to renovate the strawberry beds.

We ran out of composted goat manure halfway through this bed, so the rest of the plants got chicken coop bedding.
Posted Sat Jun 18 14:07:57 2016 Tags:
June drop apples

We've never had an apple tree that set as many fruit in as small a space as our high-density Early Transparent. So I guess I shouldn't have been surprised that this is also the first time we've experienced June drop.

What's June drop? Fruit trees naturally shed tiny fruitlets soon after blooming, but the trees sometimes have a second round of self-thinning about eight weeks later as well. This so-called June drop can be natural, or it can be due to mismanagement. In our case, I think the cause is a little bit of both.

June drop

What did I do wrong? The tree in question is located just out of range of our sprinklers, so lack of water may have been a contributing factor.

Similarly, I didn't fertilize this row at all last year because I didn't want to waste any of my limited compost on trees whose flowers kept freezing rather than setting fruit. Lack of nitrogen, like lack of water, can spur June drop.

Finally, I summer pruned the tree pretty hard at the beginning of this month, and the resultant paucity of leaves might have made the tree feel like it couldn't handle as many fruit as it had originally chosen to keep.

Enterprise apple

I'll mitigate some of those practices in later years. But, for now, I'm nibbling on the June drops, which actually taste pretty good if you're a sour-fruit lover.

Meanwhile, I'm watching the neighboring tree, which is holding onto its fruits and swelling them up even faster than the Transparent is. So perhaps the latter just had too many fruits to handle after all and I shouldn't be terribly concerned about June drop.

Posted Sun Jun 19 07:08:52 2016 Tags:
crushing ice with hammer for ice cream
Anna is becoming an expert at crushing ice for homemade ice cream.
Posted Sun Jun 19 15:31:26 2016 Tags:
Old chairs

Nine years ago, my father gave me two kitchen chairs that his significant other didn't feel matched their decor. I adored them...past when the cushions wore out and straight up until the legs literally fell off one of the seats.

In need of another set of chairs, I decided it was Mark's turn to hit up family. I sent him to Ohio with strict instructions to come home with replacement chairs. The beautiful red chair on the right (and its twin) belonged to his mother's significant other...until Mark snuck them into our car and made off like a bandit.

Thanks, Daddy and Barbara and Rose Nell and Jayne for what I hope will be 20 years of free chairs!

Posted Mon Jun 20 07:03:08 2016 Tags:
tripod sprinkler testing

We tried a new tripod sprinkler today.

A more elegant solution that's easier to move compared to the sprinkler heads we have mounted on top of a fence post.

I like the way the hose hooks up from below.

Posted Mon Jun 20 15:25:26 2016 Tags:

Curing garlic96 heads of garlic went from ground to curing rack Monday in celebration of the summer solstice.

We still have about15 heads leftover from last year, but Artemesia won't mind at all adding the pungent cloves to her diet for the next few weeks until they're all gone.

By then, the new heads will be dried and ready to pack away for the next year of seasoning and planting.

Full circle gardening at its best!

Posted Tue Jun 21 06:47:49 2016 Tags:
straw bale atv hauling

This week has been dry enough to use the ATV.

Out goes the garbage and in comes straw bales.

Posted Tue Jun 21 15:48:50 2016 Tags:
Goat family

Guess who's two months old today? That's right, our twins are growing up!

(Warning: R-rated information follows.)

Headbutting buckling

Unfortunately, two months old for a buckling means Punkin has become a cantankerous and randy teenager. The endless headbutting is annoying but manageable. However, his other MO --- endlessly humping his sister --- is more problematic. He's already reached the stage where he gets an erection (and licks the stream of his urine --- delightful), meaning that he could possibly knock his sister up.

Grazing goats

Unfortunately, my goat mentor says two months old is a little dicey for weaning. Our kids have started really eating solid food in the past week, but their rumens probably still depend on receiving a mixture of milk and greenery. So this week we hope to figure out a way to separate Punkin while still letting him have daily nursing visits with his mama. Yes, I'm well aware that much screaming is going to ensue --- I just hope I'm not the one who ends up throwing the biggest tantrum.

Posted Wed Jun 22 06:34:48 2016 Tags:
brussels sprout plants

How many Brussels Sprout plants did we set out today for the Fall garden?


Could be our highest yield of Brussels Sprouts.

Posted Wed Jun 22 14:17:50 2016 Tags:

Mark and I tossed around a lot of solutions for our randy buckling problem. A chastity belt for Aurora. Various types of pastures for Punkin. In the end, the only thing we were confident would hold him during the first few upsetting days was a tether.

Weaning a goatSure enough, the yelling commenced as soon as we slipped a harness on Punkin and led him away from the pasture. I'm not sure who was more upset --- me, Punkin, or Artemesia. Aurora, on the other hand, got over losing her paramour pretty darn fast.

The game plan is to see if Punkin will take a bottle so I can slowly reduce his milk intake until he's 100% on grass. If he won't drink from a bottle or a pan, we'll go for supervised visits, although I'd like to let mother and son forget each other as soon as possible. Hopefully by the middle of July, all of this drama and trauma will be behind us.

Posted Thu Jun 23 07:27:16 2016 Tags:
gaffers tape

I tried to fix a cut in our hose with gaffer tape.

It should be more easy to mow over than two hose clamps.

After a day of full pressure there was no sign of any leaks.

Posted Thu Jun 23 15:49:09 2016 Tags:
Goat bolus

I'm totally sold on copper boluses for our goats. It's been two months since Artemesia's first treatment, and I was surprised to see how much orange showed back up in her hair during the intervening period. The change in hue is a clear sign that she was deficient in this important mineral despite having free-choice access to kelp and a salt/mineral mixture, so I'm glad I finally figured out the essential caprine supplement.

Our doe isn't all the way back to her original coloration, though, probably because I was careful and only gave her the bare minimum amount of copper recommended for a goat her size the first time around. So I decided to
follow Dr. O'Brien's advice and give her another dose.

Copper goat cookies

At the same time, I'm bolusing our kids for the first time too. The stress of weaning can cause worm overloads, so now's a good time to make sure Punkin gets off to a good start. My planned dosages Dividing copper boluswere 1 gram for Punkin (because he's huge and being weaned), 0.5 grams for Aurora (because she's smaller and not being weaned), and 2.5 grams for Artemesia.

Unfortunately, my no-bake bolus balls were still a bit too big to be eaten in one go. So Artemesia actually got about 1.25 grams, Punkin got 0.5 grams, and Aurora got nothing. I'll try them again this afternoon to see if they'd like another dose, but I'm also pretty willing to be content with that dosage since I'm allowed to readminister as early as six weeks. Here's hoping that by then Artemesia's belly is once more as orange as it was when she was a kid.

Posted Fri Jun 24 07:11:25 2016 Tags:
Freddy with his dump truck of horse manure

We met a new neighbor today.

Freddy sold us a dump truck load of his horse manure for 75 dollars.

Posted Fri Jun 24 15:44:35 2016 Tags:
Bee drinking honey

At long last, I can report good news from the apiary! Both hives are so busy I had to add an extra box apiece. And our basswood tree is blooming this year, so we might actually get to harvest honey despite our spring swarms.

Bee brood

The even better news is that the queen is finally laying in the Langstroth part of our hybrid hive. There's still brood in the Warre box, so I can't complete the transition just yet. But hopefully I'll soon be able to take that top box off and remove it with honey inside.


Tall hives are a good sign, especially when all but one box in each is drawn and in use. I checkerboarded new frames between drawn frames in the Langstroth hive, which seems to be handy for getting the bees to use the new space faster. In the Warre hive, I instead had to put an empty box in the stack second from the bottom. Here's hoping the bees put both annexes to good use soon and keep up the good work.

Posted Sat Jun 25 06:46:45 2016 Tags:
Anna using plant-scapers on a cucumber plant

We are trying out a new product made by a friend of a friend called Plant-Scaper.

Anna likes the way it looks and I like how easy it is to set up and store.

A nice upgrade from those tomato cages that take up way too much space.

Posted Sat Jun 25 15:09:09 2016 Tags:

In Mom's family, there's always been talk of "that woman," who introduced dark coloration to the family. The romantic notion is that she was a gypsy shipwrecked off the coast of New England. We decided to find out if that was really the case, so Mom spit in a tube and we sent in her DNA to be analyzed.

Swedish grandparentsTwo of Mom's grandparents came to the U.S from Sweden during their lifetimes, so it's unsurprising that Scandinavia makes up such a large chunk of her DNA markers. The actual percent Scandinavian could range from 0 to 46, so I'm going to guess that the average shown is a bit of an underestimate.

Rhode Island grandmotherThe Rhode Island wing of Mom's family can eventually be traced back to at least one ancestor who came to North America in 1630 from England...and a bunch of other ancestors with who-knows-what background. Based on Mom's DNA test results, it looks like many of these unaffiliated ancestors may have been Irish or from Western Europe (although Mom says Wales is the location most spoken of in her family).

What about "that woman"? Maybe she was from Spain, Portugal, Italy, or Greece. Or maybe it was just dark Irish coloration coming through. Unfortunately, the ancestor in question has been dead for many, many years, so there won't be any DNA test results to find out for sure.

Posted Sun Jun 26 06:43:54 2016 Tags:
chairs side by side

When Anna first moved here she found a white plastic chair in the creek.

It quickly became her office chair behind her desk.

I tried to get her to upgrade but was met with the same "I love my chair!"

Every year I bring it up at least once and this year I finally won that argument and convinced her to upgrade to a proper Executive chair.

She reports better posture and less aches after long hours of writing.

Posted Sun Jun 26 16:19:14 2016 Tags:

Tomato bushSeveral of you were concerned about chemical contamination in our horse manure. Luckily, we live in an impoverished area where excess chemicals aren't used that often simply because they're expensive. Here's my previous post on the topic. If our farm was located in Lexington or northern Virginia where pastures are weed-free and perfectly manicured, I'd be much more concerned.

That said, whenever you find a new source of organic matter, it is a good idea to test it out before going hog wild. Luckily, we found out about this year's horse manure from a homesteading buddy and he got his dump-truck load a solid month before we did. A picture is worth a thousand words, so I'll let his tomato plants speak for themselves. In fact, when I asked him what he thought of the fertility source, he sounded like a born-again organic gardener. "All the years we've been gardening," he said, "I can't imagine why we didn't add manure to the soil!" So it sounds like the manure isn't only's turbo-charged!

Posted Mon Jun 27 06:50:24 2016 Tags:
Anna holding Aurora at vet office

Aurora was not acting like her normal happy self this morning.

We took her in for a vet visit and she got a vitamin shot with some vaccine boosters.

She's feeling a little better and might just be feeling the switch from Mother's milk to weeds and leaves.

Posted Mon Jun 27 15:57:32 2016 Tags:
Row cover

When it comes to bad bugs in the garden, a stitch in time definitely saves nine.

Japanese beetlesLast week, the first Japanese beetles showed up in our garden. I pick intruders once or twice a week at this time of year, simply dropping the beetles into a cup of water that I later pour into the chicken tractor. Since these beetles set up mating territories when they first appear, if you snag the early birds you'll end up with little damage later in the season.

Cabbage worms are a bit trickier. I mostly try to avoid them by not having crucifers in the garden during the summer months. This year's early broccoli was perfect since we harvested nearly all of the heads before the voracious caterpillars showed up. But I wanted to plant brussels sprouts early to get a head start on the winter growing season. What to do? How about covering up those beds with row-cover fabric to avoid the bug problem entirely?

If you'd like to learn more about my low-work, completely chemical-free pest-control practices, I hope you'll check out my book The Naturally Bug-Free Garden. Hopefully your garden ecosystem will be more complete and your harvests more abundant after the read.

Posted Tue Jun 28 07:02:28 2016 Tags:
tie down vines of berries
Securing berry limbs so they stay off the ground and keep growing.
Posted Tue Jun 28 15:38:55 2016 Tags:
Goat segregation

So, the good news is that I realized on weaning day two that one of our goat pastures had chicken wire around the base that could keep Punkin in. Once our buckling was able to nose his mother through the fence, he calmed down quite a bit. He still wouldn't take a bottle or drink out of a pan, but I'm putting him in with Artemesia some nights after his sister gets locked in the kennel so his gut doesn't have to completely change over from milk to grass cold turkey. I figure within two or three weeks, he'll be thoroughly and safely weaned.

Working with goats

The bad news? Between Punkin calling "Mama!" and Artemesia hollering "My baby!" relentlessly on day one, our mile-distant neighbor became convinced Mark was guilty of spousal abuse. The neighbor in question came over on his four-wheeler with a pistol at his hip the next day to check on us...which was actually pretty sweet, in my opinion.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to run over to check on the visitor the way I usually do because I was knee deep in the bee hives, so I left the guys talking for about ten minutes before showing up. I
hope our neighbor believed that no one was being murdered over here and we simply have a couple of unruly goats...but I guess we'll see if Mark's been kicked out of the good-old-boy network or not.

(Yes, this is the equivalent of calling the cops when you live in the country.)

Posted Wed Jun 29 06:39:23 2016 Tags:
vet visit number two of the week.

We took Aurora back to the vet this morning for another check up.

She'll get fed a mixture of yogurt and her mother's milk until she starts feeling better and eating on her own.

We also got some take home shots for tomorrow and the next day.

Posted Wed Jun 29 15:09:09 2016 Tags:
Urine on the compost pile

All of my reveling in off-farm manure aside, one of my big goals for the next few years is to close our homestead's fertility loop. As the heaviest amendment, I'm working on compost first, although mulch will likely go on my game plan eventually.

Bowl of berriesTo that end, we're being much more frugal than we have been in the past about making sure every little bit of nitrogen ends up back in the garden. Urine is definitely the low-hanging fruit and I'm always thrilled when I see Mark "nitrogenate the compost pile" (as he calls it).

If you want to learn more about our fertility sources so far, check out Soil Amendments for the Organic Garden, which is up for preorder and will be hitting kindles in three weeks. Enjoy!

Posted Thu Jun 30 07:29:13 2016 Tags:
Anna wearing sun hat pruning tomato plants

Anna noticed the first signs of blight on some tomato leaves today.


We might try a propane weed burner next year to see if it has an impact on the size of the blight spore population.

Posted Thu Jun 30 14:58:13 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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