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

archives for 09/2016


I never realized how much joy I got out of our homegrown produce...until I stopped being able to eat anything except scrambled eggs, yogurt, plain brown rice, and steamed green beans and okra.

Sumac fruit

I'll spare you the bowel-related details, but the short version is that I've been doing poorly for over a month now. In fact, I even went to the nurse practitioner twice and have an appointment with a gastroenterologist in a few weeks.

(Yes, I am aware that I pulled out the big guns the instant our darling doeling mentioned a tummy upset and waited 2.5 weeks to treat myself. There's nothing odd about that...really.)

Foggy morning

To people who know me in real life --- I'm sorry if I don't currently have the oomph to fulfill my usual roles! And to the rest of you --- I appreciate you bearing with my less interesting posts while I take it easy. Maybe some pretty pictures will make up for not having anything farm-related to report?

Posted Thu Sep 1 06:59:12 2016 Tags:
Tomato plants at the end of the Summer.

This is the week we pull up old tomato plants.

Pull up the fence post stakes and plant a cover crop and we're ready for Winter.

Posted Thu Sep 1 15:52:20 2016 Tags:

Yellow zinnia

Thank you all so much for your well wishes and thoughtful replies on yesterday's post! It means a lot to me to have you on my team and I hope you know how much I appreciate your support.

Posted Fri Sep 2 07:13:45 2016 Tags:
Close up of geotextile fabric holding rocks in a rut.

A close up view of how the geotextile fabric looks after driving over it.

Posted Fri Sep 2 15:23:45 2016 Tags:
Hidden turtle
Where's the turtle?

Box turtle

There's the turtle!
Posted Sat Sep 3 07:48:43 2016 Tags:
spineless okra with barn in background

Clemson Spineless Okra is a big producer for us this time of year.

We either steam them or cut em up in a pan of olive oil.

Posted Sat Sep 3 15:43:14 2016 Tags:
Anna Goat rehab
Grazing goats

The antibiotics are starting to kick in, which means more energy for the things I enjoy the taking out the goats.

Tire treads

Now that Artemesia's hooves are back to normal, she no longer minds walking across damp soil. So we've been following the Kubota tracks down the floodplain in search of prime forage.


Aurora eats, but fills up fast. After all, she's still drinking milk twelve hours per day and isn't in need of much extra sustenance. I keep pondering weaning...then decide to table the issue for another day.


Cooler weather means I might let the girls stay out for nearly two hours on a Saturday afternoon. After all, who wants to go home when the sky is blue and the day is beautiful?

Posted Sun Sep 4 07:16:51 2016 Tags:
First pullet eggs of 2016.

Our new flock of Australorp hens started producing their first eggs yesterday.

Posted Sun Sep 4 14:36:29 2016 Tags:
Red Empire apple side view

Technically, the only fruit my stomach can handle easily right now is bananas. But when a few of our homegrown apples ripened up, I couldn't resist risking a small sample.
Red empire apple top view
We'd eaten Virginia Beauties and Enterprise before, so the new variety being tested this time around was Red Empire. The sole fruit that ripened on the tree is certainly a beauty --- brilliantly red and shiny. But how would it taste?

Of the three apples ripe this week, Mark gave Red Empire two thumbs up and deemed it his favorite. I preferred the more dense flesh and higher acidity of Virginia Beauty, but didn't mind the crisp sweetness of Red Empire at all. Definitely a tasty apple to have in the orchard!

Posted Mon Sep 5 07:25:28 2016 Tags:
Millipede in the garden.
Mr Millipede taking a nap in the garden.
Posted Mon Sep 5 14:39:29 2016 Tags:
Seed packets

Swiss chard seedlingsIn many ways, I'm putting the garden to bed early this year. I'm pulling out a lot of summer crops early, planting oats in their place to build organic matter while letting the tired gardeners rest.

And yet...I'm starting one last flat of seeds. Crawdads ate the roots of most of my parsley plants this summer and voles did the same to a third of my Swiss chard crop. A few seedlings started in late August will fill in the gaps and ensure our winter garden is full of life throughout the long, cold months ahead.

Posted Tue Sep 6 07:22:11 2016 Tags:

The harvest keeps coming in, slowly but surely. We're filling our drying porch up with nuts...

Goat grains

...and grains for the goats. Next up on the harvest agenda: sweet potatoes and the rest of the butternut squash.

Posted Wed Sep 7 07:26:00 2016 Tags:
Anna learning to drive the Kubota X900.

Today was the day Anna learned how to shift and drive the Kubota X900.

Sometimes it helps to apply a little on the gas pedal if the gears feel a little stuck.

Always give the engine at least 5 minutes to warm up in the morning.

Posted Wed Sep 7 15:54:36 2016 Tags:
Sweet potato

My unruly tummy is finally coming into line as I bombard it with two types of antibiotics and two types of probiotics. Adding normal food back into my diet is still slow going, I'm working on becoming more American and eating with my eyes.

After my initial angst, I soon remembered that I get a kick out of hauling humongous sweet potatoes out of the ground or weeding beside the basil, letting the herbal aroma waft over my skin as I work. Picking a peck of (unpickled) peppers and giving half away makes my day because I can imagine beloved people eating the bright red fruits.

Okay, so yes, I'd rather savor our garden produce myself. But in the meantime, life is still good as long as the beauty of fresh vegetables rolls across my eyes and my skin.

Posted Thu Sep 8 06:56:46 2016 Tags:
Cucumber failure.
It's the end of the line for Summer cucumbers around here.
Posted Thu Sep 8 16:00:14 2016 Tags:
Swamp bridge

Our swamp bridge floated downstream a year and a half ago. Luckily, the Wandering bridgestructure easily disassembled into two parts, and Mark and I were just barely able to carry one half back to lead from goat pastures to floodplain.

The other half, though, remained resolutely downstream...until Mark and the Kubota did the work of two people with ease. Yay for a bridge back in the swampiest portion of my morning walk!

Floodplain grazing

The goats were equally thrilled at the addition since the bridge opened up a whole new arena of floodplain to explore. This area is a little bit close to the garden, though. Can you pick out the end of our trailer in the upper left side of the photo above?


I was never able to graze the goats in this region tether-free when Abigail was herd queen, but Artemesia is more malleable. My perfect doe grazed quite happily in previously taboo ground without ever making a break for the apple trees. It's such a pleasure to have a herd of well-trained goats!

Posted Fri Sep 9 06:56:26 2016 Tags:
Fall broccoli
We harvested and feasted on the first Fall broccoli today.
Posted Fri Sep 9 16:06:43 2016 Tags:
Capped honey

At the beginning of September I embark on the first of several winterizing-the-hives tasks. Step one --- check on the honey stores and determine whether we need to feed.

Here in zone 6 (southwest Virginia), the rule of thumb on honey stores is:

  • Langstroth hives should have 50 to 60 pounds of honey (which is equivalent to 7 to 9 deep frames or 14 to 18 shallow frames)
  • Warre hives should have about 39 pounds of honey (which is equivalent to 1.5 boxes full)

Inside a Warre hiveHow do our two hives stack up?

  • Langstroth hive: 23 pounds of honey (6.5 shallow frames)
  • Warre hive: 26 pounds of honey (1 full box)

It looks like my beekeeping mentor was right --- I probably shouldn't have stolen quite as much of their basswood honey. That's okay --- I'll top them off with sugar water now while the weather is still warm enough to evaporate the gooey concoction. Meanwhile, the copious brood in both boxes will ensure that the bees are also socking away nectar from the "yellow flowers" (as my mentor likes to call everything from wingstem to goldenrod). Hopefully by the end of the month, we'll hit quota.

Posted Sat Sep 10 07:51:49 2016 Tags:
Austrlorp flock.

Our new generation of Australorp layers is turning out to be a difficult flock.

We're debating on ways to scale it back for easier management.

Posted Sat Sep 10 11:14:34 2016 Tags:
Corn tassels

Can you identify this common garden sight?
Posted Sun Sep 11 07:01:46 2016 Tags:
Lunchbox sweet peppers.

Lunchbox peppers are the most colorful things we have growing at the moment.

The plants seem resistant to problem bugs and provide a large yield.

Posted Sun Sep 11 15:20:47 2016 Tags:
Chickens in the garden
"I'm kind of curious what your problems are with [your Australorp pullets]. Other than going broody at the drop of a hat, I've always found them to be easy and reliable."
--- Julie

Australorps are our favorites too, and in this case their frequent invasions of the garden are entirely my fault. We had a pesky mixed flock last year full of all kinds of troublesome varieties, and the last three old hens ended up being so bad I stuffed them in with the young Australorps for a week before their freezer day.

Unfortunately, a week was long enough to teach the young flock some of their bad tricks. Plus, the one male chick who came with this set of layers got eaten by a predator early on, leaving the hen party without a reason to stick together. To cut a long story short, our pullets are currently flying fences and seeking out pasture holes with wild abandon.

The stop-gap measure has been to shore up our exterior fences and let the girls run in the woods, where they have plenty to keep them occupied. But Mark's talking about maybe embarking on another round of tractor-building this fall combined with a coop/pasture renovation. We'll see how much oomph we have for long-term solutions as my energy levels slowly return.

Posted Mon Sep 12 07:27:10 2016 Tags:
Kubota hauling straw bales.

Our first day hauling straw bales with the Kubota.

A whole lot easier than using the ATV.

Posted Mon Sep 12 15:08:34 2016 Tags:
Varroa sticky board

Last week, I wrote about step one of winterizing our hives: checking on honey stores and feeding if necessary. At the same time I make my early fall hive check, I also move on to part two of the winterization campaign: testing for varroa mites.

Immature varroa miteI've written about how and why to test for varroa mites with a homemade stickyboard here. This time around, our Warre hive passed with predictably flying colors, dropping an average of only 9.3 mites per day. The bulkier Langstroth hive had quite a few more mites, clocking in at 31.3 mites per day. (Yes, I do count even immature specimens like the one shown to the right.)

In part, the Langstroth hive's higher mite count is due to the fact there are simply more bees present in that hive, but the infestation is still a little further along than I'd prefer. On the other hand, the last time I used non-chemical treatment for a borderline hive, I really regretted it --- after being dusted with powdered sugar, the bees got so pissed off about the intrustion that they absconded. So I'm going to try some rhubarb-leaf anti-mite strips, then test again in a month to see if pest levels are increasing or decreasing as the bees begin to slim their colony down in time for winter.

Posted Tue Sep 13 07:25:38 2016 Tags:
Ten years of the barn

In my last Then and Now post, I stuck close to home. So I thought I'd regale you this time with a shot of the barn from 10 years ago and again from this week.

So many changes in the interim --- a new roof, a Kubota to appreciate the cover, and several trees cut down or grown larger. I wonder what this area will look like in 2026?

Posted Wed Sep 14 06:57:56 2016 Tags:
Butternut squash cleaning.

We harvested about 4 bushel baskets of butternut squash yesterday.

Posted Wed Sep 14 15:39:59 2016 Tags:
Manure pile

Shovel manureWith one session of Driver's Ed under my belt, Mark certified me to take the Kubota out for a solo adventure. It was pure pleasure to be able to toodle along through the floodplain without worrying about getting stuck in the mud!

I put a little more manure in the bed this time around since I don't think my previous trip got anywhere near the load limit. Three very full wheelbarrow loads was enough to smother a third of the back garden in rich, high-nitrogen fertility.

Posted Thu Sep 15 07:40:11 2016 Tags:
Sweet potato sizing and storing.
It was another good year for sweet potatoes.
Posted Thu Sep 15 16:50:11 2016 Tags:
Planting oats

This is the final week for oat planting in our neck of the woods, so we're filling up as many garden spots as can easily be turned over to cover crops. In really poor soil that didn't produce as well as I would have liked this summer, I sprinkle the oat seeds over the ground then top them off with solid coating of composted horse manure. Richer soil gets less TLC --- just oats covered by a thin layer of straw meant to hold in moisture and confuse hungry birds.

Oat seedlings

Add a little water and the seeds sprout fast. The image above shows oats we planted last week in parched soil, then watered well with our impact sprinklers.

Given my continued health issues, I'm not hitting every bed I'd really want to with oats this year. But that's okay --- rye can be planted slowly but surely over the next month and a half to produce similar cover and biomass. The goats don't enjoy grazing rye as much and the rye beds won't be available for spring and early summer planting, but the soil won't mind at all getting to enjoy eight months off covered with rye.

Posted Fri Sep 16 07:25:31 2016 Tags:
Vole damage to sweet potato.

We noticed a fair amount of vole damage to the sweet potatoes.

The goats don't seem to mind and we save the good ones for ourselves.

Maybe the damage would've been a lot worse without Huckleberry killing the voles he's hunted?

Posted Fri Sep 16 15:00:15 2016 Tags:
Topped Brussels sprout

The surviving Brussels sprouts bounced back fast after their row-cover trauma. A few are so big, in fact, that I went ahead and topped them to prompt sprout-formation. Looks like we'll have a good crop this year after all

Posted Sat Sep 17 07:40:20 2016 Tags:
Tape failure.

It seems the tape repair I did this Summer could not hold up to Anna yanking the hose so she could relocate a sprinkler station.

Posted Sat Sep 17 14:14:57 2016 Tags:
Heated chicken waterer

It's that time of year again. The weather is cooling. The lights are on in the chicken coop. In other words --- it's time to think about winter watering chores!

Once again, we have a very limited run of premade heated bucket waterers available. Mark snags these buckets during his annual winter trip to Ohio so we won't have to pay shipping twice, making it cost-effective to install two nipples in the bottom and send them out for a hundred bucks with free shipping. In other words --- there may be another run in December/January, but otherwise this is all we'll be selling for the year.

Sold out!

Here are the stats:

  • 2 gallon volume with two nipples (sufficient for 34 chickens for at least two winter days).
  • Nipples keep flowing down to the low teens Fahrenheit and water in the main reservoir stays thawed much longer.
  • Comes with a lid with a knob for easy removal. (Your unique knob may or may not look like the one in the picture.) In addition, brackets within the bucket prevent your lid from falling in.
  • Free shipping within the U.S. (We can't ship these out of the country at all --- sorry!). Your waterer should arrive sometime next week.
  • Cost: $100
Making a heated chicken watererDon't want to buy (or aren't fast enough and we've already run out)? No worries! You can make your own heated bucket waterer using the instructions here. No matter how you get there, though, you'll want to be prepared. Your winter flock needs to stay hydrated if you want to keep raking in those delicious, homegrown eggs.

Posted Sun Sep 18 06:57:12 2016 Tags:
A mountain of sawdust.

We had our first Bigfoot sighting while visiting Sawdust Mountain recently.

They cut up big trees with a large saw and one of the workers was sculpting an impressive likeness of Sasquatch out of a large stub of a tree. 

Posted Sun Sep 18 15:48:01 2016 Tags:
Swiss chard seedlings

Our last round of fall seedlings is ready to put into the ground. Swiss chard sure is easier to thin when started in a flat indoors where I can nip off excess seedlings while talking on the phone.

Posted Mon Sep 19 07:20:34 2016 Tags:

You are awesomeI've had several concerned emails/calls from family and friends lately, so I thought I should give a brief followup about my grumpy gut.

The short version --- it's still grumpy. I'm mostly managing to keep diarrhea to a minimum with a (not-quite-so-severely) restricted diet. Meanwhile, I have an appointment with a specialist at the end of the month that I hope will determine the root cause and start me on the path toward healing.

While we wait, Mark has put me on half duty, which keeps me cheerful and prevents exhaustion from eating me alive. During the freed-up time, I've been spending more hours with the goats and have also taken up coloring books. I would have laughed at such structured art years ago, but my writing time uses up all of my creative juices and being able to simply play with colors within an established framework is awfully restful and fun.

Thank you all for your kind wishes!

Posted Tue Sep 20 07:43:54 2016 Tags:
Anna Autumn sun
Autumn sun

As we near the autumnal equinox, the light is subtly shifting.

Posted Wed Sep 21 07:24:53 2016 Tags:
waterer lid knob is now ceramic blue.

The latest batch of heated chicken waterers will have a nice blue ceramic knob.

Posted Wed Sep 21 18:34:19 2016 Tags:
Bristol Caverns

There's something about the autumnal equinox that makes me want to tunnel into the earth. Without realizing it, we repeated our Bristol Caverns visit on nearly the same date as last year. Does that make it a tradition?

Posted Thu Sep 22 07:34:47 2016 Tags:
Ergonomic dump bed makes wheelbarrow loading easy and fun.

The dump bed on the Kubota X900 is a good height for easy wheelbarrow loading.

Posted Thu Sep 22 15:27:40 2016 Tags:

I've decided to treat my funky tummy as a science-fair project. Here's the summary so far, with technical terms purposefully left out.

Hypothesis 1: Bad bugs took over my gut.

  • Experimental protocol: A week of heavy-duty antibiotics followed by a bug-friendly diet heavy in probiotics and bland carbs (brown rice, steamed vegetables, bananas) combined with daily fiber pills.
  • Results: After a bit of initial improvement, tummy still funky.
  • Conclusion: Bugs are not the issue or are not the only issue.
  • Note for further study: When I'm off farm and don't take along a fiber pill, I seem to have my best days.

Hypothesis 2: Inflamed gut never gets a chance to heal because I keep stuffing irritating, high-fiber food down my gullet.

  • Experimental protocol: Low-fiber diet of foods that haven't inflamed my gut in the past (hard-boiled eggs, yogurt, bananas, low-fat hotdogs, chicken breast, tuna) in small meals for breakfast through mid afternoon, then juiced fruits and vegetables for supper to give my gut an extended relaxation period. Imodium as needed to slow things down.
  • Results: I'm only two days in, but early signs are very positive.

By the way, I continue to appreciate everyone's kind words and good energy! Hopefully I'll be back to having fun homesteading information to report in the near future.

Posted Fri Sep 23 07:26:35 2016 Tags:
garlic planting in the Fall

Planting and mulching 96 garlic bulbs while the morning shade is still in tact.

Posted Fri Sep 23 15:39:18 2016 Tags:
Fall oats

We got really lucky, with the only significant rain of the last month falling the weekend after my big oat-planting push. Thanks to the wild moisture, the cover crops are up and growing this week, their beds already a nearly complete sea of green.

Posted Sat Sep 24 07:37:08 2016 Tags:
Bristol caverns
The view from a picnic table at Bristol Caverns.
Posted Sat Sep 24 15:04:31 2016 Tags:
Grazing together

Goats on the trailAbout a week and a half ago, Artemesia finally decided it was time to wean us. I say "us" because she not only stopped letting Aurora drink endlessly at the milk bar, she also started stamping uncomfortably as I milked her in the morning.

I could easily have pushed through the minor grumpiness, but I figured Artemesia had already done a pretty awesome job as a first freshener. We've enjoyed 17.5 gallons of her milk and her kids have probably gotten twice that much. Time to let her rest for a while so she'll be back in good shape for her Halloweenish breeding.

Posted Sun Sep 25 07:45:24 2016 Tags:
Butterfly resting on a flower.
A butterfly resting after a long Sunday of foraging.
Posted Sun Sep 25 15:18:23 2016 Tags:
Goats sharing food

So far, Aurora is thrilled at my decision to dry Artemesia off. I started the attempt nearly a week ago, but I'm pretty sure our doe is still making just as much milk...only her daughter's getting to drink it all instead of sharing with us humans. Hmmm.... Maybe I need to rethink my dry-down plan.

Posted Mon Sep 26 07:31:59 2016 Tags:
Using a cinder block to shore up porch steps.

These cinder blocks will now absorb the bulk of the weight for our front porch steps.

Posted Mon Sep 26 15:27:19 2016 Tags:
Ripening fig

Despite being nearly killed back to the ground again last winter, this has been an excellent year for figs. Hot and dry seems to hit the spot for this ancient fruit.

On that note, did you know that figs might be one of the first plants domesticated by man? Archaeologists have found sterile figs dating as far back as 9000 BC, up to a thousand years before the first known cultivation of wheat and rye. Something to think about when you sink your teeth into the next sweet morsel....

Posted Tue Sep 27 07:28:28 2016 Tags:
Seedling and eggs

The barred owls have been calling and the ruffed grouse have been pounding for the last week. Both are confused by the equal-length days and nights, triggered into spring behaviors for a limited time.

I haven't been tricked by the equinox, but I still find myself thinking of spring around the homestead lately. It's long-sleeved shirt weather in the morning when I gather copious pullet eggs, and I'm even setting out seedlings into the garden. Only in this case, the seedlings are filling in gaps in the winter-greens row, ensuring we have enough Swiss chard and parsley to make it through the long winter ahead.

Posted Wed Sep 28 07:21:40 2016 Tags:
Cat jewelery with medallion.

An upcoming film project requires a gold chain with a medallion.

The chain was 3 dollars and a small hole drilled in a gold button made for an acceptable medallion as long as the button face is facing forward.

Posted Wed Sep 28 13:39:12 2016 Tags:

We've had a great crop of both spring and fall broccoli this year, and a lot of each has ended up in the freezer. In fact, there have been so many heads, I've let a few get away from me --- the one on the left in the photo above really should have been picked three days ago. Good thing we have crucifer-loving goats who are glad to chew up any florets that are no longer perfect enough for human consumption.

Posted Thu Sep 29 07:17:25 2016 Tags:
Kale with barn in background.

Chickens in the garden did some damage to our kale, but 98% of it bounced back.

Posted Thu Sep 29 15:47:22 2016 Tags:

The world changes on a dime at this time of year. Monday, it was so hot and dry that I turned on the sprinklers. Thursday, I wore a fleece all day long, slipping out between raindrops to tempt the goats with fallen leaves.

Usually I fight fall, eking out every ounce of summer I can muster from the garden. This year, I've been forcing myself to rest for weeks on end and am content to watch the seasons change as they will. I'm left to wonder --- will I be able to remember when I'm back at full strength that human trials and joys are just as fleeting as mountain weather?

Posted Fri Sep 30 07:05:57 2016 Tags:
Handrail failure up close.

Our furring strip handrail only lasted 4.5 years before breaking yesterday.

Posted Fri Sep 30 15:08:07 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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