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

archives for 07/2017

Jul 2017

Look what I found abandoned by the side of the road during my morning walk yesterday. Public service announcement: please spay or neuter your pets!

Posted Sat Jul 1 07:22:23 2017 Tags:
Kitten with Anna at vet office.

A happy ending for this handsome little kitten.

Our local vet agreed to find him a nice home if we paid for shots and surgery.

We love Dr Fuller and his staff!

Posted Sat Jul 1 13:54:56 2017 Tags:

I never thought I'd write this post...but Mark and I have decided to sell the farm and move on. The reasons are many and varied, but what they boil down to is --- we're ready for a new adventure.


Ever since fourth grade, I've wanted a big, sprawling homestead where I could raise every kind of plant and animal imaginable. And this farm was the perfect solution when I grew old enough to make that dream a reality. It was cheap enough that I could afford the price while barely out of college, and  its size allowed us to make huge mistakes with relative impunity. I've loved growing food, taking the goats out to graze, and playing in the creek, and Mark has loved the independence the farm provided for him to create a microbusiness and scratch his inventing itch.

Fig leaves

But they say that we become entirely new people every seven years. And the new person I've become wants something slightly different. I still crave isolation and room for a garden...but it doesn't need to be as huge of a garden and I'd like more cultural and social opportunities nearby. Writing fiction has become a much higher priority for me in recent years, which has led me toward simplifying my homestead life so I have the leisure to pound away on the keyboard without guilt, and Mark feels the same way about his film aspirations. Meanwhile, we also want to plan for aging, which meant either pouring money into the driveway...or pouring that same money into something smaller somewhere else.

Red raspberries

To cut a long story short, we're beginning the long, scary process of severing ties here and building new ties somewhere new. We plan to offer this farm to our neighbors first --- it is, after all, the neighborly thing to do. But if they're not interested, we'll be posting about a ready-made homestead for sale soon. So, if you'd like to slip yourself into fifty-eight acres of potential (some of it already realized), start counting your pennies and thinking about a change of your own. And for everyone else --- don't worry, the Walden Effect will continue...we'll just be opening a new chapter on a slightly different life. More details on that to come in subsequent posts....

Posted Sun Jul 2 05:55:06 2017 Tags:
Avian Aqua Miser Original

We're moving, which means we need to dramatically reduce our inventory of Avian Aqua Miser Originals. This is our flagship product and is still the best option for many chicken keepers. The half-gallon waterers are each good for up to 5 adult chickens or 15 chicks and they're our very favorite way to keep bedding dry and animals hydrated in tractors and brooders. In winter, it's easy to bring Originals in overnight so they don't freeze, and the waterers are also a breeze to hang on the side of an isolation coop for a hen who's sick and needs a little TLC.

Sold out!

Usually, we charge $30 apiece for these waterers. But to reduce our own moving costs, we're selling 3 for $30 with free shipping (or 5 for $40, also with free shipping). The buy buttons are above. Please allow up to three weeks for delivery in the U.S., and I'm afraid we're unable to ship outside the country at this time. Inventory is limited so order soon --- once they're gone, they're gone.

Thanks so much in advance for anyone who buys our waterers or tells your friends. We really appreciate the support and are excited to tell you all about it as we embark on our new adventure!

Posted Mon Jul 3 06:04:40 2017 Tags:
Passive solar house in Athens Ohio.

We celebrated July 4th weekend with a fact finding tour of Athens Ohio.

After a short time being there we could feel it is going to be a good fit for us.

We stayed in The Passive House in Athens.

We only spent the evening and night there but it was great. I wished now that I'd taken a picture of the beautiful wood beams. Whoever built it is a true artist when it comes to home building. Anna and I both give it two thumbs up and would stay there again if we need to.

Posted Mon Jul 3 16:41:26 2017 Tags:
Old tree

First of all, I wanted to thank everyone for your well wishes, both here and via email. It's meant so much to us to be embraced with such positivity and kindness. Please know that your gestures have been noticed and appreciated!

Mark with camera

Now...on to the adventure! Saturday, unable to think about anything other than our transition, we filled all of the feeders and waterers up high and hit the road. Mark's working up a video log with more in-depth thoughts, so I'll keep this post fact-light and picture heavy.

White flower in foggy woods

The difference between land-searching now and land-searching a dozen years ago is astonishing. Nowadays, everything is on the internet, either via Craigslist or realtor sites. So after zeroing in on our intended destination --- Athens, Ohio --- we hit the web and hunted high and low until we found a property we thought would work. Then we got in the car and drove north.

Old house

The first property was a disappointment. Although it was surrounded on three sides by the national forest and had loads of potential, it was going to take a massive amount of time and money to bring up to speed. Since part of the purpose of this move is to take a step ahead rather than a step back, we decided to give this one a miss.


The second property became The One That Got Away. Although there were some downsides (including a price at the high end of our possible spectrum), the property was pretty close to perfect. A small house only a little larger than our current living space but with half of that space consisting of a livable basement, a beautiful shed/barn, and fruit trees in production, plus all of the isolation I crave. We contacted the realtor as soon as we hit our crash space for the night...and found out the property had been sold that very day to someone else.

Foggy pond

Of course, we didn't expect to find our homestead during a whirlwind, two-night trip. Our primary goal during this first adventure was to check out the area and see if we were even on the right track. And, after spending the night in the Passive House and visiting the local Unitarian Church, Mark and I both came away confident that this area would indeed be a very good fit for us. Looks like our to-do list will change from planting and weeding to packing and land hunting for the foreseeable future.

Thanks for coming along for the ride!

Posted Tue Jul 4 06:07:16 2017 Tags:
Aqua Miser production.
Getting started on production of our big Chicken Waterer closeout sale.
Posted Tue Jul 4 15:48:30 2017 Tags:
Barn cleanout

When I first learned that Mayans traditionally burned down all their houses and started fresh every 52 years, it sounded crazy. But after eleven years on our farm...I can see the point. Since we're only able to drive across our floodplain a few times a year, we tend to prioritize mechanized hauling to bring in heavy items and bring out household garbage. Which means our barn is full of useful items that are nonetheless no longer useful to us.

After some thought, Mark and I have resolved to leave most of it behind...which feels astonishingly freeing. Still, we'll bring down resale value if we ignore the clutter entirely. So we'll be spending the next few weeks sorting. A burn pile outside for flammables that are unlikely to help anybody, an area of probably-unuseful-but-we-don't-have-a-way-to-haul-it-out stuff, a more neatly stacked zone of farm friendly items, a shelf of light but high-dollar goods that are worth selling before we go, borrowed items to return, and finally the stuff we actually intend to bring with us.

After two hours of sorting, we made it through about 10% of the barn. The only thing I'll be keeping out of that area is business receipts for tax purposes, while Mark is starting to compile the most useful hardware and tools as his contribution. It looks like we'll really be able to slim down enough to make the move! (I wasn't so sure....)

Posted Wed Jul 5 06:37:09 2017 Tags:
Super Winch on the Kubota X900.
We had to use the Super Winch to get the Kubota down the driveway today.
Posted Wed Jul 5 15:58:20 2017 Tags:
Instant pot roast

Before we decided to move --- and I realized anything we carried in would soon have to be carried out --- I caved and bought an Instant Pot.

These electric pressure cookers are a fascinating product, designed to cook anything from rice to pot roast to cake at the press of a button. There's a sautee feature for use with the lid off, then you can lock down the lid very safely for fast, high-pressure meals.

Honestly, I could see me and Mark using this as our sole cooking heat source if we bought or rented an unfurnished space and weren't ready to rebuild our kitchen right off the bat. So maybe the purchase was a good move after all. It's definitely on my list of items worth being carried out across the swamp.

Posted Thu Jul 6 07:46:08 2017 Tags:
Kiwi in hand.

Our hardy kiwi's continue to plump up as the Summer moves along.

It's one crop we have not irrigated that seems to not need it.

Posted Thu Jul 6 15:49:04 2017 Tags:

We've had a slew of questions, both here and via email, which we haven't had the time to answer in depth. Meanwhile, several of you have asked for videos in the past, and I thought this move might be a good opportunity to share that type of content via Patreon.

The idea is simple --- patrons sign up for whatever level of support they feel comfortable with, and in exchange they gain access to member-only videos hidden behind a paywall. Since the videos aren't available on the open internet, Mark and I will feel more comfortable sharing nitty gritty details we don't want to broadcast to the world at large. Meanwhile, your donations will help us purchase a larger tract of land if the right property comes up  for sale before this farm finds a new owner.

But the project will take time and energy which we could also be expending on our move. So I wanted to get a virtual show of hands. Would you be interested in supporting the Walden Effect via Patreon during our transition? If so, comment below and be counted (and feel free to tell us what type of questions you'd most like answered). Thanks in advance for your support!

Posted Fri Jul 7 06:45:38 2017 Tags:
Huckleberry on the table.

Huckleberry has decided the only thing he needs to take on the upcoming move is his basket and little brother.

Posted Fri Jul 7 15:31:29 2017 Tags:
Brown-eyed goat

Several of you have asked about the future of our goats. Will they come with us or will they find a new home?

Although the decision is hard, we're opting for the latter. I regained some of the joy of goat grazing after Artemesia died, but I have to admit the experience has never been quite the same since my beloved goat left the farm. Since I also stopped being able to drink milk last summer, suddenly the animals that were intended to be dual-purpose livestock turned into moderately expensive pets.

Given that they are just as much companions as working animals, though, we're taking our time to find Aurora and Edgar just the right home. We have one potential lead on a family who might spoil them in the manner to which they've grown accustomed. Fingers crossed they'll find someone else excited about milk and grazing in the very near future!

Posted Sat Jul 8 06:47:03 2017 Tags:
Close up of Strider on the couch.
The trick to taking a good picture of Strider is to be very very slow.
Posted Sat Jul 8 15:40:06 2017 Tags:
Great blue heron

After a week of research, Mark and I are starting to arrow in on our land-hunting priorities. They're different this time around than they were when I sought out our current farm a dozen years ago.

Counterintuitively, we're actually looking a lot smaller --- 58 acres was awesome for experimentation when we didn't know what we wanted, but we'd rather contract and move closer to a city now that we know which aspects of homesteading are our favorites. Currently, we use about 2.5 acres of our existing homestead, and even that feels like more than we want to manage as we grow older, expand our interests, and turn into more
weekend homesteaders.

What's the sweet spot for a mature homestead? I'm guessing somewhere between 5 and 10 acres will give me the isolation I crave, room for extensive gardening, and still fit within our price range. Perhaps the classic Five Acres and Independence was on the right track?

Posted Sun Jul 9 07:33:35 2017 Tags:
Bonfire of junk wood items.
We had a good sized fire extinguisher on hand just in case.
Posted Sun Jul 9 15:52:08 2017 Tags:
Property boundaries

The Homestead That Got Away had been sold less than a year ago at a sheriff's sale...which got me wondering if I should peruse those listings in addition to craigslist and real estate sites. Sure enough, I found a potential homestead on a county website in short order. But was it worth it?

Title searchAfter intensive research, I found out why the average homebuyer probably shouldn't stalk sheriff's sales. These auctions are a way for a bank to recoup their investment after a foreclosure...but lenders don't let properties go for a song. Instead, in 80% of sales, the bank buys the property back rather than losing money on the endeavor.

The next hurdle to be aware of is additional mortgages. This was the point that killed our interest in The Homestead We Threw Back, since an online title search suggested that the mortgage resulting in the foreclosure wasn't the only lien against the property. If we'd bought that property without a title search, we would have owned the the obligation to repay the primary loan. Suddenly the selling price got a lot higher than we thought!

Of course, it can also be tough to thoroughly research foreclosed properties since the current owner might not be thrilled about you tromping across their land. Given the the high risk involved in buying a pig in a poke, we're probably going to steer clear of this source of bargain real estate for now...although we will check the bank sites in a month or two since foreclosed properties often end up there for less than they went for at the sheriff's auction.

Back to the drawing board!

Posted Mon Jul 10 06:43:20 2017 Tags:
Chicken feeder issues.

The new and improved PVC chicken feeder worked great for a few weeks but started clumping again.

I know it's being protected from rain, but the early morning dew condensation seems to add up after a while and clump the pellets together.

Looks like it's back to throwing the feed on the ground every morning.

Posted Mon Jul 10 15:49:43 2017 Tags:

After burning the first of what I suspect will be several piles of flammable debris, I wish I'd caught on to the value of fire earlier. Because Mark and I are both seeing how our early actions on the farm started the cascade of STUFF that eventually took over the barn, and one of those actions was putting away not-very-good lumber/furniture for later use.

Smoke ring

While it's great to have a stash of two-by-fours and other quality building supplies on hand, odd-shaped debris and ancient particle-board furniture that came with the trailer really should have been burned a decade ago. Live and learn! I suspect we won't make the same mistakes in our new place. (We'll be sure to make new mistakes instead.)

Posted Tue Jul 11 06:45:38 2017 Tags:
PVC chicken feeder with chicken.

I think this type of chicken feeder would work fine in an enclosed coop that blocks the morning condensation that creeps into an open chicken tractor like this one.

Posted Tue Jul 11 14:50:47 2017 Tags:
Front of trailer

While Mark is laboriously picking through his tools and hardware, trying to decide what to leave and what to take, I'm poring over my plantings to see what can be transplanted or rerooted in a new location. Of course, the varieties that grow well here might not grow well there. But it's worth a shot to take my favorites along since we'll only be half a zone colder there than here (depending on what kind of microclimate we settle into).

Grape flowers

What's on my to-take list? In the next week, I plan to pot up a lot of my perennial herbs along with a few annual vegetables (like the brussels sprouts who are growing so gamely indoors). Among the woody perennials, I'm going to try to summer-root my favorite grape --- Reliance --- even though winter rooting is much easier. I'm much more confident of my ability to dig up and pot a young raspberry of each variety, and I'll probably do the same with my favorite strawberries --- Honeyoye and Sparkle.

Roasting asparagus

Fruit trees I may just have to begin again from scratch, unless the new owners let me come take cuttings during the dormant season. But, to be honest, what I think I'll miss the most is our mature plantings of asparagus. I guess that's what I'll have to prioritize putting in first in our new place!

Posted Wed Jul 12 07:23:15 2017 Tags:
Giving the goats to David and Mathew.

David and Mathew seem to be the perfect people to give our herd a good home.

Posted Wed Jul 12 15:49:22 2017 Tags:
Walking goats

Although I was sad to see Aurora and Edgar go, I think their new home on Goat Hill is bound to be an exciting chapter in both of their lives. For me, the trickiest part is going to be working a new pro-lethargy activity into my evening routine. Maybe a photography hour or a round of potting up plants can fill a similar niche?

Posted Thu Jul 13 06:30:38 2017 Tags:
Cutting tree with battery powered chainsaw.

A tree fell blocking our main walking trail.

The battery powered Oregon chainsaw was as easy to set up as slapping a charged battery in and filling it up with chain oil.

Posted Thu Jul 13 15:49:13 2017 Tags:
Potted brussels sprouts

For about a week after deciding to move, I basked in the knowledge that there was no point in weeding our garden. Then...I went into withdrawal and started pondering potted plants to take with us. But how much space do you need per plant when growing vegetables in pots?

Gallons per plant
1 gallon
5 gallons
Brussels sprouts
3 gallons
2 gallons
2 gallons
1 gallon
1-5 gallons
1 gallon
2-3 gallons
5 gallons
Swiss chard
2 gallons
10-20 gallons

I drew the information in the table above from various sources, some of which I'm dubious about. (Broccoli needs 5 gallons but the larger Brussels sprouts only need 3?) Still, it seems like a good starting point, and I potted up celery and a pepper out of the aquaponics setup along with five Brussels sprouts Wednesday afternoon.

Now for the big questions --- was I nuts to fill the pots entirely with well-composted horse manure? (I usually mix manure half and half with potting soil for containers, but I didn't want to buy any and had lots of manure on hand at the potting area.) Will I be able to keep the pots irrigated in the summer heat far from any water source? And if I continue to be this exuberant with my potting up, will there be room in the car for anything else when we drive north? Only time will tell....

Posted Fri Jul 14 07:17:22 2017 Tags:
mark More fire
Bonfire aftermath.
Most of this 2nd bonfire was salvaged wood from an old, old house.
Posted Fri Jul 14 15:44:52 2017 Tags:
Choosing a buyer's agent

A couple of you suggested tracking down a designated buyer's agent to narrow the list of potential farms and also to negotiate the final deal. Financially, a buyer's agent makes a lot of sense since sellers have already factored the buyer's agent's fee into the list price, so you're not paying anything extra for the service. Unfortunately, Mark and I spent a couple of weeks contacting potential realtors and had trouble getting anyone to give us the time of day.

Then I discovered Zillow's realtor search feature. By narrowing the field to a certain region, choosing "Buying a home" from the "Service needed" dropdown, then going to "Advanced" and Past salesselecting "Buyer's Agent" as the specialty, I was finally able to come up with over a hundred possible choices.

My next step was to narrow the playing field by clicking on each realtor's profile and eliminating everyone whose "Past sales" listings were out of my price range and/or in which the realtor acted as the seller's agent rather than as the buyer's agent. Finally, reviews helped me select a realtor who has a good reputation for answering emails and staying in touch.

And, sure enough, I found a buyer's agent who's willing to give us the time of day! Maybe now we can stop spending quite so much time househunting and can finish getting our current homestead sorted and ready to move.

Posted Sat Jul 15 07:01:41 2017 Tags:
Rake on the wall.

If we haven't used a hand tool in a year or more it might not be worth moving.

Posted Sat Jul 15 15:51:54 2017 Tags:
Straight ahead

Mark and I added up all of the places we've lived for long enough that they felt like home a few days ago. He came up with 22 and I came up with 11.


Which puts our current move into perspective. Sure, I've lived on this farm longer than anywhere else in my life (although it's only second on Mark's more extensive list).

Clinch River

But the river of life keeps flowing on by, and sometimes you have to jump in a kayak and let it carry you for a spell before you make a new camp.

Which is a long way of saying --- I'm both terrified and exhilerated by the idea of pulling up roots and finding a new place to call home. And if this one doesn't work out...well, then we'll just move on to my lucky 13 and to Mark's home number 24. The only true regrets in life are opportunities untested. Onward and upward!

Posted Sun Jul 16 06:34:36 2017 Tags:
Red apple in a hand.

I figure if an apple doesn't come off the vine easily maybe it needs more time.

Posted Sun Jul 16 16:00:11 2017 Tags:
Fenced garden

We built our current garden higgledy piggledy as the whim struck and as our energy allowed. But the plan for homestead 2.0 is to figure out how much garden area we need then to put in a critter-proof fence from the get-go.

Daddy's newly fenced garden is my current inspiration. He used 10-foot 4x4s (sunk two feet deep) every 16 feet, with 8-foot t-posts (with rebar exenders) in between (except for the corners, which had 4x4s at 8-foot intervals). Add in woven wire fencing plus some brace wires and you're done. Total cost --- $1,000 for 100x60 feet (about 0.14 acres). "No deer so far," he reports.

Posted Mon Jul 17 07:00:07 2017 Tags:

Chicken waterer saleThe response to our Avian Aqua Miser Original closeout sale has been overwhelming. Mark's been busy building waterers ever since, and he expects to be entirely caught up by Wednesday.

I didn't want him to get I slashed prices on the rest of our inventory. We're selling out of premade EZ Misers for the last time before our move --- $40 with free shipping. Meanwhile, we'll probably keep selling kits, but we're lowering prices there too in order to reduce inventory. Avian Aqua Miser Original kits will now water your chickens for as little as 18 cents per bird while you can get a 2-pack EZ Miser kit for $25 with free shipping.

Thanks in advance for giving Mark's POOP-free waterers a try and/or for telling a friend. We appreciate your support as we gear up for our move!

Posted Mon Jul 17 16:00:50 2017 Tags:
House for sale

We made another whirlwind trip to Ohio to look at a property...that, unfortunately turned out to be another dud. Luckily, our realtor suggested a different offering that came much closer to hitting the spot.

Country road

As we arrow in on what actually feels right, though, we're having to make some tough decisions. Do we want more land and more house further off the beaten path (what I chose the last time around and was very happy with for very many years)? Or do we want to go in the opposite direction and buy unimproved land to trailerstead on closer to the location that drew our attention in the first place?

Fallen tree

I've learned over the past year that I'm willing to drive about 15 minutes to something fun...while 45 minutes or longer means I only take the plunge rarely and after extensive vaccillation. Since one of my primary goals of this move is to give myself a wider range of artistic, social, and intellectual stimulation off the farm, part of me thinks we should focus on proximity at the expense of all else. (Mark would love proximity --- he's less of an isolationist than I am.)


Of course, the homesteading part of me twitches when I think of all the livestock doors I'd be closing by settling near neighbors who might not be thrilled to hear a cock crow (or to see a trailer move in next door). Meanwhile, the hermit part of me cringes away from being able to see the road...and of the greater likelihood the area we choose might grow up around us and squeeze my need of countryside out.

Decisions, decisions. No matter which direction we go in, I'm glad we made another trip. Images on the internet really hold no candle to feet on the ground.

Posted Tue Jul 18 06:35:01 2017 Tags:
Stump cutting.

We cut down a few trees today to take advantage of a dry walking path that the Kubota can use as a detour to bypass the wet area.

Posted Tue Jul 18 16:03:29 2017 Tags:
Peach Ridge Ohio

The property Mark and I are currently considering is on top of a ridge --- high and dry. Microclimates have such a huge impact on gardening, and there are major pros and cons to ridges over our current valley location.

Sugar maple

On the minus side, ridges are more exposed to storms and wind, something we've never had to worry about in the past. In an area where rainfall is already 20% down from what I'm used to and where we'd be depending on city water, we'd have to get more clever about irrigation and rainwater catchment. Meanwhile soil also tends to be less rich on ridgetops since erosion naturally carries topsoil downhill.

Oyster mushrooms

That said, never again having to deal with waterlogged soil has something to recommend itself after over a decade in what I lovingly call a swamp. Fungal diseases should be rarer and ridgetops can (at least sometimes) be less susceptible to late spring freezes since cold air naturally flows downhill during the course of a night. And we wouldn't have to put up with the lack of winter sun that further chills our current farm either, which may make a ridgetop in zone 6A no harder for tender plants to survive than a north-facing bottom in zone 6B.

I'd be curious from those of you currently gardening on ridges. What other pros and cons would you put out there about these more exposed locations?

Posted Wed Jul 19 06:57:18 2017 Tags:
Furniture dolly moving stove.

We don't use this furniture dolly much, but when we do it really saves energy.

Posted Wed Jul 19 15:27:53 2017 Tags:
Rubber ducky
"What will happen if I water my garden with bath water that has a little soap in it?" --- Heather

Watering a garden with soapy water probably won't be a problem, but it depends on the individual plants being hydrated (and whether you do it once or keep doing it, thus letting problematic compounds build up in the soil).

The main problem from a plant point of view would likely be salt/sodium and/or boron building up. But bleach can also kill soil critters, causing long-term damage to ecosystem health. Bar soap might increase the pH of your water, which would only be a problem if you're watering acid-lovers like blueberries or rhododendrons.

Rainy laundry

The more worrisome problem would be the potential for fecal coliform from bathwater to land on edibles that will be harvested soon (like leaf lettuce), making you sick after you dine. That's why bathwater is often considered more blackwater than greywater (unlike the effluent from your kitchen sink or non-diaper laundry, which tends to be safer). To stay on the safe side, it's better to apply these dicey types of liquid to ornamentals, or to edibles that won't be harvested for several months.

The upshot? Read the label of your cleaning products if you plan to toss them down the drain. Then understand the difference between greywater and blackwater and you'll be all set!

Posted Thu Jul 20 06:38:08 2017 Tags:
Kubota loading.

After some trial and error I've discovered the Super Winch can ride all the way to the side and still allow for a passenger if she gets in from the driver's side.

Posted Thu Jul 20 15:08:38 2017 Tags:
Athens Ohio airbnb

Last time I bought land, I was just out of college and dirt poor. I saved every penny, hoping to achieve $10,000 within the next decade and buy a 10-acre farm with cash. But when I was $2,000 in, a very kind friend jumped into the breach and offered me an interest-free loan on a larger amount. I bought the largest ugly-duckling property I could comfortably afford, paid the friend back several years later when that property allowed us to live off our microbusiness, and was endlessly grateful for the jumpstart.

This time around, Mark and I are being more conventional. We've calculated the likely selling price for this place based on recent sales in the region, and we're looking for properties in that same range. Rather than selling before buying, though, and being entirely debt-free, we decided to get pre-approved for a mortgage so we could spend a little more money up front but do things in the easy order --- move before we put this place up for sale.

Tear-down real estate

In the process, I've learned a lot about land buying that I thought the conventional among you (probably everyone except younger me!) might benefit from. First of all, by using a site like Lending Tree to compare rates, you're asking to join masses of email and phone lists --- beware! None of those potential lenders will answer a simple question --- they all want every ounce of your personal and financial data so they can take you all the way to preapproval. Meanwhile, if you're self-employed, the data those intaker officers need dives all the way down to your tax returns from the previous three years. Wow, that's a lot of information to share with looky-loos.

And yet, after extensive research, I learned that rates aren't even set at the preapproval stage and that most lenders will give you approximately the same rate as all the others, with that amount depending on your financial portfolio and credit history. So you might as well instead select a lender based on reviews and other factors, such as those I discuss below.


The next hurdle to bridge is the difference between buying a house and buying an acreage. 10 acres seems to be the dividing line between the two, but it also matters whether the dwelling passes muster (many owner-built homes and old farm houses won't) and whether your home-to-be is on wheels (a higher interest rate) or on a permanent foundation. Keep in mind, also, that if you buy a home instead of land, you'll need to pay home owner's insurance as a mandatory part of your mortgage agreement.

The trick if you want to buy a farm rather than a house with a few acres appears to be going with a local bank rather than with a big company. By contacting a bank in the community we plan to move to, we were given the option of choosing a non-federally-approved loan that will cover unimproved land or a federally-approved loan that won't. The former has a lower interest rate...but one that will change over time (a problem for us only if we don't manage to sell this property within the first fixed term of three to five years). Improvement level also makes a difference on properties that lack domiciles, so pay attention to the presence or absence of developed water, electric, and septic on potential properties. Finally, the percent you're expected to pay yourself will vary depending on which type of property and type of loan you choose to pursue.

Old camper

Phew! Learning what I just put into this post took about a week and a half of phone calls, web searching, and emails to ferret out. On the plus side...youthful me's anti-debt ways means our credit is excellent so we just got preapproved. Now we're ready to really get serious about this move.

Posted Fri Jul 21 07:01:50 2017 Tags:
Kubota X900 dump bed walls.
Adding some plywood walls helped to double our Kubota load limit.
Posted Fri Jul 21 16:05:20 2017 Tags:
Cardinal eating seeds

So how did the thicker, whitish plastic do for solarization? The layer did a good job killing off mature oats and some weeds, but the ornerier ground ivy didn't get hot enough to die. Looks like the thin, clear plastic that deteriorates in a single season is still the best option for solarization...unless you want to pay top dollar for UV-resistant greenhouse film.

Posted Sat Jul 22 07:38:25 2017 Tags:
Privacy plantings

It took me a couple of weeks to accept the reality --- that nowhere we could afford in the Athens, Ohio, area will be as private as our current farm. Currently, we hear a neighbor driving his tractor through hay fields a couple of times a month in the summer and can see another neighbor's light in winter if we stand in a certain part of the yard and turn our heads just right. Otherwise, when we're home, we're entirely alone...and I revel in the solitude.

Privacy hedge

However, the second Airbnb we stayed at taught me that you don't have to be far from the road to feel quite private. The house on that property was set back 134 feet from a quite busy road (yes, I did pace the distance). And, thanks to a grove of bamboo, encircling trees, and a well-placed evergreen on the inside, the house felt as private as I could have wished.

I'm thinking the trick with privacy plantings is to include fast-growers, evergreens, and shrubs of various densities. Actually, it sounds quite a lot like planting a hedge.

Posted Sun Jul 23 06:19:13 2017 Tags:
Plastic dinosaur.
The mighty Brontosaurus sun bathing at the local dump.
Posted Sun Jul 23 15:00:31 2017 Tags:
Tommy toe tomatoes

With the move on the horizon, I've taken a very laissez-faire approach to the garden. Despite the turn toward the dry, I haven't watered, and I haven't worried over insect or critter damage either. And even though there wouldn't be enough to preserve, there's still been plenty to eat.

Actually, since we're trying to eat our freezers bare so we won't waste food, there's been a bit too much in the gardens. Luckily, I can let some go to seed --- after all, I'll want those propagules for next year's garden.

Posted Mon Jul 24 07:27:12 2017 Tags:
Hole saw kit front and back of packaging.

Will the hole saw kit in our EZ miser DIY kit fit into a regular consumer drill?

Thanks for the question Alison. The answer is yes.

The mandrel is 1/4 inch and the sizes included are 7/8, 1-1/4, 1-3/4, and 2-1/8.

Posted Mon Jul 24 15:45:47 2017 Tags:
Saving tomato seeds

Step 1: Squeeze the guts out of a few tomatoes, add water, then set aside to ferment.

Tomato and cucumber salad

Step 2: Cut up the rest of the flesh along with a couple of cucumbers, then add basil, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil to make a summer salad.

Two tasks completed for the price of one!

Posted Tue Jul 25 06:54:58 2017 Tags:
Loading mushroom logs into Kubota.
Joey has agreed to give our extra mushroom logs a good home.
Posted Tue Jul 25 15:39:33 2017 Tags:
Chickens in the compost pile

With our garden moved over to the slow lane, we've been letting our chickens run wild. Of course, the flock immediately gravitated to the closest compost pile and hasn't left the area since.

A few hens have been willing to enjoy store-bought chicken feed in the mornings, but most seem to think that worms and grubs and human food scraps are vastly preferable. Now if I could just figure out where the free-rangers are laying their eggs, we'd be enjoying no-cost food of our own....

Posted Wed Jul 26 07:14:10 2017 Tags:
Kubota driveway work.

Our driveway is finally driveable thanks to some dry weather.

What also helps is some trees being cut down and a few loads of gravel.

Posted Wed Jul 26 15:35:22 2017 Tags:
Brussels sprouts

How are my transplants doing after being potted up into pure, well-rotted horse manure? They're thriving! There's nothing like plenty of nitrogen and humus to make plants grow, grow, grow.

To my surprise, celery and a pepper bounced back after being moved from the aquaponics setup out into a pot in the wild outdoors. Strawberries are already perking back up from their initial transplant shock. And most of my herbs are also putting out new leaves.

The one exception? A huge clump of thyme that I tried to transplant promptly kicked the bucket. Why is there never enough thyme?

Posted Thu Jul 27 06:50:41 2017 Tags:
Kubota plywood wall.
The Kubota plywood wall extensions needed a top tie down point.
Posted Thu Jul 27 15:16:36 2017 Tags:
Ripening grapes

Our seedless grapes are just starting to ripen, but Mark hasn't enjoyed one yet. They're right outside the front window, and when I need to stretch my legs between writing bursts, I can't help getting up and snagging one for a snack. Do you think he'll believe it's the fault of birds if I tell him in a few weeks that they're all gone?

Posted Fri Jul 28 07:35:55 2017 Tags:
Ladder lock down collage.

Anna and I have a strict safety rule that says climbing on a ladder needs to have a helper close by and sometimes the ladder needs to be held.

This new Ladder Lockdown plate seems like a good idea that could save your life.

Posted Fri Jul 28 15:51:27 2017 Tags:
Tomato seed-saving

When I place them out in the heat of the porch, it doesn't take long for tomato seeds to begin to mold...and that's a good thing! I'll wait until the film of fungus is a bit more intense than is shown in the photo on the right, then I'll swish the seeds apart from their gelatinous casing. A few days drying on a plate and the seeds will be ready to be packed away for next year's garden.

Posted Sat Jul 29 07:14:35 2017 Tags:
Garden flower in late July.
Late July bloom in the front garden.
Posted Sat Jul 29 14:58:37 2017 Tags:
Family photo

We got to spend a bit of time with Rose Nell and Jayne while they were in the area this weekend. It's always such a treat to hang out with such strong, kind ladies!

Posted Sun Jul 30 07:06:22 2017 Tags:
Deer in the garden.

How did those apples taste this year?

We'd have to ask the deer that keeps snacking when they get ripe enough.

Posted Sun Jul 30 14:26:58 2017 Tags:
Grape shade trellis

Technically, permaculture zone 0 refers to your house (or, in our case, our trailer). But I also like to include anything that touches the house in that zone.

Eleven years ago, when we first started homesteading, I was so excited to try out orchards and livestock and other features of zone two and beyond that I put off paying much attention to zone 0. However, as we've slowly filled in our zone 0 over the last few years, I realized that this zone is really the most important region because we spend most of our time here and get the largest influx of energy from the features of this zone.

Herb garden

To that end, after our move, I'm designating the rest of this summer, fall, and winter time for zone 0. We'll be replicating some of our favorite aspects of this trailer's zone 0 --- porches for summer living, small rain barrels for easy outside water, grapes for summer shade, herb beds and (maybe) a cold frame around the perimeter, plus a mushroom-log station on the north side.

Greywater wetland

And, as I make this list, I can see there's more to zone 0 than will fit into a few short months. As we have time, we'll likely also add a graywater system for the kitchen and laundry areas to take the load off the expensive septic system we're having built. And we may also retrofit windows to make a south-facing, passive-solar wall...or instead do a little sunroom add-on to give me a winter-gardening fix while also adding heat to the home. Finally, we're bringing along our wood stoves and will need to retrofit whatever trailer we buy to accommodate them.

That sounds like a lot, but we'll likely hire out the bigger projects (porches) and take the smaller ones a bit at a time. Regardless, I'm going to try hard to rein in my larger dreams this time around so we don't do much else before zone 0 is done. Well, except the vegetable garden. Gotta have my garden even if that is solidly in zone 1....

Posted Mon Jul 31 07:17:00 2017 Tags:
Plastic shed take down.

One of the nice things about a plastic shed is how easy it comes apart.

Posted Mon Jul 31 15:42:10 2017 Tags:

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

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