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

archives for 03/2018

Hanging LED shop light for plant growth.

Making a new seed starting station to get ready for the Spring garden.

Mug hooks make it easy to raise and lower the chain holding the light.

Posted Thu Mar 1 07:00:12 2018 Tags:
Daffodil flowers

It turns out that planting the daffodils Mom so kindly sent me was like bringing coals to Newcastle. They did bloom a little earlier due to the two weeks they spent inside, but lots of pre-existing bulbs poked up their heads along the road soon thereafter.

Big daffodil bud

Time to guess the previous owner's taste in spring flowers! I'm guessing these are the more ruffly, complex daffodils from the size of the head. But only time will tell.....

Posted Fri Mar 2 07:00:09 2018 Tags:
Trailer skirting vent door installation.

I decided to make the next trailer skirting door with a vertical vent door.

Posted Sat Mar 3 07:00:12 2018 Tags:
Anna Mound City
Hopewell wall

I like to go places that make me feel small.

Mound City

Mark and I had actually been to Mound City (Hopewell Culture National Historical Park) before, but somehow I didn't manage to make a post about it. Probably because we were just passing through, on a road trip deadline. This time, we made a day of it and spent two edifying hours on the site.

Effigy pipes

A new and improved interpretative movie helped me understand the site much better than I had the last time around. Apparently, during the Hopewell period (200 BC to 500 AD), there were no cities in the region. People lived as family units, with three dwellings the most that have ever been found in one place.

There was no big political structure either, and everyone hunted or gardened for their own food. And yet, despite all this, the Hopewell people were able to create artworks rivalling those produced by societies with a designated artisan class.

Hopewell artifacts

They also brought in goods from very far afield, perhaps via ceremonial journeys rather than through trade. The mica from North Carolina particularly inspired me because I could see how the reflective surface might tie into the various Hopewell sites' Stonehenge-like obsession with astronomy and the sky.

NPS umbrella

"These walled complexes were likely the gathering places of people who wanted to form community even though they were not living together in villages," one brochure read. Sounds a lot like a homesteading blog, doesn't it? Perhaps that's why these massive earthworks fire my imagination and send me plotting out more visits to other sites in the near future.

Posted Sun Mar 4 08:07:34 2018 Tags:
mark DanaDolly
Dana Dolly on a sunny Friday morning.

Helping some local graduate film students this week gave me a chance to see a DanaDolly up close and learn how easy it is to set up and use.

16 wheels makes for a very smooth dolly motion.

The camera is a Canon C100 cinema camera.

Posted Mon Mar 5 07:00:06 2018 Tags:
Brussels sprouts bolting

When's the best time to pick overwintering brussels sprouts? About two weeks ago, based on the fact that the older sprouts are opening up on me. I hurried to pick everything --- a pretty good haul, although not as sweet as they would have been in cooler weather.

Posted Tue Mar 6 07:00:12 2018 Tags:
Compost being loaded into truck.

How far did we have to drive to find compost that can be loaded into our truck?

A short 15 minute drive.

The price was 45 dollars per cubic yard.

Posted Wed Mar 7 07:00:10 2018 Tags:
Fairy ring

I'd never seen a fairy ring until last summer, when one popped up in a neighbor's yard back in Virginia. I'm still kicking myself for failing to take a photo! But I did get a shot of the winter symptom of the same fungi, shown above during our recent visit to Mound City.

In a great example of the symbiosis of plants and mushrooms, fairy-ring fungi break down organic matter in the soil, releasing nutrients and creating rings of bright green grass that look like someone had poured fertilizer there. Unfortunately, they can sometimes also create rings of dead brown grass if the fungi block water movement or create hydrogen cyanide.

As with much of nature, it's a crapshot whether the 50 species of fungi that form fairy rings will help or hinder your lawn. But they definitely increased our enjoyment of the Mound City site!

Posted Thu Mar 8 07:00:11 2018 Tags:
Spile removal with hammer.

We took out our spile today due to the warm weather.

I think when we tap next year we'll do it sooner.

Posted Fri Mar 9 07:00:11 2018 Tags:
Throwing compost

Starting a new garden is always an exciting undertaking. This time around, I'm learning from past mistakes. So the rows are all straight and perpendicular to the (not-yet-erected) fenceline. Perennial bed widths are planned based on their eventual occupants --- narrower for asparagus and wider for brambles. And aisles are a universal 29 inches wide.

I'm going with the ultra-simple kill mulch in most areas --- compost over cardboard --- although I know I'll have to deal with some perennial weed intrusions over the course of the first year. Blueberry-bed preparation is more complicated, though. Stay tuned for details in a later post!

Posted Sat Mar 10 07:00:11 2018 Tags:
Mushroom drying in an Excalibur dryer.

Anna teaching a group of three neighbor kids how we dry shitake mushrooms.

Posted Sun Mar 11 07:00:11 2018 Tags:
Gathering punky wood

I really meant to prep our blueberry bed the instant we landed on our new property. After all, soil acification takes several months, especially in cold winter soil. But getting our water turned on, installing a source of heat, then keeping the pipes from freezing seemed slightly more here it is a week before the bushes arrive and I have no soil ready to put them in.

Which is a long way of saying, before I dive into the rest of this post, please do as I say not as I do. Prepare your blueberry beds months in advance!

Above ground hugelkultur

Okay, caveat aside, back to the point at hand....

Blueberries like three things --- lots of organic matter, lots of water, and lots of acidity. The first two points can be assisted by starting your bed off with a healthy helping of punky wood (placed atop a kill layer of cardboard in this image so we don't need to till). In a perfect world, this wood is already starting to crumble apart, although any logs and limbs dead enough to fall to the forest floor will do in a pinch.

Acidifying compost

Since rotting wood will rob some nitrogen out of the soil for the first couple of years, I'm going very heavy on the nutrients in our blueberry bed. In fact, we're filling in all the gaps between the wood with straight compost...well, straight compost laced with sulfur.

"Sulfur?" you say. "That doesn't sound very natural." Unfortunately, I learned the hard way with our last blueberry patch that natural methods of acidifying the soil aren't quite enough for these acid-loving plants. So I bought five pounds of ferrous sulfate (faster acting than elemental sulfur) and did some back-of-the-envelope math to figure out how much to apply.

Mixing sulfur into compost

Without a pH test and with blueberries hitting the ground in short order, I'm playing it safe and assuming I'll need to top up the sulfur every year for a couple of seasons. To that end, I used one heaping cup per wheelbarrow load of compost (which is much easier to mix if you sprinkle half a cup on top of half a wheelbarrow of compost then repeat with the second half on top of the full load). This assumes the compost has a pH around 6.5, the underlying soil is clay loam, and that you're using ferrous sulfate --- for elemental sulfur, lower the application rate down to two tablespoons per wheelbarrowful of compost.

I guess we'll know by the end of the summer whether the blueberries approve of their new home. We only bought three test plants to get us started, but if they do well I suspect we'll expand.

Posted Mon Mar 12 10:11:33 2018 Tags:
Rain gauge installation at new place.

We finally got around to installing our Heavy-duty rain gauge on the back porch.

Posted Tue Mar 13 06:00:12 2018 Tags:
Pruning a peach tree

I'm forcing myself not to plant any trees until this coming winter, once I better understand the lay of our new land. But I started going into fruit-tree withdrawal in early March --- good thing Jayne had a pair of peaches she was willing to let me prune!

Posted Wed Mar 14 06:00:13 2018 Tags:
Brush clearing for new garden.
Clearing some stunted trees to make room for the new garden.
Posted Thu Mar 15 06:00:47 2018 Tags:
Basil roots

Potted basilEvery time I go over to Mark's mom's house, I'm impressed by the thriving basil in her kitchen window. In my experience, basil isn't thrilled by winter conditions even indoors. So I asked for tips on keeping this tender herb alive in March.

"The trick," Rose Nell told me, "is lots of water." She places the basil's pot inside a cup, which she keeps at least halfway full of water. Roots expand out from the pot into the water, in essence turning the growing space into a bit of a hydroponics setup.

And it works! The proof is in the pudding...or rather, in the roasted potatoes and salads seasoned with fresh herbs in January, and February, and March. Maybe next winter I'll give it a try, but for now I'm content inviting myself over to enjoy someone else's hard work.

Posted Fri Mar 16 06:00:13 2018 Tags:
Truck tarp tie down in the snow.

Our first truck load of compost had a problem with some of the particles blowing away on the ride home.

A tarp tied down with bungee cords helped us get the second truck load home without leaving a trail of compost particles.

Posted Sat Mar 17 06:00:12 2018 Tags:
Lettuce seedlings

Our spring frost-free date is supposed to be five days later here than it was in Virginia, so I tweaked my garden spreadsheet to match. Of course, spring planting times are more of an art than a science. It's all about current soil temperature and upcoming rainfall and two-week forecasts...and my mood that day.

To cut a long story short, I direct-seeded my first lettuce seeds two weeks earlier than I did last year in Virginia. They're growing slowly but surely, despite the fact I didn't even slap a quick hoop over them until lows dropped back into the mid twenties sometime last week.

Flat of broccoli seedlings

Meanwhile, my inside seedlings are doing pretty well, considering the fact I let them sit on the floor without lights for way too long. Stems are a bit leggy as a result, and the cat trampling didn't help either. Now that Mark's given them their own shelf and lights, though, I think we're back on track. No, Huckleberry, my grow zone is not your play pen.

Young kale plants

I went ahead and transplanted some baby kale outside to join the few overwintering specimens I have under quick hoop number two.
The older plants are starting to put out enough leaves to provide a small meal occassionally --- so good to have real, flavorful food on our plates again!

Posted Sun Mar 18 06:00:09 2018 Tags:
Anna inspecting a new supply of cardboard.

Anna inspecting the cardboard we picked up on Sunday.

Thank you Kiara for the gift of cardboard (and Mom and Jayne for the recently used stash).

The former might last a week at this point in garden planning. The latter is already long gone.

Posted Mon Mar 19 06:00:09 2018 Tags:
Cattle eating hay

Even just a couple of miles down the road in a less exposed location, mud season is still very real. But up here on our ridge, the soil is bone dry. Clearly, we're going to have to get our irrigation setup working sooner rather than later.

Water meter

To Mark's joy (no jury-rigging solutions out of baling twine and shoestrings!) and my disgust (chlorine, fluoride, energy-intensive, money-squeezing, limited supply!), we're on city water in our new location. I can't recall exactly how much we're allowed to use each month for the base rate --- I think 500 or 600 gallons? So far, we're using about half that, but gardens are thirsty beasts.

Daffodil quick hoops

So we're starting to brainstorm the best solution. The first step will be gutters...but where should we channel the precious off-flow? I go back and forth between spending some cash to build as big a pond as we can fit at the edge of our yard, creating an in-ground cistern out of concrete, or just going the plastic storage tank route. I'm all ears if anyone has first-hand results of any of those options!

Posted Tue Mar 20 06:00:10 2018 Tags:
One Tie being used to secure a cock's feet.

Our neighbor needed to thin out her flock and we agreed to help.

My first time using a One Tie to secure a rooster's feet together might be a new trend for me.

It's easier than a piece of rope and seems to have zero chance of it coming loose.

Posted Wed Mar 21 06:00:11 2018 Tags:
Upside-down rooster

After five and a half months living like normal Americans, Mark and I are itching for real food. Yes, the stuff at the farmer's market is better than the stuff at the grocery store. No, neither holds a candle to the produce and meat we're used to harvesting from our own farm.

Cat in the sun

A hankering for real chicken broth is what tempted us to take two of the dozen roosters our neighbor is trying to get rid of. We cut up and ground the meat then cooked the rest of the carcass down into which point our cats went nuts. These spoiled darlings won't get off the couch for factory-farmed poultry, but they just about drove me crazy sneaking onto the counter trying to get into that stew pot to gnaw at free-range chicken bones.

Of course, processing old roosters isn't easy. We'll see how nourished we feel by the meat and broth, then will decide whether to accept the other ten birds.

Posted Thu Mar 22 06:00:12 2018 Tags:
Using a tree to suspend rooster for retirement.

It's possible to retire a rooster without a bucket or cone....but not recommended.

Posted Fri Mar 23 06:00:11 2018 Tags:
Dumpster diving cardboard

The radio is full of news about how China no longer wants our paper and plastic, resulting in low commodity prices and buildups at recycling centers. Despite all that, a bit of sleuthing suggested our best option for bringing home bulk cardboard is still dumpster diving.

Truckload of cardboard

In Dungeons and Dragons terms, I consider myself Lawful Good. So I was a little leery of rooting through the dumpsters for two reasons.

First, I had a feeling dumpster diving was illegal. The internet, on the other hand, suggests that as long as you're in a public area (thus aren't trespassing) and don't create a disturbance, you're likely okay on the legal front.

But is taking cardboard that folks were hoping to recycle ethically sound? This is a trickier topic since recycling cardboard lowers energy usage and saves trees at the upstream end of new product creation. On the other hand, we'll be using our cardboard to grow food, sequestering carbon in the soil and reducing energy use during production and shipping.

In the end, I figured dumpster diving cardboard was at least ethically neutral. Which is a good thing since my hungry garden needs cardboard now!

Posted Sat Mar 24 06:00:09 2018 Tags:
Serpent Mound view from the tower.

We celebrated the Spring Equinox with a day trip to Serpent Mound.

It's been 9 years since our last visit to this unique transmission from the past.

Posted Sun Mar 25 06:00:12 2018 Tags:
Potting soil comparison

About a month ago, I set up a side-by-side comparison of two kinds of high-quality potting soil. The photo above shows the results.

Top row is Fox Farm and bottom row is Happy Frog...and I'd have to say both composts worked pretty much the same. (The big difference between the plants on the right and the plants on the left is due to the former being further from the window before we got our lights up and running.)

I also started seedlings directly in both types of compost and saw no damping off or other germination problems in either. So I guess we'll be nabbing another bag of whichever is cheapest the next time we visit White's Mill. In the meantime, I'm hoping we get a warm spell soon so these big lettuce plants can go out in the ground.

Posted Mon Mar 26 06:00:12 2018 Tags:
Double decker seed starting shelf lights.
We decided there was enough room for two seed starting light shelves.
Posted Tue Mar 27 06:00:09 2018 Tags:
Grape roots

I know I said we weren't going to buy any trees until next year...but I figured I could slip in a few bushes and grapes this first spring. The latter came on Saturday, with hefty roots that continue to put Starks near the top of my favorite-nurseries list.

These grapes are meant to replicate our past success as closely as possible. So we stuck to the same variety --- Reliance --- and the same location --- outside the west-facing window. As hefty as these plants are, Mark may have to build them a similar trellis this year too.

Posted Wed Mar 28 06:00:10 2018 Tags:
Deer visiting the garden

"What's that over there, Judy?"

"Future lunches. Pretend you don't notice and maybe they'll forget to build the fence."
Posted Thu Mar 29 06:00:12 2018 Tags:

Claytonia is one of the ultra-cold-resistant crops recommended by Eliot Coleman, but I've never planted it in my own garden. It's hard to commit space to a plant I've never tasted before. So I was delighted to find a clump for sale at the farmer's market. $2.50 to test how the plant works on our palates seemed like a pretty good deal.

The conclusion? Eh. Claytonia is probably the blandest green I've tasted. Yes, in late January when everything else is dead, I might appreciate it. But I'd rather focus on the sweetness of overwintering kale.

Posted Fri Mar 30 06:01:59 2018 Tags:
Unloading straw bales.

We got 12 bales of straw for 48 dollars. The drive was about 40 minutes each way.

Posted Sat Mar 31 06:00:21 2018 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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