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

archives for 05/2018

Homemade flower pot

According to vendors at the farmer's market, spring is running about three weeks late this year. No wonder the first set of broccoli I set out is pouting. We are eating as much lettuce and kale as we want, but it feels more like March than the first of May. My solution? Start lots of plants indoors!

Of course, seedlings can only hold in flats for so long. So I moved a bunch of them up to plastic cups with holes drilled in the bottom. Nine-ounce cups are good for medium growers for two to three weeks while sixteen-ounce cups will hold fast growers for perhaps a month. I'm hopeful that before my babies run out of room, the soil and air will have caught up to the usual temperatures of spring.

Posted Tue May 1 06:00:35 2018 Tags:
Pot hole repair crew at work.

The Winter snow plows did some major damage to the street in front of our trailer.

Thank you to the hard working crew that showed up this week to do repair work.

Seems like there should be a more modern way of fixing pot holes?

Posted Wed May 2 06:00:25 2018 Tags:
Community garden

Athens contains multiple community gardens. And even though I like building the soil in my own space, I couldn't resist attending a community-gardener panel discussion to see if the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.

Double digging

"Why did you join the community gardener?" the moderator asked. The obvious answers were space, sun, and soil --- some folks simply don't have appropriate garden areas around their home. If they want to garden, it's going to have to be somewhere else.

But the community aspect of the shared garden space was also key to many of the gardeners' decision to grow there. They enjoyed meeting other gardeners and observing those folks' choices and crops. Even peer pressure was cited as a positive --- a way to force yourself to get out there and weed!

Garden wagons

How about the negatives? These were pretty much par for the course for any experienced gardener. Harlequin bugs were apparently a huge problem in the surrounding plots when one gardener got serious about the insects' favorite food --- horseradish. Voles eat sweet potatoes and deer jump fences to nibble everything. And, of course, there are always all those weeds. Sounds a lot like my own gardening experiences.

Of course, there were also a few site-specific challenges. Athens' community gardens are close to the river and flooding can be a drag. Meanwhile, the plot in Nelsonville is currently being moved to higher ground, not just because of flooding but also because Johnsongrass took over so badly that it wasn't worth growing there any longer.

Leaf compost

Like gardeners anywhere, though, the panelists were eternally optimistic. And they even made me jealous of one thing --- the huge piles of leaf mulch the city delivers to each site in the fall. That was nearly enough to sign me up!

Posted Thu May 3 06:00:20 2018 Tags:
Dumping of wood chips.

The nice guys from the local tree trimming service gave us a big pile of wood chips.

Posted Fri May 4 06:00:30 2018 Tags:
Strawberry flower

Both in the garden and in the forest, this seems to be the week when life explodes. The strawbery plants we brought from Virginia are in full bloom...

Lettuce bed

...our lettuce bed is so bountiful I'm going to have to start giving some away...

New perennials

...and our new perennials are beginning to show signs of life.

Broccoli comparison

Of course, with any new garden, there's always a learning curve. This picture illustrates two changes I haven't quite worked into my garden routine yet --- cold soil and high winds.

Up here on our ridgetop, mulch blows around like crazy, which is why I ended up planting two broccoli next door to each other. One was hidden under the straw!

And did you notice how the plant on the right is half the size of the plant on the left? I definitely set out my first round of broccoli too early --- the plants are still there, growing slowly, but they were stunted by such a slow start on life. Live and learn!

Posted Sat May 5 06:00:23 2018 Tags:
Archery at Burr Oak park.

Anna brought me to the second round of free archery at Burr Oak State Park.

It was a little windy but still lots of fun.

Posted Sun May 6 06:00:23 2018 Tags:
Cucumber seedling

Did I learn from planting my broccoli sets too early? Of course not.

Day one of summer crops

It's a gardener's prerogative to push the envelope. So I went ahead and set out four tomatoes, a row of cucumber seedlings, and a bunch of zinnia sets nearly two weeks before the frost-free date.

Flat of seedlings

In my defense, the forecast says it's going to stay warm. Maybe that's why I also direct-seeded a bed of summer squash and one of beans? I'll either have early crops or will be replanting everything within the next few weeks!

Posted Mon May 7 06:00:21 2018 Tags:
Garden fence planning post intervals.

We started plotting out our new garden fence perimeter this week.

There was a short debate about making the fence underground to keep out critters that dig but we decided deer was our biggest threat.

Posted Tue May 8 06:00:23 2018 Tags:
Using wood chips in garden paths

Mom: "What are you going to do with your big pile of wood chips?"

Anna: "Put them in the garden."

Mom: "Won't they burn the plants?"

Anna: "Not if I keep them in the aisles!"

At our first homestead, we chose to mow grassy pathways between permanent beds because it was just too tough to haul in supplies. But here, cardboard and wood chips appear to be copious and free for the asking. So I'm layering the former then the latter between my beds to kill weeds and slowly build soil. I'll be sure to keep you posted if the raw wood chips cause problems placed so far from my plants.

Posted Wed May 9 06:00:23 2018 Tags:
Corona Loppers in the field.

Anna loves her new Corona Loppers.

Our old pair would allow for knuckle busting if you were not careful.

The cutting blade is clearly made from high grade metal.

A quality tool like this has the potential to last multiple generations.

Posted Thu May 10 06:00:23 2018 Tags:
Buying lumber

Is that PVC you're sticking in the ground? Or metal tube? I'll be really interested to know all the materials you've chosen [for building your garden fence]." --- Terry

The photo in Mark's post caught us laying out the eventual fence-post locations. We had some PVC lying around, so we slipped lengths over rebar stakes to make it easy to arrange the stakes in straight lines.

Fence corner brace

But neither stakes nor PVC will be part of the final fence. Instead, we'll be attempting to replicate my father's critter-proof garden fence (a section of which is shown above). To that end, we picked up twenty ten-foot 4x4s (the main posts) and ten eight-foot 4x4s  (to brace corners and around the gate). Further supplies will include woven wire, t-posts (for supplemental support between wooden posts), and wire-tightening supplies. The birdhouse in Daddy's picture is, I'm assuming, optional.

Posted Fri May 11 06:00:25 2018 Tags:
Fence Post Mix Sika field testing.

We are weighing the advantages of expanding foam compared to concrete.

Do you have any experience replacing concrete with Sika Fence Post Mix?

The price seems a little over twice what concrete would cost.

The bag says a 33 ounce bag can equal two 50 pound bags of concrete mix.

Posted Sat May 12 06:00:27 2018 Tags:
Mother Earth News guest post

Last summer when Mark and I decided to move away from our first homestead, many of you had questions that could be summed up in a single word --- "Why?!"

I couldn't really answer that question then. But time has given me understanding of what pushed us to pick up stakes and create a new home further north.

If you're curious, you can read that story in my recent Mother Earth News guest post. Better that the explanation come late rather than never, right?

Posted Sun May 13 10:54:07 2018 Tags:
Truper wheel barrow field testing.

Anna got a chance to test drive a new double wheeled wheel barrow recently.

It holds more than our Kobalt and the extra wheel gives you a lot more stability but is harder to maneuver. In short Anna prefers a single wheeled wheel barrow unless we were in a situation where we needed to push large loads long distances.

Posted Mon May 14 06:38:00 2018 Tags:
OU learning garden

If you're ever in need of a visual feast, I highly recommend dropping by Ohio University's Learning Garden on West State Street. The soil is rich and well watered, the beds perfectly weeded, and even cover crops can be sighted amid the strawberries and leafy greens.

OU greenhouse

You can also buy produce here dirt cheap --- Mark brought home a huge bag of various mustards for a buck...which included a fifty-cent tip. I hear strawberries will be ripe in the very near future.

Mesclun mix

I have to admit I was too engrossed in the beautiful colors and patterns to make useful observations for the most part. I did note, however, how much happier their broccoli are than mine. I was hoping that the current scraggly showing was due to the weirdness of the spring this year, but it sounds like it's due to the other variable changed between last spring and this one --- handwatering instead of mechanized irrigation. After the fence will come steady water!

Posted Tue May 15 06:00:26 2018 Tags:
Two man post hole auger.

We rented this two person post hole auger to dig our garden fence post holes.

After doing a few holes we decided to choose the half day rental which was enough time to get half way done. It was very hard work and we discovered doing that many holes in one morning was pretty close to our physical limit.

Posted Wed May 16 06:01:07 2018 Tags:
Stock tank herb planter

During a recent trip to Mark's mom's house (which we still call "going to Ohio"...even though we now live in Ohio), I stumbled across a couple of innovative solutions for garden infrastructure that I thought you might enjoy. First, the no-brainer --- an old stock tank with holes in the bottom filled with compost to create an herb planter. Pretty and functional!

Pallet mulching

Next, I snuck over into her neighbor's yard to snap a shot of this interesting pallet mulch/pathway solution. I'll be curious to see how this does in a month or two --- I have a gut feeling it's going to be one of those solutions that looks better on paper than it works in reality. How do I know? I've tried dozens of those solutions myself!

Posted Thu May 17 06:00:31 2018 Tags:
Six inch bit on a two person post hole auger.

Our second day of operating the two person post hole digger went a lot better.

The first day we were using an 8 inch bit that the guy at the rental store told us was a 6 inch bit. There is a HUGE difference. We will never even look at an 8 inch bit again.

The big lesson here is to take a tape measure to the rental store and make sure you get the 6 inch bit. We got the second half of our post holes done in a fraction of the time with much less effort. I guess you might need the 8 inch bit if you were using 6x6 inch posts.

Posted Fri May 18 06:00:29 2018 Tags:
Wood chip pile

Anna: I've been putting wood chips in the garden aisles and I'm running through the pile fast. By this time next week, we're going to have to hunt down more biomass!

Mark: That wood-chip pile isn't half's half full.

Posted Sat May 19 06:00:23 2018 Tags:
Walden Game screen shot.

Walden, the new game I blogged about last year is now on the Sony Playstation 4.

It seems like a unique way to experience the classic book.

We'd love to hear from any readers that get a chance to play the Walden game.

Posted Sun May 20 06:00:27 2018 Tags:
Pinching blueberry flowers
Pinching raspberry flowersAs painful as it is, year one in a new garden is all about long-term thinking. So when both the raspberries and the blueberries that we set out this spring developed flower buds...I pinched them off.

The idea is that a new perennial is better off spending its limited energy on roots and leaves rather than on fruits. So no berries from that patch until next year.

The everbearing raspberries we planted last fall, in contrast, have enjoyed a bit more time to get their feet under them. So when they bloom --- probably for the fall crop --- we'll gladly let those flowers grow. Meanwhile last fall's strawberries are already ripening. In the new few days, I expect to pick our first Ohio-grown fruit!
Posted Mon May 21 06:36:00 2018 Tags:
Bracing a post to be secured with Sika foam.

The Sika foam seems adequate after doing a few test holes.

I'm still electing to use concrete on the gate posts due to the extra tension.

Posted Tue May 22 06:00:24 2018 Tags:
Squash seedlings

I was gone Friday through Sunday at a writing retreat, and the garden exploded both inside and out while I was away.

Ripe strawberry


Heading broccoli


Tomato flowers


Potted eggplant and brussels sprouts

Which means it's time to leave the keyboard, weed, and transplant!

Posted Wed May 23 06:00:23 2018 Tags:
Entrance to trailer.

Planting greens so close to our trailer has seemed to work at making them an unsafe choice for local deer passing through our yard.

In the future we want to add a large container in this area to catch water coming off the trailer roof.

Posted Thu May 24 06:00:24 2018 Tags:
Infusing comfrey oil

I like having comfrey salve on hand for scratches, but I haven't made any since 2012. Why? I made way too much my first time out of the gate! This time, I've resolved to start with no more than a quarter cup of oil, which I hope will last only a year or two instead rather than six.

Step 1: Cut tender young comfrey leaves and pack into a jar. Pour olive oil over top of them and let sit for two to six weeks.

Step 2: Check back in June to see!

Posted Fri May 25 06:00:23 2018 Tags:
Solo the movie promotional image.

We saw the new Star Wars movie on Friday and I liked it a lot.

If we had it to do over we would watch the regular version over the 3D option.

There just weren't any moments where I thought I was happy about choosing 3D.

Posted Sat May 26 06:00:22 2018 Tags:
Strawberries and broccoli

A new garden spot always has new challenges. The first real issue popping up for us is compost quality --- the topsoil/manure mixture Nitrogen deficiencyfrom our neighbor was excellent (if a bit weedy), but the municipal compost is clearly low on nitrogen. Slow growth and slightly yellow leaves on heavy feeders while nitrogen-fixing beans grow just fine is a dead giveaway.

Luckily, low nitrogen is an easy fix. This week, my goal is to follow up on a few leads for other compost/manure sources suitable for topdressing. In the meantime, we're gorging on lettuce, are picking the first small broccoli and a smattering of strawberries, and are eying ripening peas.

Posted Sun May 27 06:00:31 2018 Tags:
Potted up eggplant.

It's been a long time since we've tried growing eggplant.

We are leaving them in pots a little longer so they will be strong enough to fight off their insect predator.

Posted Mon May 28 06:00:23 2018 Tags:
Watery post hole

One downside of the non-concrete fence-post mix is that it reacts violently with water. So the manufacturers recommend either backfilling the hole or sopping up any visible liquid before application.

How does that affect us? Immediately after auger day, it set in to rain and continued until the holes all filled up with groundwater. So far, the animals are mostly leaving us alone, but we're hoping the weather will let us get more posts in this week before deer find our crops.

In the meantime, if you have four legs and are reading this post --- I hear the neighbors down the road are planting strawberries. Go there!

Posted Tue May 29 06:00:23 2018 Tags:
Sika post foam update comparing to concrete.

After setting a few more posts with foam I decided to switch to concrete.

The problem I had was weighing in my hands how much was only half to pour in the first hole while it was beginning the expansion.

I kept putting in too much in the first hole which would not leave enough for the second hole.

Posted Wed May 30 06:00:30 2018 Tags:
Deer damage

Or at least that's the only reasoning I can come up with to explain months without deer depredations then major munching the night after I made this post.

I remind myself that year one in a new property is all about infrastructure-building and learning the new lay of the land. But it still hurts when those darn four-leggers nibble on my precious plants.

Posted Thu May 31 06:00:30 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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