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

archives for 06/2018

Concrete scissors.

Opening a concrete bag with scissors helps to prevent the bag from ripping.

Posted Fri Jun 1 06:00:24 2018 Tags:
Cake decorators

Carrot cakeMark's first attempt at cake decorating came out very well. If he was going to do it over, though, he says he would have filled the icing bag all the way for optimal control.

Posted Sat Jun 2 06:00:29 2018 Tags:
EZ privacy bed curtain system.

The EZ privacy bed curtain is a good way of creating a room within a room.

I had to cut a few of the pipes to make it fit in our low ceiling mobile home but installation is easy and only took about 30 minutes. No impact on the walls or ceiling due to the way the pipes expand to snug up against the floor and ceiling.

It blocks most of the light and helps Anna to sleep in a little past the crack of dawn.

Posted Sun Jun 3 06:00:34 2018 Tags:
Sugar snap peas

We woke up Friday morning to rain on the forecast and all of my writing work done by 10 am. "Let's go to visit Mom," Mark suggested. I was glad to agree because I knew my mothers-in-law would have stocked up on ways to spoil me.

Mushroom compost

What's the key to my heart? Lots of chocolate...and getting to play in mushroom compost all afternoon. Last time we visited, a truckload of the latter had recently been delivered, and I got to spread some in their garden patch. The manure-rich soil amendment was dark enough to make me jealous, far better than any purchased compost we'd ever bought.

Early June garden

Of course the proof is in the pudding --- how do vegetables look several weeks later planted in that mushroom compost? The answer --- beautiful and healthy! No wonder I got so much joy out of spreading the rest of the pile in another garden spot Friday afternoon.

Gummy peach

I also dropped by the peach trees I'd adopted and thinned out touching fruits. There was quite a lot of insect damage, plainly visible from the gummy secretions the plants create where the bugs have bored inside. I tried to pick off damaged fruits if at all possible, but ended up leaving some so as not to denude the tree.

It's your peaches' turn next, Lynda. Let me know if you want me to thin your crop!

Posted Mon Jun 4 06:00:28 2018 Tags:
Corner bracket on brace post.

We used small corner brackets to hold in place our brace post.

The next step was to hammer in a 10 inch nail to secure the two pieces.

Posted Tue Jun 5 06:00:28 2018 Tags:
Shoveling horse manure

Oh, glorious horse manure! Free for the shoveling at the fairgrounds, we stocked up on a truckload of moderately aged (but still hot) organic matter.


Like most stables nowadays, the fairgrounds beds with sawdust (back pile) rather than with straw. And even though that means the combo composts a little slower, I have a feeling we'll be happy with the results.

Horse manure loading

Mark's already happy with the way the pile has been pushed back against a wall so you can stand on the pile or the tailgate and shovel horizontally rather than tossing it up into the truck bed. We filled up the truck in half an hour and I'd used every bit of the organic matter by 1:30 pm. More on garden applications in a later post.

Posted Wed Jun 6 06:00:31 2018 Tags:
Stihl easy pull

We decided to upgrade to a Stihl MS 181 with the Easy2Start feature.

There is a lot of large trees that were cut down to make room for the mobile home and power line and the plan is to build a wood shed and start cutting it into firewood.

The Easy2Start feature has a little learning curve but once you figure it out it is actually easy.

Posted Thu Jun 7 06:00:26 2018 Tags:
Green tomatoes

How do you use up an entire truckload of partially composted manure in a couple of hours? Start out by topdressing --- applying bands of compost just far enough away from plants so the high-nitrogen effluent won't burn the roots.

Topdressing asparagus

I put the manure on top of mulch near sensitive plants like asparagus and underneath the mulch near hungry plants like tomatoes. On top of mulch is safer but slower since manure juices will take a while to leach through the straw and into the soil. Be sure to stay at least three to four inches away from plant stems either way.

Lasagna garden

Next, I spread an inch or two of manure onto each fallow garden bed (on the right in the photo above). Worms and cats will mix the manure in, resulting in rich, ready soil in about a month. Similarly, the entirely new bed I created (on the left in the photo above) will be ready to plant into by early to mid July.

Young butternut plants

The only real question left is --- can I have a little more please?

Posted Fri Jun 8 06:00:29 2018 Tags:
Securing a brace post with a 10 inch nail and drill bit.

The second part of securing our brace posts was to drive a 10 inch nail in after drilling a hole the full length of the nail.

We decided that one nail was enough for each side of the brace.

Posted Sat Jun 9 06:00:26 2018 Tags:
Guardians of the night

If you're in the Athens, Ohio, area before the end of September and want a treat, I highly recommend dropping by the Kennedy Museum of Art. Admission is free, and the current exhibit of Haitian art is not to be missed.

Bird shadows

Mom came to visit for a few days, and we spent our first morning in the exhibit formally titled "A Sudden Garden." I think we all ended up walking out of that space feeling like we really had strolled through a peaceful and at the same time inspiring garden deep in the heart of Haiti.

Haitian village

Painting closeup
We each picked a painting that we could have liked to take home. Mine is the first one in this post, while Mark preferred this village scene --- so much more intricate and fascinating up close!

Haitian fowl

Oh, and to make this post vaguely homesteading-related, here are some Haitian fowl to round it all out.

Posted Sun Jun 10 06:00:27 2018 Tags:
Concrete post field notes.

We thought about mixing our concrete up in a wheelbarrow but the bag says you can just pour it in the hole and add water.

It worked fine without any mixing or poking with a stick.

Posted Mon Jun 11 06:00:27 2018 Tags:
Anna Jimsonweed
Jimsonweed flower

Did you know that the common garden weed Jimsonweed was named after the Virginia settlement of Jamestown? The name dates back to 1676 when British soldiers sent to squash Bacon's Rebellion instead ended up enduring an eleven-day hallucinogenic episode due to dining on Jimsonweed leaves.

I'll be pulling these volunteers out shortly, but wanted to enjoy the evening-opening, moth-pollinated flowers first.

Posted Tue Jun 12 06:00:49 2018 Tags:
Using ear protection when pounding in T posts.

We are using 8 foot long T posts at some of the fence intervals with plans of using 1 and 1/4 inch PVC conduit to slip over the T post to extend the length to 8 feet.

I like using ear protection when using the fence pounder.

Posted Wed Jun 13 06:00:33 2018 Tags:
Guest room

Junk pileThere's nothing like an incipent visitor to prompt us to finally unpack the last jumbled pile of untouched boxes from our move. Within a few days, Mark converted the picture on the right to the picture at the top of this post. Then Mom made the journey to give the guest room a purpose.

Tarantula on child

We took surprisingly few pictures even though we had oodles of fun. One major crowd pleaser was the insect talk turned comedy hour at the library. "You don't get out much, do you?" the presenter tossed our way as Mom and I exploded into gales of uncontrollable giggles.

Mound City

We went to the park and the museum and the Indian mound. In fact, I ran her so hard, she lost her shoes.

A huge thank you to everyone who helped make this trip possible --- ferry people Maggie and Tina and Rose Nell and Joey, hosters Sue Ella and Jayne, trip planner Mark, bed snuggler Huckleberry, and most of all thanks to Mom for coming so far to make my week a delight. I hope we can do it again soon!

Posted Thu Jun 14 06:00:41 2018 Tags:
Ratchet fence tension wire close up.

Why were we using T posts in some areas of our new garden fence?

To save a little money in spots where a 4x4 might be over doing it.

We elected to use the above ratchet device to keep the brace posts tight.

Posted Fri Jun 15 06:00:35 2018 Tags:
Turkey family

Can you see the baby turkeys in the photo above? I took this picture at the furthest extent of my camera's zoom, but maybe the image below will help see that the entire family was literally strolling down the road right by our place.

Baby turkeysI don't mind the turkeys, but the deer are getting voracious as we slowly work in fence-building episodes around our various other commitments. While I regret the repeated losses, I can now answer my own question quite easily. Yes, deer love asparagus and cucumbers and raspberries and pretty much everything else imaginable. Hopefully our fall garden will be fully fenced and fully safe.

Posted Sat Jun 16 06:00:25 2018 Tags:

Full view of garden fence corner brace post.
Each corner of our garden fence has a brace.

The tension wire tightened by the ratchet keeps the posts from sagging when we stretch the wire fence on it.

Posted Sun Jun 17 06:00:36 2018 Tags:
Heat pump water heater drainage
"Hi guys. Just curious if you could do an update on the hot water heater you got for your new place. I'm curious how it's done over the winter vs. summer. Still glad you bought vs. a standard electric?" --- Jason

I'd been meaning to post an update --- thanks for the reminder!

For summer use, I love our heat-pump water heater. It operates as an air conditioner and dehumidifier while also heating water using much less electricity than a traditional hot water heater. We haven't plumbed the drain pipe to the outdoors yet, so I also end up with about two gallons of water to use in the garden every week --- bonus!

On the other hand, we chose to keep the unit in electric mode over the winter so we wouldn't chill down our living quarters. The particular brand we bought automatically turns to heat-pump mode after 48 hours, which meant every two days I had to push a button or end up with a cold room. So, a minor downside...but not enough to decide against the model. (Placed in an unused basement or close to an overachieving wood stove, you could likely leave it in heat-pump mode all year.)

Similarly, the noise factor might be a problem for some of you. I'd say it's as loud as a window air conditioner, which I actually found soothed me to sleep at night. (We generally only use hot water in the evening to do dishes and bathe, after which the water heater runs for around two hours to refresh itself.) For me, this was a surprising plus rather than a minus, but your mileage may vary.

The final factor is energy efficiency...and here I have to trust the manufacturers that the unit is dramatically more efficient than a traditional model. Our electric bill has been lower than expected this summer, despite running the minisplit to cool our living space quite a bit more than we ran an air conditioner back in our old place. But we also haven't plugged in any chest freezers, so it's hard to know where the savings came from.

Overall --- yes, I would totally buy another heat pump water heater. Whether I recommend it to others depends on their house layout and how they feel about moderate levels of noise.

Posted Mon Jun 18 06:00:45 2018 Tags:
mark Vacancy

Milkweed blooms at the community garden.

No caterpillars in sight.
Posted Tue Jun 19 06:00:44 2018 Tags:
Deer damage

The deer have officially won the war of the early summer garden. It pains me to admit defeat...but the parts of the fencing delay that I could have changed (Mark enjoying six weeks filming with graduate students, a trip of a lifetime to visit his brother out West, Mom coming to visit our new digs, my writing taking precedence over all else), I wouldn't change. And the parts we couldn't change --- health problems, weather  craziness --- well, we obviously have to roll with all that.

Covered beans

Which is not to say that the garden was a complete loss. We ended up eating a lot of broccoli and lettuce, a couple of cucumbers, a few handfuls of peas, and various herbs. But all of the parts that are uncovered are now pretty much kaput.

Red zinnia

I'm disappointed, obviously. But establishment years always have unexpected hurdles to overcome. And our soil is clearly improving, as evidenced by the fact that our plantings suddenly became tasty enough for the deer to eat as soon as our topdressed manure began to sink in.

Meanwhile, I'm singing the gardener's endless refrain: "There's always the next garden in the fall." If I plant now in flats, maybe we will have managed to fence in the garden when the time comes to set out....

Posted Wed Jun 20 06:00:41 2018 Tags:
Using graduated fencing to keep rabbits out.

We decided to use this graduated 24 inch tall fencing for the bottom layer to keep rabbits from jumping through the bigger holes near the top.

The new plan is to add a 4 foot fence on top of the graduated fence and use 2 foot chicken wire on the very top 6 to 8 feet.

Cutting the job into smaller chunks will cost a little more in material costs but make the stretching of the fence easier on the two of us.

Posted Thu Jun 21 06:00:56 2018 Tags:
Baby eggplant

Despite my doom-and-gloom post earlier, there are portions of the garden that look surprisingly good. For example, my eggplants are doing awesome...since they're still in pots right outside our back door.

Potted eggplantI'm currently growing two varieties --- several Black Beauty that I started from seed and one Patio Baby that came as a seedling from Rose Nell. The latter is already blooming and setting fruit, possibly because I gave it a two-gallon pot instead of a one-gallon but more likely because dwarves tend to mature a little faster than full-size plants.

Earlier this week, I braved deer-land and set two Black Beauties out in the garden so they could spread out their roots. I placed one close to the trailer, though, and the other under bird netting. If nothing else, our eggplants should withstand the deer!

Posted Fri Jun 22 06:00:38 2018 Tags:
Gate way upper ratchet tension.

We installed an upper brace post for the new garden gate.

Another ratchet helps to tighten the brace.

Posted Sat Jun 23 06:00:39 2018 Tags:
Deer-nibbled garden

The fence is abruptly almost done! I'll let Mark share more construction details with you later. But for now, answers to the most important question --- what can you plant in late June after the deer eat your original garden?

Fall crops should, of course, be on the top of your agenda. I went ahead and sprouted some peas (a bit early) and broccoli (a bit late), and will be direct-seeding carrots and kale and lettuce at a later date.

Bean seedling

But I'm not really ready to write off the summer garden, so I filled the rest of my flat up with bush beans, summer squash, and cucumbers. I succession plant all three of these anyway, so this actually isn't particularly late for a second or third planting.

What else am I eying? Strawberries! I've been itching to expand my patch, but was afraid to risk this deer favorite outside a fence. Time to transplant some runners and decide if I want to add a new variety to the patch.

Posted Sun Jun 24 06:00:39 2018 Tags:
Gate hardware hinge installation.

Drilling the holes for the gate hinge was barely within the Dewalt's limits.

Posted Mon Jun 25 06:00:37 2018 Tags:
Stapling fence to a 4x4 post.

The next section of 4 foot fence had to be adjusted to match the incline of the hill.

Posted Tue Jun 26 06:00:47 2018 Tags:
Tying up tomatoes

After the deer started nibbling, I opted not to prune or train our tomatoes. After all, I figured tying them up would just make the tender shoots easier to reach, while pruning might be a problem if the deer came along behind me and removed the stems I left behind.

But now we have a fence! I'm a little afraid to trust the new barrier, but I went ahead and tied up the tomatoes anyway. Given all of the rain we've enjoyed over the last week, it's about time I got fungi-sensitive plants off the ground...and in the process I noted the first hint of red on roma flesh.

I guess the summer garden isn't a bust after all. I can just hear Mark now: "Ye of little faith...."

Posted Wed Jun 27 06:00:49 2018 Tags:
Transplanting an eggplant

I had some assistance with setting out the midsummer garden from one of our neighbors up the street. She's willing to trade an hour under the hot June sun for an hour in my well-stocked kitchen scratching her baking itch. Since said neighbor leaves half of the chocolate cupcakes here for me and Mark to snack on, I figure that's a win-win.

Posted Thu Jun 28 06:56:34 2018 Tags:
Weaving two sections of fence together.

We used 16 gauge galvanized wire to stitch each section of our fence together.

Posted Fri Jun 29 06:00:41 2018 Tags:
Patio baby eggplant

Eggplants come in various shapes and sizes, and the purple ones are purple from the start. All of those features make it tough to tell when a new-to-you variety is ripe. Here are some hints I scrounged off the internet:

  • Ripe eggplants have a very shiny skin.
  • The eggplant itself should be firm but with some give to it.
  • If you cut the eggplant open, the flesh should be white with (sometimes) a greenish tint. Seeds should be light yellow but not yet brown.
  • Eggplants are best when eaten between 1/3 and 2/3 of their full size. Younger, they may be bitter. Older, they're seedy and over-mature.
Eggplant seeds

I went ahead and plucked the largest fruit on our Patio Baby since the plant was starting to be top heavy from all of those developing eggplants. Based on the information above --- and the taste when sauteed with the year's first green beans and (almost) the spring's last sugar snap peas --- I'd say we chose the picking date a hair early but not excessively so. It's looking like a good year for eggplants!

Posted Sat Jun 30 06:00:36 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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