September 19, 2017

Fall Garden 2017

I always feel like I'm behind the power curve when it comes to the fall garden. Our state cooperative extension says July and August are the months to plant fall crops, but July is too hot and August too busy with picking and preserving, so it seems that I'm usually doing my fall planting in September at the earliest. The garden has always been neglected during harvest months, however, so there is usually quite a bit of preliminary work to do before I can plant.

I started with my no-show Swiss chard bed. I tried several plantings of chard this summer, but without success. I used my broadfork to loosen the soil to pull out the wiregrass.

Broadfork for loosening soil for wiregrass removal.

I like using my broadfork for this, because it's quieter and less disruptive than the tiller. It doesn't go quite as deep as the running wiregrass roots, but I'm able to loosen and pull out a lot of it.

I planted sugar beets, lettuce, and radishes here.
The popcorn just behind it will be ready soon too.

Just above that (to the left in the above photo) are my sweet potatoes.

Sweet potato vines look good, don't they?
I'll harvest these some time next month.

And above that is our one raised bed where I grew multiplier onions last winter. As an experiment to try and kill the wiregrass, I covered it all summer with a tarp. This worked quite well and the soil didn't require much work.

Broccoli, Savoy cabbages, and collards.

The plants came from the feed store. I never can resist a pretty display of packaged garden plants. The sprinkler pipe is hooked up to one of our rainwater overflow tanks.

Dan added a 2nd, 300-gal rain tank to catch the
  overflow from our large rainwater catchment tank.

After the plants were in, I seeded the rest of the bed with white Dutch clover. The clover will be a living mulch this winter.

Early this spring I did my first experiment with clover in the garden as living mulch. You may recall that I put in a swale at the top of the garden on one side and pulled out three wheelbarrow loads of wiregrass in the process. I'd noticed that wire grass (Bermudagrass, actually) prefers full sun and doesn't grow well in other plants' shade. I wanted to see how well a living mulch would work to keep the wiregrass at bay.

Clover, wiregrass, and cushaw vines.

It worked fairly well, except that Bermuda is a warm weather grass while clover is a cool weather legume. When the clover went dormant for the summer, the wiregrass took advantage. The clover is coming back in patches now, but wiregrass dominates whatever area its in, so I don't expect the clover to push it back.

Cushaw winter squash.

In the midst of the clover and wiregrass are cushaw winter squash. They were planted late so I won't get as many as I'd like, but each one is large, and they are great keepers. I use cushaw instead of pumpkin for pumpkin pie.

I also cleaned out the hoop house. After I let last year's winter veggies go to seed for collecting, I did all my summer planting outside, so the hoop house has been neglected all summer. There was a lot of unwanted growth there that had to be pulled.

Still under shade cloth, but all tidied up! We talked about moving
the hoop house to the other side of the house closer to the kitchen,
but that will have to wait. Work on the barn takes priority.

That unwanted growth included wiregrass, of course. (And BTW, if you're tempted to leave a comment to suggest that I watch Back To Eden or try mulch to take care of my wiregrass problem, please read the second half of this post first!) I pulled out one runner that measured almost nine feet!  (Which is why mulch doesn't deter it.)

I did make one exciting discovery in there. Do you remember that I planted garlic bulbils in one of the hoop house beds last year? Well, they made it!

Baby garlic plants, planted about a year ago.

They started well and then this poor little box became so overgrown with weeds that I gave up hope for the baby garlic plants. But even after a summer of neglect, they made it!

Speaking of garlic, I also turned one of this summer's green bean rows into a garlic bed. The green beans were where I made my double-dug swale rows, so little preparation was required there, except that they had sunken a bit so I added finished compost from the chicken-compost piles.

First garlic poking up.

The second double-dug row is for multiplier onions this year. I like the multiplier onions because they do so much better for me than globe onions. Plus, they reproduce themselves so I don't have to buy onion sets every year!

One last photo - this year's winter wheat.

We actually got this planted at the end of August, which was perfect! It's spotty but doing well.

I'm still harvesting okra, tomatoes, and an occasional cucumber. Still to plant: turnips, carrots, beets, parsnips, kale, mustard greens, and more salad greens. At least I've gotten quite a bit in before October. 👏 For me that's pretty good.

How about you? Are you working on your garden too?

Fall Garden 2017 © September 2017 by

September 17, 2017

A Start on the Hayloft

In my last barn blog post, I showed you the ladder Dan built for the hayloft. The next step was to begin working on the hay loft itself. 

What the barn looked like at the end of my last barn blog post.

The plan for the loft is five-foot walls, a gable roof, and a loading door in the front with a block and tackle to hoist up the hay.

It's being build with all home-milled lumber.

Hay loft door

Contemplating the next step. Goats & hay will be on
the right, my feed & milking room will be on the left.

After Dan relocated the sawmill, he cut the ridge beam.

The beam measures 3.5 in. by 7.5 in. by 18.5 ft.

Notice the straps tying down the ridge beam? It had already been secured, but Dan got this up right before the remnants of Hurricane Irma were forecast to hit us. We were expected to receive 40+ mile per hour winds, and we got them. Lots of branches down in the yard and a number more trees down in the woods, but the ridge beam stayed put!

Shot from the back. 

The loft will cover 2/3 of the bottom story. A shed
roof off the back will cover the remaining third.

How it looks now from the front.

I'm happy with the progress, but Dan wishes it was further along. It won't be done before winter, but he'd like to get the roof on before the fall rains start.

A Start on the Hayloft © September 2017 by

September 14, 2017

Winter Numbers

My last goat kid left for his new home the other day. He was the last of this year's kids to be sold, so now I'm down to a hopefully manageable number of goats for the winter: two bucks, four adult does, and two doelings. Still to go are some of the chickens and ducks.

Racer getting one of his last mom-cuddles before leaving for a new home.

Manageable, of course, depends on a couple of things. For us, winter pasture is key. Secondly hay. These are the primary foods for goats, or should be, if nutritional quality is good. The winter garden, summer-harvested grains, or boughten feeds should be supplemental. And if the pasture and hay can support the goats, then most of the summer's harvest of grains can supplement the poultry (which are also grass and insect eaters). Anyway, this is the model I'm working toward.

Trying to develop good quality sustainable pasture has been an ongoing challenge. As a goal it has included a huge learning curve and a lot of work on our part. Some of the things we've tried have been successful, others have not, and so much depends on the weather. In reality this has often been a source of discouragement as we strive to reach our self-sufficiency goals, but I'll have more on that in another post.

The idea of winter numbers for livestock is an idea that comes from nature. In spring, herds and flocks increase with young, and the spring and summer growth sustain them. As the young mature, many of them head out on their own, thinning the numbers as the forage dies back. There's less to eat but less animals to sustain. This is somewhat theoretical, of course, and we could go on and on about the evils of urbanization and fences for wildlife, but that's not my point. My point is that nature offers a model for seasonal management of homestead critters.

Muscovies are considered a meat breed of duck and so not terribly
plentiful egg layers, but they certainly can make a lot of ducklings!

In our case surplus animals are sold, traded, or feed us. In fact, I'm usually able to make enough from sales of goats to buy supplemental feed for everybody all winter. So in that sense, the critters are somewhat self-supporting.

I've experimented with this in other ways too. Several years ago I sold eggs to buy chicken feed, so that the chickens could pay for themselves. I don't do that anymore. Why not? Well, if evaluated strictly in terms of money for feed it worked, i.e., I sold enough eggs to buy enough feed. But chickens are hard on the land, and if allowed unrestricted access to everything on the place they become destructive. They scratch up the mulch and soil around newly planted trees and bushes and often kill them. If they manage to get into a newly planted pasture (and there's always one, two, or four who manage), they eat all the pasture seed or seedling grass. The ducks love seed and grass too. In other words, our poultry have been one of those challenges I said I'd blog about soon! The conclusion we've come to is to keep just enough chickens for eggs for the two of us, which is probably about six hens. And one pair of breeding ducks. This will help both in terms of the amount of feed we need, plus the toll the poultry takes on the land.

Counting the cost includes so much more than money, then. It must also account for the impact the critters have on the land, plus the time and energy necessary to utilize the management techniques required to keep a balance. And it's a highly individual decision. What we've concluded meets our needs may not be the same for someone else. It may even change for us from year to year. A homestead is always a learning experience, always a work in progress.

Winter Numbers © September 2017 by

September 11, 2017

A New Home for the Sawmill

Dan's sawmill has a new home. Yes, we still have it, but it's been stationed in our driveway since he bought it last spring. There's enough room behind the house to accommodate the sawmill plus our vehicles, but it's still been somewhat in the way when Dan is working on lumber. Because all our trees come from down in our woods, it seemed like a good idea to relocate the sawmill closer to the source. It's new home is the doe browse.

Here it is in its new home (labeled "browse #2 on our Master Plan).

I admit it's not much of a browse anymore. First the goats took out all the greenery they wanted, and then Dan had to deal with numerous fallen pine trees.

The oldest trees in our woods are pines, a pioneer species.
We've had a lot of them fall, often smashing fences like above.

So between the goats, those old pines being dragged up the hill,

Pine tree on the left uprooted and toppled. All of these
trees are being used for timbers and lumber for the barn.

and my branch and debris clean-up, we've pretty much cleared the browse out. Because of that, it seemed like a good place to set up the sawmill. It will be easier to transport the finished lumber rather than whole logs.

Eventually we'll have all the pines pretty much cleared out. In fact, heavy rain and wind from Irma are forecast to hit us today, so we may find a lot more downed trees once the storm passes through. The browse is already sunnier in the places the pines have fallen or Dan has taken them out. In those areas the young hardwoods are beginning to branch out and thrive.

Goat snoopervision. Planks on the right are for the hayloft.

Eventually the browse will become silvopasture, although that's likely a few years down the road.

September 9, 2017

B2B Summit Starts Sunday!

Just a quick reminder that the free Back To Basics Living Summit starts tomorrow, September 10th!

You should be able to click the image for an enlarged, easier to read view.

These are free video courses, but you must sign up for the times and access code. Another "but," they will be free only for the scheduled date and time. You can register by clicking here.

The other option is to buy lifetime access to the entire summit. The best discount will be available until Sept. 12. Click here for more information on that. It includes almost $185 in bonuses as well. If these are like the bonuses offered with the eBook bundles, they will be pretty good.

Yes, you can find a lot of similar videos on YouTube, but let's face it, so many of those videos are rambling (sorry, I'm interested in your dog's fleas!), poorly edited (great footage of the ground!), and talk more about doing something than how to do it. The presenters for the B2B Summit are experts and teachers. It will be worth finding the time to watch those topics that are catching your eye!

B2B Summit Starts Sunday! © Sept. 2017