December 4, 2016

How It's Going in the Hedgerow

Or not going. I've had a few setbacks since I first started planting my forest garden hedgerow in March of 2015, and have not been able to plant as much as I'd like.

Bird's eye view of our Forest Garden Hedgerow

I started then with the trees, a few shrubs, and some herbs:
  • 1 Asian persimmon
  • 2 standard pear trees
  • 1 mulberry tree
  • 2 chestnut trees
  • 2 aronia shrubs
  • wild rose (transplanted)
  • hazelnuts (transplanted)
  • yarrow
  • comfrey
  • horseradish
  • rosemary
  • oregano

I've replaced one of the pears, the mulberry, one of the chestnuts twice, and have just finished my third planting of aronia. None of the herbs survived last summer's heat and drought, but the Jerusalem artichokes I popped into the ground last winter made it with no additional watering from me. That was nice to see!

I chose tree and shrub varieties based on their heat and drought tolerance. They did get watered and mulched several times during the summer, but not enough. Plus the chickens quickly unmulched them (much to my great frustration.) I finally made small cages from short lengths of welded wire fence.

Newly planted chestnut tree. Blueberry
bush is turning red in the background.

The ground was so hard and dry that it took a couple of days to dig the hole. I scraped out an impression in the ground which I filled with water. The next day I dug that out and filled the hole with water again.

Aronia. With the cage the chickens can't scatter the mulch.

One thing that is important, for me at least, is the time of year I plant trees and shrubs. If I plant them in autumn or winter they do best. Anything planted in the spring seems to have a less than 50% chance of surviving our summers. I've stopped ordering from nurseries that insist that April is my prime planting month, because summer comes on fast and furious in my little part of the world. It becomes extra work to try to keep the new plants alive and well.

In weather news, we've had rain! Until this past Tuesday our last good rain was in August, when we got a total of 3.5 inches for the month. In September we got no rain, and then 0.25 inch in early October. The 3 inches at the tail end of November was sooo welcome. Best of all it was a gentle soaking rain.

Big rain puddles make the ducks happy!

The rain is also a relief for the Southern Appalachian wildfires. Some of you have asked if they've been a threat to us. We did get a smokey haze when the wind blew from certain directions, but we haven't been under imminent danger. It's raining again today and is forecast to continue over the next several days. That will help as well.

December 1, 2016


Show of hands, who knows what a trunnel is?

If you've read Eric Sloane's A Reverence for Wood or Once Upon a Time: The way America was, then you likely know that a trunnel (or treenail) is a hand-cut wooden peg once used by barn and bridge builders instead of nails. Some folks think this was because of the scarcity of iron nails back in the day, but according to Eric Sloane trunnels were preferred in large timber construction, because they allowed flexibility in joints as the weather and atmospheric conditions changed.

Trunnels: the origins of "a square peg in a round hole."
Drawing from page 36 of A Reverence for Wood.

But enough of the history lesson. With the goats set for winter and our summer-milled lumber curing nicely, Dan once again turned his attention to the upcoming project of building the Big Barn. One preliminary on his list was to experiment making and using trunnels.

The best way to learn a new skill is by doing. In this case, the doing was a small project - a barn bench. A bench is useful and would allow hands-on learning plus a starting point for analyzing problems and mistakes, and for honing the skill. The bench itself would be made from waste slabs cut from our pine logs in the milling of our barn posts and beams.

For trunnels he decided to use oak.

Oak trunnel and pine slab

It needs to be just the right size, not so big as to split the
 the slab, but not too small and be too loose in the hole.

Using a grinder to shave off the trunnel.

Rubber mallet for pounding in

Not bad, with only minor splitting of the pine slab.

This, however, is what needs to be avoided.
(Making the bench a good learning project.)

A useful bench nonetheless!

Lessons learned about trunnels:
  • be more exact in size (diameter)
  • taper them more

Since the slabs aren't treated, the bench needed a protective finish. I used leftover stain and finish.

Stained, finished, and ready to use.

Hay storage on the left, feed room on the right.

And there you have it.

Trunnels © December 2016 by Leigh 

November 28, 2016

Winter House Project

It won't be long before our home-milled lumber is cured and we can get to work on the Big Barn. While we're waiting seemed a good time to schedule the next house project on the list - a new front window for the front bedroom.

These windows are original to the house, and like the others we've replaced they are single-glazed and not in good repair.

Aluminum storm windows make for a second layer, but aluminum is a terrible insulator and not very energy efficient. The screens are nice to have though.

Photo taken May 2009. More photos of this room here.

When we first moved in we used this room as our bedroom. It was terribly cold and drafty, so that we were extremely glad to move out of it and into the master suite Dan made. This front bedroom is now a storage room.

We are going to replace the two old windows with one horizontal slider window. We got this one as part of a fantastic package deal when we bought the dining room windows (three new windows for $50). It will be placed in approximately the top-half space of the two existing windows.

It's smaller than the current windows, so hopefully this will be a straightforward job (ha! We all know how that goes!) We'll insulate the remaining space but wait to finish the interior wall. Mainly we want to get the window in, the exterior siding up, and the front porch painted. At least that's the plan.

Winter House Project © November 2016 

November 25, 2016

Ideas for Your Holiday Gift List

With the official holiday shopping madness upon us, I hope you'll indulge me in a little shameless self-promotion. I'd like to share my offerings for inexpensive books for the homesteading inclined on your gift list. If you're like me, then you are looking for bargains that will be meaningful to the recipient, while avoiding the crowds and chaos of holiday shopping. Between Smashword's easy gift giving option and the discount coupons listed below, you can do that.

In this post you'll find a rundown of my new projects plus discount codes for all my books, both electronic and paperback.

Critter Tales Series was an experiment in turning a print book into an eBook. I prefer print, but a lot of people request electronic versions. The challenge was that the text file was too large for proper eBook conversion, so it became a series. Critter Tales lent itself quite well to this format, and it makes the stories and information available to someone interested in only one critter rather than all.

You can see all the volumes with links to descriptions here. I'm offering them at 50% off between now and Dec. 31st. Codes and links below.

The Little Series of Homestead How-Tos, How-To Goat Bundle #1 is my first eBook bundle. It combines four of my previously published goat how-tos for half the price, and I'm offering a 50%- off discount code on top of that.

It contains:
  • How To Make a Buck Rag: & other good things to know about breeding your goats
  • How To Garden For Goats: gardening, foraging, small scale grain and hay, & more
  • How To Mix Feed Rations With The Pearson Square: grains, protein, calcium, phosphorous, balance, & more
  • How to Get Cream from Goats' Milk: make your own butter, whipped cream, ice cream, & more

Click here for details about the book itself, then scroll down to the bottom of this post for the code.

Volume 13 in the series
How To Compost With Chickens: Work smarter not harder for faster compost & happier chickens is my newest addition to The Little Series of Homestead How-Tos. It discusses how to adapt composting to accommodate chickens including a plan for a simple, economical, chicken-friendly compost bin.

The above title links to its webpage, and you can get it for 50% off with the code and link below. I'm also offering codes for all twelve volumes in the series. For titles and descriptions, click here.

While I'm on a roll, also please consider my paperbacks:

Coupon codes below are for 30% off each title.

About the discount codes. I can only offer these for specific sellers, because not all sellers allow me to discount my own books. The eBook codes are good only at Smashwords, and the paperback codes are good only at CreateSpace. Titles below are linked to their sales pages, where you'll use the code at checkout. Codes are good for as many copies as you'd like - no limit. Codes expire December 31, 2016.

Critter Tales Series - 50% off each title.

The Little Series of Homestead How-Tos - 50% off each title
How-To Goat Bundle #1 - XS25J

Paperbacks - 30% off each title

November 22, 2016


Just when I was beginning to think that our mild autumn days would never end, the forecast came in - not for our first frost - but for a hard freeze. We spent all day Saturday getting ready for winter.

My first order of business was to rehang the dining room curtains.

Closed at night for added protection against the cold.

Open during the day to let the sunlight and warmth in.

It's almost a shame to cover up those pretty new windows, isn't it? But increased energy efficiency is more important than being able to admire our handiwork.

Next I moved into the garden. We don't have much growing there anymore, but a freeze would certainly bring an end to the little we were getting.

I got a good amount of green tomatoes. Some I'll let ripen, but we
had to have yummy fried green tomatoes with our Sunday burgers. 😋

Dan helped me cover the hoop house.

This year we added a door! Don't laugh! It's the old door from our original chicken coop. Not a perfect fit but pretty close.

Where our chickens used to live.

Our chickens used to share the old shed with the goats. Chickens on one side, goats on the other, with the milking room and feed storage in the middle. We saved their door when we built our current chicken coop.

I just hope I don't regret reusing last year's polyurethane on the hoop house. It's just utility grade, which means it's cheap, but it doesn't have UV protection. That means the sun will dry it out and deteriorate it faster than plastic with UV protection. Greenhouse grade would last longer, but I haven't found that locally yet, and the cost of shipping nowadays often prevents me from buying better products than what I can find close to home. We plan to upgrade this as soon as we can.

I had only one winterization job for the goat shed, to cover the remaining original window.

Nails in strips of cardboard hold the plastic in place.

You may recall that the Little Barn is actually built onto the original goat and chicken shed. Dan made window covers for the newly built part, but not the old. This old window gives light and allows in lovely breezes during summer, but it creates cold drafts during winter. Eventually we'll re-side the old section of the shed and build in new windows, but for now I covered it with an piece of old shower curtain, doubled. We still get the light but not the cold air.

While I did that, Dan filled the wood box.

On my way back into the house, I brought in my three potted plants.

Aloe vera, Meyers lemon, and ginger.

The Meyers lemon and aloe vera will do okay on the unheated back porch, but the ginger plant will need to be brought in where it stays a bit warmer. It doesn't much like temperatures below 50°F (10°C).

The next morning the temperature was well below freezing. The odd thing was that there was no frost. That's how dry we are. I was happy to see that the Little Barn remained about 10 degrees warmer than the outside air.

The only thing I forgot to do was to find my winter gloves. By the time I got in from morning chores, my fingers were freezing. That made the fire in the cookstove all the more welcome.

With a pot of oatmeal on top cooking for breakfast.

I know quite a few of you in North America have been getting snow! Any of you in that camp? How about the rest of the world?

Winterizing © November 2016 by Leigh