May 21, 2019

Back to Square One

About three weeks ago or so, I told you about the challenges of weaning bucklings ("Growing Up is Hard to Do.") It took awhile, but finally, things were starting to calm down and the little boys were crying less. Sunday I brought the girls up to the paddock adjacent to the little guys. I fervently hoped it wouldn't start another hollering session, and for awhile all seemed well.

The Boo Hoo Boys wanting to get out.

When Dan and I went out to do chores I went to get the girls but they were gone! Turns out they had broken into the puckling pasture and everybody was one big happy family again. The problem was the gate between the two paddocks. The bolt latch can be worked open if the gate is bumped often enough, which is why we have a chain on it too. Somehow the goats had rubbed and stood on the gate panel enough to loosen the latch, but the chain wasn't tight enough to keep the gate shut. The girls has worked their way through the opening.

Henry, Eddie, and Jesse James

Separating them again was a first class fiasco. All the goats were running around and hollering. Finally I managed to get the girls through the one gate without the bucklings following them.

The girls were glad to go back to the barn because it was feeding time. But the little boys were heart broken, and have been crying ever since. It wouldn't be so bad if it was the typical goat call of "maaa, maaa." Instead they've been screaming! High pitched and shrill like a bunch of little girls who've just just seen a spider. I thought we'd finally gotten over this! I hope they settle down again soon.

Back to Square One © May 2019 by

May 17, 2019

Of Rhythm and Routine

"I like to call our beginning years of homesteading “the establishment phase.” We have our land and the goal of becoming self-reliant, but it’s going to take a lot get there: knowledge, equipment, tools, resources, and time. Because it is just the two of us, it is especially going to take time."
5 Acres & A Dream The Book
Chapter 5, "The Establishment Phase"

"As I sit at my computer and reflect on the five years since I wrote that statement, I find myself asking, "Well, are we established homesteaders now? Have we transitioned from one phase to the next?" As I try to figure out how to answer that, I realize there is no way to pinpoint when our establishment phase ends and the next phase begins."

5 Acres & A Dream The Sequel
Chapter 5, "Transition" (rough draft)

About a week ago I showed you the results of many of our establishment phase projects (see "Ten Years.") We've accomplished a lot, and as I put that blog post together I couldn't help but reflect on where we are now and where we're going. While we still have goals and plans, somewhere along the way our focus shifted from the next project on the list, to what the season demanded. We shifted from pushing ahead with a linear mindset to the cycle of the seasons. That has given a rhythm to our life that we truly appreciate.

I talked about that some in my "Happy Agrarian New Year!" blog post: spring is busy with planting, summer for growing and food preservation, and autumn to finish the harvest and prepare for winter. Winter is the season of the hearth; a time of rest, reflection, and planning. This is our life framework now. While we still set annual goals every January (this year's listed in "Project Plans for the New Year") our focus has become very much more seasonal.

Our current to-do list looks something like this:
    • transplant rice, tomatoes, peppers
    • finish spring planting
    • finish digging swale bed
    • clean out and move garden shed
    • buck paddocks
    • paint trim
    • get rain catchment tank
    • set up catchment tank
    • pallets for firewood
    • new clothesline
    • drains for tubs
    Fallen trees
    • cut
    • mill
    • chip branches
    • fix fences
    • split
    • stack
    Poultry Yard
    • make more grazing beds
    • duck house
    • move compost piles
    • lawn tractor
    • cart
    • welding machine
    • sickle mower belt

Things which are ongoing, such as mowing, mulching, weeding, cheese making, laundry, etc., aren't added to the to-do list because they'd always be there! Routine daily chores aren't on the list either.

On Sunday afternoons, we have a calendar meeting. This is something we started when the kids were still living at home and we needed to coordinate the week's activities. Now we use it to coordinate projects. I check the week's weather forecast and we discuss seasonal chores that need to get done. Then we look over the to-do list. We cross off things we've completed, choose the week's projects, and jot them down on the calendar. We prioritize with the motto "food first." Anything related to food production, either for us or our critters, comes first.

At breakfast every day (except our day of rest) we check the calendar. If something has come up we make adjustments. Flexibility is a necessity, but by having the week's goals written on the calendar we can easily make sure the week's priorities, at least, are done.

After breakfast we head out for morning chores. After that comes the day's projects. We often have a morning project and an afternoon project. They may be something we work on together, or separate projects. In summer I like to do my garden work in the morning, and then do a house or shade project in the afternoon. In winter that's reversed. Evening chores are done right before dinner. At dusk we do a last check of water and hay feeders, separate the kids from their moms for the night, and close up the chicken coop. That's the routine of most of our days.

At the end of the month we sit down and evaluate the list. We don't expect to accomplish everything on the it, but we do revise it. Completed projects are deleted and new ones added according to the season or because something new has presented itself. Although the list never gets shorter or goes away, by it we are able to keep our goals manageable and our priorities straight. It's a tool that works well for us and sets the pace and tone of our seasonal rhythm and work routine.

How about you? How do you keep your plans and projects manageable?

Of Rhythm and Routine © May 2019

May 13, 2019

Now Available for Kindle: 5 Acres & A Dream The Book

My first paperback is now available for Kindle! If you're a member of Kindle Unlimited or Amazon Prime, it's free!

I'm sure some of you are wondering, why only for Kindle when there are so many different types of eReaders out there? It's not because I'm particularly a fan of Kindle or of Amazon, so here's the story.

When 5 Acres & A Dream The Book first came out at the tail end of 2013, eReaders and were still pretty basic, as was the process of converting a book file to an eBook format. There were several factors in my decision to only publish in paperback, the primary technical one being that the file size was too large. At that time eBook text files were limited to 50 MB (Smashwords still sets its limits at 15 MB). The file for 5 Acres & A Dream The Book is over 250 MB.

Over the years, print-on-demand companies have developed more sophisticated conversion software and can take larger files. But there were still problems, and these had to do with file preparation. For both formats, the book file must be ready to go. Every page of the book must be edited and have everything in place (paragraphs, pictures, page numbers, etc.) and to specs. For an eBook, the file can be html, epub, .doc, or .docx. For a print book, the file must be PDF/X.

Word processors can export PDF, but not PDF/X, which meant I had to use a desktop publisher to create a print-ready file. Page by page I added the text I'd written on my word processor, added the images created by my photo editor, then captions and page numbers. I also created title and copyright pages, table of contents, appendices, and index. It was a big learning curve, but one that I enjoyed tremendously.

When I started writing The Little Series of Homestead How-Tos, it was primarily to learn how to create eBooks, because the specs and formatting are completely different than print books. With a print book, each page is fixed so that the pages print out uniformly. Because eReaders vary in size, eBook files must be flowable to allow the book to adjust to the readers device. So different rules apply. I can create an eBook file in my word processor and save it as a .doc file to upload to Smashwords and Kindle Direct Publishing. Because my paperback book files were created with my desktop publisher, I would have to start from scratch to create an eBook file. I couldn't see that happening.

Since then, Kindle Direct Publishing has come out with software to create "Print Replica" eBooks. These aren't flowable pages, but exact replicas of the printed pages. Zoom is available for these books if the eReader is capable, which means all of my Master Plans can be viewed. Acceptable file sizes have been increased, so why not?

There was still a challenge! The KDP software is available only for PC or Mac. The problem was that my operating system is Xubuntu Linux. The solution? Virtualization software. Oracle's VirtualBox was just what I needed. With only a minimum of head scratching I was able to install VirtualBox, and into that I installed Windows 10. It worked perfectly and I was easily able to create my print replica Kindle file.

#1 on Amazon's "Hot New Kindle Releases" in
Sustainable Agriculture one week after being released.

Retail price is $8.95, but Amazon currently has it on sale for $7.77. That's the same price to which they've  discounted the paperback edition.  Even so, lending is enabled for the Kindle edition, so if you don't have Amazon Prime or Kindle Unlimited, find someone who does and ask to borrow it. You don't need a Kindle to do that; you can download a Kindle reading app for free.

You can find the Kindle edition of 5 Acres & A Dream The Book here. If you're not in the U.S., it's also available at Amazon UK, CA, AU, MX, BR, NL, FR, DE, ES, IN, IT, and JP. You will find links to those sites here.

© May 2019 by Leigh at

May 9, 2019

Ten Years

Ten years ago, Dan and I bought the property that has become our homestead. A decade seems like a true mile marker and a good time to take a look at then and now.

House and front yard then.

House and front yard now

Driveway then.

Driveway now.

Outbuilding #1 then: storage and Dan's workshop.

Outbuilding #1 now: goat barn and milking room.

Outbuilding #2 then: became our first chicken coop & goat barn

Outbuilding #2 now: 1st a goat barn, now Dan's workshop

Behind the outbuildings then.

Behind the outbuildings now.

Fig tree then (shrub on the right)

Fig tree now (as tall as the barn)

This time next year this will be a garden
Garden then

Garden now

Back pasture then.

Back pasture now.

Road front then.

Road front now.

West pasture then.

West pasture now.

East pasture then.

East pasture now.

And then there's the house. To see what we've done in the past ten years to our 90+ year old bungalow, please visit my remodeling website blog, Our Old House.

It's still a work in progress! We've had ups and down, successes and failures, done a lot of experimenting, a lot of learning, and a lot of wishing we knew then what we know now. Do we ever wish we'd chosen to do something else? Never. We're both very thankful for the life we are blessed to live.

Thank you to those who have followed our progress over the years. You've been both encouragement and inspiration.

Ten Years © May 2019 by Leigh 

May 5, 2019

Grain Growing: Upland Rice

Dan and I enjoy brown rice, but until recently it didn't occur to me to grow it. That's because I always envision rice in paddies, which I couldn't imagine myself doing. Then I learned the difference between lowland and upland rice and changed my mind.

Lowland rice is paddy rice, i.e. grown in water. This is always how I assumed rice is grown. Upland rice, on the other hand, doesn't require flooding. It needs about an inch of water per week, but doesn't need to stand in water. That makes it a good choice for standard garden beds. I found the seed at Sherck Seeds and ordered two kinds.

Loto rice is an Italian variety, a risotto type. I chose it because it is said to have excellent flavor and is one of the easier kinds to dehull. That, plus it isn't supposed to lodge (fall over) easily.

The second rice I chose was Cho Seun Zo Saeng. It is a short grain brown rice grown in China and Korea. It too, is lodge resistant, easy to hull, and a heavy producer; all of which sounded good to me.

The recommended way to plant rice is in plug trays for transplanting. It can also be broadcast into a prepared bed, but I went with planting plugs. It's a little more work this way, but at least I'll know where they are after they're planted and not mistake them for plain grass!

Each packet contained 7 grams of seed. The Loto grains were larger and heavier, and I got about 280 seeds in the packet. The Cho Seun had about 345 seeds per 7 grams. It is recommended to soak the seed in water for 24 hours before planting.

Germination was good. Most sources say to transplant the seedlings at four weeks. However, on his website, John Sherck recommends transplanting them at three weeks, because after that they start to become root bound. I started transplanting at three weeks and found well developed roots that hadn't started growing through the drain hole in the bottom of the plug cells. I started by soaking the ground well first.

The book you see in the above photo is Sara Pitzer's Homegrown Whole Grains: Grow, Harvest, and Cook Wheat, Barley, Oats, Rice, Corn and More. It's a book I would recommend to anyone interested in growing grain. I also have Gene Logsdon's Small-Scale Grain Raising, and recommend it too. Sara's book is more reference-like in the way the material is organized, so it's the one I grabbed for planting details.

Planting distance is 3 to 4 inches between plants in a row, with 9 to 12 inches between rows. From knuckle to knuckle my hand measures 3 inches, so it makes for a handy way to space the plants.

The spacing of my rows is a little narrower, though, because I wanted to get all the plants into the same bed. After the rice seedlings were transplanted, I sprinkled the beds with Dutch white clover seed and watered the beds.

The timing for planting worked well. We had an overcast sky (best for transplants) with rain forecast. Dan helped me and we finished by mid-afternoon. At chore time it poured and tomorrow (Sunday) there should be clouds and more rain. Perfect for the seedlings to settle in.

Harvest should be about 105 days from transplanting for the Loto, and 126 days for the Cho Seun. Hopefully, it will grow well and I'll have something to harvest! In the meantime, I'd probably better look into some sort of de-hulling tool. Brill Engineering has videos and instructions for DIY de-hullers, which sounds like the best way to go.

Anyone else giving grain growing a try this year?

May 1, 2019

Soil Building Experiment #3: Hay Growing

Hay fields = hidey places for mice = good hunting.

Last year I started a series of blog posts on building better soil. Some of you may recall my map.

Photo from Carbon and Soil Building: Designing a Plan

I've blogged about building soil in our permanent pastures (in pink):

For hay and other field crops (in blue), we're doing something different. We're alternating green manure crops with harvest crops.

Fall planted green manure of oats, wheat, winter peas, and clover

In mid-April I broadcast a mixture of sorgham-sudan grass, crimson clover, and cowpeas. Then Dan mowed the winter's growth to cover the seed. The last thing we did was to cover this with a layer of old hay. This was an idea we picked up from a Greg Judy video (which now I can't find) as a way to quickly build soil.

I seeded, then Dan mowed. A cart of hay is at the ready for the next step.

The freshly cut grass and clover will provide nitrogen for plant growth, while the hay will provide carbon to feed soil microorganisms. These are key to building soil. (See Carbon: What I Didn't Know)

We had discussed buying hay for this purpose, but didn't actually do it until Dan went to buy hay for the goats.  The ad offered a choice of oat or millet hay advertised as covered. In our region that's important, because our intense southern sun leaches nutrients and rain spoils it. When Dan got there, he saw it had only been covered with plastic.

The bales looked like they'd been sitting wet for a long time.

We haven't found plastic to do a good job of keeping hay dry and this hay confirmed that. Dan told the seller our goats wouldn't eat it. So the fellow offered him two free bales. Thinking of feeding our pastures, Dan took him up on it. We wouldn't give it to the goats, but at $20 per round bale we could certainly use it for building our soil.

On the bale bottoms the hay had decomposed to rich black soil.

When I removed the netting and started peeling off the layers, I found that it probably would have been good hay had it been stored properly. Most of it was leafy and looked to have been cut while it was still alive.

However, it was full of seeds, which indicated that it was cut past its prime. The most nutritious hay must be harvested before the grass goes to seed, assuming cutting and drying conditions are ideal, i.e. about a week of dry sunny weather. Unfortunately that isn't always the case.

We covered the mown grasses with old hay, focusing on areas of bare soil. 

The seed looked to be browntop millet, an annual grass commonly grown for hay. If it's is viable, we got both mulch plus more hay seed!

Here it is two weeks later.

We did the same by our fruit trees

See Soil Building Experiment #1

and also where we grew our winter wheat.

See Saving the Wheat

Now we wait and hope for good hay cutting and curing weather when the time comes.