October 13, 2019

Lessons Learned from a Hot Dry Summer

I wish our seasonal weather was predictable. Climate change aside, Dan and I live at a latitude where the weather can go either way - hot or not. We've had rainy summers and dry summers. We've had cold winters and mild winters. We never know which way it's going to go, and that makes it tough for planning what to plant and when.

For the past several months I've been paying attention to what's managed to produce in spite of our hot dry summer. Our last rainfall was 0.7 inch last August. I know everything in the garden would have done better with more rain, or at least more frequent watering. Even so we still managed to get  an acceptable harvest. The survivors:

Watered the least:
  • cushaw pumpkins
  • Ozark razorback cowpeas
  • collards
  • lacinato kale
  • Jerusalem artichokes
Minimal watering:
  • candy roaster winter squash
  • sweet potatoes
  • black turtle beans
Watered the most:
  • tomatoes
  • pumpkins
  • melons
  • peppers
  • rice

Cucumbers started out well, but succumbed to pickleworm. Corn, okra, and green beans were a complete fail, so they aren't included.

We had more collected rainwater this year and everything was well mulched, so that helped. But towards the end we ran out and I was left to observe how long things survived on their own.

I can't predict next summer, but what observations have I made that can help me in years to come?  One is where things are planted. I rotate plantings, and usually try to take into account companions and foes when planning the next rotation. But this past summer made me think it would be easier if the things that needed the most water could be planted in the same section of the garden. That would make it quicker and easier to move the hose and drip pipe.

The terrain of my garden is another factor. It's on a gentle slope. The beds at the top of the garden always dry out more quickly than those at the bottom. The swale beds help there, so I need to continue making more, focusing on the top of the garden first.

Another observation is that while the raised beds in the hoop house dried out first, I was able to keep my potted plants near the back door watered. I found the pots easy to water with cooled cooking water or the water we catch in a bucket while waiting for hot water for washing dishes. Or dirty goat or duck water. That's got me thinking I should experiment more with container gardening. I've never done especially well with potted plants, but my success this past summer has been hopeful. Plus I've had some excellent inspiration from two Australian bloggers, Chris at Gully Grove, and Tania at Out Back (scroll down to see her large container garden.)

Our summer heat finally came to an end last week. The garden has been so dry that I haven't attempted to put anything in the ground yet. Rain is in the forecast for soon, so hopefully I'll be able to get on with the fall garden then.

October 9, 2019

Back Porch Progress

So this is pretty much where we left off last time.


After Dan installed a solar attic fan for ventilation on the back porch, he insulated that bit of wall and covered it with a piece of paneling. Then he then trimmed out the window.

Kinda hard to get a good photo with the dryer in the middle of the room.

While the dryer was moved, I did a deep cleaning in it's spot and then painted.


You can see that we added a battery and charge controller to the fan so it can be run after the sun goes down.

I chose this particular charger because it was
economical and has a programmable timer.

Then, because these windows get the late afternoon summer sun, I wanted to try some of those thermal heat blocking curtains. Has anyone tried them? Do you think they help?

Hopefully, these will help keep some of
the afternoon heat out in summertime.

Now we're ready to move the freezer. It will go on the right-hand wall where the shelf units used to be. 

Back Porch Progress © October 2019

October 5, 2019

Candy Roaster: A Keeper of a Winter Squash

October means first frost is right around the corner. We may get it this month or next, but either way it's time to get ready for it. One important job is getting in the last of the summer garden. First on my harvest list was the winter squash.

Part of my winter squash harvest. North Georgia
Candy Roasters in front and a Cushaw in back.

I've grown cushaws for a number of years, but this was my first year to try the Candy Roasters. I only had a couple of plants and I thought they did quite well considering how hot and dry our summer was. They weigh about five pounds each and have an interesting striped skin.


The flesh is a pale orange and thick. The skin is thin and easy to pare.

Diameter is about 4 inches across with a compact seed cavity .

Any vegetable with "candy" in the name is appealing, so I was anxious for a taste test. We tried them oven roasted first.

Burger with garden tomato, oven roasted candy roasters, and a big
slice of Orange Glo watermelon (another 1st and another keeper!)

I tossed bite-sized chunks of squash with olive oil, salt, and pepper and baked for about 30 minutes at 425°F (220°C). Excellent! One squash gave us a couple of meals of roasted squash as a side dish and two pies.


Better than pumpkin! I'm definitely going to plant these again next year.

How about you? Did you grow anything new and interesting this year?

October 1, 2019

Discouraging Things

I've been working on chapter twelve of my upcoming book, 5 Acres & A Dream The Sequel. Chapter twelve is entitled, "Discouraging Things," and discusses the difficulties we've dealt with, especially since 5 Acres & A Dream The Book was published. In trying to organize my thoughts for this chapter, I'm seeing several categories of discouraging things.

One division is things over which we have no control, such as weather, and things over which we think we have control, such as planning and execution. Another problem category for Dan and me has been outcomes that don't meet our own expectations. Lack of knowledge, skills, resources, and of course money are all things that are common sources of discouragement. I know these are things every homesteader can relate to, and I'll be telling a few stories of my own in that chapter.

As a compulsive encourager, I think this is an important topic. Why? Because discouragement can lead to frustration, and frustration can lead to burn-out. Somehow Dan and I have managed to avoid that, but it's caused others to give up. But here's the thing - I think the lifestyle changes homesteaders make have a significant positive impact on the world: environmentally, socially, and spiritually. That's why it's extremely important not to give up. So If I were to ask you

What discouraging things have you faced
in your journey toward self-reliance?

How would you answer? I'll be interested in your comments.

Discouraging Things © October 2019

September 27, 2019

Solar Project Part 5: Back Porch Preparations

[I changed the title of this series from "solar pantry" to "solar project," because we changed our original plan. Part 1 of the series starts here.]

So the plan is to move the freezer from the pantry to the back porch and put it on solar. That meant we had to do some rearranging on the porch to get ready. Like most other big projects, that meant a number steps - both planned and unplanned.

About eight years ago, when we were remodeling the kitchen, we took a detour to create a temporary remodeler's kitchen on the back porch.

November 2011 photo of my "temporary" kitchen.
Since then it's been my canning and summer kitchen. 

It served us well, because it took us another year before the kitchen was finished (before and after shots here). Once the kitchen was done I left the electric stove on the porch for canning and whatever summer-time cooking we don't do with my solar oven or Dan's grill.

About three years ago we moved the cabinet in the above photo into the new milking room of the old goat barn. In its place we put shelves.

Very handy for canning pots, coolers, laundry supplies,
my dehydrator, campfire cast iron, and recycling bins.

Now we're planning to move the freezer to this spot, so the shelves needed to be moved. That set off a cleaning binge, and while we were at it, it seemed like a good time to finish the trim around the doors and paint the walls. Years ago I put a coat of primer on the walls, but at the time we were more eager to get on with finishing the kitchen rather than the back porch. So this is how it's looked for the past eight years.

Funny how you can live with something for
so long that you don't even notice it anymore.

Dan put up some trim and gave it a coat of paint.

It feels good to finish something 
that's been unfinished for so long!

I wanted to keep at least one shelf unit on the back porch for my canners, large pots, and recycling bins, so I put it next to the stove.

New home for my my canners, canning
& cheesemaking pots, and recycling bins.

We never use the door behind it, so this seemed like a handy place. Well, it was the only place! I used to have a small table there and I'll miss that, but this solution won out for practicality.

Improving ventilation to the back porch was the next task. I used an old metal box fan in the window for years and that worked well. Then the old fan died and the new plastic one just doesn't have the strength to vent the well, especially when I'm canning. Our solar attic vent fan has worked so well that Dan installed a similar one on the back porch.

Another wall we didn't finish when we did that
side of the house. Made it easier to install the fan!

While he was working on that I started to clean out the freezer in preparation for moving it. Quite a few of the items I mentioned in Solar Pantry Part 2: Analysis could be vacuum packed instead of frozen.

I find healthy ingredient crackers and cookies at a local discount
grocery. At 50-75₵ per box they make good stock-up prepper items.

I couldn't believe how many boxes I had stashed in the freezer!
They stay fresh and moth-free when vacuum packed. How-to here.

I also use my freezer for small harvest amounts, like tomatoes, figs, and berries. I rarely get enough at any one picking for a canner load, so I pop them into the freezer and can them when the weather turns cooler. I do the same with bones for bone broth. This year I'm getting everything processed early to clear out the freezer.

Crock pot of pizza sauce cooking down.

Once Dan is done with the fan, he'll finish that wall and then we'll move the freezer. Of course, progress seems slow going right now, but that's what happens when a seemingly simple project ends up with a lot of small steps! But all the steps are good ones, and it will be nice to finally finish the back porch. It's been a good September project.

September 23, 2019

Chicken Yard Project: Duck House

I've shown you our new compost bin and the new grazing beds. That leaves the last subgoal on the chicken yard project list - a duck house.

We have two Muscovy ducks, and to be honest, the chickens and the ducks don't exactly get along. They constantly squabble over food and egg laying spots. One of our ducks has a (dud) nest in the chicken house and she chases all the chickens out! So Dan decided it was time to make the ducks their own home.

Framing attached to the compost bins.

It will include a house and a small "pond" made of a small stock tank.

The platform is the cement boards from the back of the old compost bin.

Dan fitted the duck tank with a hose bib, so it can be drained and the water used for the compost and grazing beds.

Hose bib installed in the tank for a hose to water compost & grazing beds.

It will be filled with rain water from the milking room catchment tanks.


The duck house was made from scraps.

Openings in the back will have doors and be to collect eggs.

Facing away from winter weather. 

Once the house was done, Dan tried to coax the ducks with feed to take a look. But they've ignored it!

Gee, Sam, I wonder why.

They've been broody, however, (on unfertilized eggs), and have been are pretty much fixated on that task. They're coming out of it now, so Dan filled the tank with water in hopes they'd notice. Ducks are amazing at finding fresh water.

Water sampling by Meowy.

Mrs. #2 Duck checked it out several days later but didn't stay long. The next afternoon we heard splashing in the pond.

Stealth photo taken from the workshop window.

Both ducks took a swim and a bath! They haven't been interested in their new house, but they usually roost outdoors at night when they aren't broody. Maybe next egg laying season they'll like the spot.

That completes the chicken yard project list. Chickens and ducks seem happy with the improvements, and that makes us happy too.

UPDATE: Tuesday, Sept. 24. #2 duck was seen checking out the duck house twice today. She went inside and took a look around. But they still prefer to roost on top of the chicken coop.