July 28, 2019

Photo Wrap-up For July

Summer has been moving right along and here it is, the end of July. What's really amazing is how the temperatures have dropped since last weekend. Very unsummerlike for us! And very welcome! To finish up the month, here's everything I didn't have time to blog about.

Since Dan finished his tractor wagon he's been busy with firewood ...

A good start on this winter's supply safely tucked away in the carport.

... and making woodchips.

There's plenty to chip! The tractor and chipper are in the background.

If you read my blog much then you're probably aware that we've had a lot of downed treed in our wood lot over the years. They're mostly old pines and they've sure left a mess. Some of them Dan has milled into lumber. The rest we'll put to good use as chips.

Hauling chips up out of the woods.

A good day's work.

Last week I showed you the garden and how it's doing. Also growing...

New ginger plants.

I lost my original ginger plants the winter before last. Usually they overwinter on our enclosed back porch, but ginger is a tropical plant and the temps that year were just too cold.

July is also the month we start fruit harvest. Blueberries ripen first and that means...

fresh blueberry pie and

pancakes with fresh blueberries.

I've been experimenting with different kinds of flour we can potentially produce ourselves and that's been fun. For the pancakes in the above photo I used oat flour and almond meal, about half and half. Makes for a very tasty combination.

I harvested the crabapples. I made a small batch of jelly with some and pectin with the rest (that link will show you how.)


We've begun to harvest the first of the pears.

Pears, figs, and apples will keep me busy next month.

July is also a good time of year for...

Homemade ice cream! Chocolate!

Of course every photo wrap-up should have a cat photo.

Sam trying to find some shade.

Also one of some goats.

Violet and Nova hoping for treats.

I reckon that about wraps up July. Anybody ready for August?

Photo Wrap-up For July © July 2019 by Leigh

July 24, 2019

Homemade Garden Bug Spray

Speaking of the garden, here's something I wanted to share with you. I've been experimenting some with homemade bug sprays for the garden, and last year found one that really helped for cabbage moths damage. I found the recipe at An Oregon Cottage, and she sources Keeper of the Home for it. So I'm not taking credit for this garden spray myself, just passing on something I found that works!

The ingredients are simple and easy to grow.

Potted mint

  • 3 C fresh mint
  • 2 bulbs fresh garlic
  • 1 or two fresh cayenne peppers or 2 tsp cayenne powder
  • 3 qts water
  • biosafe dishwashing soap

Homegrown garlic

To Make

Chop garlic, mint, and cayenne peppers if using fresh. No need to peel the garlic because it's strained later. Just chop it as is. When handling hot peppers, always be sure to wear kitchen gloves! Put these three ingredients into a gallon pot with the water. Bring to a simmer.

Cool and strain into spray bottles. Add a small squirt of dish liquid and you're ready to go. Don't forget to spray the undersides of leaves too.

Last year this simple spray saved my cabbage and basil plants. This year I'm going to try it on my squash and cucumbers as well. I'm not claiming it will take care of all my garden pests, but it's helped so far.

It's a pepper spray, so it's best not to get it on your skin and especially not in your eyes. I store the spray bottles in the refrigerator and reapply after watering or rain.

UPDATE: August 1, 2019, you can see how well it works here.

July 20, 2019

Summer Garden: July 2019

Speaking of summer, here are some shots of my summer garden.

Cucumber plants using the hoop house as a trellis. If you recall, I had to
replant most of the row. It won't be a bumper crop, but it will be enough.

Cucumbers ready to eat.

Sweet potatoes. As you can see, I'm still mulching aisles.

Winter squash. These are North Georgia Candy Roaster

Young growing candy roaster squash.

In the hoop house.

A small bed of Tennessee red peanuts for a seed crop. They aren't
 really neon green! That's how my camera picked them up in full sun.

Peanut flowers. Leaf color is more true in this shot.

My survivor strawberries

Rooting strawberry runners for another bed. 

Upland rice beds with volunteer cushaw.

Rice flowers

The volunteer cushaw has spread into the tomato trellis

I had two gardening fails this summer. One is my corn.

Of four rows planted, I only got five corn plants.

This is the same bed I replanted because of poor germination the first planting. The second planting didn't do well either, so I tried to sprout the seed. I got nothing. All the seed came from the same ear, so at least one ear had very few viable seeds. I planned to use the corn for pole beans, but they never got planted because the corn didn't grow.

The other fail was okra. I had zero germination even with two plantings. Disappointing, because we love our oven fried okra.

But back to successes.

Peppers are coming along. Not sure which variety.

Tomatoes are doing well.

Black turtle beans with flowers and bean pods

Cowpeas are flowering too. 

Plus, I'm still harvesting last fall's sugar beets for
the goats.They eat both roots and greens (chopped).

So, there's my garden so far this year. Anybody else?

Summer Garden © July 2019 by Leigh

July 16, 2019

Summer! (Is It Over Yet? LOL)

Oh my, but the heat of summer has set in and it's no fun. Our daily highs are in the mid-90s (35°C) and the humidity has been high with false promises of rain. It isn't so bad if it cools down to the upper 60s at night (20°C), but once summer kicks into high gear with its nightly low of around 75°F (24°C), it's difficult to cool down the house. Using window fans at night to vent the heat and pull in cooler air helps. So does keeping curtains closed on the sunny side of the house. So does venting the attic with our solar attic fan. And so does keeping our ceiling fans going all the time. So does using my summer kitchen or solar oven instead of cooking inside. Needless to say, it's still hot.

Living without air conditioning (why? here) has both negative and positive sides. The negative is obvious; the house gets hot! It's cooler than outdoors, but by the end of the day the inside temp is around 85°F (30°C). The positive side is that there isn't as great a temperature difference when we go in and out, so no shock to the system. It's warmer outside, but not as wilting as on errand day, when I'm in and out of the frigidly air conditioned stores.

I do most of my outdoor work in the morning when it's coolest. Afternoons are for house projects or at least things I can do in the shade. If the humidity is low and there's a breeze, even those low 90s aren't too bad. When the humidity goes up and the air is still, it's horrible. I work up a sweat just hanging laundry on the line!

We pace ourselves, take frequent breaks, and drink lots of water. Although I have to say that by later in the day I'm tired of drinking water. It just doesn't seem to quench well anymore. I often get a craving for something carbonated then, although I'm not sure why. Does anyone else experience that? Something about the CO2 bubbles that satisfies. Instead, though, we drink switchel. It's an old fashioned homemade electrolyte replacer that really does satisfy thirst and keeps us going. There are lots of recipes for it, but I thought I'd share mine, along with options for ingredient substitutions.


Ingredients for two quarts:
  • Ginger - 1/4 cup shredded fresh or 1 tbsp dry powder
  • Raw organic apple cider vinegar (with the mother) - 1/2 cup
  • Honey or maple syrup - 1/2 cup
  • Himalayan pink salt - 1 teaspoon
  • Water to make 2 quarts

To make:
  • Simmer ginger in about a pint of water. Cool and squeeze out the ginger water.
  • Mix ginger water, vinegar, honey, and salt in a 2-quart container.  Mix well. 
  • Add water to fill container.

Ingredient notes:
  • Adjust ingredients to taste
  • May substitute:
    • lemon juice for vinegar
    • Celtic or sea for salt 
    • coconut palm sugar for honey or maple syrup
  • Sodium chloride content in salt varies:
    • Sea salt (like table salt) is 97 to 99% sodium chloride
    • Himalayan salt is roughly 87% sodium chloride
    • Celtic sea salt is about 85% sodium chloride
    • The remaining percentage is minerals.
  • Table salt isn't recommended because it contains sugar as dextrose and sometimes aluminum as either sodium aluminosilicate or calcium aluminosilicate. 

Drink freely while sweating. Dan and I take water with us when we work outside, then drink a glass of switchel when we get back to the house.

The primary electrolytes lost in sweat are sodium and chloride. Others include potassium, magnesium, and calcium. Carbohydrates help the digestive system absorb sodium and chloride. That's one reason for the sweetener, but it also increases palatability which encourages drinking more. This is important because when one is sweating a lot, it is imperative to replace the water lost through sweat. That means drinking more than the recommended 8 ounces 8 times a day. The test of good hydration is producing clear to pale yellow urine. Darker urine indicates progressive levels of dehydration.

Why is switchel better than commercial sports drinks? For me, the issues are the kinds of sweeteners they use (often high-fructose corn syrup or sucrose from bleached beet sugar. The problem there is that commercially grown beets are GMO). They also can contain brominated vegetable oil. Apparently, this acts as an emulsifier and keeps the citrus flavor from floating to the top of the drink. (However, it's banned in most countries except the U.S.)

So here's the list of my switchel ingredients and what the electrolytes they help replace. I also included the vitamins that help for energy.

Electrolyte replacement:
  • apple cider vinegar - potassium, magnesium
  • or lemon juice - potassium, magnesium, calcium, vitamin C
  • honey - calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, carbohydrates (for energy and to help assimilate sodium and chloride)  
  • or maple syrup - riboflavin, calcium, magnesium, carbohydrates
  • or coconut sugar - calcium, potassium, carbohydrates
  • ginger
    • fresh - B vitamins, magnesium, potassium
    • dried, ground - B vitamins, magnesium, potassium, calcium
  • Himalayan or Celtic salt - sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium, calcium.

A lot of claims are made about the Himalayan and Celtic salts, but I found little actual research on them. I did find a study which indicates that Himalayan pink salt increases hydration as opposed to white sea salt (which increases dehydration). You can read that study here. One study does not a scientific fact make, but to me, it recommends it as a good choice for sodium and chloride replacement.

As far as summer being over, we still have a way to go. July and August are usually our hottest months, although September can be pretty toasty as well. We certainly could do with more rain. While we wait for fall, we'll take it slow and stick with our summer routine. It's not too bad now that we're used to it.

July 12, 2019

Tractor Wagon

We get a lot of use from our wheelbarrows and garden cart. But Dan wanted something that could carry larger, heavier loads than what we can manage with those, especially since most of this year's firewood is down the hill in the woods. We looked at both new and used pull carts for lawn tractors, but in the end, he decided to build a wagon from an old riding lawn mower.

Dan tore an old broken riding mower down to just the frame. 

The two by fours were scraps. Their function is to raise the bed
of the wagon above the back tires. The angle iron came from the 
crate our chipper was shipped in. Dan cut and welded it to fit.

The sides are pressure-treated decking boards.

Steering closeup. Dan had to do a bit of welding to get the steering stable.

Ditto with the tractor side.

Then a bit of paint,

and she was ready to go.

The only advantage a commercial cart has over Dan's is that they can dump their loads, while this one can't. But that's a small trade-off for making something mostly out of materials we already had. Dan bought only the decking boards, so the entire wagon cost under $20 to make.

The wagon holds 5 wheelbarrow loads of wood chips.

Being able to transport larger, heavier loads is the kind of useful convenience that enables us to work smarter not harder. We need to get the job done without wearing ourselves out! And that helps us keep things manageable as we get older.

Our workhorse wagon is champion at hauling firewood.

The right equipment is so important around a homestead, although I have to say it usually takes us awhile to figure it out. That probably sounds strange, but with a limited budget we often do things by hand because at the time there isn't another choice. As we analyze what we do and how we do it, we discuss options and look for sensible technology; usually the simpler the better. It takes some time to make decisions, but I think we've been able to make the best choices for us that way.

July 8, 2019

Digging Potatoes and Soil Discoveries

I dug our potatoes over the weekend. These are the grocery store potatoes I decided to try. Seed potatoes have gotten so expensive that I thought, what the heck. So I bought some organic russet potatoes and planted them in two of my hugelkultur swale beds along with cowpeas and my winter potted pansies. I was thrilled with what I discovered.

The first thing I noticed was the moisture in the soil. I haven't watered these beds much even though it's been hot and dry. I wouldn't have been surprised if the soil was bone dry when I dug but that wasn't the case. So that was like a pat on the back for my soil building efforts.

The second thing I noticed was the soil texture. Here's what my soil used to look like. (Ha! And still does in lots of places.)

Here's a chunk I turned up while hunting potatoes.

The combination of soil microorganisms, organic matter, roots, soil, and air all point to improved soil structure, which helps with moisture retention. I was so happy to see that.

My third happy discovery was the abundant mycorrhizal fungi.

Growing symbiotically with the potatoes,

and throughout the bed.

If you recall from my August 2018 blog post, Carbon: What I Didn't Know, mychrrhizae are fungi that form symbiotic relationships with plants. They receive liquid carbon from the plants and in return extend the plant's root system to network and harvest nutrients from other areas. They also produce glomalin, a sticky substance that glues together soil particles, minerals, organic matter, and nutrients to form soil aggregates. Aggregates reduce water and wind erosion, reduce compaction, increase nutrient cycling, and increase water filtration and moisture retention around plant roots. When I compare my soil then and now, that's what I'm seeing. That's why I'm excited.

I also found this.

I assume these are nitrogen fixing nodules from the cowpea plants in the bed. The cowpeas are legumes, and that's what legumes do, fix nitrogen in the soil.

These soil microorganisms are why we no longer till. They can tolerate minor soil disturbance, but extensive mechanical disturbance will disrupt and kill them. So I removed the potatoes with as little disturbance as possible, covered the bare soil with a layer of leaf mulch, and gave the bed a good watering.

And the potatoes?

Harvest and size were fair. Even though there was still moisture in the soil, I think the plants definitely would have benefited from more consistent watering. My last pot of potatoes did much better in terms of size, but I made sure to water it frequently. The old "inch per week" is still a good rule of thumb to go by.

My hugelkultur swale beds were made in April 2017 as an experiment in soil moisture retention (more on that here.) Two years later, I'm seeing wonderful soil improvement and that's exciting to me. This is exactly what I have been working toward and hoping for. I just had to share! 😂