February 17, 2020

5 Acres & A Dream The Book GIVEAWAY!

It's been ages since I've done a giveaway! Are you game? For this one, I'm partnering with Permies.com, and I'll be giving away not one, but four copies of 5 Acres & A Dream The Book!

The giveaway will run from today (Feb. 17) through Friday, Feb. 21st. It is open to members of Permies Forums, who will be hosting the event. But it's free to join, and I promise your membership will be well worth it. If you haven't visited before, click here to go and check it out.

Here's how you enter for a chance to win one of those four copies:
  • First register to join, here. All that's required is your email address, a real sounding name, and a password. That's it.
  • To enter the giveaway, you need to do two things.
    • Sign up for the Daily-ish Email. In "My Profile" go to "Email Preferences" and tic the Daily-ish Email box. Hit "Submit" at the bottom of the page.
    Clicking image should biggify.
    • Head on over to the Permies Homesteading Forum and join in! You can do that by commenting on any of the existing homesteading threads or by starting your own. You get an entry for every comment, so the more you join in, the better your chances!

Caveat: You can comment on any of the Permies forums, but only those in the Homesteading forum will count as entries for the giveaway.

BIG HINT: How to increase your chances of winning! Permies likes and rewards good quality comments and posts. That means that positive, informative comments have the best chance of winning. Photos and videos that contribute to the topic are encouraged and welcome! Comments like "Enter me" or "I'd like to win this book" don't carry much weight in the algorithms. To increase your chances of winning, join in any of the homesteading topics and share your experiences to encourage others. Or start new threads with your own homesteading questions. I'll be surprised if you don't get good answers. This is a very knowledgeable bunch of dedicated folks.

You can read the Permies reviews of 5 Acres & A Dream The Book here. The drawing takes place this Friday evening or Saturday morning. A link to the winners will be announced through the Daily-ish Email. If you win, you have 24 hours to respond with a mailing address to receive your prize.

Optional: One last thing. Please come say "Hi" to me on this thread, which officially kicks off the giveaway. It doesn't count as an entry, but I'd love to know you've joined in and wish you good luck.

I hope to see you there!

February 14, 2020

Book Review: A Soil Owner's Manual

About a year and a half ago, I enthusiastically started a series of blog posts on soil building. Dan and I had just found several video series by regenerative farmer Gabe Brown and agronomist Ray Archuleta. That was the beginning of a completely new phase of homesteading for us because it offered solutions to problems we were having. Since that time I've gleaned more bits and pieces of information, but it wasn't until now that I've finally been able to connect all the dots and see the big picture. And this is the book that did that for me.

by Jon Stika

It's not a very big book, only 88 pages, but it lays out the principles of improving soil health and their application clearly, logically, and to the point. No fluff, just facts.

Chapter 1: What is Soil Health and Why Should I Care?

As a lifelong organic gardener, I thought I had a handle on soil health. What I didn't realize was that, even though organic gardening is an improvement over industrialized chemical farming, it still follows the wrong paradigm. This chapter helps the reader understand nature's paradigm by explaining the five functions of the soil, why we don't need to feed the soil, and why a new fundamental understanding of soil is needed. 

Chapter 2: What's Wrong With My Soil the Way It Is? 

Explains why most soil in the United States (and the world) is dysfunctional. Explains how tilling the soil damages the soil ecosystem. 

Chapter 3: How Is Healthy Soil Supposed to Function?

We're all familiar with dysfunctional soil. The problem is that it is so familiar, that its dysfunctional state is now considered "normal." For example, my highly deficient compact red clay soil is considered normal for the southeastern U.S. This chapter explains why that is a fallacy. It defines healthy soil by describing properly functioning soil. Discusses water cycling, nutrient cycling, physical support, and biodiversity.

Chapter 4: Biology of the Soil

This quote from chapter 4 says it better than I could, "Soil microbiologists have determined that roughly 90% of the functions we expect soil to perform are biologically driven . . . Appreciating soil biology and all that it does is essential to improving soil health and becoming an economically and environmentally sustainable producer." Clue: soil biology is not just about earthworms! This chapter defines the Soil Food Web (SFW), describes the inhabitants that populate this web, how they function, and how they are fed.

Chapter 5: How Do I Restore the Health of My Soil?

"If the soil is managed with an understanding of the habitat requirements for the SFW, the capacity of the soil to function can be restored." This chapter details the keys to restoring soil health and how to make them work for you. I now understand why I have weeds! And I now know what to do about them. Also explains how the carbon:nitrogen ratio of cover crops and mulch affects soil microorganisms. Very useful information. Includes specifics for tailoring the principles of healthy soil to crop land, hay growing, pasture, rangeland, woodlands, and your yard, garden, orchard, or vineyard. 

Chapter 6: Goals and Tools

Explains how understanding healthy, fully functional soil can help you choose the best tools and equipment to meet your goals. 

Chapter 7: How Will I Know If My Soil Health is Improving?

This is an important question! Explains three simple, easy-to-do tests to get you started and help you monitor progress. Also discusses more sophisticated lab tests that can help measure the state of the soil's biologic activity. 

The book includes an appendix listing useful soil resources and a chart of the carbon to nitrogen (C:N) ratios of soil mulches and cover crops. Explains how to choose these based on your goals. A glossary and bibliography complete the book. 

The only thing that's missing is an index. I have a paperback copy, so no search feature. But this is the kind of book I will search through and refer to often. Even so, it's definitely a 5-star addition to any homesteader's, gardener's, rancher's, or farmer's home library.

You can find A Soil Owner's Manual at Amazon or your favorite book seller. It's available in paperback, Kindle, and audiobook. You can follow that link for a "Look Inside."

February 11, 2020

Kidding Has Commenced!

Daisy was due to kid next Friday, but on Sunday I found her looking like she was in the first stages of labor. Into the kidding stall she went.


For goats, it's a challenge to tell about early labor since they don't announce, "I'm having contractions!" It's up to the goatkeeper to figure it out. Clues include suddenly full udder, discharge (especially blood-tinged), separating herself from the others, unwillingness to leave the barn, standing in one place, shifting weight, and looking like she's concentrating. Her tail rises with each contraction. Daisy showed all these signs. A couple of hours later...

A buckling first. Delivery was classic textbook.

Second was a little doeling (right), also a textbook delivery.

Third was another buckling (right). His head and one
leg were tucked behind, so he needed a little help.

The last one popped out easily; another buckling (center).

That makes Daisy's total to be three boys and one girl. Not my preferred outcome, but I'm glad they're all healthy. Daisy is an excellent mother and a heavy producer, so I have no doubt she'll be able to feed them all.

The next day...

Everybody's doing fine

and knows how to find milk. 

I was very glad she kidded during the day. Makes it warmer and easier.

Next due date is March 1st.

Kidding Has Commenced! © February 2020

February 8, 2020

Our Eventful Rain Event

This week's rain event was one like we'd never experienced before.

At morning chores, the bucks were high and dry.
Three hours later the buck shelter was flooded.

We had to wade out to rescue them.
The deepest spot reached the top of my boots.

Piles of ants floated by.

Dry ground was gone.

The boys were standing in six inches of water
with their bedding straw floating on top.

Fortunately, we have the buck barn. It's out of the flooding, although it sits
in a dip and usually has wet floors when it rains. But it was a better option.

Goats hate getting wet, so we had to push and drag them
through the flooded area to get them to higher ground.

Dan put down pallets and plywood to get them off
the damp ground and we gave them plenty of dry hay.

There aren't many options for draining the pasture. 

Some of it we could channel behind the buck shelter. 

Our neighbor's field floods with every extensive rain,
so ours will drain off with his. At least some of it.

Our rain total was 5.5 inches. By the next morning there were only a couple of small puddles left in the pasture. The wind was blowing strong and cold, and the temperature had dropped 30 degrees.

We've had areas around the homestead collect a lot of water, but we've never had the pasture flood like that before! The wet straw will be spread out on bare spots in the pasture. Then we'll let the shelter dry out before putting down fresh bedding and letting the bucks back in.

UPDATE:

Two days later.

Our Eventful Rain Event © February 2020

February 5, 2020

Adjusting Our Solar Panels

My "Solar Power Day" blog post was lengthy long enough as it was. However, there was one more thing I wanted to show you—one last thing we did when we finally got our system up and running—how we adjust the angle of our solar panels to take advantage of the seasonal position of the sun.

Photo from "The Solar Panels Are Up."

Originally, we talked about putting our solar panels on the roof. Now I'm glad we didn't. Rooftop panels are fixed, but by putting the panels on a rack on the ground, they can be made adjustable. High-tech tracking systems are available, or adjustments can be made manually, like ours.

You may recall that Dan made the rack for our solar panel array.


He spent a lot of time thinking how to make it adjustable. Here's what he did.

The panel frame is attached to the stand with hinges at the top.

The bottom is supported by slotted strut channels
and a steel dowel pin pounded into the frame.

These are also hinged at the frame.

How do we know what angle to adjust the panel array to? With a nifty idea we got from Prepper's Total Grid Failure Handbook; simply glue a nail to one of the solar panels. In our case, we glued it to the 50-watt panel we use for our portable battery recharging station. We didn't glue it to an array panel because we didn't want it sticking out where it might accidentally scratch someone.

On a sunny day at noon, tilt the panel until the nail's shadow disappears.

I tilted the panel just enough so that you can see the shadow. The panel is
turned until the shadow disappears, then the array is adjusted to that angle.

The array angle is changed by simply moving the channel struts to another slot.

Done.

Angel adjusted for late January.

That's my kind of technology.

Adjusting Our Solar Panels © February 2020

February 1, 2020

Dehydrated Refrigerator Pickles

I never like opening the last jar of anything. My goal is to keep my pantry stocked sufficiently enough, so that I start each preservation season with at least a small surplus from a previous year. It doesn't always work out that way, however, and recently I ran out of pickles. That meant it was time to try a recipe from a book I reviewed a while back, Prepper's Dyhydrator Handbook.

Dehydrated Refrigerator Pickles

Ingredients
  • 1 cup vinegar (I used distilled white)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1½ tbsp pickling or canning salt
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • ¼ tsp dill seed
  • ⅛ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1½ cups dried cucumber slices

To Make
  • In a saucepan mix water, vinegar, and salt. Bring to a boil.
  • In a pint canning jar put the remaining ingredients.

Dry ingredients in the jar (I used fresh garlic).

  • Cover with boiled brine, leaving ½-inch headspace.

Covered with brine. Ingredients are floating.

  • Refrigerate 24 hours before serving.

24 hours later.

Ready to eat. How'd they turn out?


Well, they didn't look like "real" pickle slices. The recipe seemed to indicate that they'd plump up nicely overnight, but I didn't find that to be the case. They pretty much still had the appearance and texture of dehydrated cucumbers. I also thought it curious that my clear brine of white vinegar and water turned brownish, as though I'd used apple cider vinegar.

A possible reason for these things (the only one I can think of, anyway) is that my cucumber slices were dried harder than the recipe's author's. My climate is humid enough that I must dehydrate everything rock hard to prevent molding later on. Not that it stays that hard. Those clever DIY veggie snack chip recipes don't turn out with my humidity. My dried fruits and veggies become soft and limp as soon as they cool off from being taken out of the dehydrator.

Then the taste test. They tasted like . . . . . .  pickles! Chewy pickles. Dan would have preferred a little more dill which is easily remedied. If I try them again, maybe I should try leaving them in simmering brine for awhile.

My conclusion? I'm definitely glad I tried the recipe, and I would make them again in a pinch, but I won't give up making fresh pickles.