April 28, 2020

Seed Shortages(?) and One Solution

I've picked up some buzz from around the internet that because of the pandemic, so many people have been trying to purchase online and mail-order seeds that demand is exceeding supply. I don't know if that's true, or if it's sensationalism to put people into another dither and get hits. That's not my point! The reason for this blog post is to pass on a potentially useful thread I found at Permies.com.

I realize there can be many objections to this, but the article is well written and addresses problems and concerns. It's well worth a read by those of you looking to either start or expand your own gardens.

The thread was started five years ago, but comments and ideas have been added to it since. You don't have to be a Permies member to read it, only to comment.

If you have more ideas for gardening when seeds are in short supply, please share in the comments of this post!

April 25, 2020

Spring Clean-Up

Once things start greening up in spring, it seems like our place goes from bare to out-of-control in a matter of days. With planting and haying going on, it's hard to keep up with it, so some areas only get a once a year clean-up. Such is the case for the herb and flower beds in the front yard. Here's how it looked before we got started.

The "bush" is a tangle of wild rose, nandina, ligustrum, and honeysuckle.
The herb & flower beds are sprouting various grasses & saplings trees. 

Here's how it looked after.

This year, Dan dug out the whole mess, including the roots.
Remaining in that bed is yarrow, butterfly weed, and chicory.

Just a different kind of messy! Usually, I only try to make it look neat, but this year we have plans. The rough circle of bricks you see is going to become a keyhole garden. In the bed in front of the porch, we're going to transplant a couple of our volunteer blueberry bushes. They're attractive, will provide shade and privacy for the porch, and more blueberries! On the trellis (where I've tried and failed to grow hops for the past three years), I'm going to try a cherry-type tomato called "Matt's Wild Cherry Tomato." It's a native of Mexico and reported to be vigorous,  disease-resistant, and self-sowing. It's indeterminate, so the trellis is a good place to try it.

I've also been working on my other herb beds. The problem with them is mostly wire-grass takeover.

I have two currently rather undefined herb beds growing echinacea,
lamb's ear, spearmint, and thyme (front). Oregano, sage, lavender, &
bee balm in the back bed. Dan has plans for new borders for them.

It's always rewarding to get these beds neat and tidy. Unfortunately, by the end of summer they will look wild and unkempt again!

Dan's keyhole garden is underway, so I'll have more about that soon.

Spring Clean-Up © April 2020 by Leigh

April 22, 2020

Winter Wheat Update

Wyomingheart asked how our wheat is doing.

So far, so good. I say that because last year we lost our winter wheat to lodging. That's when the plants fall down, for often mysterious reasons. In our case, heavy rains flattened it, but it can't be cut lying on the ground, so the crop is pretty much a waste. We salvaged what we could by harvesting it for hay, but it meant no homegrown wheat last year.

We don't plant a lot. This patch is roughly 30' x 62', with enough room to expand it about 5 more feet both ways. Depending on how this harvest goes, it should be enough for our needs until next year.

Wheat flowers.

It just finished flowering, and the plants range from 2 to 3 feet in height. In some places, the stand is thick, in others it's pretty patchy.

In the above photo, what you see on the ground is wood chip mulch. I wouldn't ordinarily mulch wheat, so this is where I should tell you about another of our soil building experiments. (See the end of this post for links to the others.)

The whole area used to be our garden, but we (I) found it too large to manage mostly by myself, so we divided it into a canning and kitchen garden at the top and a grain growing patch at the bottom.

Detail from the 2020 Master Plan

This new arrangement invited another soil-building experiment, but this one was different from the others. And unconventional. But like the others, I started by digging a soil sample for the record.

Then my experiment.

First, Dan mowed it short with the mulching mower. Then I started laying down waste boards and planks from Dan's sawmilling. Many of the cuts are too thin or irregular to use for other projects, so they are basically waste wood. I laid them down on the ground and covered them with subsoil from my hugelkulture swale bed digging project. That was topped with wood chip mulch.

I seeded it for green manure, even though I didn't think much could grow through the wood chips. That was autumn of 2018 and last summer I got scanty growth.

Photo taken May 2019, when I allowed the goats in to graze it. 

Last fall, I broadcast wheat and clover seed and Dan scythed what growth there was there. That was  left as mulch and green manure. Almost none of the clover came up, but I'm pleased with the wheat we've got. It will likely be ready to harvest for grain in June.

I also want to show you the heritage wheat I planted last fall.

It's a landrace wheat from northern Jordan and Southern Syria called Hourani. It was advertised as being of excellent quality and lodge resistant!

Hourani wheat seed head.

Unfortunately, germination was extremely poor, probably close to only 10%. Even so, I'll collect and treasure what I get! The goal is to eventually switch to this type instead of commercial wheat seed.

So that's my wheat report. Here are the soil-building links I promised.

Soil Building Experiment #1
Soil Building Experiment #2: Pastures
Soil Building Experiment #3: Hay Growing
I recently posted some results, here → Pasture Soil Building Update

Winter Wheat Update © April 2020 by Leigh

April 19, 2020

Spring Hay Harvest

About a month ago, I showed you photos of how our pastures are coming along since we began our soil building efforts (See "Pasture Soil Building Update.") Another area we've been working to improve soil is in our hay growing areas. The methods are different, but we've seen hopeful results there too.

Winter hay mix of wheat, oats, winter peas, vetch, and clover.

For these, we've been using green manure, plant diversity, and old hay to build the soil. Cooperative weather helps! It isn't fence-to-fence consistent in terms of growth, but this is the best hay crop I think we've had so far.

What I really wanted to show you, however, is Dan's idea for getting the cut and dried hay into the hay loft. We've come a long way from our very first attempts. Remember this?

Photo from "Hay Loft!" May 2018. I snapped
it and then ran up to help pull the load in.

Here's how he does it now.

This is the last load, so it's only partially full,
but the box hoists easily with a full load too.

The box was the one our chest fridge came in, and it's perfect for this job! I fill the box, he hauls it up, and dumps it.

Of our three patches of hay we have two harvested and one more to go.

We could use the box to make our own bales if we wanted to! Sometimes, however, the hay is still not completely cured. This is mostly because the thicker stalks of the peas and vetch are slower to dry than the blades of grass. If rain is threatening, we bring in the hay, I spread it out on the hayloft floor, lightly salt it with Himalayan Pink salt, and turn it twice a day until completely dry.

The challenges of homesteading are never-ending, and the solutions are rarely one-size-fits-all. We start with what's available and experiment. Eventually, we figure things out!

Spring Hay Harvest © April 2020 by Leigh

April 15, 2020

Last Exterior House Project

Dan finally finished the front bedroom windows last month, when we had a string of warm days suitable for painting.

The finishing touch will be to build a pergola for each set of bedroom windows. I'll use them to grow muscadines but also to help shade the windows from the setting summer sun. Then there's finishing the interior of that front bedroom, but that's another day, another story.

For the outside of the house, that leaves only one more wall to be done.

This is the last side of the house to be updated, the sun room. The shot
was taken in Feb. 2017, after we finished the front windows and porch.

Above is how it looks in winter. In summer, it's been well hidden by beauty bushes and shaded by a crepe myrtle.

Photo taken summer of 2019. Crepe myrtle tree is on the right.

What we've been thinking, is that perhaps this might be the place to attach a greenhouse.

Detail from our Master Plan.

The current idea under discussion is to use all the original house windows we saved as we replaced them. We'd roof it with transparent panels, have an interior door to the sun room, and an exterior door out the back. The question is whether it will get enough sun. To check that out, one of Dan's winter projects was to  cut down the bushes and the crepe myrtle.

Photo taken last week.

(Did you catch that?)

We haven't had a lot of full-sun days lately, but it appears to get at least 6 good hours on sunny days, parts of it get more. There is still a lot of planning to do, but it looks like it just might do.

A special thanks to Goatldi (New Life on the Farm New Beginnings) for the idea of Meowy's cape and "M." She suggested it in the comments of my "Spring Has Sprung" post, and the idea was too fun to pass up. ­čść

April 12, 2020

Why I Have Hope in a Time of Fear

For those of you unfamiliar with Sacred Harp (or shape note singing), it's a traditional American form of sacred singing. The notes were shaped as a tool for teaching sight singing. The example below shows one system of shape notes.

The first verse is traditionally sung in solf├Ęge syllables (do, re, me, fa, sol, etc.), so if you don't understand what they're saying, that's why.

"I'm Going Home" is one of my favorites. If you've seen Cold Mountain with Nicole Kidman and Jude Law, then it will be familiar to you. It's not specifically a Resurrection song, but the Resurrection is the reason why it fills me with hope.

April 9, 2020

Spring Has Sprung

Everything started turning green about a month earlier than usual.

Dogwood blooming as the wood lot greens up.

The goats are happy with the fresh forage and the cats are happy with the warmer weather.

Ellie with two of her triplets. Meowy flying in the background.

The only question was whether to take a risk and plant the summer garden early, or wait until our traditional last frost date.

Most of my winter greens have gone to flower, but the
lettuce is doing well. Shown here with fava beans, and garlic. 

Fall planted fava beans. I lost about half, but
the ones that survived are blooming like crazy.

Lone lacinato kale with flowering radishes.

Multiplier onions.

And in that multiplier onion bed. . .

A volunteer potato!

I decided to wait. Here's a look at what we're enjoying these days.

Apple blossoms. That's our winter wheat in the background.

Pear blossoms

Mulberry. Immature berries look hopefully numerous.

One of our two redbuds. This one may have to come down
because it shades the solar panels in the late afternoon.

Bridal wreath.

Periwinkle starting to bloom.

Newly budding oak leaves against a beautiful blue sky.

The weather forecast for the weekend includes another cold front coming through with rain and nighttime lows back in the 30s. That's okay because I don't want it to get too hot too quickly. I'd like to enjoy spring for as long as we can!

How about you? How's April treating you so far?

UPDATE: The second photo of the goats and Meowy received some comments that led to this. . .


Spring Has Sprung
 © April 2020 by Leigh

April 6, 2020

Book Review: Attainable Sustainable

I have in my hands a real treat of a book. It's another book that seems especially appropriate for the uncertain times we are living in. I received a review copy from tlc book tours when I agreed to participate in an online book tour. I'm very pleased to share it with you.

Attainable Sustainable: the lost art of self-reliant living
by Kris Bordessa. 

Kris is a fellow blogger who began blogging with a goal to encourage others toward self-reliant living. Teaching traditional skills one step at a time, she created a popular blog and has now written a book!

The book is gorgeous. Published by National Geographic, it contains 320 full color pages of well-organized information covering all aspects of self-reliant living. It acquaints the reader with a well-rounded selection of self-reliance skills and includes numerous recipes, tips, and DIY how-tos. It's divided into two parts.

Part I: Indoors

Chapter 1: Eat 
This chapter is, of course, about food! Covers all aspects of food preservation with clear, easy-to-follow instructions: canning, dehydrating, pickling, fermentation, making fruit juices, breads (quick, yeast, and sourdough), grains & legumes, infused oils and vinegars, and meat, from sourcing good quality meat to charcuterie, the art of making seasoned meats such as bacon and sausage.

The chapter is sprinkled liberally with recipes, such as chewy dried bananas, pickled ginger, crunchy sourdough baguettes, and strawberry switchel. It also contains DIY projects such as moisture absorbers, and useful tips such as using linen bread bags to increase the shelf life of homemade bread (with instructions for making them in the next chapter).

Chapter 2: Make
This chapter is for the crafter in all of us. It has lots of DIY projects, such as oil lamps that use common vegetable oils, reusable produce bags, waste-free food wraps, felted soap, a coiled rope basket, a leatherbound journal, mosaic trivet, and how to make your own blocks for block printing. My favorite section is on natural dying for a rainbow of color. Each section covers the craft basics and gives detailed instructions and photographs for the many projects.

Chapter 3: Clean
Chapter 3 starts with an excellent discussion on soapmaking and offers two recipes to get you started: pure tallow soap and a moisturizing soap bar. You'll find recipes for items like lotion bars and deodorant cream in skin care. Two of the several projects you'll find in natural hair care are a time-saving dry shampoo and a hydrating avocado hair mask. In herbalism, you'll learn how to make tinctures, infused oils in your slow cooker, and hydrosols. In natural remedies you'll find homemade help for a number of ailments including elderberry syrup to boost immunity and a decongestant chest rub. Lots of goodies in cleaning & laundry including a citrus scrubbing cleaner, DIY diswasher soap, and a stain remover. Air fresheners and pest control round out the chapter nicely.

Part II: Outdoors

Chapter 4: Grow
An excellent gardening primer covering getting started, seed selection, vertical gardening, container gardening, natural weed control, soil improvement, greenhouse growing, edible weeds, edible landscaping, and pest and predator control. Lots of good tips, for example, I didn't know sweet potato vines are edible! Lots of projects. Make a terra-cotta olla, a salad tower, and soil blocks for seed starting,

Chapter 5: Farm
Any backyard can become a farm! Discusses using orchard trees in your landscape, how to attract pollinators, beekeeping, composting, chickens, ducks, turkeys, quail, rabbits, even goats and pigs. Projects include making a mason bee house, rendering beeswax, making a vermicomposter, and DIY udder balm, with recipes for herb-infused honey and fruit mead.

Chapter 6: Trek
This chapter focuses on enjoying the great outdoors through hiking and camping. There are sections on bushcraft knives, cast-iron cookery, and foraging. Learn how to make a tuna can stove, clean a fish, make a natural shelter, make a mini-flower press, and tap trees for syrup. Not just sugar maples, but butternut, walnut, birch, sycamore, and ironwood can all be tapped for making syrup. Lots of good ideas for family activities too: natural weather forecasting, trail signs and tracking, and plant identification.

The appendices include a climate zone map and "tools every homesteader should have." You'll also find an extensive resource list for further reading.

This is an appealing book, the kind you might think of as a useful coffee table reference book. It is encouraging, well-written, and beautifully designed. It would make an excellent gift, especially for those who are feeling helplessly stuck at home because of the current pandemic. You can find it on Amazon, Barnes & NobleBooks-A-Million, and your local bookstore (you can find one at IndieBound).

To learn more about Kris Bordessa, visit her "Attainable Sustainable" website, and check her out on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and YouTube.

April 2, 2020

A New Normal?

Many bloggers are sharing the rigors of their imposed isolation in response to this latest health threat. I'm afraid I have nothing interesting to report on that front because our lives here on our homestead haven't changed because of the pandemic frenzy. Being self-reliant means we are relatively self-contained, anyway. We live with livestock, manure, and dirt, so we are already in the habit of washing our hands frequently. We never wear outdoor shoes in the house and we change to indoor clothes after working outside all day.

We keep a stocked pantry, not because we're afraid of the zombie apocalypse, but because it's common sense. Plus, growing our own food is necessarily based on annual growing and storage cycles. We know how to tighten our belts, if the need arises, and how to make do with less than we're accustomed to. I still make my weekly shopping trip, but even with random empty store shelves, we have enough to get by, or we have alternatives as back-up. We home church. The only thing we miss is videos from the library—but not enough to pick up a paid TV service!

No one would admire our financial status, but we are content. We have no debt except our mortgage. We have no investments, and we aren't trying to increase our wealth. So it doesn't matter what the stock market and Federal Reserve are doing. On the fortunate side, our fixed income isn't dependent on Dan going to work, although as a retired truck driver he'd still be working if he wasn't retired.

The bottom line is that we subscribe to a different social and economic paradigm than the world clings to, and as much as the world will let us, we try to live our lives in accordance with our beliefs. We've chosen greater self-dependence rather than seeking to meet all our needs through the consumer system. We've chosen interacting with nature instead of pursuing social trends. This has been our life for over a decade. Now, I hear folks talking about a new normal once this covid-19 scare is behind us, but I honestly don't know what that means.

I don't want to give the impression that I don't care how difficult this "lockdown" is for many. I do care, so I'm writing this blog post to find out how you're feeling about the future. Does a new normal mean personal changes? Social changes? Preparing for the future arrival of covid-20, covid-21, etc? I'd like to think this has been a wake-up call, and that a new normal means people taking back control of their lives:
  • Common sense stocking up, i.e. at least whatever supply of groceries and household items you wish you had now.
  • Growing even a small portion of their own food. (Can't put in a garden? Then how about a nursery cart and grow light?)
  • Learn how to strengthen the immune system.
  • Learn how to be content with fewer distractions and less stuff.
  • Realize that to the talking heads, bad news gets higher ratings than good news. Turn off the TV and engage in something constructive.
  • Realize that wealth isn't numbers on a computer screen.
For society, I hope we're paying close attention to who is now considered essential and non-essential. There are some important observations to be made here, such as, we've been overpaying the wrong people. I hope we're realizing that cities are not safe places when it comes to health security and resource availability. I hope we're realizing that there are different definitions of "truth." This has always been the case, but it's becoming more obvious to anyone paying attention. Lastly, I hope we're seeing for whom politics and power are more important than people.

Okay, that's just me. Not everyone will agree with me, so tell me what you're learning from this experience and what a new normal means to you, both personally and to society as a whole. The floor is yours.

A New Normal? © April 2020 by Leigh