July 28, 2020

Hoping to Save Some Elderberries

Last year my elder bushes bloomed well, but birds got most of the berries. They will eat them green, which means I don't have much of a chance when it comes to getting a share of the harvest. I never mind sharing with the birds, but I want some too!

This year, I decided to try netting bags, to see if I could save some of my elderberries.

I bought them on Amazon (link here), 50, approximately 10-inch by 6-inch net bags for about $16. The netting is sturdy, seams are double folded, and each bag has a drawstring.

Size-wise, they are a little small for large clusters of elderberries, but the next larger size jumped too much in price.

I made do by either stuffing the clusters into the bags, or splitting them between two bags.

I thought 50 would be a lot, but in fact, they didn't go very far! So I bought another set and ended up using about 90 total.

How well they'll work, I have no idea. I suppose it depends on how much sun the individual berries require. I think they would be useful for seed savers too, to prevent cross-pollination by insects.

Making these bags would be an easy DIY project, if one could find sturdy enough netting. The netting and tulle I see in fabric stores would be too soft. But that would be the best way to have larger bags. Dan was hoping to use them on his sunflowers to protect the seed from the birds, but these are too small. Larger bags are definitely in order.

Hopefully, I'll get plenty of elderberries this year! Do you have critter problems? What are your solutions for critters who help themselves to more than their fair share?

July 24, 2020

Book Review: Backyard Dairy Goats

Backyard Dairy Goats: A Natural Approach to
Keeping Goats in Any Yard by Kate Downham.

This book won me over in the introduction.
  1. The author loves goats (her favorite animal)!
  2. She mentions Pat Coleby's Natural Goat Care (one of my go-tos).
  3. She makes her cheeses with natural cultures (me too)!
Since I'm tracking in the same direction with my goatkeeping and dairying, I knew I would not only enjoy reading this book, but would glean useful tidbits from author Kate's experience and research.

What sets this book apart from most other books about keeping goats, is a keyword in the title, "Backyard." While most other books about goats assume acreage, Kate keeps her goats in her backyard. That makes this book unique, and I would say important in times such as these, when many folks are looking for ways to expand personal food security. More people have backyards than acres, and this book is perfect for them.

The book is divided into five sections: Understanding Goats, The Needs of Backyard Goats, Getting Your Goats, Day to Day Goat Keeping, and Cheesemaking and Recipes.

Understanding Goats begins with A goat's place in the backyard ecosystem and provides excellent reasons why keeping your own goats is good for you, the environment, and your property. This section covers goat behavior, herd dynamics, handling goats, introducing goats to the milking stand, introducing new goats to the herd, dealing with escaped goats, and how to herd goats. "Goat health and observation" covers common health issues with goats and how to prevent them.

The Needs of Backyard Goats covers shelter, different kinds of fencing, bedding, and feeding goats, including things you can do and grow yourself. All important water and minerals are covered in detail. You'll also find tips for acquiring a milking stand. This section concludes with everything a prospective goatherd needs to understand before committing to the responsibility of caring for goats.

Getting Your Goats contains information you need to know beforehand. Discusses what to check on before bringing goats to your backyard, and how to deal with potential objections from neighbors! Discusses horned goats versus no horns, dairy goat breeds, and how much milk you can expect. Tells you how to spot a good quality goat and where to look for dairy goats. The author gives you a list of questions to ask as you consider potential purchases, (something I wish I'd had when I got my first goats). Transporting goats is also discussed.

Day to Day Goat Keeping helps you sleuth your way through health observations and questions goatkeepers face, as well as basic natural "cure all remedies." You'll learn how to give an injection, how to check eye membrane color for internal parasites, and what you need to know about breeding, pregnancy, and kidding. The remainder of the section gives excellent details on milking and milk handling.

Cheesemaking and Recipes starts with information about ingredients and equipment. Quick and simple cheese recipes follow, and then you'll find a thorough discussion of how to make cultured and renneted cheeses. All the cultures discussed are natural alternatives to commercial powdered cheese starters. All the cheese recipes in this book use natural cultures. My own favorite cheeses are included, along with a good variety of cheeses I haven't tried. Yet! The recipe section finishes up with recipes for using your cheese. I'm especially looking forward to trying her Chévre pastry crust and cheesecake.

The information in this book to the point, yet personal, and well organized. It brings hope to people who might want their own homegrown source of milk, but thought they needed an actual farm to do so.  You don't!

168 pages in paperback for $10.89 (that's currently ⅓ off the list price) or free if you have Kindle Unlimited. Check it out here.

July 20, 2020

Conserving Water in the Garden: Inverted Bottles

Here's another idea for conserving water in the garden - an inverted bottle waterer. I'm trying it in my African keyhole garden, because the blazing afternoon sun with no rain has been unkind to the borage and lettuce growing in it.

Jericho lettuce seems to beat the heat! Borage behind it.

I got the idea from Liz at Eight Acres, and she got the idea from someone else, and I hope you'll try it and pass it on too! Idea sharing is what makes the internet useful.

Yes, you can use plastic bottles, although Liz's experiments favored glass to plastic because plastic bottles tend to suck in as the water empties. Plus, she found the glass bottles held water longer. Even so, I'm willing to see for myself. I don't buy bottled water or soda, so we rarely have plastic bottles, but I had one that contained seltzer water (mixed with fruit juice concentrate for a yummy sugar-free soda pop), So I'm using it to experiment in  my large back porch planter.

Originally, I planted lettuce in this pot, but violets took over. They're
a good test subject because they wilt quickly when the pot dries out.

I suspect longevity will depend on the quality of the plastic. Many water bottles these days are extremely flimsy and I doubt would last long. Even so, all plastic eventually dries out and cracks.

Punching a small hole in the cap will slow the emptying of the bottle.

Actually, we rarely have glass bottles either, but I think they will last longer than plastic. This seems the absolute best way to recycle them!

Watering a sweet potato plant. This one is thriving
compared to the sweet potato plants in the garden.

An observation—the smaller (12 oz) bottle empties as soon as I put it in the ground. But the sweet potato is thriving, so I won't complain. The larger (750 ml) bottle delivers slowly. It was empty about 24 hours later. Both of these have made a wonderful difference for those poor plants.

Like the olla, this idea certainly makes watering easier and more effective. With both, water is delivered directly to the roots, so there is no surface water loss through evaporation. Compared to the olla, the bottles are quicker and easier to install; no digging required. That would make them preferable for perennials or other plants with established root systems. It would also be great for potted plants, which always dry out too quickly. On the other hand, the olla holds more water.

Be sure to read the comments as folks are sharing a lot more good ideas. I'm definitely going to expand on all of them!

July 16, 2020

Essential Oils for Burns

Chalk this one up to experience. Last week, I spilled a pot of boiling canner water on my bare feet. The whole thing, as I carried it out the back door. I do my canning on my enclosed back porch, but once I'm done, I put the pot of hot water outside to cool. This helps keep at least some of the heat off the back porch. After the water cools, it's given to nearby potted plants. The water in this pot, however, spilled all over the top of my feet.

When I was a small child, I got second degree burns on my legs when someone accidentally poured freshly percolated coffee on my lap (this was in the days before drip coffee makers). My thighs were covered with burn blisters as a result, and this is what I feared would happen to my feet. I had to do something quickly.

The first thing I did was fill another large pot with the coldest water I could get from the faucet, and I submerged my feet in it. Did you know that insulating a burn from air stops the pain? Our tap water isn't very cold, but it stopped the pain until I lifted my feet out. I sat there as long as I could, but I still had a big clean-up job to do and needed to get to it. So I slathered the burns with aloe vera gel, got my clean-up done, and then put my feet back into the cool soaking water as fast as I could.

A little research on essential oils for burns told me I had several on hand that would help: peppermint, lavender, and tea tree. Essential oils are very strong and must be diluted, usually with a carrier oil such as olive or coconut. Instead, I used aloe vera gel.

Soothing Burn Gel
  • 1 tablespoon aloe vera gel
  • 2-3 drops each of these essential oils
    • peppermint (anti-inflammatory, analgesic)
    • lavender (anti-inflammatory, analgesic)
    • tea tree (soothes, inhibits infection)
Mix well and apply to burn generously several times a day.

Instant relief. The peppermint has an immediate cooling effect which is very soothing. Best if all, no burn blisters. 

Wearing socks and shoes was uncomfortable for a couple of days, but tolerable. I'm just thankful it wasn't worse.

July 12, 2020

Conserving Water in the Garden: The Olla

We're in the season of popup thunderstorms. That means hot days where some places can get drenched, while others get passed over for rain altogether. Lately, we've been passed over, which means we're checking daily on the water needs of our garden and container plants. I mulch, work toward increasing moisture-conserving organic matter in the soil, and we have our rainwater tanks. Even so, I'm always on the lookout for new ideas. This book is loaded with them.

Gardening with Less Water: Low-Tech, Low-Cost Techniques; Use up to 90% Less Water in Your Garden by David A. Bainbridge. This book has a lot of interesting, inexpensive ideas for water conservation, many of them gleaned from arid parts of the world. The one you see pictured on the cover is called an olla (oy-ya).

An olla is basically a terra cotta pot. They are often used for cooking or for evaporative cooling of foods (zeer pot). In the garden, it's used to hold water for nearby plants. Mostly buried, its porous walls allow for a slow transfer of moisture to the surrounding soil. Brilliant and effective.

Ollas like the one pictured on the book cover can be purchased, or one can DIY. For a small olla, the materials list is short: an unglazed terra cotta planter, saucer to serve as a lid, and a way to plug the drain hole.

The book recommends a cork, but some people plug the drain hole with a bit of concrete. Dan cut disks from plastic coffee can lids and glued them down with RTV, a silicone product used for automotive gaskets.

Anything that would make a watertight seal would do. RTV is just what Dan had handy.

To make a larger olla, use two pots and plug the hole in only one. Glue the second pot upside-down on top of the first. The drainage hole of the top, upside-down pot is where the olla is filled with water.

Next, they're buried up to the rim.

And filled with water.

The inverted saucer becomes the lid.

This one is in my thyme bed. Thyme seems to dry out quickly with no rain.

The saucer lid keeps debris from falling into the water and is easy to remove to refill with water.

For the lid for my second olla, I cheated somewhat. The large saucer I needed was twice the price as the one with the same circumference as the top of the pot. So it doesn't fit over the pot, it fits on top of it.

This one is in the front porch trellis bed to water my Matt's wild cherry tomatoes.

As you can see, I weight it with a rock. Hey, it works!

We check the water every couple of days and fill the ollas as needed. So far, so good. My thyme hasn't dried out yet, which is a relief. My front yard herb beds tend to dry out quickly, even with a good layer of mulch. That means every little bit helps!

Obviously, the larger the olla, the less frequently it needs refilling. My recommendation is to get the largest pots you can, or make the double-pot olla (or both).

I'll close with a couple of links for more photos and ideas for olla irregation.

July 8, 2020

More Progress on the Pantry

In my last pantry blog post we were just starting to put up the paneling. Now the paneling is up and so is the trim.

A comment on the paneling. I showed it to you last time. It was the least expensive we could find and I have to say it's cheaply made. Very flimsy and needs a stiff backing to support it. It could not be installed with only wall studs for support. And if a nail needs to be pulled out, it tears the front surface like cardboard. We got it at Lowes. Not recommended.

Also a comment about the paint. For as long as we've been here, I've gone with Valspar brand (another Lowe's product). The quality has become increasingly poor, and even their good quality takes three or four coats to get good coverage. It remains tacky for weeks after being applied. They say it's washable but it really isn't. This time I bought paint at Walmart. It's their Color Place brand and I got the middle grade. Much less expensive and two coats with no primer have done a very good job of covering the trim. Barely any odor and dries quickly.

Two coats. You can see why we're pleased with this paint.

So the walls and trimwork are done.

You can see before photos of the pantry in this old blog post.

All in all, I like that the room is lighter and brighter than it used to be, even though the pantry shelving will cover most of it. Still to do is to put back the curtain rods and some thermal curtains. I also plan to give the ceiling a fresh coat of paint to cover the stain from when the old pantry roof leaked (photos of that here).

Of course, now the old linoleum looks specially worn and tacky, but replacing that is not on the to-do list at this time. Still, I'm tempted to do something with it before we put the shelves back. Does anyone have experience with painting floors?

The next blog post on the pantry will be much more interesting, I promise. Dan has begun experimenting with ways to cool the room without AC. Neither of us has any clue as to how successful it will be, but we're curious to find out.

July 7, 2020

Gifts & Goodies Galore

I wanted to pass this on because it's too good not to share. It's actually a Kickstarter for a project over at Permies.com - the production of a movie about passively heated greenhouses.

In wintertime, greenhouses require a source of heat to keep from losing plants due to frost or freezing. This experiment and movie explore just that, heating a greenhouse without auxiliary heat.

I'm sharing this fundraiser with you for two reasons. One, is because this is the kind of thing I'm very interested in, myself. Two, because there are some great rewards for everyone who contributes at least $1. That's right, just $1. Of course, the gifts increase with the donation, but you can get the scoop for yourself.

I know money is tight for a lot of folks these days, but if you think you'd be willing to contribute even a couple of dollars, check it out. When you follow the link, you'll see that the idea is so popular that the first goal was funded in three hours. More funds means expansion of the goal. It's a great way to support ideas and projects we want to see happen.

July 4, 2020

Freedoms No One Can Take Away

Norman Rockwell's "The Golden Rule."

2020 has given the free world a taste of what it's like to live under increased government restrictions and presumably temporary loss of freedoms. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, society panicked and we easily handed over our freedoms out of fear. We wanted to be safe from disease. Hopefully, we've all been paying close attention to what's really going on, rather than running around like a bunch of scared chickens.

The United States is facing a potentially nation-changing decision in November, and it's important to understand that this isn't about politics. It isn't about popularity. It isn't about personality. It's about ideologies. But we need to put on our thinking caps to understand this. We must refuse to be manipulated by emotional turmoil.

On one level, it's a battle of which "ism" should dictate national policy. On another, it's a battle over whom should dictate how people are allowed to live: under a ruling class or should we decide for ourselves? On a day once associated with celebrating our Freedom as Americans, maybe we should be asking what it really means to be free. Do we really want to be free? Now is the time to decide.

The ideological battle will continue to rage on, but no matter what personal and civil freedoms are taken away, there are some freedoms that no one can touch.

The Freedom to Be Kind

"It costs nothing to be kind." I don't remember where I heard that, but it is oh, so true. A kind word, a kind gesture, a smile - such small things, yet why are people so stingy with kindness? Kindness is a choice we each make multiple times every day.

The Freedom to Be Patient

So many people are impatient and in a hurry nowadays. They forget that patience is a choice. Actually, I would say it's a habit, just as impatience is a habit. People get in the habit of being in a hurry, of wanting to push everyone else out of the way, and then getting angry when they can't. Does anyone really like feeling this way? I don't, and it's my choice to exercise either one or the other.

The Freedom to Not Complain

Who likes being around complainers? Raise your hand. I don't, and usually find myself avoiding people who constantly complain. Not that there isn't plenty to complain about, but it quickly becomes a bad habit.

When I was growing up, my mother would tell me, "if you can't say anything nice, then don't say anything at all." I heard that so many times that it usually pops up in my mind when I begin to open my mouth in complaint. I find that my mood and my days go so much better when I exercise this freedom and don't give into complaining.

The Freedom to Let Others Have a Different Belief or Opinion

One of the things that fascinates me about 19th century fiction such as the works of Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, is the conversations. Back then, conversation was considered a form of entertainment and differences of opinion were considered interesting. Not so any more. Perhaps because of insecurity or a lack of self-esteem, many people are extremely uncomfortable when others have different opinions. It's gotten so bad, that some equate a different opinion with hate.

It is odd to me that in an era when diversity is so highly prized there is a vehement demand that everyone else be a mental and emotional carbon copy of Self. We may not be able to control the resulting censorship, but we can choose to allow others to have their own beliefs and opinions.

The Freedom to Not be Offended

This is a choice, and I'd say that being "offended" is a manipulative choice. Just like name calling, it's intended to make the other person backpedal and change what they're saying or doing. It takes being a grown-up to be gracious and not take everything personally.

The Freedom to Respect Others

The idea nowadays is that respect must be earned. I disagree because it implies the right to disrespect others until they pass some sort of perceived test. Unfortunately, that idea usually hijacks itself. If A treats B rudely until B earns their respect, chances are that B will decide A hasn't earned B's respect because of their rude behavior.

Rather than respect, I would say it is trust that must be earned. We should be cautious whom we trust, but we should show respect to everyone. Respect ought to be everyone's right. And there's the conundrum; respect can't be taken, it can only be given.

The Freedom to Forgive

This is an extremely powerful freedom, yet it is rarely exercised because the intent of unforgiveness is to punish the offender. That's human nature. In reality, the offender simply gets on with their lives, usually without remorse or regret. The offended is left bound to their hurt and anger, unable to be free of it. Unforgiveness binds us to our hurt. It binds us to our anger. Forgiveness sets us free. Without forgiveness there can never be wholeness, there can never be healing. The power of forgiveness is to set ourselves free. That is, if we want to be free.


Norman Rockwell's "The Golden Rule" painting beautifully sums up these and other freedoms that no one can take away. When in doubt, I try to ask myself, how would I wish to be treated in the given situation? Do I like it when others are impatient with me or unkind? Do I like being complained at or about? Do I like being bullied because I think differently than others? Or being told I'm offensive when I'm actually clueless? Do I like being disrespected? Do I want to hold on to anger and hurt when the other person doesn't even care?

Do you realize that this could be the last 4th of July holiday this country is allowed to celebrate? Think about that today. Think about how you want life to be for yourself, your children, and your grandchildren. Think rationally and wisely, not as a knee-jerk reaction to whatever emotional hot buttons have been pushed recently. Then make your life choices accordingly. You won't be standing alone.

July 3, 2020

SNEAK PEAK: Cover for The Sequel

Not set in stone, but this is the one I'm leaning toward at the moment. I have two more steps before it's ready to publish: first is the index, then designing the full cover: front, back, and spine. Once the index is done (and I do like a good index), I'll know exactly how many pages the book will contain and then I can order my custom cover template.

Seems to be taking forever, but I have to take care not to rush just to be done. Each step needs meticulous attention—in between all my homestead jobs and chores!