April 18, 2021

Ollas Revisited

 We're having an early summer April; one where many days already pop up into the lower 80sF (upper 20sC). A week of hot days like that with no rain remind me of how quickly things dry out. So one of my April gardening projects is to install more ollas. 

Potted tree collard with olla.

I first blogged about ollas last summer (Conserving Water in the Garden: The Olla). It's an idea I found in a book that I really like, Gardening with Less Water: Low-Tech, Low-Cost Techniques; Use up to 90% Less Water in Your Garden by David A. Bainbridge. A simple olla (oy' ya) can be made by plugging the hole in a terra cotta pot, sinking it in a garden bed, and keeping it filled with water. Water gradually wicks out and does a great job of keeping things from wilting. For my potted tree collard (above), I decided to try a different design.

I took two pots, plugged the hole in the bottom of one, then inverted the other and glued it as a top half to the olla. When I transplanted my tree collard, I put both it and the new olla into a larger pot. The olla is sunk so that only the top shows. An inverted terra cotter saucer serves as a lid to keep mosquitoes out.

The crimson clover & vetch are nitrogen-fixing volunteers.

It's narrower, so it fits better in the large pot, but holds more water than a single.

Easy to add water.

Next up is a several more for the raised beds in my hoop house.

Those raised beds tend to dry out quickly in hot weather, so hopefully these will help. 

How about you? Is your weather nice enough to work in your garden?

Ollas Revisited © April 2021 by Leigh

April 14, 2021

SKIP Update: News & More

Earlier this month, I blogged about SKIP: Skills to Inherit Property.  

"The idea is to connect industrious people with no means of obtaining property, with people who have property that they want to see used for homesteading, farming, and permaculture."

There were quite a few enthusiastic comments to that blog post, so I thought you might be interested in an update and more information. This post will be kinda long, so I'll tell you upfront the points I'm going to cover.

  • Who the SKIP Kickstarter is attracting
  • SKIP is a free online program for learning homesteading and permaculture skills
  • The Kickstarter incentives keep getting better and better.

Who the SKIP Kickstarter is attracting.

It would seem logical that this would attract the attention of people who have a desire for property but no means. Well, it is, but it's also drawing people who have property and want to make sure it passes on to people who will love and nurture the land; to build on what the original landowners started. Quite a few of them have contacted the SKIP organizers about eventually finding qualified persons to pass their land on to. To me, that's exciting news!

SKIP is a free online program for learning homesteading and permaculture skills.

The program has been in progress at Permies.com since last year, offering folks an opportunity to learn and document a variety of self-sufficiency skills. Once the requirements of a specific skill are completed, a merit-type badge is awarded. There 22 badges (aspects) that can be earned, and each aspect has four levels. 

L to R: gardening, natural building, woodland care, round wood woodworking, 
earthworks, dimensional lumber woodworking, rocket stoves & heaters, food
prep & preservation, animal care, foraging, community living, textiles,
greywater & willow feeders, metalworking, plumbing  & hot water, electricity
(including solar), commerce, natural medicine, nest, and homesteading.

I'm not looking to inherit land, but I've participated in the program to learn new skills. It's challenging and fun. Anyone can participate. The only thing that's required is to register for Permies.com. They are pretty respectful of privacy, so all you need to register is a valid email and a real-sounding name. Click here to read more about the SKIP program. 

The Kickstarter incentives keep getting better and better.

The SKIP Kickstarter will fund the publishing of the SKIP book, and also the SKIP program at Permies. Response has been fantastic, partly because of all the incentives that are being offered for the various donation levels.

For donating at least $1 by 2 pm Mountain Time on April 16, Kickstarter participants receive:

  • Access to  Sepp Holzer's Aquaculture documentary
  • Round Pole Reciprocal Roof Framing with Tony Wrench eBook
  • Erica Wisner's "Rocket Canner, Fryer, and Forge" plans
  • Joseph Lofthouse’s Landrace Gardening chapter on Promiscuous Pollination (beta version sneak peek)
  • Thomas Elpel's one hour "Botany in a Day" PDC presentation
  • Joel Salatin's keynote presentation "Fields of Farmers"
  • "Hugelkultur" movie from the World Domination Gardening 3-movie set
  • Brad Landcaster's presentation "Principles, Practices, and Tips for Water-Harvesting Earthworks and Rain Gardens"
  • Raven Ranson's Clean With Cleaners You Can Eat eBook
  • 2 chapters from David Pagan Butler's Organic Pools DIY Manual: Bubble Pumps and Filters
  • Living Woods Magazine 37th Issue (PDF)
  • Leigh Tate's Homesteading How-To ebook - Composting with Chickens
  • Kate Downham's Cookbook selections on jam, nettles, seaweed, and fermenting from A Year in an Off-Grid Kitchen
  • The gardening chapter (PDF) from Paul Wheaton's Building a Better World in your Backyard 
  • Michael Judd's "Uncommon Fruit" chapter from Edible Landscaping 
  • "How to card flax the easy way" from Raven Ranson's Homegrown Linen  
  • Rob Avis presentation "Starting a Permaculture Based Business"

Then there are the Stretch Goal rewards. New rewards are added for every $5000 reached and are available to everyone who donates $65 or more to the SKIP Kickstarter. Right now these include:

  • The full movie "Desert or Paradise" with Sepp Holzer
  • The full movie "Make a Natural Swimming Pool" with David Pagan Butler
  • The eBook Wood Gasifier Builder's Bible by Ben Peterson
  • The eBook $50 and Up Underground House Book by Mike Oehler
  • chance for 6 free tickets to the 2021 SKIP event
  • 117 hours of video from Permaculture Voices 1, 2 and 3
  • The eBook A Simple Roundhouse Manual by Tony Wrench
  • Leigh Tate's 5 Acres & A Dream The Book eBook
  • The full movie "Abundance on Dry Land" by Green Planet Films
  • chance for 6 free tickets to the 2021 Permaculture Technology Jamboree
  • Michael Judd's "Water Harvesting and Soil Building" webinar
  • Living Woods Magazine - all 55 issues
  • Robert Kourik's Roots Demystified eBook
  • The Best of Mother Earth News Magazine 2018 (47 articles) 
That's around $270 of stuff for $65, plus the $102 value of the $1 or more donation gifts. If the next stretch goal is reached, access to Paul Wheaton's "World Domination Gardening" 3 movie set is added to the list. 

Okay, I couldn't not share that with you! You can check out the Kickstarter here

April 11, 2021

Pecan Meal Pie Crust

I'm still experimenting with pecans and now have another keeper for my pecan recipe collection

Pecan Meal Pie Crust

  • 2 cups pecan meal
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 5 tbsp. melted butter
  • pinch salt
Mix well with a fork and pat into a pie pan. For an unfilled crust, bake at 350°F (180°C) for 20 minutes or until golden brown. For a filled crust, it takes about 40 minutes to brown the crust.

For the pie pictured above, I used my last jar of home-canned fig pie filling. I saved a little of the meal crust mix and sprinkled it over the top of the pie before baking.

Recipe Notes
  • Any kind of nut meal and flour can be used. 
  • Can substitute powdered sugar for the flour.
  • Can make without the flour.

This was so good! I also made one and filled it with chocolate tapioca pudding after I baked the crust. 

I confess I cheated a little on this one. Usually, when I make a chocolate pie, I make it with a cooked custard filling. I used the tapioca because I had a shorter time slot to make it in. No matter, it was perfect for a chocolate pie. So good! Soon, I'll have to try it for cheesecake

April 7, 2021

Natural Cleaners Revisited

I had excellent comments and discussion on my two recent natural cleaning blog posts, and I've been meaning to do a follow-up post to answer questions and pass on more information. The first was about the soap nuts (AKA soap berries) I mentioned in Outdoor Laundry Day.

These are berries from the soapberry tree, of which there are several species. The Western Soapberry (Sapindus drummondii) grows in southern and central US, so I'm thinking I need to plant one. 

Soap berries are very rich in saponins, the stuff that causes soap to foam. They've become popular for cleaning as an alternative to detergent. I got them for $5 a box at our local Ollie's, which was a good stock-up price. Here's their link at Amazon, although I'm not necessarily endorsing this particular brand. I do like that the only packaging with this brand is a cardboard box. Just try to get them seeded. It's the flesh of the fruit that contains the saponins, so if you buy by weight, the seeds mean you get less washing power for your money. 

Soak them 5 - 10 minutes to make soapy water.

Mine came with two little muslin bags to hold them. You could just toss them into the washer with your  laundry, but then you'd have to be picking out the bits of berries from your clothes. 4 to 6 berries is good for a washload of laundry. Soapberries are biodegradable and gradually dissolve away. As they do, I just add a few more to the bag. Besides laundry, they can be used for washing dishes, countertops, windows, the car, your hair, the dog, etc. For me, they are an excellent alternative to liquid and laundry soaps. I'm happy with the way they clean.

The other post was Spring Cleaning: In Praise of Baking Soda. I've always tried to be environmentally conscientious, but wanting to use our greywater for fruit trees and such, took it to another level. Initially, that meant looking for ecofriendly products to buy because I assumed that commercial products work better. Was I ever wrong about that, as those of you who read that post will likely remember. I got much better results with simple, common household products. Anyway, I wanted to pass on this book to you because I really liked it. 

Clean with Cleaners You Can Eat by Raven Ranson. It doesn't sound much safer than that, does it? I love the approach of this book; cleaners that are not only safer, but simpler. We humans tend to love complicated things, but Raven's methods start with the simplest methods and pretty much keep them that way. That makes so much more sense to me than complicated recipes and expensive ingredients.

After the introduction, the meat of the book begins with a chapter on ingredients. It's not just a list of what natural cleaners to use, but why they work, the best ways to use them, and when not to use them. Includes discussions on detergents, soaps, bleach, and unwanted microbes.

The chapter on tools tells you how to make your own. The next chapter, "Surfaces," is the recipe chapter. All the ingredients are simple, common kitchen items; truly ingredients you can eat!

The next several chapters address specific areas that we commonly clean. These contain a lot of great tips, not only on how to, but on the best cleaners and tools for each application.

"Oddbits" contains some helpful extras, including how to remove adhesive residues, reducing unwanted odors in the house, and several very effective oven cleaners (I know, because I tried one of them.)

While the book isn't big on pages, it's very big on information. An excellent addition to any household library. It's available at Permies Digital Market. 

So, I hope that answers your questions! Cleaning products have gotten more expensive, but not necessarily more effective. Keeping it simple seems to work the best. 

April 3, 2021

SKIP: Skills to Inherit Property

I think this is an absolutely brilliant concept. The idea is to connect industrious people with no means of obtaining property, with people who have property that they want to see used for homesteading, farming, and permaculture. I know in my part of the country, so much good land is sold off to developers by kids who inherited their folks' farmland. Then, it becomes trailer parks, apartment complexes, and shopping centers. Dan and I have talked to older folks who love their land and lamented that this is what will happen once they pass on. 

Paul Wheaton, founder of Permies.com, came up with a way to offer a different option to these folks. It started as a merit badge program to teach and document skills, and is now being turned into a book. Paul  explains it in this short promotional video. 

Right now, this book is in the fundraising stage, with great rewards for as little as a $1 donation. In fact, if you get in a $1 or more pledge before 2 pm mountain time (4 pm EDT) tomorrow (Sunday), extended through Wednesday, April 7, you get 26 goodies for free. (Including my eBook, How To Compost with Chickens). That's $180 worth of stuff! An excellent return on your money. Of course, the rewards get better for higher donations, and even better as the stretch goals are reached.

If you think something like this is a good idea too, take a look at the video and visit the SKIP Kickstarter page for more information.

UPDATE! 5 Acres & A Dream The Book by yours truly has been added for the next stretch goal! If the goal is met, everyone who donates $65 or above will receive an exclusive Permies PDF copy!

April 1, 2021

Adventures in Cooking With Hopniss

Several months ago, I shared my very first hopniss harvest with you. Hopniss (Apios americana) are commonly called ground nuts, but since peanuts are called ground nuts too, I like using the more distinctive name. You can check out that post to learn more about them. In this post, I'me going to share the ways I've tried to cook them.

My first try at cooking them was to roast them.

Photo from my first hopniss post.

However, we found them to be too dry to enjoy this way. So the next time, I peeled and boiled them like potatoes. 

Boiled hopniss, home-harvested chevon,
and last summer's canned green beans.

This was delicious with a little salt and butter! I had plenty leftover, so a couple of days later I reheated them, mashed them, and served them like mashed potatoes with bone broth gravy. Also delicious.

Mashed hopniss with gravy, last spring's frozen snow peas & pork chops.

My last experiment was hopniss flour. According to Native American Food Plants: An Ethnobotanical Dictionary, Delaware and Mohegan Native Americans made flour from hopniss. I wanted to try this too and followed the directions at Hank Shaw's website.

Roughly peeled, sliced, and dehydrated.

I added the extra step of peeling (albeit not perfectly) for this first try. Once the slices were crispy dry, I powdered them in my blender. 

Hopniss flour

I wanted to try this as a gravy thickener. You know, something homegrown to use instead of corn starch, unbleached flour, or arrowroot powder. 

I used 1 tbsp hopniss flour per 1 cup bone broth.

I brought it to a boil and simmered for about 5 minutes, but it never really thickened like I was hoping. Still, it was very tasty, so not a fail.  

Hopniss gravy on baked potato, leftover Christmas turkey,
and steamed garden and foraged greens with onion & carrot.

When I put up the leftover gravy after dinner, I noticed the hopniss had settled to the bottom of the pot. The actual texture was more like grits than flour, so that may have been part of the problem. I'm guessing my blender simple doesn't have what it takes to powder those rock hard hopniss chunks. It still has a good flavor, so perhaps hopniss grits could be a side dish all their own.

My conclusion is that hopniss is an easy addition to the perennial garden and a delicious addition to the menu. 

March 28, 2021

The Garden in March

Peach tree blooming in mid-March.

March. A totally unpredictable month in terms of weather. Some years it's warm, some years it's cold, but always, it seems to be windy and it rains. Our anticipated last frost isn't until mid-April, so, weather permitting, March is the month I finish the winter garden harvest, plant spring veggies, and work on preparing the beds for the summer garden.

Newly trellised asparagus and blackberry bed

The asparagus bed above was plagued for years with volunteer wild blackberries. Last year, I finally gave up and let them grow. I harvested quite a few, so it was a good decision. But since they sprawled, I thought a trellis would be useful. The first garden project of March was to put up the t-post and cattle panel trellis you see in the photo above.

My next project was to tackle the hoop house.

Weeding the hoop house

I have mixed feelings about the hoop house. I found that covered with greenhouse plastic, it would get too warm when we had mild, sunny winter days. But it didn't stay warm enough to protect tender warm weather plants. Plus, it added an additional watering chore. In summer, the raised beds dry out pretty quickly.

Working my way down the beds.

This year I've decided to try planting squash or melons in the hoop house beds. Another experiment.

In most of my winter garden beds, some of the plants are allowed to go to seed for collecting. In the photo below, turnips are blooming. 

Turnips blooming (for seed).

These are Tokinashi turnips, a new variety for me.

According to Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, this was the variety that Fukuoka Masanobu grew. We really like them! The turnips are mild even when large, and the greens were tasty even as they were bolting. The greens had an interesting flavor. Almost honey flavored, but not sweet. No other way to explain it! It's a keeper.

Snow peas are coming up in the turnip bed.

Chickweed grows in that bed too, a favorite for salads and my homegrown goat mineral mix

Foraged chickweed.

Chickweed salad with kefir dressing and chopped pecans.

Other winter garden hangers-on include fava beans.

The favas had no problem with our freezing cold spells.

Last year, I started harvesting these in April. This year, I tried a different variety, Sweet Lorane. 

Loads of fava bean flower buds.

It's said to be lower in tannin, so there isn't a need to remove the inner pod. We'll see!

My strawberries are also starting to bloom. I don't have many plants left, so every berry is a treat.

Strawberry, garlic, and teeny baby lettuce.

I thought my Savoy cabbages would make it. Half of them survived the winter and started to grow, but then we got a streak of days topping 70°F (21°C) and they thought it was time to bolt!

Bolting savoy cabbages. Multiplier onions in this bed too.

I cut them down and sauteed them for dinner. Mild and tasty. They will likely send up seed shoots, so I'll collect some seed then.

Early spring planting includes trays of broccoli, more collards, some herbs, and lettuce, which will already be transplanted by the time this blog post publishes.

Jericho lettuce seedlings.

I also got an early start on my tomatoes, although I'm not impressed with the germination.

Tomato seedlings.

More experimental (for me) varieties: Black Krim and Eva Purple Ball. Both were described as being heat tolerant. I know it's said that tomatoes like heat, but they don't like too much heat, as evidenced by a drop in production in my garden every year when our heat cranks up to sweltering. 

So that's it for March. I'm happy to have gotten so much done. Next weekend, we're forecast to drop back down into freezing overnight temperatures! The weather has been so nice that I was tempted to get an early start on my warm weather veggies. I'll have to wait until mid-April when were out of danger of frost. I'm looking forward to that. 

End of month parting shot - 1st asparagus!

How about you? What going on in your garden?

March 25, 2021

Better Than Fig Newtons

Every year I can a lot of figs, but I dehydrate some too. I'm not much in the habit of using my dried foods and decided I need to remedy that. The other day, I researched recipes for homemade fig newtons that used dried figs. I ended up combining three recipes and the results were excellent! Here it is, so I can make it again.

Better Than Fig Newtons

Fig Filling:

  • 2 cups dried figs
  • 1¾ cup apple juice
  • 2 tbsp orange juice
  • ¼ cup sugar

Mix in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and let sit until most of the liquid is absorbed and the figs are moist and plump.


  • 1 cup unbleached white flour
  • ½  cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 large egg

Cream butter and sugar, add egg and dry ingredients. Pat half of the dough into a greased 8" x 12" baking dish. Roll out the other half into an 8" x 12" rectangle. Spread fig mixture over bottom crust. Place top crust on top. Bake at 350°F (180°C) for 35 minutes or until crust is golden brown. When cool, slice into squares.

Recipe Notes:

  • Orange juice is the "secret ingredient" that gives these that fig newton flavor.
  • Of course, you can substitute a different juice or use water to rehydrate the figs.
  • You can substitute your choice of flour.
  • And sweetener! Use what you like. 

We really liked these. I cut way back on the sweetener in the recipes because 1) so many cookie recipes are too sweet for our liking, and 2) the figs and fruit juices are already sweet. This was perfect. 

March 21, 2021

Taming the Wild Side

One thing I have learned over the years, is that just because I "tame" an area, doesn't mean it stays tamed. Gardens, for example. They can look neat and lovely at the beginning of the summer, but by the end of the season, the battle with the weeds has been lost, and you wonder if you can still find the tomato plants. I have the same problem with other areas, such as my herb beds, elderberries, rugosa roses, and forest garden hedgerows. Once a year these areas get tidied, and that's usually when I take pictures! After that, they seem a lost cause. 

I've often thought that if all I had to do was the garden, or my herb beds, or my hedgerows, then they'd be beautiful. They'd be perfect. As it is, I have many things to do: garden, goats, pasture, house, harvest, food preservation, and whatever projects we're working on. In reality, things gets done as best we can even though it doesn't often look like it.

Earlier this month, we were discussing where to plant some apple and quince trees that we bought. We decided on the front yard for the apple trees, but unfortunately, the best place would take quite a bit of work to conquer. There was also the question of an old pecan tree that shades both front yard and the top of the garden.

The top of the garden. There's a fence in there!

This thicket is marked "wind break" on our master plan. Here's what it looked like several years ago, when we fenced the garden.  

June 2014

For awhile I had my compost worm bed up there, and later a bed of comfrey. Occasionally, I would cut shrubs down to feed the goats, but over the years it grew into a wild mess.

March 2021

Ligustrum, seedling oaks, honeysuckle, wild roses, blackberries, saw briars, and poison ivy are part of the take over, along with things I haven't identified. And every year they creep out a little further toward the garden on one side of the fence and into the front yard on the other. 

As we discussed a plan, we had to ask what should be done about the old pecan tree. It never produces much in the way of pecans and shades part of the garden. It would shade any fruit trees we wanted to plant there too. The other thing about older trees, is that they become problematic if allowed to get too big. They need to be cut while the chain saw can manage them, and while the wood is still fairly healthy. Old rotted trees are dangerous trees, plus it's a waste of wood.

I cleared out the shrubs and undergrowth around the tree.

View from the garden.

Then, Dan took off the tree branches on the garden side of the tree. 

Felling trees can be unpredictable, so Dan removed
the weight on the side we didn't want it to fall toward.

The next day he took it down.

A good size for the chain saw and the wood is healthy.

Our front yard.

What a gap it left in the skyline! It makes us a little sad, actually.

However, it will be put to good use as firewood, and the branches will be chipped for mulch and smoker wood. We'll plant two new apple trees and a crabapple here, in the front yard. 

On the garden side, we're pulling roots to get ready to plant Chinese quince seedlings. 

Back on the garden side.

Two baby Chinese quince trees planted and mulching begun.

Chinese quince

Eventually, they will create a new treed skyline. Said to grow 15 to 20 feet in height, it will be a shorter treeline than the 50 to 60 foot pecan. For now, I'll continue covering the area with a cardboard/wood chip mulch. Either this fall or next spring, we'll sow a diverse ground cover here. Hopefully, this area won't revert back to the wild side too badly. 

March 17, 2021

Finishing Touches for the Buck Barn

The billy boys have moved into their new home! 

The bucks have an enclosed shelter, and Dan and
I have a covered area to work in and store things.

Things moved along pretty quickly once the rain catchment was in place. Here are the details on what it's taken to get it ready for the boys.

Grain feeders. Dan had been feeding them from pans on the ground, but they have a bad habit of running through them and knocking them over to see if the other goat got something better in his pan. The girls' feeder set-up works well, so Dan did something similar for the boys. 

Hay feeder. This one is also similar to the girls', except Dan made it one sided instead of double-sided.

The tray at the bottom catches the waste.

It's very easy to fill from the people side.

Jonah demonstrates how to use it.

Fencing. The last thing was the fence. We used part of the chicken yard for the new buck barn and yard, so we needed to fence it in.

Meowy eyeing the shelter roof from the post.

The line of t-posts was in place from an older edition of the chicken
yard. To simplify things, Dan used another t-post for corner bracing.

The other side. The rain tank is off limits, but the clean-out plug wasn't.

Of course, somebody had to rub on it, so Dan
used a bit of cattle panel to fence it off too.

View from the back, where the gate opens to pasture.

The boys' first inspection was, "well, this is nice, but can we go home now?" That only lasted a couple of days.

The only thing left to do is to paint the rain tank to protect the water from algae growth. That will happen soon, since the weather is starting to warm up. We also need to do re-do the chickens yard, so we don't have to walk through the chicken yard to get to the bucks. Also, we'll expand the chicken yard in another direction to make up for the ground they'll lose when we do that.

We planned to use the overhang for grain and hay storage, but right now we're observing rain and drainage patterns to make sure there aren't any problems with that. Other than that, having their housing closer makes it so much easier to do chores!