April 28, 2021

The Rest of the Garden

For the record, here's the rest of my garden in April. I've already shown you my tomatoes, lettuce, and strawberries, so there isn't much left to see. Most of the action has been planting seeds that have yet to sprout. 

I've started to harvest the garlic.

I had a bunch of pantry potatoes start sprouting, so
I planted them in my potato tubs. First ones are up.

Also planted a new-to-me potato variety - Zolushka.

These are said to be one of the rare varieties that will
grow from seed. Seemed like something worth trying.

I don't have many asparagus plants, so each shoot is a treat!

We usually eat them raw or like this, in scrambled eggs.

The favas are blooming beautifully. These are "Sweet
Lorane," a variety said to have edible inner pods.

Multiplier onions and another winter survivor - celery. I sprouted
and planted about 8 celery ends last fall, but only one made it.

As I plant and transplant, I do some weeding. Some are left to decompose in the bed, others are left because they are tasty!

Lambs quarter (in the measuring cup) is one of my favorite wild greens.

Here, sauteed with collards and onions from the garden, plus
grated carrot. Unfortunately, no garden carrots this spring.

Dandelions are another favorite. Usually for salads, but also for...

... creamed dandelion soup. 

Another spring chore is the annual tidying up of my herb beds. Once a year I get the bermuda and other grasses removed. The beds are re-mulched, and then it's time to get pictures!

Echinacea and lambs ear. Spearmint in the background.
I planted jing okra in this bed too, because it's so pretty.

Violets, chicory, yarrow, butterfly weed, and
blueberry bushes. Keyhole garden, upper left.

Bee balm and oregano. Can you spot the olla lid?

Thyme, spearmint, and a (hopefully) heat tolerant
rhubarb. Another olla is hidden in the thyme leaves.

Yarrow and blueberry bush flowering.

Here's my peppermint, in it's own container and doing well.

Still waiting to see how my tomatoes survived their late frost. Some look pretty good and a few look like goners. I filled in the gaps in the row with more seeds of the same tomato varieties, and filled in the rest of the bed with marigold, sweet basil, and Swiss chard seed.

So, that's it for April. I can't tell you how many times I refer back to these posts - always a good reference. Do you keep a garden journal? What's your best method of keeping track of your garden from year to year?

The Rest of the Garden © April 2021

April 25, 2021

Garden Wars: Battle of the Slugs!

Last month, I showed you some of my early seedlings.

Jericho lettuce; does well in summer heat.

Well, they were planted and now they are almost all gone, along with a number of my broccoli and collards seedlings! Eaten by slugs! UGH!

I had slug problems last year in one bed, but it wasn't as bad as this year. What I learned then is that diatomaceous earth does NOT get rid of them. They definitely don't like getting sprinkled with it, but it neither kills nor deters them for long. This year, the problem has gotten out of hand. Time for a new tactic.

The best control is said to go out at night and hand pick slugs off of everything. Well, when I searched through the leaf mulch, I discovered dozens and dozens (and dozens) of quarter-inch baby slugs hidden in the leaves. Because of the numbers and size, I don't see hand picking as a realistic option. This year I decided to try beer and yeast traps. 

After 24 hours, there's some debris, but a few slugs too.

I guess they work. The yeast attracts slugs, that's for sure. Then they drown in the beer or yeast solution. Someone told me crushed eggs shells are a deterrent too. Also boards and inverted pots for hidey spots. In the morning, there seem to be quite a few to be eliminated. They apparently don't like copper, so ringing plants with copper is said to help. 

I've also noticed a slow-down in slug activity as the soil has dried out from windy days and two weeks of no rain. And, the other morning, I discovered one of the traps had been dug out of it's nest in the soil and all the drowned slugs were gone! I suspect one of our resident skunks found it and snacked on the slugs. But are skunks something anyone wants to add to their slug deterrent list???

My next concern is for my strawberries. 

Green strawberries, surviving lettuce, garlic, and olla

I know from experience that slugs like these too (as do birds. And skunks.) Fortunately, the strawberries are mulched with wood chips, which is probably why the lettuce has survived! But I'm thinking I may need to increase defenses if we want to eat strawberries this year!

So that's my first garden challenge of the year. What's yours?

April 22, 2021


When I woke up this morning, the first thing I did was to check the thermometer. It read 33°F (0.5°C). But it was still dark out, so I knew the numbers would probably drop at sunrise like they always do. My concern? My tomatoes! 

After chores, I went to inspect the garden.

Frost on comfrey.

Frost on strawberries.

Frost on catsear.

Frost is beautiful but deadly to tender species like tomatoes. Last night, I took precautions and covered each of my baby tomato plants with jars.

Canning jar greenhouse domes on tomato seedlings.

Are you still alive in there, little tomato plant?

From the traditional last frost date, I knew I was transplanting early and possibly taking a chance. But the weather has been so pretty and it seemed like freezing temperatures were behind us for the year. 

In my mind, my traditional last frost date is around April 20 to 22. To refresh my memory, I got out Dick Raymond's Joy of Gardening. The copyright date is 1982 and it was Dan's first gardening book. It lists the last expected frost dates for my area as April 10 to May 10. That's quite a range, so my April 20-22 is somewhere in the middle. Updated dates, however, now list my last expected frost date as anywhere from March 30 to April 15 (they seem to vary depending on whose chart it is). 

My takeaway from all this isn't so much a lesson learned as it is a confirmation of something I figured out years ago—always prepare for the extremes, not the averages. The extremes, whether temperature, rainfall, or whatever, don't pop up often, but when they do it's a relief to be prepared for them. 

And my tomatoes? After the sun melted the frost from the jars, I removed them.

About half of my tomato seedlings look pretty good. About half look wilty. I watered them all with tepid water and now I wait and see. I will likely loose some, but the survivors will be good for seed saving, don't you think?

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.