July 29, 2021

Shade Gardening

A number of years ago, Dan built me a hoop house

Photo from December 2015.

I hoped to extend my growing season and experimented with it to see how well it could do that. It didn't work out as I had hoped because during mild winter weather, the plastic covering made the interior of the hoop house too warm. All my cool weather crops bolted and went to seed. 

In summer, the raised beds dried out quickly, even with shade cloth

Photo from spring 2017

I had other problems with the shade cloth too. One of our cats clawed it climbing to the top of the hoop house. I would remove it in winter and store it in the garden shed, but there, it would become infested with ants who loved to lay eggs between its neat folds. What a nuisance!

All of that was somewhat discouraging, so the hoop house hasn't been used as much as it should. Two and a half years ago, I added a narrow raised bed on the outside.

Photo from January 2019.

Like the hoop house beds, I found that this little bed also dried out quickly in hot weather. Not wanting to give up, I started to wonder about using the hoop house for a trellis. Early this spring, I planted that bed with ground nuts (hopniss) that were too small to mess with for eating. Later, I transplanted tomato plants there, many of which turned out to be Matt's wild cherry tomatoes. This is what it looks like now.

Tomato and ground nut vines growing on the hoop house.

From the outside, it looks like a wild mess! But on the inside, it's a shade garden.

Strawberries are in the first bed, and seem quite happy with some shade.

The second bed contains Malabar
spinach and Hale's Best cantaloupes.

For the spinach, I hung a small section of paneling from the
hoop house arch. Can you see the baling twine tying it up?

The spinach had no trouble finding it and seems to like the shade.

Behind the spinach are the cantaloupes. 

The cantaloupes are a little slow in the shade, but seem happy to be protected from the morning sun. In both of these beds are ollas, which helps. As has the adequate rain we've been getting lately. 

Of the six little beds in the hoop house, those are the only two that are planted at the moment. This winter, I'll pull all the wiregrass and sheep sorrel out of the others and plant next spring. I think I'll also add a second little bed on the other side of the hoop house, so that next summer I can have shade from both morning and afternoon sun. 

It's always nice when an experiment turns out well. In fact, it's encouraged me to give the hoop house some much needed TLC and get it  back in production. 😌

Shade Gardening © July 2021 by Leigh 

July 25, 2021

Soup Stock from Veggie Scraps

This was a recent rainy day project. I got the idea from one of the SKIP badges on Permies.com. It interested me because I've never thought to do something like this before. Usually, my kitchen scraps are fed to the goats or are put in the chickens' compost bin. To make soup stock, I took a 2-gallon freezer bag and tossed in stalks, ends, and peelings of various vegetables. I kept it in the freezer until the bag was full, then I made a nice vegetable soup stock.

Various vegetable scraps including onion skins.
All went into the freezer for this batch of stock.

No recipe is actually required. Just cover the scraps with water, simmer them down, then strain and season as desired.

After simmering for awhile. it smelled wonderful.

I pressure canned it according to the directions for vegetable stock in the Ball Blue Book: 30 minutes for pints and 35 minutes for quarts at the appropriate pounds of pressure for your altitude. Salt is optional. I know many folks prefer to add the salt when they open the jar. I add it when I can it. Why? Because the past year and a half have caused me to rethink much of what I do and ask if there is a more logical way to do it. It just seems prudent to add the salt now, while I have an abundance of salt. Hopefully, salt will remain cheap and plentiful as things change, but nowadays, who knows?

Canned scrap veggie stock. The rich color is from the onion skins.

My yield was six quarts and nine pints. The pints are the perfect amount for making rice or gravy, or adding to my defrosted soup fixins'. The quarts are handy for larger quantities of soup.

I don't know if I'll continue to make veggie stock, mostly because there isn't much room in my freezer to store the scraps. But it's a nice addition to the pantry and handy to know how to do.

July 21, 2021

Harvest Goodies

Garden work has transitioned from mulching and weeding to harvesting and preserving. That means the much anticipated seasonal firsts. These always taste the best! The links will take you to the recipes. 

July is blueberry month!

Fresh blueberries with peanut butter granola and kefir.

Blueberry pie! (A much anticipated season first).

The wheat is all threshed and now we're winnowing it.

Freshly ground homegrown whole wheat flour.

Our first sampling of this year's wheat was in fresh blueberry pancakes!

When we got a sunny day, I sun-baked two
loaves of fresh wheat bread
in my solar oven.

This year's wheat seems to taste better than last year's. We definitely had more consistent growth with better formed heads and grains.

Of the tomatoes, the Matt's Wild Cherry tomatoes ripened first.
They make a very fun snacking food while in the garden.

Scrambled eggs with cherry toms and goat cheese = delicious lunch!

Of "regular" tomatoes I planted two types: Eva Ball (round red ones) and Black Krim (purplish  beefsteak looking ones.)

Tomatoes: Black Krim in the front, Eva Ball in the back.

Both have excellent flavor. The Black Krim are perfect to slice for sandwiches and burgers. The Eva Ball, I believe, were developed for canning. I don't can whole tomatoes, but they will help make good pizza sauce. What tomatoes we don't eat (all kinds) go into the freezer for a future sauce making and canning session.

Of course, I had to make some of these too...

Fried green tomatoes

I don't deep fry anything, but just a thin layer of oil in the pan gets the desired crispiness.

Cucumbers followed shortly after the tomatoes.

Tomato and cucumber salad with feta cheese.

Cucumber sticks are excellent with my Ricotta Ranch dip.

Speaking of cheese, it's cheesemaking season too.

Stretching fresh homemade goat milk mozzarella.

I start by making our year's supply of mozzarella, which I grate and freeze. Then it's on to feta (stored in herbed olive oil) and halloumi (which I freeze), with an occasional farmers cheese to eat fresh or chèvre for cheesecake. The whey is made into ricotta for my ricotta ranch salad dressing (and dip) or gnocchi (which also freezes well.)

I've dug the first potatoes and picked the first green beans.

Oven roasted potatoes and green beans.

First okra picking.

Roasted okra, potatoes, and multiplier onions.

I've been doing a little dehydrating too. You may recall that last month I canned lambs quarter. It's still growing but in smaller amounts. So I've been drying the leaves to add to winter soups.

Lambs quarter finishing up the the dehydrator.

I still save my leftovers in glass peanut butter jars and freeze them for soup making when the weather turns cold. For each jar I add a pint of bone broth, and then the dried veggies make nice additions.

So July has been busy! I expect it will remain that way until September when the harvest finally slows down.

How about you? How has your July been so far?

July 17, 2021

Window Pergola Finished

This is a continuation of my recent blog post "Dan's Latest Project." I reckon we could call it part two. Here's where we left off in that post...

The beginnings of a system to shade the windows
and grow deciduous muscadine grape vines.

The next step was to put up the trellis.

This was a matter of building a frame and cutting the lattice to size.

Here it is before staining. 

We talked about where the bottom of the trellis should be. Lower to the ground would block it off right now, but we need room to install the greywater system, build up the bed, and plant. We can fence off the bottom later if needs be.

Here it is in the sun! The lattice helps shade the
window too, even without vines growing on it.

An added bonus is the increased sense of privacy it offers. We put a box fan in the bedroom window at night, and while it doesn't face the road, I like the feeling this set-up offers. 

The shading, of course, will be even better once we get vines growing up the trellis. My thought has always been muscadines because they are native to this part of the country and make my favorite jelly! Happily, we already have some volunteers!

Volunteer muscadine vines already growing in the bed.

Now, Dan can move on to making the driveway gate. 

Window Pergola Finished © July 2021 by Leigh 

July 13, 2021

Book Review: Create an Oasis with Greywater

In a recent post, I shared Dan's latest project, the start on an idea we came up with years ago - a trellising shade and grape growing system that utilizes our laundry waste water. This prompted quite a conversation in the comments of that post, with a number of questions and concerns expressed. I can't answer those because I'm focused on meeting our goals in our context. But I can point you in the direction of some excellent resources that will give you the information you need to make a start on your own research and answer your own questions. 

Create an Oasis with Greywater: Integrated Design for Water Conservation

This book by Art Ludwig, plus his DVD, Laundry to Landscape, have answered our questions, addressed our concerns, and are helping us design a system that will enable us to be better stewards in our water conservation efforts. In this post, I'll tell you about the book. Here's what the author says about it.

"Create an Oasis with Greywater describes how to choose, build, and use 20 types of residential greywater reuse systems in just about any context: urban, rural, or village."
Art Ludwig, author
"What This Book Is About"

"How to Use This Book" and "What This Book Is About" introduce the subject matter. The book is geared toward helping the reader zero in on their personal goals, make an assessment specific to their property, and then design and implement a system that will best fit their situation.

Chapter 1: Greywater Basics. This chapter begins by defining greywater. Explains the differences between blackwater, dark greywater, clearwater, wastewater, and reclaimed water. It discusses what you can do with it and why it should be used, but also lists a substantial number of reasons when it shouldn't be used. The last section of the chapter introduces the reader to the elements of a greywater system.

Chapter 2: Goals and Context. This chapter helps the reader deal with the massive amount of information out there about greywater systems, especially, whether or not a greywater system is right for you. It offers clear-cut steps for analyzing one's goals, context (site, sources, needs, percolation rates, climate, etc.), and proposed site. A "site assessment form" worksheet in the appendix (and online here) helps the reader make a very thorough analysis.

Chapter 3: Design a Greywater System for Your Context. In chapter 3, the reader learns how to integrate a greywater system with their landscape plus other systems, how to address health considerations, and how to match greywater sources with irrigation and treatment or disposal areas. Includes general landscape design points and six factors for good natural purification of greywater or wastewater.

Chapter 4: Greywater Collection Plumbing. Discusses general greywater plumbing principles, planning for future flexibility, traps, vents, diverter and shutoff valves, surge capacity, easy maintenance and troubleshooting. Includes advice on choosing and finding parts, inspections, and when to get professional help. Lots of pictures, charts, and diagrams in this chapter.

Chapter 5: Greywater in the Landscape. This chapter details how to put greywater to work and how to handle it in the landscape. Discusses calculating the treatment/disposal area, greywater efficiency,  coordinating greywater with freshwater irrigation, and how to handle greywater when it rains. Discusses how to preserve soil quality, with a chart of key elements found in household cleaners. Also how to monitor and repair soil, and what to do about toxic waste. The section on plants lists possibilities for greywater reuse, as well as greywater treatment and disposal. Shows the reader how to build a mulch basin for greywater irrigation, with lots of illustrations.

Chapter 6: System Selection Chart. A 2-page easy reference chart for comparing simple, easy greywater systems, or complex systems.

Chapter 7: Simple, Easy Greywater Systems. Lots of ideas and illustrations in this chapter. Discusses direct landscape systems (such as a bathing garden), garden hoses, dishpan dumping, mulch basins, movable drains, greywater furrow irrigation, and laundry drums. It introduces the laundry to landscape system (which is detailed in Art Ludwig's Laundry to Landscape book or DVD).

Chapter 8: More Complex Greywater Systems. Covers effluent pumps, mini-leachfields, subsoil infiltration galleys, constructed wetlands, an automated sand filter system, a solar greywater greenhouse, green septic systems, and septic tank to subsurface drip. Lots of pictures, diagrams, and illustrations clarify the concepts.

Chapter 9: Branched Drain Design. How to improve the time-honored "drain out back" system with ways to split the flow (including a discussion and chart on parts), branching geometry options, cleanouts, inspection access, and rainwater inlets. The section on branched drain outlet design discusses free flow outlets, sub-mulch and subsoil infiltration, how to design for surge capacity, and outlet positioning. 

Chapter 10: Branched Drain Installation gets down to the nitty-gritty of installing a branched drain system. Covers checking the design, checking for buried utilities, digging trenches, connecting pipes and fittings, dealing with slope, and installing outlet shields. Final steps include testing the system, mapping it, and burying it. Also included are sections on branched drain maintenance, troubleshooting, and possible variations. 

Chapter 11: Common Greywater Errors. This very important chapter contains 20 common misconceptions about greywater and mistakes people routinely make. Each one explains problems that can result, preferred practices, and specific conditions for exceptions. 

Chapter 12: Real World Examples. Features six examples that are currently in use. Takes an interesting look at each user's goals, design and installation issues, costs and benefits, and opinion of the system after it had been in use for awhile. Pictures and diagrams help clarify the examples.

Appendices. Lots of helpful information in the eight appendices, including how to measure elevation and slope, cold climate adaptations, non-industrialized area considerations, plus pumps, filters, and disinfection.  

As you can see from scanning the chapter summaries, there are a lot of variables and a lot of options. So far, this is the best book I have found to explain them all. Dan and I have both this book and also the Laundry to Landscape DVD I mentioned. I trust the information because the author isn't trying to sell a pre-packaged greywater system. You can find some of the hard-to-find hardware at his website, but he isn't trying to guide the reader to buy what he prefers. He lays out all the options along with their pros, cons, and guidelines for choosing the best system for your circumstances.

Create an Oasis with Greywater is available at the author's website or at Amazon. Or, if you aren't sure that it deserves a place on your homestead bookshelf, request that your public library obtain a copy! That's the best way to get a hands-on look at a book, plus it becomes available for others to benefit from it too.

July 9, 2021

What I'm Learning About Sustainability

Not long ago, I signed up for Bill Mollison's online Permaculture Design Course. It is turning out to be not only useful, but extremely interesting. It is just what I've needed to help me put together all these bits and pieces of information I've collected over the years. As a foundation, I'm starting to understand that permaculture isn't simply a technique, it's a design system. 

One of the things that's got me thinking is Bill Mollison's definition of "sustainable." Considering how trendy this word has become, I think it's important to know what it means. We hear of sustainable energy, sustainable living, sustainable economics, sustainable  development, and sustainable design, for example. But is sustainable energy the same as sustainable economics? Is sustainable agriculture the same as sustainable development? Or does "sustainable" have different meanings in different contexts or for different purposes?

My own understanding of sustainability has evolved over the years, as seen in my writing.


"Sustainability requires that we not use up what we have to the point where there is no more. "
“Defining Our Goals,” 5 Acres & A Dream The Book (p. 21)


"Sustainability refers to a system that maintains its viability by using techniques that allow for continual reuse, such as sustainable agriculture."
"Reassessing Our Goals," 5 Acres & A Dream The Sequel (p. 14)

From my recent lecture notes:

Sustainability - a system that produces enough energy over its lifetime to maintain and replace itself.
Bill Mollison, Permaculture Design Course

This probably isn't very profound to anyone but me, but even so, I wanted to document and share it. How do I make it a reality on my own homestead? That's what I hope the course will teach me.

July 5, 2021

Dan's Latest Project

If you're a longtime reader of my blog or perhaps have read 5 Acres & A Dream The Book, then you may recall this sketch...

Idea for laundry greywater soil filtration bed & gate.
Pergolas would shade the windows & trellis grapes.

It was an idea we came up with years ago while analyzing water resources and brainstorming for our master plan. The washing machine is on the back porch, which is on the left-hand side of the house. This was one idea for how to use the wash water for irrigation rather than filling the septic tank with it.

Dan built the bed five years ago, and that was as far as we got. This year we've had increased problems with a roaming dog(s) visiting our property, killing our chickens, and pooping on the sidewalk. Our entire property is fenced, except the driveway. It was time to install a gate.

We might have just gone straight for the gate, except that we need to make sure dogs can't simply bypass the gate through the bed.

So before the gate, Dan decided to build the first pergola. He started by milling the lumber.

Dan's portable sawmill. One of the
best investments we ever made!!!

I have to mention that without that mill, we never could have bought the lumber! He used the pine that has either fallen down or been cut down at the back of the property.

Dan would be quick to say it isn't perfect, to which I say, 
neither is the overpriced stuff they sell at the big box store!

He started with the windows
closest to where the gate will be.

The nearest post will accommodate the gate latch.

It's already helping shade the windows
from the hot afternoon summer sun!

For the trellises on the sides of the pergola, Dan will use wood lattice. 

Amazingly, the price of wood lattice hasn't jumped through the roof.

These were $30-something each, a price he was willing to pay rather than the time and fuss of trying to make his own. Once the lattice is up he can move on to the gate. After that, we'll be looking at completing the laundry water system in the bed and then planting. 

I have to say that I wasn't sure we'd ever get this done. It's been on the planning list for almost nine years! It might have stayed as an idea on the list indefinitely, if it hadn't been for roaming dogs coming onto the property and killing our poultry. We hated to lose our birds, but there will be multiple benefits in completing this project, so there's our silver lining. I think it's been a good lesson in not lamenting the things we haven't completed, and being glad we put the forethought and planning into it when we did. That meant we didn't have to start from scratch trying to figure out what to do; we had a solution ready. All we've had to do is implement it.

Dan's Latest Project © July 2021 by Leigh