July 25, 2024

Soil pH and Our Blueberries

It's hard to tell in the above photo, but we have blueberry bushes in front of the house. Dan transplanted them there several years ago, after he finished our first keyhole garden. It looks pretty when the butterfly weeds and 4 o'clocks are blooming. It looks messy when they aren't. 

July being blueberry month for us, we've been keeping an eye on those blueberry bushes. But we've been disappointed that the berries are small and hard. That something was wrong, was evident by the leaves.

But what? I got out my copy of The Organic Gardener's Handbook of Natural Insect and Disease Control (an excellent resource and highly recommended), and quickly discovered the cause.

The link will take you to its page on Amazon, where only
used copies are now available. It would be a shame if this is
out of print. It's an excellent book for identifying problems.

In the section of leaf symptoms for diseases, I found a picture and description that matched, with a diagnosis of iron deficiency or overly high pH. From page 377 . . .

Plants affected: acid loving plants including blueberries . . .

Prevention and Control: Symptoms of iron deficiency appear when the soil is not sufficiently acidic. Symptoms commonly occur on susceptible plants growing near buildings because lime that leaches out of the concrete foundations raises soil pH. In most cases, iron is present in the soil in adequate amounts, but plant roots cannot absorb it if the pH is not in the appropriate range for that plant. 

I wouldn't have thought of this because we have fairly acidic soil here. But these bushes are indeed fairly close to the foundation of the house, so it all fits. The quick fix is to spray the leaves with a chelated iron solution, which I don't have.  But I could water with with diluted whey, which I do have.  The long term solution is to increase acidity in the soil by adding peat moss or sulfur. Or mulching with evergreen needles, which we have handily. 

So, I couldn't save the fig trees, but hopefully, we'll see the blueberries recovery and have a better blueberry harvest next year. Hopefully, everything will be better next year!

July 20, 2024

Alas, Our Fig Trees

My first blog post about our fig trees is dated June 18, 2009 (Uncovered). We didn't know we had them until we started cleaning up the place. The house was empty for several years before we bought it, so there was a lot of cleaning up to do. That's when I discovered several fig trees hidden in the brush. 

Over the years, I've canned, dehydrated, and given away lots of figs. I've baked with them and we've eaten lots fresh. Then a couple years ago, one of them died. The next year another died. And the next year another. Now, our last remaining original fig tree is going the same way.

The leaves curl, yellow, and drop. 

I've done some research into this and it could be any number of things: nutrient deficiencies, disease, pests. Could be too little rain or could be too much. 

Nothing I've done has helped, so I'm doubtful the few figs the tree did produce will ripen. That will mean no fig harvest this year; a sad loss, for sure. 

Happily, we have a new generation of saplings, growing on their own and looking healthy.

It will be years before they produce much, but at least they're there. Hopefully, they won't succumb to whatever got the others. 

July 12, 2024

Slow Progress on the Front Bedroom

The last time I talked about this room was in April, when I got my floor loom set up in it. Even though the interior still needs to be finished, that won't happen until our priority projects are finished. In the meantime, I'm working to make it more comfortable and homey. One of the things I did, was to hang two old printed quilt pattern bedspreads as window draperies.

Front window before

Front window with full size bedspread.

Side windows with thermal curtains.

Queen size bedspread for the side windows.

Even though the walls and window trims still need to be finished, the bedspreads help cover up the mess! 

The front window is shaded by the front porch, but the side windows in the photo above get the full brutal force of our afternoon southern sun. That means the room heats up, even with energy star windows. So in addition to the bedspread, I also used the four thermal curtains; one pair on tension rods in the window framing, and the other two hung on the inner rod of the double drapery rod. That gives me a double layer of thermal curtains plus the quilt. That seems to be helping quite a bit.

What's on the loom? It's a throw rug for the entryway of this room.

I chose the yarns to compliment the bedspreads. You can see those photos here. It's finished now, and below you see it here it is in its new home . . . 

Technical details for the rug are at my fiber blog.

The book shelf cubes are new too, and create a nice visual partition. My large desk is behind them, so they help hide the clutter!

I've also been able clear this wall in preparation for future work.

The brick wall you see is the back of our woodstove alcove. Originally, this bedroom and the living room had back to back fireplaces, both of which have been torn down. Dan is still planning on having a masonry stove built, and this brick wall will be incorporated into the thermal mass. After that, we can finish the wall and do something about the closet. 

Old photo from when we first bought the house.

The closet is 6-feet wide and 17.5 inches deep. The door is only 72-inches tall. That gives the shelf above the closet rod a 7-inch opening for storing items on the shelf.

With our 9-foot ceilings, there's almost 32 cubic feet of storage space above the shelf, but that narrow opening means it's near impossible to utilize! This currently unusable space could easily accommodate the few boxes I have left after my sort and purge. Obviously, the entire closet needs re-vamping, which we'll work on once the stove project is done.

So progress has been made, even though it will be awhile before we get the room finished. But it looks and feels nicer, and that makes me happy. 

July 5, 2024

The New Keyhole Garden: Structure Complete

The new African Keyhole is built and ready for the next step. And that would be filling it with lots and lots of organic matter (rotting wood, sticks, compost, etc.) and good soil. I'm not in a hurry to do that however, because at the moment we have lambs quarter and cherry tomatoes growing happily in it. 

I'll start filling in the low areas, taking care not to smother the plants. And I'll fill the built-in compost bin. 

This feature is what makes the African design so clever and superior to the ones that simply have an alcove that enables the gardener to have a closer hand at planting and harvesting. The compost bin receives scraps and water, and once established, I find that my keyhole garden thrives better than my kitchen garden. And that, even though it's a raised bed, which I find don't do well in our climate because they dry out quickly in our hot dry summers.

So, that's a project checked off the to-do list. Anybody else making progress on their project lists?

July 1, 2024

Annual Permaculture Adventure Bundle

This year's bundle contains some interesting and unusual stuff. Things like, using mushrooms for insulation (who knew?) and an earthbag building guide. There's something in it to cover every aspect of homesteading! The bundle contains over $600 worth of resources, and will be available July 1 - 4 for the heavily discounted price of $35. After that, it goes up to $65.

Here's what's in it:
  • Earthbag Building Guide eBook, by Owen Geiger, with complete plans to build your own a Roundhouse Studio 
  • Finding the Perfect Homestead Property video Course by Curtis Stone
  • PawPaw Quick Start Guide (Video and eBook) by Michael Judd
  • Boosting Your Garden Yields by Growing Algae. A streaming video presentation by Matt Huber
  • Wooden Door with Mycelium Insulation and Proenneke Hinge Guide with 3-D Plans from the Low Tech Laboratory by Andres Bernal. 
  • Permaculture Guilds and Companion Planting  a Training Session video by Permaculture Gardens
  • Hugelkultur: The Ultimate Raised-Bed Gardening eBook (Draft) by Paul Wheaton
  • Easy Homemade Body Products eBook by Merissa A. Alink
  • The Design and Build of the Giant Solar Food Dehydrator. Movie by Paul Wheaton (and it is giant).
  • DIY Specialty Soaps eBook by The Nerdy Farm Wife
  • Building a Cob Style Rocket Mass Heater by Paul Wheaton, HD instant view
  • Wildcrafting Weeds eBook by Colleen Codekas & Joel Schwartz
  • Building a Better World in Your Backyard eBook by Paul Wheaton and Shawn Klausen-Koop. Luxuriant Environmentalism!
  • Practical Mending eBook by Kate Downham. Kate is one of my favorite homestead authors!
  • How to Bake without Baking Powder eBook by Leigh Tate
  • 45 Low Tech Things Webinar Recording by Paul Wheaton
  • Thermophilic Compost For the Garden and Homestead PDF by Alan Booker
  • Helen Atthowe's Backyard Food Forest Webinar Recording
  • Water Biofilters and Composting Toilet Systems Presentation from Online PDC/ATC with Tim Barker
  • Why Chickens are the Enablers and Heroes of Permaculture Design Workshop by Patricia Foreman 
  • Living Wood Magazine - Issue 6
  • Core Site Layout: Zone 1 Site Planning Online Workshop by Ben Falk
  • Saving Our Seeds – The Practice & Philosophy. eBook by Bevin Cohen
  • Celery Wine: The Story of a Country Commune eBook by Elaine Sundancer 
  • Paul Wheaton Podcast Review of Botany in a Day by Thomas Elpel
  • The Beginning Gardener's Toolbox eBook by Carly MacQuarrie of The Little Green Shoot
  • Northern Great Basin Restoration Agriculture Biome Models Presentation by Neil Bertrando
  • Cooking with a Rocket Oven video by Paul Wheaton
  • Composting Toilet Design Plan PDF by Rancho Mastatal
  • Save Our Bees: Your Guide To Creating A Bee Friendly Environment eBook by Jason Johns
  • 6 Issues of Tiny House Magazine
  • Earthen Walls Webinar by Natalie Bogwalker of Wild Abundance
  • Permaculture Design Magazine, Issues 110 'Permaculture Ethics' & 118 'Wild Yields'
  • Paul Wheaton Podcast Gob: #281-320
I hope I've got them all because there have been several last minute additions.

And here's the link again (so you don't have to scroll back to the top of the page). 💁

Special price ends Thursday July 4th at 2 p.m. MT.

June 25, 2024

Garden Notes: June 2024


  • 2nd: 0.14"
  • 4th: 0.39"
  • 5th: 0.42"
  • 10th: 0.59"
  • 24th: 0.01"
  • 30th: 0.8"
  • Total: 2.35 inches
  • range of nighttime lows: 53 to 74°F (11.6 to 23.3°C)
  • range of daytime highs: 76 to 94°F (24.4 to 34.4°C)
Greenhouse temps Because I'm curious about the effectiveness of the shade cloth.These are the days 90°F and above so far this year, before and after covering the greenhouse with shade cloth.
  • Without shade cloth
    • Outside: 91°F (33°C) |104°F (40°C) inside 
  • With shade cloth
    • Outside: 90°F (32°C) | 84°F (29°C) inside 
    • Outside: 93°F (34°C) | 84°F (29°C) inside 
    • Outside: 94°F (34.4°C) | 86°F (30°C) inside
    • Outside: 94°F (34.4°C) | 88°F (31°C) inside
I'm guessing that the steady rise in inside temps is due to the structure itself heating up and retaining that heat overnight. Also days of full sun versus partly cloudy days. Even so, it's still better than the temps without it.

Weather Notes

We're into our summer weather pattern, where, as it warms up, rain systems come up off the Gulf from the southwest and then split as they approach the southern Appalachians. The result for us is that we typically miss the rain that the rest of the Southeast gets (rain shadow effect). 

Garden Notes

  • The birds got all the cherries! No pie this year.
  • Now that the planting is done, I'm focusing primarily on getting everything mulched before picking starts. And watering as needed.


  • sweet potato slips
  • corn, Trucker's Favorite
  • sorghum


  • multiplier onions
  • walking onions
  • wheat
  • oregano
  • thyme
  • sweet basil
  • potatoes
  • garlic
  • snow peas
  • cherry tomatoes
  • slicing tomatoes
  • mulberries
  • red raspberries
  • lambs quarter
  • kale
  • Swiss chard
  • wild lettuce
  • daikon leaves
  • daikon radishes
  • blueberries
  • green pepper
  • lambs quarter, canned
  • last of the pantry stored winter squash, dehydrated for squash powder
  • goats milk mozzarella, shredded and frozen

sweet potato slips before planting

winter wheat

My bed of volunteer lambs quarter

It's growing in the location of the new keyhole garden.

Beginnings of the new African keyhole garden

Peanuts, volunteer cherry tomatoes, and Katy

Corn and flowering carrot plant (a purple variety, I think)


Besides processing wheat, I've been experimenting with making buckwheat flour from last
year's crop. I use my power blender and sieve to sift. Does an ok job but needs improvement.

Moonglow pear

June salad: wild lettuce, daikon leaves, last of the peas,
first of the cherry tomatoes, crumbled goat feta cheese.

Parting shot

First sunflowers

Your turn! How does your garden grow? (Or does it???)

June 18, 2024

Shade Cloth for the Greenhouse

Something I never counted on when we built the greenhouse, was using it in summer. Fall, winter, and spring, yes, but summer is just too hot. For example, the hottest day so far this month has been 91°F (33°C). This was the temp inside the greenhouse . . .

My max-min analog thermometer. The red pointer is the day's high.

The solar attic fan helps, but it's still too hot to grow things. Plus, since the greenhouse is built off of my sewing room, the heat transfers through the windows and walls so that room gets really warm too. Which in turn, helps heat up the rest of the house. My idea was to cover the greenhouse with shade cloth. 

It's graded at 90% shade and measures 12-feet by 20-feet. I got it on Amazon; here's the link for more info ⇾ QLOFEI 90% Shade Cloth

We used cup hooks to secure the grommets, with the help of baling twine along the bottom edge.

How much difference has it made? The first day after we put it up, we got to 89°F, (32°C). But the greenhouse temp only got up to 83°F (28.3°C). That's about a 20°F difference thanks to the shade cloth. Obviously, I'm really glad we did this!

I also use shade cloth to cover my new transplants. They really stay happier the first few days until they establish their root systems.

June 12, 2024

In Which I Learn How to Make Mayonnaise

A lot of people make their own mayonnaise, but for some reason, the idea always intimidated me. I have no idea why; maybe it was just the entrenched habit of using store-bought mayo. But then Dan and I got into another diet analysis discussion, and talked about more ways to improve our diet (there's always room for improvement). 

I had already changed the oils we cooked with. Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon was a real eye opener on that front, and I eliminated all edible oils except extra virgin olive and coconut from  our diet. The hold-out was mayo, which is typically made with soy oil. For awhile, I was able to buy coconut or avocado oil mayo from our discount grocery, until they closed shop. I switched to the commercial mayo with olive oil, but it still contains soy oil. But now, with mayo costing $6 to $8 a jar, it was time to do something else. 

My first step was to ask for recipes at Permies.com. I got a lot of good ones, so I chose the simplest, plopped the ingredients into my power blender, and whirred it up. Except no matter how long or at what speed I blended it, my "mayo" remained liquid. Because of the EVOO it solidified in the fridge and tasted okay, but it didn't have the creamy consistency I wanted. 

After we finished that jar, I was tempted to just buy a jar of mayo again, but decided to hunt for a DIY video instead. This one, The Easiest Homemade Mayonnaise Recipe!, told me what I needed to know. She had the same results as me with her blender mayo, and recommended a stick blender instead. I vaguely remembered buying one for soap making, but it was still unopened in the box. Somewhere. 

Also called a hand or immersion blender.

I found it, assembled it, and dumped the ingredients into a wide mouth pint jar. Within seconds I had mayo! I couldn't believe how fast and easy it was. 

The first thing it went into was sauerkraut slaw.

Sauerkraut slaw. Just add mayo to sauerkraut or kimchi.

The recipe is the standard one found around the internet. For my records, here it is again.

  • 1 cup oil of choice
  • 1 egg
  • juice of 1/2 lemon (or 1 tbsp lemon juice or vinegar)
  • pinch salt (or to taste)
  • 1 tbsp mustard (Dijon tastes best, but yellow will do)

Place all ingredients in a wide mouth jar. Insert blender all the way to the bottom and begin to blend. As the mixture blends, slowly lift the blender until the entire jar is mayo. 

Also, for mayonnaise lovers, here's another Permies thread with lots and lots of recipes and flavor variations for the stuff - Favorite kinds of mayonnaise and magic mayo method.

Who else makes their own mayonnaise?!?

June 7, 2024

June Blooms

Making this a crossover post with my much neglected photography journal.




butterfly weed

rose of sharon


June Blooms © June 2024 by Leigh

June 2, 2024

Evaluating the Budget

A budget analysis is a good thing from time to time. Things go up, things go down, and that makes it a good idea to make sure income and spending stay on track. This recent analysis is prompted by a notice from our internet provider that our internet bill was going up $30 per month starting in June. This is because Congress has refused to renew the Affordable Connectivity Program. That means this is a prudent time to take a serious look at how we're allocating and spending our money. 

When expenses go up, there are either two options: increase income or decrease spending. There could be three, if one considers buying on credit an option. Dan and I don't, so I don't include it on our list of options. Because we are in a so called "fixed income" category, increasing income isn't a sustainable option. This makes our budget limiting in some ways, but actually keeps it pretty simple. 

We basically have two spending categories: bills and household spending. We've averaged our monthly bills, and this amount is kept in the bank to pay as they are due. Household spending is on a cash basis. Since we're paid once a month, we make a cash withdrawal once a month. 

To keep track of household spending, we have a set of envelopes with the weekly cash in each one and open them when the new budget week starts. Anything left over from the previous week is put in the "extra" envelope. Granted, this system isn't practical for most people, but it works for us.

A budget analysis looks at our two spending categories versus our income. With prices going up, I'm still working within our original household spending amount because there's no way to increase it. But I've had to stop making some formerly regular purchases plus switch to lower cost alternatives for others. When I'm at the store, I now keep a running tally of what I select from my shopping list, because I know I'll have to make some decisions before checkout. Some items must wait until another time.

The bills category is a little more concerning, because there is less "fudge factor." I can't hold off paying one bill this month in favor of another, like I do with grocery items. Everything goes up, so we have to look to lifestyle changes to keep costs down. Things we've already cut out include: stopped using our HVAC for heating and air conditioning, not having more than one old vehicle, not making more than 2 - 3 trips to town per week, no eating out, no going to movies or shows, no television or streaming service, no subscriptions (of any kind), no buying new clothes, no dry cleaning, no cell phone, no travel and vacations, etc.

All of that leaves only one other category we could give up if we had to - internet. It's sincerely something I'd like to keep, but with a $30 a month jump in cost, it's on the chopping block. So far we can manage, but if prices and other costs keep going up, that will have to be the thing to go. 

Hopefully, everybody else out there is doing better than us! Yes, it could be the springboard for a lot of complaining, but complaining won't change anything. Especially, if the country's top tier of leadership thinks the economy is doing great and that we commoners are just too stupid to realize it. I don't mean for that to sound disrespectful, but honestly, the disconnect between the top and bottom tiers of society can be rather incredulous at times. 

May 26, 2024

Garden Notes: May 2024


    • 3rd: 2.17"
    • 6th: 1.57"
    • 8th: 0.13"
    • 9th: 2.4"
    • 13-14th: 0.92"
    • 15th: 0.04"
    • 17th: 0.12"
    • 18th: 0.01"
    • 19th: 0.69"
    • 23rd: 0.15"
    • 25th: 0.09"
    • 27th: 0.4"
    • Total: 8.69 inches

    • range of nighttime lows: 48 to 65°F (9 to 18°C)
    • range of daytime highs: 65 to 86°F (18 to 30°C)

    Weather Notes
      • Hail on the 6th
      • Very wet month, with quite a few days of drizzle with no accumulation.
      • Because the temps are mild, moisture remains in the ground and doesn't evaporate right out (one of our worst problems in hot summer).

      • pole beans, Cornfield
      • peanuts
      • buckwheat
      • summer squash, Tatume
      • okra, Clemson Spineless
      • sunflowers, Russian Mammoth
      • cantaloupe, Hale's Best
      • pearl millet
      • collards
      • pepper plants

      • lettuce
      • strawberries
      • snow peas
      • wild lettuce
      • chickweed
      • kale
      • mulberries
      • oregano
      • asparagus
      • red raspberries
      • peppermint
      • greenhouse potatoes
      • hopniss
      • horseradish root
      • turnip

      Garden Photos

      Except there are no actual photos of the garden!

      Early May meant a flush of strawberries, and so our first
      strawberry shortcake of the year with homegrown whipped cream.

      Edible pod peas and red raspberries.

      Pea and peanut salad with a dollop of mayonnaise.

      Greenhouse potato harvest. Not a lot, but I didn't
      plant a lot. I'd call it a successful experiment!


      Mulberry pancakes

      And then, since Dan has been talking about pineapple, I thought I'd make him an upside-down cake, substituting mulberries for those yucky candied cherries. Unfortunately, when I turned it out of the pan . . .

      Upside-down cake fail

      I think this is because I cut back on the sugar and butter, because I cut back on sugar and butter in all my cakes. That works for the cake, but didn't give me enough sauce for the pineapple and berries. So it stuck to the pan! But it still tasted good and I learned a lesson for next time.

      Your turn. How does your garden grow?