Tuesday, October 11, 2011

My first Back to Eden garden

Last spring I hauled home 6 dump truck loads of wood chips from the local stock yard. I piled them up after bringing them home and watched them steam on cool mornings. I mulched around fruit trees and berry bushes with them, but most of the pile remained unused. Until this week.

After watching the Back to Eden film which details Paul Gautschi’s gardening technique, I was persuaded to give it a try. I had already sowed some fall greens in our main garden, and I didn’t want to disturb them (we’ve been eating some tasty salads for about a week now). One of our smaller garden areas had sweet potatoes in it, but it was time to get them out.

So, after harvesting about 20 bushels of sweet potatoes, and bringing in the basil plants to dry, it was time to create a Back to Eden garden. This particular garden plot is 50 feet by 75 feet.

The first step was to remove what weeds were left and then smooth out the remains of the ridges in which the sweet potatoes were grown. I used the disk to do that, although that wasn’t the only or best option. I wasn’t trying to work the soil up, just level it out a little.

Then, I hauled several truck loads of compost and dumped them on the garden. I used the tractor with a box blade to spread the compost as evenly across the garden as I could. 002It ended up being about one inch to two inches thick.

The next step was to haul wood chips. I hauled 6 or 7 truck loads, leaving about one truck load where the original pile was. Then, it was time to spread the chips across the garden as evenly as I could. I used my Bobcat for some of this, but a lot of the spreading had to be done manually, with a rake, hoe, shovel, and wheel barrow.

It took a couple of hours, but I was able to spread the wood chips across the garden to a depth of about 4 to 6 inches. It looks good, I think. Soon, I hope to plant some garlic and a few potatoes in it.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Back to Eden–a must-see gardening film

A friend sent me a link to the teaser for a recent documentary called Back to Eden. It’s about the gardening philosophy and techniques of Paul Gautschi. He said that if I watched the teaser that I would then watch the full video (which is available to be viewed online free). He was right. I’ve watched it twice so far, and it is excellent! It’s inspiring. I will be implementing the methods Paul talks about in the film as I am able, starting right now.

If you already grow your own food/garden or are interested in doing so, this is a must see film. Watch the teaser and see if it doesn’t pique your interest and prompt you to watch the full film.

Now, follow this link to watch the full-length film: www.backtoedenfilm.com/

Let me know what you think.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Our three gardens

It’s been a few days since I last posted. There’s not been a lack of things to do, and I have still been accomplishing much. Once the rain stopped, we got busy in the garden. We set out 50# of seed potatoes, 32 pounds of onion sets, 150 tomato plants, nearly 300 sweet potato plants, a few cabbage and broccoli plants, and about three dozen eggplants. We’ve also planted peanuts, dried beans, green beans, sweet corn, pop corn, squash, melons, okra, and cucumbers. I’ll be planting some more sweet corn and green beans soon.

We’re using three different garden areas this year, more than we’ve utilized in the past. One has the onions, potatoes, tomatoes, and sweet corn in it at the present time. 025Another has the sweet potatoes and some watermelon. We’ll probably put the next planting of sweet corn in this garden since there is still room for it. The other, and largest, garden has several types of melons, green beans, dried beans, and peanuts in it.

The children have been helping with taking care of the garden. Each year as they grow they are more able to contribute to our food production. 004My boys have really been helpful this year with planting and weeding. I try to not overwhelm them with too much at a time, and they’ve really been doing a good job and with a good attitude.

I think it’s important for children to grow up with responsibilities and learning to work. There are so many things that they can do to contribute to their family, and there are so many valuable things to be learned through the process. Too many children, I’m afraid, are not expected to contribute to their families in meaningful ways. When I was growing up, my family had a very limited income, and our gardens provided a good deal of our food. Each of us was expected and required to participate in the growing, maintenance, harvesting, and preserving of food. I didn’t always appreciate it at the time, but I certainly do now.

One of the challenges we’ve faced with the gardens during the last couple of weeks is the deer. They decided that we’re growing food for them. They’ve eaten on our peas, beans, beets, chard, and lettuce. 037They basically destroyed the beets and chard – I guess they tasted good to them. After they’d eaten on the beans which were just starting to blossom, I put up some deer deterrent: baling twine. I’ve been told that deer don’t like the smell of baling twine, and three years ago we put up a fence of it around our garden because of the deer, and it kept them out of it.

After I fenced off the beans with baling twine, the deer decided to eat some of the younger beans. These deer appear to be very hungry based upon how they’ve been eating. 032So, the boys and I put up a perimeter fence around the bean garden using 10’ poles driven into the ground and four strands of baling twine. We also tied rectangles of aluminum flashing onto each pole to move with the wind and create noise. So far, the deer haven’t been back in the garden, but it’s only been a couple of days. I’m hopeful it will keep them out for most of the growing season.

Yesterday, Malchiah and I worked on getting some of our tomatoes staked up. Last year I used livestock panels in an A-frame configuration – two panels on either side of the row tied together at the top. 015This year my rows are 30 feet long which requires four panels per row. I have 12 panels and didn’t want to spend the money to buy more. So, to be able to cover more rows (we have 8 rows of tomatoes), I changed the method for this year.

We started with three rows yesterday. I set some cedar posts at the ends of the rows and one post in the middle of each row. Then, we hung two panels between the posts right above the tomato plants. The panels are about 9 inches off the ground. I tied the larger plants to the bottom of the panels and wove their branches them. As the plants grow, we’ll weave them through the panels to the top, or as tall as the plants grow. We’ll tie them to the panels as necessary. It takes more work to set posts in the ground, but this way we have enough panels for six rows. 020I’ll stake up the other two rows differently.

We’ve been enjoying fresh blueberries and black raspberries this week. Soon, it’ll be time to pick blackberries. We usually pick and preserve as many blackberries as we can. Last year we picked around 20 gallons. We’re planning on doing the same this year.

I’ve been teaching two sections of my class this summer. There’s one more week to go in the session. It’s been taking a lot of time, but it’s worth it. My objective is to encourage the students to question the institution of school by considering some of its harmful effects and how it is not designed to promote learning/education as they assume. As one of the authors they read says, “School makes children stupid.” I enjoy the class, but it’ll be nice to be able to focus and devote my time to projects (like finishing our house) here on the farm.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Compost & mulch in the orchard

Things are really greening up around here. It’s so pretty with all the new leaves coming out on the trees. Spring is a neat time of year. Around here it’s also a wet time of year. We received nearly five inches of rain during the last week. The ground is saturated, but it’ll dry out before too long.

There are a lot of jobs that need done around the farm during Spring. I keep plugging away at the things that need done. Last week before some of the rain, we composted all of the blueberry bushes and mulched them with wood chips. I worked the compost into the soil around each bush before putting the mulch around them.

Today, I worked in the orchard. Last year I didn’t give the fruit trees the attention they needed. With plenty of compost available this year, I didn’t want to neglect them again. I was going to till around each tree, but the pull rope on the tiller broke. I’m going to have to fix that and a couple of other things on it tomorrow or the next day.

So, instead of using the tiller, I used a grub how and worked in a circle around each tree, working up the soil out to the drip line of each tree (as far out as the branches extend). There were 14 trees, I think (I forgot to count to make sure). Once I had the ground worked up around all of the trees, I mowed between the trees with the bush hog. 010Then, I hauled compost to them. I put half a loader scoop at the base of each tree.

I used my grape hoe to spread out the compost. It ended up being 4 or 5 inches deep around each tree. Then, it was time to mulch them. I put a full loader scoop of wood chips at each tree and spread it out beyond the composted area for each one. A few of the trees didn’t need a full scoop of mulch. So, 008I put the extra around the little hazelnut trees I set out a few weeks ago and a little bit around the cherry bushes.

The orchard looks nice and neat now, and I hope the compost gives the trees a nutritional boost. The wood chips will keep the weeds down and will provide nutrients as the break down over the next year or so.


The children and I have hunted for morels several different days during the last couple of weeks. We’ve looked for them in previous years, too, but the most we’ve ever found is about 20. 002I’ve read about where to look for them and have tried to note where we find them growing, but there’s been little consistency. Basically, they grow where they want to.

Last week we did find about three dozen of the tasty little buggers. We’d had rain a couple days before with some cool weather. As it warmed up, some Morels popped up. We probably spent two and a half or three hours looking on our ridge to find these. The photo shows a few of the ones that we found that day.

After washing them and cutting them in half lengthways, I sautéed them in butter, and we enjoyed them as a special treat for dinner. They were very good!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Cows on grass and gardening

We moved the cows out of the barn and back onto grass this week. They seem happy, and our milk production has gone up. 025I’ve provided them with some hay to make sure they have enough roughage as they transition back onto green stuff, and they are doing well.

After I moved the cows out, I started cleaning out the barn. They were in the barn for four months. I used straw and saw dust for bedding while they were there, giving them fresh bedding every day and letting it accumulate during the entire four months. 028Two full grown cows and two young steers can make a lot of manure mixed with bedding in four months time.

I used the Bobcat to start cleaning it out. The way the barn is set up, I can only get the Bobcat straight in from outside and clean a pathway across the cows’ area inside. There isn’t room to turn and clean out the rest mechanically. We’ll have to clean out the other 80% by hand, or at least loosen it and throw it into the middle so it can be moved out with the Bobcat. We’ll complete this work over the next couple of weeks, I hope.

On other blogs, I’ve read about people starting their garden plants inside over the last couple of months, 015but I didn’t get any of starts going until yesterday. I have no place inside our current home for starting seeds. In the past I’ve started seeds in the basement of a previous home under grow lights or in a greenhouse. I don’t want to use the power to keep a grow light on with our electrical system now even if I had the space/place inside for it.

Without a place for starting seeds and with the length of our growing season, I’ve not worried about having not started my seeds yet. So, yesterday, 014I mixed together some growing medium (one part compost, one part peat moss, and one part rich dirt) and planted some seeds: tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. I put them in some flats I had from last year and set them under a makeshift greenhouse.

The makeshift greenhouse is a metal framework with plastic stretched over it. When I checked it a couple of times today, it was nice and warm and moist inside. I think with the warm weather we’re having, the seeds should sprout fairly quickly. I don’t plan on setting plants out until mid-May. So, if all goes well, they should be ready by then.

Then, today, the boys and I planted some things in the garden. First, I worked up an area about 30 feet by 30 feet. 020Using my grape hoe (an wonderful tool), I pulled dirt into four ridges. I filled the trenches left from pulling the dirt together into ridges with wood chips about 6 inches or so deep. This makes nice walkways with material that will break down over time, feeding the worms and adding to the soil. Then, I smoothed the tops of the ridges with a rake, making rows about 18 to 20 inches wide for planting.

This afternoon, we planted several varieties of lettuce, spinach, beets, swiss chard, and carrots in these wide rows. 023We also planted several rows of sugar snap peas in another area right beside the first one. We’ll be planting a lot more things in the coming weeks.

I had an interesting experience while using the Bobcat to the wood chips from the big pile to the garden: a wheel fell off. Apparently, the lug bolts had come loose, they worked themselves out. I hadn’t noticed this was happening. As I made a turn to head into the garden, the wheel fell off, and the Bobcat sat down on its haunches. I found three of the bolts and borrowed one from each of the other wheels to reattach it before continuing with the work.

After finishing the planting, the children and I went for a swim in the pond. It was a bit cool, but we all enjoyed it.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Bobcat M500 back together

A few weeks ago, I wrote about working on my Bobcat M500. I had to take it apart in order to pull the engine so I could get the starter off of it. The starter was in need of repair – the brushes were completely worn out. I also had Jack (the local guy who works on starters) check the generator, and it tested out fine, thankfully. That meant that something else was causing it not to keep the battery charged.

While I had the Bobcat taken apart, I cleaned it a bit. It had quite a bit of grease and grime on it. It probably could’ve used a good power washing, but since I didn’t have access to a power washer, I used soapy water, a brush, and a rag. I also purchased some cans of cheap spray paint and gave it a new coat of paint. It was nothing fancy, just something to cover up some of the scratches and places where the metal was bare.

While I had the engine out, I discovered it needed new head gaskets. Amazingly, new ones are still available – Kohler doesn’t support the engine (K662) anymore, but they apparently still have some engines that use the same head gaskets.

After getting the new gaskets installed and the repair starter on it, I completely rewired things. I welded a corner of the operator’s cage which had come apart 015(it’s home-made by a previous owner) and gave it a new coat of black paint. I also painted the wheels and rear weight red.

Putting it back together went well. I had to replace a few bolts that hold things together. Of course, when I had the engine back in and before I had all the other things put back, I checked to make sure it would start and run okay. It did.

After getting it all back together, I had to run it and check things out. It worked well, but I noticed the batter wasn’t charging. I suspected the voltage regulator, and, when I tested it, it was clear that it wasn’t working (it regulates the voltage from the generator for charging the battery – alternators have built-in voltage regulators). 017So, I ordered a new one, and when I arrived I put it on. it solved the problem.

The only other problem I had was that the air filter needs replaced. I still have to find one or figure out a way to put new filter material in/on the current one.

Since I got it back together a couple of weeks ago, I’ve used it around here some, and it is quite handy. I’ve moved compost and have loaded some manure and bedding into the truck to haul it to a compost pile. The only complaint I have about it besides that it’s almost underpowered (it is amazingly strong for its size and small engine) is that it drinks gas at an alarming rate. These old Kohler engines aren’t known for being fuel efficient.

Yesterday, I hauled the Bobcat to the stock yard in town. The company that owned the stock yard went bankrupt. So, it’s closed. Anyway, before it closed, the guy who ran the place had the power company tree trimmers dump several loads of wood chips for him to use in their back lots instead of rock (wood chips would keep the cows out of the mud). I liked this idea (it was my idea), because I intended to get the wood chips and manure later on.

However, since the place closed, the pile of wood chips has just sat there looking forlorn and lonely. When I asked, I was told that I might as well get the wood chips if I wanted them. So, I used the Bobcat to load them on my truck and bring them home. I used my smaller truck and trailer to haul the Bobcat, and then after bringing home a small truck load of manure/bedding (all that I hadn’t already gotten – I left it in case anyone else wanted it, but it was still there after four months), I drove my big truck back. 007I loaded and hauled six loads with the big truck, approximately 72 cubic yards of wood chips.

They’re all piled nice and neat here on the farm, now. It’s very satisfying to push things into a nine foot tall pile for some reason. We’ll use wood chips for garden walkways and to mulch around trees. When I get some more manure, it can be mixed with them. If they’re just left to break down, they’ll make some excellent compost on their own.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Spreading more compost

It didn’t rain last night (there was a chance). So, this morning, I spread compost on the small field near the orchard, at the end of which I planted the 50 asparagus crowns earlier. My compost spreading process involves two tractors, 003a manure spreader, a loader, and a field cultivator.

This is the field before I started. I disked it a few days ago. Last year, we tried to grow corn here, but the crows and other varmints interfered with that. The soil doesn’t have a lot of humus, appearing to be mostly clay. Like much of the other ground on our farm, it was used to grow tobacco in the past. There were tobacco stalks in it when we moved here almost eight years ago.

I took compost from the piles at then end of the field. Yesterday, 005I used from one of the piles for spreading on the garden.

The manure spreader that I have is an old one that I bought last spring. Of course, it’s not as old as the one I used before I got this one. I’ve only been able to use this one the last couple of days even though I bought it a year ago. Thankfully, it worked fine today. I pulled and powered it with my 1966 International 424. 008This has been a very good tractor since I bought it 7.5 years ago. I use it for just about everything.

Part way through the process, I took a photo of my progress. I’d already spread 10 loads at this time, and the first pile was completely removed and I had started on the second pile. I loaded the spreader with the loader tractor. 011I would’ve liked to have used the Bobcat, but it needs the battery charged. The voltage regulator doesn’t work on it. I ordered another one. Hopefully, that will keep the battery charged.

In all, I spread 13 loads on the field. I estimate each load at around 3,000 pounds. Since the spreader is PTO powered, I ran the tractor in first gear to allow the compost to be spread as thickly as possible. I also went over the same ground at least twice. It’s amazing how little it looks like when it is no longer piled up.

Once I finished spreading, it was time to rip the compost into the soil. I didn’t want to leave it on the surface to dry out and lose some of its goodness. 013Thankfully, most of the time while I was working it was also overcast.

The field cultivator I used has seven shanks and does a really nice job. This ground was a little harder than the garden I worked yesterday. So, I couldn’t get it to go in quite as deep. Almost as deep though.

It started to rain a little just as I finished working the compost into the ground. I considered that a blessing. It wasn’t much rain, but it was nice to have a little to wet the compost into the ground a bit.

The final photo is of the field after I finished. The soil doesn’t look much darker than before in the photo, but it is a little. It will take several years of working in compost to get it where I would like it to be.


We’ll use this field as a second garden area. I don’t know that we’ll use all of it this year. What we don’t, I hope to sow buckwheat or some other beneficial cover crop on.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Warm and dry in March

Last post I mentioned how we usually warm up and dry out in March. It happened again. We’ve been experiencing summer-like weather for the last few days, and it’s been keeping me busy.

On Sunday I had 50 asparagus crowns to put in the ground. I put lots of compost into the trenches I had already dug and set the asparagus crowns in it. I was able to get them all bedded, and hopefully they’ll be happy.

I also plowed an area for our field corn. It’s not a very big field, but hopefully we can grow enough for corn bread. Last year the crows ate the seed out of the ground and then the raccoons and deer tried to demolish what the crows missed. Hopefully, we’ll do better this year. I’m going to spread a good bit of compost on the soil before it’s time to plant since this particular plot has some poor soil. I actually plowed it a few years ago but didn’t plant anything in it. So, it’s had a bit of a break. I think it previously had tobacco planted in it, as just about every field here has.

Yesterday, I planted the nine cherry bushes that were anxiously waiting to be set in dirt. I put two in front of the house so that we can enjoy their blossoms in the spring. The other seven I set out in a row near the new asparagus rows – they’re on the edge of the orchard. I used the 12” auger on the tractor to dig the holes which was much easier than using a shovel. I dug them deep and put lots of compost in the holes before planting.

Yesterday afternoon I spent working on the manure spreader. I bought the spreader last spring, and the first time I went to use it, the apron chain broke (that’s what walks the material to the back of the spreader). I’ve been needing to fix it, and it’s been waiting patiently. In anticipation of spreading some compost on the gardens, I decided it was time to get it done. I took the chain out, replaced the floor with some new beech boards I had (it had a plywood floor with a few holes).

After buying the necessary hardware and links for the chain, I bolted the floor boards in, repaired the chain, and put it back in. I wasn’t able to try it out until this morning. It seemed to work fine, though. However, on the second load, another link in the chain broke. So, I had to shovel everything out. It occurred to me that at that point, I had shoveled more stuff out of the010 spreader than it had actually spread for me. I replaced the broken link and made a few adjustments, and then it worked fine.

I spread the pile of manure and bedding we cleaned out of the barn last fall – that was the accumulation from the winter before. Most of that I spread with the loader tractor and a grader blade after the manure spreader broke. I used a friend’s field cultivator to rip the material into the dirt and work up the ground. Then, I spread several more loads of compost from another pile on the garden and ripped it in.

I’ve got another garden area to spread compost on and to work up. If we don’t get much of the rain that’s possible tomorrow, I’ll see about doing that later this week.


Friday, March 18, 2011

Putting plants in the ground

It felt a lot like summer today. Our high was about 80 degrees. We had rain a couple of days ago, but the warmer temperatures and breeze that has been blowing is beginning to dry things out. Usually, there are a couple of weeks in March/April that it dries up enough to work the garden and begin getting some things planted. It’s till too wet to work up our main garden area, but maybe we’re getting closer to that drying period.

001I did work in the dirt a bit yesterday and today. A couple of months ago, I ordered some plants. They arrived this week. So, I thought it would be a good idea to get them in the ground.

Yesterday, I planted three Rosa Rugosa plants that Anne ordered free from Gurneys. I planted some in front of the house we lived in before we moved to Kentucky, and we enjoyed them. One of the reasons for getting them now (besides the fact that they were free with the Gurneys’ promotional coupon) is that Rosa Rugosa produce many nice-sized rose hips. We want to harvest them for tea.

009Also yesterday, I put six hazelnut trees in the ground. We would like a good nut source. The wild nuts around here are hickory and black walnut. Primarily, we’ve used hickory nuts.

I’ve been digging into one of my compost piles, the smallest one actually, for these plantings. Today, I dug into it a bit more for the strawberry beds. I finished my work on the Bobcat earlier in the week and was able to use it for moving the compost. 005About three years ago I framed two beds about four feet by 50 feet using some cedar boards and slabs. I added some compost to them and planted strawberries.

We had a few strawberries the next summer, but the deer and weeds were hard on them. Few actually survived. So, yesterday, the boys pulled out all of the old weeds from the beds to get them ready for today. This morning, they dug out the few remaining plants, and I filled the beds with compost. I would say the layer of compost was 6 to 8 inches deep. We then used grub hoes and then the tiller to work it into the soil in the beds a little.

Once the beds were ready, we planted the 100 strawberry plants that arrived two days ago. We also replanted the ones that survived from the previous planting. Later, after they are established, we’ll mulch the plants well to help keep down the weeds. 011I think weeds are the greatest problem with growing strawberries.

We still have 50 asparagus crowns to put in the ground and some cherry bushes, too. This afternoon, I disked the area where we tried to grow corn last year. At one end of it, I used the turning plow to dig two ditches. 014On Sunday, we’ll put compost in the ditches and plant the asparagus in them. We’ll also put the cherry bushes in the same area – it’s actually on one side of our small orchard which seems like a good place.

Later, I’ll put compost on the ground I disked today. We’ll use it for garden along with the main area in front of the new house which will also receive as much compost as I can spread on it. I can see already that I won’t have enough compost and that I need to haul in a lot more stuff.

We’re enjoying the spring weather, for sure. Next week, we ought to be able to get the cows out of the barn and back on grass. They’ll appreciate that, I’m sure. It’s really nice to see things greening up and the early spring flowers. One of our plum trees just bloomed today. There will be a lot more blooms on other trees soon.


Thursday, March 3, 2011

Mechanical project (Bobcat M500 tear down)

Last spring I purchased an old Bobcat M-500. The guy I bought it from sold it cheaply because he wanted it out of his barn. I paid to have it hauled from his home in Michigan to here (about as much as I paid for the machine), but I deemed it a good buy since it ran and worked. I was able to play with it a few days and was pleased with it overall. It had some issues, but it seemed like it would work fine for my purposes.

Then, it wouldn’t start. There was a click when I turned the key, but the starter wouldn’t turn. Since I was busy working on my house, I parked the Bobcat in the barn until I could devote some time to remove the starter. Finally last fall, I found time to remove the starter, only I couldn’t remove it without pulling the engine out. I was able to get the solenoid off of the starter without any problem, and I thought that it was probably the culprit anyway.

I took the solenoid to the local guy who works on starters. He said solenoids like that one rarely if ever go bad, that it was probably the starter. If I’d bring it in, he could check it out. I didn’t really want to have to remove the engine, but the machine continued to sit there waiting for me to do the job that needed done.

So, last week, I started on it. It became clear that I would need to remove the lift and everything else off of the Bobcat in order to be able to get to the engine. Although I’ve been working on it at what seems like a slow pace, everything is going well. 001I’ve broken a few bolts which I’ll replace with new ones when I reassemble everything. I pulled the engine this week – I have a chain hoist secured to a metal truss right above the Bobcat. That made it easy to lift things up and off.

It was easy enough to remove the starter and also the generator (it’s questionable that the generator has been charging as it’s supposed to). I’ll be taking both of them to have them checked out and repaired.

With the engine out, I could see I’d need to pull the flywheel because a couple bolts on the side were loose. Thankfully, I was able to get the flywheel off without too much difficulty, and I’ll only need to replace the bolts with ones a little longer than the originals. As I was loosening the flywheel, I realized that the head gaskets (there are two – one for each cylinder) weren’t holding the compression – I could hear air escaping from the head when turning the flywheel (the pistons were pushing air out at the heads and pulling air in on the return stroke). I just ordered new head gaskets this morning – I was amazed I could find a set since Kohler no longer supports this old engine.

Before I reinstall the engine and put everything back together, I’m going to give the old machine a good cleaning and spray on a new coat of paint – nothing fancy, though. I’m hoping that the engine will run better when I’m all done without leaking head gaskets and that the Bobcat will prove to be a useful tool around here. The starter problem which prompted this project is 006a blessing because it revealed other repairs necessary and is resulting in cleaning up and getting the old machine back into the useful shape it ought to be in (I was just going to use it dirty).

On another note, our pond is once again full. We had enough rain at the end of February to top it off. It’s nice to see it full once again – it’s been several months. I’m hoping that the water won’t seep out of the bottom like it did last year, that it will hold water better this year.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Banjo playin’

In an earlier post, I shared with everyone my new endeavor: learning to play the banjo. I’m having a lot of fun with it, and have learned quite a bit already. I’ve only begun, of course, but I thought I’d make good on my promise to share some of my progress with you.

The following is a video I recorded earlier today of me playing Wildwood Flower. While it was so cold on Thursday, I spent a few hours learning how to play the tune and have continued to work on refining my playing of it yesterday and this morning. It’s not perfect, I know, but I’m happy with it for now.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Root cellar and garden/storage crates

If you didn’t know, we’re building a house. I don’t mean that we’re paying someone to build a house for us. We’re building it. Well, I’m doing most of the work, but I accept help from friends and family.

Anyway, one of the things we designed into our home (and, yes, we designed the house ourselves) is a root cellar. At one point in the process, I was going to build a root cellar separate from the house using the methods described by Mike Oehler in The $50 & Up Underground House Book. I still like his method (years ago after reading the book, we thought about building an underground house like he describes), and may use it for some structure sometime in the future. If you want to build a fairly inexpensive root cellar, you ought to check out this method.

We changed our plans for the house more than once (it’s been a developmental process, and it’s only gotten better with each change we’ve made to our plans). One of those changes was to make the root cellar under part of the house with access to it from the house. 024So, I dug a hole with the use of a friend’s backhoe and constructed a root cellar. You can read about how I built it here.

We haven’t gotten to use the root cellar yet, though. We haven’t gotten to live in our house yet either, but we’re getting closer all the time. 031In fact, just this week I built the stairs to the root cellar

The root cellar has two rooms, a larger one and a smaller one. The larger one is about 8’x13’. The smaller one is about 8’x 8’. I still have to insulate in the ceiling and install the exhaust vents in each room. Then, there will be 026shelves and bins to build, but I’m looking forward to being able to store some food in it next fall and winter. Hopefully, if all goes well, we’ll also be living in our new house by then.

Earlier this week, I bought some storage crates to use in the garden and root cellar. 025I saw them advertised on Craigslist late last week. They are really very nice. They measure 24” x 16” by 8.25”, and if filled up to the handles, they hold one bushel (based upon my calculations of volume). They are very sturdy and stack nicely. I think they will be very handy. You can buy them new from a few places, but they’re expensive. I’m glad to say I paid well less than retail price for them.

I move them into the root cellar yesterday after I finished the steps. So, they are now waiting for the coming harvest season and the christening of our new root cellar. In the meantime, we have more snow (it won’t last long, though).


Saturday, January 1, 2011

Skimming cream

The cows are staying warm and dry in the barn during the winter, eating hay and dreaming of green pastures (I’m imaging that last part, of course). I didn’t get either one of them bred back this last summer as I intended. It’s been a year since Tilly freshened (12/31/2009) and about 7.5 months since Josie freshened. We’re still milking both of them twice a day, and intend to continue doing so for another year or as long as they continue lactating. I’ll get them bred in early summer, I hope. I prefer that their calves be born in Spring.

If I kept a bull on the farm, it would simplify getting the cows bred, but I don’t really want an extra mouth to feed. With two cows, two steers, and a horse, we go through enough hay. I considered selling Tilly so that we would need to feed less hay, but we ended up keeping her – I didn’t really want to get rid of her. We probably don’t need two milk cows, but we have them and are able to keep them fed. And, the milk is appreciated.

At this time of year while the cows are eating hay – and it’s just grass hay, nothing special – we’re getting 1.5 to 2 gallons of milk a day. The amount varies depending upon how well they like a particular bale of hay and how cold it is. Colder weather requires them to convert more energy into keeping warm, and it affects the amount of milk produced. Now, this quantity of milk is not really much for two cows, but I don’t expect or want extreme production. This is enough milk for our uses and to share with my parents and Danny. It’s also better for the cows’ health since it isn’t taxing them to much to produce this amount, I believe.

During the summer months when the cows are on fresh grass and closer to the time they freshen, we get between 3 and 5 gallons of milk per day. That’s more than we can keep up with, usually. We ought to be converting some of that into cheese, but we’ve not taken on the extra task of doing so on a regular basis. We do make as much butter as we can, and Anne cans it when we have enough accumulated. Canned butter will keep for years. We use the butter as shortening/oil in baking and cooking so that we don’t have to buy oil. It also gets used on hot biscuits, sweet potatoes, and other things.

During the summer months, I skim cream off of the jars of milk on a regular basis. I have to in order to have jars to put more milk into. We also drink whole milk a couple times a day (whole milk is good for you and easier to digest than skim milk). Since the cows have been in the barn, I’ve not had to skim as often. The cream from cows eating fresh grass is preferable to the cream from hay-fed cows. Also, we’ve been mostly keeping up with the amount of milk we’ve been getting.

I know there are different ways that cream can be separated from the milk. The cream naturally rises to the surface when the milk cools. If we’re going to drink the milk, we shake the jar to mix the cream back in with the milk. If we want to use a little of the cream, like for coffee or tea, we can pour some off the top of the jar. If we want it for butter or bakingDSCF0990 (we substitute cream for some of the liquid and oil called for in a recipe – makes good biscuits, for example), then I need to skim it.

We strain the fresh milk through a cloth into 2-quart wide-mouth jars before refrigerating it. The wide mouth is large enough so that I can get a gravy ladle into the jar. My skimming method is quite simple: I use the gravy ladle to take the cream off the top of the milk. I put the cream in a quart jar so it will be available for use later. When I get down to the milk in the jar, it’s visible (you can see the separation between the cream and the milk) as I’m ladling out the cream. That’s when I stop skimming. It doesn’t take long to skim the cream off of two or three gallons of milk. The amount of cream we get varies some during the seasons. We can usually get a quart of cream from 1.5 gallons of whole milk, sometimes from only 1 gallon. If you click on the photo to enlarge it and then look closely, you can see the line between the milk and the cream in the two full jars (just above the “B” in “Ball”).

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