Anna (Anna and Mark: Waldeneffect)
Dandelion Winter
Early spring blooms

Winter came back with a vengeance this past weekend. First, we had a light snow on Saturday morning, then Sunday morning dropped down to 16 degrees Fahrenheit. Luckily, the cold was short-lived and I doubt the fruit trees saw any new damage.

Frozen cold frame

I went ahead and moved all of the plants out of the cold frame just to be on the safe side, and that was probably a wise move even though the interior temperatures only barely dropped below freezing. Unfortunately, when I put the plants back out on a sunny but frigid Sunday morning, I didn't take into account the power of the sun. By 2 pm, most of the broccoli plants had baked with the lid closed even though outdoor temperatures were still in the low to mid 40s. I guess I'll be starting some more broccoli seeds and paying more attention to the cold-frame cover next time. Even if the air feels cold, if the sun is out, the lid should be open!

Baby cabbage plants

On the plus side, I thought I'd messed up the cabbage seedlings, but they seem to have weathered Dandelion Winter just fine. A week ago, the long-range forecast only showed one low of 31 on the horizon, so I went ahead and set out the cabbage into the garden...then instantly regretted it when the weather report shifted dramatically. I covered the plants with row-cover fabric, crossed my fingers, and was thrilled to see that they seem to have come through the cold unscathed! So I guess we'll have early cabbage this year, and late broccoli.

Anna (Anna and Mark: Waldeneffect)
More new cover crops to try
Oilseed radish flower bed

Last fall, I sent out seeds of some of my tried-and-true (along with a few experimental) cover crops to readers to see how the species fared in other soils and climates. My favorite result is shown above --- Aimee in Ohio planted oilseed radishes in beds that will be used to grow strawberries this year. She reported: "[The oilseed radishes] stayed crisp and green clear past Thanksgiving, which gave me a ready supply of greens and radishes for the guinea pigs. I'll admit it, I ate a few myself. Even though I am not a radish person, they weren't bad." Oilseed radishes also got good reviews from Missouri, although Charity in the Pacific Northwest preferred barley and white mustard in her garden.

Sogrhum-sudangrass hybrid seeds

What's coming up this spring? I splurged on several new varieties, which I plan to try out both within the garden and as cut-and-come-again mulch producers in the newly bare aisle soils in areas where I recently mounded up earth to create higher raised beds. I figured --- why let that bare ground turn into weedy lawn if it can do double-duty by producing biomass for the garden instead? (Of course, I may regret this choice when I have to wade through tall grasses to get to my tomato plants.)

New species on the planting agenda include:

  • Barley --- This may be the plant I've been looking for to fill the early-spring gap before weather warms enough to plant buckwheat. This grain is supposed to mature enough to flower and be mow-killed in just a little over two months. I wasn't terribly impressed when I tried barley as a fall cover crop in the past, but I have higher hopes for its performance in the spring garden.
  • Sorghum-sudangrass hybrids --- I'm trying two different varieties, which look very distinctive in the seed stage (pictured above). I figure this will be a good fit for my aisle experiment.
  • Pearl Millet --- This species should fill a niche similar to the sorghum-sudangrass.
  • Alfalfa --- In part, I'm growing this legume for the goats since I'm currently buying alfalfa pellets to boost our milking doe's protein intake and calcium levels. But I figured it would also be interesting to see how alfalfa fares as a nitrogen-fixing cover crop left in place for the entire summer.
Barley seeds

Want to join in the fun? I have room for a few more experimenters since some of last fall's gardeners dropped out. If you live in zones 3, 4, or 8, drop me an email at and we'll chat. Folks chosen will receive free seeds as long as you promise to share photos for my book and to report on your results!

Joey: blog

The GNU project has released its first major subsystem, the EMACS editor. --

I just got a copy of GNU emacs, and it is large. I am willing to post it to mod.sources, but it is HUGE (about 20 postings) --

Can you imagine the expense of shipping 1MB of data between all net sites and of storing that 1MB on every sites disk --

If you wish to recover GNU emacs you can dial into our system and retrieve it. [..] The modem is 1200 Baud. [..] With the current performance of UUCP you will see a transfer rate of about 100 chars/second. Using this value you will see transfer times around 2 hours for GNUshar.Z to 8 hours for GNUtar. So, pick your medicine. --

Anna (Anna and Mark: Waldeneffect)
Boiling down birch syrup
Birch syrup cookie bars

The different types of sugars in birch sap compared to maple sap make birch syrup a little trickier to boil down. It's imperative not to allow the developing syrup to get above 200 degrees Fahrenheit with birch sap unless you want the sugars to caramelize, darkening the color and impacting the flavor. In addition, it's a bit trickier to know when birch syrup is done since it doesn't get as thick as maple syrup, so you'll need to make your best guess, then weigh the finished product to determine how close you are to the optimal 11 pounds per gallon.

Boiling down birch syrupLuckily, our birch tree started running hard when the warm weather came around, and several days in a row of 1.75-gallon yields gave me enough condensed sap to try my hand at syrup making. I ended up with about a quarter of a cup of syrup from three gallons of sap, at a weight of 3.3 ounces for the final product, which means I actually cooked the liquid down a bit further than is optimal (even though the syrup still looked pretty runny, even when cool). This equates to about 192 gallons of sap per gallon of syrup, requiring half again as much boiling down as even the box-elder sap we experimented with last month and three times as much boiling as our sugar maple sap.

With a larger supply of syrup on hand, we were able to try out a more in-depth tasting, this time substituting birch syrup for the sorghum molasses in our favorite oatmeal cookie bar recipe. The result was delectable! I'll include the recipe in my upcoming ebook, Farmstead Feast: Spring, due out in March, but if you'd like some farm-friendly recipes while you wait, Farmstead Feast: Winter is still for sale for only 99 cents. Enjoy!

Joey git-annex devblog
day 268 stressed out

While I plowed through a lot of backlog the past several days, I still have some 120 messages piled deep.

That work did result in a number of improvements, culminating in a rather rushed release of version 5.20150327 today, to fix a regression affecting git annex sync when using the standalone linux tarballs. Unfortunately, I then had to update those tarballs a second time after the release as the first fix was incomplete.

And, I'm feeling super stressed out. At this point, I think I should step away until the end of the month. Unfortunately, this will mean more backlog later. Including lots of noise and hand-holding that I just don't seem to have time for if I want to continue making forward progress.

Maybe I'll think of a way to deal with it while I'm away. Currently, all I have is that I may have to start ignoring irc and the forum, and de-prioritizing bug reports that don't have either a working reproduction recipe or multiple independent confirmations that it's a real bug.

mark (Anna and Mark: Waldeneffect)
Lucy checkup
Lucy riding in the car

Lucy went on a trip today to visit our nice vet in the big city.

She got a clean bill of health and multiple compliments on her beauty.

Joey chatter
puzzling puzzle

Wish I could understand why, when someone is reporting a really strange problem, I can get 100% puzzled by it and stuck. But then, if I manage to reproduce the same problem, I can always quickly figure out the root cause and fix it.

It's often a night and day difference, I can go round and round with a user for hours trying to understand what they did, but once I reproduce the problem, I can have it fixed in minutes.

It's something to do with bandwidth, and limited information, and communication difficulties, and confirmation bias, and.. I don't know what all.

Being able to diagnose and fix reproducible problems is a good skill. Being able to coax reproducible test cases out of users is a good skill. But I feel there's something here I could be better at.

(Users could also be a lot better at reporting bugs and reliably communicating of course..)

Anna (Anna and Mark: Waldeneffect)
Apple grafting tips
Grafting workshop

Kayla and I enjoyed a girl's day out Thursday --- we attended the annual grafting workshop at the Gate City extension office. I've been to nearly half a dozen grafting workshops now, and this one was by far my favorite. Not only was it held at 2 pm so we could get home before dark, but the selection of scionwood was astounding. I came in the door with nine pieces of scionwood I'd brought from winter trades, planning to just graft what I had...but I walked out with sixteen apple trees. (Good thing they were willing to sell me extra rootstock for a dollar a pop.)

Types of grafts

In addition to the copious scionwood choices, the organizers had three apple books on hand, so I could look up each variety to see whether it would hit the spot. Yes, I did spend an hour paging through the books to determine which types of apples were worth a try. Even though the pages were simply text, I found the most complete book was Fruit, Berry, & Nut Inventory --- I may have to get a copy for future variety selection.

As a side note, I should mention that half of the instruction and most of the scionwood came courtesy of Kelly's Old Time Apple Trees, whose website is rather sparse but who sells both scionwood and full apple trees to ship across the country. Our wedding apple trees came from Kelly's and the fruits are superb! If you don't want to go through the hassle of swapping for scionwood, then Kelly's may be your one stop shopping outlet.

Whip and tongue graft

But the positive points of this workshop went far beyond excellent scionwood selection and a good time of day. The instructors were also pros who helped me learn safer and more effective methods of making the classic whip-and-tongue graft. First, start with their "rule of thumb" --- grasp the rootstock where the top roots branch off, then cut off the top where the tip of your thumb reaches. (I figured my thumb was a little shorter than the digits on their male hands, so cut just a little higher.)

Next (top right photo), hold your knife in your right hand so the beveled edge is up and don't move that hand. It feels awkward at first, but you'll soon learn how to hold the rootstock in your left hand with the roots facing away from your body so you can pull the rootstock away from you against the stationary knife. This is much safer and makes a much straighter cut than the whittling method I'd been using.

Finally, for the tongue, brace the thumb of your knife hand against your other hand (which, again, feels quite awkward at first), and gently pull the knife into the wood by sawing it back and forth. Once the knife is seated, finish the cut by rocking the knife rather than pulling it down. Then slide the two pieces of wood together, seal them well with grafting tape, cut down to two buds on the scionwood, dab some sealer on the cut end, and you're done!

I'm still far from perfect, but after sixteen trees, I was starting to feel pretty proficient. Good thing too since I suspect this will be my last grafting workshop for a while --- I'm finally running out of spots to put new trees. Kayla and I are going to have to think of a new girl's day out plan for next year.

mark (Anna and Mark: Waldeneffect)
Goat escape
lock down to prevent future goat escape

Why did I secure a chicken door with pipe strapping in the goat barn?

Because one of our goats figured out how to pop the latch and open the door.

Anna (Anna and Mark: Waldeneffect)
Sunny broadforking

If you've sent me an email or given me a call recently and I've been extremely slow to answer...blame it on the sun. This bout of stunningly gorgeous weather means that our usual schedule of half a day working inside and half a day working outside went right out the window. Instead, Mark and I have been catching up on all of the fun garden tasks that got put off when snow was on the ground, barely coming inside for meals and then collapsing at the end of a long, glorious day. I promise to be a better correspondent once the cold, wet weather returns this weekend.

Specifically, I've been weeding and mulching garlic and strawberries, pruning perennials, transplanting cabbage seedlings, and direct seeding carrots, parsley, and mangels this week. As I plant, I'm experimenting with the broadfork, fluffing up half of each bed while simply raking topdressed manure into the top inch of the other half. It's easy to see the broadfork's effects right away, with manure filtering down into the looser soil in the broadforked areas while the fluffed up soil sits higher above the aisles. I'll keep you posted about germination, growth, and yields of the roots in the broadforked vs. unbroadforked beds as the results come in.

Joey git-annex devblog
day 266-267 man page split

While traveling for several days, I filled dead time with a rather massive reorganization of the git-annex man page, and I finished that up this morning.

That man page had gotten rather massive, at around 3 thousand lines. I split out 87 man pages, one for each git-annex command. Many of these were expanded with additional details, and have become a lot better thanks to the added focus and space. See for example, git-annex-find, or any of the links on the new git-annex man page. (Which is still over 1 thousand lines long..)

Also, git annex help <command> can be used to pull up a command's man page now!

I'm taking the rest of the day off to R&R from the big trip north, and expect to get back into the backlog of 143 messages starting tomorrow.

Anna (Anna and Mark: Waldeneffect)
Easing our goats back onto grass
Walking goats

It's been a long time since I took our goats out to play. First, the honeysuckle started to give out, then the snow fell and completely covered everything edible. But now our grass is just barely starting to grow in the sunniest part of the yard, so I decided it was high time I started reconditioning our herd's gut bacteria. Five minutes longer nibbling on grass each day means that our goats' digestive system will stay happy on the fresh greenery, and I figure within a week or two the ruminants will be safe to graze lush grass at will. Abigail thinks this plan is the ultimate in human stupidity...but I hold the leash.

Pulling goat

Well, I try to hold the leash. I'd meant to walk our little herd to the other side of our core homestead where sun is really making the grass grow, but as soon as Abby saw the tall rye coming up in the front garden, she decided it was time to dine. Rye held little to no appeal this past winter, but I guess the lush new growth tastes sweeter now --- the leaves even smell sweeter as I stand by and watch our doe chew. She also went for tiny new clover leaves barely pushing a quarter of an inch above the ground, in search of protein to go in her milk, I suspect. Those alfalfa pellets we bought are being eaten avidly, but who wants dried when they can have fresh?

Three goats

Abigail has a voracious appetite --- making milk uses up lots of calories. In contrast, Artemesia is just learning to walk on a leash, so our smaller goat spent much more time figuring out how not to get her feet tangled than she did eating. As for Lamb Chop, he apparently thinks dirt is tastier than grass. And who really needs to eat solid food when the milk bar is open?


At the moment, Lamb Chop is also too young to need a leash. Which is a good thing since I'm not sure I could handle three goats in my two hands. On the other hand, our buckling is much braver at two weeks old than Artemesia was at six months old. When Mark came out for our photo shoot, Lamb Chop kept trying to follow my husband across the yard rather than staying with the goat herd. Maybe our buckling has realized that he's one of very few males on our farm and figures the guys need to hang together?

Anna (Anna and Mark: Waldeneffect)
Birch syrup

Plugging a maple holeAre you pulling out your maple taps and plugging the holes? Maybe it's time to tap a birch!

Birch trees begin running around when sugar maples let up, making them a good second crop for people who have already invested in the equipment for the former and want to extend their syruping season. But birch syrup isn't the same as maple syrup, of course. For one thing, the former sells for a lot more --- maple syrup tends to go for thirty-something dollars per gallon, while birch syrup sells for (by some estimates) ten times that much.

What's with the excessively high price? I think some of the appeal is simply that birch syrup is a niche product, added to which you have to boil down about three times as much birch sap as maple sap to make syrup. Birch syrup is also reputed to be a bit trickier to produce since you have to be more careful to keep the sap from scorching, which likely adds to the price tag. On the plus side, birch syrup is supposed to have a lower glycemic index than maple syrup and table sugar, being closer to the value of honey and sorghum molasses. In addition, birch syrup is often treated as a healthful tonic, perhaps because the extra boiling means that you're concentrating more minerals in each spoonful of syrup.

Birch sap

Mark and I aren't interested in selling birch syrup, but since our maples stopped running last week, we figured we might as well tap a birch tree and see what all the fuss is about. I have to admit that I've only boiled down the barest smidgen of syrup (made from about three pints of sap), but I can tell that birch syrup is very different from maple syrup. For one thing, the former is much darker, even in the sap stage. The photo above shows condensed sap that began life as one gallon of liquid and will still need to be boiled down considerably before it becomes true syrup. As you can see, the condensed sap is already much darker than the box-elder syrup beside it.

Tapping a birch

Another difference between maple and birch syrup is flavor, although this factor will vary depending on which species of birch you're tapping. Most birch syrup sold in the U.S. is made from Paper Birch or Alaska Birch grown in (you guessed it) Alaska, but our much more southern clime means that Black Birch is our common species. Although Black Birch twigs taste strongly of wintergreen, I didn't notice any wintergreen flavor in the syrup we sampled. Instead, the dark liquid reminded me of sorghum molasses, and I'd likely use my birch syrup in the same recipes I use with that southern staple sweetener.

I'd be curious to hear from folks who have tapped birch trees and made their own syrup. What did you think of the flavor and how did you use it in the kitchen?

Joey chatter

Back in the sweet, mellow air of the South!

mark (Anna and Mark: Waldeneffect)
New walking path
new swamp bridge location

We cut our swamp bridge in half and moved it to a new location.

The new path will avoid a spot that was going to need a bridge soon.

Thanks for all the useful comments on how to avoid losing our bridge the next time it floods. Next up is to tether a rope to the bridge and tie it off on the medium Willow next to it.

Anna (Anna and Mark: Waldeneffect)
Imaginary driveway
Imaginary road

It's decision time around here. Do we take the money we've been saving to improve our access and sink 100 tons of rip rap into the 680 feet of terribly marshy floodplain our driveway currently traverses? (That sounds like a lot, but I suspect it would be a mere drop in the bucket.) Or do we use the cash to hire a neighbor with a bulldozer to try to carve a path out above the floodplain, a task that might come to naught if he hits bedrock too soon, and one that would require building a bridge across a rather large gully?

Hillside above swamp

Here's a bit more information about plan B. After crossing the creek, there's easy access up onto the knoll you see at the right side of this photo, but the hillside the bulldozer would be carving into is difficult, to say the least. There would be a lot of short-term devastation involved (although perhaps not more than we cause on an annual basis tearing up the wet soils of the floodplain). And our neighbor warned us that there's no guarantee he won't hit rock before he's able to carve out enough earth to make us a road, which would mean we had sunk our money into a project with no improvement to our access at all.

Then you reach a gully, which our bulldozing neighbor says would have to be bridged --- he's pretty sure his equipment won't continue carving around the bank you see on the right as it runs up this little cove. Instead, he recommended felling two trees to make a bridge for our ATV (which is the intended recipient of whichever driveway fix we decide on). Mark and I don't like the idea of a bridge rotting out under us after a few years, though, so we might instead see if we could find a big culvert or two to bridge this gap (and find out whether the bulldozer can haul them in). Unlike our main creek, this little rivulet dries up in the summer and never gets big enough to wash a culvert out, so a bridge here is more feasible than in other locations. (Our most recent flood reached about six vertical feet up the side of the hill here, but it should stay clear of the top of the bridge.)

Looking down on floodplain

If we were able to carve around the bank and bridge the draw, we'd be home free. Up here is where Joey's yurt stood, and an old logging road runs between this spot and our core homestead. All it would take is a little chainsaw work to make the route passable with the ATV and it's all dry, with no creeks to ford or swamp to traverse.

It's hard to decide between plan A and plan B because we don't have any solid cost estimates for our neighbor's work, for culverts, and for the eventual rock that would need to go down to hold this driveway possibility into place. Our neighbor says it would probably take about two days of dozer work, assuming all goes as planned, but when does anything ever go as planned?

While Mark and I are mulling it over, I'd be curious to hear your thoughts. Assuming all you wanted was to be able to haul in manure and straw a few times a year, would you go for plan A or for plan B? If you were looking for a big culvert, where would you look and how much would you expect to pay?

mark (Anna and Mark: Waldeneffect)
Transportation trouble
truck on the back of a roll back tow truck

Friday was one of those days where the truck broke down and the car lost its entire exhaust system.

Nice of it to happen within a mile of leaving home.

Sometimes I miss taking the bus.

Anna (Anna and Mark: Waldeneffect)
Milking schedule
Nursing goat

Milking stanchionBaby goats grow almost unbelievably quickly. The kids can stand up within minutes of birth, they seem to double in size at a remarkable rate, and at two weeks old they are mature enough to be separated from Mom overnight.

Friday was Lamb Chop's big night. After milking Abigail nearly at dark, I stuck our little kid in the milking stall all by himself and walked away. He cried and Abigail cried, but they both fared fine overnight, and the next morning I was able to collect a larger share of the milk (11.8 ounces). As Lamb Chop learns to eat solid food over the next few weeks, I'm hoping the human milk quota will continue to grow.

Talking goat kid

Baby goat hornsMy original milking plan involved separating the kid(s) at night and then just milking once in the morning, but Abigail's early nursing issues set me off on a different track. Even after Lamb Chop found his way to the teat on day four, I kept milking twice a day anyway, only getting dribs and drabs (seldom more than cup and often much less). The small amount of milk was appreciated, but I felt like the milking was particularly important because Lamb Chop seems to prefer Abigail's right side, a common issue with single kids. By milking our doe out twice a day, I'm able to ensure that both sides of Abigail's udder keep producing milk. Meanwhile, Lamb Chop was getting all he could drink until the nighttime separation, so I didn't have to worry that he was lacking in nutrients. In fact, he seems to have doubled in size over the last week.

Goat eating bark

Speaking of lacking in nutrients, Abigail has recently started peeling bark off the little saplings in her yard. I suspect she's getting desperate for fresh growth, and I have high hopes that we can set up some temporary enclosures in the most sunny part of the yard in a week or two to let our goats enjoy the first spring grass. I learned this fall that even though goats aren't supposed to be grazers, our girls are quite happy to eat tender leaves growing out of the ground and I can hardly wait for our girls to be off the hay train.

Goat head butt

Mom and goatIn other news, Artemesia seems to be losing her youthful bounce at the same time that Lamb Chop learns to caper --- I guess there can only be one baby in the family at any given time. As you can see in the photo above, I upgraded our doeling to a real collar and gave the mini collar to Lamb Chop. I think our buckling is confident enough in his masculinity that he won't mind wearing pink. In fact, he'll be old enough to possibly become a father in just another ten weeks --- then we'll have to figure out whether Artemesia is willing to go into heat in the summer for a fall kidding or whether we'll need to separate Lamb Chop for the summer so he doesn't knock his mother up. Goat management definitely leaves us with a continuing set of hurdles, but they sure are fun!

Joey git-annex devblog
day 265 at Dartmouth

Spent a couple of days at Dartmouth hanging out in the neuroscience department with the Datalad developers. Added several new plumbing commands and a new post-update-annex hook, based on their feedback of how they're using git-annex.

Anna (Anna and Mark: Waldeneffect)
Running late in the spring garden
Daffodil buddha

Wood frog eggsUsually, spring comes to our farm long before the equinox. But the natural world is running a little late this year. Can you believe it's officially spring and the first daffodil is still struggling to open its bloom?

On the other hands, the frogs are calling like crazy, the first hepatica was spotted in the woods Wednesday, and Mark and I each heard a grouse beating on a hollow log calling for a mate. Perhaps we can finally write off Old Man Winter after all.

Early spring garden

In the garden, I'm a bit behind in chores and the plants are a bit behind in emergence. I went into the winter a little remiss because sprouting-straw issues meant that half of my garlic never got mulched in the first place, and snow cover in February and early March meant that I wasn't able to reach the ground to rip out the chickweed that had taken over that open ground. Luckily, a warm week and a lot of rain washed away the snow and I was able to get peas and lettuce in the ground by the middle of the month. Now I'm hard at work weeding and prepping beds for carrots, parsley, mangels, and cabbage transplants, while slipping in a bit of time to weed our garlic and strawberry beds.

Pruning raspberries

I'm also behind on pruning, but purposely so since I was afraid that early pruning during a particularly cold winter would exacerbate freeze damage. The good news is that my gut feeling was right --- early pruning combined with cold weather is what killed back our red raspberry canes last year. This year, an even colder winter (low of -22 New elderberry leavesFahrenheit) didn't nip the brambles, so we'll get our usual spring and fall crops --- success!

On the other hand, the first elderberry leaves are now starting to pop out, so tree flowers can't be too far behind. That means I need to hurry up and prune like crazy to make up for lost time, a good project for wet days like this when the garden is too sodden to make weeding a pleasure.

Even though the raspberries fared well during our winter cold, I still plan to test some bloom buds on each new species before I prune. After all, if the winter nipped some percentage of the peach bloom buds, for example, I'll want to leave more behind to take their place.

Washing foraged greens

Even though our vegetable garden is running behind, wild food is already becoming available. Creasies keep springing up in our garden despite the fact that I'm pretty sure I haven't let any go to seed since moving here, and dandelions always find new ground to sink their deep taproots into. I pulled a large bowlful of these two delicious greens out of the garden while weeding Wednesday, then washed them in several changes of water and sauted with balsamic vinegar and peanut oil. A delicious dose of spring!

Joey chatter
brainy bus

On the bus at 5 am, sleepily looking thru slices of my brain while on my way to see RMS.

Joey chatter

But do they ever test their backups?

Joey chatter

cp /dev/MRI/brain/* . ; git annex add

Joey chatter

Git's data/protocol certainly allows that; its UI does not have an easy way.

Joey chatter

We should sit down and look at using propellor. Its properties and their configuration parameters are fully introspectible now.

Anna (Anna and Mark: Waldeneffect)
Lactobacillus bokashi
Newspaper bokashi

Our newspaper bokashi experiment is now underway. Here's our current method:

  1. Make a lactobacillus starter using yogurt, molasses, and newspaper. Wait at least two weeks. (We waited nearly three.)
  2. Use a gamma-seal lid and a five-gallon bucket to make an airtight container.
  3. Fill the bottom of the container with about four inches of dry sawdust to soak up any liquid that forms. Alternatives to this step include adding a spout to the bottom of the bucket so you can decant the leachate, drilling holes in the bottom of the bucket and setting it inside another bucket for the same purpose, or using newspaper or cardboard to soak up the leachate.
  4. Place a layer of the newspaper starter on top of the sawdust. Instructions say that one sheet here is fine, but I had plenty of newspaper and didn't want to try to tease apart wet pages so I included a whole newspaper section. (More starter never hurts --- it just helps the bacteria work faster.)
  5. Pour in food scraps. These should be no more than two days old and shouldn't include moldy or spoiled food, but you can include meat and dairy. As you can see, at this time of year, our scraps consist of eggshells, orange peels, a bit of discarded dandelion roots, and onion peels.
  6. Add another layer of newspaper starter to completely cover the food scraps.
  7. Put a plastic grocery bag on top of the newspaper and use your fists to pound everything down. The goal is to remove as many air pockets as possible and to bring the newspaper starter in close contact with the food scraps.
  8. Leave the grocery bag in place, screw on the lid, and set aside for two days until more food scraps accumulate. At that point, you repeat the food-scraps layer, the newspaper layer, and the pounding, then continue with bi-daily additions until the bucket is full.
  9. Let the bucket ferment at room temperature for two to four weeks after filling, then apply to the soil. (More on this step in a later post.)
Burying bokashi

I'll admit up front that I'm a bit dubious of the efficacy of bokashi, even more so after I read the "science" chapter in Bokashi Composting by Adam Footer. So I'm running a three-part mini-experiment to give myself a rough idea about whether the more complicated bokashi method is worth the time and expense.

The control is shown above. I filled a normal five-gallon bucket (no air-tight lid) with food scraps, let them sit on the porch for a month or so, then applied them in a trench in the starplate pasture. I marked the location of the control and will be adding similar trenches full of bokashi made using two methods (store-bought starter and homemade starter) in the months to come. Finally, I'll dig into each area a month or so after application to determine whether the bokashi method really did make the scraps decompose faster and whether the soil seems to be better in the bokashi zones than in the control zone. Stay tuned!

Anna (Anna and Mark: Waldeneffect)
Meadow Creature broadfork

Our Meadow Creature broadfork came in the mail a week and a half ago, but between the flood and my cold, I only got to play with it for the first time Wednesday. My first impression? This tool is fun! I'm slowly running out of terraforming opportunities to keep myself happy during the winter, so adding the broadfork to the mix will be as good as an antidepressant.

Using a broadfork on the side of a bed

More seriously, in soft garden soil, the broadfork works almost too well. Mark had to rein me in, reminding me that our goal is merely a light loosening rather than to really till up the soil. I eventually decided that a gentle fluff from the edge of the bed is a good compromise in this kind of situation, which will hopefully add a bit of aeration without negatively impacting soil life. I plan to run a side-by-side comparison this spring, but suspect that beds loosened lightly with the broadfork will be especially good for root crops like carrots.

Using a broadfork on hard ground

I also wanted to see how well the broadfork performs in hard ground, so I headed up to the extremely poor soil of the starplate pastures for test run number two. Here, it took more effort to sink the tines into the earth and I had to put my back into it to loosen once the tines were engaged. This area will definitely be a good spot to work up a sweat next winter, and the soil will probably benefit much more from broadfork action up here than down in the main garden, but I'll admit this area felt more like work than like play.

So did I select the right size? I went for the smallest model, and that is definitely all I could handle in the starplate pasture. I suspect I could have worked with the next size up if I'd stuck to the main garden, but I'm not so sure the extra two inches of loosening depth are really mandatory. So, yes, I think Mark's nudge toward the smallest size was a good choice, and for most female gardeners I would recommend the same. If you're particularly tall or brawny, though, feel free to choose the 14 inch!

Joey chatter

"gusts up to 57 mph".. that explains it

Joey chatter

Boston wind is nearly knocking me over. Pho soup and chai and other hot things the order of the afternoon..

Anna (Anna and Mark: Waldeneffect)
Farming the Woods

Farming the WoodsI have a love-hate relationship with books from Chelsea Green. Their titles are so enticing...but the price tags are daunting and about half of the books ultimately disappoint once I crack them open. Farming the Woods by Ken Mudge and Steve Gabriel was partially inspiring and partially disappointing, with a dry and academic tone and far too much basic information, but with beautiful pictures and hands-on information that made reading worthwhile.

The most helpful part of the book was the authors' realistic notations on which plants will really produce in the shade. Despite forest-gardening literature to the contrary, Mudge and Gabriel report that in a woodland setting with more than 40% canopy cover, the only species that reliably bear fruit are pawpaws, elderberries, ramps, and mushrooms. At 25 to 40% shade, shisandra, hawthorn, currant, gooseberry, honeyberry, hazelnut, juneberry, and groundnut join the mix, although productivity is likely to be significantly lower than yields in full-sun environments. For example, hazelnuts produce about 70% of their optimal yield in 30% shade and 30% of their optimal yield in 90% shade, so you have to decide at which point the juice is no longer worth the squeeze.

Another useful facet of Farming the Woods was the authors' analysis of which non-timber forest products make economic sense. After all, for forest farming to be more than a hobby, landowners need to be given an incentive to keep those trees standing rather than selling them to the local sawmill. Although many non-timber options were presented, the authors felt that the most economically feasible include tapping sugar maples (and possibly birch) for syrup, growing ginseng for roots, and raising shiitakes on logs. In addition, chestnuts and hazelnuts can provide relatively lucrative nut crops, and turning the forest into a nursery for shade-loving ornamentals can also help pay the bills.

In the end, Farming the Woods isn't the must-read permaculture book of the year that I thought it would be, but it's definitely worth at least checking out of your local library. Or maybe you'd like to be the lucky recipient of my lightly read copy? Enter the giveaway below and you may get a copy of your very own for free!

Anna (Anna and Mark: Waldeneffect)
How to make a cold frame
Climbing onto the roof

I've used both quick hoops and cold frames in the past, and usually prefer the latter. However, now that we've finally skirted around the front of the trailer, I couldn't help thinking that the sheltered, warm spot would be perfect for a glass-covered cold frame to house flats of cabbage, broccoli, and onion seedlings while they wait for safe outdoor-planting time. The area is close enough to the front door that I won't mind opening and closing the lid daily during sunny spells, and it'll also be pretty simple to carry the flats inside if we hit a really cold spell. So when Mark found two large, double-glazed windows in the barn, I figured the cold frame was fated to be!

The first step of building our new cold frame was checking to make sure we'd still be able to get up on the roof to clean out our chimney. Now that I have a grapevine on the right side of the wood-stove alcove and a cold frame on the left, Mark will have to go up the front. Luckily, he says the ascent is long as I hold the ladder.

Support board

This area is a relatively easy spot for cold-frame construction since two sides of the cold frame can simply butt up against the existing building. Mark attached a two-by-four along the trailer to support the windows...

Adding a window to a cold frame

...Then hinged the first window into place. (Thanks for the hinges, Rose Nell!)

Cold frame cover

After adding the second window, we realized that the two windows bumped against each other when closed all the way. Although we could have tweaked the hinge arrangement slightly to prevent this issue, Mark instead used metal brackets to attach the two windows together into one solid piece. In addition to fixing our slight mismeasurement, that arrangement also made it easy to hold both windows open with a single screen-door hook on the side of the trailer.

Inside the cold frame

Next, we used a two-by-six to form the front wall of the cold frame. Slanting the glass from an 18-inch-high back to a 5.5-inch-high front should help the cold frame collect more winter sun. But the angle did make it tough to determine the location of the two-by-four support on the right side. "Oh, that's easy," Mark said. He lifted up the window glass and motioned me inside to mark and hold the support board.

Closing in the cold frame

The left side of the cold frame involved building a triangle out of wood, which we opted to do the easy way. We used the end of the two-by-six that had formed the front of the cold frame to butt up against the window on the top, then cut segments of an old door (thanks, Sheila!) to fill in the gap left behind.

Cold frame attached to a house

We've still got a little work to do filling in gaps and painting the untreated wood, but the cold frame is nearly ready to go after just a couple of hours' work. I've got a max-min thermometer in there now to test the waters and can hardly wait until we reclaim a bit of our kitchen table from the cold-hardy seedlings. Right now, there's barely enough room to fit two plates into the section the plants left behind....


List of feeds:

  • Anna: last checked (25 posts)
  • Anna and Mark: Waldeneffect: last checked (2423 posts)
  • Anna and Mark: Clinch Trails: last checked (10 posts)
  • Joey: last checked (91 posts)
  • Joey chatter: last checked (1145 posts)
  • Joey git-annex devblog: last checked (250 posts)
  • Joey: blog: last checked (16 posts)
  • Jay: last checked (25 posts)
  • Dani: last checked (21 posts)
  • Errol: last checked (28 posts)
  • Maggie: last checked (933 posts)
  • Tomoko: last checked (70 posts)
  • Jerry: last checked (28 posts)