Anna (Anna and Mark: Waldeneffect)
Then and now
Kitchen then and now

Early September 2016 will mark our ten-year anniversary of time spent on the farm. To celebrate, I plan to make a few posts off and on in which I try to recreate the same photo from the past as accurately as possible. For example, the shots above show the south wall of our kitchen then and now.

Through the front window

And here's the view out the front windows before there were windows and after we completed our passive-solar wall.


Finally, the last duo includes the very first fruits of the farm compared to last week's tomato harvest. Yes, we've come a long way in a decade!

hiking the Roan

Three moments from earlier this week..

Sprawled under a tree after three hours of hiking with a heavy, water-filled pack, I look past my feet at six ranges of mountains behind mountains behind flowers.

From my campsite, I can see the rest of the path of the Appalachian Trail across the Roan balds, to Big Hump mountain. It seems close enough to touch, but not this trip. Good to have a goal.

Near sunset, land and sky merge as the mist moves in.

Nancy (Anna and Mark: Waldeneffect)
Essential oil basics

Nancy and MacIn November of 2014, I began a journey with essential oils when a friend invited me to a short class. I knew virtually nothing about essential oils, but I succumbed the minute the woman teaching the class mentioned one drop of Valor will quieten or stop snoring. What a statement!  My husband the snorer! I obtained a bottle of Valor that very night and we actually went from a loud roar to a dull hum.

Our next success was Mac's chronic bronchitis, which usually requires treatment all winter long. We began preemptively using Eucalyptus globulus instead and my husband escaped without a single bout.

Essential oilsSo what are essential oils? Simply put, essential oils are the life blood of plants. When you pinch a leaf from a plant and it oozes some "juice," that is the oil. These juices contain molecules so tiny they can get into the entire body within twenty minutes when placed anywhere on your skin. That is why when you put a drop of Peppermint on your temples, you can say bye bye to pain.

So how do you use them? The first choice for beginners is often to begin "low and slow" by applying oils topically onto the skin in an area where you are looking for support. The soles of your feet are a good choice for this type of application.

Joy oilAlternatively, you can inhale the essential oils. Perhaps you merely place a drop in your hand then inhale with your palm cupped over your nose. Or you may diffuse the scent through the air using a cold-air diffuser.

Finally, essential oils can be taken internally. For example, place a drop of Lemon in your glass of ice water to cleanse toxins and boost energy.

No matter how you get the oils into your system, they're a great option for those needing emotional support and support for their nervous system. More personally, they've changed both my and my husband's lives for the better. Perhaps you'd like to give them a try as well?

Nancy McKinney is an independent distributor of Young Living Essential Oils. For more information, you can find her on facebook, on her blog, or by emailing

Anna (Anna and Mark: Waldeneffect)
2016 onion harvest by the numbers
Basket of onions

After putting a massive number of onions onto the curing racks a month ago, I mostly forgot about them. Well, I did bring in dozens of the largest specimens for soup-making during that time period, packing away perhaps as much as a quarter of the harvest into frozen winter dinners.

Big onionSoon, though, the curing racks will need to be emptied out for the sake of butternut squash and sweet potatoes. So I took an hour to cut off dried roots and leaves, shucking outer skins and sorting the onion bulbs.

The weather was crazy wet during harvest and early curing season, so I wasn't surprise to have quite a bit of rot to deal with. On the other hand, I was surprised to realize I had so many onions available that I could simply give the worst half bushel away.

All told, post-souping and rehoming, we ended up with about 63 pounds of onions, or around a bushel and a half. This is definitely the most we've ever managed to sock away. Perhaps this will be the second year that we won't buy any onions (our former Achilles heel) in the store?

Anna (Anna and Mark: Waldeneffect)
Grapes still green

Green grapesMy best guess was that the found grapevine near the site of the old homeplace on our farm was a Concord. So when Mom's Concord started churning out so many ripe fruits she had to embark on a daily juicing session, I braved the thorns and weeds and went to take a second look at my mystery vine.

To my surprise, the grapes are still green and very much unripe. Let's see if I can remember to check on the vine again in a couple of weeks to discover what color they become as they soften up.

Anna (Anna and Mark: Waldeneffect)
Brussels sprouts under row covers revisited
Brussels sprouts

I thought that planting brussels sprouts early, kill mulching around them to keep down weeds, then covering them up with a row cover to beat cabbageworms would create a set-it-and-forget-it fall crop. But I should have realized nothing is really set-it-and-forget-it in the garden.

When the lumps under the row cover stopped looking regular, I finally removed the fabric and took a look. Many plants had been stunted and two thirds of them had outright died, leaving us about as many good plants as last year.

What was the culprit? One of our cats jumped on the row cover and broke a hole in the area pictured above...and that turned out to be the healthiest part of the row (except for holes in leaves from sneaky cabbageworms). As a result, my guess is that the row cover heated up the plants too much, causing some to flounder and others to perish. Looks like we'll have to go back to the usual bug-squishing routine in future!

mark (Anna and Mark: Waldeneffect)
Gardening twine
The twine we got for gardening.

I had some trouble finding twine in stores around here this Summer.

The twine on Amazon seems like a better value for 7 dollars.

It seems my Debian browser is having issues again with Amazon which is why there is no easy link to the twine.

Anna (Anna and Mark: Waldeneffect)
How much hay do goats need for the winter, revisited
Goat barn bedding

Last year, I estimated we'd need 27 bales of hay to get our two semi-dwarf goats through the winter. We actually socked away 36 bales, though, just to be safe.

Cute goatsHow much did our goats actually eat? It's a little hard to say because they spoiled some bales when they broke into the storage area (and I later used those spoiled bales for bedding). But I'm guessing they actually consumed somewhere between 18 and 20 bales.

We still have quite a few musty hay bales from last year in the main barn (outside goat reach), and I'm trying to decide whether those bales are worth feeding. I suspect a normal goat would eat them despite a bit of mildew from the summer damp...but our princesses will likely get fresh bales instead while I use last year's hay in the garden.

(And, yes, before you ask --- that bale in the top photo is straw for bedding instead of hay for dining. Which isn't to say Artemesia didn't nose around in search of seed heads before settling back into her newly cleaned barn.)

Anna (Anna and Mark: Waldeneffect)
Colorful harvest
Cutting up peppers

Cleaning butternut squashThe harvest continues, a quart of frozen peppers here and a bushel of curing butternuts there.

Don't worry, Artemesia --- there are many more butternuts still in the garden for your winter dinners!

mark (Anna and Mark: Waldeneffect)
Back to school time
Back when I was using the experimental paint roller extension boom pole.

The new semester at ETSU starts tomorrow.

I'm having a lot of fun and learning tons about the process of film making.

To keep things balanced I'll be skipping my Tuesday post to make time for film.

The above scene is from an upcoming Slasher Spoof titled "Snapped" that we recently finished production work on.

Anna (Anna and Mark: Waldeneffect)
Cooldown to fall
Kale seedlings

Oat seedlingsThe seasons are subtly shifting. I've only got a couple weeks left for oat planting, so I'll be pulling out lots of used-up garden beds and seeding the winter cover crop this week.

Meanwhile, fall vegetables are starting to gain a foothold elsewhere in the garden. Peas and carrots and kale in one area, buckwheat preparing the way for garlic in another. That, plus a long row of lettuce, is all I have left to plant in the edible line in 2016.

Anna (Anna and Mark: Waldeneffect)
Revamped brooder followup
Chick brooder

The revamped brooder has been doing its job admirably.

Snake eating a chick

Which means no more of this...

Foraging chicks

...and plenty of this.

In fact, the only flaw of the new design is that the flashing on the solid wall tends to heat the inside up when in direct sunlight. Luckily, the double doors allow a cross breeze during the day which takes the sting off the oven effect.

mark (Anna and Mark: Waldeneffect)
330 tons
Scoop with blue skies and clouds.

The gravel store keeps a record of every load I've purchased.

Over the last 10 years we've bought and hauled 330 tons.

Some of that was a huge dump truck load of crush and run on our main driveway. I will never get crush and run again. It seemed to fade into the ground rather quickly. I should've made sure we got 3-4 inch rock for that application.

keysafe alpha release

Keysafe securely backs up a gpg secret key or other short secret to the cloud. But not yet. Today's alpha release only supports storing the data locally, and I still need to finish tuning the argon2 hash difficulties with modern hardware. Other than that, I'm fairly happy with how it's turned out.

Keysafe is written in Haskell, and many of the data types in it keep track of the estimated CPU time needed to create, decrypt, and brute-force them. Running that through a AWS SPOT pricing cost model lets keysafe estimate how much an attacker would need to spend to crack your password.

(Above is for the password "makesad spindle stick")

If you'd like to be an early adopter, install it like this:

sudo apt-get install haskell-stack libreadline-dev libargon2-0-dev zenity
stack install keysafe

Run ~/.local/bin/keysafe --backup --store-local to back up a gpg key to ~/.keysafe/objects/local/

I still need to tune the argon2 hash difficulty, and I need benchmark data to do so. If you have a top of the line laptop or server class machine that's less than a year old, send me a benchmark:

~/.local/bin/keysafe --benchmark | mail -s benchmark

Bonus announcement: is my quick Haskell interface to the C version of the zxcvbn password strength estimation library.

PS: Past 50% of my goal on Patreon!

Anna (Anna and Mark: Waldeneffect)
Turbo-charged soil

I planted Artemesia's plot of special treats (aka sorghum) in a very well-mellowed hugelkultur bed this year. The results were amazing --- the plants shot up so tall I felt like Jack peering up his beanstalk.

...Then along came a heavy rain that knocked half of the plants down. I guess that's the downside of turbo-charged soil. It's sometimes necessary to give those extraordinarily large plants some extra support!

Anna (Anna and Mark: Waldeneffect)
A pair of very special guests
Family photo

I'm terrible at leaving the farm. Luckily, the people I love often find a way to come to me.

Cooking dinner

Rose Nell and Jayne are renting out the nearby community house for the week, enjoying their vacation while cooking us delicious dinners. And I even made it home in time to take the goats out to graze!

Anna (Anna and Mark: Waldeneffect)
Make-or-break August
Honey and garlic

August is make-or-break month for homegrown winter meals. We're up to 16 gallons of frozen vegetables, 75% of the way to quota.

Frozen vegetablesMeanwhile, storage vegetables are starting to get packed away as well. I sorted the garlic to ensure we eat problematic bulbs first, and soon the onions will follow suit. By the end of the month, we'll refill the curing racks with butternut squash and sweet potatoes and those will then join their friends in a kitchen cupboard.

Of course, the real reason August is so important for winter dining is leafy greens. This is the month to plant your kale and mustard for fresh, delicious meals during the cold season. If I was only going to plan on one type of homegrown food for winter dining, in fact, fall-planted kale would be it. So if you're looking for the low-hanging fruit, I recommend you find some seeds and make a little patch of leafy greens today.

mark (Anna and Mark: Waldeneffect)
Mower mistake
Swisher string mower update

It's a hard thing to admit...but I picked the wrong mower.

The Swisher string mower runs well and I like the 6.75 engine size but our mixture of weeds and grass is a little too tough for the string which needs to be replaced a lot when the weeds are high.

A replacement mower would be self propelled and big with a blade and new enough to have the push bubble that helps to make starting easier.

Anna (Anna and Mark: Waldeneffect)
Two-dimensional tree training

Espalier supports

I started our espaliered apples at the grafting stage, which gave me an extra year of wiggle room before I had to decide on the shape I planned to train them to. Then last fall, I made a simple setup of crossed wires between t-posts and bent the trees along the lines. But nine months later, the apples had already outgrown their first training wires --- time for a second set of supports higher up!

Training an espalier

The espaliered apple in front of the porch got even less formal training. I just bent down limbs to attach to nearby objects willy-nilly. In the case of both this tree and those trained to wires, I also bent down or snipped off secondary branches that were reaching for the sky.

My goal with both sets of training is pretty simple --- keep the trees two-dimensional and easily coverable during spring freezes. A few of the trees already have flower buds, so I might get to test out that hypothesis as early as next spring (although 2018 is more likely). Here's hoping my 2D apples are a success!

mark (Anna and Mark: Waldeneffect)
Chicks day out
Chicks roaming on their own for the first time.

Despite the danger of snakes we decided to let the chicks roam during the day.

Some chicks prefer to stay in and watch the others enjoy outdoor life.

Anna (Anna and Mark: Waldeneffect)
Backyard bees in the larger landscape
Capped honeybee brood"I’m a longtime reader of your blog and thought you might want to respond to this article based on its conclusions that beekeepers that take alternative approaches to hive maintenance/infection might be inadvertently harming the larger local bee population by relying on potentially ineffective virus and mite controls, or worse no controls whatsoever.

"Don’t have bees myself, but note that the implication of the study itself may call into question the viability/utility of hobby beekeeping given the potentially negative impact on big agriculture and associated food security resources.

"Anyway, I found it pretty thought-provoking and an opportunity to think critically about the effect homesteading and personalized agriculture, both positive and negative, has on society at large. Perhaps you will as well."
--- David in Anchorage, AK

This is definitely an interesting article for backyard beekeepers and I think the author is on the right track in certain ways. On the other hand, I just wish the article had hit the other side of the coin --- that there are ways to deal with mites beyond chemicals.

HoneybeesWe've had great luck over the last couple of years using foundationless frames (which leave less room in brood comb for mites) combined with bees bred to resist varroa mites (probably hygienic strains, meaning they groom the mites off). Using both of these techniques, our mite counts in recent years have been very low, proving that chemicals aren't the only solution.

But, yes, just ignoring the problem and hoping it goes away is bad for not only your bees but also for those of your neighbors. And the same concept could easily be applied to other facets of homesteading as well. It's a fascinating thought problem to consider how our mini-farms fit into the wider landscape of both factory farming and the wider natural world. Thanks for sharing!
Anna (Anna and Mark: Waldeneffect)
Farm date
Transferring rocks

Friday morning I couldn't resist any longer. "Can I go with you to throw rocks in the swamp?" I asked my long-suffering husband.

"It's a date," he replied.

Rocks in the ruts

I had far more fun than I think normal people have on more traditional dates. Mark demonstrated that sometimes it's better to throw the rocks in the ruts...

Kubota dump bed

...and sometimes it's better to dump.


We both came home mud-speckled but smiling. (Okay, so Mark wasn't smiling as much in this picture --- it's a bit hard to drive with a camera in your face.) Maybe I'll play hooky again next week!

Anna (Anna and Mark: Waldeneffect)
The cream of the crop
Diseased grape leaves

Perfect grape bunchBetween unreachable Japanese beetles and unbeatable fungal diseases, the leaves of this seedless grape don't look so hot. But the fruits merit three exclamation points!!!

The vine set a handful of small clusters, plus the beautiful big one shown here. I've been picking the ripest grapes out of the smaller bundles eight per day as our lunchtime dessert. They're so sweet that the tiny morsels go a long way!

I'm saving the big bunch as a special treat for visiting mothers-in-law next week. Here's your chance to tell me you hate grapes, Rose Nell and Jayne. Otherwise, I'll expect you to coo over the cluster as if it's your first-born grandchild....

Anna (Anna and Mark: Waldeneffect)
Bud grafting followup
Bud grafting success and failure

Only two weeks after bud grafting a row of plums, I noticed that the parafilm was already breaking away as the rootstocks swelled beyond the plastic's ability to bear. At first I figured this was bad news...but a closer look showed that many of the buds are still green and appear to be growing into the rootstock as planned.

Budding is a slower process that dormant-season grafting, so I'll just let the rootstocks continue toodling along unchecked for the rest of this summer. Then, during the next growing season, it'll be time to either cut above the new buds or bend the rootstock tops over, either of which will tempt the new variety to break bud and create new shoots.

For now, I'm just thrilled to see that my attempts at budding appear to be at least moderately successful. I love being able to buckle another homesteading skill under my belt!

mark (Anna and Mark: Waldeneffect)
Kubota X900 update
Kubota update

We've used the Kubota X900 twice now and it continues to exceed our expectations.

I'm thinking of deleting the wire mesh barrier between the dump bed and the seats to make hauling lumber easier.

Those two 2x4's sticking out hit something solid and busted a bungee cord and if the mesh barrier was gone I could have strapped them onto the front roll bar.

Anna (Anna and Mark: Waldeneffect)
Keeping sunflowers from the critters
Basket of sunflower heads

Last year, our sunflowers had trouble germinating (or, more likely, critters ate the sprouting seeds). This year, Mark had the bright idea of starting seeds inside and transplanting, which worked like a charm.

On the other hand, a week and a half of daily rain during harvest time meant I put off cutting heads in hopes they'd dry rather than cardinals got half the ripening seeds. What's your bright idea for next year, Mark?

Anna (Anna and Mark: Waldeneffect)
Farmstead tomato soup
Tomato soup

We love harvest catch-all soup, but sometimes eating it endlessly in the winter gets a little old. So I decided to expand our repertoire this year to include a second soup --- farmstead tomato.

Tomato and basil soupOur new soup includes:

  • 1 gallon of fresh tomatoes (which squeeze down to about half a gallon of tomato mush)
  • 6 cups of chicken stock
  • 6 onions
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 to 1 cup of fresh basil leaves
  • 1 cup of fresh goat milk
  • salt, pepper, and honey to taste

The soup is almost too easy to make. I cut tomatoes into large chunks while topping them and removing spots (leaving skin and seeds in), then squeeze the result with my hands to assist the break-down process.

After adding the chicken stock, onions, and garlic, I simmer for about an hour and a half. Then I cool the soup for about half an hour before adding the basil and blending it in well with an immersion blender.

Finally, I pour in the milk and add salt, pepper, and a bit of honey (more sweetening if the tomato plants are blighted, less if they're not).

The result is about a gallon of deliciously creamy tomato soup with every ingredient except the salt and pepper coming straight from the farm. Enjoy!

Anna (Anna and Mark: Waldeneffect)
How to Bake Without Baking Powder

How to Bake Without Baking PowderI always enjoy Leigh Tate's books, and her newest is no exception. But before I sing its praises, I want to make sure you don't miss out on her big summer giveaway. There are seven prizes --- one paperback version of How to Bake Without Baking Powder and six ebooks with topics ranging from growing ginger to making your own whitewash. To enter, all you have to do is leave a comment on her blog. Good luck!

Okay, back to the book review. Tate outdid herself with her newest book, which is chock full of both historical data and actionable information. If you're like me, you probably understand the basics of baking powder/baking soda --- you can use the latter if you include an acid, but need the former if you don't. But I've been left scratching my head many times when I saw a recipe that called for baking soda without anything I considered an acid to prompt the leavening reaction. Tate's book explained why, listing many culinary acids I hadn't considered and also explaining that baking soda actually causes some rising action by itself at high temperatures (such as in cookies).

Then she delves even deeper, looking at other ways you can get baked goods to rise without purchasing either baking powder or soda. Beaten eggs are a moderately mainstream method, but have you ever heard of the idea of soaking wood ashes and using that alkaline liquid along with an acid to puff your biscuits up? If the world comes to an end and baking soda is no longer available in the grocery store, you'll definitely want this book! And, in the meantime, the copious recipes at the end would be a really fun homesteading and/or homeschooling experiment to combine science with lunch. Actually, as I type this, just looking at the recipes is making me hungry....

mark (Anna and Mark: Waldeneffect)
Snake vs baby chicks
Snake in the chick brooder.

We lost 10 chicks recently to a Black Rat Snake attack.

Anna caught it in the act of killing and I captured it with a DIY critter catcher.

Both Anna and I appreciate snakes and could not bring ourselves to kill it.

The plan is to keep the remaining chicks inside till I upgrade the chick brooder.

Anna (Anna and Mark: Waldeneffect)
Kubota X900
UTV delivery

On the one hand, I'm really tempted to skim over the rest of our decision-making process and jump to the fun part --- our new UTV! But I know that many of you read our blog precisely for the nitty gritty details. So here goes....

Half load of manure

The John Deere Gator XUV 825i looked really good on paper. But Mark's friend in the construction industry recently went for Kubota UTVs. And when Mark learned that the Kubota X900 is a diesel, has sealed hydraulic brakes (to keep out mud...we hope), and places the radiator up high for cleaner air intake, he was sold.

Crossing the creek

Although we usually buy everything as cheaply as possible and I've never owned a vehicle less than 12 years old, used wasn't even on the table for this purchase. We've been burned pretty badly with used ATVs in the past, and when your off-road vehicle fails way off road, you're thoroughly sunk. So we took notes and went to the dealership to see if our savings would cover the X900.

Low speed

Although the base model (no hydraulic dump bed) was listed at $13,345 online, the dealer quoted us $11,900...and mentioned that we could get $400 off and free delivery by paying in cash. Since I'd gritted my teeth and prepared for the online price tag, we opted to upgrade to the hydraulic dump bed (an additional $1,100) to expedite the inevitable rip-rap hauling. We don't sell our vegetables to others, so we had to add on sales tax ($662.50), which brought the final price tag to just a little below the online base price.

Kubota in the weeds

We'd been saving and planning to spend $10,000 on access this winter, so we didn't go too far over budget. That said, it was terrifying to clean out so much of our buffer in one fell swoop.

On the other hand, when Mark toodled through the floodplain without a single skid or spin (no ruts!) and then dumped a load of manure by the worm bin, it all felt worthwhile. And when I went for a walk the next morning and didn't have to load up fifty pounds of manure or feed to haul back home on my back, simply enjoying the beauty of the day instead, I knew we'd made the right decision.

Hydraulic dump bed

Our long-term goal is to grow old here on the farm, and that means putting our funds toward the necessary improvements to ensure we can continue to thrive with our chosen way of life. Hopefully the Kubota X900 will be as valuable a step in that direction as were our porches and roofs.

Next up: reading the 96 page manual so we do everything right.

mark (Anna and Mark: Waldeneffect)
Kubota access solution day 1
Kubota dealership delivers our X900.

We had our Kubota X900 delivered on Friday.

The first test was a wet one due to recent rains.

Hauling a dump bed full of horse manure and two passengers at a steady rate of 2.5 miles an hour seems to not make any ruts.

Anna (Anna and Mark: Waldeneffect)
Determinate tomatoes
Drying tomatoes

Twenty-four hours later, I'm still prepping tomatoes. This is the boon and bane of determinate tomatoes like Martino's romas.

On the minus side, you have bushels of tomatoes to deal with during a few-week span. On the plus side...the plants ripen up most of their fruits before the blight takes the vines all the way down.

In our wet garden, the pros definitely outweigh the cons. Our winter bellies will be grateful for the summer bounty!


List of feeds:

  • Anna: last checked (25 posts)
  • Anna and Mark: Waldeneffect: last checked (3408 posts)
  • Joey: last checked (129 posts)
  • Joey chatter: feed crashed XML::Feed! (Cannot decode string with wide characters at /usr/lib/i386-linux-gnu/perl/5.20/ line 217. ) (1607 posts)
  • Joey git-annex devblog: last checked (375 posts)
  • Joey: blog: last checked (16 posts)
  • Jay: last checked (25 posts)
  • Dani: last checked (21 posts)
  • Errol: last checked (28 posts)
  • Maggie too: last checked (11 posts)a
  • Maggie also: last checked (42 posts)
  • Maggie: last checked (35 posts)
  • Tomoko: last checked (75 posts)
  • Jerry: last checked (28 posts)