Sunday, March 31, 2013

2013 To-Do List Update #1

Since we are already 1/4 of the way through 2013 I thought it would be a good idea to revisit my To-Do list to see how things are going. Unfortunately I have made very little progress towards my goals. There are a couple of these tasks that I should have completed during the winter, but I let a lack of motivation keep me from accomplishing a whole lot.

Build a chicken coop and acquire chickens
As I discussed a few days ago, we have decided to delay our plans to acquire chickens. This means that acquiring chickens is no longer a goal for 2013, although building the chicken coop still is. No progress has been made towards this goal, aside from a bit of work prepping the spot where the coop will eventually go.

Build a hugelkultur bed
I have decided to abandon the hugelkultur bed that is currently in progress. I really only started it as an excuse to practice with the tractor.  I plan to fill the hole back in soon. This doesn't mean, however, that I'm abandoning the plan to build a hugelkultur bed completely. I just need to find a better location for the bed, and better plan how it will be used. This is still a 2013 goal.

Repair the ditches and re-gravel the driveway
I have made some small progress towards this goal. I have improved the ditch along the upper side of the driveway, and applied some gravel to one spot where water was regularly standing. The bulk of the work still remains to be done, however, and will hopefully happen during the dry summer months.

Complete the expansion of the herb bed
I have been collecting rocks to use for the stepping stones and border of the herb bed. I have also started pulling the grass that is growing in the new part of the bed, in preparation for starting to plant later in the Spring. There is still a lot of work to be done, however, including placing the rock and installing the trellis.

Make and install rain barrels
I have done no work towards this goal. The time for installing the rain barrels is nearing, so I need to start seriously thinking about getting this on the schedule.

Buy and start using a lawn sweeper
At this point I am considering alternatives to a lawn sweeper. I think that buying a tractor implement to do the job might make more sense. I have been looking at both lawn rakes and pine straw rakes, and hope to do a blog post at some point to discuss the pros and cons of each, as well as how they compare to the lawn sweeper for my needs.

Finish clearing along the front edge of the yard and plant bushes
Nothing has been done on this project either. I need to work on it soon, however, before the weeds start growing back.

Purchase or build shelter for the tractor
This project is near the top of our priority list at the moment. I've been working on leveling an area, and have been looking at options for shelters to buy. I have one in mind at the moment, but would like to look at another option before making a decision. Ideally I'd like to get this project taken care of within the next couple of months.

Fix a route to get across the road with the tractor
I started working on this earlier in the week. I moved several loads of rock there were piled up in the area where I want the crossing to be. My plan is to see how the crossing looks without filling in with rocks or dirt, then doing on the minimal required to make a fairly easy crossing. I see no point in building the road up a lot if I can get by with doing less.

Build the pallet compost bin
This is one of those projects that I'm often reminded of, but just haven't started on. I need to take a few measurements and use Sketchup to plan the bin. I thought I already had that figured out, but may want to make some adjustments to make it easier to dump material from the RTV into the bin.

Make a worm bin and start vermicomposting
I thought that this would likely be completed in January or February at the latest. We've yet to make any real progress, though. I have put together the basic materials that I need, but just haven't taken the time to assemble everything. I need to make this a priority soon. In addition to the worm bins we are also considering the installation of some worm tubes in the herb garden, and possibly main garden.

Install solar panels on the shed
I worked on planning for this project back in January, but haven't done anything since. It has dropped down on my priority list lately, especially since the money for this project could be better spent on some of the other projects on the list. I am also considering altering the project to include a DIY solar panel, rather than purchasing commercial panels. If I take this route, I suspect that it will delay the project, possibly even into 2014.

Replace the siding on the shed
I would like to get this project completed this year, along with also adding an overhang to the roof of the shed. My Dad usually comes down a few times during Spring to help me, so I might try to schedule the work on the shed for sometime during April. Since I already have the siding on hand I don't expect the work to the shed to cost very much.

Seed Starting - 2013

This year Andrea is starting several plants from seed, rather than buying plants from a nursery. The amount of plants she is starting from seeds seems ambitious, but so far the majority of plants are doing well. Growing from seed, rather than buying plants, should be a real money saver in the long run. Even better, however, is that we're looking at this as a first step towards eventually been able to save our own seeds.

Andrea used a couple different types of containers for starting the seeds. She has been saving round aluminum take out containers, which make perfect planters. She also had some old rectangular plastic containers that she used. She used ice cream sticks to divide the containers, so that multiple seeds could be planted without mixing them up. Here is an example of a round container, divided into four sections. Here is an example of a rectangular container divided into five sections.

The planting medium used was coir. We like coir because it is a natural waste product of coconut production. We do, however, have concerns about the transportation requirements, since coconuts are certainly not native to this area. She hopes to use leaf mold next year, which will be both cheaper and have less overall environmental impact.

Once the seeds were planted, she arranged them on a counter in our living room, which we have turned into a seed starting area. There is a mirror in the back of the area, which reflects the light, therefore spreading it more evenly over the plants. We have two shop lights, suspended by chains, over the plants. The chains allow us to adjust the height of the lights as the plants grow taller. Each fixture uses two 40 watt fluorescent bulbs. We use a timer to automatically turn the lights on and off, running them for a total of 16 hours each day.

Andrea has been keeping detailed records of the progress of plants. Several of the plants have had to be thinned, some multiple times. A few have developed to the point of needing to be transplanted into new containers. For these containers she has been using some plastic containers that the lemonade mix she uses comes in, which can be seen here. In the photo you can also see a few plants that were transplanted into standard cell inserts, which we saved from plants purchased from the nursery last year. The containers are filled with a mixture of coir, blood meal, and perlite.

Currently Andrea has seeds for 40 different plants started. Most of there were started on March 9th, with other started on either March 16th or March 21st.

Plants started from seed:

Pepper - 11 varieties: Paprika, Bulgarian Carrot Chili, Jalapeno, Serrano, Habanero, Ring O' Fire, Long Red, Carolina Wonder, California Wonder, Orange Bell, and Pizza Pepper.

Flowers - 10 varieties: Butterfly Milkweed, New England Aster, Tall Coreopsis, Joe-Pye Weed, Blazing Star, Cardinal Flower, Bergamont, Ironweed, Blackeyed Susan, and Moonlight Marigold.

Herbs - 18 varieties: Rosemary, Thyme, Calendula, Chamomile, Echinacea, Feverfew, Lavendar, Lemon Balm, Sage, Anise Hyssop, Chives, Royal Catchfly, Parsley, Cumin, Basil, Purple Basil, Garlic Chives, and Marjoram.

Other - Roma Tomato

Unfortunately I do not have records for the cost of the seeds for these plants. I'm estimating maybe $1 per type, which comes to roughly $40. We've probably spent another $20-$30 for the coir, blood meal, and perlite used in the containers. The only other expense has been the electricity for running the lights, which I've calculated at approximately $8 per month. At a total of around $80, I am confident that we will realize a significant savings over buying the plants from a nursery. Of course there were some up front costs, such as the light fixtures, bulbs, and the timer which we already had on hand, that I am not including in the calculation.

I am excited to see what our success rate is with seed starting this year. I am especially excited by the variety of pepper plants, and am already looking forward to having fresh peppers to cook with in a few months.

Kentucky Green Living Fair - 2013

This weekend we attended the Kentucky Green Living Fair, presented by Sustainable Kentucky. The event was held in Somerset, Ky at The Barn at Redgate. With 16 workshops, 70+ vendors, and more than 1,000 attendees, from six states, I think it is safe to say this the event was a success.

As always, my focus for the fair were the workshops. I find that an event like this can be a source of a lot of great information, for a small investment. That was certainly the case for the Kentucky Green Living Fair, especially considering the nominal admission fee.

The workshops were held in three indoor classrooms as well as one outdoor area. All of the workshops I attended were in the same room, but Andrea indicated that the other rooms were similar in size and layout. The rooms were relatively small, with seating for 44 people, which proved to be insufficient for some of the workshops.

Only 45 minutes was allotted for each workshop, which did not seem to be enough time. I know that some of the presentations were shortened, to fit into the allowed time. I also noticed that by the time one workshop ended, there was already a line forming of people waiting to get into the room for the next one.


So You Wanna Keep Bees? - Walter T. Kelley Company

The turnout for this workshop wasn't great, with approximately half of the seats remaining empty. However, it was offered again later in the day, which likely resulted in the crowd being split. Also, I find that often the first workshops of the day aren't as crowded as those later in the day.

As expected, the material covered in the workshop was very introductory, and was aimed at those unfamiliar with beekeeping. Even though we do not have bees, I have attended enough workshops on the topic that these introductory workshops rarely offer a significant learning opportunity. I keep attending, them, though, as there are always new pieces of information to be learned, since each instructor has a different system, and each presentation has a different focus.

The workshop covered beekeeping basics, such as equipment, site selection, sources of pollen, etc. The focus was on Langstroth hives, which makes sense because those are the most commonly used type. One of the interesting tips that was given was to use hummingbird feeders, slightly modified, to provide the bees with a source of sugar water outside of the hive when pollen isn't available. My favorite part of the workshop, though, was the photo she showed of a cat, sitting on the top of a beehive.

DIY Solar - Dan Adams and Don Adams of Earthineer

Based on my knowledge of the turnout for this workshop at other events, I knew the room would be packed. Several people stood for the duration of the workshop, because there were not available seats.

Dan began by explaining that the presentation was an abbreviated version of the normal presentation, due to the time restriction. Luckily, however, Dan and Don were both available at the Earthineer booth to answer questions throughout the day. Also, most of the material covered in the presentation is available on Earthineer, making it easily accessible for anyone interested in the topic.

Even though I had never attended the DIY Solar workshop, as I've always been busy attending other workshops when Dan and Don were presenting, I was familiar with the material through the blogs and videos posted on Earthineer. The workshop has made me think that maybe DIY Solar isn't beyond my abilities, especially if starting small, possibly from a kit. I spent some time after the workshop chatting with Don about some of the options, and may very well consider purchasing a kit in the future to try my hand at assembling a panel.

Season Extension with High Tunnels - Allison Wiediger of Au Natural Farm

There was a good turnout for this workshop, with approximately 3/4 of the seats filled.

This workshop was very enjoyable, primarily because the presenter was so high-energy and fun. The focus was primarily on the use of high tunnels by market gardeners, for season extension, and therefore increased profits. I was impressed with many of the results she reported, and can see how the use of high tunnels could certainly benefit anyone selling produce or flowers to the public.

The focus wasn't entirely on market gardeners, however. There was a brief discussion of cold frames and quick hoops, both of which are good options for backyard gardeners. I would like to eventually look into installing a small hoop house. The possibility of being able to harvest fresh peppers into December is very appealing.

I also want to do some research on the organic fertilizer that the Wiediger's use on their farm. Replenish 3-4-3 is made from composted chicken manure, which they apply twice a year to the soil in their high tunnels.

Backyard Poultry 101 - Geoff McPherson of Good Life Ranch

The turnout for this workshop was also good, with only a couple of open seats.

This workshop was originally scheduled to be presented by Chuckle Patch Farm. Something apparently came up, however, and the McPherson's were contacted the day before about stepping in. Geoff did a great job, especially on such short notice.

One of the interesting things about this workshop is that ducks were highly recommended as an alternative to chickens, for those interested primarily in egg production and insect control. While I don't think that we'll every abandon our plans to acquire chickens, it is possible that we'll consider adding a couple of ducks to our flock at some point down the road.

One of the other points that was discussed briefly was raising chickens on forage only, with no supplemental feed. It was indicated that the chickens can indeed survive with no supplemental feed, although egg production will be reduced. This was something I was happy to hear, especially since we will not need maximum egg production for our own use.

I hoped to stop by the Good Life Ranch booth after the workshop to get some information on the breeds that they raise. When the time comes to acquire chickens we would like to find a local source for acquiring them, so we're on the lookout for places in the area selling heritage birds to talk to and visit prior to that time.

In addition to the workshops I attended, Andrea attended Fermentation 101, Organic Gardening 101, and The Home Dairy. There were also two workshop sessions during which there was nothing scheduled that I was particularly interested in. I planned to attend some demos during those times, but  I'm not sure those all happened as scheduled. Nothing was going on when I dropped by the first one on my schedule, so I ended up just browsing the vendors instead.

There were more than 70 vendors at the event, which I was impressed with. Most of the vendors were set up outside, although there were a few booths inside. We stopped by several booths, where we picked up information and talked with the vendors. Of course we also made a few purchases of local products.


Field to Fork Festival - Deborah, of Halcombs Knob was on hand to promote the 2013 Field to Fork Festival. She was also accepting early registration for the F2F workshops, which we took advantage of. In fact, she said that we were the first to turn in our registration forms, guaranteeing that we'll have a spot in our workshops of choice at the festival.

Rock Bottom Stables & Soap Company - I was surprised to discover that Rock Bottom is located in London. It turns out that I have driven by their retail location several times, yet had never noticed it. I picked up some of their peppermint lip balm, and plan to visit their store in the near future to buy a few other items. I am especially interested in picking up some shave soap, as I haven't really seen many other locally produced options.

Sadistic Mistress Sauces - The Sadistic Mistress booth was one I had been looking forward to visiting since seeing them listed on the Kentucky Green Living Fair website. They make a variety of hot sauces, which were available to test and purchase. Rather than test them all, I described what I was looking for, and found that the suggested sauce was idea for my needs. I picked up a bottle of Psalms 22:1, which is made with ghost peppers, estimated at 1.6 million on the Scoville Scale.

Bill Best, Heirloom Seeds - Andrea had previously attended a seed saving workshop by Bill Best. He is well known in this area, especially for his heirloom beans, which I hear he is passionate about. He was selling his book, Saving Seeds, Preserving Taste at the fair, so she picked up a copy.

Earthineer - Dan went all out with the Earthineer booth. In addition to promoting the site, he was giving bokashi composting demonstrations throughout the day. Don (aka GrumpOldMan) was on hand to show off a couple of their DIY solar panels. Jereme (aka RedHeadedYeti) was there to talk about mead making. I dropped by the booth several times to chat, and spent the last hour or so of the fair there talking to Dan and Don, as well as a couple of other Earthineer members who were at the fair as attendees.

JD Country Milk - We stopped by the JD Country Milk booth just to chat with them for a few minutes. As I've mentioned on the blog before, I prefer buying their milk whenever I can. I talked to them about their tours, and was told they will be having another this fall, which I'm hopeful that we can attend.

Pike Valley Farm - The Pike Valley Farm booth is another that we stopped by just to chat. We have visited the farm a couple of times in the past several months, and have switched to their chicken breast as our preferred brand. Since attending the Raising Heritage Poultry for Profit and Pleasure workshop I had been wondering what breed of chicken is sold by Pike Valley, so that was my primary question for them. I was a bit disappointed by the answer, although not at all surprised. They raise Cornish Cross, which is the breed most commonly raised as a meat bird. They did say that they would like to raise a heritage breed, if they were able to find a market.

Story Magazine - I wasn't familiar with Story Magazine before seeing them listed as a vendor for the fair. They were giving away free issues of the magazine, so we picked up a couple to see if it is something we might be interested in subscribing to.

Caught Wild Salmon - Andrea had picked up some Caught Wild Salmon when we last visited the Marksbury Farm store. She hasn't tried it yet, so we stopped by the booth where she tried a sample. We did discover that they use Hickory for their smoke, which might be a bit of a concern since Andrea has a Hickory allergy. We need to find out what is is specifically that she is allergic to, and whether the smoke will carry those same allergens.

Chuckle Patch Farm - We didn't get to talk to anyone at the Chuckle Path booth, because they were so busy. We did pick up some information, however. It looks like they might be a possible source for acquiring chickens. We will have to schedule a visit sometime, to get a look at their operation and talk to them about their breeding methods.

My hope is that the 2013 Kentucky Green Living Fair was the first of many similar events. The fair was well organized, especially for a first time event. The turnout was impressive, which makes me hopeful that we will continue to see more local fairs and expos throughout the state. I will be eagerly watching the Sustainable Kentucky webpage for information on future events.

Thursday, March 28, 2013


I recently discovered a place to buy composted manure that is literally on my way home from work. I hoped to stop by there one Tuesday, on my way home, and get a truckload. Unfortunately, however, I found out that the person selling it wasn't available on Tuesdays. So this week, since we didn't have our Gardening 101 class on Tuesday, I decided to go to the office on Wednesday instead, so I could get some manure.

I was very impressed by both the quantity of manure I was given for the price, as well as the quality. The stuff they gave me had been aged for roughly 18 months, and has a very nice texture and appearance. I had them completely load the bed of the truck, which was, in hindsight, a mistake. The weight caused the truck to ride much lower than I had ever seen, and I could see the pressure being placed on the tires. Driving at speeds above 50 mph didn't feel safe, so I tried to keep my speed down as much as I could. Thankfully I made it home without incident.

Yesterday I began the process of unloading the manure. I started at lunch, and was able to finish up after work. It normally shouldn't take that long to unload a truckload of manure, or anything else for that matter, but this was a bit different. I wanted to use the manure in the garden, but I can't get the truck over there. For this reason, I had to transfer the manure from the truck to the RTV, then haul it to the garden and unload. I opted to go ahead and spread it on the garden, rather than just unloading in a pile, because it was less work in the end.

I was able to haul the manure in five trips, with the bed being only half full for the last trip. The bed of the RTV holds approximately 1/3 of a cubic yard, which means I had roughly 1.5 cubic yards of manure. Based on the information I was able to find, manure weighs, on average, between 1200 and 1700 pounds per cubic yard. Since we've had so much rain recently I would assume that this load was in the upper range, but I'll assume 1500 pounds for my calculation. This would mean that the amount I hauled was just over one ton, which is certainly more than the rated capacity for the truck, and more than I've ever hauled before. I'll probably take the trailer the next time, which is rated for 2500 pounds.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Chickens - A Change of Plans

I've mentioned that we plan to acquire chickens this spring. The plan was to complete a chicken coop in early Spring, and then get some pullets that would begin laying soon. Andrea and I recently discussed this, however, and decided that it would be best to delay our plans for chickens until 2014.

My reasons for the delay were primarily financial. After reviewing our budget it became clear that it was going to be tough to come up with the funds to build a chicken coop and buy chickens this Spring without making other sacrifices, such as the shed for the tractor. As much as we'd like to do everything as soon as possible, the reality is that finances sometimes require prioritizing purchases and projects.

Andrea's primary reason for suggesting the delay was timing. She was getting nervous about our ability to get everything ready in time, since we have not yet started construction of the coop. I don't expect construction to take long, but we do not even have a spot ready for it yet. The chicken coop and tractor shed will both go in the area that I am currently working on leveling. This project is half done, at best. The recent rains and snow have turned that area into a sticky, muddy, mess. I'll be able to resume work once it dries up, assuming there aren't more pressing projects to do in the garden by then.

The delay will also give us more time to prepare. After attending the Raising Heritage Poultry for Profit & Pleasure workshop we've realized that we still need to do some research before choosing the breed(s) that we want to acquire. We would also like to be able to gather salvaged materials for the coop, especially windows, doors, vent, hinges, etc, so the delay will give us more time for that. Lastly, the delay will give us time to plant grass in the area that will serve as the run for the chickens, since that is also part of the area I am leveling.

Our hope is that we can build the coop this fall, and have it ready for the chickens when Spring arrives in 2014. Also by then we should have been able to finalize our planning. Since we aren't building the coop until later in the year I hope to attend a workshop on chicken coop building at this year's Field to Fork Festival. I'll likely also try to attend some poultry workshops at this year's Mother Earth News Fair. Normally I let Andrea do those, but its time that I start learning more about the topic myself.

Oiling Leather Boots & Gloves

Last night I finally got around to doing something I had been planning to do for several months. I applied a layer of oil to my work boots and a new pair of gloves that I had not yet used. Properly caring for such items is not something that I have a good track record of doing, but I'm trying to change that. I like to buy quality products so they will last, and I realize that by not caring for them I'm making it less likely that I'll get the full benefit from them.

I had posed a question on Earthineer previously about oiling leather. Olive oil was one of the suggestions that I was given. Unfortunately, however, I had already purchased a can of Kiwi Mink Oil Shoe Polish based on the recommendation from someone at a leather shop. Since I already had the mink oil on hand I decided to go ahead and use it.

The other suggestion I was given on Earthineer was to put gloves in an oven to heat them a bit before applying the oil. The idea is that this opens the pores in the leather, which allows the oil to soak in better. I decided it was worth trying that approach, so stuck the gloves in the toaster oven for a few minutes, until they were nice and warm. I suspect that it is important not to overheat the gloves when doing this, although I'm not entirely sure what would happen if one did.

I used a rag to apply the oil. I tried to apply a thin, even coat to the surface. I spent a little extra time on the seams, making sure to get both sides. Luckily the oil causes the leather to darken so that its fairly easy to tell which sections have already been coated. I found that the gloves were more difficult to coat than the boots, due to their size and location of the seams. My hands were starting to cramp by the time I finished oiling the gloves.

Before oiling the boots I cleaned them with a damp rag. I probably should have cleaned them more thorougly, but since oiling them was on my mind I didn't want to wait for them to dry. The process for applying the oil was the same as the gloves, although was a bit easier. I tried to coat every surface, including the tongue.

After drying for 18+ hours I can't tell much difference in the gloves by looking at them. The boots, on the other hand, look much better. The oil darkened them up a bit, and they look more like they did when they were new. Of course they still have plenty of scuffs and scratches, but they do have a bit more of their original color than they did before I applied the oil.

It will be interesting to see if I'm actually able to notice the impacts of oiling the boots once I start wearing them again. My guess is that the impacts will not be obvious, but will ultimately result in extending their life, provided I remember to reapply the oil as needed. I do expect, though, to see the impacts of oiling the gloves. I've yet to have a pair of gloves last me me more than 6 months without getting holes in them. I believe this is partly caused by my using when loading wet wood and brush. I'm hoping that the oil will help the gloves stand up to the moisture. It would be nice to keep a pair of gloves long enough to get them really well broken in for a change.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Raising Heritage Poultry for Profit and Pleasure

Andrea and I recently attended the Raising Heritage Poultry for Profit and Pleasure workshop. The workshop is offered by the Sustainable Poultry Network, and led by Jim Adkins. The workshop is presented at different locations throughout the US. The one we attended was held at Fowl Play Pastured Poultry in Cadiz, KY.

John Utter, of Fowl Play, did a fantastic job of providing the facility and refreshments for the workshop. The hands on portion of the workshop was done at John's place, where we worked with his flock of mottled Java. The classroom portion was held next door, in a facility owned by his neighbors. The facility was perfect for a workshop of that size, including ample parking, which can sometimes be a problem.

Refreshments were provided throughout the day. In addition to water, soda, and fruit there were a couple of breakfast dishes which were made with farm-fresh eggs. For lunch they brought in Subway sandwiches and chips.

There were approximately twenty workshop attendees. Andrea and I were among the least experienced with chickens. I was the only one who had never handled a chicken, although I'm not sure that Andrea's experience with chickens at 4H camp 20 years ago gives her much of an advantage over me. Several of those attending the workshop were currently raising chickens or other livestock.

The workshop covered the following topics: "Necessity of Identifying Heritage Poultry", "Facilities, Feed & Forage", "Selecting Heritage Poultry for Production", "Introduction to Breeding Standard Bred Poultry", and "Budgeting, Marketing, and Your Small Farm Business Planning". Much of the information covered was included in a binder that we were each given. The binders also included much that wasn't specifically discussed in the workshop, including articles from various sources. I have yet to read through the entire binder, but it seems to be full of useful information.

The workshop was very interactive. Jim did a very good job of engaging everyone, including those like myself who tend to just sit back and listen in a group setting. There were a lot of good questions from the group as well as the sharing of experiences and suggestions. There were some great discussions about ways in which a group of poultry producers in a given area could work together to overcome the challenges facing them, especially regarding marketing and the educating of consumers as to the advantages of heritage poultry.

There was a lot of focus placed on breeding, which is understandable, since one of the things the organization is trying to do is increase the availability of heritage poultry, while also strengthening the breeds. Andrea and I weren't really interested in breeding when we decided to attend the workshop, but we've since started talking about the possibility. We certainly do not plan to start a breeding program right away, but after a couple of years, if we decide we enjoy working with poultry, it is something we may consider.

During the hands on portion of the workshop we were taught the proper way to hold a chicken, and I was able to hold my first bird. We were also shown several things to look for in order to determine the best birds for both meat and egg production, and therefore the best for breeding. We were able to compare the various traits in different birds, which was much better than simply being told what to look for.

Attendees came to the workshop from four different states: Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and Indiana. Surprisingly, it seems that we traveled the farthest. John expressed his surprise that we had driven so far to attend. In my opinion, however, it was well worth the drive. I would, without hesitation, recommend the workshop to anyone interested in learning more about sustainable poultry breeding or heritage poultry in general. Check the SPF events calendar for a list of upcoming workshops.


I haven't posted for several days, and I apologize for that. This time, however, I have a valid excuse. We were out of town for a few days attending a workshop on sustainable poultry.

I took the day off from work on Friday, and we left for Western Kentucky early that morning. Our route took us through Somerset, where we made a couple of stops. The first stop was at Paul's Discount, which is very difficult to describe. Their motto is "If Paul's doesn't have it.... you don't need it!", and, while that might be a bit of an exaggeration, it isn't as much of one as you might think. We spent more than an hour roaming the store, but only left with a couple of items. I suspect, however, that Andrea would have picked up some fabric if she had been needing any. The store has one of the larger selections of fabric in the area, which is surprising considering that they also carry a nice selection of tools, camping/hunting supplies, and even seeds.

After Paul's we made our way to Amon's Sugar Shack for lunch. Amon's had been suggested to me by multiple people, so I thought it was finally time to try it. We arrived during the lunch rush, and the place was packed, which is always a good sign that the locals love a restaurant. The food was good, although I was a bit disappointed by the size of my burger. That just means, however, that next time I might have to order an extra :-) Of course we couldn't leave without dessert, so grabbed some donuts for the road.

Once we left Somerset we had several hours of driving ahead of us. I managed to miss one of our turns while Andrea took a nap, which resulted in us going an extra 20-30 miles out of our way. Fortunately, however, we were able to find another road that put us on track without having to just turn and go back the way we came. It was still a little early for dinner when we hit Hopkinsville, but I just couldn't bring myself to be that close without stopping at Ferrell's Snappy Service for a burger. This was only my second visit there, but I feel like the place is an old friend. If it wasn't for the five hour drive I would certainly be a regular customer. From Hopkinsville we had a short drive to our hotel in Cadiz, where we had an uneventful evening.

On Saturday morning we went out for breakfast, then on to our primary destination. The purpose of the trip was to attend the Sustainable's Poultry Network's workshop, Raising Heritage Poultry for Profit and Pleasure. The workshop was hosted by John Utter of Fowl Play Pastured Poultry. John certainly knows how to put on a successful workshop. The facility, which he arranged courtesy of a neighbor was a fantastic facility for such an event. Breakfast, lunch, and snacks were provided, which included a couple of dishes made from farm-fresh eggs from John's flock of mottled java hens. The workshop itself was wonderful, but I won't go into detail since I plan to do a post on that later.

On Sunday we got up early and headed home. We took a detour through Clarkesville Tennessee in order to visit Rural King, which is an amazing store. The store was easily three to four times the size of any other farm supply store I have ever visited. I don't think that calling it a farm supply superstore would be an exaggeration at all. We picked up a few items there, including seed potatoes. Rural King has stored scattered across 7 states: Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, and Tennessee. The closest one to us is located in Shelbyville, KY, which is approximately 110 miles away. I expect that we will be making a trip there at some point in the fairly near future.

The remainder of the trip home was uneventful. We made it back home in time to get rested up from the trip. After feeding the animals Andrea spent much of the evening working with her seed starting project. A lot of progress was made while we were gone, so she updated her records and did some thinning.

It is snowing here today, although the small amount of accumulation we had this morning has melted. This, combined with the hard rains from yesterday, have resulted into things being wet and muddy outside. I don't expect to even try to get out and do anything today. Andrea did get out this morning to go pick up Jack from the vet, where he was being boarded while we were gone. He was very glad to get home, and actually jumped out of the truck window when he was Luke. I take that as a sign that his leg is no longer causing him any pain.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


Yesterday I worked at the office in London. Since I was driving the truck I went before work to pick up some insulated metal panels that I plan to use for an upcoming project. They were more expensive than I expected so I only bought six, which should be enough for my project and still leave a few extra.

After work we had our Gardening 101 class. The topic this week was high tunnels, which was interesting. There was a lot of focus on a government backed program that provides some cost-sharing for installing high tunnels. In addition to the normal part of the class there was also a presentation on the Kentucky Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) program. GAP is primarily aimed at producers who sell their farm products to others, but there was still a lot of helpful information for the home gardener. We'll receive a certification for attending the presentation, which will mean we never have to complete GAP training again, even when we start selling products, unless the laws change.

Food was provided, courtesy of the salesman from DuPont who was there to speak to another group. It seemed kind odd to be eating a corporately sponsored meal at such an event. I suppose it really highlights how intertwined corporations have become with our government sponsored programs.

I didn't accomplish a whole lot today. I went outside at lunch and cleaned out the car in preparation for an upcoming trip. I planned to replace a blown fuse in the car, so the radio would work again, but found that we were out of spares. I'll have to pick some up before our trip so we can listen to the radio. I also removed one of the scarifiers from the box blade so I could take measurements to help me find a replacement for the one with the broken tip.

Andrea has been continuing to make progress on her seed starting project. Several seeds have now sprouted. She has also made more plant markers. She's experimenting with three different types of markers, so it'll be interesting to see which we prefer once they go into the garden.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Comic Book Conventions and Simple Living

This past weekend I attended the Lexington Comic & Toy Convention with a group of friends. Since then I have been thinking a lot about how attending such a convention fits into my desire to life a more simple lifestyle. For those of you who have never attended this type of event, which I assume is most of you, I'll try to give you a general idea of the environment. Imagine a large convention hall filled with several thousand comic books nerds, sci-fi geeks, and gamers, many of whom are in costume. The aisles of tables feature a combination of artists, media guests, and vendors, selling everything from comic books to t-shirts to movie prop reproductions. At every turn there is something interesting to see, and to tempt a nerd like myself into spending money.

If you're thinking that this doesn't sound like an environment that goes hand in hand with simple living, you'd be right. In fact, for a former collector like myself, visiting such an event can be much like a recovering alcoholic attending the grand opening of a new bar. Ok, maybe it isn't quite that bad, but it is certainly a challenge to attend an event this like this without going home with an armful of unneeded items. In the past I have collected sports cards, comic books, action figures, Hot Wheels, and even autographs. I use to be a huge Star Wars fan, and would have jumped at the chance to meet anyone associated with the films. Things have certainly changed, however. I left the convention having spent money on nothing other than admission and food. I didn't even stand in line for the chance to take a photo with or get an autograph from the multiple Star Wars guests, including the two major guests Billy Dee Williams and Peter Mayhew.

I had intended to pick up a piece of art from one of the independent artists, but didn't see anything that really caught my eye at the convention. Mostly I just enjoyed looking at everything, and seeing some impressive cosplay. Several years ago I expect that I could easily have spent a couple hundred dollars at such an event. I consider my ability to leave the convention empty handed a sign that I've made real progress on my journey. I'm glad that I am able to attend and enjoy these events, rather than feeling that the only way I can avoid falling back into my old habits is by avoiding them completely.

Hi, my name is Jonathan, and I'm a recovering collector....

Monday, March 18, 2013


I haven't posted an update in a few days because I haven't been very productive recently. On Saturday I spent the day in Lexington with friends. We attended the Lexington Comic & Toy Convention, then spent the remainder of the day just catching up and enjoying one another's company.

I was out late on Saturday, so slept in Sunday morning. I spent most of the day just relaxing. It has been raining all day today, so I don't plan to even try to get outside and do anything. Sometimes I feel guilty for letting a weekend get past without accomplishing anything around the house. That isn't the case, however, when I'm spending time with my friends instead. We only get together a few times a year, so I'm always more than happy to give up a few weekends in order to see and spend time with them.

Andrea has been much more productive than I during the past few days. She has been doing more work on her seed starting. She has started seeds for several additional plants, and has also been making plant markers, for eventual use in the garden.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Make a Pet Bed From Recycled Materials

Over the past several months Andrea has made a few beds for the dogs and Kitty using recycled materials. The latest one was made with a water-resistant bottom, since it was going in Jake's crate outside.

So far Andrea has been able to reuse old window coverings for the beds. In one case she was able to use one of the old insulated window coverings which didn't require being filled with any additional stuffing. In that case the process was as simple as folding the fabric in half, and sewing the edges together. In situations requiring additional stuff she leaves one edge unsealed, and then fills with whatever stuffing she has, before sewing up the final edge. Andrea has no trouble coming up with stuffing, because she has been saving scraps for years for this very purpose. She has saved pieces of fabric, fleece, batting, and even old clothes that can be used in this way. 

When we started having to contain Jack, so he could recover from his injury, we realized that rain could blow into his crate, and ultimately collect underneath his bed. To prevent the water from soaking through, Andrea wanted to make a bed with a water-resistant bottom. She was able to accomplish this by using a piece of old vinyl shower curtain as the bottom. The most interesting thing is that the shower curtain was clear, which means that when the bed gets flipped over the transparent bottom allows a view of the stuffing, which is a random assortment of colors, shapes, and materials.

We've been using the new bed in Jack's crate for a couple of weeks. Occasionally we'll switch it out with another one, so it can dry out if it has gotten wet. Since the water isn't able to soak through to the stuffing, however, it doesn't take long at all for it to air dry. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013


Today at lunch I took some measurements of the bed of the RTV. I plan to to build some side panels that I can install to add height to the bed, which will allow me to haul more volume of light material, such as leaves and grass clippings. After taking the measurements I began building a model in SketchUp, which helped me to put together a plan.

I had originally planned to spend the evening removing some bushes and small trees from across the road, where I mowed yesterday. Instead, however, I decided that mowing had gone so well that I'd stick with that. I pulled the mower over to the old house on the property, and then again hooked it to the front of the RTV. I didn't mow that area at all last year, so it was very grown up. There was also an area beside the house that I had never mowed that was badly overgrown with briars.

One reason I hadn't mowed around the house before is that, before I bought the property, the neighbor had began the process of tearing the house down. He didn't make very much progress, and left quite a bit of debris around the house. I was worried about running over a nail, so had avoided getting the RTV too close. With the mower hooked to the front, however, I was able to get the mower in close without risking a punctured RTV tire.

I was able to mow most of the area I wanted. I should be able to get in close to the house now and pick up the debris scattered about, allowing me to mow closer next time. I'd love to disassemble the porch soon, because there are a lot of good concrete blocks there that I could reuse.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


Even though the the nice weather from this weekend is gone, and temperatures have cooled down considerably, I was still able to get outside today and be productive.

I went out at lunch to finish spreading the gravel I bought yesterday. There is an area at the corner of the driveway and parking area that had a low spot and was holding water. A while back I added some dirt to fill in the low spot. Unfortunately, however, the spot gets driven over a lot when people turn, such as delivery drivers, so it had some ruts in it. I evened it out today, then used the tamper to compact the soil. Once that was done I covered it was a layer of gravel, and then compacted again. I'm hoping that this will be enough to stand up to people driving over it.

I was't really motivated to go back out after work, but I convinced myself to do so. Since the temperature had dropped into the 30s I didn't really want to do much physical work, so decided that doing some mowing would be a good choice. Since the mower had been sitting all winter I had to do a bit of work, including airing up the tires and fiddling with it a bit to get it to run. Once that as done I hooked to it with the RTV and pulled it across the road, where there are still several areas that need additional clearing.

Once I had the mower where I wanted it I unhooked, and then hooked it to the front hitch on the RTV. This allowed me to back the mower into places that I couldn't have pulled it through. I've done something similar before, with the mower hooked to the back, but that requires driving in reverse, which I find is more difficult than backing the mower up while driving the RTV forwards.

I made significant progress, although it was slow work. I was able to do quite a bit of clearing around the edges that I had not been able to do before. I also was able to knock out some large sections of briars. I'll need to pull up some small pushes and cut down a few small trees to be able to make more progress. I'm hoping I may be able to do that tomorrow if the weather cooperates. My goal is to eventually be able to get the tractor over there, which will make clearing some of the larger brush easier.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


I worked in London today. We didn't have our gardening class after work, but Andrea did he have her cake decorating class. Since I was driving the truck I decided to go pick up a load of gravel at lunch. I'm planning to try to haul as much stuff like that as I can on days I already have the truck in London, so that I don't have to make special trips later on.

I got home an hour or so before Andrea, so decided to go ahead and unload some of the gravel while waiting on her. I was able to finish filling in the spot between the walkway and the trailer, as well as adding some gravel all along the edge of the parking area against the trailer. I still have close to half of the gravel left, which I hope to be able to spread tomorrow if the weather cooperates.

Sunday, March 10, 2013


Today was quite a productive day. I spent almost the entire day on the tractor. The first part of the day was spent moving some brush and better consolidating the log pile where I need to do grading work. The rest was spent moving dirt.

I wasn't sure how well the process of using the tractor to level the area would work. I knew that it was a task that could be done with a tractor, even though its not exactly the best tool. My biggest concern, though, was that I've never done that type of work, so wasn't sure how effective I would be. After several hours of working on it, though, I have to say that I'm pretty pleased with the results.

I did have one mishap, that slowed me down and is going to cost me some money. I was using the box blade to loosen the dirt and move it out of the way, then using the bucket to push it where I wanted it to go. One of the shanks of the box blade caught on a large rock, and the tip of the shank broke. It was one of those situations where something had to give, and between the rock, tractor, and shank, clearly the shank was the most likely candidate. The only thing I could have done to prevent it would have been to react more quickly, and stop the tractor or raise the box blade.

Since I hadn't dug down as deeply as I wanted when I hit the rock I knew it was going to be a problem. I decided that I better dig it out, and so spent nearly an hour doing so. By the time I was finished I had dug a hole approximately three feet deep. When I finally dug the rock out I realized that the problem was that it was standing on its end, so I flipped it over, so it would lie flat, and just covered it back up. I shouldn't have to worry about it again unless I did down another eighteen inches or so, and I don't anticipate needing to do that.

I still have some work to do, but I think that I'm more than halfway there. I'll get Andrea to go out with me one day and help me determine how far out of level the site is now, and where my low and high spots are. The forecast is calling for heavy rain tomorrow, so I suspect that it'll be several days before I can get back out there and work. I'm sure that I'll find something to keep me busy in the meantime.

Saturday, March 9, 2013


The weather today was fabulous. It started out cloudy, then turned to sunny, with temperatures in the 60s. It was the kind of weather I'm looking forward to seeing more.

I spent the morning outside working on a few chores. I collected the wood chips I had previously made, and took those to the garden. There was enough to more than fill the bed of the RTV, but I was able to heap them on. I used them to make a border around the garlic. I'm hoping that this helps to keep weeds from encroaching. I did, however, notice that I already need to do some weeding, and probably need to apply some more straw as mulch.

After spreading the wood chips I disassembled the makeshift backstop I had put up to catch the wood chips as they came out of the chipper. Because of the way the chipper spits them out I had learned that I could capture more of them if they had something to pile up against. Now with this out of the way I'll be able to begin leveling the spot for the chicken coop and tractor shed.

I stopped around lunch time, and came in and showered so we could go to a dinner celebration for my grandmother's birthday. The dinner was in London, so we made a few additional stops while there. I wanted to look for some longer ratchet straps to use when hauling a truck load of straw. I also needed to pick up some more sealant to use around the base of the metal building. We also stopped by a quilt show at the public library that Andrea was interested in.

Andrea spent much of the day, before and after our trip to London, working on getting some seeds started. She has 11 varieties of peppers started as well as some herbs and flowers. She tried starting plants from seed a couple of years ago, when we were trying container gardening, but we didn't have much luck. It will be interesting to see how well the plants she starts from seed this year do.

Friday, March 8, 2013


The weather was beautiful today. It was a bit cool, but nice and sunny. Things were slow at work, so I took off a couple of hours early so I could go out and try to get a head start on my weekend plans.

I fired up the wood chipper and chipped some of the branches I had piled up. I realize now that I made a mistake by moving some of the debris with the tractor, because it ended up with dirt mixed in, making it hard to find the stuff needing chipped. I'll probably end up just pushing what's left out of the way for now.

After finishing with the chipper I did some organizing in the metal building to make room for storing the chipper in there. While doing this I discovered that I'm still getting some water leaking under the base of the walls, so will need to apply some more sealant.

Next I aired up the tires on the chipper and drug it to the metal building. Having the ramp certainly makes it much easier to get heavy items such as the chipper inside the building. I'm glad we decided to go ahead and build the ramp.

While I was out I also took some measurements to get an idea of where the shed for the tractor will go. Now I just need to start doing some grading work, which I'm hoping I might be able to start this weekend if all goes well.

Thursday, March 7, 2013


Yesterday it snowed. At approximately two inches this was definitely our biggest snow of the year. Like earlier in the winter, other areas near us received more. I suppose we're just lucky, or unlucky, depending on your view of snow. The dogs seemed to enjoy the snow. When Andrea let Jack out, he and Luke were so hyper that she left him out for nearly an hour. She said they seemed to really be having fun, and she hadn't see Luke so hyper in quite some time.

Andrea took the new cat to the vet today. We found out that it is a female, and is between one and two years old. The age really surprised me, as she is much smaller than Kitty. They tested her for common diseases and gave her a wormer and flea treatment. We were also given an ointment for her eye, which has been oozing, apparently from allergies.

Now that we know her gender, and that she is apparently going to stick around, we need to come up with a name. We're terrible at choosing names. That's one reason that Kitty's name is Kitty, well, Miss Kitty, technically. According to a list Andrea was looking at online of the worst things you can name a cat Kitty is number one.

The Wonderful Versatile Straw Bale

I've recently come to appreciate the versatility of the simple straw bale. Straw is incredibly useful, and, as a waste product, is readily available.

Our first experience with using straw bales was a couple of years ago when we needed a way to enclose the front porch, so that Luke, then a puppy, could not fall off. We positioned bales of straw around the perimeter of the porch, which served not only to keep him safe, but also provided a bit of a wind break. Eventually I had to remove a few of them, as he chewed through the strings holding them together. Luckily, however, by this time he was big enough to climb the steps on his own, and was no longer likely to fall off of the porch. Since removing some of the bales left a hole in the wind break, I decided to make him a nice warm place to sleep from the bales. At first I positioned two bales, on their edge, at a angle to one another (something between 45 and 90 degrees). I placed one more bale across the top of these two, effectively giving him a straw bale house. Eventually, as he needed more room, I added another bale and reconfigured them into a rectangle. This served as Luke's house for quite some time, until eventually he started bumping his head when he'd stand up inside.

The bales that had been removed from the porch where stacked outside until we needed them. Whenever we needed mulch we'd collect some of the loose straw and apply a nice thick layer. We mulched the strawberries and garlic a couple of times. We also used some of the loose straw for covering the manure that was applied to the herb garden, since manure needs a carbon source to help it compost. Eventually all that we were left with from those initial bales was a layer of loose, partially decomposed, straw that had been the bottom layer of the pile. I racked this straw and applied it to the compost pile.

Recently we found another use for straw. Since we have been keeping Jack contained during his injury, the area near his house and the front steps has been getting a lot of traffic. The ground was already somewhat muddy, but the increased traffic made it much worse. To help with this we bought a bale of straw and scattered it on the ground all around his house and the steps. I also used it to make a path from the steps to the driveway, since we've been going that way more often lately due to having the back porch blocked off for the stray cat to live on. The straw has been a big help with keeping us, and Jack, from getting muddy feet. Plus Luke and Jack both love playing in straw, so they really enjoyed themselves when I first put it down. I still have a quarter of the bale left that I can use to fill in any spots that begin to wear thin or get muddy again.

My favorite thing about using straw is that the same bale can very often be used multiple times. The bales that we used for enclosing the porch for Luke were eventually used as mulch and composting. The bale that I applied to the muddy yard may very well get raked and applied to the compost in a month or two.

I suspect that we will be using several bales of straw this year as mulch in the garden. I have found that I can save approximately $2 per bale by buying it in London instead of the nearest town. I'll likely start picking up a truck load whenever I am in London with the truck, so we'll have it on hand when we need it. I will also be on the look out for partially decomposed bales or spoiled hay that I might pick up cheaply to use as mulch. Of course I have to figure in the cost of transportation for anything I make a special trip to pick up, which gives buying the bales in London an advantage, since I won't have to make a special trip there to pick it up. Maybe one day we'll try our hand at growing our own wheat and producing our own straw.

In addition to using straw as mulch this year we will be using quite a bit in the chicken coop. We plan to use the deep little method in our coop, which will require a regular supply of clean straw.

I can't talk about straw without mentioning straw bale construction. It is a topic that I'm interested in eventually experimenting with. We are considering building a straw bale structure to house rabbits, when we eventually get them.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Using and Freezing Milk Nearing its Expiration Date

Lately we have found ourselves, several times, with milk that is getting ready to pass its sell-by date. I realize that just because it is past the date doesn't mean that its bad, but I'm never willing to risk it. I hate to throw it out, however, especially when it is the good quality semi-local milk that we prefer to buy.

Our solution to this problem has been to use the milk to make something that will be frozen. There are several things that could be made with this intent. My favorite is a simple pie, made with instant pudding. You might be thinking, that isn't a "real" pie, especially not with instant pudding, and you might be right. However, this is the type of pie I've enjoyed since my childhood. Even though I now appreciate real pie, especially Derby Day Pie, I'll probably never give up my instant pudding pies on graham cracker crusts.

Once the pie has been made we simply stick it in the freezer to harden. Once the pie is frozen it can then be removed and cut into pieces, before being put into a container for long term storage. I like to use a pizza cutter, similar to this one, for cutting the pie. I then normally store it in a plastic storage container and just leave it in the freezer until I'm ready for a piece of pie.

When I want a piece of pie I simply place it on a plate and defrost it in the microwave. I'll readily admit that the defrosted pie isn't quite as good as if it were fresh. However, I can have a piece of defrosted pie within a minute of deciding I want it, rather than spending the time to make the pie and wait for it to set. I also believe it is preferable to letting the milk be thrown out, which is surely what would in most cases if I did not make a pie from it.

Jack's Injury

As I've previously mentioned in some of the daily updates, Jack, the German Shepard / Doberman mix that lives with us, recently sustained an injury that we have been treating. I wanted to do a post detailing his injury and treatment, especially since one of the posts where I discussed it was accidentally deleted.

It is very common for Jack to disappear for several days at a time. While I do believe that he thinks of our place as home, I suspect that he has at least one other place that he also thinks of as home, or at least a part time home. About a week and a half ago he disappeared for three or four days, then came home with a limp. I was able to find a wound on the upper part of his hind leg, which I suspected was either from a bite or from being in a fight. He was clearly in pain, and wouldn't let us really look at the injury.

Andrea took him to the vet, and they determined that the injury was caused by a gunshot. The x-ray revealed a .22 caliber bullet imbedded in his leg. The bone was also fractured from the impact of the gun shot. We were given a two medications for Jack, a anti-inflammatory and an anti-biotic, and were presented with a couple of treatment options.

The first treatment option was a surgery during which they could remove the bullet and shrapnel, and set the broken bone so it could heal. The vet indicated that if his dog were in the same situation he would choose to have the surgery.

The second treatment was to let the fracture and would heal on their own, and then have the bullet removed at a later date. The primary risk with this approach is that the bone may not heal back as well as with surgery, and could result in Jack having a limp for the rest of his life. Also, with this approach, the bullet could be removed, but it is likely that some shrapnel would remain.

With either option it was recommended that we keep Jack contained, to keep him off of the injured leg as much as possible. We considred our options, and decided that the best way to do this would be to provide him with a place outside where he could sleep and be contained. The dogs normally sleep on the front porch, but that wasn't a good option due to the fact that it would require him to walk up and down the steps to relieve himself.

We purchased an extra large plastic pet carrier to use for the containment. The carrier is large enough to serve as a doghouse, and already has a door that can be secured to keep him inside. We really should probably have already owned a carrier, as there are surely going to be situations in which we need to transport one of the dogs in back of the truck. We'll also likely use the carrier for transporting chickens this spring, so it will have several uses beyond Jack's containment.

Our initial plan was to move forward with the surgery. Based on the vet's recommendation and the fact that the surgery would increase the chances of a full recovery we felt this was the best thing to do. However, we quickly began to question that decision, and as we gathered more information we began to lean more in favor of the other option.

Before begin Jack's confinement, we let him use the carrier as a doghouse to get use to it. We did this for two nights, and everything seemed to be going well. The morning after the second night, however, Andrea went out to check on him and discovered that he was gone. I was working in the office that day, so wasn't around to help her look for him, so she set out on her own trying to find him. Eventually she stopped at the old quarry a mile up the road and starting calling for him. She began hearing barking in response, which gradually grew louder. Eventually she spotted him, in a field across the creek from where she was standing. He worked his way down a steep hill, to the creek, but was stranded for the moment since he hates water. Eventually he apparently decided that getting to her was important enough to risk it, and he jumped in the water, swam across the creek, and ran, limping, to her.

That evening, when I got home from work, we installed the door on the carrier and began his confinement. It was clear that a broken leg wasn't going to be enough to keep  him from getting out with his friends. This was when we first questioned the plan to have the surgery, since we are concerned that if he continues his old ways he could end up getting hurt again, and he seems to be more than willing to take that risk.

As Andrea did more research she learned that the recovery period from the surgery could be several months, which we believe would be hard on Jack since he enjoys his freedom so much. She spoke to the vet and he indicated that there was an increased risk of Jack doing further damage to his leg if he were too active following the surgery. He had also learned, from talking to the surgeon, that the initial cost estimate he gave us was low, by several hundred dollars. The increased cost was because the surgery would need to be more complex than originally believed, and may even require the use of an external pin to hold the leg together. These factors made us even less certain that the surgery was the right course of action.

Andrea expressed our doubts to the vet, and asked several follow up questions. Our biggest concern was making sure that Jack not have a lifetime of pain if we chose not to have the surgery. The vet assured her that he would be in no more pain from the leg if we allowed it to heal naturally, even if it didn't heal completely straight. He also said that not removing the bullet and shrapnel should not cause him any pain, and should cause no future complications, although he did suggest having the bullet removed anyway, once the leg healed.

After considering all of the factors we have decided not to do the surgery. We want to minimize the time that Jack has to be contained, since he is obviously much happier when he can roam free. I suspect that many people will read this and wonder why we would ever let him return to roaming freely if we suspect he could be injured again. Our view on this stems from the way we view the animals, not as "pets" that require humans to protect them, but as wild creatures who choose to live alongside us. If running free is what makes Jack happy, and I think he has shown that it is, we would prefer to allow him to do so, even if it ultimately reduces his life expectancy. We believe that quality of life is preferable to quantity.

Jack is adjusting to his injured leg, and is getting around well without using it. He has recently started to run and play more, and even attacks Luke from time to time to get him to wrestle. They have been enjoying playing in the snow today. Jack is much more active than Luke was when he hurt his front paw. I think its safe to say that Jack will be just fine, even if the leg doesn't heal as well as if we chose to do the surgery.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


For the past few years I've regularly gone to the office on Wednesdays. Starting today, however, I'm temporarily switching to Tuesdays at the office. The reason for the switch is that Andrea and I are taking a series of Gardening 101 classes at the Laurel County Cooperative Extension Office on Tuesday evenings. The class extends into the summer, and I was hesitant to give up evenings that I might otherwise use for getting things done around here. Since I normally don't accomplish a lot on the days I've gone to the office, however, I can go to the office the day of the class without much impact to my chores.

There was a good turn out at the class, which I hope will continue. The instructor was certainly pleased with the number of people who showed up. The first class was actually on a topic, building soil fertility, I had previously attended a class on, and was using the same presentation as before. However, I was the only person showed up for the previous class, so much of the time was spent on cover cropping, which is what I was most interested in. The class today covered more of the other areas of soil fertility, so I picked up a few new pieces of info. I also discovered a few things that I would like to research in more detail.

Since she was going to be driving to London anyway to meet me for the Gardening 101 class Andrea decided to take a cake decorating class. It is also a multi-week class, although I can't remember how many weeks it lasts. What I do know, however, is that we are going to have a lot of cake on hand since each class requires her to bake one or more cakes, and she'll be making others to practice on between classes. 

Monday, March 4, 2013


Even though it was quite cold overnight it turned into a beautiful day. I went out this evening and worked a bit more on moving the logs that are in the area where the chicken coop will go. I had used the tractor to move them into a pile, but I wasn't able to push them as far down the hill as I wanted. I had used the RTV and winch to drag a few of them down the hill previously. Today I used the cant hook to move a few logs, which them gave me the opportunity to drag a few more. I used the RTV again to drag a few more down the hill. I was able to reposition 6 or 8 logs today, which isn't a lot, but it is progress.

Kentucky Crafted: The Market 2013

We recently attended Kentucky Crafted: The Market 2013, which is a fair organized by the Kentucky Arts Council. According to the promotional literature, the fair featured in excess of 200 vendors from throughout Kentucky, offering fine art, crafts, specialty foods, and books.

The one complaint that I had about the fair is that the the majority of the vendors seemed to cater to more high end clientele. We love buying from local artisans and supporting local businesses and craftsmen. To my surprise, however, there were many more vendors selling high end jewelry or boutique personal care products than selling hand made quilts or baskets. In hindsight, however, I suppose I was expecting more Appalachian crafts than decorator items for the larger urban areas in Central Kentucky. Clearly when I think of Kentucky I am biased towards the more mountainous region in which I grew up and currently reside, even though this region does not contain the majority of the population.

Even though there weren't as many of the types of vendors I had hoped, there were still several that we found interesting. We were most attracted to those selling pottery or woodwork, although a few of the metal workers also had some very interesting pieces. I also had to the opportunity to speak with someone at the Berea College Crafts booth to ask about a boot scraper that they use to carry. Unfortunately I learned that the item has been discontinued, but was advised to call to see if they might still have one in the warehouse that had gone unsold.

We ended up buying more food than anything else. Our first food purchase was some spicy pretzels from Yankee Doodle Deli. Next I picked up some sharp cheddar cheese from Boone Creek Creamery. I was very impressed with the quality and taste of their cheeses, and even enjoyed the smoked gouda, which is normally too much for me. While I picking out some cheese, Andrea was sampling some sauce from Kentucky's Smokin' Grill, which she enjoyed enough to buy. We next stopped to sample some of Mom Blakeman's creamed pull candy, which we bought a small container of. Finally, before leaving, we stopped by the Sweet Shoppe table to buy some fudge. We were actually already familiar with the Sweet Shoppe, as we had visited their store in Hodgenville, KY while visiting the Abraham Lincoln National Birthplace Historic Site.

We did buy a few items other than food. Andrea picked up a wooden dish towel rack, although I unfortunately don't know the name of the vendor from whom she purchased. I also picked up a couple of books from the University of Kentucky Press. It was actually hard deciding on which books to buy, as they had so many that I was interested in. More than one had been on my wish list for months, and I thought were currently out of print. I picked up a copy of Blue-grass and Rhododendron by great Kentucky author John Fox Jr as well as Days of Darkness: The Feuds of Eastern Kentucky, which is of great interest to me due to its focus on the history of this part of the state. I was also very interested in Slender is the Thread, by another great Kentucky author, Harry Caudill, Blue Jacket, by Allan Eckert, and The Kentucky, which is about the Kentucky River and was written by notable Kentucky historian Thomas D Clark.

We also stopped by and chatted with someone from Tater Knob Pottery & Farm, which we very often pass the sign for, but had never actually visited. We stopped by several other tables as well, but the one that most caught my attention was that of a couple from the small town that we live near. We didn't get a chance to chat with them, as they were always busy, which I took as a good sign. We may have to locate their studio at some point and pay them a visit.

All in all Andrea and I both felt that the fair was worth attending. The cost of admission was low, and there was a lot to see. If we lived closer to Lexington we would likely make it a regular event to attend. However, since the trip requires several hours of driving we will most likely not go back next year unless we just happen to be in town for some other reason.

Farm Machinery Consignment Auctions

I have recently attend two farm equipment auctions, ran by a local auction and real estate company. The first was the 32nd Annual London Farm Machinery Consignment Auction, held in London, KY. The second was the 38th Annual Brodhead Farm Machinery Consignment Auction, held in Brodhead, KY. I was fortunate to find out about the auctions. Some co-workers of my uncle had previously gone, and he had been trying to find out information about the next dates. He asked for me to let him know if I heard anything, so I asked around at work and was able to get enough information to track down the schedule for this year.

Prior to the auctions I did a great deal of research to prepare. I began by posting a question on TractorByNet asking for some advice about the types of implements that might be most useful in my situation. With that information, and along with what I already had in mind, I made a list of the items I thought I might want to look for. Next I watched videos on YouTube of each implement being used. The videos that I found most helpful were those by Everything Attachments, which is a North Carolina based company specializing in tractor implements and attachments.

Once I had a good list of items I might be interested in purchasing, I began the process of determining the price I might be willing to pay. I looked up new prices for each item on three different web sites, and then checked the prices for used equipment on two different sites. When I finished this I made myself a simplified version of the list to take to the auction with me that included the items I was most interested in purchasing, along with the maximum price I was willing to pay.

In addition to this list I also took a notepad and pen, so I could record the lot numbers that I wanted to bid on. In hindsight I also wish I had used the notepad to record the price that each of those items eventually sold for. I also took a tape measure, so I could check the width of the implements, and a toplink pin that I could use to quickly verify that the attachment was a Class 1, which is what my tractor requires.

On the day of the London Auction I arrived approximately 45 minutes early. After getting my bidder number I began walking the grounds in search of lots to bid on. The items I was most interested in were: a boom pole, a 5' box blade, and a 14" or 16" single bottom plow. I was also on the lookout for a 6' tiller for my uncle, who was coming to the auction along with my dad. I located a few plows, several box blades, and a single boom pole. Unfortunately, however, I wasn't clear on the order in which items would be auctioned, and also didn't realized that two auctions were going to be occurring simultaneously.

I ended up missing the auctioning of most of the box blades I was interested in, because they were done by the second auctioneer that I was unaware of. I was there to see two older 6' blades auctioned off, but those weren't in the condition I wanted, and they sold for more than I was interested in paying. I was able to get in on the bidding of one new 5' box blade but was outbid by $10. I was unwilling to bid any higher than the maximum I had decided on, but in hindsight I wish I had kept bidding. The plows all sold for more than I willing to pay, as did the boom pole, which, to my surprise, sold for half of the cost of a new one.

Even though I left my first auction empty handed, I feel it was well worth the time investment. I learned quit a bit about the process, and determined that I would need to adjust my expectations if I was going to make a purchase as the next auction.

I went into the Brodhead auction with the same list as before. I did, however, decide that i was willing to bid a bit more than before, especially for a nice box blade. It was cold and snowy the day of the auction, so I was optimistic that the weather would work in my favor. I would guess that there were maybe half as many bidders at this event, but that may have had as much to do with the size and location of the venue as the weather. There weren't as many lots up for auction as in London, but there were several plows, three or four box blades, and four boom poles.

Like the previous auction, the plows all sold for more than I was willing to pay. It has become clear that I need to either adjust the price I am willing to pay, or consider a double plow, which seems to be more popular and easier to find than a single plow.

Two of the boom poles were made from square tubing, rather than the round that I had been looking at. I knew the square would be stronger, so I was willing to pay twice as much for one of those. The first one sold for just over my limit, but was in a lot with one other item, so I reasoned that I should be able to pick the other square one up for somewhat cheaper. To my surprise, however, it sold for quite a bite more. I bid $25 over my limit, but was unwilling to go any higher and it sold for $40 more than my set price. I missed the bidding on one of the round boom poles, as I hadn't seen it in my initial inspection of the items. The other sold for even more than the one the previous weekend, so i didn't even bother putting in a bid.

The first few box blades that sold were older 6' models, that were missing some, or in one case all, of their teeth. After seeing some blades at the previous auction sale with missing teeth I had checked the prices for replacements, and found the price to be enough to significantly impact what I was willing to pay for an incomplete item. Those sold for more than I was willing to pay, which I suspect may be because the 6' blades are more popular than the 5' blade.

The box blade I was most interested in was one of the very last items to be sold. Fortunately it was with sight of the truck, so I was able to sit in the truck for some time and warm up. The day had started out cold, but it had gotten colder as the auction progressed, so I was glad to get a bit of a break. Even though I was sitting in a cold truck, as I didn't want to waste fuel by starting it up, it was quite a bit warmer than being out in the open. As the auctioneer neared the box blade, I found a prominent place near it, so I would have a good position for bidding.

The initial limit I had set for a box blade was $250. After seeing the prices others had sold for, and checking the prices online for the particular model I had bid on it London, which happened to be the same one I was going to bid on in Broadhead, I adjusted my limit. I was ready to spend $300 on the blade, and was willing to consider spending as much as $400. After waiting around all day in the cold I was determined to not walk away empty handed again. In the end I was able to buy the box blade with a bid of $325. After adding the 5% buyer's fee I spent $341.25, which I was pleased with. The blade had no missing parts, and was in very good condition. It had clearly been used very little. It would cost $650 to buy a brand new one like it, and at least $500 to buy a different brand.

I will certainly be returning to the auctions again next year. I'm not sure what I will be trying to buy then, but am confident that my experience this year will increase my chances of a successful buy. Aside from the actual purchase, attending both auctions only cost me the gas I burned to get there, and the $2.00 I spent on nachos at the Broadhead event. Even if I had walked away empty handed, I learned enough to make the investment well worth it.


We've had an eventful weekend. On Saturday I attended another farm equipment auction. It was cold and snowy, but was worth it, as I was able to pick up a tractor implement I was wanting. After the sale I drove into London, to buy a boom pole, which I wasn't able to get at the auction, to use for unloading the box blade I bought at the auction.

On Sunday we went to Lexington to attend the Kentucky Crafted Market, which was a fair featuring several Kentucky artists and artisans. At first it seemed that we weren't going to buy anything other than food, but ended up picking up a few additional items before leaving the fair.

After making it back home Andrea helped me unload the box blade from the truck. Like most projects, it turned out to be more work than anticipated. The boom pole was a big help, but I clearly need more experience with using it. I had everything adjusted so that I could life it and have Andrea drive the truck out from under it. Unfortunately, however, I was not able to lower it all the way to the ground. I'll know to plan for that the next time I use it.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Using Urine as a Foliar Fertilizer

During the Choosing Organic Fertilizer and Building Soil Fertility workshop at the 2012 Mother Earth News Fair the topic of using urine as a foliar fertilizer came up. A gentleman in the audience said that he had been using diluted urine as a fertilizer and had been producing prize winning crops with his method. This was intriguing to me, especially since I sometimes collect urine to add to the compost. He indicated that he saved urine during the winter, and then mixed with water to dilute and applied to his crops in the spring and summer.

Initially I planned to use the same approach, and begin collecting and storing urine at least a couple of months before I would need it. I was planning to look for a container to use for urine storage when we last visited the Lexington Container Company. As I gave it more thought, however, I determined that storing two months of urine would likely be overkill, at least for our relatively small garden. I produce a lot of urine, and even though I don't know the exact quantities, I'm confident in saying that collecting for two months would result in  excess of 20 gallons. Based on the suggested dilution ratio of 20:1, that would be enough to create 400 gallons of foliar spray, which I suspect is way more than we'd use. For this reason I've decided to use more of a real-time collection strategy.

I use a 4-gallon plastic jug for urine collection. It has a nice airtight lid, which seems to prevent the normal stale urine smell, which I understand is the result of  a reaction with oxygen. I haven't been collecting lately, but once the gardening season starts I will resume collecting urine. When I want to mix a foliar spray I will have fairly fresh urine available, and will then apply the rest to the compost. I will probably only use a dilution ration of 10:1, rather than the suggested 20:1, since my urine tends to be quite dilute anyway due to the large amount of water that I drink. I will buy a garden sprayer to use specifically for this purpose, and will mix the urine and water directly in the sprayer tank.

The suggested foliar feeding frequency that I've seen is twice per week, so that is likely the schedule that I will use. I plan to use the spray on peppers and tomatoes, at the very least, but will likely apply to other crops as well. I haven't decided yet if I'll apply to every plant, or leave some as a control in order to gauge the impact of the spray. Having a control would be idea, as would keeping detailed records, but I'm not sure how diligent I would be with record keeping.

Before beginning my experiment I should probably re-read Liquid Gold: The Lore and Logic of Using Urine to Grow Plants. I read it a few years ago, but could certainly use a refresher. I'll try to get to it before Spring, and do a book review once I do.