Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Pike Valley Farm Tour

This past weekend Andrea and I attended a tour of Pike Valley Farm, near Lancaster, KY.  We had previously visited the farm a couple of times, to purchase ground beef and/or chicken. I was excited to be able to take a tour, though, and see how they raise the animals.

We were a few minutes late, but fortunately were not the only ones, so didn't miss out on anything. After a brief welcome and introduction, during which time we learned that the gentleman now running the farm worked for a time on Joel Salatin's Polyface Farms, we walked to the nearby chicken tractor. There really wasn't much new for us to see here, as we're already familiar with this approach to raising chickens.

After seeing the chickens we were directed to our transport. Most of the crowd loaded onto a  utility trailer, where bales of straw were stacked to make seating. We rode in the bed of the truck, which was also full.

Our next stop was to see the pastured pigs. It was my first time seeing pigs, other than from my childhood when my Dad would sometimes raise one in confinement. The pigs are rotated through paddocks, at regular intervals, so that they clear one area, and then are moved to another. It was explained that the pigs greatly improve the pasture, and that they will often follow them, once the pasture has grown back, with cattle.

After the pigs we loaded back up and headed to the cattle paddocks. The farm has both beef and dairy cattle, the latter of which is part of their herd share program, which provides a legal means for participants to receive raw milk. After explaining a bit about the rotational grazing used for the cattle, a move from one paddock to another was demonstrated. It was quite impressive, as all that was required was a couple of calls, to get the attention of the cattle, then they eagerly moved into the adjacent, now open, paddock where fresh grass awaited. I always imagine cattle grazing huge pastures, of couple inch high grass. In their system, however, the paddocks are sized based on what the herd of 120 cattle will eat in one day, and then they are moved into the next. The vegetation in the new paddock was three to four feet high, but they apparently don't mind.

After seeing the cattle we next moved to a nice shady area and saw the rabbits, of which the farm only produces a few. We finished the tour up here, with a question and answer session. Afterwards, an optional lunch was provided, as well as the opportunity to purchase farm products. We weren't interested in what they had to off lunch, and are currently considering another option for our beef and chicken, so didn't buy anything.

I found the tour to be very enjoyable, and informative as well. I like the methods used on the farm, and am wondering if rotational grazing might be worth considering when we do venture into small livestock. I am not a fan, however, of electrified fencing, but it seems that almost everyone uses it.

Monday, August 26, 2013


Today was a fairly productive day. I picked a couple more ears of corn for lunch, bringing my total for the year so far all the way up to six. After work, it was pretty hot out, so I decided to wait until it cooled off to do much of anything. While waiting we drove into town to get propane for the grill, so we could have pizza for dinner. Once we were back home I finished hauling the grass clippings over to the garden and spreading them. I was able to get one section completely covered in a fairly thick layer of mulch.

Andrea spent much of the day in the kitchen. She initially started because she wanted sun sunflower seed bread on hand to start eating for breakfast. While she was at it, though, she decided to make up pizza crusts to freeze.

Sunday, August 25, 2013


I was able to spend most of Friday evening outside working. I got the lawn sweeper out, and collected grass clippings from the recently mowed from yard. While I was at it I also collected some clippings from along the side of the road, because the highway department had mowed fairly recently. Once this was finished I started hauling the clippings to the garden, and spread them over an area with nothing planted. I didn't get to finish, because I had to move onto the next task before dark, but I think the clippings I have might be enough for what I need.

I stopped mulching to get the truck ready for grocery shopping the next day. This involved loading our large storage container into the bed of the truck, during which I discovered a wasp nest that I had to deal with. Fortunately I didn't get stung, although I'm really not sure why. I also loaded a couple of coolers into the bed of the truck and strapped everything down. Andrea helped to clean out the cab of the truck. By the time we finished it was nearly dark, and I needed to do some things inside.

We got up early Saturday morning, got dressed, gathered a few things, and drove out to town for breakfast. The last time we were there for dinner the lady mentioned that she hadn't seen us at breakfast in a while and urged us to come back in, so we thought we'd oblige. After breakfast we headed to Lancaster, for a tour of Pike Valley Farm. We were actually a few minutes late getting there, but thankfully others were too, so we didn't miss the start of the tour.

After the farm tour, we drove on into Nicholasville and stopped by the Lexington Container Company. We looked around, but only bought the one item we had gone after, a 3.5 gallon pail with Gamma Seal lid. We plan to keep the pail in the kitchen, and empty cooking water and water used to clean vegetables into it. This will allow us to add that water to the compost. I don't normally add moisture to the compost, other than urine, but I like the idea of adding the water from the kitchen since it contains starches and bits of organic matter that would otherwise go to waste.

We grabbed lunch after leaving the container store, then went to Good Foods Market to stock up on groceries. This past weekend was one of the quarterly Owner Discount Days Events, so we received a discount on our purchase. We had also special ordered a few items in full case quantities, on which we received a further discount.

We made a few more stops after Good Foods, including dropping by to visit a friend for  a few minutes. It was nearly dark by the time we made it back home, and was completely dark by the time I had the truck unloaded. Needless to say, we didn't accomplish anything else on Saturday.

We both woke today not feeling well. Both my allergies and acid reflux were bothering me, which makes me think that maybe I forgot to take my medicine on Saturday. I napped around the first part of the day, and as just generally lazy. Up in the day we rode over to the garden, so I could take out the compost and Andrea could pick tomatoes. While there I picked a couple ears of corn that had been damaged by pests. I didn't do much else the rest of the day, but Andrea accomplished some tasks inside.

Thursday, August 22, 2013


It has been a somewhat productive few days since I last posted a daily update. On Tuesday I worked from the office in London as normal, although that is going to be changing back to Wednesday. Our final Gardening 101 class was scheduled for Tuesday evening, but was cancelled at the last minute due to an illness. I still didn't do anything when I got home from the office, though.

On Wednesday the forecast was calling for rain, and it was raining all around us, so I let that prevent me from going out to do anything. I don't think it ever ended up raining here. Sometimes I think I would be better off not even checking the weather forecast.

Unlike the past couple of days, today was productive. At lunch I went over to the garden and picked a couple ears of corn. These were much fuller than the one I had picked last week. So far I'm very pleased with the way the corn has turned out, although I realize that I can't judge the crop by the first three years. I went back out immediately after work and hauled off the debris from when I trimmed tree limbs recently. I had been meaning to do that anyway, but today had no choice since I was getting ready to mow. After finishing that I mowed the front yard, which was badly in need of it. It was nearly dark by the time I finished. While mowing I did come to the realization that I'm going to have to work on the brakes on the 4-wheeler. They have been sticking for a while, but today it was bad enough to impact my ability to mow.

Andrea and I both also worked today on putting together a big book order. One of the publisher's, Chelsea Green, that we order from often has a huge sale going on right now. Between the two of us we ended up ordering more than 20 books. I'll certainly have no shortage of material to read.

Book Review - The Weekend Homesteader

I recently finished reading The Weekend Homesteader: A Twelve-Month Guide to Self-Sufficiency by Anna Hess. The book takes an interesting approach by organizing the material into projects by month. Each chapter is also available as its own e-book, but I found that it is best to own the book in its entirety, so that other chapters can be referenced as needed.

While Anna has several e-books available, including Trailersteading, in which Andrea and I were profiled, this was her first, and so far only, print book. I have read a lot of books by new authors, or those with only a couple of books published, and was impressed by this one. Since I was already familiar with Anna's writing style, through her e-books as well as her blog, I knew I would enjoy the writing. What I did not expect, however, was the quality of the book itself. Starting with the front cover the book is filled with photos, and has a quality feel to it. I applaud Anna for starting out right by going with a publisher that gave her book the treatment it deserved.

Even though the book is organized by month, with each chapter describing projects to tackle during that time of year, I recommend reading the book in its entirety the first time through. Anna will often reference back to things she discussed earlier in the book, which could be confusing for anyone who picks the book up in, say August, like I did, and started by reading just that chapter. I also found that some of the material did not always fit into the month into which it was grouped. In July, for example, is a section on Fall Planting. Garlic is included in the list of things to plant for fall, and while Anna does mention that garlic can be planted later in the fall than most other crops, I found it odd to be reading about it in the July chapter when it would likely not be planted until late October or early November. Also, the book is written based on the author's experiences with the climate in which she lives, which I believe is a zone 6a or 6b, or possibly a 7a. I live in a similar climate, so doing most of the projects in the months she suggests makes sense here, but those in a significantly different zone will likely need to adjust accordingly. Reading through the entire book will make those adjustments easier.

For the most part the projects in the book can be grouped into three categories, doing, planning, and thinking. The "doing" projects include things like constructing a rain barrel, planting a fruit tree, or roasting a chicken. The "planning" projects include things such as planning your summer garden, budgeting, and setting homestead goal. The "thinking" category includes tasks such as calculating your "real" hourly wage and being conscience of how the media affects you. While I didn't do any of the projects as I read, I believe that the "thinking" projects would have yielded very insightful results, and may very well go back and do those later.

One thing that amazed me about this book is the level of detail that Anna was able to give about the projects that she included. Most books with such a broad focus provide only summary information on any given topic. While covering a broad range of topics, however, this book keeps a narrow focus on each, which allows for much better coverage of each topic. In the section on growing your own mushrooms, for example, she limits the discussion to two types of mushrooms, which allows her to give enough details in fifteen pages for a reader to tackle the project with sufficient information to be successful.

This is one of those rare books that both starts and ends with statements that have stuck with me. The first made me smile, while the latter made me think.

In the introduction, while explaining what homesteading is, Anna says "Remember the back-to-the-land movement of the sixties and seventies? Homesteading is the same thing... without the drugs and free love". When I first read this, I thought, with a smile, that while I could do without the drugs, I wouldn't mind seeing a bit of that free love in the modern homesteading movement.

In the last chapter, titled "Learn to enjoy what you've got", while describing some of the emotional challenges that can come with the isolation common with homesteading, Anna makes a deeply philosophical statement; "In the end, you take yourself with you on the homesteading adventure, and if you're not happy with who you are, you really might be better off working a full-time job and sedating yourself with television in the evenings." While she could have ended that statement in a number of ways, it is the first part that really has the impact, at least to me. Perhaps being happy with oneself is the most important part of homesteading, or really in any venture, for that matter.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

2013 Kentucky Woodland Owners Short Course Program - East

This past weekend Andrea and I attended the 2013 Kentucky Woodland Owners Short Course Program - East. I am very glad that we discovered the event, as it was exactly the type of thing we needed to get us started down the path to actively managing our woodlot. The stated goals of the program are to provide educational opportunities to woodland owners, encourage sustainable woodlot management, and raise awareness of the critical role played by private woodland owners to the management of Kentucky's forests. The program is in its eighth year, which was evident by how well organized it was. 

The Eastern Kentucky event was held at the Lewis County Cooperative Extension Office in Vanceburg. A similar event was held the previous week in Daviess county (Western Kentucky) and one for Fayette County (Central Kentucky) is scheduled for next month. We would like to be able to attend the Central Kentucky event, but will be unable to do so due to other plans.

The workshops were divided into two tracks, the Green Track, for beginners, and the Gold Track, for more experienced woodlot owners. Andrea and I attended the Green Track, since we know very little about the topic.

After a round of introductions the day began with what they called the Woodland Games, which was a quiz to see what participants already knew. I was very surprised to learn that 43% of participants already had a written Forest Management Plan.

After the woodland games were wrapped up we were divided into groups based on the track we were attending. Gold track participants were transported to a nearby tree farm for the field portion of the day, while the rest of us remained in the classroom. The first workshop for the green track was Tree Identification, taught by Doug McLaren of the University of Kentucky Department of Forestry. We were taught how to properly use a dichotomous key for tree identification, which I found very helpful. I had attempted this several times in the past, but now realize that the part I was missing was using the buds, rather than the leaves, to identify the arrangement. 

The next speaker was Zak Danks, an NRCS Liaison Biologist. He talked about several programs available through NRCS which provide either grants or cost-sharing for help with woodlot management. I think it is something for us to look into. He suggested getting a Forest Management Plan from both a forester and biologist, which I think is a great idea. The most surprising thing I learned, however, is that Kentucky State Law requires anyone owning ten acres of land or more who practices either agriculture or silviculture, the practice of managing a woodlot, to have a Water Quality Management plan, which is something we do not currently have. 

The last subject before lunch was about forest pests, specifically those that are causing widespread damage. The primary focus was on the Emerald Ash Borer and Hemlock Woody Adelgid, the latter of which is of greater concern to me because we have several large Hemlocks on our property. 

When it came time for lunch I was expecting sandwiches, which seems to be the norm for events that provide lunch. I was very surprised when they uncovered "real" food, fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, and rolls. They even served the food on glass plates and had real silverware available. Dessert, in the form of ice cream, was also provided.

After lunch, those of us in the green track loaded into vans to head to the tree farm. A gentleman by the name of Philip Traxler welcomed us onto his farm, and showed us some of the ways in which he uses wood harvested from his lot. Mr Traxler is a wood worker, and showed us some beautiful pieces he was working on. We were also shown his kiln, and he talked a bit about the increased price that the kiln allowed him to get from the lumber he sold. Next we went to another section of his property, to the recently completed cabin which is being used both as a showroom for his wood working and will also be available for rent.

From the cabin we took a short walk in the woods to an area where crop tree release was currently being practiced. It was nice to see how much better the areas looked where the smaller and less desirable trees had been removed. The folks from the Kentucky Department of Forestry explained that the process is not only only beneficial from a timber growth perspective, but also for the forest animals, which is one of our priorities. We were shown a method of dropping trees, called hack and squirt, which relied on an herbicide to kill the tree rather than cutting it with a saw. Andrea and I both agreed that we have zero interest in introducing chemical pesticides of any kind into our woodlot, but it was educational to see the process demonstrated.

After returning to the classroom, we were combined with the gold track participants for the last workshop of the day, Timber Harvesting and Sales. This was led by Jeff Stringer of the University of Kentucky Department of Forestry, with a couple of guest speakers, one a consulting forester and the other an industry forester. One thing that I took away from this segment was the benefit of having a forester help with a timber sale. Since the Kentucky Department of Forestry does not handle timber sales, we will likely use them for developing the management plan, then contract with a consulting forester when it comes time to do a timber harvest in the future.

I am very glad that we attended this WOSC event. It was eye opening for both Andrea and myself, and will certainly help us get started down the path of more actively managing our woodlot. Even with a fairly long drive, three hours each way, I consider the event to be a great value and well worth the time investment. We will likely attend another WOSC event next year, and regret not being able to attend the Central Kentucky event next month.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Concrete Block Jungle Gym for Cats

A while back Andrea had the brilliant idea of stacking concrete blocks to make a jungle gym for the kittens to play in/on. I had some extra blocks on hand, that will eventually be used for the remaining rain barrels, so one day I decided to grab four of them and see how well her idea would work.

I began by placing one block on its side, then placed another next to it, so that the holes aligned. Next I placed another block, also on its side, on top of the bottom layer, positioned perpendicular to them. Finally I stood the last block up on its end, turned so that the top hole aligned with one of the holes in the block on that second level.

The kittens ignored the structure for a while, then began to occasionally sniff around it. Eventually they discovered that it made a fun place to play, or a cool place to sleep. At times all four of them would be on the blocks, or inside the holes. Some of them like to hide in the holes, then reach out and swat the tails of the others when they pass.

I considered adding to the structure once the kittens grew a bit, but never got around to it. It would have been simple to add more height, and longer tunnels by adding blocks. Really, the options are only limited by your imagination, and the quantity of blocks you have available.

The best part about this project is that it was put together with materials I already on hand. Not only that, but once the kittens finish with it, I can still use the blocks for their intended use. Even if I had purchased new blocks to build this, it would have cost less than $6. I enjoyed watching the kittens playing on it enough to easily justify that expense.

For those of you who enjoy pictures to illustrate blog posts, I decided to link to a couple this time. Here is one of Lilly looking out from one of the holes. This one is of Lilly walking around on top of the structure, with Tiger getting ready to climb up.

Monday, August 19, 2013


Today was somewhat productive. I took the string trimmer over to the garden this evening and cut the buckwheat we had planted as a summer cover crop. While I had it over there I also mowed a section of the garden we never planted in anything, and then mowed around the compost pile and the stack of pallets that are waiting to be turned into a compost bin.

While mowing around the pallets I scared up a snake, which I later verified was Copperhead. It quickly slithered beneath the pallets, and I didn't see it again. I know that a lot of people would have tried to get to it to kill it, but I prefer to just give snakes their space and let them fill their role in the ecosystem.

After seeing the Copperhead, I saw a large hornets nest. Luckily I spotted it while I was still 10' or more from it, so never disturbed the hornets. The nest was near the ground, and was partially obscured by weeds, but it appeared to be at least the size of a basketball. The nest is not in an area I plan to clear this year, so I should be able to wait until winter to deal with it.

While I was mowing Andrea walked over. She was collected seeds from Jewel Weed and looking for St John's Wort plants. While I finished mowing she harvested a few tomatoes, and our first pepper of the season, a Long Red Cayenne. When I finished mowing we went for a ride to look for St John's Wort.

Sunday, August 18, 2013


I felt like today was very unproductive, but as I started thinking about what to include in the update I realized that it was more productive than I thought. I think its the fact that I didn't go out and tackle a project that made me feel unproductive.

It was raining this morning, so even though I woke up fairly early I didn't go out. Instead I spent a few hours finishing the typing of Andrea's notes from the Field to Fork Festival. After lunch I decided to start working on prepping some of the garlic to be preserved.  As I explained in Garlic Growing Results - 2013 some of the garlic was unsuitable for long term storage, due to thin papers, misformed bulbs, etc. I spent a few hours peeling the garlic, and sorting it based on which preservation method I planned to use. The garlic I was able to peel without cutting at all went into jars to be preserved using the  pickled-lite method I learned from Enon Valley Garlic. The rest sat aside to be sliced and dehydrated.

After dinner we rode over to the garden to check on things and pick some tomatoes. They are starting to ripen more quickly now. The corn is also starting to fill out nicely. I'm trying to be patient, and give it plenty of time to mature before picking another ear, but I don't want to let it get over-ripe. I'll probably try another ear later in the week.

Before coming back home we decided to try out some of the tree identification tips we learned at the Woodland Owners Short Course Program yesterday. There were a couple of trees that we were unable to ID, but most we could at least narrow down to the general type (maple, oak, etc) if not down to the specific variety.

Saturday, August 17, 2013


After working from the office for three days this week it was nice to get back to normal and be able to work from home the rest of the week.

On Thursday evening we ran out to town to pick up a few groceries, including some distilled water which I need for a new method I plan to try for preserving garlic. I also filled up my gas cans, since I'm out, and need to mow soon. When we got back I took some measurements of the driveway, so I could figure out how many gravel I need to order, which I plan to do soon. I really didn't know how long the driveway is. It turns out that the driveway itself is 350' long, plus a 342 square foot parking area and 980 square foot turning area, once I do the planned expansion. I also want to go ahead and get enough gravel for the floor of the shed I plan to build in the next month or two. I ran some calculations online, and then talked to my Dad. He thinks I'll need much less than the calculations show, so I may start with one load, and see how far it goes, then decide if I need to get another or not.

On Friday I was very excited to get to harvest the first ear of corn from our garden. This is our first ear growing corn, and its a big deal to me. Both because I love corn, and also because its a more demanding crop than some others. The ear that I harvested could have used a bit more time to develop, but it was pretty good and delicious. After work Andrea and I went back to the garden and harvested tomatoes. They are really starting to ripen now, and we harvested around thirty this time. We spent the rest of the evening getting ready for a trip, and got in bed early because we had to be up very early on Saturday.

On Saturday we got up early, 5:00 AM, and drove the three hours to Vanceburg, in Northeast Kentucky, to attend one of the 2013 Woodland Owners Short Course Program events. I'll be doing a post about the event once I have a chance to review my notes. On the way hope we stopped for some dinner and ran into a farm supply store. While there I spotted a Fiskars Brush Axe on clearance, and decided to pick it up as a spare. I suspect that mine will be getting much more use in the near future as we work on removing invasive plants from our woods.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


I've been working a lot this week, so haven't really done much else. Instead of going into the office once this week, like normal, I've gone all three days so far. Fortunately we've made a lot of progress on the project I was working on, so I can get back to working from home for the remainder of the week.

Andrea has also been tied up most of the week. She's been out of town for a couple of days helping her mom attend to some family matters. This has given me the opportunity to have a couple of tv-free evenings, which has been very nice.

Garlic Growing Results - 2013

Now that the garlic has been harvested, cured, cleaned, and sorted, I thought I'd share the results. This was our third year growing garlic, and I can definitely see the improvements that have come with gaining experience. I did a much better job of record keeping this year, which makes it easier to gauge our success. Overall I'm very happy with the yield, and think that we're on the right track.

In Garlic Planting - 2012 I gave the details of both the preparation and planting of the garlic, so will not repeat all of that information here. I do, however, think it is worth summarizing, for those readers who do not wish to read the earlier post. I planted the garlic on November 6th, which was later than I had wanted, but still plenty early enough. The garlic was planted in a bed that had been amended with compost, that I then tilled into the soil. After planting I mulched with a thick layer of straw.

I planted five varieties of garlic this year: Korean Red, Tochliavri, Inchelium Red, Polish White, and Silver Rose. I also planted some garlic seed, which I had purchased on a whim. I had hoped that it would provide me with some green garlic early in the season, but this didn't really work out as planned. I think that I'll stick with planting cloves in the future.

During the spring I harvested a few Korean Red as green garlic. A couple of times this was because it needed thinning, and once it was done accidentally while weeding. On June 6th, exactly seven months after the initial planting, I harvested my first scapes of the season. I was surprised to find, on July 1st, that the Silver Rose, a softneck, had developed scapes as well. I was happy to have more to harvest, since I had discovered the joys of garlic scape pesto following the previous harvest.

On July 2nd I harvested the Polish White, which in hindsight, I believe was too early. The other varieties were harvested about a week and a half later, and looked much better. After curing on the front porch for four weeks I cleaned and sorted the bulbs, and placed them into long term storage in early August.

Results by Variety

Korean Red: The Korean Red was, by far, the best performer. I planted 30 cloves (7.1 oz) and harvested 23 (aside from those harvested green), which weighed a combined 34 ounces. The leaves were a dark green all season, and the stalks were nice and thick. The bulbs were mostly medium to large, and produced the most long term storers. I sat 7 of the 23 aside for planting stock for next year, 6 went into long term storage, and the remaining 10 will either be used right away, or will be processed in some other way. The fact that Korean Red not only performed so well, but is also a hardneck that produces scape guarantee it a spot in the garden next year.

Tochliavri: This is my third year planting Tochliavri, but I'm just not seeing the results I would like. I only planted 8 cloves (2.1 oz), and harvested 6 bulbs (11.1oz). I sat one aside for planting stock, and the remaining will be eaten soon or processed. I'm hoping that maybe results will improve with acclimation to this area, otherwise I will likely not plant this variety again after next year.

Inchelium Red: The Inchelium Red performed moderately well. I planted 13 cloves (2.3 oz) and harvested 10 (10 oz). A couple of the bulbs were nicely sized, but were nothing spectacular. I chose one bulb to be saved as planting stock, placed 4 into long term storage, and will eat or process the other 5.

Polish White: As mentioned above, I may have harvested the Polish White too early. I planted 31 (4.1 oz), but only harvested 13 (12.1 oz). Six bulbs went into long term storage, and the other 7 were set aside for short term use. I did not save anything for planting stock, since the variety performed so poorly.

Silver Rose: The Silver Rose performed better than the Polish White, but not quite as well as the others. The bulbs were small to medium sized, but were overall nice. I planted 17 cloves (2 oz) and harvested 15 (10.1 oz), which was a better yield rate than the other varieties. Perhaps with a bit of acclimation the size of the bulbs can be improved. I sat a couple of bulbs aside for planting stock, put 6 into long term storage, and the remaining 7 will be used or processed in the near future.

The overall yield rate was 67.68%, with Polish White being the lowest at 41.94% and Silver Rose the highest at 88.24%. The others were around 75%. Last year I estimated a 90% yield, which seems exceptionally high compared to this year. The yield, in weight, averaged 4.39 times what was planted. Again, Polish White was the lowest, at 2.95 times. Tochliavri was actually the highest, with a weight of 5.28 times what was planted. The others were in the 4-5 times range.

I still have a lot to learn to get to where I want to be with my garlic growing abilities. However, the results show that I am improving, which is the goal. This is the first year that I've produced anything I felt was suitable to save as planting stock, which I am very excited about. I will be planting even more garlic next year, and am anticipating improved yields, large bulbs, and more candidates for long term storage.

Saturday, August 10, 2013


It has been raining a lot lately, so I haven't accomplished much. Of course it doesn't help that I haven't been feeling well, and have been stressed about trying to decide whether we should buy a piece of property adjacent to ours.

Since it was raining today we decided to go to London. Our first stop was the farmer's market. We didn't buy anything, but did spend several minutes chatting with Ford from Sustainable Acres Farm, which is the only USDA certified organic far in the county, and one of the few in the area. I look forward to going out and visiting his farm sometime, since his methods will be much more in line with what Andrea and I are trying to do than the other local farms we have visited.

While in London we also did a bit of shopping. I bought a PVC connector at the home improvement store to see if it would work for the overflow of the rain barrels. If it works out, I think I can pick up a few more items and finish that up.

I thought I was going to be able to get out this evening for a bit, but just before I was ready to go out it started thundering. So, instead, I brought in the garlic that was curing on the porch and trimmed, cleaned, and sorted it. I'm pretty happy with the garlic crop this year, and am very excited to be able to save some for planting stock.

Friday, August 9, 2013

DIY Treatment for Insect Stings

If you do any amount of work outside it is inevitable that you will eventually get stung by some type of insect, whether a bee or wasp or something else. I have learned to be more aware, and look for nests so that I will be less likely to disturb stinging insects. Sometimes, this isn't enough to avoid provoking them, however, and as a result I've been stung three or four times this year.

Each time I've been stung, Andrea has treated the area with a paste made from baking soda and water. I have been amazed at what a difference the paste seems to make. The pain and itching goes away within minutes, and by the next day its difficult to locate the area of the sting. I don't know the science behind why it works, but my experience tells me that it does.

There is really no magic recipe for creating the paste. Simply put a tablespoon or two of baking soda into a container, and then add a small amount of water. You want the mixture to be thick enough that it will stick to the skin, so start with just a little water and then add as necessary. Once you have a nice sticky paste, coat the area of the sting and let it sit. I tend leave the paste until it falls off on its own, but many people suggest you can scrape it off after ten to fifteen minutes.

One of the thing I love about this remedy is that it is easily made with ingredients that nearly everyone has in their own home. I often hear that claim, but then read through the ingredients list and wonder how many people actually keep those items on hand. In this case however, if you do any baking, chances are very good that you have baking soda in your pantry.

I have used the baking soda and water paste to treat stings from red wasps as well as some unidentified stings. I can't be certain, however, if the treatment works equally as well for all types of stings. It is certainly not a replacement for medical treatment for anyone known to be allergic to such stings. While the paste may still help to reduce the pain and itching, I urge you to seek medical treatment if you are allergic, or suspect that you may be. As much as I support DIY and natural remedies, I also realize that in some situations there is nothing better than modern medicine.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


I've had a mixed week so far, in terms or productivity. Monday was fairly productive, but I haven't accomplished a whole lot since then.

I was determined to get some stuff done Monday, so I spent my lunch break over at the garden. I managed to mulch most of the peppers, using grass clippings. After work I went back over and finished the mulching. Next I spread wood chips around the strawberry bed, to give us a small weed-free border.

Andrea was very productive on Monday as well. She did some more work on getting our books inventoried and organized. Once it started cooling off she worked on weeding the herb garden, and reapplying mulch to areas that needed it. She also picked another handful of tomatoes.

Tuesday was my day to go to the office. Daisy had a vet appointment, to be spayed, so I dropped her off on my way to the office. Andrea met me in town after work, for our Gardening 101 class. This time we did another farm tour. My favorite part of the tour was interacting with the Great Danes that the owners raise. They dogs were incredibly friendly, and were obviously happy to have someone love on them. After the farm tour we dropped by the home improvement store to pick up some organic fertilizer for the strawberry bed. We're hoping that by doing a bit of work this summer we can improve yields next year.

When I got home Tuesday evening I had an email from the creator of Earthineer, letting me know that the new site was ready for beta testing. I've been looking forward to this, because it allows me to use the experience gained at my job in a really positive way. Unfortunately there isn't a lot of need for volunteers to do software testing for local businesses and environmentally conscience organizations. sometimes I'm tempted to try to learn web design, just so I have a more useful skill for volunteering to help such groups out.

I wasn't feeling great today, so didn't get out to do much, aside from check on the garden and pick another handful of tomatoes. For the most part I spent the evening on the new Earthineer site, searching for problems and making suggestions. I had forgotten how much I enjoy doing that type of work, and found it hard to pull myself away. For that reason I suspect that I won't get a whole lot else done during this beta testing period, unless the weather is just incredibly nice one day. Given the option of working outside on a dreary day, or testing a website, I'll most likely choose the testing.

I also received an email reply today from Jamie Aramini of Sustainable Kentucky. I had written her previously to offer my help with planning the next Kentucky Green Living Fair. While she said that she doesn't have a planning committee, she did have a few questions for me and asked my opinion on a couple of the things that she had planned. I am very glad that there are events such as this in this area, so want to do anything I can to help make the fair a success.

Sunday, August 4, 2013


I didn't accomplish a whole lot on Saturday. We spent the morning going to and from London to pick Mari up from the vet. He is certainly doing better, although he is still limping. He was clearly feeling better than when we took, him, though, because he was very talkative and let Andrea hold him for most of the ride. Normally he doesn't like being picked up, so that was a nice change.

Neither of us felt well all day, so we mostly just stayed inside. We did make a trip over to the garden, though, and picked six tomatoes. It is looking like we should have a pretty good tomato yield this year. I definitely think its going to be good for our first attempt. I also fertilized the corn while we were over there.

We have been working on ridding the house of unneeded paper lately, so I've been trying to finish typing up all of my notes from past workshops. I continued working on this on Saturday. I'm also starting to really look forward to the Mother Earth News Fair, so I spent some time going through the current list of workshops, and making a list of those I might be interested in. I was surprised to find that the list contains more than twenty workshops. It appears that I should be able to easily fill my schedule again.

Today I was feeling better, but still spent the first part of the day much like Saturday. I continued typing up notes, and then shredded a bunch of paper. While I was doing this, Andrea was working on getting an inventory of our books. We're starting to find that we can't remember if we own certain books or not, and we wanted to solve that before going to the Mother Earth News Fair. Once it cooled down this evening I got out and tested out the mower. I mowed the strawberry patch, in preparation for getting it ready for the fall and winter. I then headed across the road, which was needing mowed badly. The last couple of times I had mowed over there the mower had messed up on me, so I hadn't completely mowed it in a couple of months. I was able to mow everything that I wanted, and was going back over the area that had been mowed most recently when I ran out of gas. I'm not ready quite yet to say the mower is fixed, but it is looking promising.

Andrea was outside applying the shredded paper to the herb garden when I got back from mowing. She had also been picking blackberries and asked me to drive her over to the garden so she could pick more. She's hoping to pick enough to make another batch of jelly this season.

While today wasn't wildly productive, it was the most productive day I had had in a while. Sometimes its hard to view projects done inside as being as productive as outside projects, but I think the projects we worked on today were important to get done. What we really need to do, though, is improve our timing so that inside projects are done when its rainy or during the winter.

Friday, August 2, 2013


I haven't posted a daily update in several days because I really haven't accomplished a whole lot recently.

Monday was my most productive day. During lunch I fertilized the corn with urine, then added what was left to the compost pile. Then, after work, I decided to work on the mower. I discovered that the nut that had been giving me problems had worked loose again, so I had Andrea help me remove it so I could apply Loctite. I then tightened it again. I think I managed to get it tighter this time than before, so I hope that along with the Loctite that will be enough to keep it from working loose again. After finishing with that I cut a few tree branches that were hanging over the driveway. I still need to cut more, but the are very hard to reach from the ground. I'm hoping to borrow a friend's pole saw to cut the rest of them.

On Tuesday Andrea rode to London with me, and took the car while I was at the office. She met her family and they went to Lexington shopping for the day. They ran a bit longer than expected, so I was left stranded at the office. I was prepared for that possibility, though, so caught up on some reading. It was nearly 7:00 by the time I left the office, and nearly dark by the time we grabbed something to eat and drove home.

It rained on Wednesday, so I didn't go out after work. On Thursday, I planned to try out the mower, but that didn't work out. Andrea took the kittens to the vet for their first checkup and shots. When she got back home with them we noticed that Mari was having trouble walking. We called the vet and after a few questions he verified that it didn't seem to be related to the shots. We decided to take him back in so they could keep and observe him, so I took off from work early and we drove back to the vet. We ran a few errands while we were out, and so I ended up not getting back home in time to really accomplish anything else.

Today I took off from work so I could take Andrea to the dentist. While she was at her appointment I ran some errands around town. I went to the lumber company to get prices on material for the shed I'm planning to build.  I also stopped by a place to get a price on the metal for the roof. While I was out I stopped at a couple of rental places to get the price on a PTO post hole auger, and then checked the price to buy one from a couple of the local farm supply stores. At this point I can't decide if I should rent or buy. 

Since getting back home I've been trying to stay close, so I can do things for her so she can rest. I did run over to check on the garden this evening. We have a few ripe tomatoes that probably need picked tomorrow. Most of the corn is over head high, and there are several ears of corn in various stages of development, the biggest of which is probably eight inches long. I'm excited about having some fresh corn soon.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Concerns About Building with Earth Rammed Tires

I have been a big fan of Earthship Biotecture for several years. In fact, it was my interest in Earthships that led to my interest in other forms of alternative construction methods, which in turn led to an interest in natural building. I own, and have read, all three volumes of Michael Reynolds' Earthship series of books. I've also had the opportunity to visit and tour the Earthship at Blue Rock Station near Columbus, Ohio.

Even as I began to explore other alternative construction methods, I maintained an interest in incorporating earth rammed tires into my plans. I even have a pile of old tires that someone in a nearby town was giving away for free. I figured that it was a good idea to go ahead and start collecting tires, since I would surely be using them in a project at some point in the future.

On the surface of things, what is not to love about the idea of building with a waste product that would likely spend years in a landfill if not put to better use? It seems like the best of both worlds, the tires are being reused, rather than going to a landfill, while at the same time preventing the need for new material to be manufactured for the building process, and saving the homeowner money.

I have began, however, to worry about the potential health and environmental impacts of using tires in this way. Like most topics, information exists to support both sides of the argument. Those who believe building with tires to be completely safe, including Michael Reynolds, say that the tires are not an off-gassing danger, and that by being packed with earth and covered in plaster they are protected from the elements that would eventually lead to decomposition and cause leaching. Those concerned with the safety of earth rammed tires, however, often point to the studies that conclude that tires should not be used in gardens or landscaping applications where edibles plants may come into contact with them. In these situations it has been shown that the tires do leach a toxin that can kill certain plants.

Personally, I don't feel there is sufficient evidence to support either case at this time. In situations such as this, where I feel the evidence does not provide a clear answer, I tend to go with my gut feeling on the subject. When it comes to building with earth rammed tires my feeling is that it is not a risk I'm willing to take. When we build our home, one of our priorities will be reducing our exposure to toxins. I find the idea of surrounding myself with a material that isn't safe to be used in a garden a bit unsettling. This does not, however, mean that I plan to abandon the use of earth rammed tires completely. I am still planning to experiment with them as a foundation for one of the small structures we plan to build. I will just likely limit this to structures that we will not be spending large amounts of time in, or that will house animals.

I would like to make it clear that I am, in no way, trying to dissuade others from building with earth rammed tires. Since I feel there isn't sufficient evidence to prove either their long term safety, or danger, I would not feel right making a recommendation to anyone else regarding this matter. The intent of this post isn't even to highlight the debate over the safety of earth rammed tires, but is simply my way of explaining my changing views on the subject. I will continue to be interested in Earthship Biotecture, and may very well attend an Earthship workshop in the future if one is ever available in my area.