End of Summer Sustainable Homesteading Update

End of Summer Sustainable Homesteading Update

This is an End of Summer Sustainable Homesteading Update showing the status of the garden and farm in Romney, WV.  This post includes updates on the sheet mulched garden, the drought, and harvesting grapes and apples.

The Garden

Earlier this year I sheet mulched my garden and planted close to eighty perennial plants.  In between the perennials I added annual plants just to fill the space until the perennials get larger.  Both annuals and perennials have taken off this year and produced greatly.  I have picked hundreds of tomatoes and I’m now getting some cucumber and squash that are starting to ripen.  In the near future, I’ll be harvesting watermelon, which is one of my favorite fruits.

End of Summer Sustainable Homesteading Update

End of Summer Sustainable Homesteading Update

The video at the bottom of this post shows some of my plants.  These include sea kale, hardy rosemary, artichoke, and many different types of mint.  I also show amaranth and the seed head that will provide a gluten free grain later this fall.

Harvesting Butternut Squash

I have dozens of butternut squash in the back part of the garden.  The way you tell when butternut is ready to harvest is via the lines at the top of the squash.  As they are actively growing, the lines are green.  When it is done growing and ready for harvest, the lines turn brown.  You want your fruit to be hard and a solid tan color.  When you do harvest them, make sure you leave at least two inches of the stem on the fruit so that the fruit won’t rot during winter storage.

Harvesting Watermelon

I have at least a dozen watermelons that are growing in the garden. Some are huge and some are just starting out.  The way to tell if watermelon is ripe on the vine is to look at the tendril that is growing right at the stem of the fruit you want to pick.  The tendril is green when the watermelon is still growing.  When the vine stops sending nutrient to the watermelon meaning that it has stopped growing, the tendril will turn yellow and then brown.  The rind of the watermelon will turn dull and the bottom of the watermelon, where it touches the ground, will turn from white to a slight yellow color.  Now it’s time to pick that bad boy and slice it up.

End of Summer Sustainable Homesteading Update

End of Summer Sustainable Homesteading Update

That’s a huge Comfrey

My comfrey plant started out in April as a one-inch root cutting.  I simply put the root in the ground and now it is 3 feet tall and around.  This shows how fertile the ground is as well as how fast comfrey grows.

End of Summer Sustainable Homesteading Update

End of Summer Sustainable Homesteading Update

Grape Harvest

And what is an end of summer sustainable homesteading update without a grape harvest.  My buddy Russ, who was out at the farm this weekend, went next door and harvested a bag of Concord grapes.  The outer skins are sweet as candy and the inner fruit is as sour as a sour patch candy.  They are awesome!

Apple Harvest

I have had apples that have been ripening since the fourth of July weekend.  The first ones to ripen were the yellow apples, followed by some green apples.  I now have a couple of varieties of red apples that are ripening.  I will have apples on various trees until almost Halloween.

Drought is in Full Swing

We are in the middle of a drought that has been going on for over a month now.  While southern West Virginia has been hit with flooding, all the rain has been avoiding northern West Virginia.  The trees I put in last year are not looking to good at all and I actually had to water them this weekend.  I do not like doing that in the second year of a tree, but I’m afraid I’m going to lose quite a few if I don’t water them.

End of Summer Sustainable Homesteading Update

End of Summer Sustainable Homesteading Update

More Wood Chips

End of Summer Sustainable Homesteading Update

End of Summer Sustainable Homesteading Update

Obviously I’m a gluten for punishment.  I saw some tree trimmers in the area the other day and had them dump 10 yards of wood chips in my driveway.  I’ll spread those out around the flower beds and should be done with mulching around the residence for the next year or two.  Thank goodness the mulch lasts for more than one year if you put it down thick.

End of Summer Sustainable Homesteading Update

End of Summer Sustainable Homesteading Update

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Epi055 Great Escape Farms Podcast

Epi055 Great Escape Farms Podcast

This post covers Epi055 Great Escape Farms Podcast – The Week in Review, Troubleshooting NNT Trailer Wiring Issues, New Zealand White Clover – Another Permaculture Wonder Plant, and Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond Volume 1 2nd Edition Book Review.

Great Escape Farms Podcast

Great Escape Farms Podcast

Great Escape Podcast is an audio version of the blog posts from Great Escape Farms, Specializing in Unique Edible Plants, Permaculture Gardens, and Homesteading. The blog posts can be viewed at GreatEscapeFarms.com.

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Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond Volume 1 2nd Edition Book Review

Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond Volume 1 2nd Edition Book Review

This post is a Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond Volume 1 2nd Edition Book Review. I spent the last week reading, digesting, and learning new concepts in this 280-page rainwater-harvesting manual. The book is written by author Brad Lancaster who not only wrote the book, but lived it and tells his story in chapter 5.

The Volumes

This post covers volume 1. I have volume 2 and will do another post on it in the near future. Volume 3 is due out in January of 2017 and I will purchase it and do a review on that volume after it is released.

Volume 1 is an introduction to water harvesting and lays the foundation on why you would want to harvest water and how to do it at a high level.

Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond Volume 1 2nd Edition

Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond Volume 1 2nd Edition

Volume 2 covers rainwater-harvesting earthworks. I am very anxious to dig into this volume.

Volume 3 covers roof catchment and cistern systems. Again, I’m anxious to check this volume out as I have put in several roof catchment systems and would like to see if there are any improvements I can do to my systems.

Introduction Chapter

The introduction chapter gives a good overview on why people would want to harvest rainwater and it delves into how much water we waste and how unsustainable our water practices are in the US.

Chapter 1

Chapter 1 lays the foundation for many of the practices covered throughout the rest of volume 1 and probably volume 2 and 3 as well. It talks about a trip that the author took to Africa and a man he met in Zimbabwe named Zephaniah Phiri Maseko. Mr. Phiri has a story of starting water harvesting in his African town and how he eventually was teaching his neighbors how to properly harvest water. This chapter goes over many concepts and lessons learned.

Chapter 2

Chapter 2 gets into figuring out where your watersheds are and helps you figure out how to make a site plan and map of your subject property. There are several useful equations in this chapter, like calculating rainfall volumes and runoff volumes. They also discuss the use of grey water. Here they also introduce the “One-Page Place Assessment” form, which helps you gather all of the as-is information you need on one page.

Chapter 3

Chapter 3 covers harvesting water with earthworks and tanks. I learned a great deal in this chapter on earthworks. Things like berm’n basin, French drain, and infiltration basin. They also show some of the ways to hook up grey water systems. There are well over a dozen different solutions in this chapter and it is a chapter I would recommend anyone interested in water harvesting should read.

Chapter 4

Chapter 4 is titled Integrated Design and goes into other aspects of water harvesting like sun, wind, and site and building situation. They go into shade and shadows and how all of this helps with water harvesting.

Chapter 5

Chapter 5 covers the author’s experiences with water harvesting. It includes real life experiences on his first house, a real fixer-upper, and what he and his brother learned from this experience. This chapter kind of ties all of the earlier chapters together in a real world example.

Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond Volume 1 2nd Edition

Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond Volume 1 2nd Edition

Appendixes

Almost half of the book is an appendix. Appendix 1 covers patterns of water and sediment flow. Appendix 2 covers water-harvesting traditions in the desert southwest. Appendix 3 is a collection of water-harvesting calculations and is a great resource that I’m sure I’ll go back to many times over. Appendix 4 is a plant list and their water requirements, but the plants are desert plants, so probably wouldn’t apply most. Appendix 5 has a number of worksheets to help you put your design together.

Appendix 6 covers resources for furthering your education on water harvesting. Appendix 7 goes into sun angles and path and helps you figure out what you need to know for your site and how to get the information. Appendix 8 does the same for wind. Appendix 9 goes green on us, and talks about the true cost of water and water energy.

References

Throughout the book they have numbers near many different statements they make. These numbers correlate back to the references chapter and this shows where they got the information from and provides you with a source to delve deeper into a subject if you choose.

My Thoughts

I thought this book was awesome if for no other reason than just for chapter 3 and appendix 3. I enjoyed the rest of the book, but most of that information is covered at some level in a permaculture design course.

Chapter 3 goes into many different ways to harvest water that I had never even thought of. It covers many new concepts and I’m anxious to start planning out my next property and implementing these strategies.

Appendix 3 has quite a few calculations that would be very useful and I imagine would be hard to find. Now that I own the book, I know exactly where to go if I need to make a calculation dealing with water.

I would give this book a buy rating and I’m very happy that it is in my library now.

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New Zealand White Clover – Another Permaculture Wonder Plant

New Zealand White Clover – Another Permaculture Wonder Plant

This post, New Zealand White Clover – Another Permaculture Wonder Plant, talks about the many aspects of this amazing plant. It has shallow roots to hold loose soil together, deep taproots to loosen soil down deep and create carbon pathways, fixes nitrogen, and spreads as a groundcover to keep weeds at bay.

My Plant

I put some down in my lawn last spring and some of it reseeded into my driveway. As I was weeding the driveway I noticed how difficult it was to pull up because it had such a dense root system. I did have one plant, pictured below, that did come up with a good bit of the root system. As you can see from the picture the root system is quite extensive.

New Zealand White Clover – Another Permaculture Wonder Plant

New Zealand White Clover – Another Permaculture Wonder Plant

If you look close at the picture you can also see nodules on the roots. These are bacteria that are working in symbiosis with the clover. The clover gives the bacteria nitrogen and the bacteria gives the clover nutrients that it needs. Because of this process we call white clover a nitrogen fixing plant.

The nitrogen stays in the bacteria nodule for the most part unless we intervene. If we cut the clover with a lawn mower, it will self prune some of its roots. Any of the roots that it self prunes that has these bacteria nodules on them will be release into the soil and available to anything that wants it. So when we cut this clover it is like organically fertilizing the plants around it. This makes the case to plant this ground cover around plants that you want, like fruit bushes and trees.

The picture below shows the area that I was weeding.

New Zealand White Clover – Another Permaculture Wonder Plant

New Zealand White Clover – Another Permaculture Wonder Plant

Tread on Me

Once New Zealand white clover is established, it can handle a great deal of foot traffic and even some heavy machinery like tractors.

Roots

It has roots that generally stay in the top eight inches of soil but does have a few taproots that go down as far as forty inches.

It grows thick and acts as living mulch. It can grow so thick that it can choke out weeds trying to compete for space and sunlight.

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Troubleshooting NNT Trailer Wiring Issues

Troubleshooting NNT Trailer Wiring Issues

In this post I show you how I go about Troubleshooting NNT Trailer Wiring Issues, find the problems, and repair them. In most cases the problem is really not wiring, but poor connections by the lights themselves.

But Wait…. Is this Homesteading?

Troubleshooting NNT Trailer Wiring Issues

Troubleshooting NNT Trailer Wiring Issues

While some may say that Troubleshooting NNT trailer wiring issues is not homesteading, I think that keeping your tools working properly is absolutely homesteading. If you can fix your tools yourself and keep them well maintained, it will save you a lot of money that you can use elsewhere on the homestead.

The Problem

I hooked the trailer up the other day to go pick up a load of mulch. I check the lighting every time I hook my trailer up so I can save a little money by not getting a traffic ticket. When I checked the lights this time, the right side park lights were not working.  I knew that I had to get to troubleshooting NNT trailer wiring issues.

Checking the Lights

The way I check the lights is to turn on the park lights and the hazard lights. If both the hazard and park lights work than that means that the brake lights will work as well. After you have the hazard and park lights on, simply walk around the trailer and make sure the lights work. You should have a yellow light that is steady on in the front of the trailer on each side and a red light facing out that is steady on in the back of the trailer on each side. As you walk to the rear of the trailer and are facing the front, you should see a light that is steady on in each lens as well as another light that is blinking brighter. If you don’t see this, you need to do some repairs.

Remove the Lens

The first step is to remove power to the trailer either by turning everything off in the vehicle that would make a light come on or by disconnecting the wiring harness. You do this so you don’t short stuff out and blow fuses.

The next step is to remove the red plastic lens by unscrewing and removing the four screws holding it on. The screws are small, so make sure you don’t drop them. I usually put the lens face down and put the screws in the lens until I need them again and then put the lens aside.

Remove the Light

Now you have access to the light and can remove it. Remove the light by twisting it counter clockwise and pushing in while you are twisting. It may take a little work of pushing and pulling while twisting to get it out.

Look into the Light

Now look at the light and make sure both filaments are there. While looking at the light from the top you should see two wires (filaments) going from side to side. They should not have a burned look to them. If they do or if one of the filaments is missing, you need a new light. Usually if a light is bad it is fairly obvious. In every case that I have had light issues it has not been the light itself that was the culprit.

Metal Slats

There are two metal slats in the back of the light socket that the light bulb connects up against to get electric. Their job is to bend in and out when you push the light bulb in and out while supplying electric to the light. They sometimes bend in a little too much and do not make good contact with the light itself. If that is happening to you or if you think it is happening, you can remove the slats, straighten them out a little and put them back in place.

To remove the slats, you need to remove a small screw at the bottom of the slat that is holding it in. Once the screw is removed you can maneuver the slat out with a pair of needle nose pliers.

The first step is to clean any corrosion off of the slats where the light makes contact with the slat. Just simply scratch any corrosion off with a screwdriver. Then bend the slat so it is straight and put it back into the assembly. Once in place, put the screw in that holds the slat down.

Remember there are two slats, so repeat this process for the other slat.

Electric Post for your Slats

Another place that things can go wrong is connectivity to the metal post. There are wires coming in from the back as you are looking into the light fixture. The wires are connected to posts. You can actually jiggle the wires a little and see the posts move inside the assembly. You need to make sure that the slats are wedged firmly against the posts. If there is any corrosion, try to clean it up as best as you can so there is good contact.

Putting the Lights In

After you have cleaned all corrosion and straightened the slats you can put the light bulb back in. When looking at the light bulb, take note that it has two posts and the posts are at different levels on the light bulb. One post is closer to the electrical connection and one post is closer to the bulb. If you look into the socket, you’ll notice that the socket has a place for the post to sit and there are different levels in the socket itself. You will need to match these up in order to get the light in.

Once you know which post rests where in the socket, then you want to put the light into the socket. First you have to line the posts up with the groves in the socket so you can push the light in. Then you push the light into the socket and turn the light so the posts sit on the post holder in the socket.

Test the system

At this point I hook electric back up and test the system. Test the system the same way you did earlier in the section called ‘Checking the Lights’ above. If you still have issues, you need to make some more adjustments by following the above steps.

If you have repeated the steps and still don’t have working lights, you may need to get a multi-meter and test for opens or shorts in the wiring. That will be a subject for another post, maybe Troubleshooting NNT Trailer Wiring Issues Advanced.

Lens On

If the lighting system now works, you can put the lens back on. Take the four screws and put them in you hand, put the lens on the trailer and use the four screws to secure the lens.

The Video

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Epi054 Great Escape Farms Podcast

Epi054 Great Escape Farms Podcast

This post covers Epi054 Great Escape Farms Podcast – The Week in Review, Harvesting Elderberry, Propagating Aronia Viking, Free Mulch – Free Tree Trimmer Wood Chips.

Great Escape Farms Podcast

Great Escape Farms Podcast

Great Escape Podcast is an audio version of the blog posts from Great Escape Farms, Specializing in Unique Edible Plants, Permaculture Gardens, and Homesteading. The blog posts can be viewed at GreatEscapeFarms.com.

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Great Escape Farms Podcast

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Free Mulch – Free Tree Trimmer Wood Chips

Free Mulch – Free Tree Trimmer Wood Chips

This post talks about how to get free piles of wood chips also known as free mulch.  These are the chips from the tree companies when they are taking down a tree and mulching up the smaller branches and trees.

Free Mulch

I now have two free loads of mulch sitting in my driveway.  One of the loads came from my own yard!  I had a tree die over the winter and just had it taken out.  When the tree trimmers were done, I asked them to leave the mulch that they had in the back of the truck as a result of grinding the tree.

Later that same week a neighbor was having a dead tree taken out and I asked for and received that much as well.  The second load of mulch was much better chipped than the first load.  The first load had a dull blade on the trimmer, so the chips were much larger and there were a number of branches that were not chipped at all.

Free Mulch

Free Mulch

But What Does Mulch Do?

Mulch helps keep the roots of plants cool and moist which will reduce the amount of watering we have to do to keep the plants alive.  It also keeps down the amount of weeds competing for nutrients.  It also is an inviting environment for soil microbes, fungi, and worms.  Eventually the mulch will break down and become compost thereby feeding the plants.

Where do I get Free Mulch?

As I did, you can ask a tree cutter to leave the wood chips if they are working on your place.  You can also seek them out when you hear the wind of the tree trimmers grinding machine.  In most cases they are more than happy to give them to you because they usually have to pay to dump their loads at the landfill.  There is also a website: http://chipdrop.in where you can sign up to receive a load.  I have not had much luck with this website at my rural farm.  Most people in a suburban area have pretty good luck with this web site.

How to Load the mulch…?

I use to use a pitchfork and a rake.  But I have found that a snow shovel works well on my blacktop driveway.  You can also use a flat head shovel.  I like the snow shovel because I can get a lot more than other implements. Just scoop what you want and put it in a wheelbarrow for transport.  Out at the farm I use a lawn cart behind my 4×4.

If the mulch has been sitting around for a while or has been through a couple of rains, you may need to loosen the pile up.  I do that with a flat shovel, loosen the pile, then I go back to the snow shovel.

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Propagating Aronia Viking also called Viking Aronia

Propagating Aronia Viking also called Viking Aronia

This video shows the process of Propagating Aronia Viking using softwood cuttings and a mist irrigation system. The process involves taking cuttings during the summer, dipping the cutting in rooting hormone, and putting the cutting into a soil that drains very well.  Then you mist the leaves every five to ten minutes during daylight hours.

A Little About Aronia

Propagating Aronia Viking

Propagating Aronia Viking

The Latin name is Aronia melanocarpa and it has a nickname of choke berry because it is so astringent that it makes you want to choke.  It is a member of the rose family and is a deciduous cold hardy shrub, which is hardy from zone 8 down to zone 3.  It is a native to eastern North America.

In late May it has fragrant flowers giving way to fruit that matures in August.  The fruit is edible, but is very astringent.  Aronia is self-fertile and is pollinated by bees.  The Viking variety is a little shorter than some other aronia, only growing 3 to 6 feet high.

Propagating Aronia Viking is very easy and I have had about a 95% success rate.

To Start Do This….

To start, pick the right time of year and the right wood.  Aronia does good with softwood and semi-softwood cuttings.  These are cuttings that are taken from this year’s new growth in mid to late summer where the wood snaps when bent.

Next

Then you cut the branches down so they have two to four internodes.  These are any place a branch or leaf comes out.  I usually go with three or four.  You then leave two leafs at the top and remove the bottom leafs.  If the leaves are large, cut them in half so they do not transpire too much and dry out.

Propagating Aronia Viking1

Propagating Aronia Viking

Now the Hormones

You now dip the bottoms of the cuttings in rooting hormone.  I use dip and grow liquid hormone because I only need the one product and I can mix it as strong as I like.  You use more solution on harder wood and less on softer wood.  Powder rooting hormone will work, but you may need to get several different products for different concentrations.

Into the Ground

Now it is time to put the cuttings into the ground.  Push them into your planting medium about two inches down.  Your planting medium should be something that drains freely and easily.  You do not want to saturate the soil where disease and pathogens will proliferate.

Propagating Aronia Viking

Propagating Aronia Viking

Mist Me

These little cuttings will die if the dry out.  You don’t want to soak the ground, but you do want to keep the leaves wet.  The best way to do this is with a mist irrigation system that automatically comes on.  I use the Galcon 8056 and have it programmed for 10 seconds on and 5 minutes off.  This runs all day, but shuts totally off from 9 PM until 6 AM.

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Harvesting Elderberry

Harvesting Elderberry

This Harvesting Elderberry post shows you how to harvest elderberries off of the bush and then how to remove the stems and green berries and then clean the berries.  We also go into labeling your bags before freezing.  There is a video at the bottom of this post that shows the entire harvesting elderberry process.

Mid-August Harvest

Harvesting Elderberry

Harvesting Elderberry

It is mid-August and two of my four elderberry plants have fruit that is ready to harvest.  The clumps of fruit are as big around as my hand. The American and John’s elderberry cultivars are ready, but the Nova and Adams cultivars still have a few weeks to go.  I usually process my elderberries all at once, so what I’m going to do now is just harvest them, clean them and freeze them so I can process them later in the fall or early winter.

Cutting the Clumps

Harvesting Elderberry Clumps

Harvesting Elderberry Clumps

The way I go about harvesting elderberry is to cut the entire clump off of the bush.  Then I look at them and pull any bugs off the clumps and put them into a bowl.  I do this for each clump that is ripe.  If only have the berries are ripe in a clump, I will leave the clump on the bush for another week.

Berry Picking

After I have all of the clumps cut and bugs removed, I bring them into the kitchen for individual berry picking.  I have tried several methods, to include freezing them.  Nothing really seems to work that spectacular.  About the best way is to use a comb that has a large space between the bristles and just comb through the elderberry clump.  I comb them into a colander.

Harvesting Elderberry - The Berries

Harvesting Elderberry – The Berries

Clean the Pile

At this point you need to remove any debris that has fallen into the colander that is not berries.  This may include a few more bugs, dried berries, or leaves.  You also need to remove any green berries as they can make you sick.

Harvesting Elderberry - Debris Removed

Harvesting Elderberry – Debris Removed

You’ll want to remove as many of the little stems as possible.  Whether you use a comb or hand pick the berries off of the elderberry clumps, you will inevitably end up with small stems in the colander with the berries.  This process is the most time consuming part of harvesting elderberry.  Like the green berries, the stems can make you sick.

Wash the Berries

The next step is to wash the berries.  Since they are already in a colander, you can just run some cold water over them.  After the are washed, I lay out some paper towels on the counter, pour the berries on top, and then dry the berries.

Package and Freeze

Harvesting Elderberry - Package and Freeze

Harvesting Elderberry – Package and Freeze

After they berries have been wiped dry, I put them in a large clear bag, and then put them in the freezer.  One-gallon zip-lock bags work great.  Don’t forget to label the bag with what is in the bag and the date that you put them in the freezer.  The labeling will help a lot if you get multiple bags of different fruit in the freezer.

But Wait, I’m in a Hurry!

If you are in a hurry and don’t have time to do this entire process, then you can modify the process.  Right after you have picked the berries and pulled any bugs off, you can put them in a clear plastic bag.  I usually use a clear trash bag.  After I have the berries in the bag, I then label the bag with the berry type and the date.  Then I toss the bag into the freezer so I can pick and clean them later.  This saves a lot of time now, but at some point you will still have to do all of the picking and cleaning talked about above.

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Epi053 Great Escape Farms Podcast

Epi053 Great Escape Farms Podcast

This post covers Epi053 Great Escape Farms Podcast – The Week in Review, Trimming Comfrey for Mulch, Sheet Mulch Perennial Garden Update, WV Department of Agriculture Nursery Inspection.

Great Escape Farms Podcast

Great Escape Farms Podcast

Great Escape Podcast is an audio version of the blog posts from Great Escape Farms, Specializing in Unique Edible Plants, Permaculture Gardens, and Homesteading. The blog posts can be viewed at GreatEscapeFarms.com.

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Great Escape Farms Podcast

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