Category Archives: Homestead

Autumn

Autumn or Fall as some people refer to it is one of my favorite times of the year.  To me it is like the Earth taking in a deep breath just before a long slumber.

Even in a person
most times indifferent
to things around him
they waken feelings
the first winds of autumn

Saigyo

 

Everyone feels the pull of Autumn.   Plants and trees make their final push to grow, dig deep, and get ready for a long sleep.  They then blanket the ground with their leaves, knowing that they will help them survive and produce for another year.

Autumn is a time for reflection, and a time for thanksgiving.   It is a time to look back over the year, applaud your accomplishments, and to learn from your mistakes.  It is a time to reflect on what worked on the farm or in the garden, and what did not work.  A time to make goals and plans for the next planting season.  It is also a time to slow down, to enjoy, and rest.  Autumn issues in winter, and winter is a time when the Earth sleeps, and gets ready for the wakening of Spring, and the hard labor of Summer.

I enjoy Autumn, the change changes in the color, the changes in the weather.  It is the time of preparation for the next planting season.

I hope that everyone will allow some time in the next few weeks to look at the Earth, what it has given us this year, and be thankful for its bounty.   And to also reflect on next year, and what we will do with the partnership we have with it and nature.

liddy

Front Yard Spring

998130_10151736568511584_589948297_nThis is one of the views you get when you travel the roads that lead to our little piece of heaven.  To get to our farm, you have to drive on a gravel road.  Being isolated like that gives has advantages and disadvantages.  This year has been the year of replacements.  We have replaced our water heaters, air conditioner, furnace and who knows what will happen next.

When I got home from work on Monday, I noticed that there was a nice sized puddle at the end of the driveway.  I did not think much about it at first, but then after noticing it again a little later I started to ask what caused it.  We had rain the night before, but not enough to have generated that puddle.  So I asked if the kids had been playing with the hose, etc.  After eliminated everything that could of caused it, my oldest said, “Dad, come look at this.”  We walked out and she showed me a little spot in the puddle that had water bubbling up from the ground.

I am like YEAH, we have discovered a new spring.  Maybe it will be high in salt content so we can start harvesting our own salt. (Like what Eustace does in S5:E15 of Mountain Men).  Or we now have a way to water the livestock without having to use city water to do so.  But of course, the new found spring was related to the higher water bills, low water pressure, and the noise the pipes in the house would make on occasion.   We had a main water line leak.  From what I could tell, the water line between the house, and the city water meter had sprung a leak, and had finally saturated the ground so much that it had stated to surface.  And of course, the leak was coming from under the concrete portion of the drive way.  I just wanted to sit down a cry, a repair like that can be very expensive.

So I called a friend of mine to see what he would suggest we do.  This friend owns a company called Mr. and Mrs. Handyman.  Jeramiah has helped us with a few projects in the past (Finding the Septic Tank, Installing the Wood Stove, New Bathroom, and the list goes on), and I figured I could pick his brain for a minute to see what he would do.  Within 20 minutes he showed up with his mini-x and we started digging to see what was going on.  (He had just finished up with another client, and had replaced their waterline, so he had everything he needed already loaded.)

14444776_10154612486261584_549593418792284411_oYup, we found that the water leak was coming from under the driveway, so we then went to work on the side closest to the house.

14358845_10154612563171584_6850956663760246985_nIn a few hours, we had both ends of the driveway excavated down to the pipe and knew what needed to be done the next morning.

14470487_10209336788369839_8300368970339853482_nJeramiah showed up early in the morning and the work really started.   We wanted to avoid digging up the driveway, so Jeramiah came up with the idea of using a connector and hooking the old water line to the new water line, and then pulling the old water line from under the driveway and keep pulling so that the new water line replaced it.  It worked well, we were able to pull the new line under the driveway without having to cut any concrete.

We then dug the trench from the driveway to the meter box by the street through our gravel driveway.  Hooked the new line up to the house, and the meter, turn on the water, looked for leaks.  And verified that the meter showed no new usage (after everything refiled in the house).   At that point, we started to back fill the trench, and compact it in layers as we backfilled.

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You can see Tom having a fun time playing in the dirt, and watching as the trench was dug.

14440671_10154614468796584_1457433882002849893_nAfter everything was said and done, we had 80 feet of new water line ran, and the driveway was now usable again.

I am just very grateful that we found it now, and now during the winter.  I am also very grateful for my friends, and their willingness and ability to help do things like that.  If you EVER need a handyman, I suggest you contact Jeramiah and see if he can help you out.  Our house has given him the ability to try a few firsts.  Like extending the neck of a septic tank that the home builder buried under 8 feet of dirt, to pulling a new water line under a driveway without having to cut the driveway.

Beans

I almost always plant a lot of green beans, they seems to grow well under any circumstance, and it seemed like this season it would be the same. Except it isn’t. Everything seemed to start off well, the beans popped right up and got big and strong at first, then they stalled a bit, and started to look a bit poorly. I got an organic fertilizer, and some of them perked up a bit, but not all and not for long.

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I love the look of pole beans in the garden, the vertical towers add dimension and depth.

A few weeks ago they looked big enough to start staking and a few started their journey up, but as you can see in the photo, they aren’t very lush and look a bit, sad.
IMG_6705The green beans were planted in one of the two beds that we didn’t sheet mulch.  We didn’t have time to get it done before planting season and I figured that since they were such a hardy and easy-going plant that they’d do just fine with a little manure raked in.  I was wrong.  I think they might be jealous of their neighbors, who are planted in several inches of good compost and mulched heavily with bark and leaves.  Who knew green beans could be such divas?

In reality, I think 4 seasons of planting have taken every bit of fertility the land could possibly give and she had nothing more. In the next week I plan on taking out half of the pole beans and giving the land a nice layer of compost and bunny manure and then I will plant some short season bush beans for a good fall crop.  The other half I will leave, they seem to be doing a bit better and I hope to still have towers of green in my garden.

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buds just starting on my purple bush beans.

 

Goats on Pasture

The Goats are almost three months old now and fully weaned, its time they go to pasture and be trained on the line.
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Part of the purpose of our goats is weed control and sustainable grazing. Grazing animals can be very destructive to the land if their grazing isn’t focused and managed.  On the flip side, land that isn’t grazed by herbivores will become over grown and unhealthy, quickly pulling more from the soil then adding back.  They synergy between the grasslands and its herbivores is slowly becoming recognized and honored.
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When a herbivore eats the grass the roots of the grass die back a little, leaving organic matter and open channels in the soil for beneficial microbes to feast on and water to run down.  Then there is a flush of new grown, invigorating the grass, making it stronger and producing more roots to break up the soil and provide for those microbes I love so much.  In turn the herbivore leaves its manure, full of nutrients and seeds to further bless the land.  A pasture can be easily over grazed, if animals are kept on it continually with out a rest period, it becomes distressed and can’t sustain new growth. That is where management comes in.  We no longer have vast prairies with massive herds of buffalo and birds doing the job, we now have to facilitate the process, by using rotational grazing and letting the pasture rest in between grazing.
IMG_6694Here on our farm we don’t have vast pastures, we have small meadows and paddocks, but that same principle applies, just on a smaller scale.  We set the goats out daily to graze, watching carefully so as not to over tax the land and then move our animals so the plot can rest and rejuvenate, making it more fertile and productive.

Planting Permaculture Style

One of the hallmarks of permaculture is using deep mulch to build fertility, slow down weed growth and preserve moisture. We’ve spent many hours gathering yard waste, chipping and shredding it and spreading it in the garden beds. In some of the beds we already had plants growing, in those beds we piled the mulch around the seedlings. But in other beds, that hadn’t been planted yet we covered the entire thing.
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Which makes things a little different come planting time.  In the past it was fairly straight forward, hoe a little row, sprinkle seeds, cover and water.  Done.  Simple.

When using deep mulching the trick is to get the seeds in the soil, to dig past all the mulch to the actual dirt.  People do this two different ways, some people dig down, and some people dig a little hole or row and fill it with compost for the seeds to grow in. I used the “dig down” method.  Having ten 50×4 foot beds to plant, that is a lot of compost to haul around and add!
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Using a hoe I dug down, a good six to eight inches to reach the soil for my little seeds.  I was amazed at the difference in the soil already, after only having prepared the beds a few months ago.  It makes me excited, I am looking forward to seeing how great the soil will be next year and the next!

Building our own soil, building our fertility, growing food for our family and for others, making the world beautiful and productive all the while honoring the natural systems that have been here from the beginning.  That is the goal of Quail Run Farm and one of our greatest labors of love.
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Goats

Guest Post by
Kit 

On May 28, we had some new additions to the farm, three little baby goats. At only a month old, they had never been away from their mother, we had to become their moms. First we named them, we took a family vote. We all decided on Dolly for the girl, she is the most stubborn, and she gets her way. We have to hold her the most and get her used to us handling her because we will be milking her in the future. Then there is Jeb, he is the one with big black patches on him, he has the biggest horns and just likes to play. Lastly we have the runt, Jethro, he looks just like Dolly, but he is the littlest and just likes to be around us.

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Dolly the little girl

They totally depend on us just like they had with their mother. So we had to get them used to us so they thought of us as family, and they would trust us so we can feed and milk them. We got them and we just played with them, all the little kids were holding them. They really loved all the attention. we got little harnesses for them, so we can let them graze and can control where they go. Then we showed them their house and the yard they would stay in and graze.

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Jed learning how to use a bottle

Because we are their “moms” we have to feed them just like their mother did. It was hard to get them to take the bottle, we had to get them to open their mouths and to actually stay drinking it. It was very messy. When we first started they would hardly have anything, and they needed three ounces each feeding, three times a day. Now that they have been with us for a week and a half, they have figured it all out. We got special goat bottles that are more like what they are used to so it got easier.
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Now we just hold the bottle out and they come and know how it all works, they even follow us when we have the bottle. That’s how we get them back into the yard now, just hold out a bottle and they will go where you want them to. Dolly took the longest to figure it out, and she wasn’t eating as much as her brothers, or what she needed to at all. She just figured it all out today, things have to happen when she wants them to or not at all.
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The first night we had them, they got out! lucky they didn’t want to explore, and just went to the house. we fixed the gate so they can’t get out anymore. one day we went out for their feeding and Jethro had his head stuck in the gate. Who knows what other surprises will happen with them. One thing the goats really like is to be held, one time Dolly was sitting on my lap and she fell asleep. First day we got them, Jethro let me hold him like a baby.
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It’s really cool and funny to see how much personality they each have. Jethro really likes to nibble on our clothes, fingers, and even hair, if he can get to it. Dolly always plays “king of the hill” (or in this case log, rocks, or even our backs if we are bending over) she can pretty much climb everywhere and beats her brothers at it. Jeb is just there, he kinda does his own thing but he is the first to get the bottle when ever he can just pushes Jethro out of the way.
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Fencing

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One of our “fences”

Before we bought this property, three years ago, it had been sorely neglected and abused.  There were piles and piles of old construction waste piled all around the house and down in the pastures, old dilapidated sheds and the fencing was an array of hodge-podge materials and poor patching. Over the last three summers we have been steadily cleaning things up, making a dent in the garbage, hauling it off or organizing it to be re-purposed. Its a daunting job and we still have years of work ahead of us and about a zillion trips to the dump.
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IMG_6159In preparation for adding a small herd of goats to the farm this spring we had to replace some of the worse fencing along the property line. It is something we had been planning for the last three years, but fencing is a lot of work and can be rather expensive, however keeping goats where they need to be required that we finally get to that fence.
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This Saturday was fencing day, my brother came to lend us a hand.  As you can see he was a lot of help…. The men watched on as our fourteen year old daughter dug all the fence posts.  We are teaching them to work, right?
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After my little sassy pants daughter got all the holes dug and the fence posts in (yes she actually did all that, with supervision from her father, and they were actually building a shed for the goats so they weren’t slacking as much as it looks in the pictures) the men ran wire and stretched it tight, wiring it in place. The goat pen is ready for those little babies in a few weeks.

The difference is amazing, it makes me excited for when we get all the fencing cleaned up and replaced.

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Soil Types

soilSoil is defined as the top layer of Earth that allows the growth of plants.  All areas have a different soil horizon, and that profile will change over time, and can contain all of the different types of soil discussed in this article.  You can find out what your soil horizon is by digging a hole in the ground and then observer the cross sections in that hole.

Permaculture is not about changing one type of soil to another type of soil, but is about creating a top layer of soil, in your soil horizon, that plants will thrive in without having to change the underlying soil profile.  BUT, it is very important to know what the soil type is that you are building your permaculture soil on.  The underlying soil type will effect the temperature, water drainage, water retention, and the depth of your plants roots.  Typing your soil can be very complicated.  You will hear people classify soil by color, weight, and other measurements.  I hope that this article helps in clarifying some of the different types of soil, and terminology used.  Over time as you build your permaculture top layer, the underlying soil horizon will change.  It will take years, but eventually the changes  you make on the top layer will percolate down to the lower layers of the soil horizon.  That is a great side effect of doing permaculture gardening, but it is not the ultimate goal.

According to the Unified Soil Classification system (USCS) there are 5 different types of soils.  They include Gravel, Sand, Silt, Clay and Organic.  But I would like to add an additional type, and that is of Peat.  There are different grades of those types (poorly graded, well-graded, high plasticity, and low plasticity), but I will leave that for another post.

 

GRAVEL

Gravel is composed of rock fragments.  These fragments can be in a lot of different sizes.  It is pretty easy to identify gravel.  There is really not a good test to verify it is gravel besides the look and texture.  Because gravel has an inferior ability to retain moisture, nutrients, plant life in gravel soil is more sparse.  One advantage to a gravel soil is that it does have a very high water drainage rate, so it can be good for plants that need a dryer root system.  But it also does not retain nutrients.

 

SAND

Sand is more granular than gravel is, and is comprised of finely divided rock particles.  It is finer than gravel, but is coarser than silt.  Water drains rapidly, and also does not store nutrients for plants very efficiently.  The nutrients are carried away usually to quickly for plants to be able to use them.  You can test to see if your soil is sand by picking some slightly wet sand up.  If you try to create a ball with it, it will not form one, will leave particles on your hands, and crumbles easily in your fingers.

 

SILT

Silt is finer than sand, but not as fine as clay.  Silt is fine enough that it may also be found in suspension in bodies of water.  Silt is usually what makes rivers, and lakes have a dirty look to them.  When silt is wet, it will have a slippery feel, but when it dries, it will have a floury feel.  Silt drains poorly, and is usually cooler than sand.

 

CLAY

Clay has the smallest particles.  Clay can be easily molded in your fingers when wet, but when it dries, it becomes hard or brittle.  If clay is wet, it forms into balls easily if rolled in your fingers, and feels sticky.  Clay soil is cold, and takes time to warm, because it does hold moisture well.  Clay also stores nutrients well.  The downside is that when clay becomes dry, it becomes very hard and plants have a hard time growing in dry clay.

 

ORGANIC

Organic soil is soil that is primarily made up of matter composed of organic compounds.   It usually contains the remains of plans, animals, and their waste products.  Organic soil is usually created by the organic matter being broken down by bacterial or fungal action.  Soil holds water, and nutrients, giving plants the capacity for growth.

 

PEAT

Some people classify peat with organic soil, but I feel it is in a class all of its own, because of how unique it is in its formation.  It only forms in peatlands, bogs, and mires.  Peat if rolled will not form a ball.  It is spongy to touch and will release water if squeezed.  Peat can be added to the other types of soil to increase its ability to retain water and nutrients.

So, which soil is the best?

The answer to this question is all of them in a mix.  When you have some of all of the soil types mixed, you get what is called Loam.  usually the composition is 40%-40%-20% (sand-silt-clay).  The best type of soil to plant in is loam with the inclusion of organic matter.  This way you get the best combination of draining, nutrients and moisture.  But because it is almost impossible to create loam, permaculture may be the answer.  It is impractical to create loam on a large scale in most environments.  Loam is ideal for starting plants that then can be moved to your permaculture garden.

Loam is considered ideal for gardening and agricultural uses because it retains nutrients well and retains water while still allowing excess water to drain away. A soil dominated by one or two of the three particle size groups can behave like loam if it has a strong granular structure, promoted by a high content of organic matter. However, a soil that meets the textural definition of loam can lose its characteristic desirable qualities when it is compacted, depleted of organic matter, or has clay dispersed throughout its fine-earth fraction.

Loam is found in a majority of successful farms in regions around the world known for their fertile land.  Loam soil feels soft and crumbly and is easy to work over a wide range of moisture conditions. [Source]

Besides doing the ball test, as motioned in the different soil types, you can do jar test.  The jar test is explained at the end of this document: Soil Types and Testing.  It will help you find where your soil fits, if it is sandy, clay, or loam soil.

Below is a video that explains loam a little better, with details on how to mix it.

 

Other Factors

Soil color can also tell you a lot about the soil, dark soils have high organic matter, aeration, available nitrogen, fertility, and a low erosion factor.  Moderately dark soils have medium organic matter, erosion factor, aeration, available nitrogen and fertility.  Light soils have low organic matter, aeration, available nitrogen, fertility and a high erosion factor. [Source]

Soil Temperature also has a lot to do with growing plants, and the type of soil you have under your permaculture can effect that as well.  For the fastest growth, you want to try to keep your soil temperature at 65-70 degrees F.  Above or 85 degrees and below 40 degrees you have no growth, and little to no bacteria or fungi activity.

References:

The Little Sisters

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The little sisters have finally graduted to a larger yard.  The chicken tractor had become too small for them and they needed to be able to stretch their legs and wings, but they are still too small to be with the older ladies.
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While our chickens free range 99% of the time, they do have a yard that we can pen them up in if we need to.  For example, sometimes they decided that it would be fun to lay eggs in other places and go broody on me, when that happens they will be locked up in their yard for a couple days while they remember what the nest boxes are for.  The chicken yard is divided in half with a little coop at one end, that way was can isolate a chicken if needed or keep groups seprate.
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The little sisters are in this area.  I don’t love that they are there, the ground is very bare and has been picked clean so they aren’t getting green food right now and I like my chickens to be free to eat green food and bugs, its healthier for them, but for now this is what they have.
IMG_6073In a week or so I will introduce them to their older sisters during the day and they enjoy free ranging over the meadows and fields, doing what chickens do best.