Most Recent Blog Entries
BOOKS - New Direct Sales - March 26, 2017
We decided we wanted to sell our print books ourselves, giving folks the option to buy directly from us instead of from Amazon (or CreateSpace which is owned by Amazon). We have missed that personal contact with readers. So, we arranged it so we can now do that! The new update of our Books section is complete, with the addition of our own Add-to-Cart buttons (for those who want the online convenience), and a Print Order Form for mail-order sales. Check it out by clicking HERE. Any comments or suggestions on the new re-do are welcome!
GREENHOUSE - Greens & Lights Update - March 13, 2017
So how did the LED lights work out in the greenhouse, and the "regular" LED light for the herb/flower seedlings in the house (see February 5 post)? We didn't know if there would be enough light to be worthwhile to help the plants grow more and greener since these weren't "grow lights", just regular white lights. In the greenhouse they are supplements to the sunlight--turned on for a few hours morning and evenings, and during the day on cloudy days. The seedling light (just one of the regular shop lights) inside was on the plants all day, except on sunny days when the greenhouse was warm (above 50) when I'd put the little seedlings out there for some real sunshine (well, through the window sunshine).
Now, a month later--they all did great. The lettuce and greens in the GH grew faster and were the healthiest and stockiest I've ever had this time of year. We've been enjoying salads every day. And the herb and flower seedlings also did well. I just potted most of them up into their own 3" pots. I normally wouldn't try to start seeds so early because of the lack of light and the cold GH. But these got their own light and in the comfort of the warm house. Next year the GH bed will get a light bar as well and I'll be able to grow more early greens there, probably spinach which will appreciate the deeper soil. All in all, we're all happy with the project!
March 7, 2017
Or is it MAY 7? Nature is doing her best to shake up our pre-conceived notions of what the weather should be doing based on our calendar dates. It's almost like having a different month every week, or every day! It was close to 40 degrees today, with a forecast for temps near zero later this week. I don't think I'll start planting yet.
And yet another boat building project... - 3/6/2017
March 4, 2017
It was ten below this morning outside but when I went into the greenhouse to turn on the lights I was greeted by a fresh new daffodil bloom! Sunshine in the greenhouse before the sun was even up.
HAPPY MARCH! - March 1, 2017
May it be as interesting and enjoyable as this year's weather has been.
<-- the view out our kitchen window. How very nice to have snow.
HOMESTEAD - PUMP - February 27, 2017
Last week during that extended warm spell we had some days of good wind so we could pump water with our windmill. The water is pumped into a nearby 1200 gal tank (earth covered) and in the winter we can only pump when temps are above freezing, and, of course, when we have a good but not gale force winds. We fill the tank in late fall/early winter before temperatures drop and then usually a few days during winter to top it up. This year we had ample opportunity. We thought. So when it was both warm and windy we turned the windmill on and let it pump for a few days. The level in the tank was down to less than 400 gals so we were happy for the pumping weather. When we checked the water level again, expecting to have pumped at least 200 gals, we found it had added only about 20 gals. Sigh...
been here before, many, many times over our 40 years here. We knew what was
wrong, and what needed to be done. Leathers. Our pump is rather like an
oversized old fashioned
“pitcher pump” but a deep well version with leathers since our well is 105 ft deep.
We can pump it by hand but we much prefer the windmill do that job. At the
bottom of the drop pipe is a brass cylinder, and inside that runs the
leathers assembly attached to about 95 feet of 3/8” stainless steel rod in
12 ft sections. It really works very well. But we have hard water, very
tasty but full of minerals that coat the rod and eventually trickle down to
lodge in the leathers. Which spreads them out, wears them out, and can jamb
up the whole business. In this case, the main leather had worn through and
the water was simply not being pumped up to go into our tank.
WEATHER TO REMEMBER - February 23, 2017
ORCHARD - Beacon Apple - 02-17-2017
These are three of the trees we planted in 1978, when we first moved north
to our to-be homestead. We bought them from a nursery downstate along with
some other apple and pear trees. We were told they were Prairie Spy, a Univ.
of Minnesota introduction. I knew nothing of pruning and such back then and
only these three thrived, to grow into healthy large trees with little care
or attention early on, giving us a lot of very good apples over the years.
My first note of a harvest was in my canning records in 1987 with the short
but momentous "70 apples, mostly spys but some macs, good”. This may not
sound like a lot of apples from 5 trees but I’m guessing this was our very
first fruit from our small orchard.
SEWING - Bathing Suit / Skivvies - 2-14-2017
What better time to think about summer swimming than the middle of winter! At least it’s a good time to sew for that coming season. I bought fabric last spring to make a new bathing suit but the warm months definitely aren’t the time for me for anything other than quick emergency sewing or mending projects. The plans (and piles) for winter sewing/mending/altering are larger than days available so I simply pick out what most interests me, or is highest in my focus at the time. And thinking of kayaking made me think of the bathing suit that I don’t yet have. Actually, I seldom go swimming but kayaking is high on our list of “do more of” this summer and it is most certainly a water sport, as in ‘wet’. Though I hope to get my paddling technique down this summer so less of the river water ends up in my lap, appropriate clothing makes kayaking more fun. That includes being ready to slip out into the water for a swim.
Bathing suit bottom or underwear -- there’s little difference and both are
quite easy and fast to make (relatively speaking). I’ve been making my
skivvies for some time, after realizing it would be faster to make them than
alter factory made ones to fit and feel the way I like them. The most time
consuming part is coming up with and fine-tuning the pattern. You can buy a
pattern or find one online, then go from there to get your just-for-you fit.
Or simply cut apart an old bathing suit bottom or underwear that already
fits and trace out your pattern from that. That’s what I did. I like to use
brown kraft paper for patterns. It’s sturdy and holds up well to repeated
use, and adjusting.
Homestead Electronics (PanelCam: Installment #2) - 2/7/2017
GREENHOUSE - Lights! - 2-5-2017
The plants in the greenhouse love sunny days. And they are content to rest when it’s dark or cloudy. That works out fine for us if they are mature and don’t need to grow; we just harvest leaves as we want them. But by mid-winter the old plants are all harvested and the young plants are waiting for longer, brighter days to grow. This has been our in-between time of year when often the only green in our salads is chopped parsley. We’ve often talked of adding grow-lights but they have traditionally been power-hogs that wouldn’t fit into our conservative-use winter alternative energy system. Short and cloudy days mean less power for us as well as the plants. Until now...
Our house lighting is entirely LED (except for one lone compact fluorescent
holdout). Steve has been building and adding LED lights to the house since
the early days of LED lighting, when making your own lights was about the
only way to have them, and the choices were few and expensive. Forward a few
years and LED lighting is now not only readily available but popular and
inexpensive! Technology moves fast. Could we now consider adding lights to
the greenhouse? Our PV system is larger, and we truly want fresh, and
abundant, greens in our salads. So before Steve was quite done with the
Array-Cam project, he was checking out, ordering, designing, building lights
for the greenhouse.
SEWING - Replacement Work Shirt Collar - 1-20-2017
One of those easy and satisfying projects is to re-collar a work shirt for
Steve. He has his favorites and is reluctant to give those up just because
they get a little (or lot) tattered. It seems the first part to wear through
is the collar (unless the shirt goes down for some other more drastic, and
usually obvious, reason). If the shirt is in otherwise reasonable condition
I take the collar and collar band off and sew a new one on.
And there you have it -- a renewed work shirt! Now, about those cuffs...
GREENHOUSE - Calendula - 1-15-2017
Sub zero temps outside but cheery inside! When it's this cold it also (usually) means clear sunny days and beautiful brisk starry nights. The solar heating panels and south facing windows pour in the heat (in a winter moderate way) so we bank the woodstove and don't have to get it going again until the sun goes down. And the PV system is at its highest with clear sun and reflective snow. The batteries are full and we turn on small heaters to make use of the extra power. And that calendula in the greenhouse breaks out the blooms to celebrate.
Actually, the calendula has been happily blooming in the greenhouse since soon after I transplanted it from the garden in October, a rooted side shoot of a summer growing plant. It's wonderfully tolerant and is content to blossom whether it's winter or summer, inside or out, as long as its basic needs are met--sunshine, moderate moisture, no deep freezes. It thankfully does not have high demands. That's why it's one of my favorite flowers. A hardy annual it can handle some frost; is easy to grow; self sows readily; is a sturdy plant that gets along well with others. And it blooms and blooms and blooms as long as you keep the spent blossoms picked off. Though towards the end of summer you have to leave some to mature seeds so it can provide plants next year.
Mine is a common variety - Pacific Beauty Mix - nice gold/yellow blossoms. I like it. It's been self sowing in my garden for so long I've forgotten when I first planted the seed. But I noticed this year that I didn't have many plants coming up, the downside of having a very good mulch that sometimes mulches out seeds I want to grow. And I found I had neglected to harvest any seed, I was so used to it sowing itself. Now, I expect they'll be some calendula popping up somewhere next year, they don't give up that easily, but just to be sure I bought new seed. I think I'll plant a few inside right now so maybe I'll have some extra early fresh blooms in the spring. The plants I dig up from the garden do sometimes get a bit tired by late winter.
It's a little cold in the greenhouse right now, it was down to 32 degrees this morning after a ten below night, but it gets up in the low 50's during a sunny day. Everything growing out there is hardy so I don't worry about the low temps but I'll start the seed inside the house to give it a warm start. We all enjoy that sunshine when it happens but it's those cloudy days outside that the fresh green plants and bright calendula flowers growing in the greenhouse really brighten our winter days.
GREENHOUSE - Activity - 1-9-2017
Well, maybe not a lot of activity but it warmed up outside today to 20 deg. and we're supposed to have a few days of these warm temperatures (and finally some real snow showers, too!) (we only have about 8-10" right now) so I figured this was my chance to transplant the waiting lettuce seedlings into the recently cleared (by eating) flats. Not much growth is happening yet but I'd like these to be ready when the days get longer and things pick up. And it was a pleasant (relatively speaking) 47 degrees inside. So we now have 8 flats of greenhouse lettuce -- Brown Winter, Salina, Red Tinged, Diamante -- ready to grow when the conditions are right. And since we're getting down to real slim pickings with what is left of the older crop we'll be quite ready, too. It was fun to dig in the dirt again, even if in a small way.
GARDEN - Looking Forward - 1-7-2017
I enjoy looking back at last season’s garden but mostly I’m looking ahead to the coming season. What do I want to change, what do I want to do different this year? Some decisions I don’t make until I’m standing in the garden with plants or seeds in hand, looking for a good spot for this or that, or a bit of extra room for just one more whatever. But I do write out a general plan; it helps me to have an overall idea. Most of what I grow has settled in nicely based on many years of what we like, what we eat, what grows best, what works here. But there’s always room for something new. And my biggest change this coming season will be to add more flowers and herbs and to mix things up a bit. Nothing exotic, just something more for the pollinators, and for fun.
I’ve been swimming in a sea full of ideas for the orchard, adding diversity,
looking for understory ideas for the fruit trees, growing towards what some
are calling nowadays a “forest garden”. And I realized I could easily do
more of that in my vegetable garden. The two aren’t really separate, the
roughly 50 x 80 ft vegetable plot being in the middle of the orchard, with
berries in both, but on paper they are separate. And on paper my vegetable
plot is very organized. Some things even stay that way in the garden --
corn, squash, potatoes, tomatoes tend to be in their own 4 x 32 ft plots.
Except for those that end up elsewhere, leftovers when the main plot is
full. And mostly the other crops are in smaller blocks, one next to another.
It’s not that I don’t care for the companion planting idea, or ideal. It’s a
practical thing, that often has to do with frosts.
GARDEN - 2016 - 1-5-2017
A new year is here with infinite possibilities! There’s nothing quite like imagining working (playing) in the garden to warm you up on a cold winter’s evening. It may be zero degrees outside but in my mind it’s warm and sunny with green things growing all around as I look over my garden plan. What happened this past season? What worked, what didn’t, what seeds do I need to grow out this coming year, what do I need to buy? And I wonder anew at the abundant food that garden gave us. It’s always amazing but this year was over the top for some of the more heat loving crops.
Every year is different; that is one thing I can always depend on! And this
past year it was record warmth. I usually figure, roughly, a frost free
growing season from about the 2nd week in June till the first or second week
in September. This year we had a mild spring, with a last frost mid May,
then just one freeze June 7. Then we didn’t have another frost (freeze
actually) until October 9. In between was unusually warm with plenty of
rain. The corn and squash were beside themselves with joy and enthusiasm.
And the sunflowers turned into trees that I almost had to get out an axe to
cut down. The squash I grow is a relatively short season buttercup variety I
got from Kathleen Plunket-Black of Plum Creek Seeds, a long time and very
experienced seed saver in Arkansas WI. It’s rich, sweet and nutty, and I
usually get a reasonable crop with maybe half the fruit maturing before
frost. So I plant with that in mind. But this year not only did the vines
grow with abandon setting fruit right and left (thankfully along the edge of
the garden so they could sprawl out over the grass), every single one,
except for one half grown late specimen, fully matured. Wow, did we have
squash this year! I make a bit of squash soup but our favorite is to have
plain cooked squash with our luncheon salad, almost every day. We never tire
GREENHOUSE - Greens - 12-30-2016
In the winter we move to eating out of the greenhouse instead of the garden. Not only is it great to see growing green things when it is white and freezing outside, it's great to have fresh greens to eat! In the summer the greenhouse is empty of plants and is our heat loving Sasha cat's domain. But come October it comes to life once again. This is how it looked Oct. 20 when first moved in from the garden where they had been growing.
In the short days of fall and early winter there is not much growth so I start lettuce and spinach in the garden, then move the full grown plants inside when the real freezes start outside. Full grown plants of kale and parsley and others are dug and transplanted into the waist high bed along the house side of the greenhouse. This works great. I can harvest from them all winter. There most often is little growth until January when the days start getting significantly longer and there is (usually) more sun. But this year it was oddly warm and sunny in Nov. & Dec. So the lettuce in particular just kept growing. It got to be quite a jungle and there was plenty for luncheon salads. But 70 days later you can see it is getting a bit sparse. So I'm looking forward to the coming flush of January growth. In the far end are two flats of small lettuce seedlings waiting to be transplanted to the larger flats as the older plants are removed. They will be our salads later in the winter.
Homestead Electronics (PanelCam: Installment #1) - 12/27/2016
The camera will, upon request, fire up and transmit a nice clear image of the panels back to any device hooked up to our home network. Bill of materials (Specifications): - Outdoor Wi-Fi Video Camera - (9 – 12 Volts DC powered, removable antenna) - Wi-Fi Range Extender - (DC powered, removable antenna) - “Cantenna” Wi-Fi Directional Antenna – (Homemade, increases signal ~12 dB (~400%)) - DC to DC Power supplies for both camera and extender - Small Lead-Acid Battery to run the camera - Two Arduinos with Wi-Fi units configured to turn camera on/off to save battery power - Low-loss antenna cable & misc. wiring for powering all units Are we done yet? Actually, all these items are readily available on-line and not terribly expensive. The Cantenna’s main component is a tin can about 3-1/2” in diameter and 6” tall (empty). The parts are ordered, except for the ‘can’, and the fun will begin soon. To be continued!
Homestead Electronics – 12-5-2016
There are many times, in all seasons, when the sun is out bright and the
batteries are fully charged. Sometime this happens early in the day and
the potential energy from the solar panels for the rest of the day is
just wasted. The charge controller sees that the batteries are full and
says, "I'll do my job of protecting the batteries from overcharge by
reducing the power I'm sending to them".