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Farmsteaders the documentary

Mon, 04/16/2018 - 10:00

We watched a sweet and beautiful documentary about a local cheese making family Sunday at the 2018 Athens International Film Festival.

Farmsteaders is a unique glimpse into a small cheese making operation over the course of 5 years.

The cinematography is stellar and you really get drawn into the joy and struggles of what it takes to get the cheese made and sold.

Is it worth planting a lettuce root from the grocery store?

Sun, 04/15/2018 - 10:00

Do you ever get an urge to plant the remnants of vegetables from the grocery store? Many of them will grow...although it might not be worth your while to nurture them into producing a second crop.

I'd read about folks planting carrot tops and other detritus from their salad-making, but hadn't been buying enough grocery-store produce to even consider giving it a try. But when the lettuce head at the left ended up in our kitchen this winter with a big mass of roots still attached, I couldn't resist the urge to set it out in the garden.

I planted that lettuce under a quick hoop in the middle of February...and it sat there for weeks doing nothing at all. The photo at the top of this post shows the plant's current state nearly two months later. It's finally almost large enough to pick a few leaves from...although, for the sake of comparison, leaf lettuce direct-seeded on the same date is nearly as big:

What's with that lettuce root growing so slowly? I suspect that February lettuce from Krogers is hydroponic produce grown at the perfect temperature and nutrient levels. In the wild weather of an Ohio garden, hot-house varieties are going to lose the sprint to harvest to my hardy Black-seeded Simpson every time.

Athens Ohio Maker Space Saw Stop

Sat, 04/14/2018 - 10:00

We got to see a sneak preview of the new Athens Ohio Maker Space.

The wood shop has most of the big wood working tools.

A punch card is what we will start with where you pay per visit compared to 70 dollars a month for more serious Makers.

Did I set out my spring crops too early?

Fri, 04/13/2018 - 10:00

With the spring garden, I plant by feel rather than by spreadsheet. So when the weather turned warm and wet for a week at the end of March, I set out a lot of things that likely shouldn't really have been planted then. Of course, then last week's cold spell hit (mid twenties and a couple of inches of snow), which left me scurrying to cover everything up and hope my babies would survive.

Now's the moment of truth --- did I make a mistake? On the broccoli front, I probably would have been better off waiting. None of the outside plants were damaged badly enough to need to be replaced when I gave them a once-over yesterday, but they were also significantly smaller than the ones still in a flat inside. I set out another couple of beds with reserved plants and will be curious to see which planting date leads to the earliest and best heads.

On the other hand, lettuce, thyme, parsley, and peas also transplanted on March 27 passed the cold-weather test with flying colors (although the row-cover fabric I had over them until this week certainly helped).

And how about the direct-seeded vegetables? They look pleased as punch now that their row cover is off and they're once again exposed to full sun. Soon we'll be rolling in lettuce and peas!

Covington Sweet Potato

Thu, 04/12/2018 - 10:00

We decided to expand our sweet potato family to include Covington.

Now is the time to start encouraging seedling activity.

International dance

Wed, 04/11/2018 - 10:00

Last week was a multicultural week on the campus of Ohio University. Even though the events were mostly for students, I insinuated myself into a couple anyway.

The International Street Fair didn't require insinuation --- it's an open-to-the-public event in which you can try your hand at Chinese writing, sample delicious ethnic foods, and even watch and participate in a few dances. Can you find me in this rousing rendition of the Arabic dabke? (Thanks for snapping the shot, Jen!)

Even more visually stimulating was the Native American Dance and Song Workshop, which was really just for students, faculty, and staff. They let me in, though, and I loved the drum beat, which we were told is meant to mimic the beating of the heart.

Okay, I'll admit it, there's nothing homesteading-related about this post. Except...don't forget to spend time expanding your horizons and feeding your mind as well as your belly!

Watching truck rust

Tue, 04/10/2018 - 10:00

Our 1997 truck has quickly become a valuable part of our homesteading team.

I took this picture to document the worst section of rust.

Eventually I should try something that might help slow the rust from spreading but I guess I'm curious at what rate the hole will get bigger and if I'm okay putting it off for another year or so.

Six months later

Mon, 04/09/2018 - 10:00

I can hardly believe we've been here six months! On the one hand, it feels like we arrived yesterday; on the other hand, it feels like we've been here forever. And, as the pictures prove, we have made a fair amount of progress over the last six months.

First the property went from a bare tract of land to a liveable homestead complete with trailer, water, septic, and electricity.

Next comes the garden. We've laid out a bunch of beds and planted several. (The confusing bits in the foreground are where I laid down kill mulches then realized those areas were going to be asparagus and had to dig them right back up.)

And, most importantly, we've met an astonishing number of talented and interesting people, like the aspiring videographer, cupcake baker, and truck driver who helped me take the "after" photos in this series.

Pick your own asparagus

Sun, 04/08/2018 - 10:00

Kayla recently asked what we miss most about our Virginia farm.

I miss the huge servings of asparagus that will be popping up there later this month.

Anna misses the composting toilet and creek.

Want to create homesteading memories of your own? All 58 acres are still for sale for one low price of $79,333.

Ohio spring ephemerals

Sat, 04/07/2018 - 10:00

I finally found the spring flower motherlode in the region --- the aptly named Rockhouse Trail at Sells Park. South-facing, mature forest, full of limestone, and quite damp adds up to the perfect habitat for early spring ephemerals.

I'm enjoying the fact that a new stomping grounds means new species to ID and enjoy. For example, the trout lilies here are white rather than yellow. (The yellows should live here too --- I'll keep my eyes open.)

Even less familiar were the rock-loving Early Saxifrage above and the damp-loving Limestone Bittercress to the left. Given the ubiquitousness of the latter species on one of my other favorite trails, though, I suspect this will become a new spring favorite.

Of course, my old friends are nearby too. Toothworts and spring beauties by the bucketload, hepatica nearly done already, and --- once I peered a little closer --- I even found a couple of bloodroot and rue anemones. Phew! Wouldn't want to miss out on the flowers I grew up with even as I add new ones to my mental roadmap of spring!

Girl power

Fri, 04/06/2018 - 10:00

Anna recruited some local girl power to help spread more grass seed and straw.

Ramps season

Thu, 04/05/2018 - 10:00

When I hiked past the first cluster of ramps (more specifically, Burdick's wild leeks) last week, I yearned to sample but didn't want to damage a wild population. Then, a few days later, I stumbled upon the motherlode --- over an acre in size, with evidence of last year's flower stalks promising a mature population. Time to finally taste some ramps!

I still only harvested a handful, not wanting to damage such a slow-growing plant. But they certainly made for deliciously flavored biscuits, and I have several more recipes I want to try. Good thing ramps seem to be overharvested much less in Ohio than they were in Virginia!

Hay cats

Wed, 04/04/2018 - 11:32

These handsome cats were photographed at our neighbor's house.

Not hard to figure out which one is the Alpha cat of the two.

Perennial straw

Tue, 04/03/2018 - 10:00

Our new bales of straw were cut from a perennial --- canary reedgrass, which grows in soupy ground down by a creek. The farmer reports:

"It is a grass that regrows every year. And is more friendly to the environment than wheat straw. We do not harvest until late August early September; by that time all the seeds have fallen off and it is just like wheat straw except it is a little longer and does not have the golden color."

Clearly, the demand for his straw is high. The farmer has just about sold out, having moved 1,000 bales using a self-serve kiosk by the side of the road over the course of the winter and spring.

I'll try to remember to report back once I have more of an idea of the pros and cons of using this perennial straw in the garden. For now, I suspect it'll rot a little faster since it has more of a grass feel than a straw feel, but will otherwise work as expected. Stay tuned for further details!

Intense Excitement

Mon, 04/02/2018 - 10:00

I've been doing more film making than homesteading these past few weeks.

This is a photo from an upcoming comedy titled "Intense Excitement".

My role on this film is Unit Production Manager.

Worm bin pro tips

Sun, 04/01/2018 - 10:00

Laura Diaco from Rural Action regaled a group of attendees with pro tips on making indoor worm bins pull their weight earlier in the week. Mark and I have played with composting worms quite a bit, but I still came away with a few excellent tips.

First --- skip putting onions, garlic, and citrus in your worm bins. (This was one of my first beginner mistakes back in the day.) Second, freeze food scraps before use to kill fruit flies. (Yep, this was the second problem we had with our original bin.) And, third, you can apply a piece of bread dosed with milk to attract springtails if you experience a population boom, removing the "trap crop" along with the unwanted critters to cleanse the bin.

Laura had so much success with her bin that she had to use a starvation diet to slim her population down to the point where she could continue to bring the demonstration unit to events. Otherwise, it was starting to get too heavy for her to lift! Clearly, she has a way with the worms.

New source for straw bales

Sat, 03/31/2018 - 10:00

We got 12 bales of straw for 48 dollars. The drive was about 40 minutes each way.

Claytonia taste test

Fri, 03/30/2018 - 10:01

Claytonia is one of the ultra-cold-resistant crops recommended by Eliot Coleman, but I've never planted it in my own garden. It's hard to commit space to a plant I've never tasted before. So I was delighted to find a clump for sale at the farmer's market. $2.50 to test how the plant works on our palates seemed like a pretty good deal.

The conclusion? Eh. Claytonia is probably the blandest green I've tasted. Yes, in late January when everything else is dead, I might appreciate it. But I'd rather focus on the sweetness of overwintering kale.

Deer discussion

Thu, 03/29/2018 - 10:00

"What's that over there, Judy?"

"Future lunches. Pretend you don't notice and maybe they'll forget to build the fence."

Replicating grape successes

Wed, 03/28/2018 - 10:00

I know I said we weren't going to buy any trees until next year...but I figured I could slip in a few bushes and grapes this first spring. The latter came on Saturday, with hefty roots that continue to put Starks near the top of my favorite-nurseries list.

These grapes are meant to replicate our past success as closely as possible. So we stuck to the same variety --- Reliance --- and the same location --- outside the west-facing window. As hefty as these plants are, Mark may have to build them a similar trellis this year too.