Not a Square Foot Vegetable Garden

The January plan for the vegetable garden did not pan out. After further thought and discussion we decided not to plan a square-foot garden this year. Gardening by the foot is a great way to get the most out of a small space and we have used the method for many years, but a number of factors have led us to try something else.

We do not enjoy weeding. Square foot gardening  negates the need for mulch because plants are tightly packed in small spaces. The problem is, weeds will find a way so we spend a fair amount of time weeding. We are trying the wet newspaper trick this year to see if it helps keep the weeds down. We’ll share our results with you as the year progresses. Despite planting less, we still planted enough produce to take care of our fresh needs and have surplus zucchini and cucumber, in July and August.

Our summers are getting longer. In our region high temperatures rule with a melting fist until mid-October. Most gardeners focus on what plants might over-winter, but for the past few years, we have become more concerned with what plants will survive the ever-longer, hotter, and drier summers. The lack of over-summer vegetables might be negatively impacted by square foot gardening. The proximity of neighboring plants and the resulting increased competition for water and nutrient resources might cause too much stress when coupled with prolonged summer heat. With less intensive land use, the tomatoes and peppers might make it to a second harvest. Theoretically, tomatoes can go dormant during the hot summer days, then flower again and produce in the fall. I’ve never seen this, but rumors persist. Since the dawn of agriculture some 6000 years ago, planting cycles have been based on the knowledge of these kinds of active/dormant blooming cycles.

El Niño, La Niña ocean-atmosphere cycles are changing. For the past six thousand years (give or take), farmers relied on seven-year cycles. However, fluctuations began to appear during the mid-19th century. Which might be early evidence of the anthropocene era. The El Niño/La Niña cycles are increasingly erratic. Farmers no longer know when to expect rain or drought.

La Nina years are gray. Data compiled from

At the end of the 19th century, scientists adopted the Peruvian name for these very old cycles and started monitoring them only to discover that the farmers are on to something: Ocean-atmosphere relationships, and therefore weather patterns everywhere, are changing. At the time of this writing, La Niña is prevailing which means less precipitation in our neck of the woods. That means the garden will need more watering this year, so we plant less to make sure each plant gets the water it needs.

We have a brand new soaker hose to help out on the watering front. I am so glad to have a soaker hose buried in the garden. Under that newspaper it delivers water to the roots so we save water, time and money.

That large C by the Zucchini is a Cilantro plant. Yum.

Speaking of time and money, our business obligations are evolving. We might see more business related travel this year. If that is the case, this garden can fight the good fight without so much help from us.

Taking all of these factors into consideration, a square foot garden does not make sense for us, at least not this year. This is what the new and improved garden layout looks like.

Hopefully,  the newspaper will stop the weeds (or at least some of them), production per plant will rise, and everything will taste delicious. Whatever happens, we’ll keep you posted.



Minimalism and Homesteading

Homesteading requires a lot of tools. When we started, it also required a lot of books. Now, however, the internet is flush with useful (and other not-so-useful) homesteading information. Still, we keep a truncated homesteading library. After our tornado scare and in the midst of our love affair with minimalism we find ourselves asking: Are homesteading and minimalism ideals complimentary?

Our small homesteading library.

Homesteading, to a great extent, requires the homesteaders face whatever challenges arise without running to the store to buy something new. Homesteading asks that we make do with what we have while still improving our lot in life. Minimalist Homesteading is a double-edged sword. On the one hand we have a myriad of “we might need it someday” and “just in case” tools like our depression-era and dust-bowl-era forefathers. Yet, on the other hand, we refrain from storing a million components, scraps, lids for long-gone canning jars, or kitten and puppy nipples for stray animals we might rescue at some point in the future.

One secret to a successful minimalist homestead lies in the definition of minimalism. The point of minimalism is not simply the removal of clutter, although that is a step. Instead, minimalism is about rediscovering joy hidden by consumerist stuff, and homesteading is about rediscovering joy in simplicity. Instead of focusing our attention on the latest fashions, or the newest hobbies, or the coolest bobble-heads, we focus on providing for our family, here at home. That idea is the marriage of homesteading and minimalism. So it turns out, yes, these ideals are commensurable, at least here, in our neck of the woods.

Recycling Silver At Home

We manufacture jewelry here at home; it is the business half of our homesteading life. The manufacturing process results in tiny and useless metal scraps. For years we have watched videos about recycling scraps and thought, “Maybe we could do that one day…”

Last week it was time for action. We watched at least a hundred useful videos on youtube and found a great instructables plan to build a coffee can forge. Being the rebels we are, we took information from all the sources to build our own personalized version of a table-top forge.

Over the weekend, we used it for the first time. I put together a short video to show the smelting process and provide a few details about our design. Enjoy!

It’s chick season! Or is it?

Every year we debate the costs and benefits of purchasing new chickens. This year we have a new idea. But first, a little backstory…

Two years ago we started with a mixed flock of twelve, then lost three birds to predation, and so purchased three more birds last spring. We lost eight birds at various points through the past year (hawks and owls, we think) and one more last weekend. So now we have two hens. We are tired of losing chickens. They are the ultimate prey birds. Even our hardy girls, Vera and Bossy, are at risk. It’s in their nature. They vanish during the twilight hour, just before it’s time to lock them up in the coop for the night. We even moved the girls to the back porch in January, but to no avail. Edna vanished the same day we shot this compost video.

The last three girls: Edna, Vera, and Bossy were/are Jersey Giants. We think their intelligence (if you can call it that) helped them survive. Sadly, they are not impervious to hungry foxes, hawks, owls, or other predators. Interestingly, the Jersey Giant is the largest breed of chicken. Their size probably contributed to their survival more than anything else. We were sad to discover there are no larger chicken breeds in existence. However, there are turkeys.

For the past few days, we have researched turkey keeping in North America. This is what we’ve learned.

  • Turkey’s are native species in North America and they can tolerate the weather swings of our region.
  • They lay larger eggs less frequently and those eggs pack a more nutritive punch per gram by volume. (Yay B vitamins!)
  • Adult turkeys are not victims of predation near as often as chickens.
  • Numbers of wild turkey populations are in decline, but that same species, Meleagris gallopavo, is also domesticated and we can buy numerous varieties of the species for our little homestead.
  • The most popular commercial birds (Broad Breasted White and Bronze Turkeys) are no longer able to reproduce on their own so we’re not interested in them.
  • Hens do not gobble, only toms, and only when it’s mating season (or when they feel threatened).

These are all good reasons for us to switch to backyard turkeys, but there are some drawbacks.

  • The eggs have four times the cholesterol of chicken eggs. Yikes.
  • They need a stable at night; a coop is too small.
  • Waterers and feeders need to be elevated so the birds don’t knock them over or poop in them.
  • Everything needs to be bigger.
  • Turkey chicks and poults die at a higher rate than chicken chicks and pullets.

For cooking needs, three turkey eggs are roughly equivalent to five chicken eggs by volume, no shells. To keep us in chicken eggs we needed at least three chickens which works out to about 18 eggs during good sunshine and nice weather weeks, as few as a dozen during cloudy or cold weeks, and seven eggs per week through the winter. To keep us in turkey eggs we’ll need four turkeys which should produce 10 or 11 eggs during good weeks, 7 (maybe 8?) during less pleasant weeks, and 4 (rarely five) through the winter.

If we ate other dairy, poultry, or meat products we would not be able to justify the extra cholesterol. We don’t, so turkey cholesterol is an acceptable trade-off (for now). If we were reliant on these eggs for all of our protein needs and B vitamins we would need many more birds. Luckily, we aren’t, so we don’t!

Our newest plan to produce organic, homegrown, bird eggs requires a lot of prep work on our end. First, we need to dismantle the current chicken run, then rebuild the stall that the 2013 tornado destroyed. It needs to be a turkey stable with sturdy, low, roosts. We’re going to try the deep bedding method outlined by this Swedish guy (Simeon, he’s great) who has many, many videos about poultry keeping and homesteading:

After contacting some local suppliers of turkey poults we learned they do not start selling them, typically, until mid-summer, so they will be ready for slaughter in November. We might buy from farms that sell butchered Thanksgiving birds, if they are willing to sell live ones at a much cheaper price, and if we can find Auburn Heritage birds.

The AH birds are a hearty, pretty brown, calm, large bird. Adult hens weigh ~20 pounds and adult toms weigh ~36 pounds. The hens start laying at seven months old, and the species can reproduce on their own if the need should arise next spring. Wild hens with a 100% pasture diet produce 2 eggs a week, but the domestic bird with a 50/50 feed/pasture diet can lay 3 eggs a week.

If we can get all the prep work taken care of by mid-summer then this plan is go-for-launch. Either way – we’ll keep you posted.


Book Review “What Should We Be Worried About?”

John Brockman of Edge magazine edited a bright orange book of worries in 2013, aptly titled, What Should We Be Worried About? I read the book for a few reasons, one being, a reality check.

A person’s scope of influence includes all the situations or people, where one person can meaningfully change. We each have areas of influence. Most people can only influence friends and family. Some people; doctors, journalists, and politicians, to name a few, have larger platforms from which to speak and therefore larger areas of influence. My scope of influence is relatively small.

I can influence family and friends, and maybe some cyber friends too, but my area of worry is much larger. I worry about local, national, and international headlines. I worry about the weather. I worry about the future of the natural world. Reading Brockman’s collection of essays reminded me that my worries are misplaced. My area of influence is very small. I need to keep it real: My fretting and solutions are only applicable to a small group of people.

What a relief.

Link to Purchase.

A second reason to pick up this book is to see which intellectuals successfully predicted worrisome trends. There were more than a few. Some experts wrote about the rise of AI, some wrote about the rise of ignorance, and others wrote about the decline of curiosity.  These worries have played out in interesting ways over the past five years, in all aspects of public life. We see more people dependent on their phones for trivialities, and less people in search of useful information. We see some very undereducated individuals in positions of great power. Since the publishing of the book, we’ve seen dire warnings about the power of AI from some of science’s most respected minds. Although, and equally important, some of the worries so eloquently laid out in this book have not come to pass.

What a relief.

Another reason to read this book is to help lay some of its worries to rest. The book included essays about the intentional dumbing down of scientific ideas to appeal to the masses, about the enormous amounts of energy and imagination expended to entertain, and about the lack of imagination going into problem-solving.  By reading this book, by talking to those in your sphere of influence about science, and imagination, you can help lay some of these worrisome aspects of our fast-culture to rest. Even those of us with a seemingly tiny scope of influence can better the world.

What a relief.

Who knew a book about worries could be so soothing.