Walden Effect

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By homesteaders, for homesteaders
Updated: 14 hours 3 min ago

Shopping cart for firewood transport and storage

Tue, 11/22/2022 - 09:48

We upgraded from a firewood tote carrier to this Wellmax shopping cart with wheels last year.

Now we can carry twice the amount with less effort.

The side spokes mostly popped out but weaving some steel wire or thin rope is an easy way to fix it.

Once inside it provides a tidy way of storing the wood.

Anna lifts from the top while I push from the bottom to make it even easier and safer.

Harvest End Soup

Tue, 11/15/2022 - 08:35

When your harvest looks like this:

It’s time to cook this:

  • 6 cups of cherry tomatoes (or 2.5 cups of stewed tomatoes)
  • 1 chicken breast with bone in (or 3 cups of chicken stock and one cooked chicken breast)
  • 1.25 cups of chopped sweet peppers
  • 2.5 cups of carrots (or some combination of carrots and sweet potatoes)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon paprika (I used unspicy, but you might like it spicy)
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 2 cups of green onion tops, chopped into small pieces
  • sugar (to taste, if your tomatoes are late season and sour)

Serves 4.

Optional serving suggestions:

  • Stirring in cheese is always yummy at the end. Parmesan works but an herbed goat cheese was amazing!
  • Mark likes bread on the side.

How to make it:

This is a basic soup recipe, so you don’t really need to read this part. Here’s what I did:

  • I cooked the chicken in the instapot with a bit of water for 10 minutes on the meat setting. Once this was done, I picked the meat off the bone and put the bones back in the instapot with three cups of water to cook for an hour to make broth. Cooking longer would have been better, but I was impatient.
  • Meanwhile, I cooked the cherry tomatoes in just a little water until they were soft (about ten minutes). Then I ran them through the foley mill to remove the skin and most of the seeds. If I was using roma tomatoes I wouldn’t have bothered with this processing, but cherry tomatoes are very seedy! I suspect foley mills are not the modern way to do this — please comment if you use a different gadget to get the same result…
  • Next, I mixed the processed tomatoes with everything except the chicken, the broth (because it wasn’t done yet), and the sugar. Cooking this mixture for about an hour on medium to low heat will soften the vegetables, at which point you can remove the bay leaves then use an immersion blender to create a relatively smooth texture. (If you prefer vegetable chunks, skip the blending step.)
  • By this point, the chicken broth was done, so I added it into the main pot along with the cooked chicken breast (broken up into bite-size pieces). The soup probably would have been even better if I’d simmered it for about an hour with all ingredients in the pot, but I was hungry and it was delicious just thrown together like this!

Side notes:

I used the littlest carrots from the harvest (on the left in the photo above), which wouldn’t keep long in storage. If you have sweet potatoes, I’d recommend using half carrots and half sweet potatoes, in which case you shouldn’t need any sugar.

If you prefer beans over meat, chickpeas are your best option in this soup.

Soup color depends on tomato color. I usually make it with red, but our tommy-toes were yellow this year. It tastes the same either way.

What did you turn your last big harvest of warm-season goodies into?

How to make kindling with a Kindling Jack Jr.

Wed, 11/09/2022 - 12:20

At least one of you didn’t quite understand Mark’s initial review of the Kindle Jack Jr. So we made this short video to show you the nuts and bolts of easy, safe kindling splitting.

(Side notes: Mark lost his Uncle Thomas yesterday, which is why I’m making this post for him. Also, if you tried to make a comment and failed, please try again — I think I found the bug!)

Replacing a bathtub faucet in a trailer

Tue, 11/01/2022 - 03:22

Replacing a bathtub faucet turned out to be much easier than either of us anticipated. Turn off all water to the trailer, unscrew both hot and cold water hoses along with the hose leading up to the shower, then slip the old faucet out and the new one in. There’s nothing complicated going on with the shower — water pressure is what makes water flow uphill.

The only real roadblock came when Mark noticed that an old leak (long since fixed) had weakened the wall the faucet was going to be screwed onto. How could we strengthen that area in a quick-and-dirty manner that would also hold up over the long term?

The back plate from the old faucet turned into a perfect solution. Applying it to the screw side of the wall while the new faucet’s back plate stayed on the faucet side of the wall resulted in a much stronger sandwich. Ta da — running water with no leaks!


On a semi-related note, Mark has been busy turning Trailersteading into an AI-narrated audiobook. You can enjoy a sneak preview above, then if you enjoy what you hear you can buy the full shebang on Kobo or Google. Enjoy!

Kindling splitter after one year of use

Tue, 10/25/2022 - 07:00

We’ve had this new kindling splitter for a year now and it has really paid for itself in time saved.

Making a bucket of kindling this way takes about 10 minutes and feels super safe.

I’m a little embarrassed that it took me this long to get hip to using a hammer and splitter to make better kindling faster and so much safer.

The intersection of Homesteading and Werewolves

Thu, 10/20/2022 - 12:30

Where does a Venn diagram of werewolves and homesteading intersect? Nowhere…except me.*

Yes, as some of you know, my pen name’s werewolf books have been paying the bills around here for years. I have a blast spending my mornings in fantasy worlds and my afternoons in the garden, but I usually don’t try to mesh the two lives.

However, Mark and I are running our first ever Kickstarter campaign this week, and I realized there might possible be a few people other than me who love both homesteading and werewolves. Sound like you or someone you know? Then check out my campaign and/or share it with a friend. Thank you so much for your support!

*(Okay, so maybe the diagram also intersects with paying attention to phases of the moon? Maybe other places too? What do you think?)

Pros and cons of gardening on top of a hill

Mon, 10/17/2022 - 14:53

When Mark and I started the Walden Effect, blogging was a bit of a Wild West. There were so many formats to choose between and we chose the one that was free for us.

Later, Wordpress gradually won the format war in many ways. I've been gradually moving our other sites over, but Walden Effect is so huge that the handcoding involved in such a transition would take way too many hours to be feasible.

So we're experimenting with something different. Please head over to our sister site Wetknee to enjoy this week's blog post, and while you're at it please set your RSS feed for that new address. Unless we hit some unforeseen hurdles, we'll be sharing news there instead of here in the future. (And if hurdles are hit, we'll inform you there to come back here!)

Thanks, as always, for following us on our adventures!

Pros and cons of gardening on top of a hill

Mon, 10/17/2022 - 14:19

Frost pockets are real (and so are anti-frost pockets)

Mark and I picked the last tomatoes and peppers today in preparation for what might be this fall’s first frost. But will it be?

Back when we lived at the bottom of a hill in Virginia, we could count on cold temperatures dropping least as low as the forecast, sometimes five degrees colder. Up here on a hilltop, in contrast, the opposite is true. A week and a half ago, with a forecast low of 33 F, we only got down to 38. Driving out that morning, however, I saw frost a mile and a half away as soon as I reached the bottom of the hill.

So will this week’s forecast low of 28 freeze our crops? Only time will tell.

Water — the downside of hilltop gardening

Of course, hilltop gardening has its downsides too, the primary one being water. In the summer, I can feel the groundwater dropping out from under us. No matter how much water I add to our garden beds, the soil is always thirsty. The ground cracks. Plants are slow to grow.

I used to say that you can always add more water, but you can’t take water away. While that’s true, I’ve yet to figure out how to add enough water to keep our garden happy without spiking our monthly bill out of sight. I’m hopeful that continuing to boost our organic matter will increase the water-holding capacity, but there’s a lot of truth in the saying “high and dry.”

Bookkeeping note

This looks like our very first post, but it very much isn’t! We just hopped over from an old blog to a new blog to make our lives easier. If you’d like to enjoy old gardening posts, you can find hundreds (thousands?) here. If you’re an old faithful subscriber, be sure to update your RSS feed!

Black soldier fly larvae for dinner?

Tue, 10/11/2022 - 10:19

Our black soldier fly composting system is slowing down due to colder Fall nights.

Austrian designer Katharina Unger has invented a new, reliable product to farm the larvae inside for human consumption.

It's called Farm 432 and promises to produce enough protein for a 2 person meal every 2 weeks or 432 hours.

The product is still in a Beta stage but seems to be well thought out and almost ready for prime time.

Frying the larvae produces a crunchy texture that might mix well with a rice or pasta dish.

We have not tried fried larvae yet but the more I read about it the less resistance I have to eating bugs.

How to Grow Ginger

Tue, 10/04/2022 - 05:44

I had so much fun reading How to Grow Ginger by Leigh Tate. But before I dive into my review, I have to include an important caveat. Reading this book doesn't necessarily mean your mothers-in-law will gift you with a five month old ginger plant so you can experiment immediately...even though it totally did for me. (Thank you so much, Rose Nell and Jayne!)

Ahem, back to the point. I'd seen fresh ginger for sale at our local farmer's market, but I hadn't taken the time to figure out whether it was worth growing ourselves. The short answer: very worthwhile because the process is crazy easy. Basically, you put a store-bought ginger root in a big pot a bit after your frost-free date, keep the plant in partial shade and topdress with compost once a month, then harvest after the leaves die back in the autumn.

Or you can start harvesting earlier, the way I did. Each of the stems in your pot leads down to a single ginger root and if you have strong hands you can tear out a root the way you'd grub out new potatoes. I pulled out two roots and made pickled ginger (so easy and so delectable!) and lacto-fermented ginger (still in the works). I'm also looking forward to making candied ginger with honey for a family member who loves the treat but prefers to dine sugar-free.

If those experiments don't sound like fun, Tate also includes recipes for dehydrating ginger and turning it into the powder you put into cookies and cakes, plus a primer on making a ginger drink. I particularly enjoyed her section about peeling. Upshot: you don't have to peel if you're like me and prefer to leave skins on.

To cut a long story short, if you're interested in growing ginger you might as well jumpstart your process by checking out this excellent guide. Like everything else you grow yourself, fresh ginger out of your yard just tastes better than any you can buy!

Greenhouse in a box woodshed

Tue, 09/27/2022 - 09:45

A summary of our experience over the past 4 years using one of those greenhouses in a box to store firewood.

Planting cover crops between fruit trees

Mon, 09/19/2022 - 10:56

Awesome reader and cover-crop experimenter Craig wrote in last month with his questions and comments about planting cover crops between young fruit trees in mid Ohio. He promised me pictures and a followup, both of showed up in my inbox last week.

Craig's first experiment involved "hand-tossed rye seeds on my apple beds" in early August to replace a mature buckwheat stand. He noted, "I'm loving how the action of re-seeding a new green manure crop after buckwheat accomplishes multiple tasks: plants the next cover, provides an opportunity to weed (easily and satisfyingly) what didn't get crowded out by the last round of growth, and creates a mulch on the soil surface."

This has been my experience too! My best stand of oats is coming up where I treated a buckwheat bed exactly the same way. Definitely recommend!

Again just like in my garden, Craig's oilseed radish cover crop (which he calls "torpedo radishes") came up very strongly. We both overseeded since it's tough to get anything to sprout atop dry late-summer soil, and we both ended up with a radish stand thicker than was really necessary. No real harm done other than a waste of seed, but our lesson has been learned!

Craig promised me a followup this spring, so I'll be sure to keep you posted. In the meantime, I thought I'd spill some beans of my own. I'm hoping to find time this winter to work on a cover-crop video course and/or workbook. Both are intended to simplify the brain power involved in including cover crops in your garden, either through lots of hands-on visuals (video course) or through charts and pages that walk you through the decision-making process (workbook). If I don't have time for both, does one of those sound a lot more fun than the other to you?

Finally, I'd be remiss if I ended this post without telling you that it's not too late to plant rye. If you have garden beds that are going to weeds and that you know you won't need until next June, why not get a cover crop established to improve your soil while you take the winter off?

Fancy cat box vs the box it came in

Mon, 09/12/2022 - 09:59

We invited a couple of stray cats to join us a few months ago.

Daisy and her playful son Dandelion.

I decided they need a proper box to relax in and actually ordered a cat box.

The box it came in was also close to the right height and size.

Daisy says it might take several days to figure out which is her favorite.

Fall 2022 cover crop experiments

Mon, 09/05/2022 - 15:14

As the summer garden season winds down, I'm filling gaps not needed for cool-season veggies with cover crops. And, in addition to my old standbys, I'm running a few experimental plantings this year.

My focus is trying to find at least one legume I heartily recommend in a no-till system. Summer-planted hairy vetch, unfortunately, is not it. The flowers are just starting to pop up and they're quite pretty, but the cover crop grew so slowly during its early life that the bed is more full of weeds than vetch.

I'm hoping experiment 2 and/or 3 will yield better results. I interseeded crimson clover amid half of my oats last month on the theory that a grain will cover the ground fast enough to deal with the weed issue while the legume will still be able to find its feet and add nitrogen to the soil. On a similar vein, I'll be planting a mixed bed of rye and hairy vetch next week.

Stay tuned for results in the spring!

Leaf delivery

Mon, 08/29/2022 - 12:59

Another lucky mulch delivery from the friendly tree experts.

How to make a black soldier fly bin out of a trash can

Mon, 08/22/2022 - 12:09

When we first experimented with black soldier flies, we thought black soldier fly bins had to be complicated. We bought one for our first try and even ordered some eggs to get our colony started. Turns out, none of that was necessary.

Up here in Ohio, Mark went ultra-simple. He drilled small drainage holes in the bottom of wheelie bins then added a few large holes near the top for adults to fly in and out of. Now we dump in food scraps and the black soldier flies arrive on their own.

Currently, the colony is so vigorous that yesterday's compost is completely gone by the time we head out to dump the next day's bucket. The bottom of the bin is a writhing mass of larvae hungry to eat our scraps and giving off so much heat they fog up my camera lens. You can see our complete composting system in action in our soil course. But if you just want to experiment at home, here are some tips:

Unless you go to extremes to nurture out-of-season black soldier flies, they're really a summer composter. Black soldier flies start showing up at our bins as early as June, but a colony doesn't hit full speed until around mid to late July. So if you're lazy like us, you'll only count on them for a small (but high-quality) portion of your composting year.

Also, black soldier flies don't live everywhere. They've been introduced outside their native range, but if you don't see a red dot near you on the map above, you're probably better off trying compost worms.

That said, we love the excellent compost black soldier flies provide for almost no effort on our part. These bins will definitely be a permanent part of our composting campaign!

(Note: Map and season chart are thanks to iNaturalist and represent data up until the date of this post.)

Deck planting box expansion

Mon, 08/15/2022 - 09:30

The deck planting box is turning out to be a good alternative spot for tomato plants.

We decided to delete the roof overhang section to increase sun exposure time.

It also opens up a space to add a smaller planter box.

Experimenting with using a thick salvaged window as one of the walls to get a peek at worm activity and water drainage.

Our first video course is live!

Mon, 08/08/2022 - 10:21

I'm very excited to announce that our first video course is now live! If you use this link before the end of the day Friday, you should be able to snag your copy for half off.

Even if you're just curious, I recommend heading over there since you can watch five of the sixteen course videos for free in preview mode. You can learn why I love no-till and cover crops, how to topdress, and how dorky I look on video. What do you have to lose?

Drone rescue

Mon, 08/01/2022 - 12:55

Our new friend Brad was able to squeeze us in Friday for a drone rescue from a tree.

Raccoons and chipmunks in the garden

Mon, 07/25/2022 - 10:29

When we moved to Ohio, we went hardcore on our garden fencing. And the barrier has kept out the deer I was most concerned about.

Unfortunately, nothing else seems fazed.

It's taken years to figure out exactly who's eating our fruits and veggies. But a game camera recently confirmed what I'd already guessed.

Unripe strawberries and tomatoes strewn across the ground are a sign of fumble-fingered chipmunks. These little rodents can go through a planting remarkably fast.

Entire branches torn down in the raspberry patch and snow peas dragged off their trellises are a sign of raccoon damage. Yes, raccoons are quite happy to eat garden produce other than corn.

The solution? We aren't quite there yet. But at least we've nailed the problem down!

In other news:

My heart was warmed when I heard from a very unexpected trailersteader two weeks ago:

"Your book inspired my wife to have the courage to move out to our little farm and live in a trailer, the only way we could afford to live there upon my retirement from teaching high school history. How delightful to pick up your Trailersteading book and learn the author was one of my first AP history students back at Tennessee High in Bristol! I admired your intelligence then; now I admire what you have done with it. Sarah loved your book!"

--- Ken Senter

What a wonderful cycle since Mr. Senter's enthusiasm and intensity of focus on his subject matter was contagious twenty-odd years ago. It's wonderful to think that I managed to have an unexpected positive impact on his life just like the one he had on mine!

I'll end with a teaser of what Mark and I have been hard at work on this summer. My next post will hopefully be a link to the finished product, but you can hear about it first and get a free review copy if you sign up for our email list. Can't wait to share with you!