Sunday, September 30, 2012


The weather was very nice today. I didn't get as much done as I should have, but did spend a few hours outside working on some projects and enjoying the weather. I worked over at the garden, dragging a few small logs out of the way and pulling down some grapevines that were hanging in the trees near the garden edge. I also clipped the saplings that were growing from the stumps of several small trees that we had cut down earlier in the year.

I think I have a plan for getting the garden plot ready for garlic and cover crops. Since we haven't been able to get rid of the yellow jackets I went ahead and ordered some pesticide to deal with them. The pesticide is suppose to be organic and safe for pets, so we decided to give it a shot. Once that arrives I'll apply and hopefully have the yellow jackets gone by next week. Then I need to clear the weeds around those tree stumps, and then take the chainsaw over and cut the stumps off level with the ground. After that is done I can mow the whole area and then mark off what we want to use as the garden next year. Once that is done I'll till the garden area, then hopefully let it sit for a week or more, so the weeds will have a chance to decompose just a bit before we plant the cover crops. Before planting the garlic I'll add a layer of compost and till that into the soil a few days before time to plant. I just hope we can get it all done before the end of October. It may be pushing it just a bit, since I'm planning to dedicate several days towards the end of the month to assembling the metal storage building that has been sitting in a box in our shed for a couple of years.

Saturday, September 29, 2012


The day started out dreary, but the weather this afternoon was very nice. It is still very wet out, because of the rain we've been having, but I was able to get out and do a few small projects anyway. The first thing I did was harvest some peppers. My parents had picked some peppers when they were visiting, but there were several more that were ready to be harvested. I picked a few Cayenne and a few Serranos. There were several Habaneros to be harvested. It was mostly Bell Peppers, however, that were ready. Several of the peppers were only inches from the ground, because they were weighing down the plants so much. One of the Orange Bell Peppers was very big, bigger than a softball. It wasn't completely Orange yet, but was worrying me because it was so close to the ground so I went ahead and picked it.

After picking the peppers, and throwing some of the bad ones into the compost bin, I moved on to another project. The drainage ditch I had dug for the air conditioner was in need of more gravel. I had bought a bag several weeks ago, but hadn't done anything with them yet. It only took a few minutes to cut open the bag and spread the contents in the ditch.

After I came back in we opened the box for our new solar oven and unpacked it so we could get a good look at it. We need to put it out in the yard one day with some vinegar before using it. Hopefully we'll have a nice day soon and can get it ready. I know that we'll use it a lot for drying vegetables, but I'm also interested in cooking something in it. The solar oven can be used for everything from baking bread, to cooking pasta or rice, to baking chicken or a roast. The gentleman we talked to a the fair claimed that food cooked in the solar oven tastes much better than normal, so it'll be interesting to see if he's right.

Friday, September 28, 2012


There isn't a whole lot to talk about today. I did, however, want to do an update to mention a package that was delivered. While at the Mother Earth News Fair we ordered a Sun Oven. It was delivered today, which was a bit of a surprise since they said it would be mid week before the order was processed. It was rainy today, so we didn't have a chance to try it out. We're looking forward to trying it out. I'm thinking that it may get used as much for dehydrating as for cooking, but Andrea might surprise me, especially if she starts doing more baking.

Thursday, September 27, 2012


Today Andrea and I were scheduled to take a class in London at the Laurel County Cooperative Extension Agency. Andrea wasn't feeling well, though, so I went alone. I ended up being the only one there for the class. Apparently most of the other participants decided not to come because tonight was  the first night of the World Chicken Festival in London. It worked out well for me, because the lady leading the class was able to focus on things that were of most interest to me, and I was able to ask several questions.

I also received a new book today that I recently ordered. The book is about straw bale bulding and was suggested in one of the workshops I attended at the Mother Earth News Fair.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

2012 Mother Earth News Fair - Seven Springs

The Mother Earth News Fair was held this year on September 21-23 in Seven Springs, PA. The fair is in its third year, and we have attended the Seven Springs event all three years. The fair has improved each year, and this was the best one yet.

In case you're not familiar with the fair, it is organized by the Mother Earth News Magazine. The first fair was at Seven Springs in 2010. In 2011 a second event was added in Puyallup, WA. The Seven Springs fair is held at the Seven Springs Mountain Resort in southwest Pennsylvania, approximately 60 miles southwest of Pittsburgh. This year's fair offered more than 200 workshops, spread across three days, and over 250 exhibitors and vendors.


The Seven Springs Mountain Resort is a wonderful location. The area is very scenic, and I think is a much better setting for this type of fair than a city setting would be. Some of the workshops and exhibitors are located inside, while the rest are outside. This can, at times, present a problem when attending back to back workshops that are located far apart. The rooms at the resort are nice, but expensive. Many people stay in the surrounding communities to save money, although I like the convenience of being on site. One additional complaint I have hard about the venue is the cost of food. One of the restaurants in the resort had a $30 dinner buffet one night. While it seems that they had plenty of customers, it seems to me a $30 meal doesn't exactly fit in with the theme of the fair.


The fair offers an amazing variety of workshops. There were 13 different "stages" at the fair and 15 different hour-long time slots. When deciding on the workshops to attend I found there were multiple workshops I was interested in during each time slot. This is especially impressive since I had already taken some of the workshops during the previous years. In fact, there was one time slot during which I had already taken three of the offered workshops, and there were still two I was interested in. Andrea and I attended 13 workshops each, as we both ended up skipping a couple.

Workshops that I attended:

  • Off-Grid Living
  • Forest Garden Design
  • Retooling for Tomorrow
  • Biochar
  • Choosing Organic Fertilizer for Building Soil Fertility
  • A Homesteader's Hindsight
  • Energy Performance of Natural Buildings
  • Ordinary Tools, Extraordinary Results
  • Hoeing the Long Row
  • Integrating Woodlot Management Into Your Farm Plan
  • Bioshelter Design and Management
  • Sustainable Living Simplified
I'll also be doing another post in which I provide more detail on each of the workshops that I attended.


The fair offers the biggest variety of exhibitors and vendors that I have ever seen assembled together in one location. For those interested in livestock there is the animal husbandry tent which is filled with  chickens, rabbits, sheep, goats, and alpacas, as well as vendors selling fiber and other products. For the farmer and homesteader there are many vendors selling tools, ranging from hand tools to tractors and portable saw mills. Gardeners will find several companies selling seeds and gardening supplies. I recall seeing at least five different publishers, which, in addition to the huge Mother Earth News Bookstore, provide a great selection of books. There were many other types of exhibitors and vendors, beyond those I've mentioned.

Andrea and I certainly took full advantage of having access to so many great vendors. Between the two of us we bought 6 books, more than 20 packs of seeds, 5 varieties of garlic, a calendar, some dog treats, a lotion bar, and a solar oven. I'll be doing another post discussing the booths I visited and items purchased from the vendors.

Overall Impression

The Mother Earth News fair is an incredible value. A three day pass was priced at $35, and could be purchased for even less at times. Travel, lodging, and food were the biggest costs for us, although even with those expenses I believe the event to be well worth the cost. 

As previously mentioned, I believe this year's fair was the best one yet. Several changes were made this year, all of which I think were beneficial. The time between workshops was increased from 15 to 30 minutes which made it a bit easier to get from one workshop to the next, although some workshops  filled up well before the start time, often making it hard to get a seat even with the extra time. Another great change was expanding the event to three days. The extra day allowed more workshops to be offered, and allowed some to be offered more than once. The exhibit hall and outside vendor area were also open for an extra hour before and after the workshops, which made it easier to look around without having to miss out on the workshops. Even with that extra time, however, I found it difficult to spend as much time looking and talking to exhibitors as I would have liked. 

We will definitely be attending the Mother Earth News Fair again next year. Assuming the schedule says the same, we will be attending the Seven Springs event as usual. However, Cheryl Long, Editor in Chief of Mother Earth News Magazine indicated that the Seven Springs event may be moved to the Summer to make room for an event in Kansas City in the fall. If this is the case I'm not sure which event Andrea and I will choose to attend. I'd love to attend both, but we're also considering going to the Midwest Renewable Energy Fair in Custer, WI in June.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

9/25/12 - Act II

When I did my daily update this morning I assumed I wouldn't really have anything else to talk about today. I've decided, though, that there are a few things worth mentioning, so that is why the update for today gets a second act.

For the most part we just relaxed today and tried to rest up from the trip. Yesterday was quite exhausting, between driving 450 miles, walking around in Lehman's for three hours, and not getting home until after 11:00 PM. Surprisingly, though, I woke up around 8:00, which, while later than normal, is earlier than I expected.

The weather forecast was calling for rain, so I went ahead and unloaded the car before the rain moved in. I spent much of the rest of the day at the computer, typing up my notes from the fair and researching various organizations, companies, books, and other things that I heard about this weekend. I also took a few minutes after the rain stopped to go back out and clean out the car since I have to return it tomorrow.

Since I'm going to London tomorrow I went ahead and showered and shaved tonight. I decided to try out one of the items I purchased at Lehman's. I had been thinking about getting some sort of basin to rinse my razor in when shaving, rather than doing so in the sink. My logic behind this was that it would prevent the drain of the sink from getting clogged from hair, and the water and hair mixture could be added to the compost instead. I hadn't given a lot of thought to what sort of container to use, but while we were at Lehman's Andrea pointed out a few options. I wish I could have gone with some pottery or natural stone, but they were heavier than I wanted since I'd be carrying it to the compost, half filled with water. In the end I chose a small metal kettle with a lid and handle. I used the kettle tonight when I shaved and it worked out well. Since it was dark, I left it sitting on the counter with the lid covering it. I'll plan to carry it out to the compost tomorrow.

I do have one concern, however, regarding adding the water to the compost. The shave soap that I am using is glycerin based, so I don't know how good it will be for the compost. Since the amount of soap in the water is small, I'm not too worried, but do plan to begin shopping for some natural shave soap. I was previously using Col Conk shave soap, and had thought about just switching back to that, but it seems that it is also made with several ingredients that I might not really want in the compost. I suppose I need to start searching for an all natural shave soap, or just have Andrea make me some.


After being away for several days I'm finally back. The reason I have been away is that we were out of town for the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, PA. This was our third year attending the fair, and it was a wonderful experience as usual. I'll be doing several posts about the fair.

We left for the fair early Thursday morning. Seven Springs is approximately 400 miles away, so the drive is basically an all day event after making a few stops. By around 6:00 PM we were checked into our room at the Seven Springs Resort, which is where the fair is held, and were planning or schedule for the next day.

Over the course of the next 3 days Andrea and I both attended 13 different workshops. We always try to do separate workshops, so we can then share what we learned. We feel that by doing this we are able to get the most benefit from the fair. What little free time we had between workshops was spent visiting vendor booths or, in the evenings, reviewing what we had learned that day or planning the schedule for the following day.

The fair ended at 6:00 PM on Sunday evening. We left Seven Springs and headed to Pittsburgh where we spent the night. Monday morning we got an early started and drove on into Ohio and visited the Lehman's retail store. Lehman's, for those who aren't familiar with the store, specializes in non-electric technology. After spending several hours at Lehman's we turned south towards Kentucky, making a stop along the way at a basket supply store so Andrea could stock up on supplies for basket making, which is a fairly recently acquired skill.

We made it home around 11:00 PM last night, and after greeting and feeding Luke, Jack, and Kitty, went to bed. We always worry about the animals when we are gone for several days, but we didn't have that concern this time because one of my friends drove up and fed them on Friday and then my parents came down Saturday and spent the night and fed for us. It was a bit strange knowing that someone was spending the night in our home while we weren't there, but having them do so definitely helped put my mind at ease.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


It rained all day today, but I did a couple of things that I thought were worth mentioning. At lunch I put away the last of the garlic that I brought if from drying under the shed. Unfortunately, it looks like I am not going to have a great deal of fresh garlic to last me through the winter. The Tochliavri is looking good, so I put that away. The Symphony, however, all had thin papers and some were even starting to break apart. I'm not sure if I waited too late to harvest, or if I left them outside too long. I hadn't noticed any issues when I harvested them, but is clear they aren't going to store vert well. Also, the Bogatyr isn't looking good, but since I only had a couple of those left that's not such a big loss. My plan is to give a couple of the better bulbs to my Mom to use, then we are going to try drying the rest of the Symphony and Bogatyr. I'll be buying planting stock soon, so will just buy a bit extra to eat on for the next month or two. After that I suppose I'll have to resort to buying my garlic from the grocery store.

After work I needed to take the trash down to the road, so while I was out I took out the compost. Right now the compost pile has a fairly thick layer of grass clippings on top. I dug into the clippings and was surprised to find that the middle layers of clippings were completely dry. I had assumed that after hours of rain the pile would be soaked through, but apparently the clippings pack tightly enough to keep the rain out. I have read the suggestion that grass clippings always be mixed with other materials, and now I can see why. The other thing I found that was surprising is that there was significant heat coming from within the clippings. This is really the first time I have experienced noticeable heat coming from the compost pile. Since it was raining, there was also some steam coming from the area. I added some kitchen waste to the hole and covered it back over with grass clippings. I'm interested in seeing how quickly these materials break down. I realize that the conditions in the compost pile are far from optimal, and the heat being generated is probably either not as hot as would be desired, or at least will not remain hot for very long. I am still excited, though, to see that I'm making progress and am starting to create a pile that actually heats up, if only for a short time.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Our Visit to Wonder of Life Farm

We recently had the opportunity to visit Wonder of Life Farm in Lancaster, KY. Our first experience with the Turner's, who own the farm, was at the 2011 Field to Fork Festival. They were there along with a couple of alpacas, which is what really drew us to their table. After talking with them we decided that we should visit their farm to see a small-scale alpaca operation first hand. Unfortunately, a year passed, and we had yet to make time to visit the farm. We talked with them again at the 2012 Field to Fork Festival and, as before, said we would have to visit the farm sometime. Fortunately for us, the Turners hosted an open house on the farm, which was the perfect opportunity for us to finally go see the farm. We could have easily made arrangements to go another time, but the open house was a set date that we could put on our calendar, making it more likely we wouldn't let something else get in the way of the visit.

We began our tour of the farm at pen of the two male alpacas. Jeff, one of the farm owners, answered several questions that we had about raising alpacas, then took us on a guided tour of the rest of the farm. The farm recently won a ribbon at the state fair for their eggs, so I was glad to hear a bit about how they raise their chickens. Other animals that we saw on the tour include the female alpacas, geese, turkeys, and angora rabbits. We didn't get to see the cow and horse, which is okay since we are primarily interested in small livestock.

Once Maria, the other owner of the farm, caught up with us, we left Jeff to greet other visitors and chatted with her. She took us inside and we talked about how they got started with the farm and their approach for growing it. I was surprised at how closely their process matches what Andrea and I have planned. They began with 30 chickens, which is more than we'll start with, and then added more animals over time. In just 5 years they have expanded a great deal. It was also great seeing how much they had done with a fairly small area. We have much more space than they do, so that helped to alleviate any concerns we had about having space for alpacas.

Maria also offered to let us come help on the farm sometime to become more familiar with alpacas before we decide to move forward with raising them. She was also excited to hear that Andrea has an interest in learning to spin the fiber, and suggested that there might be some opportunity to work out a partnership if she decides to go down that path.

Visiting the Wonder of Life Farm, and talking with the Turners about their experiences has helped to rekindle my interest in acquiring livestock. We were already planning to get chickens this Spring, and it sounds like that may be the perfect way to start. Interestingly, it doesn't seem that we are the only ones who feel like either chickens or bees are a good place to start. After establishing their chicken flock the Turners next acquired bees before moving onto to other animals. I'm encouraged to see that we appear to be on the right track.

I am very glad that we were able to attend the open house at Wonder of Life Farm. It was a great learning experience, and a lot of fun as well. I wish that more local farms would have such events. I do know that Salamander Springs Farm has regular open house events, so I need to get more info on those sometime. I suppose if we ever turn our place into a successful farm we should try to host regular open house or other similar events.

Sunday, September 16, 2012


I took the day off today to spend the day hiking with a friend. I haven't really taken the time to go hiking since we moved here two years ago. When my friend suggested we plan a hike this weekend, I was more than happy to go. The hike itself was relatively short and easy. We did spend an hour or more, though, hiking off trail and just exploring the area in general. We managed to work our way to the top of a waterfall, which was was fun. Unfortunately there was no water since it has been so dry this year, but the view from the top was great anyway. While it may interfere with tasks that I need to do around here, I hope that we manage to take at least a few more hikes before winter gets here.

Saturday, September 15, 2012


Today we had an eventful day. We began the day by visiting the Wonder of Life Farm in Lancaster, KY. We had talked with the folks from the farm twice before, and had planned to visit the farm, but had yet to go. They were hosting an open-house today, so we thought it was the perfect time to visit the farm. It was very enjoyable and we nice to talk with someone who is raising many of the same farm animals we one day hope to raise, such as chickens, rabbits, and alpacas.

After leaving the farm we headed towards Nicholasville. Since we were driving past the Marksbury Farm store we decided to stop there and see what all they had to offer. It was our first trip to their store, but we were aware of the farm because they were  a food vendor at this years Field to Fork Festival. We ended up buying some beer cheese, a block of Kenny's Farmhouse aged cheddar cheese, some pasta flavored with hot peppers, and a chocolate croissant. We'll most likely visit the store again in the future. They had several other products to choose from, including grass fed beef and chicken, which were priced reasonably.

After stopping off for lunch we went to the Lexington Container Store. I had been planning to pick up some barrels for the rain barrel project, and figured today was a good day to do so since we were already going to be halfway there. We ended up with a truckload of barrels today, including five 55 gallon, two 20 gallon (with removable lids) and four 5 gallon jugs. Four of the 55 gallon barrels will be used for rain barrels, and the other will be mounted on a trailer frame to make a towable water tank that we can use to easily move water from the rain barrels to the garden. The 20 gallon barres will be used for storing gardening materials that need to keep dry, such as the perlite that we recently bought. The 5 gallon jugs will also be used for storing materials, such bone meal and other items we have in smaller amounts.

Friday, September 14, 2012


Today I helped Andrea a bit in her attempt to deal with the many peppers that she's recently harvested. She strung up several and I hung them under the shed to dry. While doing that I brought in the remaining garlic, which now just needs the tops and roots trimmed off and to be put up for long term storage. We also began the processing of smoking some peppers using our new cold smoker. I'll be doing a detailed post about that soon. We are smoking Jalapeno, Habanero, and Serrano peppers. We hope to make some Chipotle powder from the smoked Jalapenos because my mom loves cooking with it. I'm not sure what we'll do with the others.

Thursday, September 13, 2012


I'm in the middle of a two day streak of being productive. I went out at lunch and raked some grass. There is plenty that can be raked, since it was so tall when I cut it yesterday. If I were to rake the entire yard I wouldn't be able to fit it into the compost bin. Once I get the big bin built I need to buy a lawn sweeper so I can keep plenty of grass clippings in the bin, or use them as mulch.

After work this evening I went back out. I got out the push mower and mowed the backyard and around the clothesline. I also mowed around the shed and out to and around the compost bin. The grass around the clothesline was very tall, so there were a lot of clippings in a fairly small area. I went ahead and raked that and added it to the compost bin. I need to do a better job of keeping that area mowed, since we are out there a lot, and when I go I'm as likely as not to go barefoot.

In my daily update for yesterday I forgot to mention some of the stuff that Andrea has been doing around the house. One of the big things she's been doing is dealing with the large amounts of peppers she recently harvested. She had a large bowl full of bell peppers, most of which she cut up and froze. There were also way more habaneros than we could even hope to use. She decided to try making some hot sauce with those. She made two types, but I haven't tried either yet. Even though I really like spicy foods, I have never eaten a lot of hot sauce. Sometimes I eat it on tacos, but between the homemade taco seasoning and the peppers (fresh, dried, or powdered) I really don't need to add any additional heat. I'm sure I'll find something to try the hot sauce on, though.

Insurance for the RTV

I recently purchased an insurance policy for the RTV. We had been considering this for some time, and finally decided that now was the time to act. My primary reason for wanting the RTV insured is in case of theft. Since moving here we've seen no indication that theft will be a problem, but having insurance will provide some some piece of mind. Sometimes I forget to lock the RTV up at night, and when I do, the first thing I do the following morning is go check to make sure its still out there. Whenever we are gone for any length of time I also worry about it. This was especially true last fall when we were gone for 12 days on an extended vacation. I was so worried that I actually took the RTV and 4-wheeler far into the woods and chained them together to a tree before leaving. While there was still the risk of someone seeing them, they were not visible from the trailer or any road.

The RTV is not covered under our home owners insurance policy because the value of our policy is so low. Since our home is an older mobile home, it isn't worth very much. I contacted our agent last year about adding the RTV, and he indicated that the cost would likely be close to $400/year to add it. At the time the cost seemed much too high, so we did nothing about it.

Once we started talking seriously again about getting insurance I decided to check into the insurance that the salesperson offered me when I bought the RTV. I dropped by the dealership the week before last to look at tractors, so asked about it then. The person I talked to wasn't sure about the option of adding the insurance to an already paid for piece of equipment, so suggested I call back another day and gave me the name of someone to talk to. I finally got around to calling a couple of days ago. She wasn't able to fully answer my questions either, but gave me a toll free number to call and said I could work directly with the insurer without having to go through the dealer.

After talking with the lady at the dealership I did some searching online and found the website for KTAC (Kubuta Tractor Acceptance Corporation), which is the Kubota-endorsed insurance agency. I found a link for an online quote, so thought it was worth submitting my information. I had to get the serial number from the RTV, then filled out the form and submitted. Within a few minutes I received a response. The quote was for much less than the one I had previously received from our insurance company. It worked out to $1 per month for every $1000 of insured value. After discussing it with Andrea we decided that we weren't likely to beat that price, so decided to purchase the policy.

In addition to the lower price the policy through KTAC has some other advantages. One big advantage is that it is the equipment itself being insured. This means that if something happens to the RTV when it is not on our property it is still covered. While it rarely leaves the property, it is nice to know that if it does get stolen from my parents house or while I'm out on a ride it will still be covered under this policy. If we had added the RTV onto our home owner's policy it would only have been covered it stolen from or damaged while on our property.

The process of actually purchasing the policy was very easy. The quote itself included an application that I could simply fill out and mail in along with payment. We wanted to be sure the policy was effective as soon as possible, however, so I called their toll free number. I spoke with the agent who had prepared the quote, so she was already familiar with the policy I was interested in. She asked a few questions, I gave her my credit card info, and within a few minutes the process was complete.

I feel much better knowing that we'll be able to use the payoff from the insurance company to replace the RTV in the event it is stolen. Most likely this will never come up, and several years down the road I may look back at this as wasted money. For now, however, I believe the piece of mind it gives is well worth the investment. If I ever do get around to buying a tractor, especially a new or fairly new one, I suspect that we'll purchase insurance for it right away. If paying the premium were going to be a struggle I can understand not buying insurance for such items. In our situation, though, I believe insuring high-priced equipment is a very good idea and I'm happy with our decision to do so.

Yellow Jacket Nest Removal - Attempt #1

As you can probably tell from the title of this post, our attempt at taking care of the yellow jacket nests over by the garden were unsuccessful. I've been waiting until I was satisfied that I had complete results before doing a post. At this point, I'm confident that what we did had absolutely no impact.

We had two nests to deal with. Nest #1 is in a hole that is about 1.5" in diameter. It is on a nice level piece of ground, with no obstacles near it. Nest #2 is a smaller hole, maybe 0.75" in diameter, and is located very near a small tree stump, and partially underneath a small log that was being used to frame out the border of the garlic bed.

After doing quite a bit of research, we decided to try two of the lowest impact suggestions that we found. My Dad keeps telling me to just pour a bottle of gasoline down the hole, but we are very hesitant to do this because of the risk of contaminating the soil, especially since we plan to be planting our garden on those spots. Other suggestions include sticking a fogger or bug-bomb down the hole, or using a insecticide dust, which we might have to more seriously consider now.

We waited until after dark one evening, and gathered all of our supplies in the RTV and headed over to the garden. Andrea and I both dressed in boots, pants, gloves, etc to protect against stings, but that turned out to be unnecessary. I didn't see any yellow jackets while we were trying to treat the nests.

For Nest #1 we applied both of the methods that we had decided on. The first method is to pour a mixture of water, liquid castile soap, and peppermint oil down the hole, followed by boiling water. We mixed the water, soap, and peppermint oil in an old milk jug, so we just had to shake it up before pouring down the hole. To boil the water I used a propane camp stove, which was set up in the bed of the RTV.

The second method we tried was to place a glass bowl over the hole, and pile dirt up around the edges. The idea is that the yellow jackets will see the light, and assume they can get out of the nest, but be trapped by the bowl and eventually die of starvation. This method had been suggested by the presenters of one of the workshops Andrea attended in the past, and I also found some anecdotal evidence online about its effectiveness. We figured it was worth a try.

For Nest #2 we only applied the first method, as the location of the hole would have made it difficult to fit a bowl over it. I did, however, cover the hole with dirt after filling it with boiling water.

The next day I went over to check on the nests, and found that both were very active. The bowl over Nest #1 was filled with many yellow jackets flying around, which is what I had expected. There were, however, a few flying around the outside, which told me that there was another entrance to the nest, which is something I had seen mentioned several times during my research. Nest #2 was very active, with dozens of yellow jackets flying around the pile of dirt covering the hole. It was evident that they too had used another exit from the next, and were likely trying to figure out what happened to their front door.

It has now been a week and a half since we treated the yellow jacket nests, and nothing has changed. The bowl over Nest #1 is still filled with yellow jackets, but there are several flying around the outside of the bowl. I have been trying to locate the other entrance to the next, but so far have had no luck. I need to come up with a better plan that just sitting and watching I guess. I have located the other entrance for Nest #2. That hole was just a few inches from the other one, but was underneath the log so I had not seen it. After covering the first hole up, though, I was able to see that they were flying under the log, so yesterday I moved it. I may be able to get a glass bowl of jar over that hole, so figure its worth trying one evening.

I suspect that the reason neither method worked is that I had not located and addressed the secondary exit from the nests. Had I covered both holes with a bowl, then maybe that method would have worked as planned. As for the mixture of water, soap, and peppermint oil, I'm not confident that method works at all. We never saw yellow jackets leaving the nests after pouring the mixture down the holes, so this makes me think they didn't even try to escape. I've read that the nests are built in such a way as to be protected from water, since obviously rain will run down the holes. Maybe pouring more water would have helped, although we used more than was suggested. I'm not clear on what the mixture was suppose to accomplish, though. Perhaps this method would have been somewhat more effective if the second hole was covered, but I'm not sure.

Part of me wants to be lazy and just wait until winter and let the cold weather kill the nests. If we do this, however, it means we'll have to wait until Spring to prep the garden. We had hoped to plant a winter cover crop. Also, I need to prepare a spot for the garlic this fall, so that has to happen whether we get rid of the yellow jackets or not. There are several areas I could use, but I'd really prefer having the whole plot available instead of having to work between the areas where those nests are located. Hopefully I'll be able to do a post on Attempt #2 sometime soon.


As hoped, I've started doing a bit around the house these past few days. I'm still not doing a whole lot, though, but am hoping that I continue doing a bit more each day. Like I said before, it doesn't take much to knock me off of my feet. I suppose I use the excuse of wanting to get plenty of rest to ensure a smooth recovery.

I decided to mow grass this evening. I figured it was probably the task that needed done worst, without being too much actual work. The grass was probably the tallest it has been all year, but it only took about an hour and a half to cut it. Maybe I'm starting to get a good process down finally.

I also did a couple of small things yesterday. We had been talking about getting insurance on the RTV, most specifically to guard against theft, so I contact an insurance company and had a policy drawn up for it. I'll do a detailed post about that, as I think it is an important thing to at least consider when owning a fairly expensive piece of equipment. I also finally got around to repairing the long-handled tool carrier on the RTV that was nearly torn off when the rake I was hauling caught on a tree limb. I don't recall if I had mentioned that at the time or not. Luckily there was no real damage. The top zip ties just broke, so it was still hanging on by the ones on the bottom. I had extras from the pack I bought from the initial install, so just added a couple towards the top and its in good shape now. I just need to remember to watch for limbs when carrying tools like that, or, probably even better, go ahead and cut the limbs I know are a problem.

Monday, September 10, 2012


I've not had a lot to say lately, but I'm hoping that will be changing soon. I was out of commission over the weekend due to having some teeth pulled on Friday. I'm still not back to 100%, but am getting there. Hopefully in a few days I'll feel up to getting back outside and doing some light chores. I tend, though, to let stuff like this knock me off of my feet for longer than most people.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Locally Made Cheese

In a previous post I mentioned my desire to find a source for locally made cheese. After learning about a Lexington-based cheese maker during our last visit to the Lexington Farmers Market I decided to do some research. To my surprise I have found three cheese makers within 150 miles of here.

The first of these semi-local cheese makers is the Boone Creek Creamery in Lexington, KY. We spoke to the owner of the creamery at the Downtown Farmers Market. He has several varieties of cheese available. I tried the Scandinavian Bread Cheese, which was very good. We didn't buy anything, but I would like to visit their cheese shop sometime. Their products are also available at the Good Foods Market, Whole Foods, and several other locations.

While looking for the Boone Creek Creamery cheeses at Good Foods market I ran across some cheese made by Bluegrass Dairy and Food, which I later found out is located in Glasgow, KY. Bluegrass Dairy seems to be the complete opposite of Boone Creek Creamery. While Boone Creek is an artisan cheese maker, Bluegrass Dairy is a food service supplier who makes various products including several dairy-based powders.

Initially I had thought that Bluegrass Dairy might be a better source of cheese than Kenny's Farmhouse Cheese. I had always thought that Kenny's was based in Northern Kentucky, but I found out that it is based in Austin, which is just a few miles south of Glasgow, where Bluegrass Dairy is located. I had also always thought of Kenny's as a larger company, primarily because of the professional quality of their packaging. Bluegrass Dairy, on the other hand, uses very simple packaging, similar to what one might find at a farmers market. After comparing the websites, however, I found that Kenny's is much more attractive to me than Bluegrass Dairy. I like the fact that Kenny's started as a side business of a family dairy farm. I also like the fact that the milk comes from the family farm and they can therefore provide information on how the cows are fed and treated.

So, now the big question is, are we going to switch to acquiring our cheese from one, or more, of these sources? We primarily use 5 types of cheese, Mozzarella, Parmesan, Monterrey Jack, Cheddar, and, I unfortunately have to admit, American. Of those, the only one carried by Boone Creek Creamery is Parmesan. The price is $10, for what I believe is an 8 oz package. This is very similar to the price we use to pay for real Parmigian-Reggiano, before we cut back to a cheaper variety because I was going through so much of it. I would also like to try some of Boone Creek's other varieties for times when I just want some cheese to snack on.

Kenny's carries both Cheddar and Monterrey Jack. Their prices are $10/lb, which is approximately 3 to 4 times what we currently pay for those varieties. If we do switch to Kenny's our plan is to reduce the amount of cheese that we use, so that the increase in cost is minimized. I'm thinking that if we do this correctly, the cost of our Cheddar and Monterrey Jack may double, instead of increasing to as much as four times our current costs with no changes to our use. One nice thing about switching to Kenny's Farmhouse Cheese is that it is available at several locations. The closest location is Happy Meadows Natural Foods in Berea, which is somewhere we visit with some regularity already.

Bluegrass Dairy does carry Cheddar, Monterrey Jack, and Parmesan. I'm not sure what their price is for Parmesan, but I believe their Cheddar and Monterrey Jack is priced similar to Kenny's. Since I think I prefer Kenny's anyway, I can't see any reason to purchase from Bluegrass Dairy. Their website does claim that in 2010 their Monterrey Jack did win the World's Cheese Championship, however, so maybe it is worth trying at some point.

I have yet to find a local source for Mozzarella or American Cheese. As far as I'm concerned, we can just stop buying American, although Andrea may not agree. I do eat it occasionally and actually do prefer it on the cheeseburgers that Andrea makes. I'm more than willing to give it up, however. Mozzarella is a different story, however, We've only recent switched to what I consider "real" Mozzarella. We use it on pizzas, which we don't make often, but with enough regularity that we need to find a good source for cheese. If we don't find a semi-local source, its not the end of the world, since we don't go through a lot of it. I would still like to find something, however, or maybe consider, eventually, making our own.

I don't have a good feel for how much of each type of cheese we currently go through. One reason for this is that it varies so much, depending on what we are eating. When I'm working outside before work most mornings we go through more Cheddar because I eat it on breakfast burritos. When we are eating tacos often we go through more Monterrey Jack. If I'm eating a lot of pasta I'll go through a lot of Parmesan. Also, if we're trying to watch what we eat the amount of cheese we use will be reduced, because we actually measure it and stick to more reasonable amounts. I'm going to guess that right now we spend maybe $20 per month on cheese. By switching to more local producers I'm thinking that we'd spend maybe $30-$40, assuming that we cut back the amounts that we use. If we can manage the switch to more local cheese for an additional $10-$20 per month I'll be happy with that.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Potato Growing Results

This was our first year attempting to grow potatoes. Before planting I did quite a bit of research, and followed some tips that sounded reasonable to me. The results, however, were not what I had hoped. A while back I posted about my results on Earthineer and between the responses I received there, and   some additional research, I think that next year's potato crop should do better.

We planted three varieties of potatoes this year: Yukon Gold, Pontiac (red), and Kennebec (white). All 3 were planted on April 20th. We did not do a soil test, which is something I realize we should have done prior to planting. The ground appeared to be very rich. It had been dormant for years, and actually was very overgrown until I cleared it this past fall. I expected the potatoes to do well in the dark, crumbly soil, so we did not add any compost or other ammendments. Before planting I tilled the entire area, then created a trench 6 inches deep for planting the potatoes. We planted a row of each type, with the rows spaced about 24 inches apart. We planned to hoe them and hill up some dirt around the plants when they reached 12 inches tall, but we didn't do that until a bit later than we had planned, when some were probably approaching 18 inches. We hoed them again in June and again added to the dirt surrounding the plants. We started watering the plants, at first weekly, and then more often, once we stopped getting rain. June was extremely dry, with less than half an inch of total rainfall.

The Yukon Gold had grown very tall, most were probably 24 inches. They had few leaves on the lower portion of the stem, which made me think we had a problem. The other varieties looked a little better, but still weren't as bushy as I had expected. Once the majority of the Yukon Gold and Kennebec plants looked dead we decided to go ahead and harvest those. This was at the beginning of July, which was much earlier in the season that I expected to be harvesting potatoes. I suspect that the problem was lack of water. 

Yields of both Yukon Gold and Kennebec potatoes were very disappointing. We did get a handful of decent sized Yukon Gold, but most were approximately golf ball sized. The Kennebecs were generally not as big, which was expected since they have a longer period to maturity than the Yukon Gold. There were more of the Kennebecs, though, and I do believe that the yield would have been decent had they been allowed to grow until later in the season. With dead plants, though, I knew there was no chance of them growing any larger. 

During the harvesting of the first two types I noticed that the stems of many of the plants were slimy below ground level. Approximately 12 inches of most plants were underground and it was the bottom 6 inches that were slimy. The feedback that I received from the helpful people on Earthineer has convinced me that the sliminess was likely due to the way in which we watered the plants prior to harvest. Potatoes prefer a good weekly soaking as opposed to several lesser waterings. We made the mistake of increasing the frequency of watering as the drought conditions worsened and as the plants looked less and less healthy. This is one thing we will me very mindful of next year. 

I had planned to harvest the Pontiacs shortly after harvesting the other varieties, but after discussing it with my Dad I decided to wait. His reasoning was that even though the potatoes were no longer growing, they would store better in the ground than if we dug them. If we had a good way to store potatoes, this might not have been the case, but since we would have just kept them in the pantry, I thought his logic made sense. 

When I finally dug the Pontiacs I was somewhat surprised. The yield still wasn't great, but it was much better than the yield of the other two varieties. I had not thought to weigh the other types, but did the Pontiacs. The total yield was just over 5 lbs, which isn't very good considering we planted 5 lbs of seed. We had a few potatoes of decent size, with the largest being maybe 3 inches in diameter. 

In addition to changes to our watering methods I also have a couple of additional changes in mind for next year's crop. The first change is to not plant them in a trench like this past year. In better soil that approach may have worked well, but what I found is that in our situation the soil on either side of the trench was so hard that it likely limited the ability of the roots of the plant to spread and certainly limited the space for the potatoes to form. When we planted it appeared that the soil was nice and crumbly, but after a month with almost no rain we found the soil to be very hard.

The other change I have planned is the timing of when we begin hilling dirt up around the plants. We had intended to do this earlier in the process, but for some reason didn't get to it  until the plants were quite tall. I suspect that this had a significant impact on the yield, so is something I want to focus on next year.

We may also try to plant the potatoes earlier in the season next year. Based on when others, who had better yields, planted this year we were probably 2-3 weeks late. Maybe we can aim for planting during the first week or two of April this year. I've been told that Easter Weekend is the traditional time for planting potatoes in our area. This year Easter was on April 8th, which was 12 days before we planted our potatoes. In 2013 Easter will be on March 31st.

I'm looking forward to attempting to grow potatoes again next year. I'm confident that our results will be better than this year's. Gardening is definitely a learning process for us, so if we can improve results each year I will be very satisfied.

Saturday, September 1, 2012


You may have noticed that I haven't posted anything in quite some time. That is partly due to a lack of motivation on my part, and partly because I haven't accomplished a whole lot during that time. I've not been completely unproductive, but its been close to that.

Today, however, was very different. I've accomplished several things, and am feeling good about that. I hope that today was what I've been needing to jump start my motivation. When I woke up this morning I wasn't feeling well, so wasn't sure how much I'd get done. It was around 9:00 AM before I felt like going out. The first thing that I did was finish moving the pile of branches to the burn pile that I started on last week. They were in my way and were preventing me from getting the big mower out past the compost pile. After getting those moved, I hooked the mower to the front hitch of the RTV and experimented with pushing it so I could more easily back it into previously uncleared or tight areas. It worked out great. I managed to clear a much wider path out past the compost pile than I've ever had cleared before. I think that this approach will definitely help me to clear some of the areas I've been wanting to clear. Backing the mower into those areas is much easier to do when its hooked to the front of the RTV rather than the back.

I came in for an early lunch around 11:00 and rested for an hour or two. I then went back out and mowed some weeds. I mowed around the pile of stuff that needs to be burned, as well as around the area where I've burned stuff in the past. The weeds in that area were out of control, with most being chest high and some being above my head. Thankfully it wasn't a big area to mow, thought, so I finished up in an hour or so.

After mowing I decided to go ahead and burn some stuff. The weather forecast was calling for rain all weekend, starting this afternoon, so I figured it would be a good time to burn what I could before the rains started. It started trying to rain before I even got the fire started, but cleared up quickly. I ended up being able to burn about half of the stuff in one pile before quitting for dinner around 6:00. It never did rain, but I'm hoping that we get some overnight.

After dinner I made a couple of trips to check on the fire. There had been some small flames when I initially quit, and those quickly died down. The last time I checked on it there were no flames, but were still some red embers.

Around 9:00 Andrea went back over to the garden with me to try out a method for destroying yellow jacket nests. We tried it on two different nests. I'm hoping that within the next couple of days I'll be able to tell if it worked. I'll do a post about it at that time, detailing the method that we used. It actually went much more smoothly that I had anticipated. I just hope that it took care of the problem. Assuming that it did, we can begin prepping the plot for next years garden soon, and hopefully even get a cover crop planted.