1/27/14

The Prodigal Has Returned

No, not just me to this blog.  After forty days and forty nights, we finally have Kipu back with us!!!  He survived some of the coldest temperatures recorded here, snow, ice, coyotes, and all the other hazards that face loose dogs.  When he was finally caught, his fur was a disaster of snarls, knots, and burrs. The vet groomed him for free, updated his shots, and checked him for parasites and injuries. But he's back with us, alive and well and refusing to leave Arabella's side.

With all the bad weather we've been having, not much by way of farm improvements has been happening.  Danny and I have been doing lots of writing on our respective novels, Arabella has been teaching herself magic tricks in her spare time, and Giselle turned 16.  Other than that, we're just keepin' warm.

We're looking at a busier than usual next few weeks, so I'll drop in here when I get the chance. Until then, stay safe!

1/4/14

This has NOT been a good year, so far.

As some of you know, our family spent the Christmas holiday in Arizona and California. The girls and I drove out to Arizona, leaving KY on December 15th. Danny was flying out to Arizona on the 19th after work. We were driving out so that I had time to finish boxing, labeling, and shipping the last 1000# of books we had left behind in Flagstaff in storage when Danny moved out here, before driving down to pick him up at Sky Harbor Airport (PHX). (We also were transporting a very heavy, awkward, pointy-weapon-type present for Sam by car so that TSA wouldn't have any reason to provide our family with free Christmas proctology exams.)

The plan was for Danny to drop Arabella's Lhasa Apso, Kipu, at the vet's on the evening of December 17th for boarding while we were gone. (The rest of the animals were being watched by the next-door neighbor.)  He had to work on the 18th, then drive directly from work to Louisville to fly out to Arizona on the 19th.  I would pick him up at PHX, we would drive to Coronado Island on the 20th to spend time with his family, then we would drive back to AZ on the 23rd and drop him off at PHX to fly back to Kentucky so he could make it to work on the 24th.   Then I would drop the girls off to their father to spend Christmas eve/day with him.  Busy holidays.

Anyway, long story longer, Danny finally made it back to the farm on Christmas morning.  He walked in and the phone was ringing.  It was the vet calling.  Kipu had climbed out of the chain-link enclosure, walked along the chain-link roof, then jumped the 6' board fence and escaped.  He had done this the morning of the 18th and had been loose since. The vet had our home number but not our cell phone numbers, so he hadn't been able to contact us.  Danny called me, then headed straight out to try to catch Kipu.

So for Christmas morning, I got to call Arabella at her dad's house and tell her that her dog was missing.  Felt remarkably like the Grinch. The girls and I headed out the next morning at 8 am and I drove straight thru back to Kentucky.  I pulled into our driveway at 6:30 am on December 28th (after 2 days each of driving 18 hours straight), got three hours of sleep, then headed out to look for Kipu.

The last time Kipu was sighted was on December 29th, about 2 miles from the vet's office.  We've been out every day for hours, calling for him and walking the hills.  Tomorrow evening, the weather is supposed to take a turn for the worse, with temps getting down below 0, and 3-5" of snow expected.  Arabella is not handling Kipu missing very well.  If we don't find him tomorrow, I'm not sure what to do. 

No, it has not been the best year so far.

(Post script:  He's lost in Paintsville. He was lost near the golf course, but the last sighting was in town. He's white with grey and has a prominent underbite. He's about 10-15#. If anyone finds him, they can call the vet's office @ 606-789-1195. He has his tags on, as far as we know.)

12/25/13

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

We're out of town until next year.  Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

11/24/13

Choosing Trees

OK, before I get into trees, Is anyone else having issues with blogger?  I sign in, and as soon as I click off the dashboard page, it asks me to sign in again.  Repeatedly.  It's just an annoyance (I did eventually figure out how to get a post started) but still. And what's with this highlighted/underlined ad link thing they suddenly have going in my posts?!  I'm trying to figure out how to shut that off (no luck so far), so any advice is appreciated.

On to trees:  One of the first things that you want to get planted on a homestead of any size, are your fruit and nut trees. It usually takes about 5 years to start harvesting anything from them, so it's important to get them going early. Which causes problems if you only have a small area to work with, because if you don't have a working plan in mind when you're planting your trees, you can easily end up with a mess.  And I don't mean mess, as in, "Oh, look at the pretty leaves I have to rake up."  No, I mean mess, as in, "My prime garden spot is right there and that stupid tree I planted is shading it." or, "What do you mean the tree's roots are damaging my foundation/pipes/sidewalk/other-expensive-portion-of -my-property?!" or, "Huh, never thought those trees would get THAT big.  They were so small when I bought them! Maybe I shouldn't have planted them so close together."

Which is why my previous post (OK, previous post minus one.  My last post I put up mainly to amuse Gorges.) was about figuring out your best garden areas, solar exposure, etc, ahead of time. If you don't like where you put a row of, say, beets, you can always relocate them.  If it turns out you don't like beets, you can just not plant them again. Not so much with trees.  They're gonna be with you for a loooong time. It's better to do it right the first time.

Here at Kentucky Hollers, deciding where to plant our trees was actually fairly easy.  The location of our original shade tree row was still marked by the row of daffodils that had been planted beneath the original trees. (Tip: deer and rabbits looove tulips, but hate daffodils.  If you're in the country, plant daffodils.) It is exactly 35' from the back of the house. I haven't been able to find a definitive answer to the question of the optimal distance for a shade tree row, but in our case, 35' works well.  It's far enough from the house that we don't have to worry about roots destroying the foundation or branches falling on the roof during a wind storm, but close enough to provide the desired shade.  We have used the 35' distance between the trees and the house to build a greenhouse addition, site our woodshed, and fence in an area for the dogs.Then we planted a second row 10' behind the first row (we wanted more fruit trees than we could fit in one row.) Our shade tree row has a total of 14 trees in it, 6 in the first row, and 8 in the second.  We planted our trees about 10' apart, since we want them for shade and plan on keeping them trimmed. Whatever you do, don't try planting them much closer together that that.  They may start out as twigs but they will get BIG.  We also have a row of black walnuts (which do cause problems; lots of plants won't grow near black walnuts) along the east boundary of our property and 13 other fruit trees scattered around the perimeter.

Choosing your trees is the fun part.  If you want the trees for shade, full-size trees are a better choice than dwarf or semi-dwarf trees (unless there's a conflict with shading your garden area.  We'll get into that another day.) Something to consider is getting multi-grafted trees, also called "fruit cocktail" trees in some magazines.  If space is short and you want a wide variety of different fruits, this is the way to go, in my opinion. We planted multi-grafted pears (5 types (American) on one tree, 3 types (Asian) on another tree), a multi-grafted plum (5 types of plums), and a multi-grafted apple tree (2 types on one tree.) One bonus of multi-grafted trees is that they usually (if done right) are self-pollinating, so you will only need to plant one tree to get fruit, instead of the two or more cross-pollinating trees you would otherwise have to plant. Focus on self-pollinating trees. (Remember, we have to make the most of limited space.)

Next question; what fruits and/or nuts do you and your family like to eat?  For our family, we chose apples, pears, plums, cherries, apricots, almonds, and hazelnuts for our shade tree row, and added lemons, limes, oranges, tangerines, and pomegranates (all in the greenhouse...well, they'll be there when we finish the greenhouse.  Right now, they're in pots in the basement by the window.) We also planted a couple of highbush cranberries at one end of the new chicken coop which sits just behind the second row of shade trees, since they are supposed to be one of a handful of plants that will grow near black walnuts.  The other end of the chicken coop has 2 more dwarf apple trees (that I planted just after I moved here and which were a mistake, both size and location.)

Speaking of which, when deciding which trees and where to plant them, remember to take into consideration soil drainage, fog pockets, and disease susceptibility of various types of fruit trees. For example, around here we have a HUGE problem with cedar apple rust.  Because of this, most, if not all, of the heirloom breeds of apples are off-limits to us. When I chose my first apple trees (the aforementioned dwarf mistakes), I chose one Goldrush, and one Sundance. The Goldrush isn't rust resistant, and is dying. Since we want to stay as chemical-free as possible, we decided from then on to plant only no-spray apple trees, which are resistant or immune to just about every apple disease out there. Therefore, for our main shade tree row, we chose to plant Liberty and Freedom apples, one of which was grafted with a Red Luscious (another no-spray apple). And as an example of what can go wrong when choosing a location for a fruit tree, the previous owner of our property planted a peach in such a bad location (the ground is chronically damp and it is in a fog pocket) that it has never produced any fruit.  I'm trying to solve its fungus issues organically, but I will most likely end up having to remove it.

Well, that's my best advice as to how to choose the trees for your small homestead. Once you decide which types of trees you want and where you're going to plant them, it's time to break out the seed-porn magazines that fill your mailbox each year about this time and start pickin' trees. (The nurseries we've bought from are Stark's, Miller's (which apparently is now part of Stark's) and Gurney's. We've been quite happy with all of them.)  Happy shopping!

Next post: Raised beds.

11/15/13

Layin' out the 'Stead, or "Dude, Where's my House?"

I've been floundering around, making lists of subjects to cover and trying to decide where to start.  After long deliberation, several glasses of iced tea, and a goodly part of a cheese ball (hey, Thanksgiving's coming. Just tryin' out recipes. ;-) That's my story and I'm stickin' to it!), I decided to begin at the beginning.

I'm going to assume that the readers of this blog live in some type of non-movable house.  Going with that supposition, the first thing to determine is your solar exposure.  That way you can maximize your usable spaces.

Find a basic compass (or look your property up on GoogleEarth.)  Locate where the southern exposure is on your property.  That's your prime planting area.  Our house is oriented with its long axis running east/west, which means the entire back of our house faces south and the front of the house faces north.  The property itself is about 80' wide by about 250' deep (very rough numbers!) and slopes down to the south. Our house is about as far towards the top of our slope as they could get--seriously!  Our front yard is only about 10' deep!  But while most of our property has a southern exposure, the lower third nearest the creek is in shade from our hill for most of fall and winter.  It also is more level than the rest of the property, so it tends to be waterlogged after rainstorms.  If your property has any problem areas like this, make a note of them.  We'll deal with them later.

Back before central heating/air, the orientation of the house was carefully considered before it was built.  Deep roof overhangs were built on the south side of the house to provide shade for the windows when the sun was high in the sky (summer) but to allow sunlight to reach the windows when the sun was lower in the sky (winter.) Usually, a row of  deciduous/fruit trees was planted along the house's southern exposure to provide additional summer shade. (In windy locals, evergreens tended to be used to provide a wind break.) Besides providing fruit, their leaves would fall off each autumn just in time to allow for passive solar heat in the winter. Our original shade tree row was cut down by the previous owners when they installed the central heating/air.  (Re/planting a tree row will help keep your winter heating/summer cooling bills down, as well as give you food.  How's that for a plus!)  The north side of our house is where our front porch is and provides a cool, shady place to sit in the summer. If you want a gazebo, arbor, or other such structure, the north side of the house would probably be the best location for it. 

The short side of our house faces toward the hot afternoon sun from the west, as minimizing this exposure was the best way to keep from frying all summer long (bedrooms were usually placed here because they weren't in use during the day. If you are unlucky enough to have a large part of your house face west, you may want to consider a second shade tree row!) And since most of the storms around here blow in from the west, having the short side oriented in that direction lets the storms blow around us and keeps the house from acting as a wind sail, which would make it harder to keep warm in the winter. Our kitchen faces towards the east to keep it as cool as possible during summer cooking (one common trend is to face the front door towards the east. I kinda like that; our back door faces east, actually.)

That's the layout here at Kentucky Hollers.  I'm going to guess yours is different, but I'll just tell you what we did here, so you can then adapt it to your situation.

One of the first things we did was replace our shade tree row, which doubles as our mini-orchard.  Next post:  Choosing trees!

11/13/13

Small is Beautiful

I've been doing a lot of thinking about Kentucky Hollers the farm, and Kentucky Hollers the blog.  We've been busy, but that was the excuse, not the reason, I haven't been posting.  Nothing was coming to mind to post about.  Yeah, we've been chipping away at farm chores, house rehab, and LOTS of other things.  But what purpose did posting here serve?

And then...a couple weeks ago, a blogger friend of mine had a get-together for homesteader/prepper types at her house.  Her get-togethers are always fun and informative, so we toddled over to her farm (bearing several dozen homemade jalapeno poppers!) to see familiar faces and meet some new ones.

Have you ever had one of those experiences where you're part of a conversation, but at the same time it's like you're standing to one side, watching the interaction and listening to all of the conversational undertones?  While mingling at my friend's get-together, I was enthusing about some of our (admittedly unusual) plans for the farm.  We have decided to try growing Moringa trees to feed the animals, instead of purchasing hay, which is our biggest animal expense. A hayfield of our own is out of the question for us. I'm also looking into silk worms as a fiber "animal," since we have room for mulberry trees, but not room for sheep or more rabbits. I explained that we had "unusual" plans because, although we own 10.6 acres, only 6/10ths of an acre is actually usable for farming (the rest is treed hillside...and I mean hillside! And that 6/10ths includes the house, driveway, and parking area) In other words, we have room to grow up, just not out

The general reaction to my 6/10ths of an acre explanation by the people there (most of whom have upward of 40 acres to farm) was (paraphrased), "Oh, 6/10ths of an acre isn't big enough to be a real homestead/farm." That set me thinking for the rest of that week. 

Then my blogger friend said something that made everything click. She has 50 acres.  She can do anything with her land. A-n-y-t-h-i-n-g.  Cows? Check.  Hay fields? Check. Horses? Check. Enormous garden? Check. Sheep? Check. Et cetera. She has so many options, she has no clue which one is the best one to do. She said to me, "I wish I had just 2 acres.  If I only had two acres, I'd be able to narrow it down enough to figure out what I want to do."

BINGO!!  That was what I had been missing! Everything I have read on the interwebs about homesteading (with some notable exceptions) is predicated on having LAND LOTS of land.  Multiple ACRES of land. A city-lot sized piece of ground will not do!  You need MORE!!!

Says who?!?! What I have learned on our 6/10ths of an acre is: Adapt to what you have.  Not everyone can afford multiple acres.  Not everyone is able to move to "the country." Not everyone has enough man-power/time/equipment to oversee a multi-acre garden. Cows are not a necessity for milk (dwarf dairy goats do fine.) Chickens come travel-sized, for your convenience.  Rabbits don't take up much space.  Orchards can be planted in small spaces (we have 5 types of apples, 8 types of pears, 3 types of nuts, 5 types of plums, and 2 types of cherries in two parallel rows less than 60' long.  Multi-grafted fruit trees are your friend.) Square-foot gardening/raised beds are an amazing invention.  Small houses make you decide what possessions are important and find creative ways to make room for what is needed. Being small forces you to think outside the box.

So over the next few weeks, I'm planning on reworking this blog into a rallying point for the small farms out there.  Just because we're small doesn't make us any less worthy of claiming the title "homestead." We are the small homesteader; hear us roar!