Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Adding Cattails to the Pond.

"Solitary trees, if they grow at all, grow strong" - Winston Churchill
You are probably wondering why anyone would add cattails to their pond, but cattails are actually one of the more beneficial of all wild plants.  The roots for example contain more starch than potatoes and more protein than rice.  The tubers are supposedly very tasty when baked.  Some people ever use the pollen from cattails in their baked goods.  The flour in early spring is gluten free.   Songbirds use the fluff from the flowers in their nest and many wild birds including ducks nest in cattails.  My plan is to limit the areas that contain the cattails but I did want to add them to the site because they are so beneficial, not only as a food source, but for other purposes as well.  

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Beekeeping - Captured Swarm of Bees at Permaculture Farm

I mentioned yesterday that I went down to check on the bees Saturday and I saw a swarm attached to a tree  branch.  I went up to the cabin to get some supplies and by the time I got back they were gone.  I assumed they had left, but now I am thinking they may have gone back into the hive.  I have heard that if you see your bees are about to swarm you can clang a pot and pan together to mimic the sound of thunder and sometimes the bees will move back into the hive.  They do not want to swarm before a storm.  It was raining Saturday, but I do not remember any thunder.  I was surprised to find the swarm on a branch of the same tree when I arrived home yesterday. 

A little info about swarms...  When a swarm starts it will only fly a very short distance from the hive where the queen will send out 20-50 scout bees.   The scout bees will inspect sites for their new home.  The scouts return and perform a dance.. the more excited the scout is about the location the more enthusiastic the dance is.  The scout tries to entice the other scouts to go with it to visit the site.  It may take a few hours or a few days for all of the scouts to agree on the same location.  At this time the swarm leaves for its new home.  

This is a closeup of the swarm.  It is hard to say how many bees are in the cluster but I would guess about 15000 bees.  Sound hard to believe?  When you order a package of bees you typically get a 3 lb package which is about 10,000-12,000 bees.   I have ordered a few packages in the past and this swarm was slightly larger than what would come in a package.   

 I quickly grabbed my supplies (suit, gloves, hive components, and shears).  I set the new hive up and then while holding the branch with one hand I carefully used my shears to cut the branch away from the tree.  I slowly walked with the cut branch and swarm over to the new box.  I placed the limb on the hive and then slowly started brushing the bees off of the branch (see brush in picture below).  

 After most of the bees were in the new box I closed the box.  I have my fingers crossed that the bees will stay.  I think often times people take a frame of brood from one of the existing hives to install into the new hive.  I will check this afternoon to make sure the bees are still here and if they are I will give them a few days to settle in before going into the hive.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Rose-Breasted Grosbeak

“The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.” 
― Willie Nelson

I was out on the property this weekend and spotted a Rose-Breasted Grosbeak.  This is the first one I have seen on the property.   They spend their winters in tropical areas and then migrate north for the summer.  Their summer range is from Tennessee to Canada.   I grabbed my camera as a second though this day, but I am fortunate to have it.   Ironically, later Saturday I walked down to check on the bees and there was a swarm on a branch a few feet of the ground (from one of my beehives).  I had a  box there but I went back up to the cabin to get my camera, gloves, and a few other things.  When I got back the swarm had already left.  I need to get back into the habit of always keeping a camera with me when I am out and about.  Hope everyone had a great weekend.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly

Tiger Swallowtail

Instead of driving my car down to my cabin I have an area at the top of the hill where I park it and then I walk along a little trail down to my cabin.  There was a small opening near where I park that was prone to erosion and had little vegetation.  Back last fall I planted the area in crimson clover.  The past couple of weeks it has been covered with insects and you can see where the deer have been bedding down in it as well.  I enjoy stopping by every day and looking for new insects and seeing signs of where other wildlife has been visiting the area.  I have started keeping a journal documenting what butterflies have been seen on the permaculture farm.  

The main host plants for the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail are the magnolia, peach, and the cherry.  They prefer to feed on the nectar of legumes, sunflowers, echinachia, marigolds, zinna, and yarrow.  

Friday, April 19, 2013

Solar Fish Feeder

A surveying friend of mine was telling me about his dad making a fish feeder using the energy in the water flowing through his spillway to produce a small amount of electricity via a generator to have lights installed on float.  The lights attracted insects that would ultimately end up in the water where they would quickly become  a meal.  I had been wanting to build this for a while and found time this week to grab a few lights.  I went with two spotlights and 2 of the normal patio type solar lights.  I had some rigid foam board from a previous project so all I really needed was one treated 2 x 4 x 8' and one treated 1 x 6 x 8'.  I left the float sitting out overnight to make sure all of the lights were working.  I will the kayak out this weekend and place the fish feeder.  I have an eye bolt near the center and will be using a CMU block I have onsite as the anchor.  After a few days and letting the fish get used to it I will post back on the results.   

Hearts-A-Bustin - Softwood Cuttings - Propagation


"You live longer once you realize that any time spent being unhappy is wasted." Ruth E. Renkl

Hearts-A-Bustin is sometimes referred to as Ice Cream for Deer because it is supposedly there favorite plant to browse.  Are here the plant is somewhat hard to find because the deer population is so high.  I noticed this plant back last year at a nearby park so I went back a few days ago and took a few cuttings.  I took the cuttings at least 5 nodes back and trimmed the leaves off the first 3 nodes.  I then dipped the cuttings into glass of water and then into the rooting hormone.    This is my first time trying to propagate this plant so I will know in a few weeks how successful this project will be.   

On a side note, I ordered a few of these plants a few years ago and planted them on the edge of a field.  I didn't realize at the time that these plants do not do well in direct sunlight.  If you are able to get your hands on a few of these plants make sure you plant them in the shade.  I plan to install a chain link barrier around each shrub about 3 foot in diameter.  This will allow the deer to browse on them but not do enough damage to actually kill the plant.  

In addition to be a favorite food source for deer, they also have a wonderful fall color.  I will post a few pictures soon I took last fall of the flowers in bloom.   

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Solomon Seal - Native Plants

" By night we lingered on the lawn, For underfoot the herb was dry; And genial warmth; and o'er the sky The silvery haze of summer drawn"  - Tennyson

Solomon Seal is one of my favorite wildflowers.  I planted some last year but unfortunately it also was dug up by some critter.  A friend recently gave me this plant and I am doing daily inspections to make sure the same thing doesn't happen.  Solomon Seal can be used in a tincture to help heal injuries to ligaments, tendons, and muscles.  Some people use it in teas to help with anxiety, etc. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Native Plants - Bloodroot and Mayapple


“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” 
― John Muir

I had a busy weekend putting out plants and starting some new seeds.  I needed a  break so figured I would take a short walk down to where I planted a few natives this past year. 

I was surprised to see that my Bloodroot had made it.  I out it out last May and it was a week or two before I went back to check on it.  I noticed that a squirrel or some other critter had dug up the roots.   I had this problem with about a dozen plants I purchased from one particular nursery last year.  I started putting a couple of moth balls out with each new plant and that seemed to keep the critters at bay.  Bloodroot has a white flower when in bloom and a red dye can be obtained from the cut root.  This dye is still used by many Native Americans.   The plant is also toxic.  

Not far away I saw several Mayapples along the forest floor.  I dug some of these up last year in an attempt to start them on our property.  I was pleased to see about half a dozen of these in the general area.  I have noticed in the past that box turtles seem to be very fond of this plant.  Considering that box turtles tend to favor toxic plants, it is not surprise that the Mayapple can be toxic, especially at certain times of the year (which is probably why it got its other nickname... Devil's Apple).  

Friday, April 12, 2013

Oca - Oxalis Tuberosa - Lost Crop of the Incas

Oca - Oxalis Tuberosa
I have a few new things I am planting this year.  Oca is considered one of the lost plants of the Incas and is second to only the potato in root crops in some European countries.  I am planting about 5 different varieties of the Oca.  I planted three indoors and they have germinated and are doing well.  The others should be sprouting any day now.  You are supposed to harvest them about a month after the tops have died during the fall.  They can be cooked as tomatoes, added raw to salads, eaten in soups, or added to stir-fries.  I had a hard time finding a source for the tubers but I expect they will become more abundant in the future as permaculture continues its growth.  

Thursday, February 28, 2013

My First Whooping Crane - Extremely Rare Birds

"Birds are indicators of the environment.  If they are in trouble, we know we'll soon be in trouble" 
Roger Tory Peterson
I was out on the road a few days ago when a co-worker saw a few large birds out in a field.  We stopped to get a closer look and I zoomed my camera as much as possible.  We knew Whooping Cranes had been spotted in the area  week earlier so after a quick google search we verified that was in fact what we had witnessed.  While the picture may leave something to desire in terms of quality, the subjects in the photos are a model of perseverance.  In fact, the birds in the photo make up just over 1/2 percent of the total population of wild Whooping Cranes remaining in the wild.  Yes that's right 3 out of the 437 birds remaining in the wild.  While the population is expected to have been greater than 10,000 prior to European Settlers, it dwindled down to only 15 birds as of 1938.  It is still one of the rarest birds in North America. 

In 1993 Whooping Cranes were raised in captivity and with the help of volunteers and environmentalist were taught to migrate north to Wisconsin by following ultralights.  You can click the link below the photo for more information on their work. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Hurricane Sandy, Statute of Liberty - NY and NJ Trip

On 30 Oct I was asked to travel to Staten Island to assess damage from Hurricane Sandy.  Most of my photos were of damaged property but I did manage to get a few photographic shots as well. I saw so much damage and so many people just trying to get things cleaned up so they could get on with their lives that I was pretty sensitive of where and what I took photos of.   I was very fortunate to spend some time out on Ellis Island and Liberty Island.  I imagine being on Liberty Island with about a dozen people when the harbor and park is closed will be a once in a lifetime experience.  Walking around and through the buildings on Ellis Island is something every citizen should experience at least once in their lifetime.  I am looking forward to visiting again once the park opens again. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Offgrid Small Cabin Update

I have previously posted a rendering of my design but I believe this is the first picture I have actually posted of the small cabin I am building.  I am currently installing windows and siding. I am using the LP Smartside panels and will be using trim to give the look of board and batten siding.  The cabin is 16 x 32 with a loft and is completely off grid.  You can see part of a ladder in the woods in the bottom right of the photo.  I am in the process of jetting a well in this location. Currently I am about 15 foot deep but the last couple of feet have been pretty rough.  The soil I am in now is a bluish grey clay and is only allowing me to penetrate a couple of inches an hour.  The good news is that you typically find sand under this layer.  And hopefully this sand will be a good water bearing material.  

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Busy Weekend / Holiday

"And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country." - JFK

Having the day off for President's Day proved to be very productive on the homestead.  About a year ago I saw this old 3 wheeler in the woods behind my dad's place and I asked him about it.  As best we could tell, it had not been cranked since 1986.  A few days later we loaded it up and hauled it down to a shop outside of town that seemed to be interested in the challenge to get this old thing up and running.  There was also an old trailer that with a little TLC is back up and running.   I am looking forward to having this around the property this summer.  

Anyway, I was finally able to get my potatoes in the ground.  It had been so wet that I have not been able to get into the field to prepare a place.  I am trying something a little different this year.  I am going to try and grow clover between the rows to help with weed protection and moisture management.  The clover will also provide nitrogen for the soil.  After the potatoes I went and cut some switch cane that has been growing on the property.   I plan to use the cane for tomatoes and peas.   The switch cane is invasive and needed to be cutback anyway.   Next, I focused on saving a few plants.  I have four bilberry plants that I purchased a couple of years ago. Since putting them out they really haven't done anything.  In fact, I thought only two had survived.  I tried to find a few Bilberry plants this year and I can not find them anywhere, well not in the US anyway.  I did find a grower in the UK but can not ship to the US without permits, etc.  You can buy seeds, but from what I understand the germination rate is fairly low.   I went to dig up the plants to place them into containers and it seems like the two I thought were dead had a little green in them so hopefully they are still alive.  Bilberry's like acid soil so I amended my soil mixture to lower the PH.  I moved them up by the cabin where I can give them a little more TLC.  And lastly, I had one beehive that did not survive last year.  I spent a couple of hours going through the hive and cleaning out all the old frames, boxes etc.  It is recommended that you freeze the hive for a couple of days so I placed them in a garbage bag and have put them in the freezer.  I have not ordered any packages of bees yet so I am going to try to find a source this week.  The other two hives are doing great.  I ended up with about 60 pints of honey this year.   

Monday, February 18, 2013

Starting Seeds - 2013 Vegetable Garden

I am anxiously awaiting March to start my garden. I have many new items this year and will be blogging in more detail about my mostly heirloom varities. This year I am using heat mats with my seed starter trays and my germination rates have greatly increased. I purchased a growlight from amazon and one from walmart. The one from amazon is setup and I will begin using the one from walmart soon.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Appalachian Trail / Great Smokey Mountains

I had a chance to get back on the Appalachian Trail for a few days back this fall.  This hike was from Clingmans Dome in the Great Smokey Mountains south to Fontana Dam.  I have been considering going back to hike the northern half of the Smokies or even taking a week
off to hike from Springer to Hiwasee or Franklin.  I am going to see how much I get done this next month.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

New Year.. Ready to get this thing rolling again.

It has been a while since I have posted and I am ready to get this blog up and running again.  This past year I have planned quite a bit and I am ready to start putting some of these plans into actions.  To start, after hiking the Appalachian Trail I wanted to become more self sufficient.  I got rid of things I hadn't used in years... clothes, dishes, clothes, toys, clothes, workout gear, etc.. oh year did I mention clothes?  I have no idea how I accumulated so many clothes over the years.  Anyway, I sat down with autocad and after several revisions I ended up with a 16' x 32' cabin with a loft.  I have the cabin dried in and wrapped with Rigid Foam Board Insulation.   I have several projects coming up and sometime this spring/summer I will start adding the siding and windows.  I tried to design the cabin to maximise passive cooling.  I designed it to run E-W and I designed the slope of the roof to be at the correct angle for solar panels for this location.  I left trees along the E, S, and W of the house and utilized a highly reflective metal roof.  The Rigid Foam Board has a foil wrap that reflects a fair amount of heat as well.  I actually moved into the cabin last winter and have been in the cabin for about a year.  The first year I relied solely on 2 solar panels, 2 batteries, limited size converter, etc.  I had the panels on the ground instead of on the roof so they had limited sunlight.  I have just installed 9 panels on the roof, I am up to 8 batteries, good components, etc.  I will write a blog about the solar panels and setup soon.   My next project will be installing a shallow well.   I am not sure if I will be able to generate any water, but I am hoping to jet a well down to about 25 feet.  I am also about to start working on a rainwater collection system.    Lastly, those of you that know me know that I do enjoy photography and I just purchased a Panasonic FZ150 and should be arriving in a few days.  I have lots of things planned for this year and I will start to introduce those soon.   Hope all is well. 

“We need to defend the interests of those whom we've never met and never will.”
Jeffrey D. Sachs