Soil Analysis

We’ve talked here before about Steve Solomon’s books on gardening.  We love Steve, and especially appreciate the book The Intelligent Gardener: Growing Nutrient Dense Food.  We actually pre-purchased this book a month before it was released.  As soon as it arrived, we read it cover to cover.  This book explains in easy to understand terms the science behind agronomy and applies it to the backyard garden.  But it goes a lot further than that.  There are links to a website where you can download worksheets to help further analyze your soil results.  And then there is also a yahoo chat group you can join.  Steve hangs out on the forums and helps to answer questions.

Lab reports often come back with recommendations on the traditional NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) and also calcium.  The problem is that your soil is more complex than that.  These worksheets will help you figure out your needed (if any) amounts of Sulfur, Magnesium, Sodium, Boron, Iron, Manganese, Copper and Zinc.

All of these are important to bring you soil into proper balance in order to produce optimal nutrition in the food you are producing.  The author’s way of describing this is by looking at an old barrel with vertical wooden staves.  That barrel will only hold it’s full potential if each of the staves are full in length, going all the way to the top.  If a few of those staves are shorter, only going halfway up the barrel, then the barrel will only hold as much water as it’s shortest stave would allow.

Here are our results in a PDF:  2016 Soil Sample Trends

The most alarming thing that I see when looking at the report is that our organic matter percentage has been slowly decreasing.  I intend to fix this by trying out a heavy layer of straw mulching.  I predict this should do two things: 1. it will help retain water, allowing the plants to grow more easily with less water input.  More root growth should help increase organic matter.  2. turning under that straw mulch should help incorporate a lot of organic matter into the soil.

The other thing I plan on doing this year is using more fertilization than I have in the past.  I usually use fishmeal at planting time, along with my home made compost.  And that’s it.  Nothing else for the year.  But this season I will try to make a tea with the fishmeal and then apply that to everything once every 3-4 weeks or so during the entire growing season.

Based on the calculations, the main amendment we’re adding this year is 1320 lbs per acre of gypsum.  This is the only amendment we’ve added for several years now and have seen it lower our pH and also reduce some of our overages in Phosphorus, Potassium, Magnesium and Calcium.  I know, it does seem weird to be adding calcium in order to reduce calcium.  You’ll learn in the book that calcium is a key to unlocking and accessing these other elements.  The extra calcium allows the plants to consume and therefore reduce the excesses.

Have you been doing soil tests for your garden?  Have you seen good results?

Thanks, Robert.

Best Sprouted Wheat Bread

Courtney has found the best sprouted wheat bread recipe.  It is from her King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking book.  The recipe we’ve settled on is on  page 185.

We buy whole wheat berries in 50 pound bags from a local buying group that pulls together bulk orders twice a year.  We use a Nutrimill to do the grinding and a Bosch mixer to do the kneading.  The Bosch is a breeze to work with.  Handling 5 loaves at once, it is a definite upgrade from the KitchenAid Artisan that Courtney wore out making bread.

So why should we sprout our grains?  Through the process of sprouting, a grain unlocks tons of nutrients that are used in the growing process.  These nutrients are more available to the human body by doing this and can provide a lot of immune system support.

There is a downside to this.  You will NEVER be able to eat store bought bread again.  This bread it soooo good that it will instantly turn you into a bread snob.  But you will be a healthier bread snob as a result.

Happy baking.  Robert.

You can do hard things

I’ve always been one to gladly accept a challenge.  And I don’t mind getting way in over my head, either.  Becoming submerged on a project forces one to learn because you get outside of your comfort zone.  In the end, you end up gaining knowledge, proficiency and confidence.  And of course, you’ll save some cash too, by fixing things yourself rather than calling a repairman.  I encourage this for everyone.

Here’s a few examples of things I fixed during the last year:

  • repaired oil leak and replaced the high pressure oil pump on my Ford truck’s 7.3 liter powerstroke diesel engine
  • replaced the axle in our Honda Odyssey minivan
  • rewired our Whirlpool electric clothes dryer
  • fixed the Kenmore freezer when it died
  • replaced the Frigidaire dishwasher heating element
  • replaced several old windows in the house

To people that have done this before, these things sound easy, because they’ve been there and done that.  However, I can recall my own apprehension before each of these projects.  I wondered if I was going to get in there and cause more damage than was already present.  I wondered if I could even fix it.  I knew it could more expensive for a repairman to finish a half done project than it was to do it from the beginning.

How do you do it?  First, start small. If you have no automotive aptitude, then start by doing the easy stuff like changing oil and rotating tires. You will slowly gain familiarity with how stuff works and where things are located.  Slowly amass your own tool collection.  Use resources like a Haynes manual or the internet.  For my truck, I use a lot and for the van  If we’re talking appliances, I use

It does help to talk through things with someone else.  I have a friend locally that I talk to about stuff.  I also call my uncle Dave.  He knows that if his phone is ringing, I’m knee deep in something bad and need some advice.  Feel free to reach out to me via the blog.  I definitely don’t have all the answers but I may be able to point you in the right direction.

And the other answer to “how do you do it?”  Jump!  You just have to try it.  I often learn more from my failures than from my successes.  Don’t be afraid to make a mistake.

axle pic

Here I am after replacing the van axle.  While that may sound like a great accomplishment, it took less than an hour.  Once disassembled, it pops into place with minimal effort. 

Thanks, Robert.

The 2015 Irrigation Update

In the past, my irrigation articles have gotten a lot of interest, so I’m writing today to share some of my more recent developments on the topic.  Click Here and here to link back and check out the older ones again.

Originally, I was using JB Weld to make the pipe to barrel connection.  That really didn’t work because it was too brittle.  The joints were constantly breaking and then the water would leak out of the barrel.  And yes, I tried using even more JB Weld, gooping on a large amount and making a wide base.  It just never worked.  Below is a picture of my latest iteration:


Drip Irrigating from a 55 gallon barrrel

Some plumbing supplies are required.  Below is an exploded view:


Drip Irrigation Supply Line connection to 55 gallon barrel

The PVC fitting on the right is inserted through the 1″ hole from the inside of the barrel.  Its kinda tricky to do.  I use a long flexible wire that I feed in through the bung, and then out the 1″ drilled drain hole.  Then put that fitting on the wire and it slides down to the hole.  Insert your pinkie into the threaded fitting to pull it through the hole until enough thread is showing on the outside that you can put your gasket on and then thread on the second, longer PVC fitting.

The gasket is the second item from the right.  It is a section of tire inner tube that I cut down.  Use another of your fittings to trace a circle at the center of the inner tube and then carefully cut it out.  Don’t do a sloppy job on this part, if you do, you’ll end up with leaks.  The gasket needs to seal all the way around.

Next item in the picture is a hose washer.  Insert that into the female threads on the longer PVC fitting.  Then screw them together.

Once you’ve got it fairly tight, you’ll notice that the fitting on the inside of the barrel is spinning as you tighten.  You’ll never get it tight enough to prevent leaks unless you can hold that internal fitting still.  I solved that problem by duct taping a medium sized crescent wrench to the end of a hoe handle.  You can then lower the crescent wrench through the bung to reach the fitting from the inside.  The fitting has a hex flange on it which makes this possible.  Now you can tighten the two down.

Last,  I install a brass valve on each barrel.  This allows you to shut off the supply line in case you need to repair drip tapes, etc.  Or you could also do your irrigating, then fill the barrels again and shut of the valve.  When its time to irrigate tomorrow, the barrels are all full and ready to go.  This could help you out when you know you’ll be in a hurry the following day.

We’re currently running 11 barrels like this, each providing water to a 600 square foot area.  Here’s a picture of the completed setup on my squash patch:

Drip Irrigation

Drip Irrigation

Do any of you have a similar setup that works for you?  I’d love to hear about it and compare notes.

Thanks, Robert.

The 2015 Livestock

We’re having so much fun with our new baby chicks and our piglets.  We got fifteen medium growth broiler chicks.  We prefer the medium growth because the fast growth chickens just get too fat too fast.  It seems unnatural and the full grown chickens seem uncomfortable.  The slower guys live more like a chicken should, in our opinion.

Medium Growth Broiler Chicks

Medium Growth Broiler Chicks

The piglets we got are either Duroc or Hampshire crossed with a Berkshire boar.  We love the flavors we get from Berkshires and we’re thrilled to be raising them again this year.  We keep one for our family to eat and sell the rest.  In the past, we’ve gotten the most compliments from Berkshire meat.

Duroc and Hampshire crossed with Berkshire boar

Duroc and Hampshire crossed with Berkshire boar

In addition to the above, we have about 30 laying hens which are a mixture of Red Star, Americauna, Speckled Sussex and Black Australorp.  All were chosen for their cold hardiness.  We’re pleased with the egg production as well as the foraging ability of these types.

Have you had similar experiences with these breed selections?

Thanks, Robert.

Become a Weather Spotter

I love weather and always have.  Courtney found out that our local National Weather Service office holds Spotter Training classes, and so I attended one last April.  After a couple hours of lecture and slide shows, you can become a certified storm spotter, too.

Especially useful for those in tornado prone areas, you’ll learn about the important characteristics of a storm that has the potential to generate a tornado.  This is helpful to identify danger, and just as useful in knowing when not to be concerned.  Much anxiety can be eliminated with this knowledge.  This information is important to the homesteader not only for  personal safety but also for your plants and animals.  Knowing conditions are ripe for hail, you can cover sensitive plants and ensure animals have a roof to get under.

Here’s the link to my local NWS spotter training schedule:

With my training, I was able to identify and report a wall cloud with a rotating updraft last spring.  I couldn’t quite call it a funnel cloud, but I called the local NWS office anyways.  As a spotter, you are provided with a direct line to the meteorologist desk.  They issued a tornado warning as a result of my call.  The cloud never did worsen or touch down, thankfully.

I highly recommend this free class to anyone with an interest in the weather.  Navigate to the National Weather Service webpage for your local area to see if they offer these classes, too.

Are you a spotter, too?  Or do you have a great story?  Leave a comment, I’d love to hear it.

Thanks, Robert.



Young Living Essential Oils

Has anyone been wondering what the heck we’ve been up to? It has been quite some time since we put a post up here. Our homestead has kept us very busy. We have also been working on a new income source.

Courtney purchased a Young Living Essential Oil Starter Kit last spring so that we could make our own bug sprays. We quickly discovered that the oils can do so much more, from relaxation to supporting normal healing, from promoting healthy sleep to revitalizing healthy skin.  We have a saying in this house “there’s an oil for that…”

Young Living has adopted a business model that empowers their customers to be the sales force by offering a commissions to share about products they love. Sharing is a natural result when you love the oils.  Courtney has been doing this for the last 6 months or so and it helps provide some extra money for our family. For those willing to work hard and do what it takes, it can be very rewarding.  Hearing your friends say “I’ve had the best sleep of my life” is extremely gratifying.

If you are looking for a home based business opportunity with great income potential, check out the Young Living essential oils tab at the top menu bar. Courtney has provided some details on how to get started.

If you are just interested in essential oils and don’t want to be bothered by the business side of things, that’s OK. There is no continuing obligation after the first purchase.

We would also love to hear from you if you have questions or would like to know more, or even if you already use essential oils.