Check out the display of vintage apple varieties. I had no idea there are that many! There were two different areas where you could purchase uncommon apple trees. The old rock crusher pictured above was surprisingly quiet and I just loved the two wheeled tractor.
The forth Saturday in October is always a fun time at the campus of Ferrum College, the site of the Blue Ridge Folk Life Festival. Many old time skills are on display from basket weaving, moonshining, to hog butchering, and where else can you see coon dog races?
If you really want to make a full weekend of it on Sunday head south for a 45 minute drive and catch the fall NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway.
The whole family went to a Land and Table event which is held monthly at Mountain Run Farm in Sedalia, VA. This event draws farmers and gardeners from all around the Lynchburg, VA area and beyond. The purpose for the Land and Table event as I understand it is to get farmers, gardeners, and those interested in local food together in one place for fellowship and networking. We enjoyed a potluck style meal with many different tasty homemade dishes. I estimate there were a about 40 people were in attendance. There was an optional forum (open discussion) moderated by Jason Fowler the organizer. About a quarter those in attendance moved their chairs in front of the barn and participated in the forum. The discussion topic was, lessons learned in the aftermath of the recent windstorm and power outageand how we can better prepare for similar events in the future. Meanwhile others attendees visited, children played, and people gathered around boiling pork fat.
For more information on upcoming Land and Table events near Lynchburg, visit Jason’s website @! www.sustainabletraditions.com
For me the highlight of the Farm and Table event was the demonstration of a good old fashioned outdoor lard rendering. Throughout the event a propane burner was running under a large kettle filled with pork fat cuttings. I even got to take home a jar of lard. I saw about 7-10 gallons of lard being rendered from the fat of approximately 3 pigs. Through talking with others I found out that a similar meeting is held only about 3 miles from where we live. It is a monthly gathering about 15 minutes south of Roanoke VA. Information it can be found on the Four Corners Farm website here.
This past weekend I attended a workshop at Radical Roots
farm in Keezletown, VA, which a few minutes north of Harrisonburg. It was a 2+ hour drive for me but well worth the trip. I have been interested in permaculture, for a about four years now and have used the concepts on our first property here in VA and our current homestead. There are not of places you can go to see the concepts actually put into action.
I am not aware of any permaculture farms around Roanoke that do workshops and farm tours. If you know of any post them in the comments. If you go to Radical Roots farm you will see swales, plant guilds, and cover cropping all being implemented on a pretty large scale. The farm is just under 5 acres is producing a wide variety of food and a lot of it.
I mainly went there to get a feel for how the swales are spaced and to record some plant varieties in use as cover crops. The swales on this location are spaced at 4 feet of elevation difference which puts them about 40 feet apart. They are 6 inches deep and 6 feet wide. Some of the cover crops in use are alfalfa and Austrian peas The content and learning exercises we did in the workshop were a great way to get learn about permaculture, a system of design.
(much better than reading books.) The owner and our teacher Dave O'niell has an amazing attitude and his construction of the home and buildings on the site are just as interesting as the landscape. If you are interested in turning your piece of ground into a permanent agriculture oasis then check out Radical Roots farm.
We had a good productive day Saturday on the new mini-farm, but first we took the kids to the Roanoke Robotics
monthly meeting and they both made radio controlled robots. The chassis were made of cardboard priority mail boxes and the electronics, servos, and transmitters where provided for the workshop by members of the group. Back on the farm I planted 4 red lake currants around a pear tree at about a 4 foot radius from the trunk. I guess they will to well under the drip line of the tree, we shall see. The two elder berry bushes that I bought at the Roanoke Natural Foods Co-op where planted along the tree line of the forest bordering the property. The last things planted were two grape vines that I took from the our other property. I think one of them is a Thompson seedless and the other a Cayuga (or something like that) maybe I can find out by looking at the archives of this website.
Ginger took notes on the locations and varieties of each plant that we have. Some of them are not identified but most are. I will try to propagate certain ones to create enough plants to get a decent crop within a few years. I should be able to do this with the currants, honey berries, June berries, figs, blueberries, and elderberries. The rest of what we have planted is grafted so I wont be able to clone those. There is a class coming up at the end of April on grafting an such if anyone is interested here is the link. Fruit Camp
The workshop classes are in West Virginia but there will also be similar classes in NC.The meat birds are 3 1/2 weeks old and they are coming close to burning the lawn already, so I have to get busy with the building of our 3rd chicken tractor for the mini-farm. This one is the first prototype of a budget model. To maximize the new material used most of the measurements will end up different than the design I have been building.
Last week I received 25 of these cornish cross (meat bird) chicks in the mail. If they all stay alive I should have somewhere between 80 pounds and 120 pounds of meat by the time I process them. The final weight depends on how many survive (its normal to loose a few) and how long I let them grow. Six weeks is the earliest I would consider processing and I don't like to let them grow any longer than ten weeks. Since we usually get some really rainy periods in the spring, I had built some frames and covered them with hardware cloth to keep very small chicks up off of the ground so they stay dry. The frames originally covered the whole bottom of the coop, but right after putting the chicks in there I removed one of the three frames to see how they would do. I was concerned that the jump from the ground to the frame would be too far and they wouldn't be able to get back up to the heat lamp when needed. That ended up not being a problem at all, the chicks could jump up there easily. Within about 5 minutes after removing the frame, one of the two day old chicks found a small earthworm to eat. That was really neat to watch.
One of the funniest things have seen chickens do is frantically start running around as soon they find something extra tasty to eat. They are naturally greedy and not prone to sharing something like a precious earth worm. Usually they will predict a chicken bum rush, and rather than just concentrate on swallowing for a second they start running around circles avoiding the would be worm snatchers before the other chickens even realize what is going on. This chicken bum rush paranoia is apparently programmed genetically because my two day old chicks hadn't even had any food yet, when I observed this last Thursday.
I often hear or read about cornish cross meat birds being stupid. When they are this young it is hard to tell, I wonder if the apparently stupid behavior they exhibit later in life has more to do with the excess body weight than a lack of intelligence. It looks like they have a hard time just walking around once are 4-5 weeks old so maybe its just too much weight to carry out normal chicken stuff like foraging. Then we wise humans interpret this lethargy as stupidity....that sounds about right. A similar stereo type seems to be passed on to white leghorn layer chickens because they are also a "production" breed. My personal experience watching them is that they are more high strung than other breeds that I have had, they can fly really well, and they forage like a "normal" chicken. So to me white leghorn "production" chickens seem more like a wild bird than other breeds.
I recently checked out a Fluke Thermal Imaging Camera from my college to do an offsite energy auditing project for an Energy Management class. I learned how to use it at home before taking it on our project site. These little 3 week old White Leghorn chickens are the right temperature at 99 degrees and this picture convinced me the device was quite accurate. These are the first chickens I have hatched from eggs which needed to stay close to 99.5 degrees for 21 days to hatch. I started with 30 eggs and ended up with 7 hatched chicks. One died so there are 6 remaining. Not a very good hatch ratio. It did not take much time at all to deal with hatching the eggs even though I don't have an automatic turner. It took roughly one minute and 30 seconds to turn 30 eggs and I did that twice a day for 18 days. The final three days I let them be.
Humidity in the incubator is very important. I never really got it under control on this batch of eggs. Trying to hatch them in the middle of winter makes it much harder to maintain the right humidity. If I was lucky it would get up about 30%. I used 2 bowls of water in the bottom of the incubator and they went dry on me a few times. Next time I use more surface area of water. Even better would be to just let a broody hen do the incubating. I have more to learn about this but it doesn't seem to be rocket science, the main thing is getting some breeds that will still go "broody" or have a instinct to hatch eggs. From what I understand the white leghorns are not likely to do this. But I can collect fertilized eggs and put them under a hen of a different breed to hatch them. This summer I will try to get some experience using hens to hatch some eggs.
Using an incubator and heat lamps once hatched uses quite a few dollars in energy. I am going to guess that the heating element was actually on at least 25% of the time for the 23 days I had the incubator on. It is 200 watts so (200w X 6 hrs X 23 days=27,600wh) / 1000= 27.6kWh. Plus 3 weeks under the heat lamp once they are hatched which is 250 watts so (250w X 24hrs X 21 days = 126,000wh) / 1000= 126kWh + 27.6 kWh = 153.6 kWh @ $0.10 per kWh that is $15.36 in energy cost to raise a batch of chickens. Since I failed miserably at hatching this did not allow me to achieve economies of scale. So now each chick and its need of 99 degree body temperature has cost $2.56 in electrical energy to achieve self sufficiency in maintaining its own darn body temperature. If all 30 eggs had hatched the electric cost would have been $0.51 for each chicken. This highlights the value of a "broody hen". I am going to estimate a feed cost of $6-9 for the same 44 days of heat from a hen.
We are in the beginning stages of permaculture design here at our new home.
Here is my first drawing. There are many questions that need to be answered before really getting started with planting this spring. I need to verify our property lines by having a surveyor come our and mark them. I am thinking of incorporating a small pond into a slight valley in the front yard and divert the run off away from the driveway on the left side of the house (just outside of the drawing). Storage of run off water will help cut down on erosion, improve soil moisture content in dry periods, increase the yield from near by fruit trees, and also provide for a habitat for fish such as catfish. This will require a berm or a small ditch to slant across the front yard towards the pond. I really would like to find a good excuse to rent a bobcat so if you have any other ideas post a comment.The long snake like hedge across the front will likely be a hybrid hazelnut which grows 5-8 feet wide. (check out he link) Hazelnut would be a good nut crop and I like the idea of an edible hedge, for privacy and food. If we can't use the crop completely it should at least bring in more wildlife to enjoy.
There are some other options that I may use to extend the hedge. The long path between the hedge and the house is a path that will likely be left as grass for a road to reach the backyard from the driveway. I might leave that strip of grass near the front property line and move the hedge closer to the house. It will be good grass to run the chicken tractors on either way. Decisions, decisions. The only plantings actually in place on this drawing are the two small trees below the pond on this drawing, one is a Maekawa Jiro Persimmon
and the other is a dwarf peach.
“Japan’s most celebrated alternative farmer...Fukuoka’s vision offers a beacon, a goal, an ideal to strive for.” —Tom Philpott, Grist
"Only the ignorant could write off Fukuoka, who died two years ago at the age of 95, as a deluded or nostalgic dreamer...Fukuoka developed ideas that went against the conventional grain....Long before the American Michael Pollan, he was making the connections between intensive agriculture, unhealthy eating habits and a whole destructive economy based on oil." --Harry Eyres, The Financial Times
It is truly a sad state of affairs when a once vibrant city is vacated due to crime and poor economic conditions. It is not by accident though; in my estimation American Industry has been essentially sold out from under our feet. I can still remember hearing about NAFTA while watching the news when I was 12 or 13 years old. It made no sense at all and it was quite obvious to me at the time that the problem had gone beyond the gross incompetence of over taxation, it was now a fully lucid act of fleecing Americans of their wealth for the profit of those with first access to the cheap labor.
Now twenty years later we find ourselves with only leftover scraps of industry, and even the metal scraps are being gutted from vacant homes and factories these days. The metal is being exchanged for grocery money and the metals sent to China. The main problem is that our antiquated education system and debt based economy prevent us from quickly adapting to our changing world or even recognizing failed policy. The good news is there is now actually more opportunity for bringing new ideas to the market place. It is harder and harder for all but mega-crony-corporations to access credit for operations and capital for investment. Small, medium, and large sized companies are having trouble, and as market demands change, this cracks the door open enough for the little guy to stick his foot in.
We must now begin again with the resources available to revive our local and personal economy. The fact is the internet makes it much easier for even the little guy to take advantage of free online education
, cheap engineering
overseas. Invent some time or energy saving product and the world can help you turn it into physical products. You can communicate with Chinese manufacturing companies and freelance professionals around the world easily with email and skype. Most of the people overseas that we really need to work with to make things happen already speak English. But for now while the world financial system is on the brink, I guess getting some seeds in the ground is a great place to start the rebuilding process...by using new fangled gardening and permaculture concepts to free up that time between planting and harvest, then we can elance and alibaba our way to riches.