Book Review: Harvesting Urban Timber

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Harvesting Urban Timber explains the importance of harvesting urban trees and how to do so. Three to four billion board feet of potential lumber is being fed either directly or indirectly into landfills throughout the United States each year. Case studies illustrate how some cities and counties have reduced waste through the use of urban timber […]

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Tree Bark as an Emergency Food

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bark_piecesAn almost forgotten food from the wild is that which comes from the bark of trees.  Once a staple, now it is barely known even as a coarse survival food.  I myself have been slow coming to it even with wild edible plants as a major preoccupation since my teens.  An obvious possibility for why tree bark has not been found much in modern cuisine is that it doesn’t taste good.  The modern imagination easily responds to the notion of tree bark as food with images of gnawing on trees – not exactly as exciting as fishing, hunting, picking mushrooms, or picking berries.  However, perhaps that assumption is wrong.  Maybe delicious foods can be prepared from tree bark.

By Nathaniel Whitmore, a Contributing Author to SHTFBlog and SurvivalCache

I have in front of me eleven books on wild edibles.  At first glance at the table of contents of each book, or the text or index if the plants weren’t listed there, I found nothing in ten of the books  related to tree barks as edibles.  Euell Gibbons (Stalking the Wild Asparagus) and others discuss Black Walnuts and Hickory for nuts.  Lee Allen Peterson (Edible Wild Plants) discusses the leaves of Basswood.  Bradford Angier (Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants) discusses the seeds of Maple and, of course, that the sap is boiled into Maple syrup.  …And the list goes on of other foods from the trees.  Only in one, A Naturalists Guide to Cooking with Wild Plants by Connie and Arnold Krochmal, did I find that the authors went on to discuss harvesting and preparing Maple bark.  They have a recipe for Maple bark bread that uses, along with other typical ingredients for bread, only ½ cup of all-purpose flour to 2 cups of ground Maple bark.  Another recipe for porridge is a typical porridge recipe with only Maple bark (cooked like farina, grits, or oats), along with a suggestion to spread it out to chill and thicken before browning in oil.

Cuisine and Nutrition

maple_treeI have not yet tried Maple (Acer spp.) porridge.  I have made porridge from Slippery Elm (Ulmus rubra) but only because I have acquired out-of-date stock from herbs stores here-and-there that I worked for.  The powdered bark is quite costly to eat like a breakfast cereal.  It is sold mostly for home-made lozenges and to add to smoothies.  Because the bark is quite mucilaginous, it is a great ingredient for do-it-yourself lozenges for sore or dry throat.  I like to always keep some in a convenient storage spot.  When I have plenty, I like to cook the powdered Elm bark with Maple syrup (and a little salt) for a real breakfast from the trees.  I have not yet attempted to powder the bark itself, though I do intend to.  Powdering bark is one of those things that is high up on my list of things to do that I never get around to doing.  Again, a survival situation might just re-prioritize that list.  The shredded bark is also readily available through commercial sources and is prepared as a cold infusion to produce a thick, moistening drink or ingredient.

Related: Food to Stock for Emergencies      

According to Daniel Moerman in Native American Food Plants, Green Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) was cooked by the Ojibwa.  Apparently they believe it tastes like eggs.  I have chewed it and infused it for “tea”, but will certainly have to try to prepare it like scrambled eggs!  I doubt it is all that similar, but I do not doubt that it can be prepared so that it tastes good.  Remember, much of foraging is about timing.  Not only is bark easier to peel off the tree in the spring (when the sap is flowing), but it also is thick, juicy, and milder tasting than other times of the year.  Certainly, timing is important for Ash bark and the others.  Though, if starving to death you might eat tree bark even if it wasn’t the ideal harvest season and even if it didn’t taste like eggs.

white_pine_barkWhite Pine (Pinus strobus) and other evergreens were vital survival foods for Native Americans in cold areas.  Although they often have too much astringency and pitchy consistency to be ideal foods, they also have vitamin C, bioflavonoids, and many important medicinal constituents.  It would be interesting, and potentially important in a survival scenario, to look into the nutritional constituents of various barks.  It shouldn’t be too difficult to understand that Pine bark has lots of vitamin C, but what about the macronutrients?  Are barks able to provide sufficient sugar, protein, or fat?  Sugar seems the most notable macronutrient from bark, but I still wonder how much is there.  Certainly, Maple bark can taste remarkably sweet, like Maple syrup.  Clearly it has sugar in it.  The benefits of bark as a survival food are at least partially illustrated by the Natives formerly feeding Cottonwood (Populus spp.) bark to horses.  Certainly, humans have different nutritional requirements than the four-legged grazers, though I still think it says something that the deer, other wild animals, and horses can glean nutrition from bark.

Basswood (American Linden, Tilia americana) is unique as a food tree in that it produces large broad leaves that are edible right off the tree.  Young twigs and buds were cooked by Chippewa.  By this I would assume that the bark is also mild and edible.  However, I turned to Moerman’s book Native American Medicinal Plants to learn that the Cherokee used the bark for diarrhea and the Iroquois used as a diuretic, which has me wondering if the bark is too astringent and drying to use as food.  Of course, many such remedies are mild enough to eat or can be prepared to be more food quality and less medicinal.  Generally though, diarrhea remedies are astringent and can cause constipation when not needed for runny stool.  Moerman did also report that the Cherokee used during pregnancy for heartburn and weak stomach and bowels.  If it was used during pregnancy, I imagine it is mild enough to eat.  Basswood bark is now bumped up to the top of the list of wild foods to try out this spring.

Medicinal Uses of Tree Bark

Medicines from tree barks are many.  Though this article focuses on edible barks, it would not be complete without mention of medicinal uses.  In addition to those already discussed above, the medicinal barks included many categories, such as astringents, cough remedies, blood-moving medicinals, and pain relievers.

aspirin_vintage_advertisement_willowWillow (Salix spp.) was an original source of a well-known medicine known as salicylic acid (named after Willow).  Like the drug Aspirin (which is named after Meadowsweet which is currently Filipendula, but formerly Spiraea), Willow is used for pain, to thin the blood, and for fevers.  Salicylic acid is commonly used for acne, dandruff, and warts.  Poplars (Populus spp.) are closely related to Willow both botanically (though many people confuse Poplars and Birch, or Betula spp.) and medicinally.  Poplars have largely fallen out of use in modern times, but formerly were commonly employed as medicinals – the bark used like Willow, and especially the resinous buds used for coughs.

Oaks (Quercus spp.) and many other trees have bitter-tasting astringency.  Astringents tone tissue, remove inflammation, and stop discharge.   They are important medicines that are indicated for damp, inflamed conditions like diarrhea, rashes, bleeding wounds, and sore throats.  Astringents are also used for daily maintenance like washing the face and brushing teeth.  In small quantities, they are used to maintain tissue integrity of the gums and digestive system.

Read Also: Bushcraft Mushrooms

Like Cinnamon (Cinnamomum spp.), our Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) is used to stimulate circulation and clean the blood.  The bark is delicious as tea, and can be combined with other root beer ingredients like Black Birch (Betula lenta).  The leaves of Sassafras are mucilaginous as well as spicy and can be prepared as food.  They are used in gumbo.  As an aromatic, blood-cleansing medicinal, Sassafras is used to treat skin disorders, arthritis, and to warm up the body.  The FDA has a controversial ban on Sassafras and the oil derived from it, safrole.

cherries_cherry_treePerhaps one of best-known cough remedies, Cherry Bark (Prunus spp.) has been used for ages.  My guess is that Cherry became a standard flavor for cough syrups largely because the bark was a standard medicine for coughs, even though the bark does not exactly taste like the fruit.  It does have a distinct Cherry flavor, but even more distinct is the cyanide flavor, especially in the fresh bark.  Because of the toxic properties, the use of fresh Cherry bark has been discouraged in the literature.  Though, the fresh bark is used medicinally and is significantly stronger than the dried bark.  The dried bark is available through commercial distributions.  Especially the wilted leaves have been known to cause poisoning in farm animals, so it seems the toxic properties spike during drying.  There are also various ideas about the best time to harvest.  Since I am not a chemist, I cannot say much with authority about cyanide content.  Consider yourself warned, however.  I encourage you to do your own research (before you find yourself starving or coughing to death in a Cherry forest).  Since this is such a valuable medicine I do indeed recommend learning about Cherry bark.  In my experience it is a top remedy for coughs and I assume it has many other uses in line with how Peach (Prunus persica) is used in Chinese medicine, which is extensive.  If the medicinal barks were not strong-natured and somewhat toxic, they would have been discussed earlier as edible barks.  It is precisely because they are strong that they are medicinal.  

Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) bark is very medicinal.  It is one of the strongest antifungal herbs and is well-known as a remedy for intestinal parasites.  The inner bark stains yellow, as do the green hulls and leaves.  These parts also give off a distinct aroma that can help with identification and are doubtlessly related to the medicinal virtues.  Of course, Black Walnut is also known for its nuts, which are important survival food.     

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The Survival Staff

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survival_staff_inhandIn this “back-to-basics” article, we will look at a basic building material, tool, and weapon- one that can be used for shelter, a tool handle, walking stick, and the most basic and primitive weapon.  As a weapon, the more-or-less six foot staff is one of the most universal among many martial arts traditions, and often the first taught.  Shaolin, Wing Chun, Kobudo and other schools of martial arts teach staff “forms”, or choreographed practice sequences that have been passed down through the ages.  For basic utility, the staff can be used to carry firewood and water (by hanging bundles or buckets at the ends and carrying over one’s shoulders), and for other forms of transport (such as game, strung up between two people; or to craft a sled or skid).  Sturdy poles can be used to build tripods, lean-tos, and other structures you might need around camp.  A staff can also be used to make a spear or whittled down for a tool handle.

By Nathaniel Whitmore a Contributing Author to SHTFBlog and SurvivalCache

There are many articles online regarding various types of survival staffs that are basically types of walking sticks, perhaps of lightweight material, that have chambers to hold objects for survival.  There are many clever designs.  I do like the idea of such staffs, but wonder how well they will hold up.  For this article, we are discussing the primitive staff.  It might seem a very simple subject, but there are many considerations worth becoming familiar with, including wood selection, crafting tools and handles, building possibilities, self defense, and weapon-crafting possibilities.

Gathering Resources

survival_staffs_hemlock_and_white_pineAt my campsite in the Catskills there were White Pines (Pinus strobus) and Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) saplings about 10 years or so in age and thick enough to block visibility and make walking difficult.  Besides other considerations regarding location, it seemed fitting for a campsite to clear the thick trees that were already shading each other out.  Small trees a few inches in diameter can be easily cut with a hatchet, camp saw, or machete.  They provide material for building structures and for other craft.  The unused material dries relatively quickly to provide future kindling and firewood.  Plus, depending on the species of trees being felled, food and medicine can also be gleaned.  In the case of White Pine and Hemlock the needles and bark can be used to make “tea” for medicinal use, pleasure, or as a nutritional supplement.  Many tree barks have medicinal uses and sometimes leaves or other parts are also useful as food or medicine.  

Related: Medicinal Uses of Pine Trees 

Once felled, the branches can be removed from the saplings with a machete or hatchet.  A small saw can be useful.  I also like to have pruners in my pocket and some loppers nearby.  Though more time consuming to use, such tools can more cleanly remove branches if desired.  I like to leave interesting branches and crotches in case they are useful for some project later.  But for the most part the idea is to work the sapling down to a relatively uniform building material.  After the branches are removed the poles can be organized by size.  This process gives you lots of material to work with for shelter building and the like.

survival_staffs_red_cedarYou might consider removing the bark while the saplings are still green.  For one thing it is easier to remove than when it dries to the trunk.  You also may want to use it for making rope, baskets, and the like.  It can be used as lashing for certain things right away.  You probably can’t get nice sheets of bark from small trees such as you would want for bark baskets, but the possibilities with even small strips of bark are many.  In some cases you will be able to find a stand of smaller trees that died from being shaded out.  The wood might still be good quality.  The Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) pictured is good quality even though it died as taller trees outgrew it.

Use as a Walking Stick  

survival_staffs_cabinA primary use of a staff is as a walking stick.  My first mentor in the world of wild edibles and survival skills, Taterbug Tyler, used to walk with a garden hoe that had been cut down to just a small triangle left of the blade.  He claimed that he once saved himself from falling over a ledge by grabbing onto a tree root with the hoe.  Mostly he used it as a walking stick in the rugged territory we hiked through looking for Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius).  The blade came in handy for unearthing roots and flipping over rocks.  It is a good tool and could be reproduced with the natural form of a hardwood staff.  

Another use for a staff as a walking stick is for crossing streams.  In certain territory you might have many streams weaving around, or you might need to repeatedly cross a stream that you are traveling along.  Even if you find logs and rocks to help you cross, a staff can help you maintain balance.  Without rocks to cross on a staff can be used like a pole vault to help you jump across what you otherwise could not.  For these reasons, it is useful to carry a staff.

As a Weapon

survival_staffs_cut_woodI am fascinated with the bo staff and like to go with just over six feet as a standard cutting length.  Particularly when Hickory (Carya spp.) or some other hard wood is found, it is an ideal size for a weapon as well as to begin making a bow or spear.  When cutting the trees down and into length, look for nice straight six-foot sections.  It is generally good to cut the trees where they bend in order to preserve straight sections and removed the crooks.

The staff has been a most basic striking implement since ancient times.  Needing to use a weapon against wildlife is an unlikely scenario, but not impossible.  Certainly, it could make you feel better to have some protection in hand.  There has been more than once when the sound of coyotes or something unknown has prompted me to pick up a stick.  Better yet is the feeling of knowing how to use it.  Most people should be able to wield a staff should an emergency arise and be able to perform basic strikes to protect themselves.  With training, the staff becomes an increasingly useful weapon, with several distinct benefits: there are reasons otherwise to keep it at hand, it is superb blocking instrument, any part can be used as the handle, and it can be used for a variety of strikes to virtually any part of the body.  It can be swung with great momentum.  It can strike low or high, as well as both in relatively rapid succession, and one can thrust with the end of the staff with the potential for damaging penetration.  For these reasons, the staff is a primary weapon of many styles of martial art.

Read Also: Low Profile Survival Weaponry

bruce_lee_bo_staffKobudo – the martial art of the Okinawan weapons (which is often integrated with Karate), Shaolin Kung Fu, Wing Chun Kung Fu, Ninjitsu and many others have their study of the staff.  Learning the forms, or kata, of these arts is a way to learn special combat moves.  Becoming proficient with these moves not only makes the weapon more effective, but provides a healthful exercise that improves balance, coordination, circulation, immunity, and awareness, all of which are important in a survival situation.  Plus, study of the forms could provide a pastime during life in the wilderness.

Shelter and Selecting Wood

survival_staff_witch_hazel_shrubWhen selecting a location to set up camp one should consider finding a nice stand of relatively young trees or saplings that can serve as a source of materials.  Your lean-to could be positioned centrally to reduce expenditure of time and energy.  Of course, you also want to consider exposure to sun and other elements.  In the part of the world where I live you generally want your lean-to opening toward the south to increase sun exposure in cold seasons.  If there is a strong prevailing wind you will want to put the back of the lean-to toward it.  You can also look for suitable trees to support a lean-to before you chop them down.  

Of course, when gathering trees for utility, one should consider the various types of wood and their pros and cons.  Generally, hardwoods are prefered.  “Hardwood” usually refers to deciduous trees, even the softer ones.  And “softwood” refers to conifers, which are usually softer than hardwoods (though soft hardwoods are softer than hard softwoods).  Hemlock and Pine are both softwoods.  Particularly White Pine is soft.  Although both softwoods, Hemlock is much harder than White Pine.  The White Pine saplings that are staff size (naturally or whittled down) are quite weak.  They have certain uses, but would break far too easily under any significant weight or force.

White Ash (Fraxinus americanus)  has a low moisture level, even when green.  My freshly cut staff looked stouter than it felt, compared to the heavier woods (Witch Hazel, Iron Wood, Hickory…) I had been working with.  Regarding bushcraft, one advantage of a lower moisture percentage wood is that building materials have less time to rot.  If you are planning to turn the bush into a campsite there is a good chance you’ll be using some green wood.  If you are building with green wood, there is a good chance for mold to develop as the wood dries out.  Thick, heavy, damp wood will dry out much slower than something light like Ash.  In fact, Ash has so little moisture that it can be burned green.  As we all know, the drier the better.  The survivalist, however, should be aware of the low moisture content of Ash in the event of finding no dead wood.  Perhaps green would might be a better choice than soggy logs from the ground.  Regarding a staff, Ash has the interesting benefit of being lighter.  So, the strength of a green stick with the weight more of a dry one.  Ash is the primary wood for baseball bats as it has strength but receives the vibration.  Although not nearly the strength of Hickory, Ash is used in much the same way for bows and tools handles.

The bushcrafter should be aware of the various kinds of woods, including their benefits and weak points.  Although the basic staff (or bo) seems simple, it’s uses are many.

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6 Tricks To Ensure Your Fruit Trees Survive The Winter

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6 Ways To Ensure Your Fruit Trees Survive The Winter

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Experienced homesteaders know that just because the trees go dormant, the hens take a break from laying, and the garden goes fallow it doesn’t mean that you can go into hibernation from December to March.

Among the many wintertime tasks on the farm, you can’t forget to include tending to your fruit trees. Proper overwintering of fruit trees helps them to survive the cold months and can get rid of any hidden fungal spores, bacteria, and insect eggs that can wreck havoc come summertime. The three simple steps include: insulation, pruning and spraying.

1. Prioritize autumn clean-up. Start winter preparation by cleaning up your orchard during autumn. Remove fallen, rotting fruit from the ground and rake up fallen leaves. This debris can harbor hidden fungal spores, insects and their eggs. Rotting fruit is also an invitation to animal invaders to move in. Be sure also to remove any dead fruit from the tree. After the leaves have fallen, give your fruit trees a thorough inspection for signs of disease or damage. Look for any cracks, discolorations, unusual growths or other signs of damage. Remove or treat any wood that shows signs of disease.

2. Prevent sunscald. Before the cold really sets in is the time to protect your trees from sunscald. Sunscald occurs in the winter when the sunlight heats the bark during the day, waking it from dormancy, and then freezes again at night, causing an open scar. The scar can become an inviting opening for insects and disease. To protect your trees from sunscald you can use a commercial tree wrap — like crinkled paper or spiral plastic wrap — to wrap the trunks of young trees. Older trees can be treated with a 1:1 solution of water and white latex paint.

3. Guard against animal invaders. If you have a busy wildlife presence in your area, you also may need to protect your fruit trees from deer, rabbits, mice and other animals that are looking for an easy wintertime meal.

“The Big Book Of Off The Grid Secrets” — Every Homesteader Needs One!

For trees less than 5-7 years old, use tree wraps or wire mesh to protect trunks from mice and voles, making sure they are partially buried. Though nothing short of an 8-foot fence is guaranteed to keep deer at bay, a barrier of poultry netting or woven wire can help protect your trees. Scent repellants also may work, including liquid repellents like coyote urine or hanging a highly scented bath soap from the tree’s branches.

6 Ways To Ensure Your Fruit Trees Survive The Winter

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4. Insulate the roots. When it comes to winter prevention, insulating your roots is the most important task. A nice, thick layer of mulch is the best way to keep roots warm. Mulch should be a few inches thick all year long and even thicker in the winter (4-6 inches for young trees). You can use a variety of organic materials as mulch, including bark mulch, leaves, pine straw, wood chips and straw. Snow works, too! For the very best protection, cover your mulch with an insulated barrier like black landscape fabric or a black trash bag.

5. Prune the trees. Prune from December to February when the trees are dormant. Weak branches are an easy target for bacteria or insects to lay eggs, so weed them out now before it’s too late. First remove those dead, dying or diseased branches you noticed back in the fall. For diseased branches, be sure to cut the next juncture down to be sure of removing all the affected wood. Next, remove branches that are rubbing or at risk of growing into one another, branches that grow straight out, and root suckers. When pruning fruit trees be sure to sterilize your shears between cuts to prevent disease transfer. This can be done by rubbing them with denatured alcohol or a 1:99 solution of bleach and water. Tea tree oil is also a natural choice.

6. Wash the trees. The dormant season is prime time to “wash” fruit trees. Washing, or spraying, is the most successful way to kill off any bacteria, fungal spores, insects or insect larvae that may be hiding in your tree. Spraying should only be done in the winter when trees are deeply dormant, before any new buds have begun to show. Dormant oil sprays are available online or in most gardening and home improvement stores. These usually contain some type copper and/or lime, fish oil, or plant-based oil and can be found in organic forms, as well. Do your spraying when temperatures will be consistently above freezing for a few days. Make sure to wet all surfaces thoroughly, especially bark fissures. Since these sprays work as a contact insecticide, getting into all the nooks and crannies — especially around the base of the trunk — they ensure that you will kill off all of those hidden aphids, mites and other harmful bugs.

What advice would you add? Share your tips in the section below:

Every Year, Gardeners Make This Stupid Mistake — But You Don’t Have To. Read More Here.

24 Ways to Prepare for Your Spring Garden in the Dead of Winter

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prepare-spring-garden-in-winterIt can be hard to think about gardening when it’s below freezing, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Cold weather is the perfect time for planning!

If you are thinking (like I might have perhaps thought in the past) that you can just grab a few packs of seeds from the local hardware store or super store in April or so, put them in the ground, and you’ll see something come up in a few months, well, you’re mostly wrong. You definitely can grow food during the cooler months! It’s not rocket science, but it does require some thought and planning.

Fall Preparation

Before it freezes (or at least quickly after the first frost):

1. Remove and discard diseased parts of plants. But not into the compost! (If you put them into the compost, the weeds could sprout up wherever you use the compost later.

2. Mulch over any plants that might be susceptible to the cold (about 8″ deep), including over-wintering vegetables such as carrots, so they are still alive in the spring.

3. Make sure all beds are composted or mulched. A compost pail with a charcoal filter will allow you to start your compost stash inside the house while controlling odors until you can empty it outdoors.

4. Clean up, maintain, and properly store garden tools and equipment. Note any that need replaced. If you need a new set of good quality hand tools like the ones in this kit, add it to your Christmas list!

5. If any garden tools need significant repairs, take them in to be fixed.

6. Start a wish-list of gifts you would like. The holidays are approaching!

Planning for next spring

7. Order seed catalogs. There are multiple good companies, so go ahead and order a few. You may be surprised by what you find, and really good catalogs will have your mouth watering and you itching to start digging in the dirt. A couple of my own favorites are Seeds of Change and Baker Creek.

Remember: if you want to save the seeds from the plants to grow new plants in the future, you almost certainly will want heirloom varieties.

8. Decide if you want to use cold frames or another technique to extend your growing season. Plan and build accordingly, if you want to go for it.

9. Start diagramming/planning what you want where. Once you have a very general plan – vegetable garden, herb garden, annuals, perennials, bushes, and trees planned out – it’s time to start getting more specific. A journal specifically designed for gardeners will give you room to plan your garden, journal your efforts, and then make notes about what worked and what didn’t.

10. Check the viability and test germination of any seeds you have on hand.

11. When planning, start with the plants that take the longest to mature and will be there for the longest – the trees. Next come bushes, then perennials including any perennial herbs, annuals including vegetables, and finally any potted plants.

The last would be plants that can’t survive in your area that you really want. In my case, I have some potted chamomile and an aloe plant that I bring in during the winter. Other people have lemon trees, but it could be almost anything.

12. Ask these questions for trees, bushes, perennials, and annuals:

  • Do you want to plant any new ones?
  • What kind?
  • How will planting these affect other plants you’ll put nearby? If you put in a tree that gets very wide, so you probably won’t want to plant bushes or anything long-lasting near it, but annual flowers could do great and provide a nice pop of color!
  • Are there any other plants that cannot coexist with it?
  • What plants do really well with it?
  • Where do you want them on your lot? You may realize that you want a vegetable garden near the driveway, but you need some bushes between it and your teenage driver.

13. Start picking out what you want! I think this is the most fun. I can totally lose myself in seed catalogs.

Guidance on Picking Plants

14. Decide what you are looking for, and why. I like unusual varieties of common plants, like yellow carrots or banana melons. You might prefer more traditional orange carrots. This article with advice from a master gardener may help you make these decisions.

15. Do you want to involve your kids? My youngest loves picking out plants. It makes him crazy-happy to pick out, plant, nurture, and (sometimes) eat plants. There are areas in the garden with nothing planned so he can put whatever makes him happy. And yes, sometimes he decides on a spot I know or that makes me a bit crazy, but it still goes there unless I have a really good reason not to – like it’s right exactly where the mower will kill it.

16. Don’t forget to check which grow zone you live in. Your county or state extension service might have more detailed information available, or ask at a local nursery, to get the best information.

17. If you plant an herb garden, be sure to check which weeds are considered weeds or pests in your area. I planted lemon balm, which can go crazy, but I made sure to plant it where the driveway, a brick walk, and the house formed three sides, containing it a bit. (It’s apparently a member of the mint family, and they all grow like crazy pretty easily.) Yarrow is also considered a weed, but not invasive like lemon balm. So, to me, as a not-so-active-gardener, that just means yarrow will be harder for my chronic neglect to kill.

18. Think about what you actually use and eat. I planted about 8 oregano plants a few years ago and they grew great – but I rarely use oregano in my cooking. I love the smell of lavender and it’s a slight bug repellant, so I have planted a bunch of that around the house. I am interested in herbal remedies, so I planted yarrow, several kinds of mint and chamomile. The last two are potted. One, so it doesn’t spread and take over everything, the other because it can’t survive a winter outside in our climate.

19. Use kitchen leftovers to start new plants. Since you’ve already eaten them, you know these are veggies you’ll like. Growing pineapples this way is easy, too.

Steps to Take Mid-Winter

20. Consider the weather – is it an unusually cold or snowy winter? Is it mild? If it is mild, then you probably don’t need to do anything extra to your plants, but if it is a really cold or snowy year, you might want to protect your plants better. Last year, I lost almost all of the strawberry plants that I had nurtured from a few starts over the previous four years! A layer of mulch over top of them would have kept the cold out and the plants alive, even though they didn’t need it in previous warmer winters.

21. Take advantage of the increased visibility from all the plants dying or being dormant and take a good look at your grounds. Are there areas of erosion? If so, you have a project for spring and can start researching and planning how to best fix it.

22. Can you see roots damaging walls, foundations, pathways, or anything else? Don’t forget to check the area near the septic field and the well. In the spring, have a professional take care of any problematic roots. Research a good tree service and ask for referrals from friends and neighbors.

23. Where does the snow and ice melt first and where does it last? That gives you an idea of what spots naturally receive more sunlight or less sunlight. Of course, the micro-climate(s) in your yard will be a little different when the trees have leaves and as the angles of the sun change, but this will give you a starting point.

24. It’s finally time to start planting, even with the ground frozen rock-hard. Start your hardy (early season) plants indoors. In four to six weeks, you can put them in the ground and start the next group of plants inside. A Grow Zone map can  help you determine what to plant and when, as the weather begins to warm up.

Hopefully these tips will help you and your family get excited for your garden for next summer and you’ll have a great growing season!

Enjoy the process and the produce!

This article was updated on November 17, 2016.

The Popular Homestead Tree That Could Kill Your Livestock

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The Popular Homestead Tree That Could Kill Your Livestock

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Many people love wild cherry trees because of the beautiful white and pink blossoms that show their colors during spring. While these trees are aesthetically pleasing and can add a nice splash of color to a pasture, they can present a grave danger to livestock.

Growing up on a farm, I was always told to be on the lookout for wild cherry trees when walking through the pastures. Once we learned just how deadly they could be to our cattle and horses, we took the time to remove all of the trees from our 40 acres of wooded land.

The Danger

The danger with wild cherry trees lies within the leaves and, in some species, the bark. More specifically, the leaves are only toxic to livestock if they are wilting. It is recommended that you research the species and speak to a veterinarian to learn about the dangers specific to your area.

The leaves of wild cherry trees naturally produce cyanide when they are wilted. When the leaves are alive and healthy, the two components that combine to produce the cyanide are kept separate, but when the leaves are broken down or wilting, the components combine, and cyanide is produced.

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The Popular Homestead Tree That Could Kill Your LivestockIf an animal ingests the wilted leaves, the cyanide will suffocate them by preventing the transportation of oxygen in the blood stream. The effects of ingesting the leaves happen very quickly, and often there is not enough time to treat the animal if a lethal amount has been consumed. For each type of animal, the lethal amount of leaves is different, and the amount of time over which the leaves are consumed plays a significant role in the animal’s survival.

More often than not, if an animal consumes a lethal amount, they will be found dead, and symptoms will not be observed; however, it is important to be able to recognize the symptoms so that you act quickly if there is any hope for survival. Most animals will show signs of weakness and distress in the forms of labored breathing, agitation and lack of coordination. If an animal displays any of these symptoms, immediate action should be taken, even if you are not sure that wilted cherry leaves are the cause. Time could be the difference between having a living or dead animal.

How to Prevent Poisoning

Though people say animals should not eat the leaves if they are well-fed and have plenty of grass, we were not willing to take the chance. We cautiously removed every wild cherry tree we found in our pastures. Obviously, cutting down the trees will cause the leaves to wilt, so it is essential to take special care and avoid leaving behind any branches or leaves. Leaf rakes should be used to gather any leaves that fall to the round, and they should be disposed of in a way that will ensure there is no chance of them blowing back into the pasture.

If you are unable or decide not to remove the trees, then walk through your pastures regularly and look for any signs of wilting leaves. You should also make a habit of doing a walk-through after any storms which may have caused any trees to fall or branches to break.

Wild cherry trees are beautiful additions to landscaping, but the threat they pose to livestock is far too great to ignore. Because of how deadly the wilted leaves can be, thorough research is important to learn exactly what species are dangerous in your area. Wilted cherry leaves have the capability to wipe out a small herd if not properly handled. Preventative measures can help reduce, if not eliminate, the chances of that happening to your animals.

What advice would you add on protecting livestock from wild cherry trees? Share your tips in the section below:

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7 Incredible Tools The Native Americans Crafted From Tree Bark

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7 Survival Items The Native Americans Made From Tree Bark

Most of us see little use for bark. We peel it before we build with it, we trim it off before smoking fish or game, and we generally don’t see much value in it as firewood or a dependable heat source.

Native people, though, had a much different viewpoint. They used bark from many trees as a resource for numerous solutions, but there’s a trick to working with this material.

Paper birch is the bark of choice for bark crafters, and the Ojibway took barkcraft to a new level thanks to the fact that birch grew everywhere they lived. Other tribes had to make-do with stiffer and less pliable resources, although slippery elm, willow and aspen offered workable solutions.

Harvesting Bark

Be careful with living, green trees. If you remove too much bark, you will potentially kill the tree. In fact, if you cut the bark from a tree around its circumference, it will be dead in weeks, if not months. Native peoples would sometime “girdle” a tree. This involved removing bark around the full circumference of the tree; this was a designed action and they knew that the following year the tree would be dead. Often, a large fire was started at the base and stone axes were used to cut into the weakened and charred wood until repeated fires and chopping felled the tree.

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Even a dead birch tree will provide a strong and pliable source of bark. If you come across a dead-fall birch, harvest the bark to your heart’s content. If you’re desperate and only have access to live trees, limit your cuts and stripping to half of the tree if you can. That will at least give it a fighting chance for recovery.

You may be wondering: Why is bark so important to a tree? The inner bark or “xylem” is essentially the circulatory system for any tree. Water and nutrients are delivered to the tree from the roots to its leaves by this circulation. That’s why a “girdled” tree will soon die. When its only source of water and nutrients is cut off, the tree has no options for survival.

Pre-Treating Bark

There are a few steps to making any bark more workable. Some tree bark, like the slippery elm, requires a bit of scraping of the outer bark to make the piece more pliable. Birch is naturally flexible, but it will be curved when first harvested. Native Americans flattened the birch bark on the ground with the curved side down and weighted it with stones. The moisture in the ground and the weight of the stones eventually flattened the bark.

Another key step is to soak the bark in hot water before working with it. This also adds some flexibility, and it helps to keep the bark from splitting when it’s folded or shaped.

Many bark creations were sewn at the seams with cordage or strips of leather to re-enforce items like baskets and bowls. If the object needed to hold water, the seams were sealed with pine pitch.

Let’s take a look at items the Native Americans made from bark:

1. Cup

One of the easiest and most common uses for bark was for a ladle or drinking cup.  A circle of birch bark was cut and a triangular fold was made from the center to the edge. This fold was then overlapped to form a cone. The creased bark was held in place with a stick with a split in it, and the fact that the bark was not cut made it water tight to either scoop water from a spring, or to simply drink it as a cup.

2. Bowl

This same approach was used with a wider circle of birch bark or slippery elm to make bowls supported by rocks around the side, or a hat that would shade you from the sun or protect you from the rain.

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3. Pot

The bowl concept also can allow you to cook with a bark cooking pot. Hot stones were picked from a fire with two sticks much like chop sticks, and the stones were swirled in the water until the water actually started to boil.

But be careful with hot rocks. A rock from a river may appear nice and smooth, but many of them contain moisture in their cracks and crevices and can explode and shatter in the fire. Igneous rocks like granite or basalt are the best because they are less likely to be porous and allow water to seep in.

4. Sunglasses

“Sunglasses” are another option, with a piece of bark cut about six inches wide and two inches in height. You may doubt the need for sunglasses, but in winter, snow-blindness is a serious problem, as sunlight reflects off forests and fields of snow. These sunglasses, though, did not contain any glass or plastic. A couple of sticks were used to support the bark strip over the ears like a regular pair of sunglasses, and two crosses in the shape of a plus sign (+) were cut into the bark at eye level.

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A semi-circular cut was made to fit over the bridge of the nose. The size of the crosses was usually a half-inch long both up and across, and the slit was about an eighth of an inch wide. You look at the world through the slit, which allows less light and protects your eyes. This was actually an Eskimo invention.

5. Backpack

A backpack is also easy to make with a long piece of bark about three feet in length and a foot and a half wide. The bark was folded over, and the seams on either side were sown together with cordage or long strips of leather. Holes were poked first and the cordage or leather simply woven through. Straps from cordage or leather were attached and reinforced with more lacing. and everything from personal items to harvested plants, fruits and vegetables could be carried with ease.

6. Candle lantern

A curved piece of birch bark, wrapped and held in place at the base around a circle of sawn wood creates a wind block and reflector for a candle lantern in a fixed camp. Be careful using this indoors. Birch bark is highly flammable, which makes it great tinder, but not something you want to burst into flames in a cabin.

7. Torch

A simple torch is easy to improvise, with strips of birch bark held in place by a slit in a long branch. Additional strips of bark can be added as the birch burns; it actually gives off a good amount of light for a long time.

Final thoughts

All Native American tribes crafted canoes from birch, but that’s something that’s a bit beyond my expertise, although I’ve had success making small-scale toy canoes from birch bark, and my kids and grandkids still play with them. Maybe someday I’ll see if I can scale it up and actually make a birch bark canoe, but I’ll definitely be testing it in very shallow water.

What advice would you add on making tools and utensils from bark? Share your tips in the section below:

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Book: The Backyard Orchardist

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See larger image The Backyard Orchardist: A Complete Guide to Growing Fruit Trees in the Home Garden For every gardener desiring to add apples, pears, cherries, and other tree fruit to their landscape here are hints and solid information from a professional horticulturist and experienced fruit grower. The Backyard Orchardist includes help on selecting the best fruit trees and information about each stage of growth and development, along with tips on harvest and storage of the fruit. Those with limited space will learn about growing dwarf fruit trees in containers. Appendices include a fruit-growers monthly calendar, a trouble-shooting guide for

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7 Versatile ‘Survival Trees’ Every Homesteader Should Plant

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7 Versatile ‘Survival Trees’ Every Homesteader Should Plant

Apple tree. Image source: Pixabay.com

 

Trees on a fundamental level provide shade from the sun and when mature, firewood. But certain trees also can serve as a food source or offer medicinal benefits.

The seven trees below will grow across most parts of North America, from the deep south to far north. It was tough to pick just seven. and you may have your own ideas, but from my perspective these are the best:

1. Apples. I continue to feel that apples are one of the most versatile fruits we have. It’s not just because they’re good to eat, but they offer the ability to make apple cider and most significantly, apple cider vinegar. Vinegar is a natural antiseptic and an excellent resource for canning and food preservation. The variety doesn’t really matter, although you might want to consider planting two of the same variety to help with pollination.

2. White willow. Willow bark has a chemical substance called salicin in the inner bark, or xylem. It’s the active ingredient in aspirin and has been infused in a tea for centuries by the Chinese and Native Americans as a pain reliever and fever reducer. A German chemist in the 1800s first isolated this compound to make a commercial pain reliever. His last name was “Bayer” and he called his new product aspirin.

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3. Cherry. Cherry trees have both nutritional and medicinal value. The cherries, whether sweet or sour, can be used across a variety of recipes, from pies to juice. Cherry juice has been shown in clinical studies to be a powerful treatment for arthritic conditions, including gout. They’re also beautiful trees when they’re in bloom and like apple trees, you can use the wood to flavor smoked foods as branches die or need to be trimmed.

7 Versatile ‘Survival Trees’ Every Homesteader Should Plant

Image source: Pixabay.com

4. Oak. Oak is a slow-growing tree but it has numerous benefits. As firewood, it burns long and hot. Baby oak leaves are an excellent addition to a salad or soup. The biggest additional benefit may be the acorns. They are high in protein, calories from fat – which is important in cold weather – and can be used in a variety of ways, such as nutmeats in a meal or to make flour. You just have to be patient because they (like we said) grow slow. Buy the biggest tree you can find.

5. Ginko. Scientists say Ginko is the oldest deciduous tree on Earth. It was thought to be extinct until a botanist happened to come across one growing in a garden in China. The tree has significant medicinal value, and the leaves are commonly infused into a tea. Benefits range from blood thinning to some indications that it can help to treat neurological conditions like Parkinson’s disease, as well as boost the immune system.

6. Pear. Pear trees are hardy trees and also provide a good source of firewood, as well as smoking wood for smoked foods and fruit. Pears are a great table food and can also be used to make breads, tarts and other simple desserts.

7. Mulberry. Some people might disagree and say this is a very messy tree. It is. But mulberry trees bear a sweet fruit that shows up in early June, and it’s one of the first fruits to appear. I put a tarp under the tree and shake the branches to make harvesting easier. The fruits are sweet to semi-sweet and are great on cereal or ice cream. You also can make mulberry juice, jelly or blend the fruit into bread for mulberry bread. They will stain your fingers and lips, but if you want to dye fabric, the juice will certainly do that.

The ability of any tree to survive and thrive is dependent on the environment where you live. Most of the trees I’ve identified will survive across most parts of North America, but desert parts of the continent and high mountain areas could be problematic. When selecting the best trees for your homestead, think about if they can offer more than basic shade and firewood. Can the tree offer either fruit or a medicinal benefit that transcends the usual tree? Those are the trees I like to plant.

We’d love to hear your ideas about the best trees to plant. Some of you living in far southern environments may be able to grow oranges and avocados. No matter where you live, let us know what trees you’ve planted in the section below.

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Secret Gardening: How To Hide Your Food In Plain Sight

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How To Plant A ‘Camo Garden’ No One Will Ever Find

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You’ve been gardening for years, and have mastered the art of growing food on your homestead. You do it organically, without using commercial pesticides and fertilizers. You save your own seeds, can your own produce, and are practically self-sufficient.

But in the event of a local or nationwide disaster that closes stores and causes people to become desperate, how are you going to protect your garden from potential thieves? Sure you could be generous and help a number of people for a while, but you can’t possibly feed each every individual that shows up at your door every time.

If you want to play it safe and make your garden “invisible” from unwanted elements, turn it into a “secret garden” with planting guilds.

A guild is a design principle in permaculture that groups assorted plants together, usually in a circle, surrounding a central plant. Each plant is carefully chosen to complement the others, ensuring each other’s growth. Like forests, guilds mimic the wilderness by having multiple layers of diverse vegetation: trees, shrubs, vines, herbs, root crops, ground cover, and even animals, insects and beneficial microorganisms. All of these work together to meet the four basic needs of plants: food (mostly in the form of nitrogen), mulch, pollination and protection. A guild is an ecosystem in itself, with different members in symbiotic relationship with one another. On a larger scale, a forest garden, also known as a “food forest,” is a great example of a guild.

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I first heard about guilds after watching a video of renowned natural farmer Sepp Holzer, who grew a food forest in the mountains of Austria. He cultivated a sundry mix of fruits, flowers, legumes, corn, buckwheat, herbs and spices, pumpkins, salad greens, medicinal plants and different kinds of root crops all across his acreage. He didn’t plant them in neat rows, but scattered seeds at random and just let nature do its course. Guild-planting, he says, makes the garden so much more dynamic, abundant and efficient. In fact, the yield in his food forest in the Appalachians is five times more than it would be if he did traditional row gardening.

How To Plant A ‘Camo Garden’ No One Will Ever FindThe benefits of guilds are undeniable: less or practically no irrigation, no mulching, no commercial pesticides and fertilizers and, ultimately, minimal maintenance. You get high yields from a very small space. And, because food forests look like a wild, untended, neglected hodge-podge of overgrown bush, nobody will think it’s a virtual paradise brimming with food! Even animals and pests would have a hard time fighting an array of repellents to get through to your goods.

Here are the different layers to plant in a guild:

1. Trees. In a guild, the trees are strong, deep-rooted plants that reach deep under the ground to absorb minerals and bring them up to the surface. They’re the canopy layer, dominating but not saturating the surrounding plants. They provide shelter for smaller trees and shrubs, beneficial animals and insects. The trees grown in the center of guilds are normally fruit or nut trees. In the northern states, they’re most likely apples, pears, cherries, plums and figs; in the subtropics, citruses like oranges, limes and lemons.

2. Shrubs. Shrubs provide a windbreak to reduce stress on your central tree. They can be low or understory fruit trees like bananas and papayas, stalks like corn, various woody perennials and most berry bushes. Comfrey, borage and dandelion are good because they’re “miners” – they collect nutrients from the soil, store it in their leaves and feed it to surrounding plants when they shed their leaves. You can also chop-and-drop them to use as green manure.

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 3. Vines. Vines make up the vertical layer that climb up the central and understory trees. They need little soil and ground space to thrive, but they require physical support from stronger plants beside them. Vines provide much food in less space, not just for humans but also for surrounding plants since they are nitrogen-fixers – they absorb nitrogen from the air and make them bio-available for surroundings plants. Examples of good leguminous vines are lima and runner beans. Annual climbers that seed themselves easily are gourds like cucumbers and squashes. Other edible vines are honeysuckle, jasmine, bramble, passionflower and of course, grapes.

4. Herbs and flowers. Herbs and flowers protect the fruits and nuts in your guild. Spices like peppers and herbs from the allium family like chives and onions ward off harmful insects. Even mice are said to be repelled by chives. On the other hand, fennel and dill attract wasps that prey on those harmful insects. Flowers, for their part, mostly attract pollinators, but certain ones draw predator insects: those from the daisy family, the Umbelliferae family when flowering (carrots, parsley, celery), yarrow and allysum. Marigolds, nasturtiums, lavender, tansy, elderberry, wormwood and peppermint geraniums are known pest repellents, while daffodils are said to keep deer at bay.

The thing to remember is that pests are attracted through sight and smell. Having an assortment of flowers, whether pungent-smelling or aromatic, will give mixed signals and confuse them. Other plants that can protect your guild from bigger animals and unwanted folks are thorny ones like cacti and osage orange.

How To Plant A ‘Camo Garden’ No One Will Ever FindSpeaking of protection, try attracting beneficial animals, too, like frogs, lizards and birds, or keep ducks or guinea fowl to control slugs. They’re natural predators. Put up birdhouses or consider building a pond to help attract these garden friends. The key is to simulate a balanced natural ecosystem so the different elements can regulate each other’s growth.

5. Ground cover – Ground cover plants protect the soil around the guild from too much sun, and reduce erosion during heavy rains and strong winds. They are your living mulch, building the soil while smothering unwanted weeds. They hold moisture and nutrients in the soil, keeping beneficial microorganisms underneath happy. They are usually in the form of grasses, legumes and brassicas. Ground covers that are wonderful nitrogen-fixers are comfrey, alfalfa, hairy vetch, field peas, soybeans and clovers. Other great edible cover crops are oats, barley, rye, buckwheat, canola, flax, rapeseed, spelt, spinach, mustards, strawberries, globe artichokes, parsnips, radishes, fava beans, fenugreek, chamomile, nasturtiums, elderberry, dandelions, sunflower and chicory.

6. Rhizomes — These are root crops that are diligent diggers:  white and sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, yams, daikon radish, and edible tubers like turnips, Jerusalem artichokes, cassava and yacon. They loosen compacted soil, make it soft, and mine nutrients underground. In the level which they belong to, called the rhizosphere, permaculturists like to include beneficial organisms like worms, insects and fungi.

For a comprehensive list of edibles you can plant in your food forest, click here.

As you can expect, you’ll have to prioritize growing perennials so you won’t have to sow and pull out parts of your garden year after year. Use open-pollinated heirloom seeds, and just let them go to seed to replenish themselves. And remember: The more diversity you have, the greater the variety and nutrients on your plate … and, the more confusion and camouflage you’ll create for both pests and people.

What advice would you add? Share your tips in the section below:

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Espalier Trees: The Secret To Growing All The Fruit You Need In The Smallest Space Possible

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Espalier Trees: The Secret To Growing All The Fruit You Need In The Smallest Space Possible

Image source: Pixabay.com

Anyone can have beautiful fruit trees on their property, and it doesn’t have to take up a lot of space.

It is called “espalier trees,” a growing method that goes back to 1400 BC, when it was used in ancient Egypt. Espalier, if you’re curious, is just a fancy French-Italian way to say “grow flat.”

Your espalier apple tree would be pruned in such a way that it would lay flat against the wall or fence. They would be grown similarly to grapes in a vineyard, and it’s not limited to apple trees. This way of training trees works well on just about most trees, including peaches, pears and figs.

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There are several reasons homesteaders grow espalier trees:

  • The trees grow in tight spaces.
  • The heat of a wall protects them from frost.
  • They are easy to pick.
  • You can grow more varieties of trees in a given area.
  • Many people consider them artistic and visually appealing.

One other great reason to grow espalier trees is to provide air flow, which helps prevent disease. You also have an easier time to inspect the tree and fruit, making it simpler to maintain and pick off pests you may not have seen in a full tree.

Espalier Trees: The Secret To Growing All The Fruit You Need In The Smallest Space Possible

Image source: Pixabay.com

Dwarf and semi-dwarf trees are preferable. Spur-bearing apple trees are the best fruit producers when grown this way. Their slower growth and stature make it a great candidate. These trees will produce as much fruit as a full-sized tree.

This growing process can take years to complete, but that is just the nature of the game when dealing with fruit trees. In addition to the three, here is a list of supplies you will need:

  • Pliers
  • Wire cutter
  • Shovel
  • Pruning shears
  • 12-gauge wire
  • 3/16-inch eye bolts
  • Masonry wall mounts for eye bolts if using a concrete wall to anchor
  • Drill gun with 3/16-inch drill for eye bolts

Below is how you can espalier at home. As a quick note, the basics of the process are to prune the tree into the desired shape, which is typically three arms on each side. Get as basic or creative as you like.

Mark the wall that you will have your tree against. Make one vertical line (about five-feet long) representing the tree, and then make three horizontal lines (12-feet long) bisecting the vertical line (so you have six feet on each side) representing your branches.

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The first horizontal line should be about 18 inches from where the crown of the tree will be, the second horizontal line at 35 inches from the crown, and the third line at 54 inches from the crown.

Of course, these figures can be adjusted for your situation.

Place your eye bolt anchors at the ends of the horizontal lines you made, and string your wire through as tightly as possible. You are going to train your tree to put new branches along the wire with ties as they grow.

Now you have the basic idea of the future shape of your tree. Dig your hole as per the directions that came with your plant, at the base of the vertical line. The scary part is about to happen. Use pruning shears to cut 2-4 inches above the lowest wire off your tree. Don’t worry, this is the way things have to be. Even if you have a 6-foot tree, go ahead and cut it.

As your tree starts to grow new limbs, only keep the two limbs closest to the bottom horizontal wires. Prune all other side branches, and just let the leader grow to the second set of horizontal wires. Repeat the process of cutting side branches, just leaving the two branches closest to the horizontal wires.

Make sure not to wait too long to train the side branches. Working with them when they are soft and bendable assures you don’t damage the branches. Soon you will have some great looking espalier trees and more fruit in smaller spaces!

Have you ever grown an espalier tree? What advice would you add? Share it in the section below:

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5 Common ‘Miracle Trees’ The Native Americans Used For Medicine

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5 Common ‘Miracle Trees’ The Native Americans Used For Medicine

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It must have been a long process of trial and error. How do you figure out that a plant or tree can have medicinal benefits? Obviously, some Native Americans, as well as many other ancient cultures from China to the Incas and Aztecs, found solace and relief from plants that surrounded them.

Significantly, many of those natural cures were derived from trees. Typically, it was the inner bark of the trees or the xylem that provided the most potent mix of natural elements with curative properties. However, there are some exceptions, such as the needles of pines and the berries from Juniper trees.

We’re going to explore five common trees in North America that continue to be used for various medicinal purposes. They are:

  • White pine
  • White willow
  • Slippery elm
  • Juniper
  • Poplar

We’ll also review what type of preparation was used and how to prepare it for home use. A word of caution is related to allergies and dosage. Home preparation of natural cures is not always an exact science. Just as important, different people respond to these natural treatments in different ways, depending on their body weight and predisposition to allergies. In all cases, you should first consult your doctor. Take a low dose of any natural preparation you make, such as a teaspoon or less, to assess your body’s response. You should also avoid giving these natural treatments to young children.

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Bark and needles of pine were available year-round and used regardless of weather or season.  However, warmer months often provided the best concentration of ingredients due to the fact that the sap was still flowing in the xylem of the trees.

An infusion was the most common preparation technique. It’s essentially a tea made by soaking the inner bark or crushed pine needles in very hot, but not boiling water. Boiling water can break down some of the beneficial compounds. The steeping time was usually 5 to 20 minutes. The longer the steep the more concentrated the ingredients, so take good notes if you choose to make your own preparations to determine tolerable dosages.

Poultices were also used frequently to treat external afflictions. This involves an infusion or crushed ingredients that are saturated into a piece of cloth and applied to the skin where the pain or affliction is located.

As we’ve already noted, time of year in addition to the general health and age of the tree can also affect concentration of ingredients, so you may have to take that into account as well.

1. White pine

5 Common ‘Miracle Trees’ The Native Americans Used For Medicine

White pine. Image source: Pixabay.com

While the inner bark is often used as an infusion, the young shoots, twigs, pitch and needles of white pine were also used by Native Americans to treat a variety of conditions both internally and externally.

The pitch or pine sap was used as a poultice on a hot cloth and applied to the chest to treat coughs and pneumonia. Pitch applied directly to the skin was used to draw out boils, abscesses and splinters. It also was used as a poultice for wounds or sores.

An infusion of the crushed pine needles, often combined with the inner bark and young shoots, was used to treat colds, fever, heartburn, croup, laryngitis, bronchitis and coughs.

The scent of the white pine itself has aroma therapy properties, especially when applied externally to the chest or throat as a poultice for cough or sore throats.

2. White willow

We’ve covered the health benefits of willow bark in the past, but the medicinal value is so significant it makes sense to revisit the benefits. All willow trees have a chemical element called “salicin” in the inner, xylem bark. White willow has the highest concentrations. A German chemist synthesized this element in the 1800s and developed a tablet with both pain-relieving and fever-reducing properties. The chemist’s last name was “Bayer,” and the tablet he invented was called “aspirin.”

Native Americans would steep the xylem from the inner bark of the white willow in very hot water and drink it as a pain reliever and to reduce fever. One of the side benefits of this infusion for some people is that it does not thin the blood like regular aspirin. This has value for people on blood thinners, people with naturally thin blood due to genetics or diet, and people afflicted with hemophilia.

3. Slippery elm

Slippery Elm preparations were made from the inner bark and in some instances, the leaves. Once again, an infusion was made by Native Americans, often with a combination of inner bark and crushed leaves and used to treat digestive disorders, gastrointestinal conditions, gout, arthritis, stomach aches and sore throat. It also was used as a mouthwash or gargle to treat sore throat, mouth ulcers and toothache. As an external treatment it was used as a wash or poultice to treat skin conditions, hemorrhoids and insect bites.

As a poultice the infusion is poured into a piece of fabric and applied to the skin. It is said to have significant benefits for pain reduction, inflammation of wounds, boils, burns and skin ulcers. One recipe calls for five tablespoons of ground inner bark infused in a very hot cup of water and strained to make the basic infusion that can be either sipped or used as a wash or poultice. Here again, take a little at a time to assess its concentration and your reaction to the compound if you choose to use it as an herbal remedy.

4. Juniper

5 Common ‘Miracle Trees’ The Native Americans Used For Medicine

Juniper. Image source: Pixabay.com

The Juniper is an evergreen that grows around the world. The small, round bluish berries are the primary flavor ingredient in gin. When the berries are fully ripe in late summer, Native Americans would eat them off the tree to treat kidney, bladder and urinary tract conditions, digestive disorders, gum disease, diarrhea, gout and arthritis, and rheumatic conditions.

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There are some cautions to keep in mind. It’s believed that Juniper berries can cause miscarriage in pregnant women, and high doses can irritate the urinary tract. It also shouldn’t be given to children, considering their low body weight and the potential for even the smallest dosage to be too high.

5. Poplar buds

Poplar trees are ubiquitous across North America, and in the spring Native Americans used the poplar buds as a topical treatment for muscle soreness and headaches when applied to the brow as a poultice. The buds were usually ground, and the sticky result was applied to the skin, around painful joints or bruises or anywhere else localized pain occurred, including insect bites. It is not intended for internal use but as a topical treatment only.

The key ingredient in poplar buds that makes them effective as a topical pain reliever has a familiar name: salicin. This is the same chemical found in willow bark and used as the base ingredient in aspirin.

What advice would you add? What trees would you put on the list? Share your tips in the section below:

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Hugelkultur: The Centuries-Old, Weed-Free, German Way To Garden

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Hugelkultur: The Centuries-Old, Weed-Free, German Way To Garden

Image source: Screen capture

Hugelkultur, the German word for “hill culture,” is the ideal method for the farmer/grower looking for a unique and practical way to grow a weed-free and healthy garden. This method of planting has been used for centuries in Germany and Eastern Europe and allows for greater biodiversity, moisture-control, convenient harvesting, less maintenance, and saves the need to till.

Conventional farmers may have a really hard time with this growing method because they know rotting wood steals nitrogen until it’s fully decomposed (when it then releases it back to the soil). Well, this is a bit different. The wood itself will slowly decompose; meanwhile, it becomes a hotel for beneficial microbes and amazing fungi.

Microbes are not only extremely important, but they also are extremely interesting little organisms! They can help roots acquire nutrients, such as phosphate. Some microbes can even kill Salmonella, making your food safer. Microbes also help protect plants from the nasty wars going on in your soil. A hugelkultur garden houses all of these microbes, furnishing them with everything they need to be healthy and strong.

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Right up there with microbes, fungi does wonders for the garden! Fungi gives us a natural way to break down organic matter like the wood in a hugel (short for hugelkultur). All that buried wood would otherwise take years to break down, and do so very slowly. Fungi will break down the wood faster and release the nutrients at a much quicker pace in order to make the plants healthier.

The wood in the hugel will become warm from the slow-composting action. Since soil covers the pile of wood, the composting wood will not overheat. Conveniently, this action maintains a warm temperature over the winter months.

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In a test of ability, we performed a small experiment with goji berry plants using a hugel versus a standard bed. The goji berry plants on our hugel produced several more harvests across several weeks compared to goji berry plants growing out of a standard bed.

Hugelkultur: The Centuries-Old, Weed-Free, German Way To Garden

Image source: Wikipedia

Hugel beds are also fantastic for preserving moisture for a sort of self-watering system. The buried wood receives most of the credit for this action in that it holds the water. This water then feeds the bacteria, fungi, plants and other helpful organisms. Moisture is essential for life in all types of gardens. Hugel beds will hold all the water they need, and you don’t need to water them if built correctly. Many people using hugelkultur employ a swale. A swale is basically a tactic to catch water and hold it at the hugel bed. This can be as simple as a U-shaped bed pointing up your property’s grade. When rain falls, it will run into the U-shape, effectively trapping much of the water. This is not needed, but it helps. I did have a swale in my bed but removed it for space reasons.

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Are you ready to build your hugel bed?

Building the Hugel Bed

  • Make a trench if you find it convenient; it will help hold water.
  • Insert logs (most efficient if you cut the larger logs into sections and face them up like stumps in the ground) or lay them flat.
  • Pack in all the open spaces with branches and twigs.
  • Add some wood chips if you would like.
  • Cover with a minimum of 8 inches of soil.

Digging a trench will also give you some soil to cover the hugel. It saves the time and energy of finding soil without making a huge hole in the lawn. It also may be a good idea to add aged manure directly over the wood before covering. There are so many variations you can do to suit your needs. Some people also inoculate the ends of the bed with mushroom mycelium and then harvest mushrooms from the hugel bed.

Some plants will like your hugel more than others. We had really good success with tomatoes, strawberries, goji berries, cucumbers and beans. The longer you have your hugel, the better the harvest will be. So give it a shot, and you won’t regret it!

Have you ever used a hugel bed? Share your advice in the section below:

Don’t Make The Same Mistake Other Gardeners Make Every Year. Read More Here.

The Off-Grid Money Source Hiding On Your Property …

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The Off-Grid Money Source Hiding On Your Property …

Image source: Pixabay.com

When we think of weeds, we seldom include trees on the list of culprits. But some trees are so invasive and pervasive that they really ought to be on the list. Case in point: the red cedar.

My kids and I live on a 40-acre homestead in rural Missouri. Unfortunately, only about eight acres of it is in usable pasture, and the rest is a mix of small stands of hardwoods, briar patches and a whole lot of cedars. A whole lot!

In order to get more use out of the property, we have long wanted to get rid of the vast stand of cedars. The hardwoods we want — for future firewood and wildlife habitat — but the cedars really serve little purpose in either of these departments.

Sadly, the cedar on our property is not enough to interest a logging company. So we investigated the prospect of having it cleared by a hired crew. Estimates ran into thousands of dollars per acre! That idea quickly fell into obscurity. So, the Northern California boy that I am, I began to formulate my own plan for cedar eradication.

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A bit of research revealed that there were a number of specialty mills in the area that would buy cedar logs for a variety of purposes. This woke up my inner Paul Bunyan, so I determined to pick up a saw and head into the woods to see what damage I could do.

The first thing I am going to make perfectly clear is that the phrase “easy work, excellent pay” does not apply here! “Get rich quick working from home” is also not the best description. Logging is a lot of work, especially if you wind up doing it on your own! But if you aren’t afraid to work up a sweat, brave some midgrade dangers, and live with a few sore muscles — and if you have marketable trees that you can’t afford to have removed, you may want to think about a family tractor logging operation.

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The author’s red cedar logs.

Now it’s good news time! The equipment you will need to get going is probably already on your homestead, if you’re even halfway serious about your endeavor. You are going to need a good chainsaw with at least an 18-inch bar, a tractor, a good towing chain with a hook on each end, and a trailer to get your logs to the mill.

Before you get going, you will have to research what mills in your area are buying logs from the kind of trees you intend to cut. Not only will you need to find out if the mills are buying, but what size they want the logs to be. For example, the mill I sell to most often wants red cedar logs between 6 and 18 inches diameter (at the small end), and cut to 44 inch lengths. Mills vary in their requirements; another mill I sell to at times has a minimum 7 inch diameter and wants the logs in 8 foot lengths. Make absolutely certain you know where your logs are going, and what the parameters are or you can find yourself with a trailer full of unsellable wood!

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Once you have established your market, it’s time for the fun part — cutting down trees! It’s not always as easy as it sounds, and this is the stage where an element of danger comes in. Make sure you learn your felling skills, the relation of your notch and your back cut to the direction of fall, in more open areas. If trees in thick growth fall the wrong way, they can end up hung up, and getting a hung tree down can be pretty dicey, especially on a windy day.

Once you have your trees down, you need to limb them. This is another area where caution is in order. There is a tendency to want to rush through this stage, but that can also get you hurt. A good pair of steel-toed boots is in order.

To reduce the number of trips, I leave trees full length to skid to the landing where the trailer is. This is where the tricks of the trade come in. I learned to skid logs a long time ago back in Northern California. Then, we had choker cables designed for the task. What I have found makes a great substitute is a three-fourths-inch chain with a hook at each end. The chain is wrapped around the log a foot or two back from the end you will be towing from. Get the chain as tight as you can and still be able to easily secure the chain back to itself with the hook. The other end of the hook goes to your tractor’s towing point. When you start your skid, the tension on the chain causes it to go tight on your log (“choking” it) for a trouble-free skid to your landing.

Back at the landing, logs are cut to length, scaled for diameter, and loaded on the trailer. I use pallet forks on my tractor’s bucket to ease the loading process. I use the 16-foot trailer for the Kubota tractor for log hauling. Once the load is securely tied down, it’s off to the mill.

This has been an excellent solution to my cedar problem, and a great supplement to my cash flow. A little hard work has turned this weeded land into a $300-a-load asset, and it is getting cleared at the same time.

Related:

The Very Best Woods For Wood-urning Stoves

Have you ever cleared land and sold wood? Share your advice in the section below:

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Selecting Fruit Trees For Your Homestead

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Whether you’re growing trees on your homestead as a hobby, to get you and your family to eat fresh organic fruits and veggies, or to save on those trips to the grocery store, it is important to have some knowledge regarding what kind of crops you can grow on your land. Most people just want to grow their own produce so they’re satisfied that they’re having organic fruits that have little to no side effects. Additionally, some people want to get into the habit of growing their food so they have knowledge and practice in case of a disaster and

The post Selecting Fruit Trees For Your Homestead appeared first on Dave’s Homestead.

3 Steps To Building Your Own Lodgepole Pine Furniture

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3 Steps To Building Your Own Lodgepole Pine Furniture

Image source: thegoodtimber.com

There are 101 uses for knowing how to build lodgepole pine furniture that go way beyond the furniture itself.

Our forefathers built lodgepole pine furniture out of necessity. They needed beds, tables, benches, chairs and much more. As pioneers, they also needed to use what was around them and, for the most part, they couldn’t transport sawmill equipment when they traveled to new homestead locations. So, lodgepole pines offered relatively straight long pieces of wood that were around the right size. When you can’t mill a 2×4, a lodgepole pine works rather well in its stead.

Because lodgepole pines were easy to work with and super fast to prep for use, they ended up being used for just about everything from fences to tables, and from cribs to horse stalls.

The furniture they made and that you can make as well has what many call a rustic elegance to it. There is a reason you see lodgepole pine furniture in multimillion-dollar log homes all throughout Colorado, Montana and other states. Many of the biggest stars have it in their homes for one good reason: It’s beautiful.

The first thing you have to do is decide which of the two basic styles you want. They are:

Ultra Rustic

The ultra rustic furniture type doesn’t have round smooth tenons fitting it its mortises. They are hand shaped with a hatchet, axe or a draw knife. This type is also draw knife peeled and will, of course, show those markings.

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It’s not as uniform and symmetrical and no one will mistake it for factory-built furniture. But, it does take a little more skill and patience. You can’t rush it by taking large chunks off of the tenons or you’ll soon find them too small to fit in the mortise holes.

Milled

The milled look for lodgepole pine furniture has tenons that are cut with tenon saws or tenon cutters attached to a drill or lathe. These tenons will be perfectly round and uniform. The peeling will generally be done by drying the timbers and using a rubber mallet and a putty knife which we will get into later.

1. Selecting Your Lodgepole Pines

When selecting your lodgepole pines for furniture, what you’re looking for are dead stand trees (trees that are dead, but still standing). You can use dead fall trees (ones that are dead and already on the ground), but you will have a lot of problems with rot.

The way to check them fast is to take a hammer, a rock or a short heavy piece of wood you can swing and lightly hit them up and down the length.

3 Steps To Building Your Own Lodgepole Pine Furniture

Image source: bearcreekbilliards.com

What you’re looking for is hollow-sounding strikes. You’ll definitely hear the difference with a hammer when you hit a piece of rotten wood vs. a piece of solid wood. It sounds soft inside, like you’re checking a watermelon by knocking on it with your knuckles to see if it’s ripe. Only here, that sound is what you don’t want.

This will save you a ton of time from having to fire up your chainsaw and making cuts to find out if you’re looking at rot or not.

If you see dead stand trees that still have most of their needles, but the needles have turned brown, then you may be looking at a pine beetle infestation. Be careful with that. You don’t want that wood; it’s brittle in the spots they bore into and you could transport the beetles back to your home. If they get loose in your area, you’ll regret it as you watch your pine trees die.

If you find an area where fire has ripped through the forest, you can find some great dead stand trees there. Many forest fires will go though so fast all they do is burn most of the branches off and leave the timber standing.

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You want to leave your lodgepole pine timbers as long (length-wise) as possible. The reason: You’ll do your cutting once you have them back home or at your shop. This way you cut them as needed and get the most out of every timber.

2. Selecting Your Tools

The draw knife: The draw knife is the No. 1 tool for the ultra rustic look. It’s used in pealing the logs, making the tenons and removing high spots.

The one thing you have to know about your draw knife is that it will give you some planer glaze. Because the draw knife is basically a low-tech planer, it does “glaze” or close the pores of the wood. This will leave you with spots on your logs where your stain won’t take as well.

Many people really like this look as it’s part of that ultra rustic effect. If you use your draw knife on a test log and stain it only to find you don’t care for the look, you can remedy this in the following ways: A) don’t use the draw knife for pealing the bark. Instead, use the mallet and putty knife we will speak of below; B) sand the draw knife marks to take off the glazing and re-open their pores.

Rubber or rawhide mallet: Back in the pioneering days most people didn’t have a rubber mallet; they had rawhide mallets instead. The reason you want a rubber or rawhide mallet is so you don’t make any marks on the lodgepole pine timbers when you’re checking them for rot or stripping the bark.

You strike the timber up and down its length to check for that hollow rotten sound, so you don’t haul it out of there only to find out later when you cut it that it is rotten.

Putty knife: If you’re not going to use a draw knife, then a putty knife and a rubber or rawhide mallet works pretty well for skinning the lodgepole pines.

Tenon cutters: There are a few styles from which to choose. You can get the ones that go onto your drill or onto a lathe. You can mount the drill on a bench and feed the pole to it. Or, you can center the tenon cutter bit on the pole and cut it that way. Having your drill mobile is much faster, but requires that you have good stable hands because when it first starts to bite it can jump a little.

Mortise cutters: Just like tenon cutters, they can be drill-mounted and that style works best for most applications. A mortise cutter (cutting bit) is basically a hole saw that takes away everything inside the circle.

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You could also use a hole saw and then just chip away everything inside the circle to the proper depth if you like. But, if you’re doing a bunch of them, this is going to be rather tedious and it will be better to get the mortise cutter bit.

3. Building Your Furniture

3 Steps To Building Your Own Lodgepole Pine Furniture

Image source: rusticlogfurnishings.net

Skinning: You can skin the timbers with your draw knife, which is pretty self-explanatory, or you can use your mallet and putty knife.

If you’re using the putty knife, wait until the timbers are very dry. Put them out in a barn for a month, laid out so they’re not stacked and can dry well.

Then put them one at a time up onto a couple of saw horses (or whatever way you want to elevate them). Strike them firmly up and down their lengths with your rubber or rawhide mallet. This will loosen the bark and it’s a good idea to wear protective eye wear, as pieces will fly.

Then pop the bark off of the lodgepole with the putty knife. Get under the edges of the bark and pop it off. If it doesn’t come off easily, it’s likely your pines are too wet or too green. If they’re too green you can let them season or use a draw knife; if they’re too wet, let them dry more.

Plans: You should get yourself a set of plans for whatever piece you’re building. It’s so much better than “winging it” — and you’ll be more likely to be happier with the results.

Selecting timbers: This is pretty straightforward, but you want to choose your timbers and lay them out so you can see what you’re working with.

For example, if you’re building a bed, you’ll want your thickest pieces for your end posts, your long straight pieces for your side rails and your most gnarly but beautiful pieces for your headboard and then your footboard.

Once you have your pieces laid out so you can see it being assembled in your mind, just follow your plan and you should do great.

Building lodgepole pine furniture is relatively easy. You simply need the right timbers, the right tools and the right plan.

Have you ever built lodgepole furniture? What advice would you add? Share it in the section below:

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The Very Best Woods For Wood-Burning Stoves

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The Very Best Woods For Wood-Burning Stoves

Image source: regency-fire.com

Anyone living in a forested area with sufficient acreage and access should consider a wood-burning stove as a heating source. The challenge, though, is knowing which wood burns best, hottest and the longest.

Some soft woods like birch and pine burn easily but also burn very fast and very hot. They also produce significant creosote in chimneys and flues. Other woods like oak and maple are hard woods that burn hot and long, but often need a little help getting started from a soft wood like ash or birch.

There are five fundamental factors that determine the quality of any wood for burning in a wood stove.

  1. Moisture content. Some woods are simply “wetter” than others. All fresh woods (trees with leaves of needles still attached) need to be seasoned for at least a year. Deadfalls and standing dead trees can be burned immediately if they are sufficiently dry.
  2. Hardness. Some woods are harder than others. Typically, a hard wood is preferable because it burns slower and longer. However, they are difficult to get going initially and often require a mix of some soft woods to get the fire going.
  3. Resin. Resinous woods include pine, birch, aspen and eucalyptus. They tend to be softer woods and burn hot and fast. They also produce significant creosote and will sometimes impart black smoke. They’re OK for getting a fire started, but less than desirable for long-term heating.
  4. Sparking and spitting. Some woods such as pine and aspen spark and spit coals while burning. Not a problem in an enclosed firebox, but stirring the fire or adding more wood could cause some sparking and spitting.
  5. Split ability. Most wood for a wood-burning stove needs to be split. Some woods like ash split very easily while other woods like Osage orange are almost impossible to split.

In order to help you sort out the various strengths and weaknesses of assorted woods, here’s a cheat sheet to give you some guidance. The wood types are graded from A to D. “A” is the best and “D” is the worst.

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The Very Best Woods For Wood-Burning Stoves

Image source: Pixabay.com

Alder (Grade D) — A low-quality firewood that burns fast and is highly resinous.

Apple (Grade B) — Requires seasoning but does not spark or spit. A medium hard wood.

Ash (Grade A) — Somewhat soft but a very low water content of 50 percent actually allows it to be burned green. Burns at a fairly steady rate and is easy to split.

Beech  (Grade B) — Burns reasonably well when properly seasoned.

Birch (Grade B) — A great way to start a fire but burns very fast and emits significant creosote.

Cedar (Grade C) — Splits easy and burns hot and somewhat fast. Little sparking or spitting. Also resinous, leading to creosote buildup.

Cherry (Grade B) — Burns well if properly seasoned. Doesn’t spark or spit.

Elm (Grade C) — A curiously low grade for a hardwood but it has one of the highest water contents of any tree (140 percent). Seasoning is critical. Burns long but can be hard to split.

Eucalyptus (Grade C) — Highly resinous and burns fast.  Hard to split.  Does not spark or spit.

Hawthorn (Grade B) — A generally good firewood that burns well.

Hazel (Grade B) — Requires seasoning. Burns fast but does not spark or spit.

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Horse Chestnut (Grade D) — Save it for the fire in the backyard.  Hard to split and nearly impossible to burn even with other soft woods.

The Very Best Woods For Wood-Burning Stoves

Image source: Pixabay.com

Larch (Grade D) — Hard to split and is highly resinous. Spits and sparks excessively.

Mulberry (Grade B) — A good hardwood but hard to split.  Easier to split when seasoned after a year.

Oak (Grade A) — One of the hero fire woods. Low moisture but does require seasoning. Burns low and slow.

Pine (Grade D) — Good for starting a fire but needs seasoning and burns like paper. Also builds up creosote if not fully seasoned.

Poplar (Grade D) — A very soft wood that’s good for starting a fire but not much else. Burns very hot and fast.

Walnut (Grade C) — You would think this hard wood would do better, but it’s very hard to split and just doesn’t seem to want to burn.

Willow (Grade B) — Another wood with a high water content that needs long seasoning. Burns fairly well but needs other soft woods to get the fire started.

Ultimately, you have to burn what you have on hand. Hopefully you have a variety of tree species and options and the ability to season your wood or find deadfalls. In the end, heat is all that matters, but the wood that provides that heat could make a big differenc

What are your favorite woods for stoves? Share your advice in the section below:

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Fall for Planting Trees?

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Fall for Planting Trees?

Fall for Planting TreesThe other day, my husband and I loaded up the kids and took a trip to the local farm supply store. Our objective was to get feed for the goats and sheep, and the chickens, as well as a few heat bulb for our adolescent chickens. As we approached, we saw some of the trees that were left from the spring. Still green, but the leaves were falling off, they were fast approaching their dormant stage. As we got closer we saw the sign, the sign that changes your plans.

50% off our nursery stock.

SOLD! $9 for 3 year old fruit trees!?! You know we couldn’t pass that one up. My husband and I looked at each other. Money? ~sigh~ I know. Fruit? yep. Should we? In the long run, it will be worth it. Agreed. {as I said previously, my husband and I are very articulate people}

There was about a dozen or so trees available. We looked at the tags, most were apples, but we already have 4 apple trees, 1 pear tree that has been graphed to produce 3 types of pears, a cherry, a peach and a plum. Our nectarine had been killed in the late frost earlier this year. And there it was, 1 nectarine left in the bunch. I took it. My husband declared that he loved my plum jam, so he decided that another type of plum was needed. It saddened me a bit, because the only reason we got our first plum tree was because of my father, so I was reminded of him. But my husband did indeed like the plum jam, so it was all good.

Wait a minute Phelan, it is cool out now. I know, I hear you. That bitter north winds are starting to cut through the landscape. Frost has arrived at least once by now. Why on earth would we go ahead and buy trees to plant? Autumn is a prime time to plant trees. With them in their dormant stage, they have time to establish roots systems without worrying about getting nutrition to the rest of the sleeping tree.

Bare root and burlap roots are the best for fall planting, but if you happen to find a deal like we did, and the trees are in containers make sure they get the required amount of water. Plant your fall trees as you would your spring ones. They need to be mulched in with organic materials, in wide shallow holes. If you can get them in the ground before the hard freeze of winter, before the soil loses it’s warmth, you will see that those fall planted trees do better, then your late spring, early summer ones.

I would suggest going out this weekend to the places you saw the spring time trees for sale. More than likely they are on sale, and you can get a great deal.
Originally posted on APN

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Grow Your Own Apples: 9 Varieties That Homesteaders Simply Love

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9 Apple Varieties Homesteaders Simply Love

Image source: Pixabay.com

Lots of homesteaders grow their own apples, but many people choose not to do so because they don’t understand which varieties of apples will grow best on their property.

There are several things to learn before you choose which variety to grow. You will need to consider your Zone, which will tell you what plants will grow best in your immediate area. You also need to consider whether or not he variety you pick is self-pollinating – and whether there is space available.

So let’s look at hardiness zones first.

Generally, if you choose a tree that is termed “hardy,” then it will grow best in Zones 3 through 5. However, if your chosen tree is termed “long-season,” then it will grow best in Zones 5 through 8.

Once you know what Zone you are in, you are ready to choose your variety. Following are nine of the most popular apple varieties in the US:

1. Red Delicious

  • Originally called the Hawkeye, this is the most popular of all the US apple varieties.
  • Having been bred for long shelf-life and being “pretty,” the flavor has pretty much been cultivated out of this variety.
  • The skin is thick, the flesh has a single note of sweetness that is not at all “apple-y” and the texture is quite crumbly.
  • These apples grow in just about every Zone in the US except for the tundral and the more equatorial regions.
  • Despite their popularity these apples are used more for animal feed than for baking or canning.

2. McIntosh

  • Similar to what you expect when biting into a Red Delicious.
  • The skin is soft as is the flesh, and the flavor strikes a level balance between sweet and acidic.
  • This variety grows well in Zones 3, 4 and the upper regions of 5.
  • They are best eaten raw, in fruit salad, or made into apple sauce, apple butter, or for juicing and making cider.

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3. Golden (Yellow) Delicious

  • No relation to the Red Delicious.
  • Usually the least expensive apple sold at grocery stores and is considered an all-purpose apple.
  • The flesh is juicy, the skin is thin but the flavor is similar to the Red Delicious in that there isn’t a lot of apple flavor there.
  • This variety grows well in most regions of the country.
  • These apples are good eaten raw, chopped into salads or baked into desserts.
9 Apple Varieties Homesteaders Simply Love

Image source: Pixabay.com

4. Gala

  • This is a New Zealand breed that has grown in popularity in the US over the last 15 years.
  • It is a cross between a Kidd’s Orange Red and a Golden Delicious.
  • The skin is thin with a pinkish-orange striping over a gold base.
  • The flesh is crisp, fragrant and fairly sweet.
  • It grows well in Zones 4 through 8.
  • It is best enjoyed raw, in salads or for making juice and cider.

5. Granny Smith

  • Neon green and fairly small considering its girth. Probably the most easily recognized of all the apple varieties.
  • Originally cultivated in Australia, it grows well in Zones 7 through 9 in the US.
  • If you like tart, then this is the apple for you. The juicy flesh is crisp and it will sweeten when it is stored for a while.
  • These apples are best raw, in pies or in salads where the tartness can be offset by other ingredients.
  • Granny Smith apples work very well with nut butters. This is the go-to apple if you want apples with peanut butter.

6. Fuji

  • This apple was created in Japan and is a cross between two American varieties: Red Delicious and Ralls Genet.
  • It is dense and crisp. It is considered the sweetest of all apple varieties.
  • This apple grows best in Zones 5 through 7.
  • Best enjoyed raw, chopped in salads or baked into pies.

7. Braeburn

  • Braeburns were discovered rather than bred in New Zealand. It is thought that it is a cross between the Lady Hamilton and the Granny Smith.
  • These apples boast the textbook apple flavor and balance the sweet and tart expected from a good apple. Many consumers say there are faint notes of nutmeg and cinnamon in the flavor profile as well.
  • It grows best in Zones 6 through 9.
  • These are excellent raw but they are highly regarded as one of the absolute best baking apples since they release very little juice during baking.
9 Apple Varieties Homesteaders Simply Love

Image source: Pixabay.com

8. Honey Crisp

  • This apple was developed for a line of cold-weather apples. It is the official state fruit of Minnesota.
  • The overall flavor profile is more sweet than tart. It is also juicy and moderately crunchy.
  • These apples grow best in the region they were bred for: Zones 3 and 4.
  • Known to be hardy and versatile, these apples are good for just about anything.

9. Empire

  • This cross between Red Delicious and McIntosh was introduced in New York in the 1960s.
  • It blends the sweetness of the Red Delicious with the tartness of the McIntosh.
  • Considered a crisp, juicy everyman’s apple.
  • Grows best in Zones 3 through 5.
  • Best enjoyed raw, chopped into salads and cooks better than most, so they will make really good apple sauce, butter and chutney.

Did you pick your variety? The next step is to do some extra research on your particular choice to determine the blooming overlap time and whether or not your variety is capable of self-pollination. This website has a great deal of good information on those two topics, as well as many others you might find of interest when building your own orchard.

If you are considering putting in an orchard, you will want to plant the trees about 15 feet apart to allow for spreading branches as the trees mature. However, if you only want a few trees on your property, then they will still get pollinated if you keep them within 50 to 100 yards of each other. The closer they are, the easier it is for the bees to find and visit both trees during the pollination time.

Which is your favorite apple variety? Which grows best where you live? Share your advice in the section below:  

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Caught By The Christmas Build-Up

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Christmas is just around the corner, and of course I’m not ready.
Every year, I swear I’ll be more organized next year…and the next Christmas season still sneaks up on me and catches me flatfooted.
Sigh.
We always hear that Christmas isn’t about gifts, it’s supposed to be about friends, family…those we hold dear to us.
After nearly losing Mom earlier this year…I can finally say I understand it better than ever.

This week, I’ll be digging out the decorations, the miniature village, the wreath and all the stuff for the tree. And the snowshoes.
This year, we get to trek through the snowy woods for a real tree.
I better borrow the neighbour’s saw.

Speaking of Christmas trees, here’s a cool little article about a family owned and operated tree farm.
Gotta love when a family turns convention on it’s head.

Rough Beauty

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There is a kind of rough beauty out here. The kind that can kill you, or cure you, depending on how you step, how you breathe and how your heart beats.
One step can either break a leg or take your breath away with rapture.
That’s how it is out here.
The trees can whisper wisdom to you if you only stop and listen.
Of course you must stop yourself first.
Stop the mind-chatter, the ego, the judging, the “tapes” that lecture on your inadequacies….stop it all and just listen.

To the wind, the water, to the birds and to the voice of the Divine in everything around you.

If you can do that, you will leave this place a different person.

A better, less-fractured, universe-touched person.