Deb Stephens

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since Dec 03, 2011
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Current homesteader, naturalist, artist and writer. Former zookeeper, archaeologist, and pretty much anything that paid the rent.
I live with 1 husband, 1 old goat (besides the husband), 4 cats, 8 dogs, 19 ducks and 43 chickens on a 75 acre homestead in SW Missouri. We have Mark Twain National Forest along our entire eastern border so when not puttering in the garden or dealing with the usual animal and homestead chores, I can generally be found wandering the hills looking at all the trees and flowers Nature has to offer. I love animals, plants, books and solitude (plus a few more things I may get around to remembering eventually). I am rabid about the environment and try very hard to live a simple, green life with the smallest possible footprint. I am a vegetarian and have been for nearly 30 years. If there is anything else you'd like to know, feel free to ask.
SW Missouri, Zone 7a
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Recent posts by Deb Stephens

Okay ... this is going to be so much fun!

Step #1 Grab a tape measure and a pad of paper & pencil because you need to go outside and measure your yard. Start at either street corner in the front yard and measure across to the opposite corner where it joins your neighbor's property, then go up to the house and across to the opposite side and from there back to the original starting point. (Skip the side yards in this measurement because those need to be measured separately.) If you have graph paper, you can transfer those measurements to scale -- figuring 1/8" to the foot if the yard is fairly large or use 1/4" to the foot if it is smaller. Either way, you may have to tape a couple of pieces of graph paper together to get the whole thing in there. Basically, you just want to draw a square or rectangle on the paper so that it measures in scale what your yard is in actual size. (Example: If your yard is 25' x 60' it would measure 6.25" x 15" on graph paper using a 1/4" scale or 3.125" x 7.5" using a 1/8" scale.)

Now do the same thing for the backyard and then each of your side yards. You will also want to put your house in there to scale as well so that you can see how it relates to all your yard areas. (If you're feeling particularly ambitious, make notes about where your windows and outside doors, porches, sidewalks, etc. are too -- with an eye toward views, being able to keep tabs on the kids and so forth. Note the approximate positions of trees, shrubs, fences, and so forth. (To scale, of course.) All of that is going to take a good long while, so when you are done, give yourself a pat on the back and something pleasant to drink and call it a day.

Of course, this is very preliminary stuff and if you want to do a really bang-up job, you will want to make notes of the extent of sun/shade at different times of the year and day. I stick stakes in the ground and make marks where the sun first appears, at noon and again where the sun disappears on major days of the year -- spring equinox, summer solstice, fall equinox and winter solstice, at least -- and that is great information to have for a really complete landscape plan, but it takes a full year to do it right, so you may want to generalize a bit to get started.

Step #2 Once you have your scale plan of the available space, you'll want to map out use areas -- say a patio near the kitchen or dining area so it is close at hand for moving food and things for outdoor eating; a play area under a shade tree but within sight of a window so you can keep an eye on the kids while you do other things inside; an herb garden near the kitchen for last minute flavoring additions; a night-flowering plant for heavenly scents to help you sleep (or a water-feature -- the tinkling, babbling sounds of water are wonderful sleep-inducers); and so on. I'm sure you get the idea.

Step #3 After you've marked out the general use areas, you will want to sketch in any permanent features and hardscape areas -- walkways, patio floor, playground equipment, decks, tables, BBQ pit, benches, fire ring, pool, fish pond,  etc. Consider how you will move from area to area and what sort of conveniences you may require in one place or another. (Examples: you will want a spigot and hose near a pool; an electrical outlet near a patio -- for nighttime dining or to plug in an appliance -- or a wide gate and path through the side yard to transport soil, sand or mulch around the yard; you may also want a bench and a short section of privacy fence near a small get-away nook for reading or whatever -- for those nosey neighbors who like to spy on you.)

Step #4 NOW you can start thinking about plants. But let's save those suggestions until the plan is in place.

Oh, one more thing (well, actually two). You should find out what kind or local regulations and ordinances apply to your neighborhood before erecting fences or planting tall shrubberies -- especially on the street line. Some places say no fences and others limit heights so it is good to know BEFORE you go to any trouble or expense. The other thing is to contact the local utilities and find out what gas, water or electrical lines may run beneath the ground on your property. You really do NOT want to breach a gas line or cut through underground wires!!! Use this ... Call before you dig -- Wisconsin

3 days ago
I'm not sure how helpful this will be, but green coffee beans are done something like that (only in a wok or skillet over a medium-high heat). You stir them continually to prevent scorching. When they begin to brown you will hear a cracking sound (it is aptly termed 'first crack'). At that point, the skins start coming off the bean. Of course, you want to roast the coffee beans so you continue until they are dark, but if you were only trying to loosen the husk, you could stop there. All you need to do then is take the pan outside and shake and blow across it to remove the lightweight skins or husks.

Of course, you are only doing a small amount at a time so that makes it feasible for coffee. With a large grain crop, it may not be useful and I seriously doubt if putting a few coals in the heap on a slab will do much good -- it would be an extra and probably unnecessary step unless you could get the grain hot enough to ensure every piece was thoroughly heated on the outer surface. Is there a reason why it can't be stored whole and the hulls removed as needed? Would it spoil more quickly that way?

Another thought ... when I prepare soybeans for milk or tempeh, I soak them for several hours in water. After that, the husk comes off easily by just rubbing them between my palms while still in the bucket. The hulls float to the top and can be skimmed off. You might try that because it's a lot easier to dump a mass of grain in water to soak than shoveling it around with hot coals. You would have to spread them out to dry again though and they may spoil before they dry.

Maybe there is a reason that people have simply threshed and winnowed grain for thousands of years.
I think your yard looks like a lush oasis waiting to happen. It has a LOT of potential and it shouldn't cost more than sweat equity to make it into a beautiful productive space. But ... first things first.  Before you get started, you really have to consider several things.

#1 -- Where are you? Not just what state, but what USDA plant hardiness zone (for example, I am in 6b to 7a). Knowing that will help you narrow down your plant choices. You can't plant tropical fruit trees in Montana and apples won't do well in Florida, so it is important to know what your weather extremes may be.

#2 -- What is the aspect of your front and back yards? (Meaning which way do they face?) Sun isn't always full sun and there are many types of shade (light, dappled or full) and the amount of sun or shade each day is more important than the mere fact of having one or the other.

#3 -- What kind of soil do you have -- acid or alkaline? (You can take a soil sample to your local extension office to have it tested or buy a home pH testing kit and do multiple tests in different parts of the yard -- it won't be as complete or accurate, but it will give you some idea.) Do you have clay, sand, loam or some combination? There are some really simple ways to get a general idea without spending money. For example, clay soil can be rolled into a pencil shape and then bent into a thin donut -- if it bends easily and doesn't crack too much, you have clay. The easier and quicker it crumbles or breaks, the less clay it contains. If it feels gritty, it contains sand -- the grittier it feels, the sandier the soil. If it looks really black and contains bits of leaves and bark or other vegetation (and usually smells the way you'd expect a forest floor to smell) its loam. Most soils are some combination, but in general, sandy soil drains well, clay soil retains water and loamy soils are just right (like In Goldilocks and the 3 bears).  Any soil can be worked (and improved) but you need to know what you have in order to know what you need or what you can expect to do well in it.

#4 -- What sort of things do you need to do in your yard? Do you need a play area for kids? Do you have pets? Will you be entertaining (i.e. backyard BBQs with the neighbors)? Do you want to relax and sit in the yard or do you prefer to turn it all over to edibles? How about a water feature or rain garden for the wet spaces? Do you want to create habitat for birds, bees and butterflies? There are loads of things you can do no matter how you use the spaces, but you should spend some time identifying your needs and desires before planting something you will regret. (Blackberries or nettles near a play area, for example!)

I would love to contribute plant ideas, but it would be a waste of time at this point -- until we know the answers to the questions above, it is all too speculative. One thing you may want to look into though, considering your drainage problem, is a rain garden. That way you can turn something that is a problem into something beautiful, functional and attractive to both yourself and the animals who will appreciate a place to drink, rest and forage in the heat of summer. You may want to look at these links for some ideas ... EPA: Rain Gardens, How to Build a Rain Garden, This Old House: How to Build a Rain Garden to Filter Runoff

Another thing you may want to look at is a plant database for your area to get ideas of things that will do well under your exact conditions. If you live in the south, The Ladybird JohnsonWildflower Center has a great online database you can use. You plug in your requirements for sun/shade, water conditions, height of plants,  whether you want annuals, perennials, etc. and it retrieves plants that fit all your parameters. Start on this page ... LadyBird Johnson Wildflower Center Plant Database. If you live somewhere else, look for a database for your state or region -- such as these ... Hansen's Northwest Native Plant Database, Missouri Botanical Garden Plant Finder. There are so many. Just do a search with your state's name and the words "plant database" and I'm sure something useful will turn up.

When we know more about your situation, I'm sure you will get more good ideas than you can possibly use. It sounds like a fun project!

6 days ago

Dan Grubbs wrote:Gothic design are better suited in climates that have snow and ice. The gothic design sheds the snow and ice a bit better.

You may want to consider how you'll deal with the shedded water that runs off these structures.

True, but he is not in a high snow area in North Carolina. If necessary, placing posts at intervals of 8' to 10' apart (supporting a ridge beam the length of the greenhouse) under the center of the arch will help to ensure that no flat area develops -- in the rare event that there is enough snow to be a problem. Quonsets are much more wind resistant and considerably cheaper to build.
1 week ago
Are you doing this in wood and glass (or plexiglass/polycarbonate)? I'm asking because the materials you use will have a bearing on how much snow, ice, wind, etc. it can take. Also, have you ruled out a more conventional (these days anyway) pipe and plastic hoop-house in a Quonset hut shape? For wind and snow, rounded structures fare much better.
1 week ago

Michael Cox wrote:Hi folks,

The last few days I have ended up messing around with fence posts. Our "soil" is nice and loamy, but about 8 inches down you hit chalk subsoil.  I need to put some sturdy posts in for some fencing and some plant supports. Previously the posts we have put in have been set in concrete, but this time I am trying my hand at setting them in earth without the concrete. I have a heavy steel digging bar with pretty good blade like end. It can smash the chalk up pretty easily, and but through most of the flints.  The subsoil is pretty much soil packed chalk down for a few hundred meters.

Anyway,  my question:

How wide should I be digging the holes? My instinct tells me that I should be digging narrow holes as tight to the post as possible. The trouble is when I come to pack the dirt back in I can't ram it very effectively because there is not really adequate space for the bar. Elsewhere, I have read conflicting comments that suggest I should be digging a hole 3 times the diameter of the post. This seems very counter intuitive as it would surely just weaken the soil structure and make the post less stable?

First, to be clear, I am NOT a soil or post-hole expert. This is just my 2-cents worth based on a similar problem we've had here in our very rocky (limestone) landscape. Over our property, 2 feet of usable soil seems like a luxury. Most of the time it's 2 to 12 inches deep and then you hit rock. We've found that there are essentially three ways to get around this problem. 1 -- Pound in a metal T-post instead of a wooden one. Those things can easily crush through soft rock (chalk would be a breeze) and use a minimal hole (so no wobbling). 2 -- Dig and pick a hole deep enough for your purpose but as small as possible, then backfill with rocks, not soil, jammed down against the post as tightly as you can get them. (A sledgehammer works well to really pound them in and if they break, no problem, just keep pounding until every available space is filled in). 3 -- forget posts and put your fence ON the ground instead of in it. A zig-zag or rail fence is a good example, but you can also use tripod-style posts to hold your rails or wire. Lots of old-timey fences made that way are still standing after hundreds of years. I know because we have an old zig-zag fence on our property that was put here in the 1800s.

Anyway, I hope that helps. Good luck!
1 month ago

Mike Barkley wrote:back on track with unicorns & butterflies .... you know you're a permie when you find a mason jar thread very interesting.

And when you discover that those plastic lids off used mayonnaise jars fit the regular mouth mason jars perfectly (and don't corrode over time like the metal lids and caps) so you can use the jars to store leftovers and herbs without wasting the canning lids.
1 month ago

Mike Barkley wrote:
A tiny frog hangs out on your beans all day so you find the cell phone & actually use it for something.

You know you're a permie (or maybe just an ordinary Luddite) when you don't even own a cell phone. (Not because you can't afford it, but because you don't want one.) And the wall phone you DO have is a cheapie thing you got for 50 cents at the thrift store 10 years ago.
1 month ago

Nicole Alderman wrote:....when you've patched and darned four pairs of your son's pants (and need to repatch one of them) because the kid actually plays outside, and you'd rather mend them rather than waste resources unnessearily by tossing old clothes and buying new ones.

I can definitely relate! Around our house, our patches have patches!
1 month ago

J Anders wrote:
Well I hadn't thought of the old cans on stakes idea... maybe I should do that to encourage them to make homes in the garden instead of around my back door where I have to kill them because I don't use the back door all the time, and then they get mad when I need to use it! In your experience, do cans in the garden need to be screwed to the stake so they don't get bumped around or is it good to leave it loose so that they don't get agitated so easily?

I do buy all my clothes except for my 100% cotton t-shirts and my bib overalls on eBay. I still have shirts that are 10 years old and my collars have split open and they're getting holey. Need to replace them... but they're good work shirts!

We stick pieces of old rusty rebar -- leftovers from projects -- in the ground and then just up-turn cans over the top. When the wind blows hard, they rattle and make lonesome sounds like signs hanging by one chain in a western ghost town. (Well, that's what they remind me of anyway. ) I think the wasps actually kind of like that because we seldom find a can without a nest. You do have to check carefully, however. I once had about a dozen wasps all come out to see what was up when I accidentally bumped one of them while picking blackberries. I learned a long time ago to resist the urge to run. Now I just make like a statue while they check me out. It can be a bit nerve-wracking, but they do eventually all go back to the nest.

I can one-up you on the clothes. I buy used then wear them until there is more light shining through them than cover. Then I go buy more used ones. I've had some shirts so long they look like Swiss cheese. Needless to say, to prevent arrest, I do NOT wear those into town. (I save my good 10-year-old shirts for my once a year town trips.) I also make sheets into shorts and tops or sundresses, and fuzzy blankets into house jackets and deep winter pjs. That's a Permie for you! By the way, try for used clothing. Sometimes they have some pretty good bargains. And ... because this is a "You know you're a permie when ..." thread ...

You know you're a permie when you dumpster dive for scraps to feed your ducks and chickens and when the local grocery stores call you up to ask if you want to come by and pick up some meat that's gone beyond its sale date to feed your dogs. YES!

1 month ago