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Mike Barkley

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since Mar 01, 2018
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bee cattle chicken homestead
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After a long career electro-geeking for R&D labs in the electronic industry Mike has checked out of the rat race & moved to the woods. Not entirely off grid but trying to achieve that goal. He raises a few animals & enjoys growing healthy food in various gardens. He is a life long nature lover, adventure seeker, & to a certain extent a minimalist. Eventually bears will probably eat him & turn him into compost. He is ok with that.
mountains of Tennessee
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Recent posts by Mike Barkley

One way to shape flint is to use a piece of wire. A very thick piece of solid wire. Use the edge of the tip of the wire to press on the flint to remove unwanted pieces.
3 days ago
That actually sounds almost identical to this property. Here's how it was done, as best as I've been able to piece together. Mostly through oral family history. About 1900 this was a heavily wooded forest with nothing much else around. The nearby railroad track might have been here then, not sure. Original homesteader (let's call him great grandpa) came here with an axe & some serious woodworking skills. He picked the most level place on top of this ridge & built a small cabin & outhouse. The outhouse still exists but was filled with dirt & rock many years ago. As the cabin was built he planted chestnut, hickory, & pecan trees. If I had to guess the cherry & pear trees came some time after. As land around the cabin was cleared he built split rail fences, dug a water hole which has never gone dry, & started keeping a few cattle. Then built a small barn & a chicken coop large enough for about 50 chickens. Those are both still in good condition. The coop is still used for chickens. To the best of my knowledge building the initial homestead was his only job. He died & his son inherited the place. Then around 1940-1950 the cabin was expanded & slowly converted into a more comfortable house with electricity from the newfangled hydroelectric dam. Grandpa did have an outside job with the railroad. People called him Bull because he could carry two railroad ties around on his shoulders. He never drove in his life but rode a donkey everywhere. (no law against donkeys while intoxicated) Pastures got larger so there were more cattle. Then in the early 60's Bull died & left everything to his nieces & nephews. Only one niece was interested in the property so she gradually bought her cousins out. She had a city job but on the weekends, every weekend for many years, she & her friends gradually replaced the cabin & built a fully modern house. One room at a time until the cabin no longer existed. It's amazing what beer, BBQ, & good friends can accomplish by working together. A larger barn was built further away from the house. Then the small barn became home to a horse & a pig. Some small outbuildings were built using the old techniques. The horse & pig eventually died & are now buried directly under a hugelkultur bed. Their pasture is now my garden area. I'm fairly certain no vegetables other than maybe a few tomatoes were grown here until I arrived a couple years ago. I started by building a traditional kitchen garden & basic soil improvements. That has continuously expanded & is quite productive now. Starting to focus more on fruit, perennials, animal foods, & food forest type of things. We have enough pasture & cows. We also have a lot of zone 5 areas but I'm going to plant many more trees along one part of the perimeter that doesn't have enough. We have a few chickens & want a few more. There is wild game (deer, turkey, duck, goose) on site & fish nearby but so far I have only observed it. Have better places to hunt & fish.

120 years later. Still a work in progress. In some ways we're going backwards in time with it. Smothering lawn with food. Planting trees. Restoring some pasture & edges to forest. Restoring wildflowers & pollinators. Sequestering carbon. Soaking up water. Gradually getting off grid functional again. Filling in a long neglected homesteading gap with a wide variety of food crops. Then if I'm still kicking the pastures need permie-ized.
3 days ago
A common lure for attracting swarms is lemongrass oil.
4 days ago
I chose a cellulose insulation. It was made from recycled blue jeans. It does have some sort of fire retardant chemical but I think that is still more environment friendly & less toxic than foam or fiberglass. It also insulates well!!!
5 days ago
Good time of year for this tasty treat.
1 week ago
Yes, honey is a significant investment for bees. They say each teaspoon of honey is the equivalent of 12 bee lifetimes. One pound of wax is the bee energy equivalent of 8 pounds of honey.

Honey drains a lot faster & easier when it is warm. Everyone has different techniques. It does take some practice. I prefer smaller batches, a few frames at a time. It just seems easier to handle & there is less potential for a huge mess. Speaking of huge messes, do any wax cleaning & melting outdoors. Wax mess is worse than honey mess. Neither can be prevented but both can be minimized with some planning & experience.

Winter is harsh on bees. Some losses are to be expected. You already have the hives so I suggest trying again at least one more time. Maybe look into the Minnesota hygienic bees. I'm still on the winter learning curve too. Lost more last year than ever before. More than all previous combined years maybe. Haven't given up. Too stubborn for that. You could also not harvest any honey & just let the bees do their thing. I'm an overly cautious harvester who is sitting here eating pancakes with sourwood honey from 2 years ago. In my opinion it's sooooo worth it. The smell alone is worth it.

I think my point is ... bees need all the help they can get.
1 week ago
I've never heard of these. Seem very interesting & maybe worth trying here but I'm somewhat confused. Are these 2 completely different things or just variations of the same plant?

I just read they originated in Croatia. Going to ask my Croatian friend about them. Maybe he can send seeds.
1 week ago
I think sweet potatoes will do great in some parts of NC.

Nice one plant harvest Chris. Very nice. I've been tinkering with sweet potatoes a couple years. So far they have been easy to grow & make good looking ground cover. The leaves are very tasty too.
1 week ago
Figured it's time for a hugel update. Shortly after it was planted & sprouting I got sick at the same time a drought hit. Then went on vacation. Most of the baby plants died. Some survived. Comfrey is still doing good but most of the strawberries went to strawberry heaven. There are a few fava beans & brassicas. Radishes & lettuces too. There is some Egyptian walking onion that is buried under leaves at the moment. One interesting thing is there were black oil sunflowers growing around all sides. Now that it's colder, only the ones on the south side are still surviving & some started blooming even though they are very short for sunflowers. Good example of a microclimate at work. The hugelhump itself has shrunk & settled as expected. No collapses though. I've been tossing scoops of ash & cow poopy soil on top. Filling pockets with leaves & gradually giving it a good winter coat. As the chickens shred the leaves around the base this winter I'll keep moving those onto the top. The intention is to have it round itself out a bit. The sunroots will probably be here in about a week. It depends:)

Phase two of this hugel project is to extend it roughly 25 feet on contour towards the woods. Not quite as tall. Perhaps 5 feet so it will be easier to access the top as we get older. Or in wheelchairs, etc. Power company was kind enough to clear a big path into a good hugel log harvest area. I showed them where to leave a mountain of wood chips too. It happens to be a beautiful lunch eating spot. They said they will be happy to do so. I will bribe reward them for a job well done with some beer or pizza. Today was a very good day!!!

1 week ago
Robins. They know exactly when they are at peak ripeness & don't leave a single one behind. Tried bird netting one year but that caught snakes. Sigh. I think the ultimate solution here is to plant a lot more blueberries. As luck would have it the power company came through today & cleared some thick undergrowth. Looks like a really nice future blueberry, blackberry, & raspberry patch. AND they are going to start bringing big piles of woodchips.  
2 weeks ago