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A brand new gardening course for you!

Garden Course Sale

Porch planter boxAs long-time readers are aware, Mark’s a big believer in building your way out of repetitive or unpleasant homesteading tasks. So I get to enjoy his amazing caterpillar tunnels, porch-top planter boxes, anti-chipmunk strawberry beds, anti-bird raspberry area, and deer-proof garden fence.

Now, after a year of making me talk in front of a camera then plunking Mark down in front of editing software, you can enjoy a deep dive into each of those projects. For another day or two, you can even nab your copy at 50% off!

This is our second video course and I hope it comes across as tighter, more informative, and more entertaining than the first one. (It certainly felt that way to me, but maybe I’m just getting over my annoyance at seeing myself in moving pictures.)

Caterpillar tunneslAs a bonus, Udemy courses come with a lifetime subscription to updates. For example, folks in our Soil-First Gardening Course paid up front for an hour-long course just like this one, then got a bonus half hour of cover-crop information a few months later totally free even though the course increased in price by $10 at the same time.

Which is a long way of saying — I hope you’ll grab a copy now while DIY Gardening Projects is brand new and the cheapest it will ever be!  if you really want to make our day, please consider leaving a review after you watch. Reviews not only help strangers decide to take a chance on our courses, they also give us ideas of what to add and how to do better next time.

Happy learning!

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What the new zone map means for home fruit gardeners

2013 and 2023 USDA zone maps

Perhaps you’ve seen the new USDA hardiness zone map that came out this week? For the first time in eleven years, we have an updated map, and about half of the United States moved half a zone warmer (with the rest staying in the same zone they were in before). You can check your new zone here.

Before you rush out and buy tropical trees to plant in your garden, though, I thought I’d share a few thoughts from our last fifteen-plus years growing fruit.

Averages aren’t everything

Snowy gardenFirst, you need to understand what the zone map really means. It’s a thirty-year average of annual extreme low temperatures in your location.

In other words, that’s the coldest it’s likely to get in your garden on an average year — so sometimes the temperature will never drop that low and sometimes you’ll see a freak cold spell that dips even lower. In fact, as the climate changes, unusual cold waves (and heat waves) are becoming more common, so my biggest piece of advice is this:

Be conservative when picking out those fruit trees! Maybe don’t choose a fig that’s only on the edge of hardy where you’re located. Instead, if you live in zone 6b (as we now do), it’s smarter to select varieties hardy to at least zone 6a. This is especially true for fruit plants that take several years to mature.

Frost pockets

Peach flowerWhile you’re planning smart, be sure to consider microclimates. Even though the area we moved from is technically half a zone warmer than the one we’re in now (meaning we moved from zone 6b to zone 6a…which is now zone 6b!), our hilltop tends to evade early and late freezes that would have definitely struck our previous deep-valley pocket.

So no matter what the map claims, believe your eyes if they say you’re actually half a zone colder or warmer than your neighbors. And consider late freezes prone to result in fruitless years when selecting varieties — late bloomers can be a major plus.

Heat and drought

Bowl of berriesFinally, it’s worth looking at the flip side of the coin. The hardiness zone maps don’t say anything about annual high temperatures or droughts, but for many of us both of those climate concerns are increasingly relevant in our gardens.

For example, despite drip irrigation, our hilltop gets so bone dry during scorching summers that I keep losing shallow-rooted blueberry plants. I intend to move the survivors to a wetter location (which I’ll tell you about in a later post). For now, just remember that there’s a lot more to keeping fruit plants happy than making sure they evade the worst winter ice.

Shameless plug

If you want to read more of my thoughts on choosing fruit plants that will produce with minimal headache on your part, definitely check out my Weekend Homesteader: Winter ebook (or nab the full series in paperback form).

And I’d love to hear from you. How are you changing your gardening plans in response to the new maps?

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New chicken books

Proof copies of chicken books

Do you have friends jumping on the chicken bandwagon this spring? Then I hope you’ll point them toward my Getting Started With Your Working Chicken, entirely free in ebook form and dirt cheap even as a (brand new!) paperback. I think of this title as a bit like the bare-basics books at pet stores intended for folks impulse buying a new type of animal. The goal is to bring new chicken keepers up to speed in half an hour so they don’t get overwhelmed by the deluge of options right off the bat.

Want to help me out by spreading the word about the paperback release (and possibly win a copy)? You can enter our rafflecopter giveaway here.

Building a DIY Chicken Waterer

Adding a clear roof over a planter boxMeanwhile, we’ve been hard at work coming up with a new ebook in the Permaculture Chicken series. Building a DIY Chicken Waterer will launch next month, and you can preorder the ebook for a buck off. (There will be a paperback too, but I’m still working on it. As you can likely tell, the font size needs increased. Stay tuned for a preorder announcement soon!)

And, finally, the third chicken book on my plate this year is an update to Thrifty Chicken Breeds. Want to share your wisdom and win a free copy of the ebook? Just comment below with your favorite breed(s), a photo (which can be emailed to anna@kitenet.net if it’s hard to leave in the comment), and a short writeup of why you prefer the one(s) you prefer. If I use your info, you’ll get a free copy of the revised ebook once it’s ready to go.

(Oh, and in case you’re curious what Mark’s up to this photo, it has nothing to do with chickens. He’s adding a clear roof to his newest porch planter box to prevent roof runoff from swamping our crops. I’m hoping this will also make for an even lower-blight situation for tomatoes this summer. Stay tuned to find out if it works!)

DIY chicken waterers

Update: Building a DIY Chicken Waterer is now live in print and available to preorder as an ebook!

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The intersection of Homesteading and Werewolves

Where does a Venn diagram of werewolves and homesteading intersect? Nowhere…except me.*

Yes, as some of you know, my pen name’s werewolf books have been paying the bills around here for years. I have a blast spending my mornings in fantasy worlds and my afternoons in the garden, but I usually don’t try to mesh the two lives.

However, Mark and I are running our first ever Kickstarter campaign this week, and I realized there might possible be a few people other than me who love both homesteading and werewolves. Sound like you or someone you know? Then check out my campaign and/or share it with a friend. Thank you so much for your support!

*(Okay, so maybe the diagram also intersects with paying attention to phases of the moon? Maybe other places too? What do you think?)

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Pros and cons of gardening on top of a hill

Last harvest before frost

Frost pockets are real (and so are anti-frost pockets)

Harvesting tomatoes and peppers

Mark and I picked the last tomatoes and peppers today in preparation for what might be this fall’s first frost. But will it be?

Back when we lived at the bottom of a hill in Virginia, we could count on cold temperatures dropping least as low as the forecast, sometimes five degrees colder. Up here on a hilltop, in contrast, the opposite is true. A week and a half ago, with a forecast low of 33 F, we only got down to 38. Driving out that morning, however, I saw frost a mile and a half away as soon as I reached the bottom of the hill.

So will this week’s forecast low of 28 freeze our crops? Only time will tell.

Water — the downside of hilltop gardening

Of course, hilltop gardening has its downsides too, the primary one being water. In the summer, I can feel the groundwater dropping out from under us. No matter how much water I add to our garden beds, the soil is always thirsty. The ground cracks. Plants are slow to grow.

I used to say that you can always add more water, but you can’t take water away. While that’s true, I’ve yet to figure out how to add enough water to keep our garden happy without spiking our monthly bill out of sight. I’m hopeful that continuing to boost our organic matter will increase the water-holding capacity, but there’s a lot of truth in the saying “high and dry.”

Bookkeeping note

This looks like our very first post, but it very much isn’t! We just hopped over from an old blog to a new blog to make our lives easier. If you’d like to enjoy old gardening posts, you can find hundreds (thousands?) here. If you’re an old faithful subscriber, be sure to update your RSS feed!