DIRT ROAD HACKS: Designing for Low Maintenace, Eco Friendly, Cost Effective Graveled Roads

When I moved here, the road was 4 wheel drive only most of the winter. It was an old roadbed that was poorly maintained, rutted, with various slippery and mushy spots. The road was built at some point, maintained a few times, but I would say that it had never been designed.

The previous owner suggested that we look into fish friendly roads; Basically designing roads to reduce sediment load in streams and rivers where it clogs the clean gravel beds that Salmon and Steelhead lay eggs in. If the gravel beds become too sedimented, it smothers the eggs and they die.


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Danny Hagans of Pacific Watershed Associates, made a study of this problem and where the sediment was coming from and found that rural ranch and logging roads were a huge contributor. Over time, he put together a philiosophy and a set of design tools and practices to keep the sediment on the road and prevent other related erosion. Well, it just so happens that keeping dirt and gravel from washing off your road surface or out of gullies is pretty much what all of us land owners want too. We have a good example on the property of what happens when poorly designed dirt roads are abandoned. Due to the old road bed, a huge amount of water used to flow down the road to near my garden where it dumped off the side. It carved a huge gully that is probably 15 feet deep and 30 feet wide at the largest point. I don’t think there was even any waterway there before at all! At most, maybe a low spot. This was no doubt prime planting ground and would now be orchard and garden. It also drains ground water out of the adjacent landscape. It’s a huge pain the butt just to get through or around it. That soil never comes back and replacing it is impractical. It’s good to build these things not just for you, but to not fail when you are gone.

The original road was a rough, rutted mess for the most part, 4wd only in the winter with some mushy, slippery areas, like this spring coming up in the road.

The original road was a rough, rutted mess for the most part, 4wd only in the winter with some mushy, slippery areas, like this spring coming up in the road.

For the first couple of years, I learned about roads and made important observations. We went on a tour with Danny Hagans of roads they had re designed and installed, roads in the process of reworking and some examples of poorly designed failing roads. I got the book Handbook for Forest, Ranch and Rural Roads which you can download for free at that link, and read that thoroughly. Another very important thing I did was to observe roads as I drove them and see how they worked and didn’t work. Recognizing clear patterns on other roads and redesigning them in my head gave me a lot of confidence to redesign mine and to contradict what the road builders preferred to do.

Then came clearing preparations, mapping and designing the road. Trees were trimmed and removed, the map was filled in with design features and slopes and the road was flagged at critical design points like pitch changes, profile changes, culverts and rolling dips.

We hired a guy that we knew could build good roads and installed the road in a couple of weeks. It was a bit daunting to stand up to the operators who had their own standard ideas of what to do. They were good builders, but along more traditional lines. I was able to hold my ground though, because I had done so much observation on my road and on other roads. Whereas they would want to put ditches in everywhere, I only put them where I thought they were needed. As a result, I have a wider road with way less ditch to maintain. The problem with ditches is that they collect water. Once water is concentrated, it has the potential to do damage. It also has to be dumped somewhere in quantity. so you usually need a culvert, which is expensive to buy and install. All of that can be avoided where ditches are unnecessary, by sloping the road from one side to the other to drain off one side only. This road profile is called outsloping and it works some places and not others. Where it does work, there are numerous advantages as stated above, including no ditch to clean out. They actually cut a full ditch along a long section and I had them fill it back in. I agonized over that decision, but in the end I knew it was right and time has proven that I was right and I have been very happy with the results.

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so, eleven winters later I’m super happy with my road. It is in amazing condition except for a few short problem areas. The only serious problems have been caused by work done by the neighbors which messed up what we installed, and a section that was not made how I wanted it due to other reasons. I’m happy with all of my decisions in the context that they were made and I don’t expect to have any maintenance work done on the road for at least another 10 years. If anything gets done, it will be to rework and ditch a section of road that was lightly graded and graveled the first time around because the neighbor didn’t want the road disturbed too much near her house.

Building an armored crossing for a seasonal creek. This solution can be better than a culvert sometimes, and often a lot cheaper.

Building an armored crossing for a seasonal creek. This solution can be better than a culvert sometimes, and often a lot cheaper.

Water can be incredibly destructive if not controlled. This is the spillway for the seasonal creek with an armored crossing after a heavy rainstorm, otherwise a perfect storm for headward erosion. I finished the spillway the night before this was taken, just in time.

Water can be incredibly destructive if not controlled. This is the spillway for the seasonal creek with an armored crossing after a heavy rainstorm, otherwise a perfect storm for headward erosion. I finished the spillway the night before this was taken, just in time.

Aside from watching my video, here are some suggestions for those maintaining, driving and designing dirt access roads:

LEARN: about road design and progressive road design principals. Download the book and read it. If you happen to live in NorCal, you might be able to attend a workshop by Pacific Watershed Associates. If they still do them, it’s worthwhile.

OBSERVE: Soil, slope and water behavior. Especially observe the site during and right after heavy rains or snow melt. Equally important is to observe every dirt road you drive on to look at how it fails and how it could be improved to get water off fast while keeping the road surface in place.

MAP: Even if your road is already built, map it out and redesign it. That way if you ever have work done, you can fix problem areas or rework the road to be more stable and lower maintenance. This practice will really get you looking closely at your road and how it works or doesn’t.

Good rock and enough rock are a huge factor, but road design and shape should be priority one.

Good rock and enough rock are a huge factor, but road design and shape should be priority one.

FIND ROCK: Find local rock if you can, so you can use enough to matter. Shape is first priority, rock won’t fix everything, but it sure helps to have enough and the right kind. You can always add more later. A source of 6” & down quarry run rock is especially useful. We were fortunate to get rock from our awesome neighbors, which made a big difference in certain areas.

Rick is a maestro on these machines and knows how to move dirt fast. Some things I saw him do blew my mind.

Rick is a maestro on these machines and knows how to move dirt fast. Some things I saw him do blew my mind.

FIND A GOOD OPERATOR: get a good operator with all the tools they need. They’ll do a better job and do it faster. When machines are costing you over 120.00 an hour to operate (probably a lot more now), you want people that know what they are doing. Selecting someone randomly out of the phone book and cutting them loose on your property to build a road is a worst case scenario. Many guys that will build roads know almost nothing about road design and are just capable of running the machines. I’ve seen terrible installations and “maintenance” that made roads much worse. If possible get personal references and even look at roads they’ve built or worked on. Tell them what you want to do and make sure they are willing to do it the way you want it. Ideally, find someone that understands these modern road building principals. That is not possible most places, but it is in others. Finally, make sure you take advantage of the knowledge and wisdom that your operator does have, especially if cutting an entirely new road. They know things you don’t and they know how to actually move the dirt.

DRIVE BETTER: There are multiple reasons that my road is in great shape, but as important as anything is the way I drive it. I drive the entire road surface to keep it flat. You can maintain your road with your car instead of damaging and deforming it. That is something of a revelation. It helps if the road is wide enough to traverse completely, so your tires can reach all the way to the center of the road. If I didn’t drive my whole road surface, we’d have had a grader in here a while ago and the road would be in much worse shape. Best road hack ever. Get in the habit!

I have notes for a lecture to complement this video and also outlines for a full series that is more planned, complete and concise, but this will have to do for now. It may not be perfect, but it could be very useful to anyone driving, designing or maintaining a dirt road. https://youtu.be/DLG566dod4I

Quite an accomplishment for a couple of new homesteaders, but well worth all the effort, thought, expense and time to have reliable, easy, low maintenance access. Still going strong 11 years on with no foreseeable problems.

Quite an accomplishment for a couple of new homesteaders, but well worth all the effort, thought, expense and time to have reliable, easy, low maintenance access. Still going strong 11 years on with no foreseeable problems.

Apples, the Second Thinning and Orchard Notes

I’ve already done a video (embedded below), and a long blog post on thinning apples. This is just a quick video with the head cam doing the second thinning to catch missed clusters and removing damaged fruit. It’s that time of year, so I hope these notes are helpful, especially for new growers. It’s can be hard to remove enough fruit, and it’s still hard for me sometimes. Thinning in two or more passes allows the amount of fruit left on the tree to become more obvious as they become larger.

And below is my first video on thinning apples.

Late Spring Fruit Tree Training and Project Progress Reports.

I’m almost done with the first pass of apple thinning and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel for major spring activities. I did a walk around video with the idea of watching the progress of various projects that we looked at in a previous walk around video. I kind of like the idea of following some of these things through the year every month or two, so that might happen. In this video, I checked in on the pear tree that was started in an early spring/late winter video on fruit tree training with notching and disbudding. I ended up working on the tree and talking about it enough that I cut that segment out and made it a stand alone video.

The short story is that now that the shoots are grown out a bit, I trained the branch angles open as needed to avoid very narrow crotch angles. I also checked that the shoots I already chose as the tree’s main scaffold branches are not being dominated by any of the other shoots. Only one of them was as short as the shoots around it, none were shorter and 3 out of 4 were significantly longer than surrounding shoots. That is due to notching above the buds. Between removing buds that I didn’t want, and notching those I wanted to grow as the main scaffold branches, I am getting essentially exactly what I wanted and everything is going according to plan.

I’m pretty excited about the potential for applying these training techniques broadly. Reports from others so far indicate success with various species and the only major complaint has been that it isn’t working on sweet cherry, which is exactly what I found. It is worth nothing that no tree really wants to grow this way, so there is not such thing as 100% reliability. Here too is the original video in which this pear tree’s was training was started.


In this one I look at the status of the “dying mulch” tree understory system in late May. I talk about and demonstrate some apple thinning technique and also attitude, things you need to cope with getting extensive fruit thinning done. I think I get a little faster at thinning every year and much of that has been attitude adjustment. I check in on the apple frankentree grafted at the beginning of may. 18 to 20 days after grafting, it looks like all but 3 grafts took, and two of those scions that didn’t take were actually stored in the fridge for over a year, so no wonder. I also check in on the columnar trees and talk about ideas for breeding for that trait. I don’t remember what else I talked about, but here is the project report video from before this one. which I reference a few times and the video of grafting this new frankentree.

Posted on May 28, 2019 .

🍎 From 1 Apple Variety to 21 🍏 Grafting Demonstration, Frameworking v.s. Topworking, More Variety, Earlier Fruiting and Healthier

I now have a video action cam that produces decent video, so expect more run and gun content to fill in spaces between more involved productions. This one is on reworking a small apple tree to 21 new varieties. Of the various missions I’m on, promoting multigrafted trees is one of my oldest and dearest. I hear back from people all the time now who are grafting frankentrees and trading scions. This tiny tree easily took these 21 varieties placed as well spaced laterals, each with plenty of room to grow. And that is with one branch basically missiong which would have added another 4 or so. As the tree grows out it will create opportunity for more additions and 25 to 30 will fit very comfortably.

I hope someday people think of multigrafted trees as normal and accessible. They are so much fun and offer so much opportunity for customization. A chicken in every yard and a frankentree next to every garage.

Homestead Walkaround Video, 50+ Apple Seedlings Blooming!, Project Updates, Bulb Understories for Fruit Trees

Pretty much all of my productive time is taken up right now by grafting, weeds and other spring stuff. However, I do have a much better action cam now, with clear picture, amazing stabilization and acceptable sound. That device will allow me to do more run and gun, spur of the moment, off the cuff videos. In this one, I just hit some projects and talking points around the property, mostly projects in process.

For one thing, there are over 50 apple seedlings blooming this year! That is a huge jump from probably under 25 that have ever fruited previously. There are also a number of combinations that have not ever bloomed yet, like king david, maypole, cherry cox and sweet 16 all crossed to rubaiyat and some crosses made using the red fleshed columnar Maypole. I’m very much looking forward to what the season brings us in that department and hoping that bears don’t get in the garden again, which could be an epic disaster in those seedling trial rows. I about peed myself when I saw there are 4 Rubaiyat x Cherry Cox blooming.

Pinker than average blossoms on a Rubaiyat x Cherry Cox seedling seems like a good omen. Cherry flavored apple, meet fruit punch flavored apple. May your offspring be blood red to the core and delicious.

Pinker than average blossoms on a Rubaiyat x Cherry Cox seedling seems like a good omen. Cherry flavored apple, meet fruit punch flavored apple. May your offspring be blood red to the core and delicious.

Many of my Maypole crosses are showing this columnar trait. They will produce short, compact trees that grow upward with few side branches and fruits clustered along the stems. The buds are spaced very close together. This can be a valuable trait for restricted spaces. Given how many seedlings are expressing this habit with only a single columnar parent, it should be easy to breed for. Three of these seedlings are blooming this year, and they are the only trees blooming in this youngest block of seedlings, so apparently they are precocious as well, which is nice in a plant that usually takes so long to come into bearing. Oh, AND they take up less space than the other seedlings, so could potentially be planted even closer in trial rows, both in row spacing and between row spacing. I have one other columnar-ish tree, but it’s more like a dwarf. But there are others out there and I think there is a lot of potential here for both backyard and cider production with these compact, pretty, easy to maintain trees. I would not be surprised to get a decent cider apple out of this first generation of Maypole crosses using Wickson and Chestnut Crab pollen.

Many of my Maypole crosses are showing this columnar trait. They will produce short, compact trees that grow upward with few side branches and fruits clustered along the stems. The buds are spaced very close together. This can be a valuable trait for restricted spaces. Given how many seedlings are expressing this habit with only a single columnar parent, it should be easy to breed for. Three of these seedlings are blooming this year, and they are the only trees blooming in this youngest block of seedlings, so apparently they are precocious as well, which is nice in a plant that usually takes so long to come into bearing. Oh, AND they take up less space than the other seedlings, so could potentially be planted even closer in trial rows, both in row spacing and between row spacing. I have one other columnar-ish tree, but it’s more like a dwarf. But there are others out there and I think there is a lot of potential here for both backyard and cider production with these compact, pretty, easy to maintain trees. I would not be surprised to get a decent cider apple out of this first generation of Maypole crosses using Wickson and Chestnut Crab pollen.

This Grenadine x GoldRush seedling showed some promise last year, but only produced one apple. This year there are hundreds of fruitlets, and it will require heavy thinning. It wasn’t really that good last year, but often trees will have to become established before producing exemplary fruit, so I’m keeping an eye on it.

This Grenadine x GoldRush seedling showed some promise last year, but only produced one apple. This year there are hundreds of fruitlets, and it will require heavy thinning. It wasn’t really that good last year, but often trees will have to become established before producing exemplary fruit, so I’m keeping an eye on it.

I don’t think I’ve ever talked about my flower bulb understory for fruit trees experiment as much as I do in this video. Introducing that project is one of those videos that has been on the back burner, but never seems to get done. I started it a long while back with a couple of blog posts. This system shows promise, but long term comparative trials are critical to an assessment of it’s actual field worthiness and real world performance. Proof of concept is established and the project is ready for phase two. I may be able to set up those trials in the next couple of years using a block of trees that could be used for at least a whopping FIVE different trials at once: trialing seedlings, tree paint, tree training, interstem suckering prevention and bulb understories! Now that is some stacking! Hey, why not add some biochar trials to that! Maybe it really is finally time to look for some help. Those trials could yield a great amount of useful information.

One of my early bulb understory experiments now well established and pretty much out competing all weeds. It is already dying back and will be pretty flat and not really using any water by mid May. It will also leave a nice mat of dying mulch on the ground for the rest of the dry season. I would guess that there are enough bulbs in here now to plant at least 8 more of these, and the project is ready for phase two, long term trials. There are probably also other plants out there which could serve this purpose, but very few and they may be hard to suss out.

One of my early bulb understory experiments now well established and pretty much out competing all weeds. It is already dying back and will be pretty flat and not really using any water by mid May. It will also leave a nice mat of dying mulch on the ground for the rest of the dry season. I would guess that there are enough bulbs in here now to plant at least 8 more of these, and the project is ready for phase two, long term trials. There are probably also other plants out there which could serve this purpose, but very few and they may be hard to suss out.

My tree collard, Peasant King, is sill performing admirably. It is bigger, purpler, fatter stalked, and straighter than all others in that seed grown population. Not only that, but out of all the first batch of seedlings, it is one of only two which have never flowered, the other being a sad looking runt of a thing. Infrequent flowering is one of my selection criteria for this plant. My last batch of cuttings did very poorly, but I have a new batch rooting (I hope) and more cuttings growing. I may try air layering them this year. That means wrapping some rooting medium and plastic around the stem while the cutting is still on the plant, then cutting it off after roots have formed. Ideally, I would propagate many cuttings and sell them in the coming years. If not, I hope to at least get them to people who will.

Peasant King Leaves.

Peasant King Leaves.

I gave what remained of my original Montenegran tree collard seeds acquired from Sophia Bates to Chris Homanics, plant collector, enthusiast, breeder, hunter, preserver and cataloger. He will grow them out and use them in his tree kale breeding project, which you may be able to be part of by growing out seeds: https://www.experimentalfarmnetwork.org/project/14

Or: https://mariannasheirloomseeds.com/seed-catalog/special-crosses/chris-homanics-seeds/homesteaders-perennial-kaleidoscopic-kale-grex-new-2016-detail.html

And here is a Podcast interview with Chris on his work: https://www.cultivariable.com/podcast-8-chris-homanics/

And Website for Chris’ apple farm, Queener Farms, in the Willamette Valley Oregon: https://www.queenerfarm.com/

And now I’m off to graft the many very interesting apple varieties that Chris Homanics brought me this winter. Now that I’m ready to cull out many of the varieties I’ve collected that have failed to perform adequately, I may do one more collecting push this coming winter and re-graft many of those losers over to trial a last batch of promising apples.

Posted on May 1, 2019 .

Apple Pollen Available, Plus New Apple Pollen Medleys and Hurray for Genetic Chaos!

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I now have this years apple pollen available in the web store. I was going to wait and sell it in the winter for next year, but I know there must be some of you who can still make the pollination window this spring. Here only one variety isn’t blooming yet and most blossoms are now on the other side of fresh. I’m just making my last pollinations in the next couple of days except for and pineapple flavored Court Pendu Plat.

There is more on the product page, and some instructions and stuff on storage will be sent out with orders, but a few points here and a shortened discussion on the upside of apple diversity and genetic chaos.

This year I have new black paper packets and black cotton swabs for application. This is a much better system and I’m finding that the pollen dries at a nice even, slow rate in the paper, so I can actually ship it before the anthers have even dried and dropped the pollen. It is MUCH easier to see the yellow pollen on these black surfaces.

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I have a lot more variety this year. I’ve processed a lot of blossoms of a lot of varieties and have much of the stuff I didn’t have enough of last year. I’m also excited to offer blends this year, which I’m referring to as Medleys. One medley is apples that I have used for breeding, or think are promising. there must be over 20 types in this blend, including a few red fleshed types. The other is a red fleshed medley, which lots of the Etter reds Pink Parfait, Rubaiyat, Grenadine and Christmas Pink, plus a few other odds and ends in small quantities. At first I thought maybe blends don’t offer enough control, but I’m super into the idea now. I think the gambling aspect is a little bit compelling. I also like the idea of wildcard crosses that we might not think of making normally. I tend to think of some apples as not particularly compatible as far as the offspring they might produce. But who really knows? A cross between Golden Russet and Sweet 16 might sound weird, but maybe it could be amazing. The medleys allow people to get just one packet, but still get a lot of diversity. Not only that, but each blossom pollinated will have more than one pollen parent, because there are lots of girl parts in one flower to pollinate. So, it is a given that any blossom pollinated with these blends will produce seeds with many different fathers. I think it’s the best idea since sliced apples. A little chaotic, but I’m kind of in favor of that.

There was an explosion of North American apple diversity which occurred over 200 years or so and resulted in thousands of varieties. If I recall right, some estimates may have been something like 15,000 named varieties. Whatever it was, it was a LOT! Some of those were imported, grafted types from Europe of course, but many were not. My theory is that a large part of this diversity, perhaps the majority, came from planting seeds for root stock. Cloned root stocks, which are genetically identical duplicates of the same plants are a relatively new phenomenon, at least on a broad scale. Previously, random seedlings were generally used. Sometimes crab apples, but often seeds from any apple. Such an orchard might have hundreds or more trees with root stocks growing under them that were genetically unique. if the top broke off, or the tree was neglected or damaged and suckers emerged from the base. These could fruit in a few years, and be propagated and named if it were any good. Between that, growing seedlings just to see if they would be any good, and hedgerow seedlings dropped by birds and people all over the place, many, many new varieties were discovered. I would more or less like to see a return to that frenzy of apple seedling production.

Since we don’t have seedling root stocks anymore and we have been assured by misguided authors and large breeding outfits that it is a fools errand to plant apple seeds hoping for a good fruit, that explosion not only ground to a halt, but we’ve lost most of those thousands of varieties. And to make it much worse, industry began to favor only a very few types, so that limited the diversity of the seedlings that do manage to find a place to root and come to fruition. Even further, the same fruits have been used over and over in breeding, also narrowing the gene pool.

But many of those apples that were found and named were not actually awesome. To an apple connoisseur especially, they could fall pretty flat. Albert Etter said something to the effect that the average of the 500 apples he grew in trials to find both breeding stock and just suitable varieties to grow in his orchards for market fruit, were rather disappointing. I always recommend that that people plant at the very least a seed from a good apple, but if possible, consider controlling both parents. The idea of apple pollen medleys is awesome, because it throws a large gene pool out into the world and creates numerous new genetic lines from any one apple pollination. In the future, I hope to wax further on the potential awesomeness of this genetic upheaval in the new fruit renaissance, but that is the gist of it there.

I envision the potential for more focused pollen medleys, such as blood apples, cider apples, extra flavorful or novel flavored apples, early apples, cooking apples and late hanging apples. Imagine the diversity you would get by for instance applying an early apple pollen blend to an early tree such as Gravenstein or Trailman crab..

Link to web store.

Happy pollinating!

P.s. Ive also made a seriously huge number of intentional cross pollinations of apples this year. I actually got around to making most of the ones I wanted to, so look forward to a large and diverse offering of apple seeds in the fall, including some made with pollen from a couple of my seedlings.

Posted on April 24, 2019 .

Splitting Axe Handle Blanks From a Windfall Tan Oak Log

Recently I was driving out my road and had to stop in the rain and shovel ditches out. I got so wet that I went back home to change my clothes, but within the hour or less I was out, a large Tan Oak fell down in the road.

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I had been eyeing this group of trees already as potential wood working fodder, but this one just succumbed to heart rot and fell over. While cutting it up, I spotted one straight section and saved it aside to split up later. In this video I’m splitting it into 12 parts to stash away for woodworking projects.

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You really don’t need much to split a log. A maul and disposable wedges can be made almost anywhere, usually from the trunk and limbs of the same tree. There are a couple of pointers here about making wedges, the use of boys axes as a one handed hatchet and methods to keep your splits going with the grain. Also basic wood splitting theory regarding run out, which is perhaps the most relevant problem in splitting rails like this.

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I have begun slowly processing these rough split staves down into billets one or two at a time, by removing the rotten heart and the bark. I’m also chopping off about 3/4” or more of sapwood, which is more brittle, weak and rot prone than the pinker heartwood. I’ll be washing the outsides of each billet with a borax solution to prevent insect attacks by powder post beetles, which are populous here, especially with the abundant food available to them with the big Tan Oak die off that is occurring now. They are very destructive to certain woods, Bay and Tan Oak being among the most affected. I’ll also dip the ends into paint, or seal them with fat or pine pitch to prevent the ends from cracking due to rapid drying. After that I’ll just try to dry them at a reasonably slow rate to minimize warpage and cracking.

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While watching this video footage, It occurred to me that I could have made a really neat drum out of that log, or two or three actually! Also that I should try making a barrel out of tan oak. I may save some of the short ends from this log and others this year to have a stash of well seasoned wood for a possible small keg project. Maybe a Calvados keg, hmmm….

Lessons from Established Fruit and Nut Trees, Training Mistakes and Remedies

This video is a walk around to look at the lessons that can be learned from some of my fruit and nut trees that have been growing for a while. Between careful and not so careful training, lack of training, regular maintenance or neglect, we can see how things go right or wrong and how important early shaping and training are to avoid future problems. I also taste some Lady Williams Apples off the tree, still good in March! These apples, while especially late this year, demonstrate I think that it will be possible to eventually have apple varieties that routinely hang on through winter and ripen in spring. Two new terms I’ve coined are Winter Hanging Apples and now Spring Hanging Apples, because these are classifications we need, beyond winter apples or storage apples. Next steps in that direction are finding more winter hangers and spring hangers if possible and making intentional crosses between them for new seedlings. Another step is simply promoting the idea and phenomenon in general, which will be easier as more of them are discovered or created. Also important is to test more of these apples in various climates to see how cold they can go, or how other climate factors affect them.

The long reach pruner I’m using in this video is a pretty neat tool. It is not cheap, but it can nearly obviate a ladder if trees are pruned yearly and are under 15 feet tall. That is pretty a major boon, especially if trees are spread out like they are here on myu homestead. I rarely use a ladder to prune anymore. They are also still cheaper than a good orchard ladder, even an 8 foot one. They can cut green wood up to about 3/4 inch if cut at an angle. For older people (or those that will be older soon lol) it could save a lot of clumsy ladder moving and setting up and ultimately could prevent a fall and the complications that often come with broken bones past 70. We got my mom one and I’m going to try to convince my 82 year old friend to get one. He is still climbing rickety old step ladders in the backyard. There is a short review on my amazon store page and full video review coming soon.

Training a Pear Tree to Modified Central Leader with Notching and Dis-Budding, Watch Before You Chop Off Your New Fruit Tree

I have two more videos on training fruit trees before I move on to other things. I’d like to do a couple more, but at this point, I have to give up on geeky independent research type of content because it doesn’t get enough views to get by on. More below on that. But this year I wanted to take advantage of this nice long pear whip to demonstrate notching and disbudding again, as it is ideally carried out, because I think it is important that if we are to move toward better trained trees by modified central and delayed open center, that we have tools to get there that actually work.

The crux of the problem is that, while the strong and sensical modified central leader and delayed open center tree forms have become more and more commonly recommended, they are rarely achieved, because the methods used to train fruit trees are best for the open center vase form and not much else. In the 1920’s a long study was done that first asked orchardists what tree forms they thought were best, and then looked at what caused premature death of trees. They aimed to determine how failures and successes were caused by early tree training. Those failures and successes were both in the success at attaining the desired form and tree lifespan, short or long. In this preliminary work they discovered some interesting things. One discovery was that most orchardists expressed a preference for central leader trees, but often ended up with open or vase forms instead, because they were heading back the tree to a short single stem on planting. What is perhaps most interesting is that while the training methods were clearly failing to achieve stated goals, they continued to be recommended and used almost universally. This bit tells us something important about human nature and conservatism in these sorts of things. They also were able to associate the failure of older trees by the mechanisms of rot and branch breakage, to early training mistakes. Next they organized and carried out fairly large scale experiments on a few varieties of apple trees to come up with a new training system. It is a brilliant, pragmatic and contextual study, but as far as I can tell, it did little good. In their review of existing literature going far into the past, they found that the same recommendations to head back leaders and scaffolds at planting had existed for a very long time, and it continues to be the main practice today. The fruit of the entire study was to recommend against that practice and offer more effective alternatives.

I favor the modified central leader and delayed open center for good reasons. Most trees can be trained to them successfully, though some may require more maintenance to keep them there than others. But regardless of the form you’re after, notching and disbudding are powerful tools to shape trees and should be in much wider use. I just heard from the brilliant experimental orchardist Eliza Greenman, that she has become a convert to disbudding, and is planning to write about it on her blog soon. We are going to chat about it and see what we come up with for potentially moving these ideas forward. I hope to influence other people to start trying this stuff as either a full on system of steps to achieve specific forms, or applied randomly as needed. Ultimately my goal is full reform of fruit tree training for homescale growers and reform to industry where it is applicable, though exactly what those methods and implementation look like is not at all clear at this point. I would like to do a full on lecture and articles outlining where I think we are at with fruit tree training and what needs to be done to move forward with updating the stone age methods currently favored. This would involve a lot of writing, some research and communication and one or two lecture videos. I would do that this month if possible because I’m fired up about it, but it is a week, if not weeks, of focused effort. The next logical step after that is a large plot of different species and varieties of fruit trees grown just to test out methods and systems to determine success rates. Such a preliminary experiment would probably cover 1/4 to a full acre over 5 to 10 years, and would no doubt illuminate follow up studies related at least to how nurseries and growers, either individually, or combined, could actually implement progressive methods. If I can’t ever do that myself, I would like to outline what experiments and research I feel need to be done so that someone else might pick it up and do it, either a private individual or an organization with adequate funding, such as a university. The other possibility is to lead a dispersed, semi-organized, private citizen research project where amateur breeders, amateur orchardists and small scale commercial orchardists who are puttiong in new plots, test some of these ideas out and report back to a central hub.

Unfortunately, since starting this blog and my youtube channel I’ve ended up in debt to friends and family and have to rethink my approach and content to favor income over edification. I’m not getting nearly enough views to put a sizeable dent in just basic monthly needs, let alone extra for any larger projects requiring time, labor and materials. Use of my amazon links is down (you can always find them here! :) , and patreon income is about half of what it once was, largely due to an exodus of users over a recent political controversy. Youtube views are up as well as subs, but not enough to amount to much. As much as I’d like to do what I do best as an independent privately funded researcher, it just isn’t working out. My plan for now is to prioritize more mass consumable videos (not bad, just not as geeky ha ha) and work on marketing for as long as it takes to get back in the green and actually generate enough of a surplus to be able to afford to work on influencer and thought leader projects that may generate a lot of social change by influencing some of the right people, but will probably never get enough public attention to generate much income. I can see my influence on some subclutures already, which is the prime directive, but not enough is coming back to make financially viable the kind of content that I think is most important, or will ultimately have the largest ripple effect. In the meantime, I've been selling stuff off on ebay to deal with the most urgent debts and to get by until the strategies I hope to implement start bringing in more income. The good news is my energy budget has increased a little bit lately and I’m hopeful that trend with continue. I’ve proably said that 100 times in the last 20 years, but I still hope it’s true this time.

The next video will be a tour of some of my trees to look at what went right or wrong in training and how early training is critical to the continuing life and health of trees.

When it Rains it Pours, Minor Rain Emergencies, Tree Down, Creek Blockage and Overflowing Ditches, La Vida Homestead

When it rains a lot, stuff goes wrong. I had three issues to deal with at the same time and shot some go pro video. I manage to squeeze in some talking points about road design. Working it the rain is kind of fun, at least for a while. It could have been much worse timing, but having a tree fall in the road over an hour period when I was out was not super convenient.

Posted on March 1, 2019 and filed under Homestead Lifestyle, Homesteading, roads.

The Blood Zone, Common Mistakes In Splitting Firewood On the Ground With Axes

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Since releasing my video on splitting axe cut wood on the ground with axes, I have seen people engaged in what I consider to be risky behavior when engaged in this potentially very dangerous activity. Ben Scott, new head of the axe cordwood challenge project noticed the exact same thing and released a video pointing this specific problem out about the same time that I recorded this one. This is already an awkward and difficult to learn skill without having to stand in strange positions, but standing just any old place when ground splitting wood is something like driving around blind corners and relying on hope that no one is coming the other way. The difference is that we have some control of the tool and ability to read the circumstances. But we are not reliably accurate and faultless machines and that has to be accounted for. The main problem I see is that I don’t think people understand exactly what can go wrong and how serious the consequences might be, and and pointing those things out is the most important aspect of this video.

For learning ground splitting, for instance if working with a group of scouts, you could literally draw a line on the ground and place the firewood in such a way as to form these good visual habits until they stick. Name one side the blood zone and the other the safe zone.

A backing log for the buckstop could be an axecellent axecessory for training this method. Axeidents can easily happen when learning this technique. I’ve seen in happen. It could also make a good fixture in a longer term camp, so that anyone at any skill level can split wood for camp, or practice unsupervised. Flatten the bottom of the log and cut 5 or 6 notches. But, use it to teach good habits and the importance of direction of cut. Also realize that it is not a 100% guarantee of safety, because the buckstop can only be made so tall before the axe handle will be struck against the top edge.

A backing log for the buckstop could be an axecellent axecessory for training this method. Axeidents can easily happen when learning this technique. I’ve seen in happen. It could also make a good fixture in a longer term camp, so that anyone at any skill level can split wood for camp, or practice unsupervised. Flatten the bottom of the log and cut 5 or 6 notches. But, use it to teach good habits and the importance of direction of cut. Also realize that it is not a 100% guarantee of safety, because the buckstop can only be made so tall before the axe handle will be struck against the top edge.

For learning to split against a back log, the buckstop can be used until axe control is developed and direction of cut is understood. Using a buckstop with an accessory backing log tucked up against it could also be useful in a fixed camp where a number of people at different levels of skill, could safely split wood for camp. A backing log alone is not enough. A friend of mine cut her foot trying to learn to split against a back log, because she wasn’t able to learn direction of cut quickly enough and the axe popped over the log.

Flatten the bottom side for stability and to insure the log is low enough.

Flatten the bottom side for stability and to insure the log is low enough.

Historical Care Package from a Pennsylvania Viewer, 1850's Shoemaker Ledger Pages, Leather and Tools

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I received a pretty amazing care package from a long time YouTube viewer Davey Jo of Pennsylvania. He is a lifetime cabinet maker, leather and metal worker. and accumulator of tools. In spite of his apparent humble attitude, I have a feeling anyone could learn a great deal from Davey about woodworking and such practical shop stuff. His Great, Great Grandfather Joseph was a shoemaker and farmer in that state. He sent some interesting pages from Joseph’s Ledger about goods and services purchased, sold and rendered. Sometime I might sit down and analyze those documents a bit for whatever insights they have to offer about life in the mid 19th century. For instance with a cursory going over, it looks like a new pair of handmade shoes or boots were about $1.25 to $1.75. He also sold 3 bushels of potatoes from his farm for $1.50 and purchased cords of oak for $2.00 each. There is also a contract for an apprenticeship in shoe making. I’ll include a few pictures here. The writing is sometimes hard to decipher and it would be a bit of a project to sort it all out and attempt to translate it in historical context. There is also an edge of bark tanned leather from probably the mid 1800s from Joseph’s shop and a very nice looking piece of leather that Davey tanned with sassafras bark following my instructional videos on bark tanning.


1847 firewood prices. About 100% of today? Oak was bought in at 2.00 a cord, but Hickory (which appears to be spelt Hickery) was 3.00 a cord. Likely at that time it was either bucked into long fireplace logs with an axe or saw, or bucked into shorter woodstove sized sections with a frame bucksaw. From the other entries in this ledger, you could calculate how many cords you would have to cut in order to buy some staple foods for winter, oats, corn and potatoes, and a pair of shoes.

1847 firewood prices. About 100% of today? Oak was bought in at 2.00 a cord, but Hickory (which appears to be spelt Hickery) was 3.00 a cord. Likely at that time it was either bucked into long fireplace logs with an axe or saw, or bucked into shorter woodstove sized sections with a frame bucksaw. From the other entries in this ledger, you could calculate how many cords you would have to cut in order to buy some staple foods for winter, oats, corn and potatoes, and a pair of shoes.

Aside from some logging of shoe repairs and sales, this page contains a contract discussing a term of apprenticeship, an annuity, room, board, washing and mending of clothes, and a provision for a promise of three weeks farm labor at harvest time.

Aside from some logging of shoe repairs and sales, this page contains a contract discussing a term of apprenticeship, an annuity, room, board, washing and mending of clothes, and a provision for a promise of three weeks farm labor at harvest time.

Davey’s grandfather’s uncle Mr. Bachman was a tanner. Here is a receipt for bags of hair. Hair was used as an addition to lime plaster and no doubt for other things. It was commonly collected and sold by tanneries. Mr. Bachman appears to have attended a trade school and advertised those credentials on his invoice.

Davey’s grandfather’s uncle Mr. Bachman was a tanner. Here is a receipt for bags of hair. Hair was used as an addition to lime plaster and no doubt for other things. It was commonly collected and sold by tanneries. Mr. Bachman appears to have attended a trade school and advertised those credentials on his invoice.

This glue pot was given to Davey by his mentor John Grott, a woodworker, shoemaker and all around skilled man by the sound of it. I’m honored to be thought worthy of such a gift, which I can actually use as I have no glue pot. Most of them are also too large for my purposes, and as a cabinet maker, Davey found this one too small for his needs. It is essentially a double boiler, which serves two purposes, keeping the glue from burning and keeping it warm while it is being used away from the stove.

This glue pot was given to Davey by his mentor John Grott, a woodworker, shoemaker and all around skilled man by the sound of it. I’m honored to be thought worthy of such a gift, which I can actually use as I have no glue pot. Most of them are also too large for my purposes, and as a cabinet maker, Davey found this one too small for his needs. It is essentially a double boiler, which serves two purposes, keeping the glue from burning and keeping it warm while it is being used away from the stove.

A miniature “finger” plane. There are not a lot of tools on my wants list anymore, but this was certainly one of them. Also some nice air dried Hickery harvested by Davey and seasoned for years. It appears to be very stable, which is an often overlooked factor in handle material. If I have my way with it, there will be an extensive blog post and video soon on handles and handle material, what matters and what doesn’t. Stability matters a lot and is often not considered or attended to.

A miniature “finger” plane. There are not a lot of tools on my wants list anymore, but this was certainly one of them. Also some nice air dried Hickery harvested by Davey and seasoned for years. It appears to be very stable, which is an often overlooked factor in handle material. If I have my way with it, there will be an extensive blog post and video soon on handles and handle material, what matters and what doesn’t. Stability matters a lot and is often not considered or attended to.

Notes for Seed, Scion and Pollen Customers, Storage, Planting, Grafting, Pollination

I have about 50 orders of apple seeds, scions and pollen ready to ship out! It’s pretty neat to send all that interesting genetic material out into the world to proliferate. Here are a few notes on using and storing them. If you dont’ want to watch the whole thing, here is a video index to each and other useful videos and series’ are embedded below:

Scions

Seeds

Pollen

The BuckStop is Here! Training ProphylAXis For Bucking Firewood Safely

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I came up with this simple, but very cool idea for safely learning to buck logs with an axe. Here are the whys and whats and a few options for building one.

Watching people learn to buck in person and on video has been fairly horrifying at times. Most of the injuries we’ve seen during the cordwood challenge over the past two years were cuts made while bucking logs. This simple concept could allow people to train in bucking more safely, and just as important, to progress in that training more rapidly. I just came up with this idea a year or two ago and finally got around to trying it. The device is a simply a low guard wall that can be slapped together with some junk that might be lying around. I put together four different versions in about an hour including running around looking for materials. To make just one out of materials laying around would probably be about a 10 minute job.

This low wall should stop the axe should any cut go over the top of the log or through it, thus protecting the user from injury. This idea comes from the practice of using a backing log to buck, as recommended by Mors Kochanski and others. Using a larger log behind the log you are chopping can be very helpful, especially in preventing the axe from coming all the way through the work and continuing to the other side where we are standing. The Bucking Wall is taller and flatter than a log, so it should be more effective in preventing the axe from coming over the top of the log. It also allows one to stand closer to the work, which to me is preferable with a short handled axe. It is also lighter than a log. Finally, it can be built with a floor of plywood to catch the axe in case of over reaching strikes that would normally cause the toe of the axe blade to end up in the dirt.

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Consistent results and physical competence with an axe requires a certain amount of time served swinging one. They also require a certain amount of confidence to use well. The tool needs to be taken in hand and used with enough confidence to keep it under control and it is hard to be accurate and effective when timid and hesitant. It is possible to be so cautious and physically stiff that mistakes are increased or amplified. But how do we have confidence before being habituated to the tool? We don’t, which is why the learning phase is so dangerous. Observe the following quote from The Axe Manual of Peter McLaren published by the Plumb tool company.

“The danger of an axe is largely a mental hazard. The user is fearful; he stands so far from his work that his axe is not under control, forgetting that if he misplaces a stroke, or hits a glancing blow, the axe will always come home to him.

“Safety lies in learning to swing correctly and in placing your strokes accurately. Then stand within easy swinging distance and chop with confidence.

“Of course, there is always a careless man who minimizes any risk and chops more with abandon than with skill. In his hands the axe (or any edge tool) is dangerous. Play safe! But do not fear your axe. Instead--- Master it.”

Celebrity Axeman of old, Peter McLaren’s Manual of axe work put out by the Plumb Tool company. Download for free here…  https://scoutmastercg.com/the_axe_manual_/

Celebrity Axeman of old, Peter McLaren’s Manual of axe work put out by the Plumb Tool company. Download for free here…https://scoutmastercg.com/the_axe_manual_/

It is a lot easier to have that confidence once a reasonable degree of physical competence is gained. We don’t want to have false confidence, but ultimately McLaren was right. As a dangerous tool, it needs to be taken charge of and used confidently, with commitment and purposeful intent to do the work at hand.

But he recommended that we learn to use the axe, then use it with purpose and confidence. When each swing feels utterly lacking in said confidence as to where it will end up, or whether it will bite or bounce off, and we are not sure how to gauge distance from hands to the blade, how do we learn to use it safely? A certain amount of time must be spent with the tool before it begins to feel natural and go where we want it to. Enter the Buckstop

Because it is vertical and not round like a backing log, it is even more likely to prevent the axe from coming over the back board and hitting the user. So, at a certain height, it is almost 100% sure to prevent deflected and follow through cuts to the legs while bucking. So, there is the obvious advantage in terms of just preventing accidents, but I think the benefits will extent further. With the fear of injury essentially gone, now we can chop with some impunity, which means any timidity caused by being uncertain of striking our target is no longer at play. This may be a significant factor in allowing one to relax a little and chop with more confidence while working on physical technique. A new user can experiment with things like wrist torque for increasing speed, without increasing danger. In order to chop at their best, the lighter axes that I would typically recommend people start with need to be used with a little snap to create adequate head speed. But experimenting with that head speed is the last thing I would want to see a very new user doing. Using the bucking wall though, you could experiment with that acceleration and with tweaking style and technique in general, without fear of injury. Finally, when you do screw up, it is pretty obvious and I would hope that every time the axe hit’s the wall or wooden base, it stimulates the question of what would have happened if that wall wasn’t there. Even when making the final severing cut at the end to separate off the round of wood, the axe hitting the wall means the axe would be coming through, and if we look at footing position it should give some idea of whether we were at risk for injury.

I think this simple device is a solid idea, and could fill a very important need in the learning phase until confidence and skill are gained. I also think it could build that confidence and skill faster if used with intent. It’s not forever, it’s just a training aid. Many axe competitors habitually wear chainmail socks in both training and competition. Safety is good. But, I would recommend not using this indefinitely, because it could very easily foster bad habits and a false sense of security, which brings me to the down sides.

The two caveats I would say are, first that the buckstop should not be used as an excuse to be sloppy and complacent. One should still concentrate primarily on technique and aim, with a relaxed style, and not on speed and power. Ultimately speed and power are earned over time and more importantly they are nearly useless without a good level of accuracy. Forcing speed and power under normal conditions is dangerous, but even with a backing wall, they still will tend to cause aim to suffer and should be pursued intelligently with an aim to improvement of overall effectiveness, of which power is not the main ingredient as every experienced axeman will tell you. I do however, as I said above, think that using the bucking wall could allow one to progress more quickly into not just speed and power, but efficient speed and power by liberating the trainee to experiment more without putting limbs at risk. Which leads to caveat number two.

One could easily develop bad habits and a false sense of security if released from the fear of injury. I actually think it will be hard not to do so, and it is probably even inevitable. If I were training someone from scratch, I would probably approach it as two different stages, where in the second stage with no Buckstop, they have to learn new important habits and reboot the brain into danger mode. There is, of course, the opportunity to learn some safety lessons if you are continually watching that back wall and every time you hit it asking whether or not you would have lost a toe or two, but that requires a sort of intent or presence of mind that many of us aren’t going to have. Try to use the barrier consciously with the intent of hitting that backing wall as little as possible and not as an excuse to flail away with impunity. When the wall is gone, certainly more awareness and presence of mind around possible errors is going to be essential. Regardless, I would try to make the switch from buckstop to no buckstop as consciously and soberly as possible.

As far as design goes, watch the vide All of them work. You can just use a log that is larger than the piece you are bucking, but the wall should work better than a log in that it easier to move around, often easier to come up with, more transportable and allows one to stand very close, which I tend to do in bucking with the short handled axes I use. It is probably also safer, since it is both taller and flatter. If the device is made with a wooden platform for the log, it will also protect the toe of your axe from sticking into the dirt. @watch.your.follow.through on Instagram pointed out that if there is no base at the front for the log to rest on, it allows the device to be moved easily along the back of the log as chopping progresses. That is true, but it is also probably easier to slide a log along a piece of plywood. In a design with no wooden platform at the front, you can just jam a piece of plywood under the section to be cut to protect the axe, though it may not be as effective. Given that this is a training device and not a long term tool, any minor convenience issues like those only matter so much.

I would encourage making something that is super easy to throw together with common materials or junk that is lying around. I like elegant solutions, which means making and using the simple, easy, cheap thing that works. I am very resistant to keep tweaking the thing and turning it into a design project. Many tweaks could prove useful or clever, but the device that works and is actually built because it is so easy to put together is the best one, because that is the one that will actually be in use. Keep it simple and start using it, worry about tweaks later if they really seem compelling for some reason. If you have a saw and either some nails and a hammer or a screw gun, building one should be very fast. So fast in fact that it shouldn’t be a big deal to build an entirely new one or cannibalize the first to build a new one if it seems worthwhile.

I made them at different heights and it looks like 10 to 11 inches will be best. One I made with a 2 x 12 board had to have the front edge chamferred off as I hit the handle on it a few times. If the back stop is plywood, it probably wouldn’t damage the handle. Unless it needs to be shorter for portability, I think that for cutting 16 inch firewood lengths, 5 feet (150cm), or 6.5 feet (200cm), are going to be the magic numbers, with a 5’ wall, you can safely and comfortably cut 3 notches before moving it along and with a 6.5’ wall, you can make 4. But I would not hesitate to use almost any length if it’s easy or what you happen to have on hand.

As far as using the buckstop to train yourself or anyone else, here are my thoughts. First of all, this is so awesome! I’ve not had the opportunity to train someone from scratch, but I’ve often shuddered at the though of teaching someone to buck for the first time. This tool makes that so much easier. We can both exhale a sigh of relief and work on aim and a relaxed technique without worrying about safety. We can also work on the mechanics of acceleration and other technique stuff that would be much more dangerous to toy with otherwise. If used consciously, we can also get some good feedback on when the axe comes through or over the log and whether it might have hit a body part, trying to form good habits regarding body placement. Footing placement should be conscious as otherwise students might tend to stand right behind the cut with feet together, rather than in a safer wide stance. I think in a long term group or fixed camp such as scouts or a multi-day class it might be good to have one for each student. That way every cut in the board adds to a personal history. The wall could also be painted initially so that cuts show up better. Not every cut to the wall really indicates an accident, but it means something. For a more formal training for kids, I could see having a graduation test at some point where you have to buck so many feet of log with a freshly painted wall and if you make no cuts in the wall or base and meet some other criteria, you get to burn the thing ceremoniously and move on.

It could also be very useful for the student to carry out comparative lessons about such things as chopping styles and angles of cut. Also for trying different grinds and tools, but it can all be done safely. You can not only show people what can go wrong, you can have them do it, which will drive the point home much better, without driving the axe into their leg.

I do think that when it’s time to ditch the thing there should be a hard reboot on safety and awareness. I noticed just testing it briefly that I became very lax about footing placement and edge awareness. If you’re working on your own, you have to be your own bad guy, which is not always easy. If training someone else, be the eyes they need to help them cultivate that constant awareness of the edge and of follow through in relation to their body parts. When it’s time to move on, there really will need to be an emphasis on the fact that the game just changed and there are now real consequences and you can’t just hit NEW GAME after a serious accident.

As I said, I don’t think this should be a long term solution. I think it should be used to the best effect, then gotten rid of or it will cultivate bad habits and dependence. Switching back and forth could prove dangerous, because the two mindsets will be quite different. It is also more work to have it available, to move it to the logs or the logs to it. A skills over gear mindset doesn’t accommodate unnecessary accessories. Make a crappy one out of whatever cheap or free junk is available, don’t fix it unless it’s causing you problems, use it mindfully, then get rid of it and reboot your brain into high safety alert mode.

I think this device is going to prove very useful in certain contexts if it is used with intent. Let me know here or on YouTube if you try it, as I would like to get some feedback. As always stay safe and keep the red stuff inside.

Apple Seeds, Scions and Pollen Available Feb 7th

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Apple seeds and scions will be available this year starting Feb 7th. As usual, they are available early to Patrons. The webstore will be password protected for patrons until Thursday February 7th at midnight. Patrons, see member posts for the password if you didn’t get a notice by email already.

I don’t have a lot of scions, because my trees don’t always grow a lot since they are not pampered. It was also a pretty good apple year, so they put more resources into fruiting than into growing wood. They are also often on the small side, though I don’t send out anything I wouldn’t graft. In fact, if anything, I don’t send out a lot of wood that I would graft myself and usually keep the smallest scions for my projects. The good news is that my scions are cheaper than most places.

I do however have a lot of seeds. I actually have quite a few intentionally cross pollinated apple seeds this year. These are crosses that I think are promising for some reason. I can’t grow many more seedlings, so this is a way to get crosses that I think are promising out into the world. The usual caveats apply. Even with intentional crosses, you just don’t know what you are going to get. Some will be bad, some good and probably the great minority will be worthy of further propagation. I also use some fairly primitive genes in the red fleshed apples, which very likely reduces the overall success rate. The Open Pollinated seeds, those that have an unknown parent pollinated by bees, are even more of a gamble. They might be pollinated by any of 100 or more random varieties. Of course the high variability of apples is what makes them appealing to grow from seed as well, because with that randomness comes a lot of possibility.

The pollen is from last year, stored in a freezer. I can’t vouch for it’s potency or viability. I’ve kept pollen at room temperature for a year and used it successfully before, but not frozen. Freezing should keep it better, but it’s an experiment and I’ll be assessing the potency and viability of this frozen pollen myself this year. I may just collect pollen, freeze it and sell it the following year from now on, since it’s hard to get it all picked, dried and sent out in time for use the same spring.

International shipping: Scions I will send to the lower 48 United States and Alaska only. I will ship seeds and pollen internationally, but I won’t be responsible for the shipments not arriving if they are seized by customs, and I won’t lie on the customs forms about the contents. It is very expensive to ship seeds internationally, I remember recent seeds being about 13.00 U.S. Dollars to send. If you live outside the U.S. place your order in the webstore and check out, then I’ll figure out the postage and we’ll adjust the cost.

Here is the link to the webstore: http://skillcult.com/store/



Posted on February 5, 2019 .

Pruning and Training Chuck's Apple Franktree, Year 4 from Grafting

I’ve managed to make an update video every year of grafting and training my friend Chuck’s apple frankentree. The tree has grown quickly into a well balanced, classic Modified Central Leader form. The Main scaffold branches look pretty good and most of the laterals have been set. That only took 3 years. This 4th year, I just notched a few more buds to get the last few laterals where I want them and the rest is mostly maintenance with light training. If I were to do this now, I would approach it with even a little more intent to get exactly what I want, possibly even a little quicker. To understand the tree form a little better and how to get it, watch the video below on tree forms. I like this tree form a lot. It is not the only game in town, but it is good for making long lived, well balanced trees that are relatively easy to control. It is popular with fruit tree enthusiasts for a reason. It also looks very nice, making a somewhat spreading tree with reasonably good light distribution if well maintained.

This is probably the last training and pruning video of chucks tree as the videos are becoming redundant, but the form is in place and from here on it’s mostly thinning excess growth, and then shortening what is left. maybe we’ll check in on fruiting and maturity in a couple/few years. A playlist with all previous videos of chucks tree is also linked below if you want to follow it’s development from the beginning.


The full playlist… https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL60FnyEY-eJCwRV46RC-aoybNgDRjCAw4


The video explains a couple of very good common tree training forms, the delayed open center and modified central leader.

CordWood Challenge 2019, New Leadership and Expansion

This year, I have turned over leadership of the challenge to a young, enthusiastic and very intelligent guy named Ben Scott on the other side of the Atlantic. Though relatively new to the game, he is level headed, confident and truly curious. He posts more to the cordwood challenge facebook page than anyone, including me and has been hammering out axe related YouTube content, much of which shows insight from experience. A lot of that experience and insight comes from doing the cordwood challenge last year where he cut 4 ricks of wood. I think he will not only do a good job, but a much better job than I at facilitating the project, taking it forward into new territory, and being consistently focused and involved. We chatted on skype for quite a long time and have very similar visions and ideas about the cordwood challenge concept and where to potentially go in the future. Pretty early on in the challenge I think I realized the potential and the need to grow or centralize a community and information source around practical axe work. I even took out a domain name, which I’ve offered to Ben if he wants to run with the idea.

I can see clearly the need for such an internet destination that is strictly focused on practical axe work and design and specifically avoids a sort of axe fetishism centered around collecting which tends to take over axe groups and discussions. I think such a project could be run and funded by members, and could house a database of sorts. This might provide a mutually supportive community that learns at an exponential rate and that is instrumental in welcoming novice axe users to facilitate their progress and understanding of the tool and it’s safer use. Ben has also already added some other challenges that could make the project more accessible to people that don’t have access to a forest, or that are doing axe-centric building projects.

I feel like this is really the best case scenario right now. I am also very sure that I know the best place to put what energy and time I can into engaging with the axe community by providing content on axe use, safety and theory. That also has to compete with the many other subjects I want to cover, but I’m quite sure the content I have planned on axe stuff is extremely important, and will do a lot of good and will very likely remain viable into the future. As popular as axes are, my take on them as a practical user who generally buzzkills gearheadism, collecting and fetishism is not very popular, but I feel almost obligated to produce that content, especially in support of the cordwood challenge project.

Any axe head should subscribe to Ben’s YouTube channel. People just interested in the Axe CordWood Challenge in general, or who just want to be supportive of the project are welcome to join the FaceBook page, which Ben is now an administrator of along with myself.

If you want to know more about how my messed up life and health have compelled me to forego this project this year and are limiting my activity, you can watch the video below. My life is pretty messed up lately and I’m having a hard time maintaining anything resembling focus to carry through projects.

As always stay safe choppers.

Tasting Some Late Hanging Apples and Late Seedlings From Breeding Trials

One of my main interests when it comes to collecting and breeding apple varieties is the very late hanging/ripening types. I’ll be heard to proselytize about them frequently and I am not sure why everyone else is not as excited about them as I am. While most would normally think of winter apples as being eaten out of storage, certain varieties can be ripened and held on the tree through at least all of January assuming the climate is suitable. This video is a walkaround checking out what is still hanging as well as tasting the remaining late ripening seedling apples from the breeding trials. I wrote a whole post about late hangers, but I decided to put off posting it until I can make a video that makes an argument for growing them more, ferreting more of them out, and beginning to test the climatic limits of hanging late fruit. Clearly there is going to be a cold limit and folks in places like Michigan will not be able to grow them. But chances are that they can be taken advantage of in much of Cascadia, the southern belt east to west, and other places that you can’t go ice fishing without falling through. Not doubt too there are going to be varieties that are more durable to the cold than others. Unfortunately, many of these late hanging varieties are quite rare and I usually have very limited scion wood available. I will have some this year, quite a bit of some of them and none of others. Scion sales will begin soon and I’ll post when they are available.

Formula Books, The Treasure Chest of Free DIY, Self Reliance Information You Need to Know About

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While I’m inclined to ignore the holidays for the most part, I have a gift for you. Christmas can be downright disturbing in it’s materialism and focus on over consumption. Well, my gift to you is a knife in the corrupted festering heart of that particular Santa of commerce, a downloadable treasure trove of DIY information from a very different time, from a time when DIY was a necessary way of life and not an internet niche. The very fact that we call someone a do-it-yourselfer, indicates that those people are novel in an age where products for almost anything can be bought ready made.

This is about formula books, a phenomenon from the past that would now be a quaint piece of history to most if they even knew about them at all, but which the self reliant minded, and technologically curious, can find immensely helpful and fascinating. I think the reason that these great books are no longer common, is that they were a product of a different time. Cue history fable…

Once upon a time, there were no letters. No, not letters as in I wrote you a letter, I mean the characters that make up words. Ideas spread verbally were slow and limited in range, and culture and community knowledge existed on a smaller scale, with much less homogeneity between geographic groups. Then people invented writing, which gradually grew in scale. At first, few knew how to read and books were only produced as one offs or had to be copied by handwriting and illustrating. Then printing began, followed by more efficient printing, and eventually by more people learning to read. In that era, previous to transmittable media such as radio and television, printed books and periodicals were what allowed ideas and information to be spread broadly. Books were popular enough, but so were periodicals. Periodicals were the way that groups of people with similar interests or professions interacted in their niches with others around a country, or even between continents. It may seem painfully slow in this age of internet forums, instant news and comment threads, but aside from in person meetings, that was what was available. Editorials and reader interaction via letters to the editors were an extremely important mechanism of communication and evolution of understanding among these niche groups. Some of those periodicals were not sent out very often, but it provided a place for readers of similar interest to write in and offer experience or tips and recipes. Being an inveterate researcher of antique information, I have gleaned a lot of knowledge from these periodicals. So there is one piece of our context, and here is the next...

Going back far enough, circumstances determined that people made a lot of stuff from scratch. Not just individuals, but professionals. Most pharmacy items were probably compounded by the pharmacist, not purchased pre-made. Real compounding pharmacies are the exception now, and most just buy finished products and re-package them. Artists mixed most of their own paints, sometimes from the raw minerals, preparing specialty oils, etc. The supermarkets, hardware stores and drug stores with miles of diverse products would drop the jaws of someone in the 19th century. Professionals used books and periodicals for information on how to formulate items for their trades, and average people often compounded raw materials to make what they needed.

I think it’s likely that these two circumstances eventually lead to the phenomenon of formula books. I imagine that at some point, some enterprising individual went through and compiled a bunch of these general formulas and tips from various sources or from their own periodical, and printed them in a book. Many of these collections were compiled and printed well into the 20th century. Some are intended more for the home market, others more for practical “shop dudes”, technical entrepreneurs and inventors. Others were specific to an industry or interest.

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Imagine in a time where your access to a store might even be limited, and when you did go to a store, the products were also limited and expensive. Even raw materials might need to be special ordered from an in-store catalogue or the Sears and Roebuck catalogue, and waited on for weeks. A book like this could prove extremely valuable to have around the house to compile these and common household materials to useful ends. Now it seems that problems are practically invented to sell products. These books are also full of general tips for daily household, farm and shop life.

Keep in mind when perusing these offerings, that whomever printed the book you are reading didn’t actually try all that stuff out! Many of these would be untested recipes from essentially random sources. Just because K.W. Micklemaus from blington New Jersey wrote into a periodical once and sounded like he knew his business when it comes to lubricating an old watch with rattlesnake oil, doesn’t mean he was right. These recipes should be read with a very critical mindset. Another thing you will notice is that they use a lot of toxic stuff. Lead and Benzine were staples, and many other toxic substances. Some of these can be substituted and some cannot, but the recipe may still give you some ideas on making something of your own devising.

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There will also be a lot of materials that you have never heard of. Further, you may not know which form of the material is referred to, or which name a material refers to. For instance, it is difficult to determine for sure what is meant by Plumbago, which seems to usually refer to graphite can be confused with Galena, a lead ore which looks similar. The name Plumbago is derived from the word for lead and many recipes will call for “black lead” when they mean powdered graphite. but which one is called for in your stove polish recipe? I’ve had this exact problem when trying to figure out if the recipes for stove blacking I’ve been looking at are referring to lead or graphite. According to Wikipedia, some guy actually invented the term graphite, now the dominant term, in order to avoid confusion caused by the terms black lead and plumbago.

An example of ambiguity regarding the different forms of substances would be lime. Lime is often called for in recipes, but it is rarely specified whether the reference is to lime putty, which was once very common, or dry lime hydrate. They have similar properties, but would be measured out very differently. Usually if quicklime is called for it will be called either quicklime, freshly burned lime, or maybe lime shells. Freshly slaked lime probably refers to lime putty, but it could conceivably refer to dry hydrate. Having been interested in this sort of archaic information, I have a glossary in my brain of quite a few of these terms, but like learning botany and all it’s specific terminology, newcomers will spend a fair amount of time looking up unfamiliar terms and trying to sleuth out what is actually meant by them. I used to have to do that secondary research in other old books in my collection, but now we have the internet which makes it much easier.

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It’s worth keeping an eye out for these in print. I was introduced to them a long time back when some practical artist friends Scott McGrath, Todd Barriclow and Spring Maxfield busted out a copy as if they were showing me some holy book. It was a big enough deal that I still remember the event lol. More like they were unlocking the door to a technical candy store. You can read most of the old formula books online for free and I’ve set up a file where you can download them. You can also always find the links by going to www.skillcult.com/freestuff With modern search functions, it is easy to find what you are looking for in them... well, sometimes. These books are in PDF form, which is imperfect. When converting a very old book from scans and PDF’s to plain text like kindle’s mobi or to epub, the print character recognition software often misinterprets many letters or runs the characters together into compound words. So, the search functions may or may not find what you are looking for regardless of the digital format. Sometimes (possibly even often, although I’m loathe to admit it :) I find myself looking for the search function while reading an actual book or piece of paper! Search is absolutely awesome as a tool. Most books, especially older ones, have terrible indexes if they have any at all. But, in spite of the lack of a search function, sitting down with an old, yellowed copy of The Scientific American Encyclopedia of Receipts, Notes and Queries is an entirely different experience than skimming through photos of it on an ipad. Unless you go out and search for these books though, you won’t just run into many of them. I just did some quick searching and it looks like ebay is probably the best place to look for them and maybe check out Etsy too. Some were printed later in the century, but they gradually fell out of popularity. There is still a niche of weirdos like me (and I hazard to guess you too :) that will find them fascinating and useful. I own physical copies of Henleys, The Scientific American Cylopedia of etc, etc…, Standard Book of Formulas, Techno-Chemical Receipt book and The Materials of the Artist. Those were collected randomly at bookstores and flea markets over the past 25 years. All but the last are in this digital collection I put together. I’m sure there are more, but these are the ones I could find, some of which I’ve barely looked at. Also, keep in mind that there are many, many more niche books of this sort for specific trades. For instance, there are a boatload of old pharmacy compounding books and many painters books.

Yesterday was the shortest day of the year, so we are on the right side of that equation now, yay! Last night was the coldest night so far, and here the teeth of winter are really just starting to bite. A couple of days ago I ran through all the formula books looking for stove blacking recipes as I make moves to restore a rusty woodstove I’m trying to get installed. Now I just have to figure out if they mean graphite or lead when they say plumbago! Best wishes to you and yours in this new year and heartfelt thanks to all the people that have supported me from sharing content, to comments, to the thank you notes I receive from complete strangers almost every week, and for the much needed financial support. Things have been very difficult lately to put it mildly, and my ability to produce good content is at a low ebb. I’d like to report that I expect that to improve, but my hope for resolving the chronic health issues that I’m severely hobbled by is also at a low ebb, and unfortunately, I think justifiably so. My plan remains the same though, to continue at whatever pace I can, the work I set out to do from early in my life, which is essentially the pursuit and dissemination of practical knowledge and practical philosophy with a focus on self reliance and archaic skills that I believe still have relevance. Formula books have been exceedingly useful in that pursuit and I hope they are to you as well. <3

And here is a plug for www.archive.org Wow, what a fantastic resource this is. I’ve used google books for a lot of my research of this type in the past, but archive.org has become my go to resource for digging up old books and information. They are a non-profit with the goal of creating universal access to information, including books and periodicals, photos, film and audio. They are in a fund raising drive right now and have a 2 x matching grant. Try it out for a subject you are interested in. The books and periodicals available have generally run out their copyright protection, which I believe is defined by the life of the author, plus 50 years, so the great majority of it is from long ago, which is just what I’m usually looking for. I recently used it to do research on the medicinal uses of turpentine and found a huge number of references going as far back as the 1600’s. So cool!

Here is an example a text search of the entire archive for the term blacksmithing this is using the search text function. The search titles field will turn up fewer results.

By using the lower search field, you can search within a book or periodical.

Well, I either just enabled you to go down endless impractical rabbit holes full of endless wheel spinning information, or offered you the most amazing tool to further your personal development. Which one it will be is probably largely up to you :) Just remember that book learning is only really very useful as part of a trinity composed of INFORMATION, EXPERIENCE and CONTEMPLATION. I might add communication in there as #4, but that is sort of covered by both contemplation and information. In a very real way, information is not knowledge.

DOWNLOAD THE FORMULA BOOKS HERE

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Posted on December 24, 2018 and filed under Books, Homesteading, Self Reliance.

Test Tasting 12 New Apple Seedlings

I had quite a few new apple seedlings fruit this year. Some were still not ripe as of December 10th, while others were over ripe. The overview is that none of them seem super promising, though there are about 4 I’ll be keeping my eye on for the next few years. One had pretty strongly red flesh, several had very light blushing and one was approaching 50% pink mottling. The percentage of apples that come up with some red flesh, may be approaching 30%, but most of those just have a light blush here and there. Many of those that fruited this year are Lady Williams offspring, as those seem to be more inclined toward early fruiting. Some of those are definitely not ripe yet, because Lady Williams is super late ripening and most of them seem to have inherited that trait.

The most interesting are:

Grenadine x Goldrush cross measuring at 25% sugar

Grenadine x Goldrush cross, which has the deepest red flesh, medium sized and very attractive it measures at 21% sugar.

A small Rubaiyat x Wickson cross, also 25% sugar.

And a Grenadine x Golden Russet cross, which picked up a little of Golden Russet’s rusetty flavors, but not a lot.

of those, only the first was probably picked the best time, the rest being picked late as I had some dental trouble right about when they should have been picked and tested. As a result they were about 3 weeks over-ripened on the tree.

While I didn’t find any of these super compelling (more like potentially interesting) it has to be kept in mind that they could improve going forward. For one, the conditions they are growing under are awful. They are very crowded, often shaded and with very little food or water. It’s like a disaster camp in there! As I start to cull some of the trees, it will make room for the remaining ones. Any apples that seem very promising, I will probably eventually graft out onto an established tree, to give them more of a chance to grow and produce fruit that could be closer to reaching their full potential. Another factor is that as grafts or new trees mature, they seem to often start producing better fruit. Hopefully next year I’ll get to taste these again, and better samples of them, along with more new varieties that have not come into fruit yet.