Director's Blog

 Follow us daily as our director, Scott, shares his thoughts and keeps you abreast of all workings at the institute.

Date: 4/2/2018 10:10 PM EDT

Saturday, April 7, 2018 is our first plant sale of the year.  He is what we have to offer currently out of the greenhouse.

The Santa Fe Grande Pepper is “a great mid-sized pepper growing 2-3ft with a blocky, tapered body.  Fruits ripen from yellow to orange then red and have a wonderful medium hot flavor with a sweetish overtone.  TMV resistant.  75-100 days.”  Trade Winds Fruit

The Fresno Chile Pepper is from the area around Fresno, CA.  These Peppers will grow 1.5-2ft tall and bear 2-3in long peppers.  They start out green, go to orange, and finally red.  “Looking for a medium hot pepper that won’t burn your mouth, but will still pack a punch?  This is it!  5-10 Scoville units.  75 days.”  Sustainable Seed Company

The Keystone Giant Pepper is “a large bell pepper and a great variety for classic bell pepper taste.  Bears large fruits up to 5in with a thick blocky shape.  Usually eaten while green, fruits have a sweet flavor and crunchy texture. Plants grow 2-3ft with nice yields.  75 days.”  Trade Winds Fruit

The Habanero Pepper is the hottest of all.  “Wrinkled, green skin matures to a bright orange.  Use gloves to handle.

The Carnival Sweet Pepper Blend is a grab bag of some of our favorite heirloom peppers including Orange Sun, California Wonder, Golden California Wonder, Purple Beauty, and Diamond varieties.

Sweet Banana Peppers are “delicious, long, tapered fruits turn from light green to yellow, then orange and red.  Great fresh or fried.  72 days.”  Burpee

California Wonder Bell Peppers are “upright 2ft tall plants that bear prolific fruits that are 4-5in long and almost the same width across.  Mild, pleasant flavor.  Great for salads or stuff them whole for a delicious meal.  Resistant to Tobacco Mosaic Virus.  Harvest early for green bell peppers, late for yummy red peppers!  73 days.”  Sustainable Seed Company

Brandywine (red) Regular Leaf Tomato “offers red fruit with luscious old time, red tomato flavor.  Plants have regularly-shaped leaves and are extremely productive, bearing long harvests of these 10-16oz fruits.  Heirloom from the late 1800’s.  Indeterminate.  80 days.”  Tomato Growers Supply

Brandywine (red) Potato Leaf Tomato “offers red fruit with luscious old time, red tomato flavor.  Plants have potato-shaped leaves and are extremely productive, bearing long harvests of these 10-16oz heirloom fruits.  Indeterminate.  80 days.”  Tomato Growers Supply

The Red Cherry Tomato “produces prolific indeterminate vines that bear large, red cherry tomatoes with rich, full-bodied, mildly acidic flavor.  Vines need trellising.  70 days.”  Seeds of Change

The Sioux Tomato is indeterminate “heirloom variety originally released in 1944 by the University of Nebraska and is worth planting today because of its incredible flavor and reliably large harvests even in hot weather.  Although its appears to be an average size red tomato, you just have to grow it to believe how good it is – sweet yet tangy and full of those rich, complex flavors that make a delicious tomato memorable.  70 days.”  Tomato Growers Supply Company

The Toma Verde Tomatillo “is a member of the tomato family, but not a real tomato.  Round green tomatillos have a papery husk that is removed before preparing.  Vining plants are easily grown and prolific.  Flavor is sweet yet tart and wonderful in green Mexican salsa and other Mexican and Southwestern dishes.  75days.”  Tomato Growers Supply Company

The Better Boy Hybrid tomato is a super popular variety of “rugged vines that produce large crops of bright read, 12-16oz smooth, flavorful fruit.  Similar to Big Boy, but with additional disease resistance.  Firm and perfect for slicing.  One of the best tasting garden tomatoes available anywhere.”  Tomato Growers Supply Company

The Chocolate Stripe Tomato is “a true show stopper.  Chocolate Stripe Tomatoes feature mahogany colored flesh with olive green striping.  Complex, rich, earthy flavors reward the gardner with plants that yield a plentiful crop of 3-6in fruit.  An excellent choice for salads and sandwiches, this one just might become your favorite!  80 days.”  Eden Brothers Seed

The Green Zebra Tomato has “chartreuse colored flesh with lime green stripes.  Green Zebra Tomatoes are a garden favorite not only for their beautiful colors, but for their sweet, rich tomato taste.  The only problem you will have with this variety is when to tell if a green tomato is ripe!  Hint Green Zebra’s light green stripes turn to yellow, and its firmness in your gentle hand will show a slight give much like when a red tomato is ready to pick.”  Eden Brothers Seed

Early Green Broccoli is “a short season broccoli variety that yields a large tight head followed by and abundance of succulent side shoots until a hard freeze.”  Seeds of Change

Snowball Cauliflower has “delicious and snow white dense heads are 6in across and are somewhat hidden tucked away amongst silvery-green leaves.  A self-blanching variety as the leaves curl around heads protecting them from sun.  Excellent for home or market use.  Well adapted to short season areas.”  Sustainable Seed Company

Golden Acre Cabbage “produces 3-4lb heads that are succulent, sweet, and tender.  Golden Acre Cabbage produces round, tight heads shaped like globes.  Knows for its early Production and uniformity and is a great cabbage for coleslaw or stir fry.”  Sustainable Seed Company

Dinosaur Kale’s “dark blue-green leaves of this popular, cold-hearty kale are valued for heir high nutritional content.  Delicious and tender, the flavor gets even sweeter after a few hard frosts.  70 days.”  Seeds of Change

Dwarf Blue Curled Kale is “an early kale that produces tasty greens when used in salads or steamed.  The blue-green leaves are finely curled and very attractive reaching 6-8in.  This is one of the best frost resistant kales.  Young leaves are great raw in salads, blanched for a saute or used as a colorful garnish. 63 days.”  Sustainable Seed Company

Italian Parsley is a favorite heirloom variety for seasoning and drying.  75 days.  Seeds of Change

Summer Thyme is a “classic culinary herb with strong savory aroma and flavor for all your recipes.  Thyme looks great in rock gardens and pots and has many medicinal uses.  90days.”  Seeds of Change

Young Genovese Basil is a uniform, slow to bolt, classic basil variety with concentrated flavor and fine, sweet fragrance fantastic for seasonings, salads, garnishes, and pesto.  70 days.”  Seeds of Change

Posted by Scott Vernon | Post a Comment

Date: 2/23/2018 5:34 PM EST

This week the weather has been giving us a taste of spring.  The first few sunny days had us in t shirts.  A lot got accomplished.

Apart from the usual tending to the animals.  We have been hard at work in the shop working on a combination of cabinets and miter saw station.  With 28 drawers and two cabinets, it will be a phenomenal place to store most of the equipment in the shop.

This started out as 12 sheets of plywood and is now starting to take shape as a miter station with lots of storage.

The woodstove is raging keeping the greenhouse in a happy range for seed starts.

The plants outside are starting to stretch after winter's rest.

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Date: 2/16/2018 7:24 PM EST

This week we got our first set of pallet forks for the big Massey Ferguson 270 Tractor.  This tractor was top of the line in 1987.  Somewhere along its life, a previous owner had attached hydraulics,  bucket and a set of claws to grab brush.  A hay spear came also with the tractor when we purchased it for the farm.  We have gotten by on straps for more than enough projects, but earlier this week the pallet forks came in.  Unfortunately, Bush Hog no longer makes attachments anymore, fortunately the local tractor place knew of a company that would have no problem building one to factory specs in a hurry.

Three weeks later the pallet forks arrived and today was the first day they got put to the test in offloading 1800lbs worth of potting mix from the back of a1/2 ton truck.  The truck was certainly squatting, but made it home safely; the pallet forks hand no problem with it either.

I don't know how we got buy this far without pallet forks.  We get so many freight shipments to the farm, I'm elated to have this piece of equipment.

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Date: 10/28/2017 9:31 AM EDT

The band saw is an extremely versatile tool.  Many wood-workers would say that it is an indispensable part of their workshop.  From cutting out the exterior of complex shapes to milling boards from firewood and making boxes, the bandsaw certainly isn't going anywhere.

Martinsville/ Henry County, Virginia was the heart of the US furniture industry for years.  As a result we have a tremendous woodworking knowledge from which to pull.  We sat down with Lori Shockley Scott, a 30 year production band saw operator, to get the pro tips that could only come from experience.

1.  "Make sure your band blade has flex to it."  In Lori's years of experience she learned to gage blade flex by slapping the blade with her fingers.

2.  "Make sure your blade guard is down all the way - no more than 1in over stock."

3.  "Keep it clean!" - Blow out your saw with compressed air after each use.  In the production shop, Lori blows out her saw at the end of each day.  This will keep your saw running smoothly as dust doesn't have time to collect.

4.  "Watch your fingers!"

5.  "Keep table waxed."  A slick table will reduce your effort and keep things safe.

6.  Some material require a little lubricant on the blade.  "Only lubricate the outside with silicone spray."  If lubricant is applied to the side that touches the wheels there is increased chance the blade will slip off.

7.  "Install your blade with the teeth facing down."

8.  "Smoke or difficulty cutting is a sign of a dull blade."

9.  "Blades should run smoothly.  Jumping is a sign of a bent blade or something more severe.  Replace it immediately."

10.  "Always wear safety glasses."

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Date: 6/20/2017 11:19 PM EDT

One of the most popular questions we get asked is how to deal with ticks and other bugs in the woods.  The severe effects of Lyme disease have been a concern of outdoor enthusiasts for a good while now, but more recently emergent diseases have made headlines by causing severe allergic reactions to meat.  Plus with mosquitos carrying diseases like Zika, it just pays to protect ourselves from these blood suckers.

Our first line of defense against the environment is our clothing.  Just like dressing for winter, seal off pathways for air to reach your skin.  These are the same pathways on which a tick or mosquito will capitalize.  Start by tucking in your shirt to your pants, and your pants into your boots.  Do your best not to allow any avenues a tick could enter.

Despite our best efforts, sometimes ticks do get in.  It is good practice to take a piece of elastic and tie it around arms and legs.  Ticks like warm, dark, and damp places.  If they do manage to get past your clothing, the piece of elastic seems like a good place to call home stopping them from traveling to harder to search areas.

The chemical industry has come up with some pretty good protection from insects. DEET stands for diethyltoluamide, a chemical rated to kill insects and be safe for contact with the skin.  I've had pretty painful though short lasting rashes from a lotion containing 100% DEET.   Off Deep Woods Insect Repellant is a readily available spray option that contains 25% DEET available at Walmart and most drug stores.  We've had students use it in class with great success.

The best option for treating your clothes is without a doubt Sawyer Products Premium Premetherin.  Simply spray generously on your clothing the day before your outing.  As it dries, it forms a shield against bugs for up to 6 washes.  All you have to do is let it dry, and you are protected.  I've seen bugs fall over and die like they were in a cartoon.  This stuff works that well!

Garlic oil, rosemary, lemongrass, peppermint, and thyme are common spices that have been shown to have some level off repellant against insects.  A smudge or smoke bath is a traditional means of naturally deterring pests.  When moving into a debris hut that may have sat dormant for some time, it is common practice to drive insects out of the shelter by a smoldering a small bunch of leaves.  The bugs think a forest fire is coming and really high tail it out of there.

Above all, the number one way to keep ticks off you is to avoid them.  Ticks really like areas of transition from woods to field or creek.  They wait on grass and leaves until their prey walks nearby where the tick can fall or jump to hitch a ride.  If you stay deep in the woods or in the middle of the field one stands a better chance at avoiding a tick bomb.

Frequent checks are essential to a comprehensive tick maintenance plan.  A detailed check of one's body should be performed twice a day while in tick country.  Ticks' jaw structure makes it hard for their teeth to grip when inverted on their backs.  Should you be bitten by a tick, use tweezers to gently flip the tick on its back before pulling.  Do not rip as it increases the chances that pieces of the tick will be left in the wound.

Monitor a bitten area.  Should the area become inflamed see your Doctor.  Further symptoms of lyme include headaches, joint pain, fevers, fatigue, and muscle pain.  See your doctor should you experience any of these symptoms after an extended stay in the woods.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is an understatement when it comes to bugs and the diseases they carry.  A compound approach ensures the highest probability of defense.  Use herbal deterrents, treat your clothing with premetherine, use a spray repellant approved for skin contact, and use your clothing as a physical barrier by sealing off entrances to your body.  These steps will greatly decrease your chances of disease carried by an insect.

Posted by Scott Vernon | Post a Comment

Date: 6/6/2017 4:04 PM EDT

We get the question frequently, "what pocket saws do you recommend?"  There are a lot of great saws on the market, and plenty more crappy ones.  Take from our experience and choose the right saw for you.

The Bacco Laplander a long time bushcrafter favorite.  It has relatively small teeth and a thick kerf which makes it less than ideal for processing firewood, but still gets the work done quickly.  The Laplander's sleek design and lightweight construction make it a great carry saw.  At about $20, it is a good priced option for finer wood processing tasks and pruning.

The Silky Ultra Accel was built for rugged continual use by loggers looking to clear limbs quickly while suspended from trees.  Its aggressive teeth, curved shape, and longer thinner blade hog out material to get jobs done two to three times faster than then Laplander mentioned above.  The Ultra Accel fits comfortably in larger pockets but is suited best in a back pack or car door ready for easy access.  It is the most expensive option at about $60.

The 8in bladed Corona Folding Saw is available in just about every big box home improvement store and combines features of the Bacco Laplander and Silky Ultra Accel for a best of both worlds scenario.  Its durable lightweight construction makes carry easy, and long thin kerf blade with aggressive teeth gets cutting done efficiently.  At less than $20, the Corona Saw is the best value in the line up.  We like these saw so much, we choose to outfit our camp with them.  I do like to add a drop of LockTight to the primary nut holding the blade to the handle to ensure durability as they tend to back off over time.

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Date: 4/5/2016 10:56 PM EDT

We are significantly expanding the pastured poultry operation.  A mobile chicken tractor keeps birds contained and happy and constantly exposed to fresh pasture.  This is the first of 10, and its construction yielded crucial hints to finishing your tractor quickly.  Stay tuned for detailed step by step instructions.

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Date: 12/3/2015 2:07 PM EST

Pine trees can be found all over the world, and when combined with water makes a quick and tasty pine needle tea.  Wether in the bush or the kitchen at home, you can enjoy a cup packed with Vitamin C with minimal equipment.

A cup of pine needles
Knife and cutting board or scissors
3-4 cups Water
Heat Source
Filter:  French Press, cheesecloth
Coffee Cup

1.  Harvest pine needles from a source at which you are confident chemical spray has been kept to a minimum.  Christmas tree farms particularly may cover their fields with pesticides to minimize weed or bug damage.
2.  Begin to heat water.
3.  Clean off the bark or paper looking sections leaving green pine needles remaining.
4.  Increase the surface area by finely chopping the needles.
5.  Add pine needles to warm water.  For best tasting tea, look for gentle steam, but no bubbles, or between 160 and 170 degrees F.
6.  Steep your water and needles together for about 10 minutes.
7.  Strain out needles.  A French press effortlessly strains out needles or ground coffee beans that could be added to the compost pile for a rich soil kickstart.
8.  Serve

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Date: 8/13/2015 2:44 PM EDT

Photos courtesy of Pete Porter

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Date: 7/28/2015 11:45 PM EDT

Part of the recent survival training in partnership with Sigma III Survival School took the nine instructor candidates into 44,000 acres of West Virginia reclaimed coal country for knife only survival missions.

Heavy metals tainted the landscape.  Iron discolored the stream banks in a reddish orange, while much of the water itself looked a cloudy white, evidence of aluminum contamination.

Sparing the details of an at times grueling exercise, two points were highlighted and underlined.
1.  Everything Is Sacred - I cannot stress this enough.  The trek to get "clean" drinking water, the hours of bow drilling wet wood to get a fire, to the speed of cutting with a saw, the hunt for plant matter and protein - it is easy for us to overlook the conveniences our society provides.

2.  Our way of life comes at the detriment to nature.  There is a Cree saying, "That only after the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realize we cannot eat money."  What otherwise would have been gorgeous, the area was uninhabitable long term.  A solar still is the only water purification method that I am aware of that can remove heavy metals from a water source, but it has little effect on the fish and plant life heavily saturated.  Everything society has achieved and accumulated has come from a hole in the ground somewhere, and our children will be tasked with cleaning up this scarification and toxification of the land.  Unless we change our way of thinking and living there will be no world left for them to inherit.  It is responsibility of the older generations to lay up for and future generations.  This is the Sustainable Homestead Institute's mission - to tip the scale away from degradation in favor of regeneration.

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