Archive for the ‘homesteading’ Category

Cindy in Cotton Project dress - BLOGYou haven’t heard from me for awhile, but not to worry. I am alive and well and have been busy working on fiber projects. In 2019 I made a dress from my homegrown cotton and flax/linen that won Best in Show at the Fall Fiber Festival at Montpelier Station, Virginia. The photo shows me in that dress and the shirt made from homegrown cotton and flax/linen. I have always said that we are living in exciting times. I think I will change that to we are living in crazy times. I could never have anticipated the conditions we are living in now, and that is why I am writing.

market garden012--BLOGWith so many people at home and spring springing, it would be natural to think of starting a garden. It is a big endeavor to undertake and a lot to learn. Learning is the key here. Children are home and, since you need to be the teacher, you might as well teach them how to feed themselves. I would imagine all the subjects they need to keep sharp in will be covered while you and your children decide what you want to eat, what will grow in your area, how many seeds to order, how to lay out your garden, and the list goes on and on. I taught people how to plan a garden to feed themselves at our local community college for over a decade and know that it is a lot to process in a short time.

homeplaceearth imageBesides feeding ourselves, we also need to consider the soil and to grow cover crops to feed back to it. I produced the DVD Cover Crops and Compost Crops IN Your Garden to teach that part. As for the garden planning, I produced the DVD Develop a Sustainable Vegetable Garden garden plan dvd coverPlan. That video shows how to put together a notebook with your complete plan, thinking through all you need to do. It includes a CD with the planning sheets I developed for my college classes. I have also written the book Grow a Sustainable Diet that has information that you will be introduced to in the DVDs, plus more about planning your diet and considerations for planning your permaculture homestead.

grow a sustainable diet coverI made these videos and wrote the book so that people who couldn’t take my classes could have access to the material for their own education. Together you have the book, lectures, handouts (worksheets), and field trips. You see me in my garden and, in the garden planning video, you see seven other gardens and the gardeners who manage them. They range from a very small backyard garden to a half-acre market garden. These materials are part of the curriculum at the college, but you can use them to learn at home.

If you want to take this journey, the DVDs and book are available from my website at www.HomeplaceEarth.com. You’ll see that I’ve also written Seed Libraries. Maybe some of you experienced gardeners may find that helpful to start a seed sharing program in your community. The complete name of that book is Seed Libraries and other means of keeping the seeds in the hands of the people. Besides these basic learning materials to get you started, you will find free continuing education in past posts at this blog. 

I hope you take time in our rapidly changing world to slow down, catch your breath, and enjoy the unique opportunity that is facing you right now. Plant a garden and enjoy where it takes you.
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SeedLibraries covergrow a sustainable diet coverAfter being away from this blog since I broke my wrist in March, I’m back! To celebrate my return, I am offering a 25% discount through January 1, 2017 on my cover crop and garden plan DVDs and on my books Grow a Sustainable Diet and Seed Libraries. As always, shipping is free in the US. My DVDs and Grow a Sustainable Diet are educational tools and used in the sustainable agriculture program at Reynolds Community College in Goochland, VA where I used to teach. When I produced them, I had in mind those who couldn’t take my classes in person. So, if you have been wanting to learn more about cover crops, garden planning, garden plan dvd coverplannicover-crop-dvd-blogng your diet around your garden, and planning your permaculture homestead, take advantage of this opportunity to purchase an educational  program that will walk you through the process and help you apply your new found information to your own situation. Or, you may have someone on your holiday gift list that would benefit from these materials. You’ll find these sale prices on my website at www.HomeplaceEarth.com, along with deals for a few great books that I didn’t write.


flax flowers in the garden

I did enjoy my time off from writing. No matter what you are involved in, it is always good to step back now and then. My wrist has healed nicely, although I am still a bit careful with it. My husband and I took a long-awaited trip to Ireland in May and it was nice not working blog posts around that. In spite of working slower due to my injury, I grew several new crops this year. Flax for linen has been harvested and retted and is


wool yarn nestled among the Japanese indigo plants it was dyed with

waiting for me to build some fiber tools to process it (next on my to-do list). I trialed two kinds of rice this year. I also grew Japanese indigo and used it for some dye work, part of my new focus on fiber and textiles. Once I was sufficiently recovered, I was back to spinning my homegrown naturally-colored cotton for a shirt that I intended to make, weaving the fabric on my small table loom. It’s finished and I wore it for the first time on Thanksgiving.

Working with homegrown fiber is important to me in so many ways. Of course, there was the challenge to see if I could grow, spin, weave, design, and sew garments for myself to wear, and now I have a vest and

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAa shirt. Hurray! I’ve used my time away from this blog to read and learn more about the history of textiles. What was once local production fueled the industrial revolution and the exploiting of people and resources has continued ever since to bring us cheap clothes—way too many cheap clothes. When you shop for clothes I would like you to consider how the people who produced them and the earth that provided the raw materials were compensated to bring you such bargains. There is much to talk about on this subject, so stay tuned. I will be telling you all about my new homegrown, handspun, handwoven, naturally-colored cotton shirt in a future post. I will also be sharing my adventures with the flax, rice, Japanese indigo and other natural dyeing, while I continue addressing the many topics you have enjoyed in this blog.

Learning about my new shirt, however, will have to wait until I fill you in about what has been happening in the seed library world. Seed libraries have been deemed exempt from state seed laws, by the way. You can learn more about that in my next post, which should appear next week. After that I will go back to my old schedule of posting every two weeks.

The video Seed: The Untold Story has been making the rounds and will be shown in Charlottesville, VA on December 8. You need to reserve your ticket ahead of time and you can do that here. After the film there will be a question and answer period with a panel staffed by folks from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and ME. If you go, be sure and catch me afterwards. I’m always happy to meet the people who read my words.homeplace earth

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MEN June-July 2013

Includes Best Staple Crops for Building Food Self-Sufficiency.

To truly feed yourself from your garden, you need to grow staple crops. The current issue (June/July 2013) of Mother Earth News contains an article that I wrote about the subject. You can read Best Staple Crops for Building Food Self-Sufficiency in the print magazine (where these things always look better) or online. The crops that I talk about are potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, wheat, peanuts, winter squash,  dry beans, cabbage, collards, and kale. There are two charts in this article that you might keep for reference. One chart shows suggested varieties of these crops for each region of the continental U.S.  The other chart is “Crop Yields and Calorie Density”. The information posted there is based on my article that appeared in the October/November 2012 issue, with the addition of calories produced. If you don’t have that issue, you can read that article, A Plan for Food Self-Sufficiency, online. The four charts in that article show suggested yields and the number of half-cup servings you might expect per pound of food as it comes from the garden. There are many crops listed, with separate charts for vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes. A fifth chart (online only) that is connected to that article shows yields and oil content of nuts and seeds. 

Includes A Plan for Food Self-Sufficiency

Includes A Plan for Food Self-Sufficiency.

Including staple crops in your garden plan is one thing; finding the variety for each crop that will do well in your climate, that also fits well with your management schedule, is quite another. Besides depending on my own experience, I pored over catalogs and read variety descriptions and gardeners’ internet postings carefully to decide which varieties to include on the regional chart. Ira Wallace of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange was kind enough to go over the chart with me and make suggestions. It helped that we were both at the Virginia Biological Farming Conference in early February and that our booths were right next to each other to afford us the time and opportunity for that discussion. In working on this staple crops article I met Eli Rogosa through email and telephone. She is the director of the Heritage Wheat Conservancy and provided the wheat varieties for the chart. You may have other varieties of these staple crops that do well for you in your garden. If so, I welcome you to post a comment with the crop variety and the general area where you are located. Your comments will be helpful to everyone. To my readers from outside these U.S. regions, I hope you take this opportunity to write a comment to share the varieties you are growing in your part of the world.

Building our personal and regional food supplies will take all of us sharing information and seeds as we develop a new food system independent of corporate America. If we are to succeed, we need to be active participants in the process. Even with the best information and seeds, the learning is in the doing. Get out in the garden and get growing. Your skills and knowledge will develop more each year. For the sake of us all, I wish you well.Homeplace Earth

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chicken house interior with loft

chicken house interior with loft and access to nest boxes for egg collecting

Keeping chickens is a popular thing to do these days and there is a wealth of information for new keepers of the flocks. I have had chickens since 1989 and would like to offer some tips that have proven helpful to me.

If possible, have an area to store feed within the chicken house. That saves trips back and forth from another storage area each day. I store feed in galvanized metal garbage cans. I don’t use plastic garbage cans because I believe they contain pesticides—after all, they are intended for garbage—and animals can chew through them. This feed area needs to be “walled off” from the chicken-living area, which can be done with chicken wire or welded wire fencing. That brings me to my next tip.

In the chicken-living area, it would do you well to arrange to divide that space into two. I read that idea long ago in Gene Logsdon’s Practical Skills (1985, Rodale Press). In my chicken house the divider is made of welded wire fencing for the upper permanent part and wood for the lower removable part. A nail at each side of the bottom part holds it in place. When I want to allow the chickens into the whole area, I remove the bottom panel by pulling out the nails enough to remove the panel. In order to tend to both sections, you need to have a door to each one from your feed room. The doors can be made with a wood frame and wire fencing or you could scrounge old screen doors for this.

This division is most helpful when my chicks come out of the brooder. The outside pen area is divided, also, so that each inside area has its own run. One side, where the chicks are put, has smaller wire to contain the little ones. The rest of the chicken run has 2”x4” wire. Young chicks can slip right through that. The chickens, big and small, can see each other. When the time comes, I can take off the bottom panel in the chicken house and open the gates within the chicken run and they will all be together.

nest box on chicken side

nest box on chicken side

My next tip is to be able to collect the eggs without walking through chicken poop. You might not mind it, but occasionally you might need to have someone else, who is not so much into earthy ways as you are, collect your eggs. Also, chickens can be intimidating to young children and a rooster can be an attack animal. It is best if children don’t have to watch out for that, besides making sure they don’t break any eggs. If you have a feed room, have the nest boxes protrude into that space, with the top opening up for egg collection. If your nest boxes extend to the outside of the chicken house, make sure they are weather-proof. You wouldn’t want rain dripping on your hens as they sit in the nest box. My nest boxes are accessible from the feed area. I made them from scrap wood and used the tongues of old tennis shoes for hinges.

chicken house loft

chicken house loft with grass clippings

My last tip is to put a loft in your chicken house. That gives you space to store straw for bedding—maybe even straw from the grains that you’ve grown. The loft in my chicken house is only over the chicken-living area, allowing more headspace in the feed room. I have an old wooden five foot ladder there to access the loft. I add carbon material over the chicken droppings throughout the year and clean out the chicken house once in the summer. All of it goes to the compost pile. Having that bedding material right there in the loft is nice, especially if it is something I’ve grown.

You can also store grass clippings there. If you have sown white clover in your grass, your “grass hay” will be rich in clover. You can feed that to your chickens, line the nest boxes with it, or use it as bedding. Let the grass dry for a day or two before storing it or spread it out in the loft if it is fresh. When it is dry, you can pile it up. Otherwise, you will have a hot, slimy mess. Look at all the resources you have and make sure they are part of your circle of living. What is left from one thing becomes a resource for another. As much as you can, bring your chickens into your circle.Homeplace Earth

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1"x2" welded wire garden fence

1″x2″ welded wire garden fence

Wherever you live, fencing is necessary to keep predators out and children, pets, and livestock in. It is important to consider which of those functions you want to accomplish. If it is to keep predators out, which predators would that be? That’s the general aim of a garden fence. If it is the neighbor’s (or your) dog, livestock panels will do to keep large dogs out. The spaces in those panels are 6”x8”. They are easy to install and to take with you if you should move. It will not keep rabbits, chickens, and other small critters out. Livestock panels might be your choice to keep livestock in. In All Flesh Is Grass Gene Logsdon suggests using livestock panels as a perimeter fence. You can read more about livestock panels in my blog post In Praise of Livestock Panels. One of the great things they have going for them is that they are rigid. However, that means that they don’t conform to the landscape well, making it look not so good if your ground is not level. 

Welded wire fencing with 2”x4” spaces is probably the most popular option for a garden and for fencing a backyard to keep your dog or children in. It is readily available at building supply stores. I like a 4’ high fence around a garden, unless you have problems with deer. I won’t address dealing with deer in this post. The spaces in that fence will keep most things out, but not baby rabbits. For that reason, I’ve gone to using 1”x2” welded wire fencing for my garden. If you have a dog or cat that takes care of the baby rabbits, that might not be a problem for you. When installing the fence, dig a trench along the fenceline so the bottom few inches can be buried. If you have trouble with groundhogs you might want to bury it deeper. Rocks along the edge of the fence will help to keep animals from digging in. Raccoons can climb over a 4’ high fence, and even a 6’ high wire fence. If they are a problem for you, maybe a border of something prickly on the outside of the fence would help. Welded wire fencing with 2”x4” spaces and 6’ high is a good choice for chicken pens. When attaching it to the posts, if you leave the top foot unattached, it might help to keep raccoons out. They can climb over it, but if the top edge bends out with their weight, it might discourage them. Besides keeping the critters out of your garden during the growing and harvesting season, a good fence will also keep them from grazing your cover crops. If you planted your cover crops at the right time and thought they were off to a good start, only to find they never got any bigger or even disappeared, it could be that the wildlife had considered your garden their personal salad bar during the fall and winter.

4"x4" woven wire fence in the snow

4″x4″ woven wire fence in the snow

Welded wire, like the livestock panels, can’t be stretched and doesn’t conform to changes in elevation. For that, you need woven wire fencing, which I’ve always referred to as field fencing. You would have seen that in pastures. It usually has 6”x6” spaces, but there are more size options available now. You might find woven wire fencing designated as Class 1, but keep looking until you find Class 3 galvanized. Class 3 will last longer. You are going to be putting in the same amount of labor to install it and you don’t want to do it again anytime soon– by that I mean anytime in the next 25 years or more. We installed a Class 3 woven wire fence 27 years ago. Just now some of it needs to be replaced, not because the wire is failing, but because our son pastured oxen in there for awhile when the pasture was inadequate and they leaned over the fence to get that greener grass on the other side. Otherwise, it would be fine and shows no sign of rust. A strand or two of barbed wire along the top or a strand of electrified wire, which we didn’t have, might have helped with those oxen. Moving those animals out sooner is what should have happened. That fence was originally designed to keep in goats and also worked well when we had a milk cow.

One of the size options available now for woven wire fence is 4”x4” and is called sheep and goat fence. If they have horns, sheep and goats can get their heads stuck in the 6” fence and in the livestock panels. We’ve had to take a hacksaw to a livestock panel a couple times to free a goat. (Heavy-duty bolt cutters would have been better, but we didn’t have any on hand at the time.)  When we decided to permanently fence an area in 2006 we went with the 4”x4” sheep and goat Class 3 fencing. One farm supply store only had Class 1, but thanks to the internet, I knew Class 3 was available. Ashland Feed Store went to the effort to get it for us—thank you Danny Adams. It helped that our order was almost a full pallet. If you have a large project coming up, do your planning carefully so that you can get your supplies all at one time. Often farm supply stores have seasonal sales on fence supplies and spring is a good time for that. While we were in the fencing mood, we decided to fence our barnyard. I discovered that full grown hens can’t get through the 4” spacing! They hop through livestock panels and can get through the 6” field fence, but stay put behind the sheep and goat fence. Fencing the barnyard gave us extra grazing if needed for livestock and allowed us to open the gate to the chicken pen during the day, giving the hens access to our whole property except the yard and garden.

woven wire fence corner

woven wire fence corner

If your property is the least bit rolling you will appreciate the fact that woven wire fence can be stretched and will fit to the contours of your land—provided it has the proper support. There needs to be posts in the low spots to hold it there. At the corners you need strong wooden corner posts with another post about 6’ away and a third post connecting the two. About every 100’ there needs to be another set of wooden posts. The rest of the posts (line posts) can be metal t-posts. It might be that you have a lot of cedars on your property and you can cut your own posts. We’ve been growing black locust trees for future fence posts. Some of the other options for woven wire fencing have 2”x4” spacing and one has a wire V within that. That fence is called diamond mesh or V-mesh. I’m considering that for the part of the garden that may have livestock pastured on the outside occasionally and it will also keep out those little rabbits I have trouble with. The woven wire with the smaller spacing was developed for horses, who apparently can’t keep their hooves out of regular fence.   

wooden fence with oak boards

wooden fence with oak boards

Chicken wire is a short-lived fence that might keep chickens in, but doesn’t keep dogs and other critters out. Furthermore, in a few years, it will begin to rust. That said, a 2’ high chicken wire fence would do for a couple years around a garden and it is comparatively inexpensive. After that the rabbits just jump over it, the grass grows up into it, and it will soon begin to rust anyway. Whatever fence you buy, notice the size of the wire. The higher the number (gauge), the smaller the diameter of the wire. A 9 gauge wire is thicker than a 12 gauge wire. Sometimes you don’t have a choice. I’ve noticed the welded wire fencing we got to replace some old fence around the chicken pen is a smaller gauge than what we bought 20+ years ago. A good source for fencing information and supplies is Kencove.com

Of course, you could go with a board fence. In that case, check a lumber yard for oak fence boards. They are generally available in 16’ lengths and are a full 1” thick, and 6” wide. Oak fence boards will last much longer than pressure treated boards. There’s lots more to know, so talk to people, travel around and take pictures, read all you can—then just do it. You can’t make mistakes-just learning experiences.Homeplace Earth

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green and brown cotton bolls with spindleI usually write about food crops and soil building, but today I’m talking about fiber. I have begun to grow cotton and have learned to spin it using a spindle. Growing and using cotton is more than just a new craft for me. It adds diversity to my garden, which is important in a permaculture garden, and it helps me connect with factors beyond the garden. Plants are grown around the world for more things than food. If our gardens are to provide for us and if we are ever going to be free from corporate domination, we need to consider everything. From our plants we can get food, fuel, medicine, fiber, dyes, and so on. The movement to make available food grown in a sustainable manner to everyone is gaining momentum. What about obtaining our other needs from sustainable sources?       

When India was a colony of Britain, Indian cotton was shipped to Britain and the Indians had to buy it back as fabric. Gandhi promoted spinning as an act of independence. If the Indians spun and used their own cotton, they would be free of British control of that resource. In fact, Gandhi had a contest to develop a small spinning wheel that was portable enough that people could easily spin in public and the box charka was born. What better act of nonviolent protest but to spin cotton into thread and yarn in public! Unfortunately, today Indian cotton farmers face another peril with the introduction of GMO cotton seeds. In 2000 I heard Vandana Shiva speak about the number of suicides among cotton farmers in India. They had been convinced to grow GMO cotton by Monsanto and things were not going well. The problems continue to this day. Please take the time to listen to her tell you about it here. Shiva’s organization Navdanya goes into these areas with open pollinated seeds to help the farm families recover.

In doing some research for this post I was heartened to find that there are projects underway to promote the sustainable growing of cotton around the world and in the U.S. You can find more about that at http://www.sustainablecottons.com/. Where is the fabric coming from for your cotton clothes? Begin looking for a Fairtrade label for cotton. Also, consider how the cotton you buy gets its color. Cotton grows naturally in more colors than white. Pakucho is the brand name of cotton from a project developed in Peru to revive the growing of colored cotton on small farms.

green cotton fiber and seeds--BLOG

1 ounce green cotton fiber/seeds

In 2004 I came across an article in Spin-Off magazine about a woman who had grown the cotton that she then spun (with a spindle) and wove into fabric for a shirt. You can read “My Cotton Shirt” here. At least I knew that my idea of growing cotton and making a shirt out of it wasn’t totally crazy. I did grow some cotton around that time, but I didn’t know anyone who was spinning cotton and I was busy with other things, so the harvest was stored away. The only spinners I knew worked with wool and said that, since cotton had such a short fiber, it was really hard to spin. I figured that if spinning cotton was all I knew, spinning cotton would be my normal and that wouldn’t be a problem. After all, people have spun cotton down through the ages so I should be able to learn this. For the past two summers I grew both Erlene’s Green and Nankeen Brown cotton. The seeds came from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange the first year and I saved them after that. There are a lot of seeds in cotton. In one ounce of green cotton that I weighed, 75% of that ounce was 185 seeds and 25% of that ounce was fiber.   

I turned to Joan Ruane to learn to spin the fiber into yarn, once I found her video Cotton Spinning With the Takli. A takli spindle is what is recommended for cotton and that’s what I’ve been using. My husband gave me her kit with fiber, spindle, and DVD as a gift and it was a great way to get started. It was very slow going at first, though. I had to remind myself of how it was when I taught myself to knit—only this seemed harder. Clothos Handspinners, a group of wonderful folks into handspinning, came to my rescue. At the first meeting I attended in November, 2011, Judith spent time teaching me some basics and I will be forever grateful. Most of the members show up with their spinning wheels, but there are some, like me, who are using a spindle. Most work in wool, but not exclusively. I am not interested in getting a wheel right now because I want to master the spindle. Besides, I want to see how much skill and knowledge I can gain with the least money spent. Another DVD that has helped me is Spinning Cotton by Stephanie Gaustad. If my garden DVDs have helped people as much as these cotton DVDs have helped me, I will be happy. My goal is to make a vest out of my homegrown, homespun cotton, so I’ll be learning to weave next. After that comes the shirt.

seeds and green spun cotton from 1 ounce fiber/seeds--plus spindle

seeds and green spun cotton from 1 ounce fiber/seeds–plus spindle

Cotton needs hot weather and a lot of sun. The varieties I grow take 130 days to mature, but it differs by variety. Sea Island White  requires 160 days. Start the seeds and set out transplants as you would tomatoes. I’ve heard of growing cotton in containers and bringing it inside when the weather turns cold if you live in a marginal climate. In my 2012 garden I harvested 2.5 pounds of green fiber and seed in an 80 ft.² bed. That works out to about .75 lb. fiber per 100 ft.² (and lots of seeds). The brown cotton harvest was equivalent to one pound fiber per 100 ft². I had 7-12 bolls on each plant. Now that I’m paying attention, I believe that I can better that harvest. The U.S. average is 1.7 pounds fiber per 100 ft². You could begin with just a few plants among your flowers.

knitted homegrown cotton sampleGrowing colored cotton has been really interesting. After cotton has been spun, it needs to be boiled to set the twist. When you do that, the color deepens. The green spun cotton shown with the spindle and seeds is the same cotton that is shown as fiber in the other photo with the seeds. In the sample that I’ve knitted, the deep green and brown colors are the natural colors after boiling the spun fiber. The white is what I grew years ago with only an inkling of an idea that I might want to do this sometime.

In 2007 a new charka was introduced in India. This e-charka allows the spinner to produce electricity while he/she spins. A battery stores the electricity to operate an LED light and a transistor radio. Spinning cotton by hand is still important in rural areas of India and elsewhere and this new charka will increase the quality of life for these spinners. Gandhi would be proud. For now, at least, I’ll stick with my spindle. Growing cotton and learning to spin it is a wonderful project. Doing it with children gives them a great glimpse into history. There are so many things you could talk about with them when you are working with the plants and fiber. As you spin your own homegrown fiber, keep in mind all those farmers who are keeping the old skills and seeds alive. Every good thought we have goes out as a ripple that eventually connects us all.Homeplace Earth

For more thoughts on growing and spinning cotton see http://www.motherearthnews.com/permaculture/grow-spin-cotton.aspx#axzz2LRWabZ00

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Master Nut Cracker1-BLOG

Master Nut Cracker

                                                                                                                              We have a couple of black walnut trees near our driveway. Until 2008 I had only paid passing attention to them, never taking the time to harvest the nuts at the right time. To do that, every day or two I would have to pick up the green balls that fell from the trees and throw them in the driveway. Driving over them would remove the green husks. Then I would gather the nuts to air-dry and store for later. If they weren’t gathered from the ground in a timely manner, I would find worms in them. Shelling them was a challenge. I tried cracking them using a hammer and by squeezing them in a vice. Both methods were unsatisfactory. You can find information about these methods and more at http://www.nemahaweb.com/blackwalnuts/crackers.htm. Black walnuts are much harder than the English walnuts you would find in the grocery store and regular nutcrackers won’t work for them. Finally I called my friend Margaret to borrow her black walnut cracker.

Margaret and Jerry moved to their 50 acre farm in late 1982. They had black walnut trees in the yard and intended to make use of them. When Margaret told me of her search for a suitable nutcracker, I told her of an article I had recently read in the December 1983 issue of Organic Gardening magazine. I located that issue on my bookshelf while preparing to write this post. It still contained a note to Xerox the article for Margaret. (Back then we didn’t copy things, we Xeroxed them.) The article profiled four nutcrackers suitable for hard-shelled nuts—hickories, butternuts, and black walnuts. The Potter nutcracker was one of them, and the one owned by the authors, Mike and Nancy Bubel.  At the time, I had also checked my copy of Home Food Systems which listed the Potter as the “largest, heaviest, most powerful nutcracker we tested.” Home Food Systems was published in 1981. Margaret bought one and has used it all these years.

Potter nut cracker-BLOG

Margaret’s Potter Nut Cracker

Our black walnut trees seem to bear every other year, so I didn’t throw myself into thinking about black walnuts again until the fall of 2010. The Resilient Gardener by Carol Deppe was hot off the press and the green balls were, once again, raining down. Deppe talks about gathering nuts in her book, specifically the need to get them off the ground promptly. I borrowed Margaret’s Potter nutcracker again. However, the best way to store nuts is in the shell, with the cracking done as needed. It became clear that I should have my own tool. With the harvest skipping a year, there were no new nuts to crack in 2011, but I still had some left from 2010 to play with. I had my eye out for a used Potter, since they aren’t manufactured anymore. What I found is the Master Nut Cracker, similar to the Potter.

My husband gave me a Master Nut Cracker for Christmas last year. It is the one in the top photo and it came with a bag of black walnuts. It was just what I needed for my black walnuts—and as I found later—for the hazelnuts (filberts) and peanuts. My husband had also given me small vice grips to use for the hazelnuts, an improvement over my other methods. I thought my hazelnuts would be too small for the Master Nut Cracker, but I found that it cracked all but the very smallest. Eventually I realized that I could shell peanuts with it, also.

This nut cracker lives up to its expectations for cracking black walnuts. If you see advertisements for nutcrackers, read them carefully. If they list walnuts (rather than black walnuts), they mean English walnuts, which are easier to shell. One of the great things about this nutcracker is that it has a second set of anvils. You can see these in the picture. They’re inserted into their storage holes to the right on the board. Just unscrew the larger anvils and put these in and you’re all set to crack smaller nuts. These smaller anvils are what I put on for the hazelnuts. The anvils are concave, allowing you to crack the shells without smashing everything together, which is what happens using the hammer method.

If you are thinking of getting a Master Nut Cracker, be on the watch for the Duke Nutcracker. The Duke is a Chinese knock-off and of lesser quality, according to what I’ve read. Often Chinese look-alikes are inferior and will soon break or be less than enjoyable to use. Do your internet homework and order from Gerald Gardner, developer of the Master Nut Cracker, himself. You will have to send a check to him and the address is on his website, along with the story of how it all came to be. You might want to put a Master Nut Cracker on your Christmas wish list, like I did. Happy cracking!


More about my experiences with the Master Nut Cracker at http://www.motherearthnews.com/permaculture/master-nut-cracker.aspx

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