The Phelan Family’s Minibed Gardening Adventure (A Most Excellent Photo Essay)…

In late December 2020, my wife and I began to rethink our garden. We were planning to move into a new house in the spring of 2021, so we would have a new place and thought it might be a good time to try something new. I’ve been an avid reader of Herrick Kimball for well over a decade, maybe closer to 15 years, and I was very inspired by his new minibed gardening technique. With his technique in mind and his minibed trilogy in hand (I bought the PDF and had Office Depot print it and bind it for me), my wife and I spent several dozen hours planning our new garden. I hope you enjoy this little photo essay we put together to show some of the joy we found in minibed gardening. I hope it inspires you to try it! —Grady Phelan, Waco, Texas

We rented a small trencher that trenched about 4 inches wide and 18 or 20 inches deep.
Using a string line we trenched around the minibed area. We wanted to prevent Bermuda grass from coming under the plastic, so we folded the plastic down in the trench to create a rhizome barrier.
Here we are finishing the square. Notice how we trench past the other line so we got a good corner. The corners need to be cleaned out with a small shovel or by hand.
Our silage tarp is 40′ x 50′ so I made our square about 38′ x 47′ so the trench would get at least 12 inches of plastic down inside. We also used 30 inch minibeds but we did a full 24″ between the beds for walkways and from the last bed to the edge of the plastic.
Here we are beginning the box assembly process. We set up a jig on the picnic table so we could easily square up the corners of the boards.
Twenty-four, and counting.
Using a sharp pocket knife and a 1/2″ guiding stick, we cut the plastic out of the first 24 minibeds.
We used 3/8 inch rebar in three of the corners, just like Herrick suggested. Seems to work great.
After scrounging some more lumber, we made the rest of the minibeds. 80 in all.
Instead of cutting all the plastic out of all the minibeds this first year, we decided to only cut out what we needed for each plant. Here are the minibeds we plan to use for tomatoes.
For our peppers we cut out the plastic, planted the transplants and then mulched with straw. This seemed to work great!

We tried this method for drying out our peppers. Simply put the peppers on a string and hang them out in the sun and wind to dry. It worked great!
Peppers in the front and little okra plants toward the back. The okra seems so fragile at the beginning…
… but they grow up so fast!
We save okra seed every year. This is our third generation for the “Star of David” variety.
One of the best things about the minibed garden is that it is kid friendly! We have five children and they are all able to help or otherwise participate in the garden. It’s very easy to know where to walk and where the crops are being grown. It’s also easy to show them how to distinguish weeds from the crop in the minibed. I always felt that doing the work in bite-sizes helped keep me motivated, and this garden is the same way.

You can’t BEET this! Harvest time is very rewarding in the garden.
Even our littlest one loves the garden. She’s able to stay out of the beds… for the most part.

Don’t forget to plant flowers!
We really love our new minibed garden! Even though we are only one year in, minibed gardening looks to be very successful for many years ahead, even in Texas!


Herrick’s Comments…

This photo essay pretty much speaks for itself. Obviously, it isn’t just about a minibed garden. It’s about a down-to-earth family working together. It’s about parents teaching their children from a young age how to grow their own food, which is one of the most important life skills a human should know. This is truly inspiring, and powerfully endearing.

Thank you, Grady Phelan, for sharing your beautiful family, and your family’s minibed gardening adventure here!

For those who are not familiar with the Minibed gardening system, you can watch several YouTube videos HERE. And the Minibed Gardening Trilogy PDF is available HERE.

A Gift of Chestnut Trees

Back a year or so, I was at one of my monthly town board meetings and another board member brought a leaf from a tree. He wondered if anyone knew what kind of tree it came from. I immediately identified it as coming from a chestnut tree. He seemed surprised that I knew what it was (no one else did). A conversation about the once-mighty-and-ubiquitous American chestnut ensued.

For those who don’t know about the chestnut tree, here is a quote from the American Chestnut Foundation web site:

“More than a century ago, nearly four billion American chestnut trees were growing in the eastern U.S. They were among the largest, tallest, and fastest-growing trees. The wood was rot-resistant, straight-grained, and suitable for furniture, fencing, and building. The nuts fed billions of wildlife, people and their livestock. It was almost a perfect tree, that is, until a blight fungus killed it more than a century ago. The chestnut blight has been called the greatest ecological disaster to strike the world’s forests in all of history.”

It turns out that my town-board friend grows chestnut trees. He starts them from seed, and he offered to give me some seedlings. I finally took him up on his offer yesterday. The 4 chestnut seedlings you see in the picture above are what he gifted me.

I stopped by my friend’s place in the morning and he gave me a tour of all his projects. The house he lives in, and the land around it was his grandparent’s farm. That’s something unique and special, and he knows it.

The huge black walnut trees behind the house are hard to miss. He has a sawmill, and a woodworking shop. He showed me an old fanning mill that he is restoring. And then his tree nursery, a small, fenced section full of all kinds of young trees—honey locust, cottonwood, elm, and chestnut among them.

Here and there, in the rotting wood chips of the nursery area were large wine cap mushrooms (Stropharia rugosoannulata). I’ve never eaten a wine cap mushroom, but I’m intrigued by the prospect. My friend says they are delicious fried with butter.

So, along with my chestnut seedlings, I got a quantity of rotted wood-chip-mould, held tightly together with a mass of mycelium. The mould was growing wine caps and is likely full of the spores.

Before the day was out, I had the four chestnut trees planted. I placed three on the wood’s edge behind my home. The fourth I planted at the end of my row of Concord grapes, near my property line, surrounded by my comfrey patch, as you can see in this next photo…

As for the spore-filled wood mould, I crumbled and spread it around a couple of rotting tree stumps in the woods next to my house.

My friend works at Cornell. He’s an engineer, not a forester, at least not in any official sense of the word. He gleaned the seeds that my trees were grown from off the ground under blight-resistant Chestnuts that are growing on the Cornell campus. They are hybrids. They have genetic diversity. When such trees are planted, grown to produce flowers, cross pollinated by bees, which then produce seeds, the trees grown from those seeds will have even more genetic diversity. Which means they should have an even better chance of surviving chestnut blight.

I am delighted to have four chestnut trees. It would be so wonderful to see them grow to maturity. I hope my soil and their situation is to their liking.

Salve, Ointment & Liniment Recipes From 1867… For Horses

As some of you may already know, I like to go to estate sales and buy things to resell on Ebay. It’s my most enjoyable side hustle. A big part of the enjoyment is finding things like this old receipt book. “Receipt” is the archaic word for recipe.

This notebook has a date of 1867 at the end of one of the receipts, as you can see in this next picture…

When I first found this book, I thought the receipts were for humans, but on closer inspection, the various formulas appear to be for horses. But I think some might also be of use for human conditions.

Much of the old handwriting is difficult to decipher. The writing was, no doubt, done with a goose quill, which the farmer would have saved from one of his geese. In this next picture you can see a small bit of 150-year-old down stuck to the book.

The ingredients for making the various receipts in this old book include turpentine, alcohol, sweet-oil (olive oil), camphor gum, saltpeter, beeswax, white pine pitch, and hog lard, to name a few, along with several names I can’t figure out.

This little black book was, no doubt, an important reference for the farmer. Many of these receipts were likely shared among the farmers in a community, and passed down from previous generations. This is a book of mostly lost wisdom.

Who Is Defending America?

There has been an ongoing and obvious effort to destroy America’s military strength and morale. It is part of the nationwide, institutional self-destruction that we are all now living through. The YouTube video above was sent to me by my internet friend, Kire, in Macedonia. The ending appears to be something that The Babylon Bee might make up. But this is not satire. And this is no joke.

Howard King’s Recent Post Questions Where Technology Is Taking Us

Howard Douglas King posted an essay to his blog yesterday titled: Robots Are Fascinating But Where is This Technology Taking Us? It’s a short and worthwhile read. Here are a few of pull quotes…

The industrial revolution began the destruction of the traditional agrarian way of life by displacing the rural people from their lands and traditional employments; forcing them to go to the cities and work as wage-slaves with their wives and children in dreary and unsafe conditions, or starve.

The industrial revolution morphed over time into our modern technological society – less brutal in some ways – but far from the God ordained plan for the life of man. Most people hate their jobs. Some hate their jobs because they are sedentary; some because they are too physically or psychologically demanding; some because their employers pay less than a living wage for a hard and stressful day’s work. But I believe that the number one reason is because their tasks are in themselves meaningless and unfulfilling; being so far from yielding a real and necessary benefit to anyone.

The technological society can never solve the human problems and tragedies it has created and is creating today. People should be tilling the land on self-supporting family farms, living near their relatives for mutual support, taking care of their own sick, disabled and elderly, as God intended when He made man to be a tiller of the soil.(see Genesis 2:5-8) Freedom and independence; a natural connection with the creation, plants and animals; and a character building life of hard work: these are a few of the benefits that accrue on a free agricultural homestead.

Snow Tires in August? … You Betcha!

I planned to get snow tires for this winter last month (July), but I procrastinated and got them a couple weeks ago. I don’t normally buy snow tires in the summer, but this year is different. As you know, there are worldwide shortages of numerous things. But did you know one of those things is rubber?

I bought the tires from my local garage. There was no problem getting them. Their supplier had a few dozen of the tire size that I needed. But, my goodness, they were expensive!

If you are a tire consumer, you might want to read this article: Rubber Shortfall Means Tire Shortages Are Around The Corner. I bought my tires before I read that article. But not before I watched this YouTube video: What The Rubber Apocalypse Means For The US Economy. That YouTube clip is worth watching and considering.

Rubber trees that produce the world’s supply of natural latex are a clonal monocrop. Every rubber tree is genetically identical to other rubber trees; there is no genetic diversity. This is a recipe for disaster, and it wouldn’t be the first time disaster hit the world’s clonal rubber tree plantations…

Rubber used to come almost exclusively from South America. But the rubber tree plantations in South America (Brazil, primarily) were wiped out by a leaf blight in the early 1900s. To this day, even with modern chemical fungicides, rubber trees can not be grown on a commercial scale in South America. Some natural latex (approximately 1% of worldwide production) does come from South America, but it comes from trees that grow wild in the Amazon basin, not in plantations.

These days, the world’s rubber supply comes primarily from Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand. Vietnam and China have been ramping up production. But those plantations are as vulnerable to disease as the plantations of South America were.

Approximately 40% of worldwide rubber consumption is natural latex from rubber trees. 60% is synthetic rubber. Synthetic rubber can not totally replace natural rubber because it does not have the durability of natural rubber. “physicochemical properties” they call it. For example, a synthetic rubber tire can not endure the landing stress of an airplane or jet. Those tires have to be almost completely made of natural rubber.

I watched a documentary a few years ago (can’t find it now) that explained that the industrial economy of the world must have natural rubber. That includes the military-industrial economy. If natural rubber becomes unavailable, the industrial economy will grind to a halt. If the supply becomes limited, prices will naturally go up and shortages may occur. That may be where we are now.

This situation is not something to worry about. It is what it is, and it will be what it will be. But if you’re going to need snow tires for this winter, you might want to get them sooner, rather than later.

Pallet Kindling & The End of Summer

Goldenrod now, across from my house.

I acknowledge the end of summer when the goldenrod is in full bloom, and that is where we are now in upstate New York, USA.

As explained in my Planet Whizbang Idea Book For Gardeners, David Burpee, president of the Burpee Seed Company, lobbied hard and long to have the marigold legally declared America’s national flower. Burpee reasoned, in part, that the marigold would thrive in all 50 states. But Katherine White (wife of E.B., my favorite author) would have none of that. She asserted that goldenrod was more deserving…

“The goldenrod also has the advantage—if it were to be our national flower—of owning nothing to man, or enriching no seed company, or companies, and of being as wild as our national bird, the eagle. Canaries, like marigolds, presumably thrive in all fifty states, yet no one would dream of nominating the canary as the national bird.”

I think Mrs. White’s argument was solid and compelling, but the rose eventually ended up being declared America’s national flower.

Nevertheless, I am a great admirer of goldenrod. When the bloom is full, and the August sun is just right, arching goldenrod flower heads practically glow with their radiant beauty.

Unfortunately, the blooms portend cold and snow. Winter is certainly not imminent in August, but it definitely begins to crowd my thoughts when I see those goldenrod blossoms. Having enough split chunks of firewood for the wood stove is my main concern, but so is kindling.

Old pallets make decent kindling, and I was offered an enormous pallet last week by the truck driver who delivered my most recent shipment of poultry shrinkbags. I never turn down pallets when they’re offered to me.

The pallet was so heavy that I could not lift one end of it. But the driver lifted the end and pushed it off the back of his truck without too much effort. He is younger than me and bigger than me, but the fact is I have become alarmingly weak in recent years. The aging process is very humbling.

This morning I cut the pallet into short lengths, as you can see in the picture above. And I am splitting it into kindling pieces with my Kindling Cracker Firewood Splitter. I bought the kindling cracker a few years back and screwed it down to a chunk of wood so it’s at a convenient working height. I bought it primarily for Marlene because she wanted to split kindling, and I didn’t want her to hurt herself with an ax or hatchet.

Marlene used it some, but I’ve used it a lot more. It’s not a tool I use a lot, but it sure does come in handy when I need it. I would classify it as a “Whizbang” tool, which is to say it is “conspicuous for speed, excellence, and startling effect.”

The wood is some sort of pine. It’s very wet (which would explain, in part, why the pallet was so heavy). I’ll split the pieces, fill the Whizbang garden cart, and leave it out in the sun to dry for a few weeks. The cart can be covered with a trap when rain threatens.

A cart full of dry pine kindling like that will last us a long time.

Are you ready for winter?

A Picnic Table For Children, And One Of My Early Side-Hustles

Last year, my middle son built himself a new pole barn workshop. He is the mechanic of the family. The shop is a wise investment, especially for him at his age. And he managed to build it without getting a bank loan, which warms my debt-loathing heart. But his shop and talents are not limited to just mechanics. He has carpentry skills too, as the child-size picnic table above shows.

The little girl is his daughter. She is one year old. She likes her new table, as this next picture attests…

If you would like to make one of these little picnic tables, here is the plan my son used: Buildeazy Picnic Table Plan

Picnic tables like that remind me of the period in my life, shortly after Marlene and I were married, when we lived with her parents for a couple years. Their house was on a busy road. It was the early 1980s and I was working as a carpenter’s helper, learning my trade. I came up with the side-hustle idea of making and selling picnic tables. Marlene’s dad had a roomy pole barn behind the house where I could make the tables.

So, I made one and put it by the road with a sign and price. It sold fast. I made more. They were selling as quick as I could make them. I got tired (or more like bored) making them and stopped. Then Marlene’s father asked if I minded if he made and sold them.

Her father was a retired dairy farmer. He didn’t really need the money. He needed a productive project. He had lived through the Great Depression and worked hard his whole life. Men like that can’t just sit around and do nothing in their old age. Picnic tables were something he could make as he had the time and energy. The money he made selling them was validation. It put a smile on his face to sell something he had made and get the cash.

Before long, Marlene’s dad was making trellis structures, and wishing wells, and anything else he could think of to sell to passers by out in the front yard. It was all good.

What’s Right vs. What’s Popular

Several years ago I posted a blog titled Aphorisms of The Fathers (And The Mothers). I asked readers to provide short, thoughtful sayings of wisdom from their parents. It is a worthwhile read.

To that list I would like to add the above, which I got from Joe Oltmann in This Interview. Mr. Oltmann attributes the quote to his father.

Every parent and grandparent needs a good supply of such aphorisms!

It Took Three Generations For Joel Salatin’s Family To Get Back To The Farm

Joel Salatin is always inspiring. This 2019 video by Justin Rhodes provides a great look at the Salatin farm, and Joel tells his family’s story. It’s a wonderful multigenerational story. If you’ve read Joel’s books, you know how it goes, but it’s well worth hearing Joel tell it. As an added bonus, we get to see Joel drink cow-style out of one of his cattle stock watering tanks.

10 Things You Won’t Find In A Good Marriage

If you haven’t yet heard of Todd Friel of WRETCHED (formerly Wretched Radio), the above video is a good introduction. Better yet, his presentation of 10 things you won’t find in a good marriage is an excellent condensed marriage counseling session. Fact is, it’s the best wisdom for a successful marriage that I’ve heard in a long time. If, like myself, you have married children, you might want to pass this along to them. That’s what I’ve done.

Personally speaking, I don’t have a good marriage. I have a great marriage. And as the years pass (41 of them so far), I realize what a rare and special thing my marriage is. Nevertheless, I’m sure I can be a better husband, and I’m glad I happened upon Todd’s Biblically sound advice. Everything Todd Friel says in this video resonates with me.

This is one of those videos that once you watch it, you want to share it with everyone you know.


Years of Work to Smoke and Ash

Nineteen years ago I self-published 100 copies of Anyone Can Build a Tub-Style Mechanical Chicken Plucker at a local quick-print shop. Three years earlier, I had experienced nearly-complete financial loss and consequent personal depression with the failure of a newsletter venture. It was, without any doubt, the lowest point of my life. My enthusiasm for making money as a writer was gone.

But, in time, the entrepreneurial urge returned. Those first 100 copies of the plucker plan book amounted to a very modest financial investment (less than $1,000). Creating the book took a lot of hours but it was relatively easy. Selling it was the hard part. How do you sell a homemade, photocopied book?

I was part of a Yahoo poultry discussion group back then and offered to send a copy of my humble new plan book with an invoice to anyone. I told them that I would trust them to pay me after they received the book.

The first person to request a copy was a man in Australia. I mailed the book right out, with the invoice. The guy never paid me. And I’ve never forgotten it.

The good news is that other people in that Yahoo group took me up on my offer and they all paid me. In fact, I’ve shipped goods before getting paid several times since then and I have always been paid. There are plenty of psychopathic people among us, but precious few of them raise chickens, or live a down-to-earth lifestyle. That’s my theory anyway.

In due time, thanks in large part to the internet, word got out that my plucker plans were worthwhile. Long story short, I ended up selling a LOT of chicken plucker books (the book still sells pretty well) and more products followed. That book allowed me to achieve a long-held dream (since I was 16 years old) of having my own home-based mail order business. It’s a good story, and I am thankful to God for the measure of success I have experienced.

Along with the growth of my business came a lot of paperwork. I have kept an invoice copy of every sale, along with the usual mass of other business receipts. The accumulated boxes of papers since 2002 have become a bother. So I decided to get all the paperwork from 2002 to 2015 out of my life. Here is the pile…

And here is the just-lit pile. Notice the gasoline fuse…

Those boxes of paper represented 14 years of focused effort and countless hours of work. Most of the work was accomplished while holding down a state prison job (I left the State job in 2013). My capacity for work and my ability to accomplish things was far more then than it is now.

I saved one invoice from all those years. It is the invoice for the first plucker book I sold—to the guy from Australia who never paid me (pictured below).

Thanks for nothing, Lyndon.

On Striving Valiantly

This morning I woke up with a desire to read Theodore Roosevelt’s The Man in the Arena speech. I found the 2-minute YouTube clip above. Roosevelt communicated brilliantly and powerfully with the words in that clip, and the RedFrost Motivation production does it great justice. Emotion wells up in me when I listen to that.

Roosevelt knew from long experience what it was to be the Man in the arena. He was 52 when he gave the speech. He had experienced exhilarating victories and crushing defeats in his life.

Roosevelt’s words apply to our time, and to the Lawful Resistance Movement that I blogged about earlier this year (HERE). I am not a cynic. I love underdog fighters who step into the arena to battle for truth and justice.

Yesterday a friend sent me the clip below of Tammy Bruce on Fox news. I don’t watch Fox news. I never heard of Tammy Bruce. She is in the Arena. She sums up the situation in America very eloquently.

I’ve heard that Tucker Carlson writes his own copy for every show. That’s impressive. Does Tammy Bruce do the same? Whoever wrote her words in this clip is a master of communication.

The bottom line here is that America-as-we-once-knew-it is now in The Arena, and it is an epic slugfest.