Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Plan for Food Self-Sufficiency

Providing high-quality food for your family year-round takes foresight and planning, plus healthy doses of commitment and follow-through. Whether you grow as much of your food as you can or you source it from local producers, the guidelines here will help you decide how much to produce or purchase. The charts linked to in “Plan How Much to Grow” later in this article will also help you estimate how much space you’ll need — both in your garden to grow the crops, and in your home and pantry or root cellar to store preserved foods. Here’s a step-by-step plan to help you make the best use of your garden space (or farmers markets) to move toward homestead food self-sufficiency.

1. Establish Your Goals

Make a list of the foods you and your family eat now — and note the quantities as well. The charts linked to in “Plan How Much to Grow” further along in this article assume a half-cup serving size for fruits, vegetables and legumes, and a 2-ounce serving for dry grains. If your servings differ from the charts, be sure to adjust your calculations accordingly.
Decide what you’d like to grow, noting the foods your family prefers and recognizing that not every crop will grow in every climate. Research different crop varieties: Some crops — such as melons — require long, hot days to mature, but certain varieties need fewer days to reach maturity, which allows them to be grown in areas with a shorter growing season.
Don’t be afraid to start small and build gradually toward food self-sufficiency. A good starting goal might be to produce all of a certain crop that you use. An early milestone for me was growing all of the green beans we needed for a year and all of the ingredients for the spaghetti sauce I canned. Maybe you’ll aim to eat at least one thing from your garden each day. Keep your goals in mind as you’re planning a garden.

2. Choose a Gardening Method

I recommend following the guidelines of “Grow Biointensive Sustainable Mini-Farming” as developed by John Jeavons at Ecology Action in Willits, Calif., and explained in his book How to Grow More Vegetables and Fruits, Nuts, Berries and Other Crops Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine. Jeavons’ form of biointensive gardening, which can sometimes produce higher yields than less intensive approaches, focuses on eight principles:
  • Deep soil preparation
  • Composting
  • Intensive planting
  • Companion planting
  • Growing crops for carbon and grains
  • Growing crops for sufficient calories from a small area
  • Using open-pollinated seeds
  • Integrating all processes into a whole, interrelated system.
Using biointensive gardening methods, garden beds are double-dug and compost is made from crops grown for that purpose (some of which, such as corn, also provide food). Together, these techniques create a system that not only feeds the soil but also builds and improves the ecosystem. You can see these biointensive gardening techniques in action on the DVD “Cover Crops and Compost Crops in Your Garden” (available at Homeplace Earth).

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Transitions: Preparing the Farmer for Winter

I enjoy operating my Micro Dairy year round though I have to admit spring and fall are my favorite times of the year. I am not a fan of the extremes of winter or summer. I can get the most work done when the temperatures are moderate and, at 63 years old, I tend to hide from the high summer sun rather than bask in it. At least during the winter I can put more clothes on to stay warm outside. 

Winter certainly does present its own set of conditions that farmers in snow country must adjust to every fall. First, there is darkness; it is dark when I wake up and dark when I do my evening chores. Having good lighting inside the barns and out is very important. The flood light outside my barn has a motion detector so it turns on and lights up the barnyard when the cows or I go outside when it is dark. That is very helpful. I also recommend installing lighting in the sheds or other outbuildings where you work in the winter. But don’t feel the need to do everything all at once. Every fall I like to make one or two minor improvements to my Micro Dairy in preparation for the winter. 

Next there is the snow, and when it snows there is always plowing and shoveling. In the fall I try to make sure that the areas where I push the snow are open and clear. That means making sure that my firewood is stacked and all my machinery is out of the way. I take down temporary fencing next to the road and driveways. Plowing snow is non-productive at best so I do all I can to eliminate complications and or opportunities to damage my tractor or other pieces of equipment.

I have to admit that sometimes the thought of the coming winter in Vermont can be a little daunting, especially if you operate your Micro Dairy alone, as I do. Back when my wife and I had a larger farm and milked 70 Jersey cows, our kids were younger and chore time was a family affair. Everyone pitched in. But now it is just me, trudging up to the barn in the snow and cold every morning and night. Since I am neither a hero nor a martyr, this winter I decided to lighten my load and sell two of my four cows. I kept one bred heifer and one milking cow so I would have milk to feed a beefer calf I am raising. Doing that essentially cut my chore time in half and reduced the hay and grain I will feed out this winter by 50 percent.

Milking cows twice a day can get tiresome, especially when you also have a day job. It is important to remember that having a small farm or a Micro Dairy allows you the flexibility to sell a few, or, even all of your cows and take a break for a season or two. If you have a larger herd you can sell your milkers and keep your calves and heifers and get back into it slowly when they begin to come into milk. The choice is yours. There is no dishonor in taking a little break.

I believe the keys to Milking cows twice a day can get tiresome, especially when you also have a day job. It is important to remember that having a small farm or a Micro Dairy allows you the flexibility to sell a few, or, even all of your cows and take a break for a season or two. If you have a larger herd you can sell your milkers and keep your calves and heifers and get back into it slowly when they begin to come into milk. The choice is yours. There is no dishonor in taking a little break.

I believe the keys to preparing for the upcoming winter of a Micro Dairy in regions that get cold, snowy and dark at 4 p.m. are first to make small improvements to your facility that will make it easier, quicker and more efficient to operate. Make a list of any small annoyances from the previous winter that you can correct. And then look for opportunities to reduce your workload wherever and however possible. Selling two cows and putting lights in the shed adjacent to my barn has made a huge difference for me this winter. Owning and managing a Micro Dairy is a matter of choice. Don’t allow yourself to get stuck in drudgery. Keep making small improvements to your farm and routines and soon the warm spring winds will once again blow and the grass on south facing slopes will begin to green up. In the meantime, button up!

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Hatching Eggs in the Wintertime

It's inevitable — every single year I get the urge to hatch chicks or ducklings, and every single time I decide to hatch them during the coldest months of the year. My logic is simple and honest — if I hatch in the Fall or Winter, then they will be laying by the time Spring and Summer come. But hatching during cold and unpredictable months can be a set up for heartache and failure. Between varying temperature's indoors, the threat of loosing power during a snow storm, and having to keep chicks indoors until they are fully feathered - it's a mess, to say the least.

Never-the-less, I always end up outweighing the pro's to the con's, and the hatching begins in October and normally ends in March — only to start back up again in the Spring and Summer. It's never ending. My most recent hatch was just this fall, when I welcomed a new and ancient breed to our homestead — Icelandic Chickens.

Over the past two seasons I've learned quite a bit through trial and error, and ultimately, hatching through the Winter isn't as scary as it once used to be. Here are some things you'll need to consider and prepare for when taking on this commitment during the harsh Winter months.

Being Prepared for the Electric to Fail Your Incubator

More likely than not, if you're living in a Central or Northern state, you'll receive at least one significant snowfall during the year. In Virginia, the temperature and weather are so unpredictable that I need to be on guard at all times. This means I need to find a few easy ways to keep my incubator warm, if I'm not using a miraculously broody hen indoors.

Having an alternate heat source in your home is certainly a bonus. Using a kerosene heater, wood stove, or hooking up a space heater to a generator will help keep your incubator warm when placing it near the heat source. We heat strictly by wood stove, therefore, I am able to place the incubator near the wood stove and adjust the heat with distance. Humidity, of course, is also something you should constantly be aware of. A dry heat source will quickly wick away the water in your moisture wells. Placing a wet sponge into your incubator helps hold moisture longer.

If having an alternate heat source isn't an option for you, then you can easily wrap your incubator with multiple towels or a blanket and close all of the vents in order to keep the humidity and heat locked inside for a short amount of time until the electric comes back on. Eggs should stay warm this way in your incubator without an alternative heat source for about 2-3 hours, depending on your indoor heat condition. With no guarantee that your power will return within a couple of hours, another easy hack is placing stones in the bottom of your incubator (before the power goes out), as they hold heat inside for a longer amount of time, which is even helpful on a regular basis for when turning your eggs manually.

Some other ways to keep your incubator warm without an alternate heat source — if you have a gas fireplace or oven, you can warm up water and other things on or in it. Warm up water or rice, and place hot water bottles or warm bags of rice inside of the incubator, replacing as needed. Most of all, do not open the lid unless completely necessary to do these things.

No matter what route you choose to keep heat inside of the incubator, you'll need to ensure that you are measuring heat and humidity at all times. I use this digital reptile hygrometer and thermometer meter.

Keeping Hatchlings Indoors

I'm extremely fortunate to have a basement. This means that the smell of chicks isn't nearly as bad as it could be. The wood stove is located downstairs as well, so when the electric goes out, they remain warm and comfortable. Being near the wood stove in the Winter allows me the freedom not to use a heat lamp indoors. Heat lamps are dangerous enough in coops, and I highly discourage them. But they are even more dangerous inside of your own home if not secured properly.

Whether you choose an indoor or outdoor brooder, a heat source that doesn't run off of electric is necessary, unless you have a generator. Once again, a wood stove or kerosene heater may be the best option for you, or other safe DIY heating options that you can create yourself such as the above bags of rice and hot water bottles. These work excellent for chicks as well, as they can lay on or beside them to keep warm.

You more than likely understand how to set up a brooder, but if not, there are plenty of wonderful articles on this website that can help you set your brooder up. In the Winter months, it's a bit different, as they will be indoors longer if you don't have an outdoor brooder set up with a heat source. We choose to keep our chicks indoors until they are completely, or almost completely, feathered. They then go outside into their own "mini-coop" with a regular watt light bulb so that it takes the bitter chill off. We've also used an outdoor brooder with chicks that weren't fully feathered. It is a small and completely enclosed dog house that has been re-purposed into a small coop. It houses a very secure heat lamp with a thick layer of hardware cloth between the bottom, where the chicks are housed, and the top of the coop. This gives us peace of mind, knowing that it can not be accessed by little chickens playing around.

While the chicks are indoors, it's important to change their bedding regularly. For the first few days, I simply add pine shavings over top of their regular pine shaving bedding. But once they reach a week or so old, their feces become much more pronounced. You will need to remove and add new bedding to the brooder daily or every other day. Make sure the bedding is never wet from them knocking water bowls over. If it is, remove and replace immediately. Leaving soiled bedding in a brooder can harbor E-coli, Coccidiosis, and other diseases that can be detrimental to your growing flock, and even to yourself.

Hatching and keeping chicks and other poultry or waterfowl in the Wintertime can be nerve wracking, but it can also be extremely rewarding. Your bond with your new hatchlings can be stronger, simply because of the fact that you are forced to tend to them much more often. Come Spring, there will be several happy pullets preparing to lay their very first eggs, and the satisfaction from them will far outweigh the work you put into them during those bitter months. Ultimately, it is safer to hatch chicks during the warmer months, but if you're hopeful for Spring layers, and you are completely prepared for whatever may come your way, Wintertime hatching may just be the perfect fit for you!

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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

How to Build a Rabbit House With a Worm Compost Bin

If you have rabbits, you have manure to manage. Whether for pets or meat, rabbits produce a lot of manure for their size. An adult rabbit will create about 50 lbs. of manure per year. Rabbit manure is nutrient-rich, especially in nitrogen, and is a dry pellet that is safe to put directly into gardens or feed to worms. Raising rabbits and worms can easily go hand-in-hand with beneficial results. Building a rabbit hutch with a worm-composting bin is an excellent way to manage the manure, create a garden-soil additive and even raise worms for sale.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Canning Homemade BBQ Sauce

Found at:
Easy, delicious recipe for homemade BBQ Sauce. You'll love this wonderful addition to your canning projects, and will never buy store-bought again! Enjoy :)

Harvesting Potted Ginger
I found this awesome website with lots of information on gardening, cooking, and such. You should check it out! Love to have home-grown ginger around when you need it. Enjoy :)

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Blue & Bronze Christmas Wreath

Saw this wreath on and had to share it. Looks pretty easy with blue, bronze, and silver bulbs hot glued to a styrofoam wreath base. Love the colors! Enjoy :)

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Planting Onions

Perennial bunching onions, plant once and you have onions for years after.
Green onions to the cook, scallions at the super market, Welsh onions in England, ciboule in France, or bunching onions in most books, they all refer to Allium fistulosum, a very distinctive member of the onion family. Bunching onions form perennial evergreen clumps up to 1 ft (0.3 m) in diameter and about 2 ft (0.6 m) tall. The leaves are hollow and tube-like, inflated their entire length. The bulbs are elongate and not much thicker than the stem. After a cold spell, bunching onions send up hollow stalks topped with little greenish flowers in round umbels (clusters with all the flower stems arising from the same point), that are 1-3 in (2.5-7.6 cm) in diameter.
The bunching onion was developed in Asia from a wild relative, possibly Allium altaicum, which occurs in NW China and neighboring Kazakhstan. It was brought to Europe in the 17th century.

Bunching onions are fast growing and very easy to grow. They are the perfect vegetable for the young "seedling" gardener.

Light: Does best in full sun, but quite well in partial shade, too.

Moisture: Regular garden watering for best growth, especially in the summer, but bunching onions can tolerate drought.

Hardiness: USDA Zones 6 - 9. This is a perennial and one of the few vegetables that can be harvested all year long. Bunching onions are grown as annuals in colder climates.

Propagation: Bunching onions can be grown from seeds, but once you have them established, all you have to do is divide them to make more plants. When you need some green onions, use a trowel to loosen the soil around a clump, lift the clump, take out what you need, and put the rest back in the ground. If you want to start another clump, just reset one of the individual side shoots in its new location. Plant it deep, so more of the lower stem will be blanched. I've had the same clone of bunching onions in my vegetable garden now for more than 8 years. They've been moved around a lot, but they keep on producing!

What to Expect the First Year with New Chickens

Chickens change the most during the first year of life. They start out as adorable little fluff balls requiring constant care and monitoring. Within just 5 weeks they are ready to make the transition to "outside" (the coop that will become their full-time home) and a fairly self-sufficient life.
At 3-6 weeks old, they become mangy and diseased-looking as their fuzzy covering begins to shed and is slowly replaced with mature feathers. Their wattles and combs grow and turn a deeper red. Cockerels (young roosters) make their first attempt at crowing. At 20-25 weeks old, pullets (young hens) lay their first eggs, which will be small and weak-shelled. Over time they will lay more frequently, the eggs will become larger and the shells harder. By 6 months, the pecking order, which governs who gets to pick on who, will be established and combs and wattles will be fully formed. What a busy six months this will be!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Friday, January 24, 2014


There are 6 major considerations in container gardening:

1. How much sun is available?
Choose plants according to how much sun or shade they’ll get each day. Most vegetables need at least 6
hours every day. Leafy vegetables, such as lettuce, onions, carrots and beets will do okay in partial shade.
But plants that bear fruit such as tomatoes, eggplant, squash, peppers need full sun (at least 6 hours).

2. What type of container?
Almost any container will do as long as it has good drainage. Smaller containers dry out very quickly in
summer. The smallest for outdoor use is probably 8 to 12 inches in diameter. In part shade you may have
success with smaller containers. If you are using recycled containers, scrub them well and rinse in a
solution of 9 parts water to one part bleach. If containers are porous (clay, wood, cement) soak them well
in water before filling so they won’t act like sponges and pull all the water out of your soil.

Since roots are above ground, they’re more sensitive to temperature extremes. Midsummer heat can fry
tiny, hair like feeder roots. Without these feeder roots, the plant will wilt even if the soil is wet. Then
larger roots become very susceptible to root rot fungus that can destroy the rest of the plant. Overheating
of the soil is a common cause of failure in container plantings. Thick wood insulates best, dark colored
containers will absorb more heat, light colored containers reflect heat.

Leafy vegetable and herbs don’t need as much room, but use a pot at least 9 inches deep so you don’t have to water as often. Vegetables with extensive root systems such as cucumbers, potatoes, squash and tomatoes need containers with a minimum depth of 16 inches. Remember, the bigger the pot, the bigger the yield. An additional 2 inches deep can more than double your harvest.

3. Preparation of the soil.
Do not use garden soil! It may contain diseases and fungi and is usually very heavy and slow to drain.
Buy a high quality soil mix that is sterilized, and able to absorb moisture and drain quickly.

4. Fertilizing. A must!
Plants trapped in containers cannot search for nutrients with their roots. Confined root systems demand
frequent light fertilizing in summer. Nutrients are leached from the soil with every watering and need to be
replenished regularly. Two to four weeks after planting begin applying a water soluble fertilizer mixed half
strength. Continue to apply fertilizer every two to three weeks unless you supplement the soil with a slow
release fertilizer.

Organic gardeners can use liquid fish emulsion, liquid kelp or blood or bone meal.

You will find 3 numbers on the fertilizer package that explain what the fertilizer is formulated to do. The
numbers are always in the following order:

Nitrogen - is for green leaves Phosphorus – is for flowers and fruit Potassium – is for root growth
When one of the numbers is higher than the others, that means the fertilizer is designed to promote growth
in that specific part of the plant.

Do not overfeed. A little is good, a lot is NOT better!

5. Watering requirements.
All containers dry out quickly, but watering requirements will vary according to the season, type of
container, soil mix and exposure. To be safe, check containers daily. Stick your finger into the top inch of
soil. If it feels damp there is no immediate need to water. If it feels dry then you should water until some
runs out the bottom of the container.

In mid summer and on windy days this can be a daily job. In summer provide a saucer that can fill with
water and be absorbed more slowly. In winter remove the saucer so the plants don’t sit in water and

Water early in the morning to avoid wet leaves at night when temperatures drop and mildew and disease
organisms flourish. Use a slow even spray to avoid washing out the soil.

6. What should you plant?
Shallow rooted crops like herbs, lettuce, green onions, radishes and spinach are easy to grow.
Carrots, potatoes, turnips and other roots crops are simple as long as you have a container that’s deep
enough. Choose a container that’s twice as deep as the length they’ll reach at maturity. Tall or sprawling
vegetables have extensive root systems (eggplant, peppers, squash and tomatoes). They will bear well if
they have enough room for roots to develop.

To get the most out of your limited space, choose high yielding and dwarf varieties with moderate to
standard sized fruit. These include beans, beets, carrots, lettuce, peppers, radishes and some varieties of
summer squash and tomatoes. Stay away from varieties labeled “whopper”. Look for bushy rather than
vining plants. For the highest yield provide support for vining or trailing crops and add the stakes or trellis
when you first plant the seeds or transplants so that you won’t damage roots by adding them at a later date.

Seeds or Transplants?
Plant beans, beets, carrots, lettuce, peas and radishes from seed. Cucumber, eggplant, tomatoes and squash
are best purchased from transplants. Buy the smallest size available (6 packs if possible). They will
develop better roots and larger sizes are not worth the extra cost.