Breaking the Soil

dsc_0006-2All hoes are not equal.

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The larger of the hoes is a grub hoe, the other one I believe is an American standard. The grub hoe is new to the homestead but so far I like it a lot. The American standard hoe I like too,  also used is a goose neck hoe for weeding. The grub hoe was purchased at easydigging.com. For breaking ground the grub hoe is much more effective that a standard hoe (my American standard is also used for mixing concrete which is why it is grey).

Part of the reason for this post is that I don’t think many people know about the larger hoes, when I was in Africa most people used one similar to the grub hoe, the one I have has a 3 lb head and is much better for breaking ground than other smaller hoes.

There are many reasons to break ground with a hoe:

  1. Tiller’s are expensive
  2. You don’t believe in burning gas to garden.
  3. Tilling is bad for the soil (not sure if a hoe is much better but probably not as bad).
  4. You have a small space to work.
  5. You have an enclosed space and don’t want to die from carbon monoxide.
  6. you have a tight space and don’t want to tear up other crops.

There are more reasons but there is always a time to have a heavy duty hoe. For more information on hoes:

http://hoecollection.blogspot.com/2006/06/entire-hoe-collection.html

When it comes to breaking soil there are many different view points. The more you get into gardening especially with the view point of wanting to be organic or as natural as possible there are issues. Those that don’t worry about anything, just till and fertilize with chemicals while spraying all the pests with chemicals live in a wonderful land of bliss. However, tilling and spraying and praying are proven bad ideas.

Unfortunately there are reasons for the ways of yesterday, tilling and chemicals. I went through a kick a while ago where I was going to try very strictly using no till permaculture, I failed miserably. I do believe that permaculture is the best possible way to grow food, develop food forests with easy to maintain food producing plants and using animals to help regulate pests and to fertilize the soil, there are issues though.

Again the use of permaculture is the best environmentally sound way to farm, but many of the crops that are good for resale are not on the list. Many people are not willing to buy the vegetables that are perennial and suited best for permaculture. I am no expert by any means and I’m not trying to discourage anyone from going trickily no till but it is hard. If you don’t believe that tilling is bad look at the USDA information, look at your tilled garden during a rain storm and compare the run off to the water that is running off in the woods! The whole shift to Round Up resistant crops and no till planting was because of the negative affects of tilling, think about the Dust Bowl! Round Up resistant crops and no till farming is like trying to turn Satan against himself so I don’t buy that either. I have watched my tilled garden have massive amounts of water run off where the woods immediately next to them absorb all of the rain. Previously, before becoming more educated I thought a tilled garden absorbed more water than non tilled but it’s not the case, largely due to worms, worms don’t like tillers.

All of that to say it is very hard to stay to strict rules, we should all strive to go towards as environmentally friendly methods as possible but we have to be successful also, if I had a cow and it was sick I would give it medicine, if I have to till to grow a crop I can sell, for now I will till. Eventually maybe I will be able to grow strictly  using permaculture principles but for now I am trying to get as close as possible.

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Sometimes being more kind to the environment is taking advantage of what you are given, with my bush hog down the field grew up, when I had it mowed, I had strips left of blackberries. Of course that sacrifices pasture but to me it is worth it, a natural crop that sells and doesn’t involve any chemicals or tilling.

There are many things to take into consideration with farming, only you have the answers to your situation as long as you are trying to do the best you can in regards to the environment and with integrity to the consumer.

Burning in the House

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A couple of things happened today, the first, finally got the trailer load of dirt put in the green house. I’m sure you can tell by the pictures of the trailer that the weather looks rainy, when I decided to get the soil it wasn’t supposed to start raining until 6:00 pm but it started at 12:00 pm so I had to stop unloading, that’s just how it is some times.

Secondly, some more wood was split. This is the big idea for the day, I know everyone’s situation is different and I wouldn’t spend much money on having a fire place/wood burning stove installed into a house that didn’t have one but I do believe anyone that wants any self sufficiency should have one of the two. From my understanding some areas restrict fire places quite a bit because of air pollution and I understand that, years ago London was a mess from all the burning and even when I was there in the late 90’s your clothes got dirty pretty fast just walking in the city. My point here is that it is a good idea to have a fire place or wood burning stove if possible. As always there are a few exceptions, I have friends that live in Tanzania, they don’t have any heating or cooling in the house and do not need it, they don’t even have glass on some of their windows, the front of the house is basically a screened in porch, it never gets too hot and it’s never too cold. There is the rest of us however.

Self sufficiency comes in many layers much like an onion. I’m not going to get into all of that for now other than requesting that you think about what you need. We have many things in our lives that we don’t have to have, the difference, needs and wants. If you are homesteading you probably want some level of self sufficiency. I often look at it a little different than most people, I look at life not as self sufficiency but as dependency, what am I dependent on others for?

Two of my neighbors strike me as strange, one of them grew up very poor, plowed behind horses, took baths in a tub where everyone used the same water, the dirtiest was last, and they had one little stove for heat. When he build his house here I believe he wanted to get away from his past and no wood burning system was put in. Another neighbor likewise grew up with a wood burning stove and hated the dust, when he built his house it didn’t have any means to burn wood either. The problem with both houses is that even though they have gas heat both require electricity, if there is an ice storm that knocks out the power they have no heat.

There is another reason to have a fire place/wood burning stove, and that is for cooking. When I built my house I had no power, for three months of winter I lived in a partially completed house, the first thing put in was the wood burning stove. I sat around it, I cooked on it and I watched it for entertainment. I know for a fact that I can make it through the winter in the house with no electricity because I have done it. Water is another issue but one thing at a time.

Wood burning stoves are better, they are much more efficient, fireplaces can actually make the rest of the house colder but I would still rather have one than not. When it comes to cooking, if you have a camping stove you could always use that in the fireplace if there wasn’t a fire going to meet the ventilation needs of the stove, even if it was summer.

Just because you have a fire place/wood burning stove, doesn’t mean you have to use it, but you do have it if you want it! My little stove has been going for almost a month now, the house is warmer and dryer, my wife is happy, our electric bill is low, and if the power went off right now it would still be 75 degrees in the house even though it’s below freezing outside. All of that feels good! I am not dependent on the grid for heat, cooking or hot water.

My wife’s sister’s family lives in an apartment, it actually has a fireplace. They don’t have much space to store wood but even with that they are better off than many people if they lost power and had some wood, clothes could be dried, food could be cooked, and the children could be entertained, all of which can happen off the grid! If you have the opportunity strongly consider having a source of heat that does not require electricity or gas, just because we use them most of the time doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be able to walk away from dependency when it is needed.

Chicken Coup

I know I talked about chickens a few days ago, there are a few ideas that I wanted to throw out there in regards to the coup. Of course there are many designs out there but mine does have something simple that I haven’t seen other places.

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The coup is basically two coups set up like a duplex, each side is a mirror of the other, not that the mirror part matters. When the wire doors in front are shut it is wired everywhere including on top and the wire goes under ground one foot.

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Laying boxes are expensive, mine are homemade, the big thing here is that the floor of the boxes is removable either to replace or clean.

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Normally the food and water stays outside under an overhang, if it rains a lot the food may get wet, if need be it can go inside. If it is freezing I have electric water heaters for inside. The water containers like shown here need to be out of the rain, as sill as it sounds if rain hits the trough at the bottom it will splash out the water and run out a 7 gallon container in one storm.

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The big part of the coup that is nice is the little door inside, it allows the chickens to move back and forth between the sides if I want them to have that option. If new or young chickens are in I can put them on one side and keep them either in the solid part of the coup, when they get bigger I can let them go into the wired part outside, still separate but near the other chickens. When the time comes the door can be opened and they can integrate.

I do wish the coup was deeper, I made it based on a sheet of plywood, 4×8 with easy access to replace the floor. I hope to make it 8×8 on each side eventually.

If you go to build a coup consider what you have to deal with, predators, weather, access, new birds and other factors that may come into play as well, think it through.

Just  food for thought, if you are going to have birds there will be times when you have to introduce young birds to the flock, if you don’t have a way to separate them it may be an issue.

Equipment

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As silly as it feels I wanted to get some topsoil for the green house, so I bought some. It doesn’t look like much but it’s 4 cubic yards of top soil. The big point here is that if you are planning on doing much around your homestead regardless of your size think very hard about your equipment. This trailer is a 5000 lb trailer and it’s really to small, it handles hay ok, I’ve had  140 square bails on it but had to pry the fenders off the tires. I didn’t think about the topsoil in anyway other than volume, after I started driving I questioned it’s  weight. At home I looked up the weight of topsoil, what was on the trailer was probably between 7 and 8000 lbs. My truck did fine but that is another story.

I used to do landscaping, most of the trucks we had were 1 ton trucks, I had two personal trucks during that time, one was a Toyota 4×4 and the other an F100. Both of my trucks were 1/2 ton and there was absolutely no comparison, at one point I carried 16,000 lbs of stone on an F350, it was overloaded but it did it, over 1000 lbs my trucks had serious problems, I think I had 1 ton in my Toyota once but it was a short distance. After a side job with my F100 I couldn’t keep it on the road with the load and had to find a place to dump the brush and soil I had put in the bed, two days later a tire shredded.

Several years ago I had a Volvo station wagon and the F100, both died on me so I had to find another vehicle. My thought process was similar to this; I have some what of a farm, I could spend $15-20,000 on another car, I could get a 1/2 ton truck for around that as well, but none of those would be able to do very much. I ended up finding an F350 diesel for $16,000. Some 1/2 ton trucks have a good towing capacity but they don’t always have the weight or the breaks to back it up. If you lived in flat land it may not matter but I have to constantly change elevation 17000 ft. It is exceptionally scary to have your trailer push you where ever it wants you to go. My F350 handled it fine but I could tell the trailer was sloppy and coming down one of the ridges my brakes got used a lot, by brakes are much bigger than what would be on a 1/2 ton and the truck weighs around 7,000 lbs, they breaks  cost more than what would be on a smaller truck but I would rather have control that be pushed off of a cliff.

The message here is always get bigger than you think if there is any possibility you will be moving much, I need a bigger trailer but it isn’t so important I’m going to rush out and get one. There are times in our lives when it is convenient to upgrade, and when you have that opportunity do what you can to make it happen. It may be moving to a 3/4 or 1 ton truck or buying a house with 2 acres instead of a standard yard ( my 55 acres cost less than $30,000 with the sacrifice of going farther out of town where 10 acres were going for $750,000), when we have those opportunities it is a good idea to take them, if we do it at the right time it may not cost us very much.

(P.S., a 3/4 ton truck is much better than a 1/2 ton, don’t let the numbers fool you!)

Good Books

On Sundays I don’t do much on the farm but I do have two book recommendations. The first book is The Contrary Farmer by Gene Logsdon. This book addresses some misconceptions in regards to farming along with a focus on saving money farming. The Contrary Farmer is focused more on acreage scale farming with the ability to have livestock. All of that being said it is still focused on a small farm and the joy of farming in itself, it is a very good and enjoyable read.

The second book is The Urban Farmer by Curtis Stone. This book should be in the hands of everyone that wants to make a profit on small scale farming. Curtis Stone gives many very specific examples of how to manage a farm on small plots, even those of us that have acreage can utilize his techniques for the purpose of selling effectively to farmers markets and restaurants. He addresses the problems of so many farmers, growing low value, long time involved crops that only grow once a year verses growing high value crops with a fast turn around. He also addresses the need for farmers to have an active involvement in market trends and adjusting crops to meet those needs.

Chickens

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Eggs ready to sell tomorrow. It seems like every backyard farmer wants chickens, if you are planning on it look into it ALOT! Some people can do things very inexpensively and others have to buy everything, I had to buy everything for the coup they are in, and it ran around $2000. Part of the reason it cost so much was that I had one earlier that was thrown together but I couldn’t keep raccoons out of it and ultimately lost all my chickens. When my wife wanted chickens I said OK but it’s going to be expensive because I didn’t want to loose the birds to predators again, and I ran electricity to it for heated water in the winter and lights to see when it was dark.

Chickens are also very destructive if allowed out, we have had to change the way we let them range and it still isn’t perfect. The chickens had the whole back yard but they dug up my fruit trees and killed all the grass. A plastic safety fence was put up to keep them out but they cut through it. Since the green house they have been trying to dig it up. In the very near future I will put a more substantial fence to keep them out from my trees and the green house/garden area.

As stated earlier they are expensive, and yes we sell eggs and get chicken for the freezer. Now they pay for themselves for the most part but considering fencing and coup we are probably down to about $10 for a dozen eggs for our use, and they are broken. My math may sound strange but generally there are enough broken eggs for us to eat so I sell the ones that aren’t broken. Eventually we may come out in the black on the chickens.

As bad as I said they were we do enjoy having them, if your only reason to have a homestead or backyard farm is to make money your in the wrong business. Get chickens if you want them but they aren’t easy and be cautious with all the hype over chicken tractors, to work you need a good bit of land if they are on the ground, it doesn’t take long to tear up an area.