Planning

I would much rather be out working in the dirt, building something, or messing with animals however that can’t always happen. I wish I could work on the homestead full time but that can’t happen now, between rain and other work I haven’t had much time to do much other than just maintain the animals. One of the things that we all, and especially myself, need to work on is planning and a good time to accomplish that is when it is too dark or wet outside to do other things.

I should have done it already but didn’t get to it, tonight I ordered seeds for the greenhouse. Today it was just some varieties of lettuce, kale, and spinach. Now that I think about it I should have ordered more than one kind of spinach but I didn’t. I already have some kale so that will be two varieties. I ordered two varieties of lettuce along with a variety pack. The variety pack is problematic since I will have to identify what comes up and I may not know what does not come up.

I wish I could plan better for a sure thing but it seems there is very rarely a sure thing when it comes to farming. Last year I had some plants come up and others didn’t come up at all, onions being one that failed. I wish I remembered exactly where I heard it but I don’t, it is an ideology that makes sense though, plant everything and ignore it! Unfortunately we normally get an idea in our minds and try really hard to plant something and sometimes it just doesn’t grow, failure to thrive! The idea behind throwing many different seeds out and ignoring or neglecting the plants is then you can see what will really grow in your location without having to spend a lot of time on the plant. As an example, I planted two types of raspberries a few years ago, three of each variety. One variety died the first year, the other is like a weed, almost out of control, but that’s how we want food isn’t it? With the raspberries I have I can sell the plants, and get plenty of produce from them.

Some plants aren’t worth the effort unless you really want them for you and you are doing it small, I have to walk a line for now with making my wife happy (grow what she likes regardless of cost or difficulty) and try to grow somewhat commercially. For now the commercial side is just trying to learn what grows and how to deal with the plant and problems, I do have a goal for next year of making $15,000 but if I learn from my experiences and am able to get set up for that income or more next year I will call it a success.

Planning is a must, and even if there is no intent on growing this winter spring is not to far away, at least for the procrastinator!

Rainy Day Books

Some days it is much harder to do work outside than others, today with the rain not much is getting accomplished outside so it’s book recommendation day.

The first book is Plant Propagation Editor-In-Chief Alan Toogood. This book has some excellent instructions on how to propagate various plants. It can be much faster to propagate than to grow from seeds and much of the time the plants we want to grow outside of the normal vegetable garden we can propagate, that is perennials including trees. Many perennials get pruned anyway, those cuttings could be used to make new plants for either resale or just to increase your own stock.

The second book is The River Cottage Meat Book  by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. One of the problems I have with the intent of growing as a homestead is meat preservation and use. We in the United States are so afraid of being sued that many chemicals are used to preserve meat and there are chemicals that affect the way we prepare meat. The idea of these chemicals bother me for both health and expense reasons.  Back in the pioneer days they didn’t have all of those chemicals, additionally people lived for thousands of years before without many of the chemicals we are told to use! So why do we need them now?

This book goes back to the years where there were small town butchers and it has good ideas and instructions for someone wanting to do their own butchering, another highly recommended book for those that what to butcher their own animals.

Winter Water

Water is always a pain in the winter, for the chickens there are several ways to handle it; electrically heated water supplies work well if you have electricity, for some reason I don’t right now which means cycling smaller water supplies out for them so they have a continual supply.

For larger animals  there are floats to keep the water thawed, unfortunately I don’t have electricity near the horses so I keep a sledgehammer just outside the gate. Thankfully for me we don’t normally have extended times with temperatures below freezing so this is a manageable technique. If it gets really cold, below 10 degrees F, for more than a day I will bring a 5 gallon bucket of water out to them every couple of hours, a horse drinks about 5 gallons a day, if they want water they will drink a couple of gallons at one time, since I only have two horses each of them gets a good drink out of a 5 gallon bucket, in a few hours I’ll get the bucket and fill it up again, if most of the water in the bucket is frozen I know they are getting more than they need.

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

wood-pile

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.