Epic Hydroponics Fail – Adventures In Ineptitude

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Worms, Baby! Another Friend Of The Self Sufficient Homestead Garden

Hey Y’all. This is a spontaneous post about the value of worms in your garden. The short version is; you want them. The more the better. Charles Darwin called them, “The soldiers of the soil”. Worms break down organic material and make it extremely nutrient rich. I have started putting worms in my self watering containers and wicking beds. And wow, what a job they’re doing.  I went down to the garden to unload some rabbit manure today and noticed lots of weeds in the wicking beds. My plan was to work on a book after cleaning the rabbit barn, but I got sidetracked by all the worms I was finding. Every time I pulled a weed,there were worms attached to the roots. I ended up weeding all seven wicking beds.

Back in the spring, I put a handful of red wiggler compost worms in 5 of the 7 beds and in a couple self watering container to see how they would do. I periodically feed the worms with manure and straw from the rabbit barn. Well…just watch this video (ignore the quality. I don’t do video much}

 

What’s been your experience with worms in the garden? Do you have your own worm beds? We’d love to hear about your experiences, or to hear your questions. After all, we’re all in this together.

Rabbits: Self Sufficiency’s Secret Weapon

Siblings awaiting breakfast

Siblings awaiting breakfast

As I write this little essay, backyard chickens are all the rage.  And with good reason, too. They are wonderful creatures who provide their owners with an abundance of eggs and meat, along with hours of entertainment. Their bedding and manure, are outstanding components in the compost pile. We have around three dozen of them (with more coming in the spring), so my biases are out there in plain sight.

All this fuss about birds, though, makes it easy to forget about what may be the most valuable livestock to anyone seeking a simple, sustainable, self-sufficient lifestyle; the rabbit.

Rabbits are quieter than chickens; a lot quieter. On the whole, they are easier to handle. While they do shed, your coop, yard, or pasture won’t look like killing fields the way they do when chickens are molting.

Rabbits are cleaner than chickens and cleaning up after them is way easier. Chickens make a terrible mess in their sleeping/nesting areas, while bunnies by and large keep their bodily waste away from where they like to sleep and hang out.  Their waste is also in nice neat piles of easily scooped up,  compact, round pellets rather than the runny, splatted mess that chickens leave in their wake.

One of our Does, Cinder, not feeling photogenic

One of our Does, Cinders, not feeling photogenic

Rabbit manure is arguably the best fertilizer you can add to your garden beds. Unlike chicken manure, rabbit guano can be used without composting and the bunnies provide copious quantities of it.

If you do decide to compost it (we do both), you will find that it does so easily and quickly. The manure is also a fantastic addition to worm beds.  Red wiggler worms positively adore rabbit manure, especially if it has a little bedding straw in it, and will turn it into the absolutely finest quality garden additive you can get anywhere.

Rabbit meat is tasty, mild, and highly nutritious. In parts of America, that benefit has been largely lost, as many urban and suburban dwellers have grown to see rabbits as cute little pets to pamper and snuggle with; but most of the world, and still large sections of this country consider rabbits and a food source. And let’s not forget that they are at the top of the menu for every predatory creature in nature, from birds of prey, to foxes, coyotes, wolves, weasels, bobcats, mountain lions, and more, to the family dog and cat, who will always have one eye fixed on Bugs as a potential meal.

I’m not going to take time defending rabbit as a food source, because all history demonstrates it to be so, and I’m not going to argue about it. We are omnivores and our self-sufficiency plan includes a rabbit meat. If you only see rabbits as pets, that’s fine by me. They are still a great benefit to you for the manure alone.

For those who process their own meat, rabbits are the easiest of all livestock to prepare for the freezer. It is much easier and faster than processing chickens.

Rabbits breed prolifically, so they can provide a continuous supply of protein and manure. For those so inclined, rabbit fur is still a great source for warm clothing and the hides can be good, basic leather.

New Rangers for 2015 under construction

New Rangers for 2015 under construction

Rabbits don’t require a great deal of space. Many people raise them totally in cages. We prefer to raise them on the ground when possible, though we do have cages in our barn for times when it’s necessary.

Older Rabbit Rangers In Pasture

Older Rabbit Rangers In Pasture

My wife has designed a moveable rabbit crate that serves the same function as a chicken tractor. We call them, Rabbit Rangers. Each Ranger has a nesting porch in the back, where the rabbits can get up out of mud and frost to sleep, nest and give birth. There is a large open area in the middle where the bunnies can hop about or graze to their heart’s content. The Rangers are moved daily so the buns can have fresh grass. Some manure is left behind, of course, which aids in fertilizing the pasture (or yard). The grass grows back quickly and much more lush, improving the quality of the field.

If a winter is particularly severe, we will move the rabbits, especially mothers with babies, to the cages in the barn where they can avoid the worst of the elements, but by March, they are back out on pasture. We think rabbits should be on the ground, hopping, eating, digging and doing what rabbits like to do.  The purpose of the Rangers is to allow that, while providing them shelter from both the weather and from predators.

Main Breeding Buck, James, In Ranger

Main Breeding Buck, James, In Ranger

If you are interested in raising Rabbits as part of your homestead, feel free to ask us anything you like. I would also recommend any of the Backyard Rabbit forums on Facebook.

Do you raise rabbits? Are you considering it? Tell us all about it. We’d love to hear from you. Got questions? Send them our way.  Remember, we’re in this together.

Project Self Sufficiency: Why Planning Is Spontaneity’s Best Friend

calendarI would like to say I am a spontaneous person. I’d like to, but I can’t. I am, however, impulsive. They sound similar, but impulsiveness is much more expensive, and far less fun. Trust me, I know these things.

Spontaneity is creative, fun, and surprising. Impulsiveness is chaotic, confusing and demanding. Let me give a quick example of each.

A spontaneous farmer gets his work done ahead of schedule and says, ‘Dang, I think I’ll take my wife to the movies.’  An impulsive farmer looks through a seed catalogue, sees a bunch of new or cool varieties and buys them up to add to his usual products without giving thought to the financial, time or space costs, giving himself more work and stress as a result.

The key to opening up opportunity for the former and inhibiting the latter is, planning. December is my planning month. (Note: planning does not come natural to me. It is way to disciplined for my random, extemporaneous mind, but it is a skill I’ve cultivated at great cost over the years). I sit down with my calendar, my budget, my seed catalogs and business plan and work out something that makes sense.

By knowing what I have room for, time for and money for, I can minimize stress and optimize production. I will always ask Brittan’s input, to make sure I’m growing and raising things we will actually use or sell, because my tendency is to grow things that are fun.  For example, we almost never eat eggplant, but I think they are beautiful plants with gorgeous flowers and fruit. They are also challenging for me to grow. Last year, I didn’t ask her about them and planted way too many. Actually, two would have been too many, but I digress.  I wasted hours and hours nursing a couple dozen eggplants only to have 90 percent of them go to the chickens or compost heap (same thing, really).  This year, I will plant a maximum of two, because she reminded me of my impulsiveness last year, so I could work it into my plan.

I use a calendar to write down a planting schedule to ensure I get everything out at the right times. The plan cues me when it’s time to get seed trays started in the greenhouse and when it’s time to feed my plants.

Planning in advance reminds me when to schedule the arrival of new chicks or ducklings. I know when I’m going to buy feeder calves or put my male goats in with the does for breeding.

One of my favorite tools is a planting chart provided free from the University of Georgia Ag Department. I found it several years ago as a .pdf online. While not exhaustive, it gives great guidance on when to plant specific crops for both the spring and fall seasons. I love it. Many States have similar guides. I encourage you to do a search for your area. If you can’t find one, contact your County extension office and see what they have.

As for calendars, this time of year they are on sale EVERYWHERE. Or you can print out a blank one from an online template which is my normal plan. This year, though, I’m going to buy a notebook style like a Franklin Planner so I can keep more detailed notes. Wait, did I just use the word, detail….

Planning is an evolving process, but I encourage you to try it. It will save you many tears and sleepless nights.

Now it’s your turn. How do you plan your homesteading/farming year? When do you get started? Please share, we’d all love to learn from you.  Also, send us any questions you have. We’re in this together.

 

Project Self Sufficiency – Day 2

Buckets in dire need of some attention

Buckets in dire need of some attention

Yesterday was a gorgeous day, but I didn’t do a great deal in the garden. Mostly, I went to the library to work on a book I’m writing. When I got home, I saw some of our rabbits had escaped from their rabbit rangers (more about that in a future episode) and were running around the pasture. So, I spent the next hour chasing down bunnies. Oh, the glamorous life of a small farmer!

While I didn’t work long on the garden, I am very happy with what I accomplished. I managed to pull the plants out of all 23 bucket containers, clean off the roots and get the buckets into the greenhouse, where in 1 month I will plant them with sugar snap peas. I also emptied a few of the grow bags into compost heap.

The buckets were planted with peppers, tomatoes and eggplant. The roots spread through the whole container and fight hard to stay there. Its a very good bicep and triceps workout; and you don’t even need to go to the gym.

Ready for planting in January

Ready for planting in January

It’s always good for the body AND soul to work up a sweat. When you can do that working outside in December, well, it’s just a darned good day!

A good sweat. Sorry for wearing an Oklahoma shirt in public :-)

A good sweat. Sorry for wearing an Oklahoma shirt in public 🙂

 

Project Self Sufficiency Day 1 – Reboot

2014 Garden all finished

2014 Garden all finished

I told my Facebook Followers that beginning today, I was going to document a year of our newest effort at moving towards self sufficiency. To be fair, it’s kind of a reboot. We’ve been farming and gardening since 2009, and have had our share of successes and failures. Over the last couple months, though, as I’ve reflected on all we’ve accomplished, I have redesigned the whole process in ways that I think will be simpler for us and for others who want to venture down this road. Please send us your thoughts and questions and join in the fun. We’ll try and add as many photos as possible, and over time, we’ll add some videos, as well. OK, let’s get going.

December 1 – Project Self Sufficiency began today. It was a slow start, but at least we got out of the starting gate.

The first thing I did was assess the 2014 garden spot to determine what we can reuse and what we will scrap. I walked the garden to look over the state of it since I shut it down the second week of October (except for the greenhouse). It’s in some disarray from neglect, as the attached photo show, but nothing that can’t be taken care of easily before January.

Got manure and mulch in the Wicking Beds

Got manure and mulch in the Wicking Beds

I’ve mulched the wicking beds with straw and rabbit manure. I will turn it under and let it sit until late February, when I will add some peat and perlite to keep it light and loose. All the beds already have some worms. They will work to break down the manure and straw.

All of the buckets will come into the greenhouse to be freshened and will be planted with sugar snap peas in January. They will be taken out in early March when they are ready to be trellised.

The containers will be refurbished in the greenhouse on nice days, so they can be planted in March and April.

Hydroponics experiment was a success

Hydroponics experiment was a success

The Hydroponics experiment has been very successful. You can see that there are still things growing, but I will shut it down in the next week or two so I can reorganize the greenhouse with several of these systems. We’ve already harvested quite a bit of Lettuce, Swiss Chard, Baby Bok Choi, and Kale from it. I expect to get two more harvests before I shut it down.

A Paradigm Shift Game Idea For Christians And Churches. Wanna Play?

Simple, Self-Supporting, Sustainable; these are three concepts that are great for farming and also pretty darned good for Churches, too.

Those who’ve been reading my rants for a while know that I’ve been calling for a lifestyle paradigm shift that will allow us to prosper in tough times, as well as in good ones.  The abridged version is; dump debt, simplify your life, live on less than you earn, give 10%, save 10%, live on the other 80% (my next book, ‘No More Paycheck to Paycheck’ is even going to raise those stakes, so get ready), store up at least a year’s supply of staples and cash, and enjoy a life of real freedom.

Now, I want to play a ‘what if’ game and adapt those same principles to Churches.  Since it’s just a game, you don’t have to be afraid, you can let your mind and spirit roam free with these ideas.  When the game is over, you can return to your boring, old, traditional reality if you like.

Imagine you’re part of a congregation or fellowship or a small group that was totally debt free.  What if you had very little overhead because you didn’t have a big campus to maintain or facilities to keep going? What if everyone was tithing his/her income?  How much service could you perform for your community?  How much money could you give to missionaries? How many hungry people could you feed?  How many Bibles could you distribute?

My guess is, you can’t really even imagine it, because it’s as far from your experience as Jupiter is from the sun.  It’s been done, though.  Look at this passage of Scripture from Acts, Chapter 2;

Acts 2:42 they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

I can see eyes rolling, already.  Someone is saying, “That was then.  Things were different then. Get real.”

Relax.  We’re just playing a game, remember?

I’m going to use the small group Bible Study Brittan and I are a part of and use it as an example of what is possible.

The group consists of 4 to 5 family units and regular guests.  We have singles, empty nesters and families with children still at home, so we represent a bit of a cross section of American suburban life.

Within our group we have the following skillsets; farming and gardening, food preservation and cooking, carpentry, woodworking, sewing and quilting, decorating, heating and air, rudimentary plumbing, electrical and auto mechanics, teaching, music, writing, financial management and preaching (depending on who you ask).  There may be more, but these skills come to mind easily.

We are ordinary people in an ordinary suburban/semi-rural community on the edge of a large metropolitan region. We are the perfect guinea pigs for my game.

The median household income in our county is just a shade under $50k. The average household income is more like, $60,000.  We have some in our group who earn less, some who earn more, but let’s use the median number as our base.  We will create our opportunity assuming we have 4 tithing units, earning $50,000 per year.  On a combined income of $200,000, we could expect a tithe of $20,000 per year.

The typical American Family spends 10% of their income on food.  In our combined case, that would be another $20k.  By pooling our resources, i.e. ‘having all things in common’ we could raise 100% of our own food for half that amount and have enough left over to sell to raise some money and even hire someone part time to help with the work.  Over time, by saving seeds, breeding our own animals, etc. those annual costs could be reduced even more (for those who are wondering, yes, our group is fortunate enough to have several acres of land at our disposal).

Now, by combining our skill base, we could reduce our collective car repair and household maintenance expenses by at least half, freeing up even more money.

Let’s keep going, since we’ve almost lost our minds completely.  Let’s imagine each family gets themselves debt free; no house payments, no loans, and no car payments.  How much would your family life improve if you had no debt and your food and maintenance costs were cut in half?  Would you be able to sleep better?  Would you be more relaxed?  Would you be able to save more? Would you be able to give more?

The book of Proverbs says, ‘two is better than one. A cord of three strands is not easily broken.”  Can you see the value of having all things in common?

Here’s some of the cool part of my game.  In this picture, no one has to give up their job, their house, their cable or weekly hair apt.  It should be a no brainer.

We need to move along; I’m starting to bore people.  Let’s go back to that $20k tithe money.  How much good for God could we do with that?  I mean, that’s ‘wow’ money.  We could feed multiple people, provide livestock and clean water in developing countries, stock missionary doctors with supplies and evangelists with gospel materials.  We could provide clothes and shelter for numerous people.  The opportunities are mind boggling. If, though, we were trying to be a traditional congregation with a building, Pastor, etc. 100% of that $20k would be tied up in overhead.

Our Life Group alone has the skill set to work in soup kitchens, assist single parents and battered women with home repair and basic car maintenance.  We could hold worship services for the elderly in nursing homes, or open air evangelistic campaigns.  We could tutor students with learning issues or make quilts to keep a homeless man warm on a cold GA January night.

We could provide a healthy, tasty, fun tailgate party for a local High School football game, or give free tickets to a musical being performed by a local theater company.  I can do this all day.

Now, multiply our group by 20.  Imagine 20 groups of 10 people in one community doing and living like I just described.  How many needs could we meet?  How many people could be brought to Christ?  How many mission trips could be taken?  My head is about to explode just thinking of the possibilities.  No wonder Acts 2 says, ‘They enjoyed favor with all the people and the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.’

Ok, you can step out of the game and back into reality now.   So tell me why it can’t be done?  Sure, there are some who won’t want to get that close to other people.  I mean, sharing gardening duty or plucking a chicken or repairing an old person’s toilet, or handing soup to a homeless drunkard is a step than many won’t be willing to make, but that doesn’t mean WE can’t (whoever WE might be).

Michael Pollan, of Food, inc. and The Omnivore’s Dilemma fame once said, “Sure, not everyone can afford to eat organic, but those of us who can, should.”  That same principle seems to apply to my game.

Yes, I created a world of hypotheticals and best case scenarios.  I wanted us to look at possibilities.  Those early Christians changed the world. Their legacy lives on to this very day.  They were also persecuted, martyred, got caught up in fights, dealt with false teaching, screwed up on a regular basis and made some bad decisions from time to time. Each obstacle, stumble and barrier was met with prayer and persistence and the Kingdom spread like hot butter on warm toast.

Would you consider playing a game like this?  I have to admit, I think it would be a hoot.  And I don’t like games!