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.

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 🙂

 

Why Farmers Market Prices Are Sometimes Higher Than Supermarkets. Hint: They’re Worth It!

Farmers Market

Farmers Market

The other day, I was reading an online discussion about the Farmers Market produce prices and Supermarket Prices. The discussion was both enlightening and discouraging. Let me explain.

The thread began with a consumer saying he was ‘done’ with shopping at his farmers market, because prices were too high; in some cases twice as expensive at the grocery store.  He said that he wants to support local, but not at any price.

On the whole, the responders were supportive and equally frustrated that the prices of everything from tomatoes to eggs to chickens was too much of a budget buster to continue to support their local farmers markets. A few hardy souls defended the markets, but to be honest their arguments were more subjective and heartfelt than objective and persuasive. So, I’d like to address this important issue as dispassionately as possible (which could be difficult because I am a ‘local’ small farmer).

First, there are farmers markets that are very pricey and are aimed at a target market that doesn’t really include the average family trying to manage Dave Ramsey’s ‘baby steps’.  There are also many misconceptions about ‘cheap food’ that are costing us dearly.  I will address both those issues in coming weeks.  For now, though, I will speak to subject at hand.

I loved the discussion comments about wanting to support local producers. It means a great deal that so many Americans see the big picture and want to be a part of a community based economy.  Produce sold at these markets, is however, about much more than supporting local. It’s about quality, flavor and nutrition.

The produce at the Saturday (usually) Market, costs more to produce.  For example, the seeds themselves are more expensive. This is partly because the mega farms can buy in larger quantities and get price breaks. It’s also related to the varieties grown. The seeds of many heirloom and open pollinated vegetable and fruit varieties are much more expensive than the ‘commercial’ varieties.

It is much more labor intensive for the small Market Farmer. Many of them are working alone, or with close family members, to amend soil, make compost, hand water and feed, etc. instead of using big machines to spit out large quantities of chemical fertilizers and hazardous insecticides.

It takes longer to get the local, organic produce to market, so fewer plants can be grown in the same space. Let me give you a quick example. Local, organic tomatoes are ripened on the vine, which takes weeks longer than picking them green, sticking them in the back of a truck and ripening them with gas canisters.  Therefore, it’s harder to replace plants for a second, or different, crop.

And let’s not forget that there are no Govt. subsidies for the Market Gardener.  That makes a huge difference in the cost of production and sale.

The Produce you buy on Saturdays at the Market costs more because it’s worth more.  It’s worth more in terms of nutrition, long term health, and taste.

No one thinks all shoes, tires,  or pickup trucks are created equal; but people continue to think that an egg is an egg and a tomato is a tomato. It baffles me, especially in light of all the information that is available out there.

It is well known that free range eggs are more than twice as good for you than are chicken house eggs.  Free range eggs are high in healthy Omega 3 fatty acids from the chickens eating grass and spending their days out in the fresh air and sunshine. Chicken house eggs are loaded with artery clogging omega 6 fatty acids from living on a grain only diet and living a sedentary life. Do you think something good for you should cost the same as something bad for you?  How much is your health worth.

Tomatoes and other fresh fruits and vegetables grown by local, organic and beyond organic farmers, are loaded with vitamins and minerals that are often missing from the supermarket varieties. And the Saturday Market ones are missing the toxic chemicals the supermarket ones are often swimming in.

Take carrots, potatoes and other root vegetables as an example. In a commercial environment, those vegetables are regularly bathed in a virtual chemical soup bath of toxins. They sit in it, soak it up and pass it on to you at low, low, prices.  Your, Saturday market varieties have likely been grown in well composted, nutrient rich soils and fed only natural fertilizers from things like seaweed. The insecticides, if used at all,  come from things like ivory dish soap, garlic juice, and water.  Do you think those more safely grown might be worth more than the chemical soup kind?

Sometimes what you save on the front end by paying less at the checkout, you pay for down the road in health care.  Produce may look alike, but they are not all the same.

The Farmers Market produce also tastes better.  I can’t even begin to recount the number of people who have remarked on the superior flavor of our produce, eggs and  chicken, as compared to what they get at the store.  What is flavor worth? Only you can decide what it’s worth to you.

There you have it. Farmers Market produce costs more because it’s worth more, just like a Coach handbag is worth more than the knock off at Wal Mart or a BMW is worth more than a Ford. The big difference is that with handbag and car analogies is that cheaper purses and automobiles are not putting your family’s health at risk.

Coming Soon: Part 2, Why Some Farmers Are Driving Consumers Away From Farmers Markets

 

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.

The Little Turkeys That Could

Mr. Crooked Gets A Secret Meal

Mr. Crooked Gets A Secret Meal

Meet ‘Mr. Crooked’. He is one of two special needs turkeys on our farm. He was born with a deformed beak. The upper and lower portions of the beak are off set which makes it difficult for him to pick up feed or bugs or pluck off blades of grass. As a result, he is 30% smaller than all the other turkeys.

Our other misfit is ‘Janky’. Jank’s knee is deformed and he walks with a severe limp. He’s always been that way. As he has grown, his leg has increasing difficulty supporting his body. Foraging is very hard for him now and his growth rate has recently slowed.

On the whole, turkeys are a pain in the tootie. As they grow, they get into everything, including our neighbors’ gardens. They pick on the chickens and ducks and they gorge themselves on everyone else’s food.  They are, without doubt, the stupidest creatures under heaven. Their only redeeming feature is they taste great with cranberry sauce.

Farming teaches me a lot about life. Sometimes it discourages me, but often I marvel at how resilient and resourceful some of God’s creatures are. I am frequently inspired by them to be a better man.

Many animals born with physical deformities simply die. They just quit. Others, like Crooked and Janky, are made of sterner stuff and find a way to overcome. These two birds have more than impressed me with their fortitude.

Despite his challenges, Mr. Crooked roams the fields with the rest of the birds, working to gather what food he can. It’s difficult, but he never gives up. He has learned to tear off plants since he can’t pluck them like the rest of the flock. He often can’t even pick up the feed pellets we put out because his beak is so offset that he can’t grip them. He will drop ten or fifteen pellets to every one he gets, but he dives in nonetheless.

I have learned that if the pellets are in a pile, he can get more because they are easier to access, so I do my best to accommodate him.  He will follow me out to the rabbit pasture while the other turkeys and chickens are occupied with the feed I’ve scattered in a field for them.  While I’m feeding the rabbits, I will pour little piles of food for Crooked so that he can get extra nutrition. He leaves a lot of it behind because once it spreads out he can’t pick it up, but I don’t mind. Since it’s just good rabbit feed, the wild bunnies will come along and gobble it up.

Janky can’t keep up with the other birds anymore when they go out to forage.  For a while he was rather discouraged and would lay down in front of the barn and sulk. Then one day he stopped pouting and realized he didn’t have to keep up, he could just go at his own pace. He moves slowly and methodically, but he’s out foraging again. It is very impressive. Sometimes I sneak him a little extra when no one is looking.

I hate wasting feed and I would never give extra food to a lazy animal, but Crooked and Janks are the very antithesis of lazy. They work hard to overcome their challenges, so I happily assist them. I never begrudge Mr. Crooked his extra cups of expensive rabbit feed, because he has demonstrated his willingness to do his part in his own upkeep.

Similarly, Janky has earned his secret feedings by his determination to succeed.

I wish more PEOPLE would live like Crooked and Janky.  I am inspired by men and women, who, despite physical or mental challenges, refuse to give up or sink into a victim mentality, but get up and fight to fend for themselves.  I NEVER resent those individuals getting assistance or help along the way.

Sometimes, one of the other turkeys will spot me feeding Mr. Crooked and will come running to grab some of it. I will always shoo the greedy bird away. There is food everywhere for him. He doesn’t need the hand out, too.

I’m guessing the analogy is clear, just in case it isn’t; while I NEVER resent a helping hand or a safety net for those who need it, I get very perturbed at greedy takers and lazy ‘vicitms’ who want a piece of a pie they don’t deserve. If you can work, work. If you can hunt, hunt. If you can forage, forage. There is plenty for everyone.

Finally, to every man, woman and child, who refuses to be a victim; who gets up every day and joins the fray; you have earned my respect and gratitude. I honor you and you inspire me. I will work harder today because of you.

Now, it’s time to go feed the turkeys.

How the Simple And Sustainable View Real Estate Differently And Why You Should,Too – Part 2

Simple living houseIn Part 1, we looked the history of American personal real estate investing. We discovered we had made a mistake thinking that investing in home ownership was the best thing we could ever put our money into. It turns out that houses are just as subject to economic and market pressures as stocks and mutual funds are. So let’s spend just a few minutes discovering a new way to think about home ownership and money.

The Simple, Sustainable crowd want to limit risk and maximize life.  We learned that big, oversized suburban homes, don’t actually improve our lifestyles, they only make them APPEAR to be improved. In reality, those houses have to be filled with stuff. Stuff costs money and generally depreciates in value rather quickly. Financing the typical suburban lifestyle frequently requires multiple incomes, which increases the number of vehicles a household needs. Those vehicles must be purchased, fueled, insured and maintained. The stress of the big circle of the big suburban lifestyle is killing us.

Living Simple, Sustainable lives, means instead of buying as much as we can afford, we look for the minimally viable living space.  It means prioritizing the land over the structures. It means smaller mortgages, spread over shorter periods of time. We think in terms of 15 year mortgages, maximum, and getting them paid off early.

A smaller house is less expensive to buy, to heat and cool, to maintain and to furnish, which reduces our expense requirements even more.  Fewer operating costs allows for faster wealth building or faster mortgage reduction. I bet you can feel your blood pressure dropping just thinking about it.

Besides the financial savings, reduced energy costs benefit the environment by reducing nonrenewable portions of our footprint.

Most Simple, Sustainable lifestyles include growing some, or all of our own food. I’m not just describing the back to the country, homesteaders, like my wife and me. More urban and suburban dwellers are gardening (much of it organic) than at any time since the end of WWII.  Whether the motivation is environmental, financial or nutritional, it’s a win for everyone except big corporations.

Let’s summarize: The Simple, Sustainable, Lifestyle, has less debt, on shorter terms, smaller operating costs, better nutrition, and less stress. We have taken back ownership of our time, our lives and our finances. We are investing in our families and in ourselves, rather than handing our hard earned cash to big banks, insurance, utility and oil companies. We are keeping it and using it for things we value rather than handing over to someone else.

I remember once, a friend parking his big, new, heavily financed truck next to my little runabout commuter car. As we got out and started walking to the office, he said, “Geez, Sam, what is that thing you’re driving?”

“Paid for”, I grinned. Years later, I’m still grinning.

There is a revolution happening all over America. Some haven’t caught on yet, but the movement is growing. Americans are beginning to think differently about real estate and home ownership. Rather than throwing money after the appearance of wealth, we are looking at ways to build REAL, tangible, cash in hand wealth. We have minimized risk, have more liquid assets and own our houses outright. We have less stress and sleep great at night. We’re not afraid of the next economic bubble. We have created a kind of immunity.  We love our simple, sustainable lives. And we’d love to have you join us.

I sure would like hear from y’all. Drop in a comment, or send an email with your thoughts on how you’ve simplified your life, or how you’d like to. After all, we’re in this thing together.