Sunday, March 13, 2011

Alternative Gardening Methods

     I have been studying different types of gardening methods that will allow me the the most amount of production with the least amount of input.  My homestead is shaped like a bowl with a pond in the center so I have problems with erosion.  These are not that as bad as they could be because I have hundreds of mature trees on the "rim" of the bowl holding lots of the dirt there. However, my homestead is surrounded by a farmers field and when we get massive rains, they tend to wash dirt away or the sand that the field is left with on to my property.  It's weird looking at the difference in the color of the soil at my property line.  The field is brown sand and mine is loamy clay.  I talked to a local who has lived around here all his life and he said my place used to be a drainage ditch so I guess it is only natural.  When the house was built the first owners were really thinking!  They put tiling in under all the downspouts and the tiling runs right into the pond so (knock on wood) this basement has NEVER flooded.  Another minor problem I have found with my place besides the runoff is a mucky pond.  After the ice formed on top of it this year I went out and drilled a hole in the ice to see just how deep the pond really is.  I was shocked!  I drilled through about 8 inches of ice and then there was only about a foot of water below it.  Then I pushed the auger down further and it sunk all the way to the handle.  When I pulled it up it was full of dead leaves.  I'd be willing to bet that I have about 3 feet of decaying plant matter on the bottom of the pond.  Maybe this sumer I will have it pulled excavated out or ill pump all the water out and shovel it myself-this is not being lazy so it may not happen.  I would like to get at this material and use it for compost.  I would also like to have a deeper pond and maybe stock a few catfish in it.  Anyway, that brings me to the first alternative I will be applying to my garden this year and that is swailing.  Not sure if I spelled that right but oh well.  This is basically a drainage ditch on a slight contour that I would like to apply to my bushes and grapevines.  I want to run it in a zig zag pattern down the slope of my hill and plant my perennial fruit bushes and grapevines along it.  This will slow the water down and ultimately feed my raspberries.  If I do not decide to go with that method I may just use the more common method of terracing.  I like the idea of swailing a bit more however.
     Next, I recently watched a video on a method of gardening for drier climates called hugelkultur (hoogal-culture).  In this method a hole is dug and filled with wood.  Then it is filled back in with dirt and planted on top of.  The wood acts like a sponge and over decades, releases water and nutrients for the plant or tree that is planted on top of it.  I have TONS of wood from trees that I moved last summer and this would be a perfect use for most of the wood, at least until I get the fireplace going.  Here is a link to the video I watched I would highly recommend watching as many videos buy Paul Wheaton as you can if you are into this sort of thing.  Anyway thats just something I thought I would share with you today.  Have a great one!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Seed Starting

   Sorry it has been a while since my last post.  I think I am going through seasonal affective disorder.  Are you as sick of winter as I. am?  I'm a bit jealous of those folks down south who can be outside tending their gardens.  I have been browsing seed catalogs for almost three months now and have made all my orders.  Some of them haven't come in yet as they were trees and bushes and they would probably not make it till frost scare is gone.
     Though this winter has been long here in MN it has not gone without homestead gardening work.  These long winters give us northern gardeners a LONG time to plan what they will plant and where they will plant it.  I read a book last winter called Carrots Love Tomatoes and it gave me a TON of great information on companion planting.  I will have a better idea on what to plant together as some plants perform better when they have a companion.  Some also do worse if they have the wrong plant planted next to them.  I'm not going to go into what goes with what in this blog but if I have peaked your interest check the book out.
     Today I started two flats full of tomatoes and peppers.  I have ten varieties of peppers and five of tomatoes.  I have 4 more flats to start but the potting soil that was in my garage all winter is FROZEN on the bottom.  Tomorrow it should be thawed out enough to finish the rest.  I have broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, and artichoke-that one is an experiment, to finish staring.  These plants I will be starting will make up about 30% of my garden for this year as I have popcorn, melons(5 varieties), beans, cucumber, carrot, parsnip, and peas to directly sow into the soil.  I also plan on planting small grains as another experiment.  These consist of flax, 2 varieties of wheat, and amaranth.  Oh yeah before I forget I'm planting some forage crops this year too.  I hope to fence off a few different areas in my yard to plant crimson clover and hairy vetch.  These are cover crops that pull nitrogen out of the air and (fix) it to their roots.  I want to have maybe 3 different fenced off areas of these plants to use as chicken food.  Apparently chickens love the same forage crops that bovine animals and deer love.  This will maybe save me some money on chicken feed, and a bit of work.  I will let the birds in on maybe one section a week and rotate them so they don't eat everything to the ground. Can you say sustainability??  The fencing may cost a bit at first but if I purchase quality stuff it should last almost a lifetime.
     Yeah, spring could be a busy time for me as I have to do all the initial tilling on my land and lots of perennial planting also.  I'm experimenting with blueberries and goji berries this year as well.  My first born daughter will be joining our family around April 1, so I may have a bit of non-gardening work to do as well.  I never meant for this blog to be just about gardening but this time of year its all I think about.  Having a daughter on the way has put everything in perspective for me too.  I want to build a property that can give back to us as we take care of it.  If I don't have any kind of monetary inheritance for her, a food forest might even provide more than money can buy.  Her name is Lily........I like flowers too!!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Cash crops to help fund my homestead

     I have been going through lots of seed catalogs this winter as I am bored off my hiney, and I have come up with many different crops that I will grow this year just for selling at the local farmers market. Some may seem quite odd to some of you but commonplace to others.
     First of these will be most obvious-eggs.  I plan on buying some birds from a friend who is trying his hand at hatching his own birds.  I think I can raise about 12 here with minimal effort on my part.  I may have to buy a bit of feed now and then but I'd much rather have them scratch around for most of their food.  Actually I would rather use the eggs as a barter item at the local farmers market if I can find a willing person to trade with.  At our house we like eggs but maybe not enough to eat everything our birds produce.  I would also like to raise quail for eggs.  I guess these birds are fairly easy to raise and the eggs are extraordinary.  I owe this idea to my wife as she loves watching the food network.  I saw Bobby Flay make an eggs benedict with these once and it just looked awesome!  These eggs also bring a premium as there aren't many farmers raising quail-yet.
     Secondly-Asparagus.  Last summer I planted a 4' by 12' bed of the stuff and it took off.  Usually it takes a few years before the plant is established enough to take being cut every day.  I plan on planting another bed the same size this year with another variety.  This will be far too much for us to eat so I will try selling or bartering some at our local farmers market.  I may also try pickling the stuff and selling it in jars.  Everything is better pickled!  I might also try this with extra eggs.  It is a great way to store food long term also.
     Thirdly-Mushrooms.  I can guess what you are already thinking, but these are the kind that are edible and non-hallucigenetic.  I purchased what is called "plug" spawn.  These are little wooden dowels that are inocculated with mushroom spores.  I guess you drill holes in a freshly cut wooden log and drive these dowels in them.  Then you dig the end of the log into the ground about 2 inches.  This helps keep the log moist.  The mushrooms grow best in a damp shaded environment like the woods around my house. I bought spawn of Shiitake, Maitake, and one called Lion's mane(this one apparently tastes like lobster!).  I think these taste the best when they are fresh, but they can be preserved for years when they are dried.  The website where I purchased these from is .  I highly recommend this company as I had my spawn in 2 days!  I would like to also market these to local restaurants, but let's just see how much I get this year.
     The fourth crop I will go into here is corn.  However, I will not be raising sweet corn as that market is FLOODED and the local farmers around my folks house raise the best stuff I have ever eaten and I'd rather just buy it from them.  I want to raise popcorn!  I bought a few different kinds of heirloom varieties that I hope to cross this year.  The first year of this I probably wont have enough to sell but I'll save the seeds and see what happens.  Also, I purchased seed to raise an ancient corn variety that is used for making cornmeal.  I wont have enough to sell the corn for cornmeal but I may try to make cornbread or muffins to sell from my very own cornmeal.  This will also call for getting a grain mill, which I can use for all the grains I plan to harvest here.  Here is a link to the corn varieties I purchased. POPCORN-

Hopi Blue
    Anyway, thats all for today.  I hope to have many more varieties of things to sell these just seemed to be the most interesting ones to talk about.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

A Beautiful Sunday afternoon

      It's a beautiful Sunday afternoon in February and like many of you out there, the only thing I can think about today is getting my garden ready for summer!!!  Oh I think there is a sporting event on the television today too, but that is at least 3rd on the list of things running through my mind today.....GO PACKERS!!
     Yesterday I finished my seed sprouting shelf.  For this I used a wire shelving unit that I picked up at Target.  These will hold around 350 lbs of weight and you can have from 2 to 5 tiers on them.  They are a quite versatile unit to have on the homestead.  I think we have 5 of them!  The artificial lighting will be provided by a florescent lighting unit that I found in my garage and a small grow light I purchased at a local hardware store.  I picked up some plastic trays and peat pots at my local big box farm retailer also.  The total $$ I have invested in my sprouting shelf is around $100, and other than replacing the light bulbs this should last me the rest of my life.
     Having a unit like this is a necessity in a zone 4 garden climate,  unless you plan on buying started plants at your local nursery.  This I would highly recommend for a novice as all the hard work is taken care of for you.  Supporting local business is always a plus too!
   I'm going through the extra work as I plan on seed saving.  I have not studied this too much since grade school but how hard can it be?  I hope to develop my own strains of seeds that are most suited for my growing area.  I think if I plant enough varieties of things and keep crossing them, eventually I will have varieties that will be completely adapted to my area.  This seems to be the most sustainable way of gardening to me as I will never have to rely on seed companies every spring.  I am however quite lazy and will be letting the bees and wind do my pollenation for me.  This could backfire a bit depending on the crop that is planted around my house.  If I plan on planting corn this year to save seed from, I will have to get an airtight greenhouse.  Last year the farmer bordering my lot planted soybeans so since we only rotate two crops in this state, I imagine there will be corn this year.  Unless I can be absolutely sure he is not planting some kind of genetically modified Franken-corn(this is a reference to Frankenstein not Minnesota's illustrious senator), I should not even try to save seed.  This does give me another reason to buy a greenhouse though!  When I talk about GMO crops, I do not mean merely hybrids.  These types of plants will only grow one year, and are not succeptible to Roundup. Usually they do this by merging fish or insect genes in with the corn. Don't ask me how this works, ask Monsanto.  Also, if I was a commercial farmer and saved seeds for the nest year like my ancestors did, and they had crossed with my neighbors GMO corn, I could be sued by the seed company as they have the patent on that gene.  Some call that capitalism, I'd call it something else.....
     Anyway, I'll climb down off my detergent box for now.  I have been searching through seed catalogs and WOW.  I can't believe I can grow peaches and apricots in this zone!  There will be so much diversity in my yard, I may never have to rely on a grocery store again!!
     Well, that's all for now.  I have 4 hours of pre-game show to watch........or COPS.  I think COPS!

Monday, January 31, 2011

I bet you have never heard of this type of food production!!

     As many of you may know, I spend a lot of time behind the wheel for my job.  Since I think I have heard every song that has been played on the radio EVER, I resorted to listening to podcasts.  I have many interests so and there is a podcast for everything so it seems.  This brought me to a few podcasts that have to deal with homesteading and survivalism.  One of these is called The Self Sufficient Homestead , and the other is called The Survival Podcast .  These two podcasts have filled my head with ideas on ways to grow food and basic homesteading in general.
     One of the most interesting ways I have learned to produce BUSHELS of my own food cheaply is called Aquaponics.  Maybe you have heard of this type of farming but I sure never had until Johnny Max and his wife The Queen (The Self Sufficient Homestead podcast) brought it up on one of their earlier episodes.
     If you have never heard of aquaponics, maybe you have heard of hydroponics.  This is basically growing plants in a media where the roots have a constant supply of water.  With aquaponics you do the same thing except you also grow fish.  Let me explain.
     The idea is to have a fish tank filled with a type of fish that you enjoy eating.  It really depends on how fast you would like to have these fish ready to eat and the temperature of your water.  It is impossible for me here in MN to grow Tilapia through the winter without the use of a water heater, because these are a tropical fish and they basically die in any temperature under 70 degrees.  Just as it is impossible for me to grow trout in the summer without a way to chill the water as they die once the temperature gets too hot.  I think I have decided to go with sunfish as they are hardy in the cold MN winter water temps and the hot summer also, plus they are EASY to please food-wise.
     So....we have a fish tank full of sunfish, now what do we do?  Next you need to get a tub of some sort to grow the vegetables in.  I wouldn't go too deep, probably about 6 inches.  Now you need a media to grow these veggies in.  The most commonly used media would be small river rock. Another option for this is a product called Hydroton I think this is the media I will use.  Ok, so now we have a fish tank, fish, a tub, and media to grow veggies.  Lets get going!
     The whole idea behind aquaponics is you grow fish and cycle their water through your tub filled with plants and media.  The fish waste is taken up by the plants as a nutrient, cleaning out the water. Next the water is replaced back in the fish tank with a lot of splashing to replenish oxygen for the fish.  Depending on the amount of area the vegetables are taking, this can usually be done with only the use of one pump.
     One of the hard parts of this method, is finding a cheap way to feed your fish.  Lots of people in the aquaponics game feed their fish duckweed.  This is that slimy green stuff that collects on the top of stagnant ponds.  Actually, it's not slimy it just looks that way.  These tiny plants are actually the smallest flowering plants on our planet, and they are FULL of protein.  I'm not sure if this alone will meet all the nutritional needs of my fish, but there is research all over the internet for me to search out.  Apparently some third world countries are devising ways of cultivating this to feed swine I also plan on using this as the main diet of my chickens-after their bugs anyway.  Duckweed can also be used as a kind of secondary filtration in an aquaponics setup. Just another stop for the water on the way back to the fish tank.  If you have been to my house in summer or read one of my first blogposts, you know I have a pond.  Last summer around August, this pond looked like a putting green with all the duckweed.  I tried netting it off but that took forever and two days later the pond was covered again.  Duckweed actually double its size every day, which could probably feed the world if more countries knew of its benefits.  I don't think you could BUY a better solar panel than a gallon full of duckweed on a pond.  I devised a better way to harvest this plague, or crop, whatever you would call it.  A SHOPVAC.  I am going to tie this to a tree so it doesn't make it's way into the pond while im in there by the way.  I do not recommend trying this at home kids!!-but I'm going to.  Duckweed also makes a good mulch and green manure in compost heap.  Personally I think it's a wonder plant. Here is a little video that shows a massive Aquaponics system in use.  See I you don't get as fired up about aquaponics as I am after watching this!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The ULTIMATE recycling

    As those who follow my blog already know.....I intend to be a LAZY homesteader.  This brings me to the topic of my posting for the day.  Many of the tools I need around my homestead have been around for hundreds of years.  In this time they have rarely changed in their basic shape or design.  Take the modern shovel or fencepost.  I call them modern only because they are still in use today.  These tools have been around for hundreds of years yet they still retain their basic function and shape.
     I work for a company that sells batteries and buys scrap metal.  In the 3 months that I have worked there I have come across countless tools I have found a use for around my homestead.  It is amazing what some people will "throw" away.  I'm not talking about junk either.  Among the things that people have scrapped to get their "scrap price" are-two jack stands, an antique cast iron apple corer-peeler, like new 5 gallon plastic gas can with nozzle(this one is a quandary as to who would bring a plastic gas can to a METAL scrapyard), 60 year old Toledo scale(something you would have seen at a candy or hardware store in the 50s), countless steel T posts(all completely straight), rakes, shovels, hand tools, etc.  To me this seems a shame to throw away all these tools of years gone by.  It seem that we have become a throw away society.  With all these products now coming to us for pennies from China, it seems as though we have lost the value of these things that our ancestors produced on our very own soil!  I tend to buy American made goods whenever I can but there just isn't that much stuff made here anymore.  I think we should start recycling those things that WE made here in generations past.  Even if we didn't make it here, lets re-use things that are still able to be used!
        My wife would like to list me under the definition "hoarder" but I see things a bit differently.  I really hate to get political on this blog so I will limit it to this paragraph.
      With all the fraud in our current electoral system, why do any of us vote? There...I said it.....  It seems that no matter who is the "leader" of our country, we keep going in this downward spiral to tyranny.  All great nations have met this same fate after around 200 years of freedom it all comes crashing down.  We seem to be headed in the same direction, yet I don't let it get me down.  I take the position that "THOSE PEOPLE DON'T HAVE ANY EFFECT ON ME" and my blood pressure is always quite low.  We need to take more   control of the way our lives are being led.  Don't pay attention to the talking heads on the idiot box, the advertisers pay their wages, do you not think they have any say on what is being said?
     OK rant over: back to antique tools!  Basically all I want to say in this blog post is this- go to a junkyard!! You will be surprised how many useful tools from days gone by you will find.  I have purchased a rake, snowblower(ran like a sewing machine), jack stands, gas can, bench grinder, bench vise, roof rake, 12 T posts, etc-and this is only so far!
    Another good place to look for things is a garage sale.  I have not gone to many of these but I have a feeling that spring will bring many adventures!! In closing I just want to say REPURPOSE.  This would be the little known 4th "R" in the recycling square.  Try to find new uses for old things and you will be amazed at what you can do!!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Winter Homestead Preparations

     At my zone 4 homestead, this winter seems to drag on. It's only January and I'm getting cabin fever.  This seems to only be magnified by the 15-yep 15- seed catalogs I have received in the mail in the first week of this month.  The pages are so colorful and give me so many ideas of things to plant.  It seems every year there are new varieties of almost every fruit and vegetable you can imagine, whether they be ancient varieties of corn that have been around forever, or a new tomato that is early blight resistant.
     Now would be a good time of year for me to actually draw up plans on where to put different things, but I am far too impulsive for that.  I think I ordered almost everything that would grow in my zone 4 garden, including a new variety of banana tree that is supposed to be cold hardy down to -20! This tree alone has me very intrigued. Here is the actual link for the banana tree . I just hope I have enough room for all my trees and bushes.  My wife and I went to the local hardware store and picked up a bunch of seed starting trays, and I already have the potting soil and peat pots so I should be all set to start my seed.  This year I have decided to grow more unusual things than the normal farmer's market fare.  Some of these things include blue and red corn for corn meal, 3 varieties of mushroom spores, two of those banana trees, currants, 3 varieties of cherries, three persimmon trees, and an ancient grain called Amaranth.  I hope to save seed from this grain to propagate more for years to come.  I plan on using it not only as a flour but a nice natural grain to add to my chicken's feed.  I also have heirloom wheat and flax for the same purpose. Eventually I would like to have a parcel of my tillable land just for these grains for my chickens.  I may add a few more grains to this mix but this is what I have so far.  I'm thinking maybe rye and some triticale.  These plants will provide nutrition and bedding material for the chickens and they will break it down more so when I add it to my compost pile it wont have far to break down.  After a few years this should produce  enough food for my birds that I shouldn't have to buy feed.  I have a few more ideas on easy FREE food for my birds that I will go into in later posts
     The winter has also been a good time for me to hone my shooting skills.  Last spring I planted 5 Honeycrisp apple trees.  Last week I noticed that the bark had been stripped on ALL of them, but only up to about 18 inches off the ground.  There were also rabbit tracks leading up to each one.  Last Thursday when I drove home I noticed 'Bugs' was sitting right next to my future chicken coop.  I let my Brittany out of the truck and she ran right to it!  It dove under the shed and there it stayed, till dark anyway.  Then Sunday morning came, so I looked out my bedroom window and there she was again in the same spot!  I leave a magazine with 5 rounds in it right next to my Ruger 10/22 for just this occasion.  Needless to say, I have a fresh cottontail in my freezer.  It was rather small being a female so I will go shoot a few of the dozens of gray squirrels on my property and put it all in a stew.  I think I can smell it already!