Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Back to the Farm

We will be heading back to the Farm next week. We have a great deal planned for this year:

  1. Rainwater Catchment System to collect water for livestock and emergency supply from the roofs of the barns with metal roofs. In the future an underground cistern... but for now an above ground ferro-cement tank.
  2. Slaughter 1 steer and 1 hog (we'll keep half and give half to the family that takes care of the place during the winter. We have a huge coffin freezer, which along with a couple of big BBQ's will take care of this windfall 1,2,3. Raise 10 bottle calves.
  3. Set cheese. This year some nice, hard cheeses.
  4. Buildout beehive and instill colony.
  5. Grow "the mother of all gardens." Corn, potatoes, sweet potatoes, eggplant, broccoli, cabbage, beans, squash, lettuce, spinach, onions, garlic, artichoke, brussel sprouts, carrots, tomatoes (several kinds), kale, beets, string beans, cucumbers, watermelon, cantaloupe. The garden is 80' by 177' and I am going to fill it up.
  6. Hatch out and brood 200+ chicks.
  7. Repair the house deck, barns, and fencing; build out farrowing huts for potbelly cross hogs; buildout new "goat barn".
  8. Put up a couple hundred mason jars of produce from the garden.
I've had a 350 pound hog living in the garden since last year's harvest. I had read that some folks did this for weed control (as well as fertilizer). I have not been there all winter so I don't know if this worked out as advertised... but my farmhand says it looks like the garden has a had a tiller run through it.

Pictures soon (pray for rain this summer).

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Reason for Hope

I went for a ride in my "neighborhood" in rural Tennessee the other day. There were 2 kinds of homes - "development" or tract homes, like any you would see in American sprawl, and old timey homes (wealthy and poor), occupied for people that have lived here for decades, and their family for generations.

At the tract homes I found the usual accoutraments... imported cars, useless landscaping, slate walkways...

In the "old timey" homes , I found gardens, chickens, goats...

Here's a shot of a hillside garden.

This garden was across the street and down the road a little bit from the one above.

The owners of this last garden have vast gardens beyond this photo and hold classes locally to help people preserve their garden produce.

The world is not going to come to an end if every other home has a garden like these.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Self Sufficieny Revisited

A movement toward self-sufficiency has taken hold on the Web - if not in the real world. People visit a plethora of sites to get their fix - and that's ok. You gotta start somewhere.

I try to approach this in a very practical way, and to report back that way, too.

So... if you really want to be "self-sufficient"...

Well, you can't be 100% self-sufficient, and you don't need to be. You can produce most of your own, food, but not all of it, and you don't need to - and you can do it and still have a life and a job.

The first misconception is that you can garden your way to self-sufficiency... egh! wrong, thanks for playing!  You can grow most of your own vegetables - growing spinich, brocolli, peppers, lettuce, tomatoes, potatoes, kale, carrots, etc... sufficient for a family of 4 or 5 is no big deal (preserving it all IS a big deal). Of course, if you tried to subsist off just this you would be dead or pretty sickly pretty soon (if you either have to earn money or farm full time that is... I guess sedentary couch potatoes could get by with just veggies, though their teeth and bones would certainly miss dairy in their diet). That produce is easy for a kitchen garden to produce.

Corn, potatoes, and beans in sufficient quantities to sustain your family is going to take a bit more work. Actually, a lot more, but still doable.

I get nasty emails from vegetarians on a semi regular basis lately. I always point out to them that they kill more animals with their consumption of fossil fuels than I do by feeding my family, but never mind hard facts - we are talking sensitivities here.

You see, I am a card carrying member of PETA... no not that PETA, the other one: People Eating Tasty Animals (and their milk and eggs, and using their manure for fertilizer). Animal protein is an absolute necessity in agrarian cultures with little fossil fuel inputs (try getting Omega-3 in your diet without animal fat), and as I TRY to do everything with as little fossil fuel input as possible (just look at my pictures... does it look like I cut the grass very often? NAFC.) they are necessay here, as well.

(I wonder if vegetarians consider the road kill from truck and trains carrying their grains and vegetables to them, or killed by climate change and pollution caused by operating farm and transport equiment, producing chemical fertilizers, pesticides used on the crops (bugs are animals, too), animals killed by farm equipment (rabbits, birds, snakes, toads, etc... call those fields home), I could go on and on but a "true beleiver" Vegan would not have read it anyway. Am I the only one to notice that, well, let me rephrase... I have NEVER met a vegan that was not pro-abortion. How's that for being STUNNINGLY full of sh*t?)

If you were looking for politically correct self sufficiency, you came to the wrong blog.

But I digress...

Organic Farms need animals for fertilizer and food - simple like that. Not want, should-have-if-possible, or ONLY for the manure (what would you do with all of the excess bulls, billy goats, roosters, and Boar hogs? They would quickly destroy your home and fields, eat every blade of grass, and injure and kill your children (think I exagerate? Leave your children in a field with a bunch of Bulls and Boar Hogs for an afternoon, let me know what you find when you come back), etc...

Let me repeat: Organic farming means animals for traction, for food, and for fertilizer. No animals, no organic farming - and no organic farming means continued factory farming and long distance food transportation, and that means climate change, pollution, etc...

It takes time, effort, and practice to be self-sufficent. You cannot learn it on the web. You could still be a doctor, lawyer, or indian chief - whatever it is you do for a living - and still produce most of your own food at home (if you live in the country or the burbs, that is). You don't need a lawn whatsoever. Every inch around your home can grow something edible. Fruit trees and berry bushes instead of ornamentals. Grapes instead of fences or hedges. Raised beds instead of a front yard. Housing 20 chickens and 2 dairy goats instead of a dog and a cat will give you eggs and milk rather than hookworm and dirty kitty litter, and the chickens and goats have a much better carbon foot print... it ain't even close. (I have a dog and barn cats... but they are working animals).

You would have to have the cooperation of your wife - good luck - and your family. Why do I say "wife" and not "spouse"? Because, there will be damn few single women, or men, moving to the country to start a self sufficient homestead, and even fewer single mothers. Nope, the demographics say it will be married people with children, with Dad providing and mom feeding the family and raising and educating the children - who'd a thunk it?! (Nothing is absolute. We have some lovely gay women neighbors (they describe themselves as "bull dykes" among other things... I love people that can laugh at themselves) running a self sufficient farm, and they are a hoot!)

So why'd I say "good luck"? I live half the year in Boca Raton, FL, where the poor people have a million dollar net worth, and the rich quite a bit more than that, and I should know - I manage their money! I hear their concerns like a priest in the confessional. Any of those guys even TRYS to move his family to a small holding homestead or ditch the landscaping for a productive garden, or try's to downsize the familY'y consumption... and it is off to divorce court for his troubles (I truly wish the "Real" American Housewife were more like Sharon Astyk but that that just ain't the case - America is fascinated by the Reality Show "The Real Housewives of Wherever" precisely because it is, in fact, REALITY). Sorry, but "family law" has left the successful "king of his castle" nothing more than a neutered figurehead, a laboring eunich that, if he so much as steps out of line, will lose his home and life's savings in addition to the family jewels he lost to the marriage/divorce industrial complex by marrying without a prenup agreement.  What is the point of marriage in a society that promotes divorce?  

(I am sure to get some winning emails and comments with that. Funny thing about the "truth", it gets people's piss hot. If I were to speak untruths, no one would care because we all know they simply were not true.)

There is good news, though. The Great Recession AND Peak Oil, in addition to making people poorer and requiring them to be more self sufficient,  is going to demolish the marriage/divorce industrial complex. People (men - I mean, come on, have you ever heard of "GROOM" Magazine?) are already:

  1. Putting off marriage

  2. Not getting married, ever (over 40% of American children are born out of wedlock)

  3. Those that do marry are Engaging a pre-nuptual agreement more often to level the playing field

These were the unintended consequences (along with our SKY HIGH divorce rate and destroyed families) of Gloria Steinem, et al, and their Feminist revolution (one whose putative benefits went to 30 to 50 year old women AND THEN SPLIT WITH THEIR LAWYERS at the direct expense of 0 to 20 year old women (girls) and men (boys).  The Great Recession is going to remove the incentive to divorce that was an unintended consequence in the 1960's and 1970's revisions of family law here in the U.S.   People are going to NEED their family in a world without Medicare, Social Security, and Food Stamps.

Back to Organic Farming... So what does the previous couple of paragraphs diatribe have to do with Small Holding, Homestead, Organic Farming, whatever...?

There was a reason they were called "Family Farms"!!!  Family, as in a husband and wife and their children.  Not that that is necessarily what a family has to look like, but it was themost  successful model for the building blocks of "community" for Millenia prior to the industrial age.

In an agrarian society do you know what women without husbands DO FOR A LIVING??  I'll give you 2 1/2 guesses, and a hint:  It is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, professions around.  If Peak Oil means we are going back to an agrarian system and the collapse of industrial society - why is it verbotten to discuss ALL likely outcomes.

Don't like the political commentary with your victory gardens and dairy goats?  My apologies, but it was politics that got us into the mess we are in, politics that writes the nation's laws (including family law) and it is the analysis of those political errors that might lead the way out of it. Besides, this is my blog.

Yours for a better world (by starving out divorce lawyers)


Wednesday, June 10, 2009


See that blue strap on the back of the goats legs?  That is the "goat hobble" I mentioned in my last post.  This was this goat's first time EVER being milked.  She is just 2 years old, and just had her first baby.  This goat was not bottle raised, and so is not comfortable with people.  Still, her first time being milked literally took me all of 5 minutes (not including catching her, just the "hands on" portion).  See that container I am holding?  That is a 1/2 gallon, and she probably could have given a full gallon judging by the size of her udder, but I am leaving the kid on her for a few more days and will only milk her once per day.

I had to secure her leg with that orange string to keep her from leaning and falling of the stand, but, all in all, with the goat hobble and and a milking stand and stanchion this was a breeze.  In 2 weeks I will bet you that this goat will hop right up, get a snack, and not require the hobble.

This batch was for homemade yogurt, and we plan to make some homemade cheese this weekend.  Plus, I like goat milk in my coffee.

It takes me less than 15 minutes to go "out" for milk and eggs.  My older son helped lead the goat to the stand as my 5 month old daughter looks on.

After a tough day of milking we put up my 2-year-old's tree swing. A couple of neighbors came by to help. I have to say that Country neighbors are a whole different animal than one's neighbors in say, New York City. The 11 year old girl in the picture usually stops over every day when I am in my garden to fill me in on her day, and that handsome young man in the hat is a most gifted country music singer and song writer. I am going to put one of his songs on tonight and I will link it here. He is unbelievable.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Harvest Begins

Today we harvested 2 heads of broccoli, 3 heads of lettuce, and 30 round bales of hay. Actually, the hay came from a farm down the road, but my neighbors and my son and I harvested and loaded it to the farm. Each bale weighs 1500 to 2000 lbs, and will be fed to our livestock during the winter months in hay rings. Even with the rings, at least a third of the hay will be wasted. It is amazing to me that one can buy a ton of hay, delivered to your barn, for $25. Think about that. How much would you have to pay some one to cut a ton of hay by hand, load it into his ox cart, and bring it to your farm and load it in your barn? Somehow think it would be more than $25, and I bet we would find very ingenious way to not waste so much of that hay.  (My son and I and our 3 legged dog, T-bone.)

We are going to use our horses to pull a Doctor's Buggy for transportation as well as a dump cart for work around the farm, and they need to spend time pulling something that we can jump out of if necessary while we train them. The trick is lots of walking, not trotting or cantering, as you MIGHT be able to stop them if they are just walking and get spooked. Being broke to ride and being broke to pull are 2 different things.

Being self-sufficient means pulling stuff with animal power, not my 1974 Ford 4000 tractor. Our farm is too small to support all of our animals with forage, so we are working on finding a bigger place and buy hay for the winter months, though I think it could support the minimum amount of livestock to be self-sufficient (we have 14 acres).

A farm is the ultimate DIY environment. Besides the obvious things that must be done during the planting and harvest seasons, there are many projects one can apply themselves to. My 16 year old is in the process of refurbishing this old training buggy for horses (and drivers - namely us). We have not decided what kind of axle or wheel we want yet, and will first refinish the metal, and fashion new seats. He has never done anything like this before, but it is a good cerebral exercise in problem solving for my son.

This is our hog "Wilber". We have moved him to an enclosure in back of our garden which is overrun with weeds and tall grass. The hope is is that Wilber will root up all of the weeds and grass, eat the roots and seeds, and fertilize the area for next spring. I have been told that this will work, and have seen reports on the web of others doing this, but this is my first time using a hog as a garden tractor. I will post pictures of Wilber's work and progress.

This upcoming weekend we are going to do a couple of "dry runs" and practice canning now for the upcoming harvest season.  I will let you know how that works out.

Yours for a better world,


Sunday, June 7, 2009

Goats & Steers

The first of our bottle calves have arrived. We expect at least 10 and as many as 20 over the next couple of weeks. It is quite a job feeding and caring for them all. Bottle calves are usually from dairy farms that need their cows to bear calves in order to induce milk production but have no interest in raising the calves. They are taken away from their mother after 72 hours, and sold to operations like ours that will bottle feed the calves twice a day, often by hand. Each calf consumes 1/2 gallon of milk replacement twice per day, for roughly 45 days, depending on the calf.

My son is feeding "King Lear" the (soon to be) steer (we will castrate the calf tomorrow).

A nice shot of a head of broccoli from the garden, on its way to tomorrow morning's omelette...

Sorry back to goats and steers...

Here is a shot of my goat milking stand with built-in stanchion (with my 2 year old playing nearby to give you some sense of scale, and yes, those are Zebras in the background... my neighbor raises them along with Camels and Kangaroos... go figure):

This is merely a knee high bench my son and I made from old decking and some 2X4's, and then a stanchion has been fashioned from cheap pine with a jig saw (you could use a coping saw, too) with one side complete stationary and the other pivoting on a bolt on the bottom that closes with the hook and eye hardware typical on outside fencing. This holds the goat's head while you milk. I always give the goat a tasty snack while I milk to keep her occupied and happy.

Some goats kick, especially those that are new to being milked and were not raised on a bottle by people.  See that blue thing on the platform? That is a "Goat Hobble" (click the link to see more about the hobble).  This hobble will make your life a whole bunch easier - if you want to have a milk goat I highly recommend it.

By the way.... while milking as somewhat of a commitment, it ain't all that big a deal.  Once you get good at it, milking 15 minutes twice per day will keep you in all of the milk typical family needs... speaking of which...  we pasturize our milk... don't listen to those back-to-the-land jag off's that tell you that pasturizing kills off all the nutrients in your milk.  Not a shred of truth.  It DOES kill nasties, like Listeria, and other bacteria, and the vast majority of the nutrients remain.  

Our goats are raised 100% on pasture, so the milk ewe collect from them is very high in Omega-3 fatty acids.  Here they are enjoying a beautiful Tennessee Spring evening:

While we do eat our animals and sell others for human consumption, we make sure that that they live a very comfortable, stress free, cruelty free, free range life.  This is no factory farm.  The animals have access to fresh pastures free of herbicides and pesticides, water and shelter, in a completely organic and perma-culture environment.

But I digress...

Back to the bottle calves.  We can rotate several batches through the farm each year, and actually make a decent profit doing so.  The best thing about a bottle calf operation is that you can decide when you want to raise a herd and when you want to sell them all and go on vacation.  That is not true of many other farm operations, like dairy.  A small holder bent on self sufficiency would still need a "cash crop", and these bottle calves will be 450 to 500 pounds in 6 months or so and ready to go to the feeder and finishing market.

Bottle raising dairy goats makes milking and handling them a BREEZE.  I recommend it highly.  It is a bit more work than bottle feeding calves, as goats need to be fed 4 times per day for the first 3 or 4 weeks, and twice a day for an additional month, but they are as cute as a new puppy at this age, so it ain't all bad.

"Live Long and Prosper"!


Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Vegetable garden is coming in gang-busters.  Here is the Zucchini, with the beefsteak tomatoes, cabbage and broccoli bringing up the rear.

This is the only way to garden, square foot gardening. This is the first year I tried it and this will be the only method from now on in my garden. Weeding is the nightmare the ends most gardening hobbies. I planted a 36 foot long, 4.5 foot wide raised bed with Roma Tomatoes, Bell Peppers, Artichoke, Cabbage, and Broccoli - but packed them in very tight. The only place I have a problem with weeds in this bed is where a plant didn't make it. The vegetables crowded out the weeds. I have 30 tomato plants, 20 Cabbage, 24 broccoli, 6 pepper, and 6 artichoke plants in the bed. I could have packed in a few more.  

Notice the black ground on the next bed?  I lost my spinach and carrots to a weed infestation and had to start over.  So I placed dry straw very thickly on the bed and burned it.  No more weeds OR weed seeds.  I may have to do this several times to get ahead of their cycle seed production.

From the other side:

This is one of those potato circles planted in 12 inches of straw 6 feet in diameter.  City folks may have forgotten but potatoes are a ROOT vegetable.  Those leafy green shoots you see are the top side of the potato plant.  I expect each patch to yield 30 to 60 pounds of excellent organic potatoes.  A patch of Tomatoes, hot pepper, and sweet corn is behind it.

My wife gave me this sign as a present today, and we hung it at the farm entrance:

The vegetables that I started indoors are coming in very strong, the pole beans had to be restarted, and the corn is just poking through. I grow field corn for the chickens and sweet corn for the table and freezer.

Tennessee has the worst soil possible for vegetable gardening. Hard, red clay, baked to a brick like texture and consistency by the sun and reduced to clinging cement like slime when it rains.  If you look at one of the shots of the raised bed you will see my "compost pile" covered by a tarp in the background.  The "compost" is literally tons of manure and wasted hay (hay the horses littered the ground around their hay ring with and excreted upon), it was well over my head a couple weeks ago (and I am 6'5", or nearly 2 meters), and was 20 feet wide and 12 feet thick at the base.  My neighbor helped by using the front end loader on his tractor and moved the pile 30 feet from the winter corral to the garden. This compost will fill 2 raised beds when mixed with some course sand and soil that has been sifted through a "screen" of sorts.  Without that compost and other amendments, I would be wasting my time trying to grow things in earth better suited for building pyramids. I expect to be able to use that compost in the Fall.

I cannot imagine how one would do self sufficient, organic gardening capable of feeding a family without animal manure - and LOTS of it.  Composting grass clippings, "humanure", leaf litter or kitchen compost just wouldn't cut it.  I am talking TONS of organic matter here... what is one to do, bring in 6,000 pounds of leaf litter in the family car?

Once your beds are established with a high content of organic matter it is not too hard to maintain their fertility.  But that is just a kitchen vegetable garden.  Keeping your farm fields fertile without chemical fertilizers requires a great deal of effort - and manure.

Most urban folks don't know that hay, grass grown for livestock, is America's third most valuable crop (just google it).  If a farmer continues to take hay off of his fields and NOT return the manure from the animals he fed it to... it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what is happening in his soils.  Yes, he can continue to fertilize those fields with chemical fertilizer (he would have to, or he would not be able to grow hay in a few short seasons), but he is on borrowed time.  If you remove soil nutrients, they are gone and unavailable for future crops unless you replace them or "recycle" them.  Crop rotation really means letting your animals graze on your fallow fields, letting them "fertilize" as they go, as well as planting legumes.

We are buying 20 "bottle" calfs to raise this summer and sell in the late Fall/early Winter.  They will come to the farm at less than 100 pounds and leave just under 500 pounds in weight.  They will leave us with no shortage of Manure.  They will be my 16 year old son's summer job.

Fun fact to know... most of the Nitrogen from animals is in the urine, not the manure.  The manure provides the organic matter, the urine provides the N  (not to worry, the animals will be happy to mix it up for you).  Unfortunately, N is easily lost in evaporation or in transport into the atmosphere, so it is better to have the material coming right out of your barn or corrals.

Lastly, we are expanding the garden, and rather than fight with the weeds and grass in the new area we are expanding our hog's area.  I have been told by others that in less than a couple of weeks a single hog (Wilbur is about 225 lbs) will turn over a 1/4 acre and eat every root, weed seed, and blade of grass.  I will let you know, and will try to take before and after pictures.