Why We Use Raised Beds For Our Annual Crops

Why We Use Raised Beds-

I have to admit that I was a reluctant convert to raised bed gardening. I grew up gardening in tilled soil and I loved it. I loved the smell of freshly turned dirt and I enjoyed plowing and rotor-tilling. I always grew good crops that way and well, “if it ain’t broke…don’t fix it” has been my motto. Then we moved our family and cattle herd to the St. Lawrence valley, in the Thousand Island region of northern NY. The new farm lays very low and the soil is heavy clay. Clay ground can grow fantastic crops but our farm is wet, and wet clay is a vegetable growers worst nightmare. After several less than successful (dare I say completely failed) attempts at gardening on the new farm, we took the leap and started using some raised beds. The results were fantastic and we have been busy building more. I have become completely sold on intensively planted raised beds for the production of our annual crops. Let me tell you why…

Drainage

Our biggest obstacle to growing vegetables was the poor drainage of our land combined with the very short growing season. Sometimes it would be the middle of June before we could even think about tilling soil, sometimes the end of June, and sometimes we just gave up waiting and had to “mud the seeds in”. Moving the crops “above sea level” has opened up tons of opportunities we didn’t have before. Since building the raised beds we can actually plant peas and onions in April, something we could never imagine doing before.

Productivity

Intensively planted raised beds have the potential to grow more food per square foot than conventional gardening. This can be accomplished by filling the beds with very fertile materials produced on the farm and incorporating vertical gardening methods. Some people claim that intensively planted raised beds are not sustainable and have to rely on outside fertility. This is hogwash. If you have animals on your homestead, all the fertility you need can be produced right on your own place through the production of high quality compost. Our beds are filled with composted manure and hay and then topped off with the same every spring. By growing your annual crops in a smaller space you free up more land for perennial trees and shrubs, pasture, and other uses.

Why We Use Raised Beds

Above is the process simplified. We lay newspaper on the bottom of the bed and fill with composted manure and hay. We plant our seedlings and then step back and watch them grow!

Easy To Adapt To Vertical Methods

Lately, we have been adding a trellis along the long edge of one side of each raised bed. This is accomplished by screwing a 4ft 1X1 at each end and then attaching the trellis to these upright posts. I’ve been using woven wire fence because we have some laying around, but you could use wire, snow fence, cattle panels, or store bought trellis material. Doing this allows me to plant a row of climbing crops on the edge of each bed and plant the rest of the bed to other crops. Adding vertically grown crops such as cucumbers, pole beans, peas, spaghetti squash, or indeterminate tomatoes can increase the productivity of raised beds to unbelievable levels. For more information on vertical gardening, see Fell’s excellent book Vertical Gardening: Grow Up, Not Out, for More Vegetables and Flowers in Much Less Space

Why We Use Raised Beds

Here is an example of how I incorporate a trellis in a raised bed. This had just been planted and gives a good view of the wire. The upright posts on the ends are ripped 2X4’s. The wire is woven wire sheep fence. The T-post was driven in the center for added support. I planted a row of cucumbers along the wire and after they could be harvested from the back side of the bed.

Easy To Implement Season Extenders

Raised beds make season extending options easy to adopt. The entire bed can be transformed into a mini green house with some conduit and plastic sheeting. We have just begun to experiment with all the ways to incorporate season extension into our beds, but having four corners and something solid to attach hoops to is a big plus!

Summary

Although it took me a while to adopt raised beds, I must say that it was the best thing we ever did. It not only took care of our drainage problems, it opened up many other opportunities as well. If you’ve never tried gardening with raised beds, I encourage you to build one and experiment with it. You just might love them as much as I do.

Posted in gardening, homesteading | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Plant Profile ~ Dandelion, A Useful Homestead Plant

Plant Profile~Dandelion

Common Dandelion
Taraxacum officinale

AKA, “blowball, cankerwort, doon-head-clock, witch’s gowan, milk witch, lion’s-tooth, yellow-gowan, Irish daisy, monks-head, priest’s-crown and puff-ball, faceclock, pee-a-bed, wet-a-bed, swine’s snout, white endive, and wild endive.”

dandelion-53800_640The dandelion (Taraxacum) is a common plant native to Eurasia and North and South America. The leaves are 5–25 cm long and form a rosette above its substantial tap root. Flower heads are singular on a hollow stem, that when broken exudes a milky colored form of latex. Rosettes can produce multiple flowering stems. Seed heads resemble “snowballs” and the seeds are dispersed through the air. Its English name Dandelion comes from the French “dent de lion” which means “Lion’s Teeth” (referring to the jagged edged leaves). Common dandelion is a ruderal species and one of the first to colonize disturbed lands. . Although most North American suburbanites view the dandelion as a weed, it is a very useful plant. Below we will examine the many ways that homesteaders can utilize this wonderful little plant.

An Edible Plant

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Dandelions have been used for food since before recorded history. They are a nutrient dense plant, high in vitamins A, C and K, and a good source of calcium, potassium, iron and manganese. The leaves can be eaten raw or cooked. They are best harvested early when the leaves are young and tender. More mature leaves may be bitter and blanching can remove the bitter flavor. The roots can be consumed and ground. Roasted roots may be used as a caffeine-free coffee substitute. The English used this coffee substitute during the second World War when coffee was in short supply.
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Wine and Jelly

Dandelion flowers can be used to make a wine that is highly prized in the rural areas of the United States. Here is a good recipe for making dandelion wine. The flowers can also be used to make a very attractive jelly in the spring. You can find out how to make it here.

Medicinal Uses

Dandelions have a long history as a medicinal plant. The roots are the primary part of the plant used for medicine. In old Europe, it was cultivated for its roots and they were harvested in the second year of growth. According to The Rodale Herb Book, the roots were used as a diuretic, laxative, herpatic, antisorbutic, sialagogue, aperient, and stomachic. The Chinese regarded it as a blood cleanser, tonic, and digestive aid. It was also used as a poultice for snake bites. It’s use as a diuretic shows up in the common names for dandelion used throughout history. For example, the English folk name for dandelion was “piss-a-bed”.

A Dye Plant

Dandelions are great source of natural dye material. Both the leaves and flowers can be used to make yellow and greenish yellow dyes. They are best used fresh and a mordant is recommended. Use equal parts of plant material to fiber to be dyed. Dandelion is best for use on animal fibers. For more information see the book Wild Color.

Pollen Source

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Dandelions are one of the most important pollen sources for honey bees in the cold climate areas. Dandelions are one of the very first plants to flower and provide overwintered bees with much needed food to raise new brood in the spring. I have spent many hours watching them haul in loads of yellow pollen to their hives in late April and early May.
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Beneficial Garden Plant

Dandelions have a deep tap root that brings up many nutrients and minerals from the sub-soil. It also attracts pollinators and produces ethylene gas which helps fruit to ripen. Dandelions are one of nature’s “secret weapons” to combat soil compaction. For this reason, it grows in highly compacted suburban yards, trying to break up the soil with its tap root and bring up nutrients that are deficient in the top soil. Sadly, the suburban lawn owners repay this fine little worker by poisoning it.

Rubber Source

Although not a “homestead use”, another interesting use of the dandelion is that of rubber production. The plants secrete a milky latex liquid when broken open, but wild plants produce a very small quantity of it. A group in Germany has developed a cultivated variety that is suitable for commercial latex production. The rubber is said to be of equal quality to that of rubber from rubber trees.

Summary

As you can see, the dandelion is far from “just a weed”. If you’ve never used this wonderful little plant, I hope you will in the future.

You can find more North Country Farmer plant profiles here

Posted in plant profiles, wild plants | 1 Comment

How to Prevent and Naturally Treat Mastitis in the Family Milk Cow

Prevention of and Natural Treatments for Mastitis

30-ways-homestead

This article is part of the 30 Ways of Homesteading Round Robin. You can find links to all the other articles at the bottom of this page. Be sure to check them all out!

The most common questions I receive about homestead dairy cattle are those dealing with mastitis. In this article, I will cover the basics about the prevention and natural treatment of mastitis in the family milk cow.

Prevention

You’ve no doubt heard the old adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. Nowhere is this more true than in the health of dairy animals. The foundation of organic/natural farming is to prevent the problem so you don’t have to treat it. So lets first take a look at some preventative measures you can take. The two most important things are nutrition and cleanliness.

One of the most important ways to prevent mastitis is having cows with strong immune systems. Minerals, vitamins and trace elements are very important for healthy immune systems in dairy animals. Organic mineral packages, kelp meal and Redmond salt are good sources of minerals and trace elements. We feed all these on our farm, both in our grain mix and top dressed at feeding time. Remember that most dairy grain rations are calculated for higher feeding rates than most homestead cows receive, this means that if you are relying on it for your mineral source the cows are probably being short changed. To solve this problem, many people feed kelp and minerals free choice. At first the cows eat a large amount and it seems as though you’ll go broke feeding it, but eventually as the cows requirements are met they eat much less.

Another very important aspect of mastitis prevention is cleanliness. Cows need to be kept well bedded and dry. Wet and dirty stalls and pens are breeding grounds for bacteria which cause mastitis. Mud is another place bacteria that causes mastitis loves to live. Keep their udders out of the mud whenever possible and by all means use adequate amounts bedding.

Proper udder prep at milking time can really cut back your cases of mastitis. Especially when teats are dirty, you should use an udder wash and a clean wash cloth or paper dairy towel. You should also pre dip with a teat dip solution. Leave it on for at least 30 seconds and wipe it off with a clean paper towel or clean cloth towel. Never use a towel on more than one cow. The most important thing about udder prep, that is often overlooked, is cleaning the teat ends. The end of a cow’s teat is recessed and mud and manure builds up there. If using a machine, don’t leave it on too long. As soon as you’re done, dip the teats with the teat dip again, making sure that you get good coverage.

Diagnosis

What are some of the signs of mastitis? Some of the common signs of mastitis are a hard or swollen quarter, off colored or watery milk, and clots and puss in the milk. Cows may also go off feed (poor appetite) and have a decreased milk yield. If there is any question, you should use a California Mastitis Test. You can learn how to use this simple test at This Link.

Treatment

OK, so you did all you could to prevent it, and your cow got mastitis anyway. It happens. You can’t always prevent every case. The good news is there are many ways to treat mastitis naturally and without the use of antibiotics. As an organic dairyman, I’ve found a few things that work pretty well. Here is what we do or have done on our farm when mastitis hits one of our cows.

Essential oils of peppermint, tea tree and oregano applied to the outside of the udder can be very helpful in treating mastitis. Always use a carrier oil when doing this. Using pre-made creams that have essential oils in them can also work quite well. Superior Cow Cream is one commercially available cream with all these ingredients. You just rub it on the udder after each milking. On some cases, this alone will take care of it.

It is also important to keep the infected quarter stripped out. This will starve the bacteria that might be causing the problem. In cases where the infection is making the cow ill, and causing her to go off feed, striping out the quarter will keep the toxins that are bothering her to a minimum.

Garlic Tinctures also work very well at fighting infection. We give 3 cc in the cow’s vulva twice a day. This is best done with a syringe with a little piece of plastic tubing on the end. They can be purchased from Crystal Creek.

Aloe Vera in the liquid form can be given orally at a dose of 300 cc twice a day for three days. Aloe is an immune booster and will help the cow fight off the infection.

Dried kelp meal can be fed at 2 oz. once a day to help boost the immune system.

Years ago we used, and had good results, using pasteurized whey. It can be given orally or sub-q near the tail head. You can give 30 cc every day for 3 days. After seven days do it all over again. This is another immune booster that has been used for many years.

On stubborn cases you do multiple treatments all at once. While these treatments might not cure every case, we have had good results from them.

There are two good books on natural cattle care that I recommend. Alternative Treatments for Ruminant Animals by Paul Dettloff and Treating Dairy Cows Naturally by Hubert J. Karreman, V.M.D.

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Legal Disclaimer
Note~ This blog post dose not constitute veterinary advise. It is for education purposes, always consult your vet when treating your cattle.

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30 Ways of Homesteading

The Prepared Bloggers Network is at it again! We’re glad you’ve found us, because the month of April is all about homesteading.

Homesteading is a lifestyle of self-sufficiency. It is characterized by growing your own food, home preservation of foodstuffs, and it may even involve the small scale production of textiles, clothing, and craftwork for household use or sale. Most importantly homesteading is not defined by where someone lives, such as the city or the country, but by the lifestyle choices they make.

The Prepared Bloggers are passionate about what they do and they each have their own way of achieving self-sufficiency. Grab your favorite drink and enjoy reading about the 30 Ways of Homesteading!

Crops on the Homestead

Straw Bale Gardening from PreparednessMama

Crop Rotation for the Backyard Homesteader from Imperfectly Happy

Benefits of Growing Fruit from SchneiderPeeps

Succession Planting: More Food in the Same Space from 104 Homestead

Crops to Grow for Food Storage from Grow A Good Life

Winter Gardening Series from Our Stoney Acres

How To Build a Raised Garden Bed For Under $12 from Frugal Mama and The Sprout

How to Save Carrot Seeds from Food Storage and Survival

Animals on the Homestead

Getting Your Bees Started from Game and Garden

Homesteading How-To: Bees from Tennessee Homestead

How to Get Ready for Chicks from The Homesteading Hippy

Selecting a Goat Breed for Your Homestead from Chickens Are a Gateway Animal

Adding New Poultry and Livestock from Timber Creek Farm

Beekeeping 101: 5 Things To Do Before Your Bees Arrive from Home Ready Home

How to Prepare for Baby Goats from Homestead Lady

How to Prevent and Naturally Treat Mastitis in the Family Milk Cow from North Country Farmer

Tips to Raising Livestock from Melissa K. Norris

Raising Baby Chicks – Top 5 Chicken Supplies from Easy Homestead

Making the Homestead Work for You – Infrastructure

Ways to Homestead in a Deed Restricted Community from Blue Jean Mama

Building a Homestead from the Ground Up from Beyond Off Grid

DIY Rainwater Catchment System from Survival Prepper Joe

Finding Our Homestead Land from Simply Living Simply

I Wish I Was A Real Homesteader by Little Blog on the Homestead

Endless Fencing Projects from Pasture Deficit Disorder

Essential Homesteading Tools: From Kitchen To Field from Trayer Wilderness

Homesteading Legal Issues from The 7 P’s Blog

Why We Love Small Space Homesteading In Suburbia from Lil’ Suburban Homestead

Preserving and Using the Bounty from the Homestead

How to Dehydrate Corn & Frozen Vegetables from Mom With a Prep

How to Make Soap from Blue Yonder Urban Farms

How to Render Pig Fat from Mama Kautz

How to Make Your Own Stew Starter from Homestead Dreamer

Why You Should Grow and Preserve Rhubarb! from Living Life in Rural Iowa

It’s a Matter of Having A Root Cellar…When You Don’t Have One from A Matter of Preparedness

30 Ways of Homesteading

30 Ways of Homesteading

Posted in dairy cattle, livestock, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

3 Reasons To Grow Cucumbers Vertically

3 Reasons To Grow Cucumbers Vertically

For many years I grew a sizable cucumber patch. We love to eat fresh cukes and also make lots and lots of pickles. I always planted them in hills and allowed them to grow and spread over the patch. We would harvest lots cucumbers but they were difficult to pick, we often battled disease, and it took up a tremendous amount of garden space. One day I thought, “Why not try growing them on a trellis?”. I had read of people doing it so I drove some T-posts and strung up some woven wire fence. I planted my cucumbers on both sides of the fence and trained them to it when they strayed. The results were awesome and I’ve been planting them vertically ever since. Here are reasons why I love growing cucumbers on a trellis…

Saves Space and Produces Higher Yields Per Square Foot

My favorite reason for growing vertical cucumbers is the space saving aspect. Anytime you can reduce the space needed to grow a crop, it opens up the opportunity to grow other things without expanding your garden space. Cucumbers, being a vining plant, are notorious for using lots of garden space. When cucumbers are grown vertically they take up a relatively small footprint while producing the same yields as when they used up half your garden space. The yields per square foot in a vertical system far out perform conventional planting systems. Last year, we began moving into a raised bed system here in an effort to get around fighting the wet clay soils we have. As an experiment, I put up a 4ft high section of woven wire trellis along the edge of an 8ft long raised bed. I planted 8 cucumber plants right next to the wire. The rest of the bed was planted to other crops. In our short season, I was able to harvest 78 cucumbers from that bed. It took up a width of about 7 inches. This allowed me to use 99% of the 8ft X 4ft bed to grow other things. The cucumbers are just an added bonus! Now, whenever I build a raised bed, I add a wire trellis to the edge for planting cucumbers, peas, pole beans, and other climbing plants.

Easy Picking

Picking cucumbers from a trellis is so much easier than picking from the sprawling patch. Searching under leaves, bent over, picking cucumbers off the ground is hard work. You also end up missing some, no matter how many times you comb the patch. Cucumbers hanging from a fence are a pleasure to pick and easy to spot. They also tend to grow straighter, and are cleaner (because they don’t lay on the ground). Vertical cucumbers make picking a pleasure!

Healthier Plants!

Because vertically grown cucumbers are suspended and are provided with ample air flow, they are much less apt to develop the disease powdery mildew. Powdery mildew was a common occurrence in the hot and humid summers when I grew large sprawling patches of cucumbers. Since I began growing them on a trellis, I have not had a single outbreak of this, or any other disease, in my cucumbers. Vertically grown cucumbers tend to be healthy and trouble free.

Summary

Growing cucumbers vertically is a great way to increase yields, save space, make picking easier, and have healthier plants. I would never go back to raising them in a patch. I absolutely love growing them on a trellis! Cucumbers aren’t the only thing you can grow vertically. If you are interested in learning more about what crops you can grow and how to do it, I highly recommend Derek Fell’s book Vertical Gardening

Posted in gardening, homesteading, how to, Uncategorized | 11 Comments

The Key To Successful Husbandry

The Key To Successful Husbandry

There is one thing, above all, that separates successful homesteaders from those who aren’t. It is not well drained soil, a southern slope, good water, wealthy markets, or the best genetics. Even with all those things, if you do not have this, you will be a mediocre husbandman at best. What is this great secret key to success? It is a skill once possessed by all men of the soil and all those who carved out a living from the natural world.

The Key
The one thing our ancestors had, that the current generation knows little about, was the skill and discipline of observation. For thousands of years, the men and women who worked stock and soil were, by default, observant people. You may have the perfect farm, but if you don’t cultivate this skill you will flounder and fail. An observant man with a poor hillside farm will fair better than you. The art of observation was once handed down by rural people, father to son and mother to daughter. No one necessarily thought much about it, it was just natural. When you walked out to get the cows with your father and he pointed out a plant or a track, you learned to watch and observe. Modern society, with its separation from the land and the natural world has ended this transfer of knowledge. We are at the point now where both parents and children have little in the way of being observant. This is compounded by the fact that we are the most distracted generations that ever existed.

Here is an example

We live in the thousand island region of northern NY, along the St Lawrence river. Sometimes, while traveling to town we might stop at one of the “scenic pull offs”. People travel from all over the country to come see this beautiful and wild area. It’s not uncommon to see a family get out of their car to stretch their legs and look at the river. This is often the scene. Within minutes, each passenger pulls out their smart phone and stares at it’s screen while a bald eagle flies over them without notice. They put the phones away and walk down towards the river. They pass by ripe blackberries, a big rock with fossils on it, and rare turtle without taking notice of any of it. It always makes my giggle that the blackberry picking is so good in an area where 100s of people a day pass through. New homesteaders are often coming from this kind of background.

Why is observation such an important skill?

The very term Husbandry speaks of relationship and intimacy. You need to know your land, your plants, and your animals on a very deep level. The only way to know these things is by observing them.

I once walked into the field of a “back to the land homesteader” and remarked that the field had acid soil. They replied, “Why yes it is. We just had it tested….but how did you know?” The answer was simple, the land told me. When I walk into a field, the first thing I do is observe the plant life. I saw wild strawberries, bedstraw, and very little grass. These plants love acid soil. I don’t need a ph test to tell me that. Most gardening problems can be avoided or fixed by proper observation as well. What weeds are growing? What does that plant tell you about the condition of your soil?

When dealing with livestock, good observation is crucial as well. Identifying illness is just one reason. Knowing that cow is feeling under the weather because she isn’t “acting herself” means you can nip the problem in the bud. Reproductive management is another. If you missed a cow that was in heat, a drop of blood on her tail will tell you she was in heat, and you can do the math to predict the next heat. You don’t notice a drop of blood by skipping through the pasture paying no attention to details. One reason for the uses of hormone shots and poor pregnancy rates in modern dairy farms is lack of observation. The modern debt laden farmer is too busy and distracted to watch his animals closely.

Where does the water drain off the land? Where are the wet spots? Where do the wild turkeys roost and feed? What areas get afternoon sun? Where do the whitetails feed in the evening? Where are the wild blackberries or edible wild plants? These questions you should be able to answer without even thinking about it. To be a successful partner with the land, you need to know its every detail.

If you struggle with being an observant person, make it a point to find one new plant on your land every day. When you get to the house look it up. Learn its culture and uses. Do the same with wildlife, insects, and amphibians. Teach your children to do the same. I have written about how we teach observation to our children using the subject of Nature Study which includes a list of field guides and ideas to help you.

Posted in agrarianism, homesteading | 3 Comments

Comfrey, It’s Culture and Uses

Comfrey It's Uses and Culture

Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) is a perennial herb that is in the borage family. It is native to Europe and is commonly found in Britain and Ireland, growing in damp grasslands. There is also a Russian variety that is popular and grown widely. Its leaves are 12 to 18 inches long and somewhat hairy. Comfrey’s flowers can be blue, violet, cream, or pink, depending on the variety. Comfrey has a tremendous tap root that digs 8ft deep into the subsoil. It is a prolific grower, which enjoys plenty of nitrogen, but will grow under practically any condition. Comfrey can be propagated by both seed and root cuttings. Mature plants can be divided by splitting through the crown with a spade. This plant has many uses on the homestead, which we will now investigate…

Dynamic Accumulator

Dynamic accumulators are very important in the designing of permaculture plant guilds. These plants have extremely deep tap roots which mine nutrients from the different layers of the soil profile. These nutrients are then brought to the surface to be used by surrounding plants. The authors of the book Integrated Forest Gardening call comfrey the “dynamic accumulator par excellence”. It is especially good at drawing potassium and calcium from the subsoil. Using the “chop and drop” technique, simply cutting leaves and letting them fall, comfrey can be used as a potassium rich fertilizer.

Compost Activator

Comfrey leaves can be added to compost as a nitrogen source.

Liquid Fertilizer

“Comfrey tea” can be made by soaking leaves in rain water for about 5 weeks. This tea is a nutrient rich fertilizer that can be used on garden crops, especially those that benefit from additional potassium.

Livestock Feed

Dried comfrey was traditionally used as a supplemental feed for farm animals. It tests about 26% protein, high in minerals, and is low in fiber. It was fed to many types of livestock but its primary uses were for chickens, hogs, and other non-ruminants. There is plenty of historical evidence that horses, goats, sheep, cattle, and other stock were also fed comfrey.

Medicinal Uses

Traditionally, comfrey is known by the name “knitbone” or “boneset” and this was derived from the Latin name Symphytum that comes from the Greek symphis, which means “growing together of bones”, and phyton, “a plant”. This in itself speaks to the long tradition of using comfrey for broken bones! Other medicinal uses include bronchial problems, sprains, arthritis, gastric ulcers, burns, acne, and other skin conditions.

Mountain Rose Herbs lists the following as comfrey’s constituents “Tannin, rosmarinic acid, allantoin, steroidal saponins, mucilage, inulin, pyrrolizidine alkaloids, Gum, Carotene, Glycosides, Sugars, Beta-sitosterol, Triterpenoids, Vitamin B-12, Protein, Zinc. The main healing ingredient in comfrey leaf appears to be a substance called allantoin, which encourages the rapid growth of cells.”

While comfrey used topically is considered safe, recently there have been warnings against using it internally. The warnings come from studies that show pyrrolizidine alkaloids can cause liver damage and possibly cancer. It should be noted that the studies done singled out pyrrolizidine alkaloids and did not include the other compounds found in comfrey. The studies also used huge amounts of pyrrolizidine alkaloids, much more than is found in the plant. Historical evidence of people ingesting comfrey for 1000’s of years (without ill effect) should be taken into account when deciding whether or not one should use it that way.

See more North Country Farmer plant profiles here.

Posted in homesteading, permaculture, plant profiles | 2 Comments

5 Reasons Homesteaders Fail

5 Reasons Homesteaders Fail

Having spent my life in the rural areas, making a living farming and homesteading, I have seen many people come to the country with big dreams of living the homesteader’s life. Some people make a go of it and some don’t. I’ve watched enough people fail at it that I thought it might be helpful to share some observations I’ve made. Here is an opportunity to learn from other people’s mistakes. These observations are in no particular order.

Unrealistic Expectations for Direct to Consumer Sales

There seems to be no end to the number of books, articles, and blog posts that tout the selling of high end organic meats and produce as a way to make money. What most people fail to take into consideration is that you need a wealthy, urban market to make any money doing this. Most homesteaders can’t afford land near such a market and most took up homesteading, in part, to escape such areas. If you try to do what people like Joel Salatin do without a wealthy market to sell it to, you will fail. No matter how much you talk up your product, no matter what great a case you make for the superiority of your product, no matter how well you explain that when “true costs” are factored that your product isn’t really expensive, as long as your potential customer can’t afford to keep fuel oil in his furnace and is worried about buying shoes for his children…the argument is purely academic to him. Those who are not too poor to buy your food can grow it themselves. Trying to make a living selling high cost food in rural areas is a dead end game.

Biting Off More Than You Can Chew

When people make the decision to leave the rat race and take up an agrarian lifestyle they are, understandably, excited. Often they don’t appreciate the sharp learning curve they are about to encounter and dive in head first. People who have never grown a garden all of the sudden try to grow 90% of their produce the first year. People who have never raised livestock buy several species and begin to run into problems. It is easy to get discouraged and go broke when you bite off more than you can chew. Start with some chickens and a couple varieties of vegetables. Next year you’ll be ready for more.

Already Know It All

Books are great. The internet is great. With that said, if you move to the country and don’t observe what the neighbors are doing and take advantage of the knowledge and wisdom of the local “old timers”, you will fail. If you grew up in the suburbs and read a book about gardening, don’t assume that because the old guy up the road does it differently that he’s wrong. If he’s done it that way for 50 years there might be a reason he’s done it that way. Remember, paper never refused ink.

They Never Really Left

If you move to the country and want be a homesteader, you have to live differently than you did before. You can’t just move to the country, buy a dozen laying hens and a couple of dairy goats, and go on your merry way living like you still take up residence in a townhouse 5 minutes from everything. You can’t run to the store ever other day, you’ll go broke. You can’t call a repair man every time something breaks. You can’t drive a new car. You can’t buy new clothes. You can’t take a vacation. If you can do all these things, you are not an agrarian homesteader but a hobby farmer. Remember, you left Egypt for a reason. Stop looking back, longingly, at the days of slavery. If you try to live the homesteader’s life and continue to spend like a city dweller, you won’t last a season.

Forgetting Why They Started

This is directly tied with direct marketing. I have seen countless people start raising meat chickens because they loved the taste or because they wanted healthy food for their children and end up not eating them but selling them. It starts out as a noble attempt to generate some income. But it ends up with people who used to like raising and processing chickens, burned out, discouraged, and just as broke as they were when they didn’t sell any and just liked raising and eating them. When the things you used to grow because you loved to grow and eat them become commodities to be sold, things change. The small homesteader is seldom scaled up enough to make any money at it in the end but he tries anyway. When the emphasis of the homestead changes to growing things for sale, the first thing to get neglected is the family garden. Anything that takes the family away from the garden should be suspect. Next thing you know, you can’t eat your own chickens because you can sell them for $X per pound and all of the sudden you can’t afford your own food! Never lose sight of why you started down this path to begin with. Grow your own food and enjoy the life. Spend meaningful time with your children.

Additional Reading…

Posted in homesteading, Uncategorized | 13 Comments

The Siberian Peashrub, A Useful Homestead Perennial (Plant Profile)

Siberian Peashrub (Plant Profile)

Caragana arborescens, which is commonly known as the Siberian Peashrub, is a plant with huge potential for homestead and permaculture plantings.

The Siberian Peashrub is a tall bush that can reach heights of 6 to 19 ft. The plant has thorns, its flowers are yellow, and leaves are dark green. It is hardy to -40 F, prefers full sun, and can tolerate dry conditions well. It is native to Asia and eastern Europe and has been used for food, fiber, and dye by people in that region for centuries. It is a legume that fixes nitrogen in the soil, a pioneer plant and a producer of large numbers of seed pods. Lets examine some of the homestead applications for this interesting plant…

Chicken Feed

One of the most attractive things about the Siberian Peashrub is its potential as a source for chicken feed. The seeds of this plant are 36% protein and contain 12% fatty oils. Chickens are said to love them! The pods can be harvested, dried, and fed to the birds in the winter or you could let the birds harvest them themselves. It is recorded that Siberian peasant farmers during WW2 overwintered their laying flocks on peashrub seeds. A perennial plant that can produce high protein chicken feed, what more could you ask for!

Nitrogen Fixing

In addition to a chicken feed source, as a legume, the peashrub fixes nitrogen to the soil and makes it available to other plants around it.

Pollinator Attractant

The peashrub’s fragrant yellow flowers attract honey bees and other pollinators and are a source of nectar. Anytime you can attract pollinators, you increase the potential of all your crops.

Hedge/Living Fence and Windbreak

Peashrubs, having thorns, could be planted closely in rows to make a living, edible hedge or fence. They are a fast growing plant and can provide a windbreak in a relatively short amount of time.

Erosion Control

This plant’s extensive root system makes it ideal for erosion control.

Fiber and Dyes

The fiber from the peashrub stalks can be used to make a strong cordage. In Russia, the plant was traditionally used to produce a blue dye.

Conclusion

As you can see, this plant could be a useful addition to many homesteads. There are numerous possibilities for incorporating peashrubs into permaculture design. With the rising costs of feeding chickens, the idea of a 10 ft tall, perennial plant that produces copious amounts of 36% chicken feed should be enough to make one think about this interesting plant. It should be noted that some states list this plant as “invasive”, so please do your own research before planting.

You can view more North Country Farmer “Plant Profiles” at This Link.

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Posted in permaculture, plant profiles | 7 Comments

The Nourishing Homestead: One Back-to-the-Land Family’s Plan for Cultivating Soil, Skills, and Spirit

The Nourishing Homestead

The Nourishing Homestead: One Back-to-the-Land Family’s Plan for Cultivating Soil, Skills, and Spirit
Softcover, 352 pages

There is no other way I can begin this review than to tell you up front, this is the best homesteading book I have ever read. It is also the best book of any kind that I have read in a long, long time. Those who know me, know these are not proclamations that I lightly throw out there. This is a masterpiece! This book should be mandatory reading for anyone considering pursuing the homestead life!

Ben Hewitt and his wife, Penny, have two children and homestead in Vermont, where they use what they have coined “practiculture” to provide 90% of their calorie needs. They raise chickens, cattle, sheep, and goats. They raise an impressive amount of vegetables, of the highest nutrient and mineral content, as well as blueberries and other perennial crops. In addition to food, they produce and process fiber, firewood, and sawlogs. The children trap and hunt, and the whole family practices a wide array of traditional handcrafts like basket making, carving, and hide tanning.

This book covers much of the practical “how-to” aspects of raising food with “deep nutrition”. This is valuable information for sure, but not the most valuable information in the book. Hewitt has a deep and piercing understanding of true “homestead accounting”. He has an understanding of industrialism, the modern economy, and what homesteading is really about. His understanding of these things far exceeds most of the homesteading authors out there today. To top it off, Hewitt has the ability to articulate it in a poetic, yet easy to understand manner. Hewitt is a gifted writer and this book is so easy to read, and flows so effortlessly that one cannot stop once they have started.

Although the Hewitts don’t share my Christian faith, we do share a tremendous amount of things that include the way we choose to live, the way we raise our children, and a love for the land and its bounty. Ben Hewitt says a lot of the same things about economics and homesteading that I’ve been saying. He just flat out says it a lot better than I do. I’d give my right eye to sit down and have a beer with Ben. And I can guarantee that if you read this book you will be better off for it.

Posted in agrarianism, Book Reviews, homesteading, permaculture | 4 Comments

Homestead Chickens with Janet Garman (Podcast)

Homestead Chicken Raising (Podcast)

Janet Garman, of Timber Creek Farm, joins Scott M Terry to talk about homestead chickens. Janet has been raising chickens for many years and has written a book on the subject titled, “Chickens From Scratch” . Whether you are just getting started with chickens or have had them for years, this episode will have useful information that you can put to use at your place. We cover equipment needed, feeding, predator control, starting chicks, breeds and much more.

Links from the show…
Janet’s Book, Chickens From Scratch
Timber Creek Farm
Timber Creek Farm on Facebook
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You can listen to the show using this link.
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Heirloom Seeds from our Family to Yours

Posted in homesteading, interviews, podcast, Uncategorized | 4 Comments