Friday, January 27, 2012

Creating a Garden

Growing plants is a delightful experience. As artistic and colorful as plants, it is also how we survive, which adds a great reality factor to this endeavor of raising food. So how do you get a love for gardening? I think the first step is to expose yourself to the wonder of watching a seed germinate, and grow. Later, the gardener comes to realize that they do not have control of the seed, they simply cooperate with a higher power to sustains the seed and all life. We recently visited Sunshine's parents, and I asked them when they caught the love of gardening. Sunshine's Dad describes gardening as something that has just become a part of who he is. From a young boy to now advanced age, he has loved gardening.

And what about you and I? How do we get started with gardening and farming, if we did not grow up with our hands in the soil? How do we jump start the learning process, and become proficient ourselves? This article is to help break down the process a bit, and make it easier for your to create a garden this coming growing season. Perhaps you are like us, and have had a hobby garden, and are now ready to get serious with your farming activity, and want to expand your farm land, by reclaiming some existing ground around your home.

Garden size

The size of your garden would depend on your needs and produce goals. So, what are your goals? Do you want to feed your family with 80% of your food consumption for one year? Do you want to plan on extra for hard times or for your neighbors if they become in need? Find a realistic goal, and don't bite off too much all at once.

Several sources talk about 1/2 an acre being enough land to feed a family of 4. I agree this is enough to provide the vegetables for a family of 4, but it would not supply all of the grains that my family consumes in a year. Your growing season and soil quality should also be taken into consideration. Growing cycles per growing season is a key consideration. How many times can you produce a crop from seed to harvest in the growing season? With creative planning, you can sneak in an extra growing cycle and perhaps two. (More on the idea of maximizing growing cycles further down in this article.)

Three Stump Killers
Another consideration that you want to think about is sustainability, and land to allow growing green manures for building up your garden soil. I think it ideal to have a field you could alternate with green manures and vegetable crops. This effectively doubles the size of land needed for your crop production goals.

  1. Determine the largest plot or total plot area possible for you to farm. Note that I have increased what I thought was possible now three times, so count in the bramble patch, and perhaps even an area with trees, as the max potential you would have available.
  2. Determine the size of the area you would like to farm, regardless of the land available. If you want to farm more land than you have available, then you need to be more efficient with the space you have, and pray that the Lord leads to enlarge your borders. It may be a neighbor would let you grow crops on their land, or perhaps you could relocate.
  3. Clear the land if it has shrubs or trees. If there are large roots or rocks, it would be good to clear these also. When I have reclaimed land, I have removed what I could and I kept what I could not remove from the ground from growing again. What you leave in the soil will take years to rot away, and that after it has stopped trying to regrow.
  4. Take a soil analysis of the garden plot. I have written an article about why building your soil is important, and how to take a soil analysis.
  5. Amend your soil based on the soil analysis results to build the soil back to ideal nutrient quantities. Consider how to introduce organic matter to the garden. If the soil has not been actively improved, I would bet it could use more organic matter. Adding organic material to your farm will be one of your constant tasks. To impact the organic matter percentage of a large garden will require massive inputs of organic material.
  6. Gather the materials you will use for mulch. If you have access to manures, obtain as much as you plan to use for several years, and allow it to age and heat in a mound to kill the weed seeds. Note, you do not want to till in low nitrogen materials into your soils. The effect will be to rob the garden of nitrogen. Mulching on top of the soil is suggested, but remember if you mulch with wood chips, it may take several years for these to break down sufficiently to incorporate into the soil. Plan on adding nitrogen to wood chips and straw.
  7. With your goal dimensions in mind (from #2), set out your parameters and draw it out on paper, with dimensions. Note the lay of the land, and any shading that may impact your garden space. This drawing will be the basis for your garden planting and rotation plan.
  8. Figure out how much of each crop you would like to harvest. (Crop yields, garden yields). Your plan could be as elaborate as how much your farm will distribute each week via your CSA, or as simple as our plan to put up 104 quarts of pickles for the season, providing 2 quarts per week.
  9. Decide when you will grow what crops. Remember your predicted last frost date in the spring, and the first frost date in the fall. Here is a CSA harvest schedule as a sample, anotheranother, and another. (If you are launching a full blown CSA, you have a lot more work to do than I will list here in this article. Review the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Resource Guide for Farmers.)
  10. Layout your planting plan, based on what you need to grow, by row foot. Depending on the slope of your land you may want to lay out your rows with or parallel to the slope. If slope is not a factor, many references suggest planing your rows stretching north to south. The tall crops such as peas, beans and corn, should be planted on the north side of the vegetable garden. In this way they will not shade the rest of the vegetable crops.
  11. Determine your planting schedule, and what plants you want to start for transplants to get a head start on the growing season. Remember that you want to stretch your harvest out, so progressive plantings should be in your plan. For example: plant some lettuce every other week for a steady harvest of greens. You will need to have room for these future plantings. If you can fit in a cover crop, all the better!
  12. Weed the garden on a schedule. While your seedlings are small, keep the weeds down. When your vegetables are larger, mulch heavily to keep out the weeds, and improve the growing conditions. This pattern will greatly reduce the amount of work you have to expend on your garden in both weed control and watering.
  13. Take good notes. There is no way to recover information if you do not record it. Take notes on your planting, dates, pests and yields. You can use these records to create next years plan, and remember to rotate your crops.
  14. Try something new each year, just as an experiment. Try a new variety or new gardening method.

Remember the first year in a plot will likely not be the best year. If you have followed these steps, especially adding the amendments that the soil needs, I think you will have a fine harvest.

Also review the article: Creating an Orchard

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Winter Gardening

We all love fresh items from the garden. It is a bundle of goodness to bring in a fresh harvest for immediate consumption. I don't think everything we eat needs to be raw, but I do think our food should be as fresh as possible. I love cutting a zucchini or yellow squash, and seeing the beads of fluid bulging out from the cut edge. That is healthy eating fresh from the garden!

We love our 3 season harvest, but how do we get a harvest from that elusive 4th season? Garden plants generally will not tolerate the mistreatment of winter. Some plants do not do well in cold tempratures, and most will die if frozen. We live in the northern USA, so we have cold winter weather with plenty of snow. The further north, the less the total hours of sunlight possible in the winter months. Available sunlight is further limited by winter cloudy weather.

I would like to explore options for growing fresh produce during the winter.
  1. You can grow crops more cold tolerant.
  2. You can insulate from the cold.
  3. You can add heat to the plant environment.
  4. You can start plants in the fall to give them a head start for winter harvest.

To be successful with winter gardening, I think the best plan is to try not to fight nature. Change the crops you grow to those most friendly to cold weather. Use covers as your insulation, and as a last resort, add heat. Many winter growers plan on no added heat to their growing areas, and if you start with this as your plan, it will be much easier to make good plant variety choices, and good practices. Heating a growing space can require a LOT of heat, so consider this carefully before you decide to heat a space. Also note, that any system you use will be fragile. If you depend on heat, then it only takes a few hours of failure to freeze the crop. Several people I know heat their greenhouses with wood, and all through the winter they get up in the middle of the night, and stoke the fire in the greenhouse. They were painfully aware of how demanding this is on your schedule and vacation options. Also remember the quantity of wood that will be required for such an endeavor.

What to plant?

If you want to focus on plants that are cold hardy, consider these:
  • Arugula                   15 F / -9 C
  • Beets                        20 F / -7 C
  • Broccoli                   25 F / -4 C
  • Brussel sprouts         0 F / -16 C
  • Cabbage                   5 F / -14 C
  • Carrot                      15 F / -9 C
  • Cauliflower              25 F / -4 C
  • Chard                       20 F / -7 C
  • Clattonia (miners l)  10 F / -12 C
  • Chinese cabbage      15 F / -9 C
  • Collard                     10 F / -12 C
  • Corn salad                 8 F / -13 C
  • Endive                       5 F / -15 C
  • Favas                         10 F / -12 C
  • Kale                           8 F / -13 C
  • Kohlrabi                     15 F / -9 C
  • Garlic                         8 F / -13 C
  • Leek                           8 F / -13 C
  • Lettuce                       24 F / -4 C
  • Minutina                    15 F / -9 C
  • Mustard greens          15 F / -9 C
  • Parsnip                       8 F / -13 C
  • Rutabaga                    15 F / -9 C
  • Spinach                      8 F / -13 C
  • Turnip                        15 F / -9 C

We enjoy kale year round, even in terribly cold temps. We have kale all summer, and it stays strong during the fall. In winter the kale crowns collect a cap of snow and with this very minimal protection, we can collect kale all through the winter. It is a model hardy winter garden plant. It seems to freeze solid, and during a warm spell, it thaws and continues growing. If it does not have a snow cap, the crown could be desiccated and die. In my experience, drying out is more damaging than cold temperatures. We suggest a large fall crop of kale, as our chickens love the greens all through the winter, when there are fewer other greens to offer them.

Lettuce is another hardy winter plant. I have seen it freeze stiff, but with a little warmth it will gently thaw and continue to live. Harvest the greens when thawed if you want to use them as salad greens. If you pick them frozen they will be wilted when they thaw. Again, some minimal covering on your winter garden will prevent your plants from desiccating. Freezing may be tolerated, but not freeze drying.

Another crop we have had good winter success is broccoli. The leaf tissue can be burned with a hard freeze, but the plant withstands light freezing very well. I suggest you plan your crop harvest for early to mid winter, and with the cold temps, the crop should hold quite well.

Cauliflower is another brassica that will do well in winter. Tie the topmost leaves to shade and cover the head to keep it white.

Winter gardening is even better!

I find the brassicas do even better in the cold weather than in the summer. Additional benefits to winter gardening according to Eliot Coleman are:
  1. Reduced pest problems
  2. Reduced disease problems
  3. Less need to water
  4. Lower weed pressure
Another factor in favor of winter gardening is that many of the root crops convert some of their storage starch to sugars, as this helps raise their freezing tolerance. A wonderful side benefit for the gardener is the food becomes sweeter. I have noted that many of the crops that do well in the winter do not ship well. If you want some quality kale in the winter, you will need to grow it yourself.

Green house

With a simple plastic layer cover, we have seen temperatures moderated. Some consider each layer of plastic comparable to land 500 miles south. The University of Michigan has demonstration green houses using high tunnels, and a floating row covers (2 layers) and they are able to have beautiful cold season crops all winter long with no addition of heat. Remember the temperatures listed above. You do not have to keep the plants warm, you just have to mitigate the harshest of the cold lows. A friend local to us grows greens all winter with minimal heat using a single layer plastic high tunnel green house.

When to plant?

Most all seeds require some warmth to germinate well. I suggest starting the plants in the fall, and get a good size root and plant developed before the winter cold hits. The plants will not grow when the temperatures are close to or below freezing. Depending on your area, and your targets for harvest, you will want to adjust your schedule. Many suggest July or early August for a fall / winter crop.

Sprouts in a jar, all year long

We find alfalfa sprouts in a quart jar will germinate in our kitchen window any time of the year. Winter seems even better for sprouts than summer, as we have less spoilage of the older sprouts. Take 1.5 Tablespoons of seeds, and soak in a cup of water in a quart glass jar. After the seeds soak well, perhaps 8 - 12 hours, drain off the water, and set the sprouts jar on a window sil. We rinse / hydrate the sprouts twice a day. They will sprout in a day or so, and will be ready to eat in 4-6 days. Depending on how many you can incorporate into your diet, you can progressively start the jars to have a constant supply of healthy sprouts. Microgreens are plants just beyond the sprouts stage, say around 2 inches tall.

How-to ideas:
  • Indoor planters before southern exposure windows.
  • Planters such as 5 gal buckets, stored under a sheet of plastic, with a heat light in a protected space, such as a barn or garage.
  • Greenhouse using plastic or glass as an insulation covering.
  • Use a second row cover within the greenhouse, offering 2 layers of insulation.
  • I am interested in earth-air tubes, which takes heat from the deep ground when air is blown through it. Air could enter the tube at a frigid 10 degrees, and exit unto the greenhouse at 47 degrees (or your local deep earth temperature).
  • I have seen 55 gal barrels of water used in green houses as a back wall growing stand. Water has a very high specific heat, meaning it stores heat well, and can slowly release this stored heat through the night into a greenhouse environment.
  • A friend of mine is interested in developing plans and statistics for green houses sunk into the ground around 4 feet, and adding insulation to the southern side of the green house.

Since we like to eat year round, I think we should get some good experience growing food year round as well. What experiences do you have to share?


Monday, January 23, 2012

Is Organic Better?

I am going to make a guess that most people interested in this blog would agree that organic foods are better for you, and I fully believe this. I want to review the basis for locally grown, organic foods, and review the facts that we can substantiate of why organic foods are truly better for you. Note it is not as simple as we may at first think. As we start this article, think for a moment about how you define food quality.

So how really do you measure food quality? It is not an easy question to answer. We do have some principles we can use to help qualify the quality of our food.

Quality indicators of food:
  • Food should be free from decay.
  • Food should be completely ripe when picked. Foods may appear to ripen if picked early, but vitamin and nutrient values will never attain the levels possible if the food was allowed to vine ripen.
  • Food picked from your own garden is the ultimate in freshness and ripeness.
  • Once food is picked, some nutrients such as vitamins start to decline. Commercially processed food sits 5-14 days in transit before you could purchase it in the market.
  • You need some raw foods in your diet. Cooking destroys 35% of the isothiocyanates you would have gleaned from the raw food. You need cooked greens also to get the volume of nutrients you need. (Juicing greens is a way some have increased volume intake of raw greens.)
  • Growing food yourself allows you to select vegetable varieties with more flavor and nutritional content. Commercial growers primarily select varieties that withstand weeks of shipping.
  • Phytochemicals are lost in long term storage and/or preserving. These nutrients would best be gained in immediate consumption of fresh raw foods.
  • Having mineralized, fully ripe foods before consumption or preservation is perhaps more important than the specific method of preservation of the food. One study concludes that fresh, frozen or canned foods have comparable vitamin and nutrient content.
  • Water soluble vitamins can be leached from the foods if boiled. Steaming is preferred. Save and ingest any residual water from the cooking process.
  • Some hold brix levels as a good food quality indicator, but I suggest caution. The sugar content is a concentration value of sugar in water, so the hydration of the plant has a drastic effect on the brix reading. In one anecdotal experiment: carrots which were forgotten in a large walk in cooler, were found wilted and shriveled. These were were tested and showed higher brix reading than fresh organic carrots picked directly from a nutrient dense growing plot. The taste and quality comparison did not align with the brix reading.

Joel Fuhrman MD suggests there are 4 categories of high nutrient foods. We need to think of our diets being composed of a mix of all of these categories.
  1. raw vegetables              - snow peas, cucumbers, tomatoes
  2. fresh fruits                     - apples, grapefruit, berries, melons
  3. cooked greens               - string beans, cabbage, asparagus
  4. non-green vegatables     - eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms

Joel Fuhrman MD has also made a listing of foods by nutrient density on a comparative scale of 1000 (nutirients / calories). He suggests we ingest a significant volume of our calories from foods that have a nutrient score higher than 100.
  1. Kale                         1000
  2. Collards                      916
  3. Spinach                       886
  4. Bok Choy                   839
  5. Romaine                     462
  6. Boston                        412
  7. Broccoli                     395
  8. Artichoke                   352
  9. Cabbage                    344
  10. Green Pep                  310
  11. Carrots                       288
  12. Asparagus                  280
  13. Strawberry                 254
  14. Cauliflower                 269
  15. Tomato                       197
  16. Cherries                      197
  17. Blueberries                  155
  18. Iceburg                        132
  19. Orange                        130
  20. Cantaloupe                  120
  21. Apple                            91
  22. Peach                            88
  23. Kidney Beans                84
  24. Green Peas                    84
  25. Sweet Potato                 81
  26. Soybeans                      74
  27. Tofu                              69
  28. Mango                          61
  29. Cucumber                     59
  30. Oatmeal                        55
  31. White Potato                 53
  32. Brown Rice                  49
  33. Salmon                         48
  34. Skim Milk                     43
  35. Grapes                          40
  36. Corn                             37
  37. Avocado                       36
  38. Banana                          36
  39. Walnuts                         35
  40. Almonds                        33
  41. Chicken Breast              32
  42. Low Fat Yogurt             31
  43. Apple Juice                    30
  44. Eggs                              29
  45. Feta Cheese                   25
  46. Whole Wheat Bread      25
  47. Whole Milk                    23
  48. White Pasta                    22
  49. White Bread                   21
  50. Peanut Butter                  21
  51. Swiss Cheese                 18
  52. Ground Beef                   17
  53. Potato Chips                   13
  54. Vanilla Ice Cream            6
  55. Olive Oil                          2
  56. Cola Drink                      0.6

So, we see that we need a variety of foods, and to focus on foods that are nutrient dense. This excludes processed foods and animal products as a valuable part of our diet. Research is clear that ingestion of animal proteins increases disease risk.

An interesting article in the NY Times, by Mark Bittman, suggests that for most Americans, this entire question of organic food quality is a mute point.
"The truth is that most Americans eat so badly -- we get 7 percent of our calories from soft drinks, more than we do from vegetables; the top food group by caloric intake is “sweets”; and one-third of nation’s adults are now obese -- that the organic question is a secondary one. It’s not unimportant, but it’s not the primary issue in the way Americans eat." (web)

Some foods from conventional farming are laced with more pesticides than other types of food. If you wanted to limit your pesticide intake, the following foods would be good to get as organic:
  1. apples
  2. celery
  3. strawberries
  4. peaches
  5. spinach
  6. nectarines - imported
  7. grapes - imported
  8. sweet bell pepers
  9. potatoes
  10. blueberries - domestic
  11. lettuce
  12. kale / collard greens

So how much of your diet is made up of real food, vs edible food like substances? How important is eating organic to you?  I would raise an even higher bar: How much of your own food do you grow? Let's talk about it.


Following is a list of assumptions and/or assertions I would like to evaluate in a future article(s). If you have information to back up or disprove any of these assertions, I would be interested in dialog with you.
  1. Soils are being depleted by modern commercial farming practices, and therefore foods grown on these depleted soils are not as nutritious.
  2. Commercial food processing often adds salt and fat calories at the expense of minerals and vitamins.
  3. Organic foods are free of pesticide residues, while conventionally grown food, especially food from other countries, carry significant pesticide residues.
  4. Pesticides in and on our food has adverse effects when consumed.
  5. Organic farming processes present compelling advantages over conventional farming in environmental,  ecology, and soil biotic composition.
  6. GMO organisms have been touted as the tools to feed the world, but they are actually a smoke screen for a very small number of companies to control the food production of the world.
  7. GMO seeds to not increase yields. They only facilitate large mono culture crops.
  8. Conventional farming techniques damage the soil and render it lifeless and susceptible to erosion.
  9. High brix (sugar content) is a significant food quality indicator.
  10. Healthy plants resist pest attack.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Common Sense Nutrition Rules

In my study of nutrition and food, I have come face to face with a startling fact. Americans eat very poorly. In an article I will post tomorrow explaining the value of organic foods, I have come to the realization that organic is not the prime issue of concern in the American diet. Our young people are getting far more calories from soft drinks than from all their combined vegetable consumption (web). To argue that the few vegetables that they eat be organic is missing the point of eating healthfully.

So what are we eating rather than food? What is an edible food like substance? The classic example is the Twinkie. It can sit on the shelf and not rot or mold and hold its texture for years. It seems the fungi and bacteria have better sense as to what is good food than most Americans!

So here are some simple diet rules:
  1. Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.
  2. Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.
  3. Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can't pronounce.
  4. Stay out of the middle of the supermarket; shop on the perimeter of the store. Real food tends to be on the outer edge of the store near the loading docks, where it can be replaced with fresh foods when it goes bad.
  5. Don't eat anything that won't eventually rot. "There are exceptions -- honey -- but as a rule, things like Twinkies that never go bad aren't food," Pollan says.
  6. Always leave the table a little hungry.
  7. Enjoy meals with the people you love.
  8. Don't buy food where you buy your gasoline. (rule 1-8 from web)
  9. Don't purchase a cereal that will color the milk. (video)
  10. The whiter the bread, the sooner you'l be dead. (video)
  11. Cook for yourself, it's going to be healthier than what you're buying. (web and video)
  12. Don't buy a food that is advertised on TV. (video)
  13. Wash hands and food with running water.
  14. Don't eat foods that once had a face. 

Do you have a favorite rule that helps your family eat healthfully?


Friday, January 20, 2012


The joy of a sandwich is in the pickles. Sunshine would contest this, as she really likes the bread. I do love pickles, and onions on homemade bread. Add a vegetarian patty, some garden greens and home made mayo... truly you have a recipe for lunch bliss.

Back to the pickles... It is impossible to get pickles as good as I will tell you how to make. They can not be purchased-- at any price. I would surely buy them if they were for sale, and you are welcome and encouraged to make pickles for part of your cash crop. So what is so special about home made pickles?
  1. Use mineral rich and nutritious cucumbers without a load of pesticides
  2. The cucumber patch will bear so heavily that you have to do something with them! With such a supply you can indulge yourself to pick some small cucumbers for pickling.
  3. You can avoid vinegar and sidestep pickling of your gut.
  4. The process does not involve spoilage / fermentation, so it is quick and relatively easy.
  5. The acidic portion is lemon juice, which is the only component we do not raise on our farm. Everything you put in is the best quality components possible.
  6. You get to be artistic and creative as you pack your jars. Your pickle jars can be a work of art in themselves.

The recipe:

(Special thanks to our close friends for sharing this recipe with us a few years back.) Plan on around 2 cups of liquid per packed quart jar. Mix up the liquid portion of the recipe, and heat to a boil. This will be poured over the solids assembled in the jar and then water bathed for 8 mins. Our smallest canner can process 3 quart jars. We have the larger 7 quart jar canner that I often use. I don't pressure the pickles, just water bath at a rolling boil.

Ingredient              1 quart              3 quarts          7 quarts

Water                    1.5 c                   3 c                 9 c
Lemon juice           0.5 c                  1 c                 2.5 c
Salt                        1.5 T                  3 T                 1 c

In each jar, place:

1 grape leaf or slice of cabbage (to keep the pickles crisp)
1/4 onion sliced
2 stalks of dill
1-2 garlic cloves

Place the grape leaf in the bottom of the jar. Pack the jar tight with cucumbers, and layer the cloves and onions as you go. A friend told me that removing the blossom end of the cucumber will also improve crispness. With some research, I found a claim that there is an enzyme in the blossom end that may contribute to softness. Cut 1/8 inch from the blossom end to remove this potential.

Some suggest using soft water in your recipe, or boiling hard water the day before and pouring off the lop layer for use.

Once all of your jars are assembled with the layered cucumbers, pour in the boiling liquid, seal the jar and water bath at a boil for 8 mins. When the time is up, immediately remove the jars and tighten the lids. Set them out to cool apart from other jars so they do not as a group exchange heat with each other. The heating process will soften your pickles, so quickly cooling them is the goal.

Our experience:

We have canned pickles with this recipe for two years now, and last year we grew our own onions, garlic and dill. We had a lot of pickles to can. Early in the canning process last year, I found I was loosing a high percentage to spoilage (47%). Needless to say, when you are growing the cucumbers, the onions, the garlic and dill, to loose a quart jar to spoilage, it is enough to bring you to tears. (Well, almost.)  I came to four hypotheses for our spoilage trouble:
  1. I tightened the large mouth lids too tight, and the pressure caused the lids to loosen / buckle and fail.
  2. I experimented with lower amounts of lemon juice in the early batches. My memory from two years ago was that the lemon juice was a bit strong. I tried decreasing the lemon juice down to 2 c per 7 quart mix. This could have made the mixture more pH friendly to spoilage organisms.
  3. Acid in the mixture ate through the (now cheaply made) metal lids, causing them to fail.
  4. Heating time might have not been long enough.

To mitigate these possible factors:
  1. I was careful not to over tighten the large mouth lids.
  2. I returned to the original recipe, and used 3c lemon juice per 7 quart batch. Later I tried 2.5 c with no increase in spoilage.
  3. Since we only had metal lids, I was not able to modify this concern. I did take care not to get the contents liquid on the underside of the lid, if possible. I will use Tattler lids from now on.
  4. I increased heating time, and then later returned back to 8 mins. with no increase in spoilage. I suggest you not fudge the water bath time to less than 8 mins. of rolling boil.
Note, if a jar was once sealed, and you find it unsealed in the pantry, DO NOT EAT THE CONTENTS! Discard it safely where no animals or children will get to it. Consider it spoiled, even if it appears "normal". This canning wisdom would apply to any canned product, but be especially cautious of low acid foods.

Our canning goals are based on a yearly cycle, and we figure out how many quarts we would like in an average week. This past year we aimed for 2 quarts a week, and that led to our target of 104 quarts of pickles for the year. Remember that you will have all of the cucumber season to prepare them. I would often do 3 or 7 quarts every other day, and a few batches of 21 quarts, till our yearly quota was met. Let the cucumbers seep in the canned jars of lemon juice, onions and garlic for at least 2 weeks. I prefer to wait a month before opening a jar.

Prepare now to can pickles this coming year. You need some extra cucumber rows, onions and plenty of dill. The delicious results will improve your sandwiches all year long.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Weed Control

Weeds make work! Nature is primed to cover the ground, and weed seeds multiply a plenty. The problem with weeds:
  • Weeds rob moisture and minerals from your crops
  • Weeds compete for row space and sunlight
  • Some weeds exude root inhibitors stunting your crop roots

Weeds have to be controlled. Various methods have been used, and let's review them.
  1. Hoeing is the most common method with the small market gardener. It was well utilized when I was growing up, and our two boys have gotten familiar with the idea as well.
  2. Mulching is providing a thick blanket of organic material such as leaf mold or compost. The sunlight is blocked, and the weed seeds germination is inhibited.
  3. Plastic ground cover is where the farmer covers the field in plastic, and transplants directly into the plastic. It is effective for weed control, but I am not convinced it is environmentally sound. The plastic is not reused.
  4. Flame weeders are effective as heating the weeds just enough to burst their cells, and the weeds die shortly thereafter. You can plant your seeds, and just before the good seeds come up through the soil you can flame weed, and decimate all of the weeds that have already germinated. You don't have to burn the weeds to a crisp, just heat them enough to kill them.
  5. Vinegar spray is used for weed control when the weeds are very small.
  6. Chemical herbicides are not suggested due to their long half life in the soil, and dangerous components.
  7. Flooding is used to benefit some crops like rice, where the crop can survive the flood, but the weeds die.
  8. Tractor cultivation this is hoeing on a grand mechanical scale. Row spacing has to match the tractor wheel base to facilitate multiple passes as the growing season progresses.

While I have done all of these methods, we currently we use hoes and mulches. I have some vinegar to test how that works this spring. The goal with any weed control plan is to kill the weeds off when they are small. The larger the weed, the more effort needed to kill it. Grasses have underground rhizomes which make them especially hardy. If possible, dig up and remove the rhizome. The best time to kill weeds is just after they have germinated, but before they have true leaves. When you disturb the top inch of soil, you may see small white root threads. This is the easiest stage of all to kill the weeds. A simple disturbing of the soil will do the trick. It will dry out into a dry dust layer that does not promote weed seed germination.

Mulching will prevent working the weed seedlings, but itself provides a barrier for weed seeds through blocking light to the seeds, and by the thickness of the mulch, to kill the weeds that do germinate before the weed penetrates the mulch layer.

For flame weeders, it is suggested to prepare the seed bed, and then let the ground sit for a few weeks before planting your crop, and water it and stimulate the weeds to germinate. This is called a "stale bed". Then plant, and flame the bed just before your crop seedlings emerge. This will kill back all of the germinated weeds. If you do not stir up the soil bed later too much, you will not have as many new weeds germinating. Studies indicate flaming is effective with weeds 4" or less. Weeds allowed to grow 6" or more are not easily controlled with flaming. Beds of carrots and beets are especially suited for flame weeding.


Monday, January 16, 2012

Tractor Safety

Farming is a dangerous profession, and there is one item that creates this risk: the tractor. I personally know several people who have been killed on their tractors. The most likely cause of death is the tractor rolling over and crushing the driver. There simply is not enough time to jump free. Do not consider this your avenue of escape. Tractors can tip to the side on an incline. They can also tip nose up and overturn. ROPS (roll over protection systems) and seat belts save lives. Do not operate a tractor without both of these safety systems.

The next dangerous area of a tractor is the PTO. This rotating shaft at the rear of the tractor that can lead to death or worse. I don't want to be graphic. Loose clothing can be caught in the PTO, and faster than it takes to tell about it, you can be wound around the shaft and loosing body parts left and right. Never wear loose clothing around a tractor, and never approach an engaged PTO. Note: the tractor will not stop or bog down even if you or body parts are being wound around the shaft.

The older the tractor, the fewer the safety systems will be available. Some older tractors do not disengage their PTO. This means that you can not turn off the PTO in some situations where you would like to, and if connected to an implement, it is always working. This makes these older tractors especially dangerous. Get a tractor that you can disengage the PTO.

Some tractors have one nose wheel, like a tricycle, called row crop tractors. This wheel configuration narrows the wheel base, making the tipping potential greater. I suggest you avoid this type of tractor.

I have experienced the nose of the tractor rising when pulling a large stump from the ground. Be prepared and don't overturn.

One person dies in a tractor accident nearly every day in the United States, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Don't be a statistic, think before you move, and anticipate danger.


I considered these articles when we were looking for a good farm tractor:

Our tractor wish list items:
  1. Has or able to add ROPS and seat belt
  2. Spread front wheels (not tricycle)
  3. Has rear PTO, able to disengage.
  4. 32 - 45 hp. You need power in this range to plow.

Our tractor selection:
  1. Kubota 3800, 38 hp
  2. 66" wide front end loader
  3. 7.7' backhoe
  4. box blade
  5. single roll over plow
  6. small disc unit
  7. single tine chisel (considering)
  8. rototiller (considering)
  9. mower (later)
  10. snow blower (later)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Book: Gardening When It Counts

We really enjoy books on sustainable living, and for several years have worked to enlarge our library. Some books you need to read once and then give away to others, or perhaps not even purchase, but just read from your local library.

Other books are excellent resource materials, that you will use time and time again. These books I think every homesteader needs to own. The first such title, is: Gardening When It Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times by Steve Solomon.

This book is well written, and the author meets his goal of reducing gardening down to what you need to know to be able to be self-sufficient in growing food for your family. The read was a bit like talking with a grandpa and hearing him say "Son, this is what you really need to pay attention to". The tone is not condescending, but neither is the author uncertain of what he is presenting.

Following are the book contents:
  1. Introduction
  2. Basics
  3. Tools and Tasks
  4. Garden Centers
  5. Seeds
  6. Watering... or not
  7. Compost
  8. Insects and disease
  9. What to grow... and how to grow it.
  10. Bibliography

Highlights that I enjoyed:
  1. A table of vegetables ordered in columns of how hard they are to grow. p. 16
  2. How to create your own Complete Organic Fertilizer. p. 20
  3. Sharpening garden tools. p. 44
  4. Obtaining quality seed. p. 97
  5. Chitting seeds. p. 124
  6. Plant spacing tables based on watering goals. p. 148
  7. Analysis of various composts. p. 192
  8. A sawdust collar protecting brassicas from root maggots. p. 232
  9. Plant variety needs and root diagrams. p. 239

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


We have set out to reclaim land to expand our farming endeavors. We would love to relocate to more land, but have decided that we will use every opportunity available to us now till the Lord leads elsewhere.

There is an acre of land overgrown with thorns just beyond our existing garden area. There are briers, wild rose brambles, bushes with sharp tips and all this is locked together with wild grape vines. It presents itself as a bulwark against using the land in any productive way. For the past several days we all have been slashing, sawing, lugging, tugging and burning our way through the mass. It is not easy work. There is sweat and tears. Yesterday my oldest son looked down at the snow around his feet and it was staining red. Thorns had pierced his lower leg, and he saw the blood before realizing the poke was actually a cut.

We don't complain, and are excited to see the progress after a full day of work. My youngest son commented today about how good it felt to be exercise tired. (He quickly pointed out he was not tired as in ready to go to bed!) I would guess to date we are about 1/2 way removing the surface material. We have not worked on the roots yet. Perhaps some of the larger tree stumps will rot in the ground a few years before I attempt to dig them up. We hope to put in a small orchard this spring in this reclaimed area.

When creation finished, what was the condition of the land? "And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good." Gen 1:31 Man was placed in a beautiful garden. A place in which they could express their creativity and joy. But when sin entered man's heart, there was a profound change in the soil. I wonder if there is a link between our spiritual connectedness with God, and how our soils perform. The Lord placed a curse on the soil, or did God simply describe how man's choice would impact other systems around him. "Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field.; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground." Gen 3:17-19

An enemy has introduced the thorns, and the thorns are all around us. We can perpetuate the thorns via disobedience, or cooperate with the angels to heal our land by being obedient and in harmony with God.

What thorns could you clear today?

Monday, January 9, 2012

Grafting Tomatoes

Grafting tomatoes is a new topic for me. I have heard of the procedure before, and it seemed like a lot of work. But still I am intrigued. You take a strong root and graft in a top fruit producer with the characteristics you want. The vigor of the roots and disease resistance produce high quality and long lasting plants.

The benefits are a plant in production that does not slack but is strong through the entire season. I would not be surprised if the production doubled by this grafting procedure, but I have not seen specific data to date. Pictures of comparison plants are impressive as to the difference.

The negatives with grafting include: you have to grow two sets of plants to get one grafted plant combination, the time involved in the grafting and nursing the plants back to health, and the root stock seeds seem a fair bit more expensive than regular tomato seeds (~$0.50 per seed).

I think the best application for grafted plants would be green house growing, where the grower wants an entire season of production, and where disease pressure is high. I would guess there is a cost benefit ratio, and the higher your greenhouse costs, the more logical it is to maximize production within that growing space.


Keep your tools and work area clean; you will be doing major surgery on the plants. Organize your work area consistently, so that you don't become confused during the grafting process. I have seen two grafting methods demonstrated:
  • Joining the root and scion incrementally, leaving both root stocks attached for a time, and then later weaning to only the root stock.
  • A clean cut through the entire stem of each plant, and joining the root and scion via angled cuts within a silicone tubular clip.
  • A clean cut of the root and scion. The root is cut vertically, and the scion is cut like a "V" to be inserted in the root as a wedge.
Once the graft has been made, keep the plants well hydrated with high humidity and out of the sun for ~5 days. Introduce them to normal conditions very gradually and support the plant to take any pressure off of the graft area till well healed.

My goal is to practice grafting using common tomato plants, and then try some of the disease resistance root stock for a trial of how the plants perform as compared to a control.


Sunday, January 8, 2012


As fun as growing food is, preserving makes it stretch the entire year. I write this article in winter, and each day we are opening wonderful canned items. We want to do more root cellaring, but I think there will always be a place in our pantry for a good supply of home-canned food.

For technique, you need to refer to a canning guide for types of foods, duration and pressure. Low acid foods need pressure canning, while acidic foods and fruits can be preserved with the simpler water bath canning process. Suggested times vary with the type of food, processing method and size of the jar.

The canning equipment we have gathered:
  1. 2x Water bath canners - holds 7 quart jars at a time
  2. We use our kitchen stove, but also have a 2 Burner Propane Stove which really helps move the canning process move along.
  3. 2x Pressure Canner - holds 7 quart jars at a time
  4. 1000x Glass jars of wide and narrow mouth
  5. 1000x Tattler canning lids

I have seen a large wood fired kettle canner (image to right) made from two water heater tanks welded together -- with a total capacity of 50 quarts per fire. I want to make one of these!

You need a supply of glass jars. We watch garage sales, estate sales, and end of season deals at the local stores. Take care that you have checked the rims of used jars. Any nick, even tiny would disqualify the jar. After all of the work of growing the food and then canning it... you do not want to throw it away due to a failed seal and spoilage.

The common metal lid is intended to be disposable. You may get by with reusing the metal lids, but they do wear out, especially with acidic foods. Having a truly reusable canning lid will be a joy. Introducing the Tattler canning lid. This is a plastic lid, and rubber gasket that is made to be reusable many times and for years. We just ordered some of these lids, and I will update this article with some images and our experiences this coming summer.

Selling features of the Tattler reusable lids:
  • Made in the USA
  • BPA Free
  • Indefinitely Reusable
  • For water bath or pressure canner
  • No food spoilage due to acid corrosion
  • F.D.A. approved materials
  • Dishwasher safe


Saturday, January 7, 2012


Sabbath. Rest. Some wonder what that really is. Is it attainable in our society? In our world of constant connectivity, 24x7 work, the frantic online society; we face burnout and utter exhaustion without the Sabbath. I think in our modern times, we need the Sabbath more than ever before!

The Sabbath is a weekly 24 hour period of time, an entire day, of rest. It starts with sunset on Friday, through sunset on Saturday, as established at creation. God set the Sabbath as a time of worship, fellowship and reflection, not of focusing on ourselves, our work or our greed.

God established the Sabbath at creation. God blessed it and sanctified it in the old testament. It is one of the ten commandments, and the the only one that starts with the word "Remember". Jesus knew we would be tempted to forget the Sabbath. Jesus kept the Sabbath each week as the seventh-day of the week, the Jewish Sabbath day. The rabbis were furious at Jesus, for he would not heed their man-made laws. He kept God's law. Jesus even rested on the Sabbath in the grave! The new testament church kept the Sabbath, Saturday, the seventh day of the week into the 3rd century. At no time in history has the weekly 7 day cycle been corrupted. At no time has the day of worship been altered or changed by God. If there was a day change, it was from another source (Dan 7:24-25). Obedience to God's law and whom we worship will be a special test in the last days of earths history (Rev 13:11-18). The Bible gives the promise that in heaven, we will all enjoy the weekly Sabbath worship services together through out eternity!

Have you considered taking one day out of your busy week to focus on God, your family and others? You will be richly rewarded if you do! Gather your family together and seek out the special blessing God has dedicated to this day for you and your family.


Friday, January 6, 2012


I really like chickens. Chickens are sociable, personable, inquisitive and have a happy disposition. Chickens on the homestead provide eggs and/or meat. Being vegetarians, Sunshine wonders why I am so interested in Chickens at all! I do eat an occasional egg white, but have tended to avoid the yolk not wanting extra cholesterol in my diet. One thing is sure, if you are going to eat meat, dairy or eggs, raise it yourself! I know exactly what has gone into the diet and environment of our birds, and I enjoy giving them greens and clean kitchen scraps to augment their vegetarian feed diet.

All of our chickens absolutely love kale. There is a load of calcium and minerals in kale, and these birds are smart enough to devour it before anything else. They also enjoyed the corn on the cob we gave them. One of our really bright birds would stand right beside me as I shucked the corn cobs, ever ready to spy a worm at the corn tip. It was as if we were working together as a team. She was talking the entire time, looking and always eager to inspect each ear as I opened it!

You should hear the chickens call and sing as any of us approach their coup. They are excited to have us as their guests, and always want to see what we have brought them.

Getting started

We started with Chickens in the spring of 2011, with the purchase of 7 pullets. Six have survived to laying maturity. We purchased the seventh, just in case we had a rooster, as we had wanted 6 layers. We purchased our as sexed female pullets (90+% female rather than 50% "free run") and kept them under a heat lamp to avoid chilling. They need to be able to move closer or farther away from the heat to regulate their body temperature. Reduce the temperature by 5 degrees per week until the supplemental heat is no longer needed. Pullet food is the "stratch" or "crumbles" feed, and an available supply of water is needed.

Decide what you want the birds for, and purchase a breed that fits that goal. Since we do not eat flesh, our goal was egg laying production, predominantly for sale. In our experience Isa Browns are good egg layers. We tried three varieties, and the Isa's are tops. They do not have a large body for meat production, but seem very efficient at laying. The blue eggs from the Americanas are just a bit smaller, but we find our customers really like the variety of natural egg color, and some even prefer the blue eggs.

Chickens grow up quickly, and before we had the coup finished, we were ready for them to be out of our house. They stir up a lot of dust.

We have raccoon, coyotes and weasels on our land, so we had to build the coup like Fort Knox. Our wire mesh is hardware cloth with 1/2 inch squares. Predators can enter through the ground, roof or any crack larger than 1/2 inch. Our design seems to work well for a small flock. The coup is elevated off the ground to give them more space to run, and we suspend food and heated water under the coup dangling above the ground. Chickens should have 2-3 square foot of enclosed coup space, and 4-5 square foot open run space, per bird.

Following is our chicken calendar for 2011

May 4        We purchased 7 pullets from a local farm supply. (1 day old)
May 10      Chickens have doubled in size, some hopping flights
July 8         Working (feverishly) on the chicken coup.
July 14       Chickens move into the coup.
Sept 27      First egg laid by a Isa Brown.
Nov 9        One chicken dies
Dec           Steady egg production of 4-6 per day.

Our boys are selling our surplus to neighbors. The demand is so great we are increasing our flock in 2012. There is a demand for both local food, knowing where it has come from, and that the birds are treated humanely. This is important for us as well. In actuality, our birds are treated a bit too much like pets! But people who purchase from us know how we care for our birds; how we treat them and feed them, and give them supervised free range time. We do not medicate our birds, nor stimulate them artificially with lights or chemicals. Our customers seek us out, knowing that these eggs are not the result of a hens life spent in a 1x1 foot prison, never touching the grass or any semblance of natural life, as I fear is the case with mass production hen houses.

I think eggs would be an easy item to add to a CSA. The eggs keep well, and you could easily give some each week or every other week depending on your customers interest, and the size of your flock.

On egg laying, a friend told me that when they first started with chickens, their chickens were not laying. They put in a plastic egg in their nest box, and that get them "going" and production started. I could not really see how this related to when the chickens would start laying, but we gave it a try. I tease you not in this story! On the morning of Sept 27 our boys put in a plastic egg into the nest box, and within a few hours, they presented Sunshine with a very real chicken egg. I don't know if this is some kind of chicken mind game or what, but it worked for us just like what we were told. The very same day! I wonder if the chicken was thankful, like, "wow, I sure am glad they showed me where to put that thing!"

We have been told that chickens lay fewer eggs in the winter. We get 4-6 eggs a day, and we have not had any drop off yet because of winter. The weather is starting to get colder, so we will see how they respond to that stress. I have read that the egg production drops off because of the daylight being shorter, which means they have less time to eat for egg production. But we have not seen any egg quantity change so far with the shorter day length, and actually, our day length is now getting longer. We do not use lights on the chickens at night. Our chickens are getting a lot of nutrient rich greens, so perhaps that is a factor in their not having to slow down production. I will return to this paragraph with more analysis in the spring, to see if we had any decline and if so what we could attribute it toward.

We have not had any real problems with the Chickens to date. We do not heat their living space, but shield them from the cold winds and drifting snow with clear plastic attached to the outside of the framing members. It looks a bit more like a green house right now. There are two schools of thought related to coup temperature. One is to provide heat, and the other is to provide more fresh air, no matter the temperature. We follow the fresh air thought, and our birds do not seem to suffer in the cold. The coup is more protected than the run, but even on cold days, our birds spend most of their day "outside" in the run. It is important to keep their feet dry. In the night, they need a roost where they can grab the roost beam, and cover their toes with their feathers to protect their toes. With that allowance, we find no need to heat their coup.

We have a electric water warmer which is very important during the winter to keep it from freezing over. Chickens need water, not a lot, but when they need it, they need it. We have been told that a thirsty chicken can have impaired egg production for life. We always have water available to them. My ideal would be to have them free range all the time, but I am sure we would loose them from predation over time.

In summary, our experience has been thumbs up! Join us and get some chickens this spring.


There is an air sack within the egg. Water can pass through the egg shell. As the water in the egg slowly evaporates, the air sack becomes larger. You can tell a fresh egg from an older egg by looking at the comparative size of the air sack. These samples are hard boiled. Can you see which egg is 2 week older than the other?


Thursday, January 5, 2012

Agriculture in the Bible

Following is an interesting quote from a favorite author which has really gotten me thinking about the principles of agriculture in the Bible. See what you think:
"In the laws which God gave for the cultivation of the soil, He was giving the people opportunity to overcome their selfishness and become heavenly-minded. Canaan would be to them as Eden if they obeyed the Word of the Lord. Through them the Lord designed to teach all the nations of the world how to cultivate the soil so that it would yield healthy fruit, free from disease. The earth is the Lord's vineyard, and is to be treated according to His plan. Those who cultivated the soil were to realize that they were doing God service." 1BC 1112.7
So this begs the evaluation, what lessons for agriculture are present in the Bible? What lessons can we still learn today?

Gen 3:23          - Tilling the ground was assigned after the fall.
Lev 19:9-10     - Do not harvest clean. Leave some for the poor and the stranger.
Lev 19:23-24   - Let fruit trees rest for 3 years, the 4 is for celebration, the 5th for production.
Lev 23:19        - Bring first fruits to the priest.
Lev 25:1-7       - Sabbatical year. The land rests for one year in seven.
Lev 26:4-9       - Obedience brings a blessing on the land.
Deut 20:19-20  - In war, spare the fruit tree from destruction.
Deut 22:9         - Watch your varieties and crops to maintain genetic purity.
Deut 24:17-22  - Take care for the stranger, fatherless and widow in your harvest.
Deut 28:1-14   - Careful obedience to God's law yields blessings on land, harvest, rain, family.

Principles gleaned from these verses:
  • Man needs hard work to occupy his time and thoughts. The curse of sweat was really a blessing in disguise.
  • We work in our gardens not for selfish ambition, but to be a conduit of blessings from the Lord to those around us. Those who especially need our help are those who are disadvantaged: the poor, the itinerant worker, refugee, fatherless, widow.
  • Cooperate with nature, and think of the long term implications in our farming practices.
  • Acknowledge God as the force that makes all things grow. The farmer simply assists in the process.
  • Just as people need a Sabbath rest, so the land needs time to rejuvenate. Fallow land, and cover crops and crop rotation seem in harmony with this principle.
  • God looks to bless obedience, and this blessing will spill out to the tasks we perform and upon our land itself.

Words of promise and wisdom:
  • "And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not." Is. 58:11
  • "Thus saith the Lord GOD; In the day that I shall have cleansed you from all your iniquities I will also cause you to dwell in the cities, and the wastes shall be builded. And the desolate land shall be tilled, whereas it lay desolate in the sight of all that passed by. And they shall say, This land that was desolate is become like the garden of Eden; and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are become fenced, and are inhabited. Then the heathen that are left round about you shall know that I the LORD build the ruined places, and plant that that was desolate: I the LORD have spoken it, and I will do it." Eze 36:33-36
  • "If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land." 2 Chron. 7:14
  • "He that ploweth should plow in hope." 1 Cor 9:10
  • "Much food is in the fallow ground of the poor." Prov 13:23
  • "The sluggard will not plow by reason of the cold; therefore shall he beg in the harvest, and have nothing." Prov 20:4

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Garden Tools

There are a variety of tasks where the homesteader will need tools. Let's start with gardening tools. A verse of wisdom: "Prepare thy work without, and make it fit for thyself in the field; and afterwards build thine house." Proverbs 24:27.

Every gardener needs good tools. Tools have varying quality. Metal tools are the most variable in this regard. Some tools are made of low quality, low strength, non-hardened metal and simply are not worth you time to use or fix them. When looking to purchase tools, you may be looking for the most expensive tools of the highest quality available. Seek out brands that have good recommendations from others.

Garden tools should be sharp. Dress the edge of cutting and chopping tools regularly. A sharp hoe works a lot more easily than a dull one.

To clear land, you will want a pick, ax, grub hoe, shovel and a long pry bar. To be truthful the best tool for stump removal is some form of large machinery, but digging by hand works as a second option.

Gather your favorite tools by function:
With tools that have a metal head: take care that the head does not rust, and keep the blade sharp. Tools with wooden handles should be conditioned with handle rub each year, and more often as needed.

I have learned through repeated experience: If you put a tool away, you will always know where to find it again. Perhaps I have proven the converse true enough, that I see the wisdom in always putting tools back where they belong. Wooden handles should not be left about, at in the heat of the sun, or on the ground, or out  in the rain. I have tried a home made wooden handle rub that I like a lot:
  1. 1/3 part paraffin, bees or candle wax
  2. 1/3 part linseed oil
  3. 1/3 part turpentine
Warm to melt the wax (careful -- do this outside), and mix all together. Let it harden in a tub or jar. It makes a thick paste that can be applied to wooden handles and rubbed down smooth.

I am still looking for the best way to preserve metal tools. I thinly coat the metal with WD-40 and wrap the tool in newspaper, and store in as dry environment as possible. I am still looking for the best method of storing metal tools.

Gather good hand tools, and keep them in good repair.


Tuesday, January 3, 2012


All life is based on water. Your homestead and garden will depend on it. In selecting your homestead, water is one of the three key criteria to look for. (Remember: Land, water and wood.)

Some areas of the United States have more rainfall than others, so a variety of gardening methods may become necessary. Depending on your situation, I believe it never hurts to conserve, and start with practices that use as little water as possible. With this experience, you will have more options for homestead situations and climates.

Property that has surface water is ideal, since there is no question as to its availability or quantity. A friend of mine calls this type of property water "live water". Just because it is visible, still does not mean it is yours for the taking. Anywhere there is a scarcity of water, there will likely be regulations for its use. You may have a stream running through your property, and only be able to look at it. So research is needed! I have been told that in one state, you can not even capture the water that rains on your house! Perish the thought!!! That is really being tight with water.

Spillway and stream from a pond
A pond is surface water in a quantity for reserve. Ponds are generally man made. Special care must be taken in the construction of the dam. Having a dam fail can cause a lot of problems down stream. This area is beyond my experience. If I get more hands on info, I will make a dedicated article on the topic. For now, I will link to some pond info in the resources section.

Wells are another source of water, and you would want to study the depth and how feasible it would be to pump by hand or with solar. I always think first of the most low tech way to do something. Chose first the most robust, the most simple options. Where ground water meets a cut in the terrain, you may have a spring, or seep. These if cleaned out, and collected into one spring head, may increase in water flow. The absolute ideal is to have the water source higher than your home and farm, and have it gravity fed. The system is really simple, and self sustaining. I have seen systems where no power was needed, and the home and garden had continuous flow and good pressure water.

We collect rain water from our barn roof, and store the water in an above ground, 2300 gal tank. This system is simple to use, and has provided garden water during especially dry times of the summer. Since we often have rain periodically through out the summer I don't need to store up the winter supply, and I drain the tank for winter. You can calculate the potential gallons a roof surface would collect with this formula:
  1. Take the foot print length and width of the roof lines that you will be able to collect water from, and figure out the total square feet.
  2. Total foot print square feet x 0.62337662352 = gallons for each inch of rain that falls
  3. If your structure is 40 x 60, then you have 2,400 square feet to collect water. If an inch of rain falls on the roof, then you could collect 1,406 gallons.
Most drizzle rains do not total to a lot, perhaps 1/4 or less of an inch of rain. A thunderstorm down pour unleashes a lot of rain, but not over a long time period. You may get an inch out of a thunderstorm. Sustained high rate rains can happen, but don't seem to when you need them most. I figure any rain I can collect is that much more that I do not have to pump from my well.

Spring at the lower edge of a hill
If your prospective land does not have water, and you are not able to get water from a well, you likely will not be able to sustain yourself on the land. We have friends that hauled water for close to 10 years. That is hard work. Every glass full, every flush becomes important then! Rather than their water situation improving, the 10 years ended when they moved to a homestead that had water. You can do it if you have to, but I don't think it is sustainable, especially if you can not haul large quantities in a vehicle. (I have seen some properties for sale in the desert that sell with the water tanker as part of the property sale.)

I encourage you to get as much information as possible about water on your land. Consider talking with realtors, area farms and neighbors, well drillers familiar with your area, etc. If water is accessible at the time of your evaluation, I suggest getting the water tested. We know of residential wells in the vicinity of old fruit orchards that now have toxic levels of arsenic.

Water quantity may be limited. Like  many resources, you learn to get by with what you have. One gardener I know has developed extensive experience with mulching due to a very poor performing well on their property. They have developed a garden and orchard without ever using their well water, and now consider it a blessing that the well has poorly produced. Necessity is the mother of invention!

For water conservation in your dwelling, consider recycling grey water. Grey water systems require double plumbing pipes, and some additional planning when setting up the system. In grey water, you never store it, as bacteria growth would quickly turn the reservoir into black water. You need to filter solids, but otherwise, I think grey water collection is an excellent thing to consider. (I will link to a complete post on grey water when it is online.)

Consider your options for improving your water resources, to protect surface water from agriculture contamination, etc. I pray you will always have a lot of cool, clean water.


Sunday, January 1, 2012


Luke 21 is a chapter where Jesus describes the time leading up to his second advent. The culmination of the great controversy between Christ and Satan, and the close of time as described in Revelation. "Man's hearts faint from fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth; for the powers of heaven shall be shaken." Luke 21:26.

I do not need to review the items that in our modern society would make us fearful. From crime, disease, environmental destruction, pesticide contamination, depleted soils, political unrest, global climate alteration, wars and rumors of wars. 2011 has closed as the worst year for global natural disasters (per CNN). We can all acknowledge the earth is growing old as a threadbare garment. To focus on this alone, with no hope is surely depressing! Reading Revelation does not paint a more rosy picture for the future either. We have no expectation that things will improve or resolve or get better. We see a world in decline since creation, not showing evolutionary improvement. I expect turmoil of unimaginable proportions. I see my friends, the "end-time prepers," only delaying the common end for all of wicked mankind.

In one of the most famous sermons of Jesus in the Bible, we see the command, "Do not worry." I think Jesus was looking down to our time, and He encourages you and I, "Do not worry."

It is as if Jesus says, "I know you will go through a time of trouble with intensity never compared in the entire history of earth, but I will sustain you. I have my loving eye watching and protecting you." In His own words: "Therefore I say to you, Take no thought for your life, what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor yet for your body, what you shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?" Matthew 6:25. Jesus tells us to trust in Him, and not to worry.

So how do we reconcile these two divergent perspectives? 

I think the root issue is one in whom we place our trust. Man apart from God, has only self reliance to depend on. The advent-focused Christian has only God to depend on. Both perspectives see that we are on the Titanic post ice burg collision. The ship we call earth is going down. God's people look for a miraculous salvation, a second coming of a physical, literal, audible Jesus in the sky. I am afraid the world's perspective creates a faint heart, and looking after those things which are coming on the earth. I wish I had some wise ray of hope... but apart from a life in Christ, I come up empty. Will you, right now, commit your life to Jesus who wants to give you a future and a hope? I pray you will.

Does the command to "Worry not" mean that God's followers have nothing to do? Shall we sit by the lake, sipping our filtered water, and waiting for the end in relative seclusion? No! We have a work to do like Noah of long ago. We need to work diligently to build an ark (figuratively). We want to steadily become more like Christ in personality, character and thought. We want to gain knowledge and experience to not only save ourselves, but to be able to teach and save others who want to survive, who want to learn about God's love for them, and want to see His face. We do not horde goods, as others would just take them. We grow extra food so that we can share. We share with neighbors, with enemies of Christ, with all, that they soon may be a friend of Jesus also.

We work, we hoe the garden, we propagate plants, we learn simple health remedies, we reach out to others in winsome ways; for the betterment of others, and to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. We don't focus on end time events so we can save ourselves. We have an eternal destination, and an available invitation for you to join us. Eternity will make the struggles here seem so insignificant!