Monday, September 15, 2014

Vacation Time

I hadn't intended to post anything down here on the Florida panhandle, but I'll just share a few photos.......

.... I think they speak for themselves.

Monday, September 8, 2014

2014 Garden Report: Heroes Come in Small Packages

I've had marginal success with this summer's garden, but without sufficient sun the plants have been succumbing to pests and disease.

I've already torn out the spent cucumbers, popcorn and some of the bean plants.

My tomatoes are still producing fairly well, but since we never built adequate supports for them, they've flopped all over the place, weighed down by the fruit. The Cherokee Purple has really performed pretty well, considering the odds. And those tomatoes are fantastic! The Amish Paste are doing so-so.

I wasn't keeping a close eye on the plants and they became overrun with Carolina Sphinx caterpillars (commonly known as the Tomato Hornworm).

Look at that! Those buggars ate my tomatoes too!

They've already been parasitized by the braconid wasp, so they're all goners. But they've done plenty of damage in the short amount of time they've been munching on the plants.

Nature class tangent............

By the way, the caterpillars are usually just thought of as "worms," but they mature into a rather impressive hawk moth:

You'll see these flying around your porch lights sometimes. Their size can seem intimidating, but they are harmless. They are also good nocturnal pollinators.

Here is the heroic Braconid Wasp:

At only 1/10 of an inch they are easy to miss. That long "stinger" looking projection is the female's ovipositor. She uses it to inject her eggs into the young caterpillars. The larvae hatch and secrete a substance that numbs the caterpillar from within, so it can't feel the tiny parasites eating it alive. Once grown they emerge from the caterpillar's skin and spin little cocoons in which to pupate. Those are the little white cases seen all over the caterpillar. The mature braconid wasps emerge and fly away, leaving the doomed caterpillar to its fate. Soon enough it will turn dark and limp, and be found hanging lifeless on the plant.

It's kind of like a Stephen King horror novel, if you think about it..........

So what happened to the hornworms that hadn't been parasitized?

I think I harvested more caterpillars than tomatoes

How interesting, chickens close their eyes when they bite just like sharks do...

Oh, and in case you were wondering, this is what caterpillar poop looks like:

The technical term for insect feces is FRASS. Add that one to your vocabulary list. 

But I digress....

............... back to the garden ................

This year I will be planting a winter garden for the first time.

Winters in middle Tennessee are typically quite mild, which is great for a lot of cold weather veggies.

We also live in close proximity to a large lake, which acts as a bit of a buffer from the cold. While areas just outside the park will have frost, most of the time we will not. Often times it will be January before we ever have a hard freeze.

It would have been nice to be taking advantage of this phenomenon sooner, but better late than never.

My garden space is pretty small; about 12ft x 10ft. Full sun is hard to come by in a forested area, and this spot only gets 6 hours in the height of summer.

I'm hoping a fall/winter garden will perform better, since the fallen leaves will give the area more sunlight, and the cold weather will keep pests away.

I've already ordered my garlic from the Seed Savers Exchange, and it should be shipped here in a couple of weeks. These are the varieties I will be trying:


   German Extra Hardy                                       Samarkand (Persian Star)

This will be my first time planting garlic, and it's the vegetable I'm the most excited about. It has a host of culinary and medicinal benefits.

I'll also be trying my hand at kale and pac choy, and seeing if I have more success with bunching onions and sugar snap peas. I may be a little late getting the latter two in the ground, but I already have the seeds, so I may as well give it a shot.

I may try to get some of these seeds in the ground before we leave on vacation, hoping for a few more good rains to water them well while we're at the beach.

I cannot BELIEVE  September is here already!

One thing I love about homesteading is you are never bored. There is always something to look forward to in each season!

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Thursday, September 4, 2014

A New Way to Feed! Getting Started with Barley Fodder: The Concept

I've been tossing around another  idea for some time now.

I'd love to be able to feed the rabbits a more natural, pellet-free diet.

Pellets are convenient. They are formulated to provide every nutrient rabbits need to thrive, based on years of nutritional research. They contain exact protein percentages, as well as the right amounts of vitamins, minerals and fiber.

Rabbits can live and breed quite happily on pellets. So why bother feeding anything else?

Well, for one thing, pellets get expensive. Fast. It's one thing if you have a couple of pet rabbits. A 50 pound bag will last you several months.

But once you start breeding rabbits, depending on how many you keep, you can easily go through several hundred pounds of feed per month.

That is the cost of convenience.

But there are other problems with pellets as well......

Sometimes you can get a bad batch. If, somewhere along the manufacturing process, the pellets were exposed to moisture, mold can develop. Moldy feed is a big killer for domestic rabbits. The consequences can be devastating  to your rabbitry.

Pellets also contain genetically modified ingredients in the form of soybeans and alfalfa. The problem there lies, not necessarily in the gene modification itself (although research does indicate possible negative health effects), but mainly in the heavy amount of pesticides applied to the crops. (That is why the crops are modified or made "Roundup Ready;" so they can withstand heavy loads of herbicides. Not to "End World Hunger," as Monsanto proudly claims.)

These ingredients have been linked to cancer and fertility problems in rabbits.

And of course if you're going to be eating your rabbits, then those pesticides make their way into your body as well.

One alternative is buying organic, GMO free pellets. But they are at least double the price of regular pellets. As well as difficult to find.

The bottom line for me, though, is to look at the rabbit from a biological standpoint:

.... they were made to eat living, green foods.

Even though pellets are made from living, green alfalfa, this alfalfa is highly processed.

If I'm going to go to all that trouble to raise rabbits for food, I'd like to have better control over their diet. Heated, extruded DEAD FOOD really doesn't cut the mustard, for me. I want the best possible diet for my meat rabbits.

I've been feeding them Manna Pro pellets and free choice grass hay. They get daily supplements of whatever I pick and harvest in the yard: usually a mix of clover, grasses, tree leaves, dandelions and other wild greens. In addition to this they get garden thinnings and trimmings from the herb garden.

While I enjoy this daily chore, it takes a lot of time out of my morning. As a new mom I need to devote most of my time to my 10 month old son, so spending that half hour in the mornings isn't always a viable option.

Scooping pellets into a feeder is much easier.

Another option I considered was putting together a custom whole grain mix. Many rabbit raisers use this successfully. But first you have to source the grains, and then have somewhere to mix and store them. I have yet to find a good local source of organic whole grains. While there is a great family run, organic farm and feed mill in Orlinda, TN, that is a good two hour drive for us.

Besides the fact that you have to order a minimum of 500 pounds for a custom mix. That's....... a lot.

That may be an option for livestock in the future, but I just can't justify the long drive  for a handful of rabbits. (Incidentally, I've also been looking into this option for my chickens, but still don't think it's worth the drive - yet.)

Maybe one day.

But I've been researching another feeding method which is not as time consuming as my daily forage run, and shouldn't involve long drives to the middle of nowhere:


Fodder feeding is basically taking grains, usually barley, wheat or oats, and sprouting them  until the maximum amount of nutrients have been released, then harvesting them and feeding them to your livestock.

This system not only works great for rabbits, but can also be great for chickens, pigs, horses, goats, sheep, cattle, or anything else that eats a primarily plant-based diet.

Different species require different percentages of fodder in their diets, but it can be a great way to give them a natural, living protein source.

Rabbits can really thrive on 90% fodder diet, with 10% whole oats or black oil sunflower seeds, hay and access to a mineral block.

I've gotten a lot of my inspiration from Fruhlingskabine Micro-Farm.

This girl is my hero. She has some of the best all around ideas, and her organization skills put me to shame.

It was her fodder system that really caught my eye, however. 


She was the one that really convinced me it was something I could do. So once we get back from our vacation in a couple of weeks, I'm planning to get set up to do it. The only source of organic barley I've been able to find is Windy Acres in Orlinda, that I mentioned earlier (or ordering it online - at quite an expense). Unless I find another reason to visit that area, 90 miles just doesn't seem worth it for one 50 pound bag of feed.

So for now I'll just have to get it from one of the local feed stores (even though they're going to have to order it.)

Cost for set up will be minimal. I've got this mini indoor greenhouse I use for starting seeds and trying to keep orchids alive in the winter months (not successfully, I might add. I'm better at killing orchids than growing them.)

At the moment it's just taking up space, but it would work great for sprouting barley (minus the plastic cover). All I need are some cheap plastic trays and some barely. I'll need to add some PVC or dowels to prop the trays up on the shelves, to aid in draining the water. And then I'll also need a big plastic tub for the rack to sit in, to catch the rinsing water. Because of its vicinity to the window I can just siphon off the rinse water straight into the herb garden, or into a bucket for some other use.

In addition to the fodder, they'll get whole oats during warm weather, and black oil sunflower seeds in cold weather. (Oats are a "cooling" feed, while sunflower seeds are "warming.") And I'm sure they'll still get treats from the yard and garden. I know wild greens still have the benefits of minerals and varied nutrients.

I realize I'm creating more work for myself, but with fall approaching and my second breeding attempt near at hand, I really want to start feeding them more naturally.

One day I plan to get them set up in "rabbit tractors," so they can have direct access to grazing. But that will take a substantial amount of work, space and building costs.

This step seems more manageable at present. I am very excited about this new project. Thank you Sarah, at Fruhlingskabine Micro-Farm! You are truly an inspiration!


Monday, September 1, 2014

Crazy Ideas

I spend so much of my time cooped up these days.

As much as I love being able to stay home with my little boy, my mind definitely craves stimulation from time to time. So while Ian sleeps or nurses or plays nearby, I spend my time hatching crazy ideas.

At my parents' farm there is a pond up on a hill. Well, it WAS a pond, that is.

This sounds like the beginning of a book. [and indeed it may be...]

When I moved to that place with my family at 19 years old, the pond held water. However, it was full of algae and sludge. So I had the poorly-researched idea to toss in some crayfish to eat up the particulates. Not sure what I was thinking.  Needless to say they were NOT impressed with their new location, and made deep burrows in the pond be to escape the shallow water. Now this is just a theory, but I believe they were responsible for breaking the seal. Because it wasn't long after that that the pond stopped holding water.

Regardless of whether those uncooperative arthropods were responsible, the pond still, to this day, does not hold water, and has become overgrown with grass and sedges.

I read a blip, I believe, in one of Joel Salatin's books about using pigs to seal a pond. Their instinctive wallowing behavior is great for wrecking or building the environment. It's just a matter of harnessing it. So that got my wheels turning.

I'm a big believer in outlines. It's one of the easiest ways for me to string my thoughts into a coherent form.

While this has been attempted before, there is VERY little information out there. So this is what I've come up with so far.....


PRIMARY GOAL: To seal the pond up on the hill for use as water storage, gravity fed water harvest, and to create a wetland habitat.

SECONDARY GOALS: To grow out two pigs for pork – one for the freezer and one for profit.


Step One: To grade roadway so area can be accessed by vehicle.

        Vehicle access will be necessary to prepare pond for sealing, set up pig habitat, and for daily care of the pigs. This can be accomplished by backhoe.

Step Two: Set up pig habitat.

        Fencing is of great importance for protection of the pigs from predators, and to keep them from escaping. Our fencing options are:

·        Portable electric netting
o   Pros:
§  Simple installation
§  Can easily be taken down to be set aside for other uses (poultry, sheep, goats etc.)
§  Pigs can be trained to respect their boundries
o   Cons:
§  If the electricity fails, the pigs could escape easily
·        T-posts with electric wire
o   Pros:
§  Posts could be left behind for future use to fencing livestock out of pond
o   Cons:
§  Stringing individual wires would be more costly* and time consuming
§  Would afford very little protection from escape or predators when off
·        Permanent posts, stock panels, and one strand of wire
o   Pros:
§  Would afford more protection from predators and escape if power was off
o   Cons:
§  More costly & time consuming to build


        Shelter could be made very simply and inexpensively.


·        Pallet shelter:

o   Pros:
§  Minimal cost with readily available materials
§  Sturdy
o   Cons:
§  Would be very heavy and difficult to move
·        Stock panel ark - constructed from stock panels, tarp, and wooden skids

o   Pros:
§  Simple construction
§  Light and easy to move
§  Could have many other uses: poultry run, garden arbor, sheep shelter
o   Cons:
§  Not as sturdy
§  Would need to be anchored down to protect in high winds
§  More costly to build

FEEDER can be a rubber pan or homemade trough. A trough may work a little better to keep the pigs’ feet out of their food, and higher sides will be useful for feeding things with a higher water content.

        The simplest option would be a large rubber pan. However this would quickly get upturned by the pigs, leaving them without clean water to drink. A better system would be a large secured bucket or barrel with a valve.

STEP THREE: Acquire the pigs.

        The breed selected won’t be of great importance, but light-skinned breeds may not do well in the area, since it is in full sun.

        A heritage breed or cross would have a stronger foraging instinct, and a better overall flavor.

        The larger the better, as they will be able to cover more ground. Larger breeds may be a little more difficult to handle and process.

        The age at purchase will depend on availability and price. Younger pigs will be less expensive, but will be more delicate. Older pigs will be hardier but more expensive. Younger pigs will need to be started in a more sheltered area close to the house before moved on range.

STEP FOUR: Grow them out to free range size.

        This step will depend on the age at purchase. It may be wise to set up a temporary shelter with the electric netting to monitor them more closely for a week or two. Mainly to make sure they have learned to respect the electric fence, and to iron out any problems.

STEP FIVE: Move them to the pond.

STEP SIX: Daily care and maintenance.

        Pigs will need to be fed and watered at least once daily, and possibly checked on twice per day.

        Diet: The base of the diet can either be an organic pig grower ration, sprouted barely fodder, or fermented grain. The rest of the diet can be composed of kitchen and garden scraps.

        Wallow: This is the most important aspect of their daily care, aside from food and water. The pond bed will need to be hosed down daily to encourage wallowing behavior. This would probably best be accomplished in sections, so they can more concentrate their efforts. Large barrels with hoses would be the best way to haul water to the pond.

STEP SIX: Harvest pigs!

        If we decide that there are enough of us to eat two pigs, we could process both.

        It would be simpler to take them to a processor, but of course this would cost more. Besides the fact that it would be less humane for the pigs, after all the work of raising them organically.

        We have the tools to process them ourselves, but that may be a bit too much work for two pigs, especially considering it would be our first attempt. We may end up just selling one of them as “meat on the hoof,” preferably to a fellow homesteader.

This is still a work in progress, but I think it could work.

All I've managed to find is that it really takes more than just two pigs, even for a small pond. But perhaps I could use a mini-scale intensive rotation around the pond bed, to help concentrate their efforts.

This project would really necessitate us living at the farm. (Or next door, if that situation still works out. Still waiting to hear back from the home owners.)

Things like this are a way to keep me busy. And really, just to keep me sane.

Brought to you by Crap Shoot Photography............[see previous post]