Keep Bees and Carry On

This is a busy time of year to be a beekeeper. Hives are swarming because they are full. We are busy collecting wild swarms and busy collecting the surplus honey from our hives. “A swarm in June is worth a silver spoon” and for that same reason we collect our honey now. The hive still has time to build up its savings account against a hard winter. Also, spring honey is sweeter, in my opinion, than fall honey.

Bees swarm to reproduce. The hive begins to fill up with honey so the workers put mom on a diet, begin making a new queen and a portion of the workers push mom out the front door and fly away. A friend of my father saw 3 swarms one afternoon while riding his horse. We got 5 swarm calls in three days that same weekend.

The job of a beekeeper is to decide if the hive should divide or if it should focus on storing more nectar. I am a fan of honey. I have worked all year to protect and house these bees. I have been stung. I have gotten poison ivy near their hives. I take a portion of their honey as a way of collecting rent.

Our boys have decided they want to be involved this year. In previous years the family has been content to hide in the van while I open the hives. There was one particular spring when I was a little early about opening a hive and the bees were not appreciative.  I had a cloud of angry, stinging bees penetrating my bonnet as I ran through the branches in the woods. Julie laughed until she had tears in her eyes.

This year the boys helped. They cleaned mouse nests out of unused bee boxes and the oldest caught two swarms by himself. Pretty cool.

If a swarm lands on the lower branch of a tree, catching the swarm is usually just a matter of shaking the branch into a suitable box.

But sometimes swarms land on the ground or, in this case, on a hosta. That can be more interesting.


Either way, you have to introduce the bees to the box. Our oldest son is 15. He was hiving a swarm at home while I was hiving another elsewhere. He was stung on the arm as he was working. Some of these feral bees have a hot sting but he said something like this to himself, “I just have to do this now. I can hurt later. Get through it.”

I haven’t found that beekeeping has to hurt. But sometimes it does. What a cool thing for my son to learn.

Later we opened another hive that is well established to rob a little honey. As usual, I faced the hive alone, the other five people who claim to love me were gathered nearby with cameras at the ready.

I haven’t written much about beekeeping on the blog. It’s just something we dabble with. The best time to open a hive is when the workers are out in the field in the middle of a clear, calm day. That means I can open my hives on weekends, if the weather cooperates. Hopefully our kids will gain interest and confidence and will fire me. That would be awesome.

Between now and then it’s just something fun we do. And it is fun. Beekeeping, if you don’t know, is necessarily very relaxing. You have to be chill. The bees know if you are excited or in a hurry. Also, I find it is best to work without gloves as I squish fewer bees but you have to know the hive. Temperamental bees can’t be kept and temperamental beekeepers can’t keep bees. That, I hope, is the lesson I teach my children.

Do you keep bees? If so, you are halfway to the land of milk and honey.

Re-Taming the Garden

It rained last summer. What I mean to say is, it rained all of last summer. All of it. Julie and I would sit like the kids in The Cat in the Hat, looking out of our dining room window at the rain falling on our garden, feeling slightly depressed as the weeds grew and grew, neither of us willing to go out in the rain to work in the garden.

Then it got hot. Moisture + heat = Weeds.

We felt discouraged. The garden went into winter a mess of tangled weeds.

Remember, we also spent 8 months in and out of the hospital with our daughter. We lost our garden. No fun.

For the last month we have been working to reclaim our growing space.


Our gardening ambitions are few, however. The main garden has been planted to a few fruit trees and berry plants. We have a row of potatoes for fertility. We have a row of jalapenos for poppers. Our younger son is planting row after row of corn. Otherwise, this is a maintenance year. A year of weed control and added fertility. We are making next year’s garden now.

Every day we try to do something small.

  • Hoe the corn.
  • Hill the potatoes.
  • Pick the strawberries.
  • Cut an edge to the grass surrounding the beds.
  • Haul in more manure.
  • Have fun.


Have fun.

Are you having fun in your garden?

Apple Drops Galore

Each year we pick up a few bags of apple drops at aunt Marian’s house to help her keep her yard clean. Apparently we have just taken a small portion of the available apples. This year we filled a full pickup truck from one tree. And that was just the start of the drop. So when you wonder to yourself, “How many apple trees do I need?” remember she has three mature apple trees in her yard and it makes this point well: You don’t need a big orchard.

Her Mutsu tree is her prized possession. This is the tree I prune when she isn’t looking. I can usually prune about a quarter of the tree before she gets her slippers on and tells me I have cut too much wood off of the tree. Mainly I try to keep the chimney empty, remove lower and crossing branches and cut out anything dead. The tree is also reaching over to her grape vines so I have been working to shorten its reach over time. She just wants me to remove anything that is touching. So I play this little game. I express my love by pruning her trees. She expresses her love by not staying angry with me.


The Mutsu ripens later in the season. This summer has been cool and the apples are already sweet if you can stumble through the drops to pick one from the tree.


The tree by the house is an unknown. She ordered a number of trees through the mail some decades ago and didn’t get what she ordered. I think this is one of the wrong trees but it makes a HUGE quantity of sweet red apples every year and seems to be resistant to fire blight.


When she had her roof replaced the roofers took certain liberties with the limbs overhanging the roof. Since I always start with the Mutsu tree, aunt Marian was out there with me and prevented me from doing anything other than cutting out a specific broken limb. The long limb on the left offers additional shade in her dog pen. You should see all the apples in there! Since the limb points down it focuses on apple production. Go read up on training vs. pruning trees.

Finally there is a Johnny Appleseed tree in the corner of her yard. This tree grew out of a compost pile. It makes a mild transparent-type apple but she rarely uses the apples. It has never been pruned short of when she asked me to cut out dead wood last winter. She was surprised and disappointed how much dead wood was in the tree. I think the tree is just about finished. I may gather a cutting or two. Most of the drops from this tree feed the wildlife that venture into the corner of the yard far away from the dog.


I don’t think I’m exaggerating to suggest that I could fill five or six pickup trucks with this year’s apple crop from these three trees…even just the drops.

that's alot of apples

The four pigs and layer flock, it turns out, are only so interested in eating apples. They can have enough. I don’t know what aunt Marian did with them all. We have considered unloading them in rows in the pasture allowing trees to sprout where we think we would like to have them…but who knows. It is important to pick up the drops to keep the apple pest populations lower. We just haven’t really solved the problem yet. And there are more apples rotting on the ground as I type. Ugh. And buckets of apples in my kitchen waiting to become applesauce.

You might consider planting four smaller trees together in a cluster and work to keep them small. This would give you a manageable amount of apples from a variety of flavors spread across a longer harvest. Dad found a roadside apple tree between here and aunt Marian’s house. Just a volunteer tree but loaded with red, knotty, wormy apples. No sign of fire blight though and a good flavor, though they are not quite sweet yet and it is growing and producing in spite of the fact that it has never been cared for in any way. I should get some cuttings of that too…

Patronize a Farmer, Save the World

My apologies to the show Heroes for my choice of title. I never saw the show but the marketing still found me. Give that marketing firm a raise!

I read a lot of Ambrose Evans-Pritchard’s work as I read economics information on “the internets”. You know, a man has to have a hobby. I read about global economics for fun. Seriously, if you pay close attention you’ll be in stitches. If it helps, begin by understanding that the world’s financial experts are all idiots. Pretenders. They have no real insight into the future they rarely grasp the present and they learn nothing from the past. But, since they have some prestigious degree, they think they can tell us how to improve – even save! –  the world with (…get this…) interest rates. LOL! I guess if all you have is a hammer…

Anyway. Mr. Evans-Pritchard published an article about dirt. Well, he published an article about a published article about dirt. And I think it’s worth reading. Kind of a validation that I’m moving in the right direction…but not fast enough. Further, he points out that we, as humans, have a tendency to prefer instant gratification over delayed…or even deferred. I mean, we could have acorns for the next 50 years but I need an oak board now. I could avoid diabetes and keep my feet but I really like pie. We could have savings but there is so much cool stuff to buy. We could have had cedars in Lebanon but we needed a desert. We are a short-sighted species. Ripping the soil gives us an immediate boost in fertility…though at the expense of future fertility. “Well, we’ll figure out tomorrow when it comes.”

Now that I have agreed with him let’s look closer at what Mr. Evans-Pritchard actually wrote. I mean, I kind of just picked out the points that make me feel vindicated as I initially skimmed the article. How does he really feel? I think he’s a little confuzzled. How about this quote?

It comes as China and emerging Asia switch to an animal protein diet, replicating the pattern seen in Japan and Korea as they became rich. As a rule of thumb it takes 4kg-8kg of grains in animal feed to produce 1kg of meat.

What kind of meat requires 8-16 pounds of grain per pound to produce!? It doesn’t take any grain to produce 2.2 pounds of beef. Or lamb. Or goat. What about fish? It takes 3 pounds of grain to make a pound of pork on a production hog floor but you can reduce or eliminate that if you park your piggies under oak trees, chestnut trees and apple trees. They also do well on alfalfa and a healthy dose of cow manure. I mean, his article is essentially about how modern row cropping is destroying the earth and goes on, in the quote above, to say that we can only feed animals with additional row cropping. And that, we have established, is bad. So we have to do more row cropping to feed the world grains. And that, we have established, is bad.

But why not just let the cows eat grass? Make beef the new chicken. Close up shop on all those Arkansas chicken houses and twelve-thousand sow farrowing operations in Manitoba. I am suggesting the issue at hand isn’t simply the lost of soil biota brought on by tillage and chemical death but, instead, our continuing use of the wrong paradigm. Stop taking feed to cows. Take the cows to the feed. Ta-da! Stop buying eggs at the store. Keep a few hens and feed them kitchen scraps. Ta-da! Use tree crops instead of annual crops. Make our Coca-Cola with high-fructose chestnut syrup! Ta-da! Just give your HOA the bird and get some chickens. See how easy?

The UNCCD is aiming for a global deal to achieve “zero net land degradation” from 2015, mostly by replanting forests. The body’s environment chief Veerle Vanderweerde says it is not going well. “We know what to do to restore degraded land. It’s not impossible but it takes time, money, dedication, and political will, and there is not a lot political will.”

Where to begin? Political will? I think that means use of force. As in, “we have the guns so you do what we say.” Remember this passage?

Yacouba Sawadogo, “the man who stopped the desert”, began to revive the ancient zai technique thirty years [ago] to stop soil erosion on his little farm in Burkina Faso. It involved digging small holes and filling them with compost and tree seeds to catch the seasonal rains, recreating a woodland of 20 hectares in the arid Sahel. Sadly, local officials then expropriated the land.

So much for political will. Time? Money? Dedication? Whose? If we elect some bonehead to fix our problems…well, I don’t have high hopes that our problems will get fixed. In fact, I have centuries of evidence that our problems become worse as governments become more involved. I don’t need regulation forcing me to set aside forested land as magical and protected so we can have a “net zero land degradation.” We need massively net negative land degradation. And this is something we can do on our own. No guns election required! Stop ripping soil and leaving it bare and exposed for 6-7 months each year. Instead, grow cover crops, graze livestock, rotate polyculture crops through. If you have the time, Gabe Brown has a lot to teach us on this topic. He talks about “speeding up biological time” and says, “Feeding 9 billion people will be not be any problem whatsoever if we change our production model and focus on soil.” I feel he backs up that bold claim.

We need the freedom to do the things that were traditionally done before 1950 but leveraging modern technology and new ideas. I need to be free to combine livestock, wildlife, trees, people and time in a carbon-sequestering, soil-building, sustainable and profitable mix. The money will suddenly appear so Mr. Elected Bonehead can have his pound of flesh. Check out Mark Sheppard’s book for a real life example of regenerative forested agriculture. (I could list any number of books that illustrate this well but Mark Sheppard is high on my list. I mean, who can resist a guy who has the …stuff… to lecture for two and a half hours then pull out a guitar to sing a song at the audience?)

Back to the point, there is no need for political will to do this. We don’t have to elect leaders to point guns at us so we will behave. We already know what to do. If you don’t I hope you are sitting down for this. It’s utterly profound. Stop looking at “them“. Stop blaming “them“. What are you doing? How are you saving the world? Where do you buy your food? What system do you vote for each day? We don’t need people signing petitions against industrial ag. What a waste. We need consumers educating themselves…involving themselves. Just go – you yourself – and purchase products from farmers who care about soil health. Farmers who don’t saturate their fields with chemical death. Farmers who enhance life by composting and growing food and building healthy soil. We need agricultural pioneers finding ways to do more with less in spite of existing government regulations and writing narcissistic little blogs like mine about what goes right and what goes wrong. Farmers, not legislators, need your support.

If you are not a farmer (and most people aren’t), find a farm that looks and smells good. Don’t worry about the ugly buildings or the beat-up jalopy in the driveway. Learn what healthy animals look like. Learn what healthy grass looks like (it doesn’t look like a lawn). Look at tree health. Smell the air. Feel the soil. Then invest in the farmer by buying his produce so he can continue to grow.

Patronize a farmer, save the world.

I have a few afterthoughts that really don’t belong in this posting. Don’t worry about peak oil. Peak oil will bring modern industrial agricultural practices to an immediate halt. But not before peak phosphorus brings modern ag to a halt. Unless the lack of humus in our soils enables a drought that brings modern ag to a halt first. There are alternatives. In case you haven’t seen this (how could you have missed it?) I give you this short presentation. May it change your whole life…and through you, the world. Please watch this video. (BTW, note his confession that, as a government agent, he advised his country to shoot 40,000 elephants to “save” the ecology. Made the problem worse.)

I also have to add, if you live near us and are interested in partnering with us in saving the world we can offer you excellent quality and value. If you are inclined to vote, please vote for us.

If I Were Homesteading Over Again…

I appreciate and welcome email correspondence with readers. In fact, probably the coolest part of the blog is the people I have met through it. There are a couple of themes that most emails follow and I would like to address one of those today: What to start with.

The typical letter I get goes something like this (please understand I’m having fun with this):

My wife and I really enjoy reading your blog (though we never leave a comment) and have been making plans to move to a few acres of our own. We would like to keep goats and a few chickens. Do you have any tips that would help us get rich from goat milk and chicken eggs on our two acre lot?


A. Reader

Mr. Reader,

We have been all the way down Goat Road. I don’t find that goats are the easiest animals to keep and I’m not alone in that thinking. They are sweet. They won’t break your foot if they step on you. But they have specific nutrition requirements, need the best hay you can buy in the winter and they tend to turn half or more of their hay into manure-covered bedding. They are hard to keep fenced…and it is especially difficult to keep them fenced out of your orchard. They can jump over fence, crawl under fence and they have a built-in, natural resistance to electric shock. Really. Salatin jokes that he won’t keep them because he can’t keep an animal that is smarter than he is. Julie and I found the goats would stay put with a hot fence and plenty of brush to eat but when they run out of food the fence may as well not be there. Maybe it’s not that bad but they can be rough. And what do you get out of the deal? A quart of milk? Talk about a recipe for a fast homestead burnout!


Instead of focusing on what I wouldn’t do (herd of elephants) I would rather break down what I would do if I were homesteading all over again. Sound cool? I have to admit, I surprised myself with my choices as I wrote the posting. Stick with me here. This may not apply to you. It may not be what you expect. But it is where I am today.

I can’t imagine a homestead without three types of animals. Maybe four as time goes on…five if conditions are right. Feel free to disagree but if I was me (and I am me) and I was moving to a couple of acres to start fresh, goats just wouldn’t make the cut. Again, you are probably thinking of the ideal farmstead with cow, pig and chicken. Maybe include a duck or a goose or a cat like in the Little Red Hen. But this isn’t the Little Red Hen. This is a homestead.

This is not a zoo. Too many animals will damage your soil. Too many can put too much pressure on the land not allowing adequate recovery and requiring you to buy feed, draining your budget. Miss Coulton was talking of supplying additional feed to livestock saying,

…but these things are only required when you keep more stock than your land can support,—a fault very common to inexperienced farmers on a small scale.

So let’s keep it simple and pare it down to bare bones. Knowing what I know now, what would I do if I was homesteading on an acre or three? I want to keep my workload to a minimum, keep the infrastructure costs to a minimum and allow a maximum amount of time to be a Human Being not a “Human Doing”. You with me here? I want to improve my soils and enjoy my livestock but not wake up every morning dreading the day’s chores.

Since we are homesteading, I would want to put in a big garden and plant a few fruit trees appropriate for my climate but, though my diet will be positively impacted by growing my own broccoli, my budget really won’t be. In fact, growing my own veggies could add significantly to my total food costs. And I would need a source of fertilizer and something to do with all of my weeds and garden wastes. I need to partner with livestock to significantly impact my budget…raising and butchering my own meat and sourcing my own natural fertilizers. But I need animals that will work for me efficiently and that will require a minimum amount of my resources in terms of daily chores and protection from predation. Ready? Let’s go.


No surprise to long-time readers, pigs are on the top of my list. I hate it when we sell out of pigs. Usually I only make it a few days before I go buy more. I enjoy their intelligence, their curiosity and their ability to break down and convert waste products into bacon…and what’s better than bacon? The book Harris on the Pig breaks down what makes a pig worth keeping in the opening pages of the book.

The hog is a great eater. He can eat and digest and assimilate more nutriment in a time in proportion to his size than any other of our animals.

But more to the point, the pig assimilates what would otherwise go to waste.

…roots nuts and worms and other animal matter the natural food the hog.

and later…

We can in no other way utilize the refuse from the house and the dairy so advantageously as by feeding it to swine. On grain farms pigs will obtain a good living for several weeks after harvest on the stubbles and in some sections they find a considerable amount of food in the woods.

Our pigs get spoiled milk, apple drops, all the acorns, hickory nuts and walnuts they want. It’s fun to watch a pig try to eat a walnut…sounds like they are trying to eat marbles and keeps them entertained for hours. They get tomato vines and bad tomatoes, split watermelons, etc. from the garden and relish any weeds we can throw their way, especially lambsquarters. And as much as they will eat, they really don’t ask for much from us. They need shade, shelter, food and water and a place to dig. No problem. We need to go away overnight to attend a wedding? Put down some fresh bedding, fill the feeder, check the water and we’re good.


If I had limited space available I would confine the pig or pigs on deep bedding. I know, confinement. But this is exactly what Salatin does when he puts his pigs in the cow shed. Feed, water, shelter and a place to dig. That’s it. The pigs will decide to manure in one specific place and that’s the place to pile on extra bedding. When the pig ships, heap up all the bedding, let it cook through and age then add it to your potato bed. I might even suggest you overwinter a small group of pigs in an area you want to break sod and turn into a garden. To keep it simple you might pick up four 16′ combination panels then put a cover over one corner and hold everything in place with T-posts. That’s your $50 hog confinement facility. Add in a watering nipple for $2 and a feeder pan and I think you can see where I’m going with this.


Finally, I have to add that pigs can be an excellent centerpiece to your farm even beyond providing your own meat and scrap conversion. This is a business line you could grow into over time, building on skills as you go and can fully utilize your acreage, rotating through over time while keeping infrastructure costs low.


This may be something of a surprise but after getting a pig on my farm I would set up 4 cages, get 2 males and 2 females and start building a rabbit tractor or two to grow out the bunnies. Not unlike pigs, bunnies relish weeds and require little of the owner, though, as with pigs, we haven’t gotten around using a bagged feed. You have to work to keep them cool in the summer but they can produce a terrific amount of meat in short order and are easy to dress out. My great-grandpa Brown kept meat rabbits in his garage in Indianapolis and, apparently, my great-grandma Brown made rabbit-skin coats. I realize fur isn’t fashionable right now because we would rather save the world with polyester but some day we’ll return to utilizing natural resources…or at least I can hope.


Rabbits also produce copious amounts of manure…the kind you can put directly on your garden without composting and it acts like a time-release fertilizer capsule. But if you choose to compost it you’ll only make things better. Maybe make a compost pile with alternating layers of leaves and rabbit manure in the fall. But to keep odors down you’ll need to either clean and haul the rabbit manure regularly or cover the pile with sawdust regularly. Your nose will tell you…but if you wait to hear from your nose the rabbits will suffer. Be proactive about manure management.

After meat, fur and manure we are left with the offal. If you aren’t into eating rabbit livers (pretty good, really) you can save them for dog food. Same with kidneys and hearts. In fact, the head isn’t a bad thing for a little pooch or for your pig. Yup. The pig will eat every part of the rabbit you don’t…they are omnivores. We typically compost the heads, feet and intestines.


I know what you are thinking…Chickens didn’t make the top 3? Nope. Worms did. I was surprised myself. There are some things you just can’t convince a pig to eat. There are some things that you are better off not taking to the pigs. Our kitchen generates coffee grounds, banana peels and citrus waste in small portions. Pigs really aren’t interested in those but worms LOVE them. And worms do a thorough job of composting everything at a low temperature for use in our garden. After an initial thermophilic composting of pig bedding and manure we can give it to the worms for finishing, ending up with the best stuff in the world. Not to mention, worms we can sell or feed to other animals…fish, chickens…whatever.

Like the others, the worms don’t need much from us. Make sure they are damp, not wet. Make sure they have something to eat. Make sure they are not too hot or too cold. That’s about it. I highly recommend the book Worms Eat My Garbage for additional reading on the topic.


Let me pause here to say that you SHOULD be able to raise all three of my top 3 while still living in suburbia with less than $100 invested in infrastructure. Many places allow “pet” rabbits and pot-bellied pigs (often available for free) and there is no law against worms. You don’t need acres and acres of ground. You don’t need a huge amount of debt. What you do need is a plan to contain odors. You need a source of carbon. Do you live near a cabinetry shop? How about a sawmill? Do you have deciduous trees that you can gather leaves from? Can you collect newspapers from neighbors or buy some from the local recycler? If so, run composted animal wastes through your worms and sell the worm castings. Homestead at home. You’ll be amazed what you can do.

About a decade ago all the hog farmers around me who had sold out of hogs in the late ’90’s crash got caught up in a worm farming pyramid scheme. Don’t get caught up in a worm farming pyramid scheme. It strikes me that with a minimal investment in infrastructure, you can make superior compost for your garden using worms. This could be a serious money-maker but I’m really talking about a nutrient cycling resource.

So that’s my top 3. I’m as surprised as you are. But since we’re here, let’s talk about the rest as you may have your own ideas.

Need help mowing? Try Cows or Sheep

Cows are great at solving problems with surplus forage. You are probably going to have a hard time making a single cow happy as they are herd animals and you would probably have a hard time feeding a cow from a suburban yard (several yards maybe but watch for land mines). But on larger acreages…I mean, what else are you going to do with all that grass? You won’t save the Earth with a mower. Sheep may fit into suburbia but, again, you are better off in the stix to help you rotate away from parasites and avoid odor issues. In fact, I think you could make a case that a cow and 4 sheep count as one complimentary unit, utilizing pastures and breaking pathogen cycles, not to mention the cows keeping sheep predators at bay.

Not only do they take a low-value product (grass) and turn it into something better (steak or milk) but the grass sward improves because the cow tugged at the grass, salivated on it, urinated on it, stepped on it and manured all over it. If you want to build fertility in a hurry, if you are anxious to fix carbon and quickly save the world, hire a cow. The grass gets mowed and fertilized in one pass, nutrients are pushed into the soil and the mowers can reproduce themselves. Just add salt and water.


All that said, they are herd animals. What is a herd? Julius Ruechel says cows don’t really act like a mob until you have at least 500 in one group. I have also read numerous places (this is the most convenient) that you need one hired hand per 1,000 cows (commodity cows anyway)…which is the same as saying that you need 1,000 cows to pay the salary of one man…or one you. That’s a long way of saying, this is a low-margin, land-extensive enterprise. But it sure beats mowing.


I’ll forgive you if you include a dairy cow on your 1-5 acre farm. John Seymour includes a dairy cow in his homestead plans. Just know that milking isn’t for everybody. It just might be easier to drive 20 minutes to buy milk 6 gallons at a time once/week than to deal with 6 gallons/day from old Bessie. But, that’s why you have the pigs. Though it is only mentioned briefly, Eric Bende learned about this and shares his milking experiences in the book Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology. Also keep in mind, milk cows don’t take any days off. I hope Paul Atreides will forgive this joke but the milk must flow. Every day you bring Bessie to the barn in the morning, brush her off, wipe her off, check each teat, milk her out then clean up the barn after filtering and chilling the milk, sterilizing the milking pail…the list goes on. Matron says it takes her 15 minutes to go from her door to the cow and back again…twice each day. So, again, I might suggest you should make that 20 minute drive once/week instead. Cow or no cow is a quality of life decision and I can see both sides.


Let’s round out the top 5 with Fish.

I know, right? Look. We have a couple of ponds. They came stocked with bluegill, crappie and bass and we threw a couple hundred catfish in for kicks. Those fish don’t need anything from me. But if I chose to feed them the feed conversion rate for fish is the best it can be. For every pound of feed eaten they gain a pound. Every year I threaten to put Japanese Beetle traps over the pond to feed the bluegill (who love Japanese beetles, btw). How many meals could I pull from an acre pond in a year? How many hours do I have to spend maintaining fence to keep the fish in? None. How many hours fighting raccoons to protect my fish population? None. That said, maybe fish have just displaced pigs on my list. Nah.


You can look into aquaponics, and I encourage you to do so, but I’m attempting to list things that can take care of themselves. Our first attempt at aquaponics was a dismal failure. Since I have a pond…well, that’s easier.

So, What about…

Laying Hens

OK. Well. Not really a high-margin enterprise here. And everything likes to eat chicken. Everything. So, if you can keep them alive, you’ll get an excellent source of protein on a near-daily basis. Since the margins tend to be so tight (or negative) and we’re talking just a couple of acres here, it might be better to trade for eggs with your neighbor so they can go to war while you stay home. But if you want your own birds for household use you should plan one bird for each member of the household plus two birds…with a minimum of six birds. You could pickle surplus eggs or send cracked, checked or otherwise unwanted eggs to the pigs (you have to have pigs!). And I would buy the birds as ready-to-lay pullets so you don’t have to invest in brooding equipment, though chicks are cute and fun. Just understand, when you are coming home from Bob’s house after sundown on a Saturday evening and nobody was home to close up the chickens…well, you may have one less chicken and a fat skunk stuck in the fence. Good luck with that.

Chickens were the first livestock we bought and every step of the way has been more difficult than advertised. Numerous people have told me tales of the chicken wars recently. Here’s a real example.

Friend: “Well, we started with 15, got down to 1, bought 10 more and now we have 5.”

Me: “How many eggs have you gotten from those 25 birds?”

Friend: “None.”

Me: “Maybe you would be better off with pigs, rabbits or worms.”


This is also a low-margin enterprise. If starting over, I would be tempted to find a farmer who raises broilers and work out a deal for the 50/year I need for my own household. 50 whole birds weighing 4 pounds at $3/pound is $600. Maybe you could trade him a fat hog or a litter of shoats for 50 frozen birds. Maybe you could just pay him the $600. There are big advantages to running broilers on your farm seasonally but there are also big expenses.


Sigh. I guess I would go ahead and raise my own birds. I enjoy the work and with 3 weeks in the brooder and 5 weeks in the field it is not exactly a life-sentence…the way milking a cow is. I would probably fit broilers in either spring or fall on my homestead…but I say that grudgingly. I’ll hold further comment on broilers for another blog post.

So that’s about it. There are any number of animals I have intentionally overlooked on my list. Please don’t be offended if you are a fan of geese. I think geese could be a good source of grass-fed meat on a farm but I don’t have any experience with them. Ducks are comical but I don’t really like them. You may have your own ideas for an ideal homestead starting lineup but that’s mine. Pigs, rabbits and worms…animals you could start with while you are still in town. Feel free to disagree…but if you are disagreeing before you have dipped your toes in the water, let me know when you dream up your revised list. You will ultimately have to follow your heart’s leading but whatever you do, start small. Start where you are. Minimize your expenses. Start slowly. Step into each enterprise carefully…but for Pete’s sake…take a step!

Tired of Picking Beans

Our oldest daughter stuck with the bean picking for an hour Tuesday morning.  Then she screamed, “I’m Done!” and ran into the house crying.  This is not what we want out of our children.

Did we push her too hard?  Was she simply having a bad day? Probably a little of both with a dash of older brother tossed in.

It’s the hottest weather we have had all year, we have pigs again, broiler chicks, pullets we hatched out, young rabbits, stupid ducks, layers, cows and a 40′ row of beans.  Not to mention the tomatoes we are simply ignoring.  The workload is taking its toll on everyone.  That’s why we only plant beans every few years.

Anybody else risking your children’s sanity or skirting divorce by canning beans this year?

Strawberry Picking

It’s time.  Strawberries are coming in full force.  And just because she’s not wearing a ring doesn’t mean you should go getting ideas.  It wears her out to carry that enormous rock around all day…lol.


Last year I planted strawberry plants with the Jeavon’s grid in a 20′ row, 4′ wide.  In the fall I had so many runners I planted the other 20′ of the row.  Both ends of the row are very, very productive this year.  Because the row is 4′ wide we can easily reach in 2′ from each side to pull the few weeds that come through or pick the berries.


Now, having extolled the virtues of 4′ rows, I’m not entirely sure I’ll do it again.  Weeding is a breeze, fertility is high, maintenance is low but I wonder if I wouldn’t get more berries if each plant got more sunlight.  I may plant two rows in a 4′ space when I plant runners in half of the next row (where the onions and cabbages currently are.


Pay no attention to the pale leaves on my blueberry plants.  I planted into part of grandpa’s rock collection and the soil is a little chalky.  I’ll get the acidity up in time.  Bear with me.

Mulberries are ripening, dewberries are just around the corner.  Broccoli and Cauliflower are finishing up and I need to plant beans in that row.  Maybe I could hire someone to go to my job for me…

Instant Garden Just Add Water

Well, not an instant garden.  Took us about 4 hours.  For the most part my rows are still defined from last year as several of them are still planted.  We put up strings to help guide us, pulled all remaining carrots, weeded the garden and fed the weeds and small carrots to the goats, then got down to brass tacks…er…horse manure.

I spent the winter gathering horse, pig, rabbit and chicken manure…all mixed with sawdust and straw.  We turned that pile a couple of times and watched the temperature vary.


I don’t own a broadfork but I might make one.  As a substitute I used my pitchfork to loosen the soil 12″ deep.  I didn’t turn the soil, I just broke it up a bit.  Then we began delivering manure one fork full at a time.

InstantGarden1One 12 year old, one 36 year old and a couple of pitchforks.  The youngest two used rakes.  Julie and the oldest daughter were at a hair appointment.  Can you believe that?

InstantGarden2So we worked.

InstantGarden3…and worked…

InstantGarden4…until finally mom showed up and we let her do the rest.  Mom took over planting onions, cabbage, brussels sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower and sent me off to find something else that was heavy and needed moving.  Like the brooder.


The center row is currently vacant but we’ll plant peas there tomorrow.  The next row to the right is this year’s potato row so that’s on tomorrow’s list too.  We also plan to plant tomatoes and peppers in the greenhouse tomorrow-ish.  Once again, rows need to be cleaned out before we can start.  Ugh.

I’m very pleased with the amount of work we accomplished in a very short time.  The garden is well established, we just have to maintain the fertility year by year.  Everything needs a good covering of wood chips and we’ll coast through this growing season as we usually do…light weeding on Sundays, ignoring it otherwise.  Just add water.

Dreaming of June

Look at the Blueberry plants!  Oh!  One more year and we can stop pinching the blossoms and start eating them fresh!  Can’t wait!

BlueberriesAnd it looks like the strawberries are really going to make this year.  We’ll have jam, we’ll freeze some, we’ll eat mountains of them fresh with spinach!  I mean, here it is, pretend June 1st and we’ve already eaten so many of them…


And the green beans!  We’ll be busy canning all July to handle the crop that’s out there.  Bush-type beans planted 8″ apart in a grid as demonstrated by Jeavons really do well.  It helps that this row received 6″ of compost and another 4″ of mulch in the last year.


The potatoes are really coming on.  We’ve already hilled them twice and have high hopes that the drought will hold off this year.  Last year the drought started around June 15th and the potato plants withered quickly.  In fact, I started digging potatoes before July 1.  This year I don’t want to dig the main crop until at least August 1.  Just soon enough to plant our fall crop of broccoli in the same row but late enough that a fair portion of the potatoes will keep.


The rhubarb is doing well but the plants are a bit crowded.  I need to move them to a new home.  I really don’t know where to put them.  The rest of the row is just odd plantings.  Some onions, some lettuce (it’s about to bolt), some marigolds.  I may put in a little buckwheat in this row.


But this year is THE year for tomatoes!  I’ve never seen anything like it.  We put down layer after layer of chicken manure, horse manure and 10″ of well-composted wood mulch last year and this year I have the best crop of tomatoes ever.  The peppers were looking a little leggy early on but they are bearing now.  The jalapenos are long and flavorful.  Takes 2 pieces of bacon to wrap one popper.  If you look carefully, you can see we planted oregano between plantings of tomato and pepper.  That kind of planting brings in a lot of wild pollinators.

Tomatoes and peppers

Well.  One day winter will pass.  One day I’ll be out working in the garden thinking, “what was so bad about winter?”  But today, looking out at a foot of snow and more falling from the sky, I’m wondering if it will ever end.  You can see a brooder in the potato picture above.  That brooder has 140 chicks in it.  I say chicks but they are nearly a month old.  They should be on pasture.  I may have to sacrifice two rows of the garden to make a pretend pasture for them…feeding them hay daily.

It is nice to have an excuse to sit down for a few days though.  You can assume I’m working when I disappear from the blog for a few days.  I have been working a lot lately.  Let me know if the snow gave you a chance to do some dreaming.

Apple Trees in the Ground!

Once upon a time, probably laying in bed on a lazy Sunday morning (when we lived in the city, churched on Saturday and still had lazy Sundays), I said to my lovely bride, “I would like apple trees.  Wouldn’t it be nice to have a fall family gathering where we make fresh cider, take a hayride and roast a pig?”  And that’s where it all began.  That was the dream.  That’s why I live here.  That was probably 8-10 years ago.

And today (after 3 years of planning, hoping, researching and looking for frost pockets) I planted my first apple trees.

They aren’t much to look at.  Just sticks …um..sticking…straight-ish up.  But that’s the start.  They arrived bare root so they need to be staked.  They are planted in hills next to the Georgia wall on the North side of the main garden.  I have all sorts of plans for planting tree guilds all around them but the main point is they are in the ground.

Now, I just cross my fingers and hope for the best.  The money used to buy trees was just money.  The trees themselves are wealth.

Thanks Stark Bro’s.