Friday, March 16, 2012


I love spring. It holds so much promise, so much potential. We can shed winter layers, dig out our running shoes and light weight jackets and finally get out into the warm sun again. Having said all that, I acknowledge, we've not had a "normal" winter round these parts. There's not been the 8 feet of snow I got to play in as a child. No day after day of bone numbing blizzards that hid your hand at the end of your arm. We even got lucky with no major round of flu or colds. (Knock on wood)

Yay for spring! I've been trying to grow little things all winter. Some have grown, some not.  A couple of green things surprised me this week, but more on that in a little bit. Last night I was following agricultural links and I found myself at a new-to-me site, the National Agriculture Library.  Following link after link, I eventually found a large collection of images that the American government used during World Wars 1 and 2 to inspire it's citizenry to grow gardens and preserve their bounty. I also found a collection of seed catalogue covers  dating from the early 1800's to  the Great Depression. I was pretty excited about this, and I'll be showing some of those posters and seed catalogue covers off here  over the next little bit. The one I shared today is from the Farmer Seed Co.  in 1907. Some of these seed companies featured some amazing artwork! Of farming importance in 1907, from The History of Canada Online,
"In the early 1900s, Charles Saunders, a plant breeder apppointed "Dominion Cerealist", worked rigorously to strain crosses of rust resistant Red Fife and Hard Red Calcutta wheat. In 1907 he tested a new frost-resistant strain he called Marquis at Indian Head, Saskatchewan. It matured much faster than Red Fife, and the shorter growing season meant farmers could grow the more valuable grain farther north. By 1910, over 2000 local farmers in were growing wheat where it not had been grown before. Marquis proved to be a sensation, and the Canadian wheat harvest soon tripled. By 1920, 90% of the entire Prairie wheat crop was Marquis. Farmers opened up thousands more hectares of land, and new mechanical tractors and threshers boosted production further."

The Cyclopedia of American Agriculture in 1907 lists pumpkins as stock feed, and advises,
"The best farmer is not the one who knows the most "science," but the one who is best able to organize the facts and the business into a harmonious system or plan.  The principles that underlie such organization are now beginning to be apprehended, and we think we see the possibilities of a sound farm philosophy, with wise generalizations from the mass of rapidly accumulating facts and practices.  Farm management will be a fertile subject for writers in the years to come. The basis of farm organization is the cropping plan or the crop management.  On this project or scheme rests the maintenance of fertility and consequently of productiveness, the subsistence of livestock, the economy of labor, the type of business."

They knew even then that the farm was a collection of systems. Smart.

The Cyclopedia continues on about crop rotation,
"A rotation of crops can be so planned as to maintain the supply of humus in the soil.  This humus, coming from the decay of organic matter, adds to the plant-food content of the soil and, what is usually more important, exerts a great influence in securing a proper physical texture of the land.  The Bureau of Soils recently asserts that the chief value of humus is to cleanse the soil of toxic excreta.  The humus is chiefly supplied by the grass crops and clover crops in rotation.  The practice of "green-manuring" rests chiefly on the need of supplying humus.  Green-manure crops are those that are grown for the special purpose of being turned under, root and top, and are not usually a difinite part of the rotation; but, so far as it goes, the root-and-stubble part of similar crops employed in the rotation answers the same purpose." (Spelling mistakes theirs, not mine)

There's a lot to learn about agriculture from the old manuals.

This week, I germinated sunflower seeds, and they're actually growing! Yipee! Of the six peas I started, I thought I was going to lose them all, but three of them decided not to give up the ghost. On The Apartment Prepper, Bernie talked about re-growing celery, so I'll be trying that in the coming week.
Are you starting anything green in the upcoming week?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Redundancy On The Homestead

Wether we live in the city or out in the country, it's a good idea to look at our homes as a series of systems. Those of you reading this who have a homestead may already know this. Perhaps you don't. I bring this up today because an acquaintance who owns a small homestead, and I, were having a discussion about systems and how they enable us to be successful.
I asked her how she manages to get so much done and she told me that her secret is to manage "systems", instead of "things". For example, she has a water system on her property; a well. Like me, she believes in having backups for everything possible. Her back up water system is a highly developed water catchment system. Every building or enclosure on her property, including her woodshed, has gutters that direct rainfall into water barrels. These barrels are emptied into main water barrels. This water is then boiled and cooled for her chickens. One less drain on her well. She treats and boils this water for most of her cooking also. This is a working backup for her water system.

Using this example, what else can we apply this theory to? Chores, skills and any projects we may have around our own homesteads, no matter how small. I have boys that would rather play X-Box all day than feed chickens, clean their room, or help put groceries away. I suspect most kids are like this. But X-Box and Nintendo won't teach them the value of a job well done, teach them the right way to stack wood or how to get water when the well runs low. So let's say you're going raise chickens next year. You teach yourself everything you can about this monumental task. You find yourself raising happy, healthy chickens one day and you feel pretty darn good about that. Hooray! But think about a backup plan. What if you get sick or have to turn over chicken care to someone else in the family for a few days? Does someone else understand chicken care like you do? Now, while you have the time, is a good time to develop a back up plan for yourself. Teach someone else in the family what needs to be done on a daily basis for your birds. Teach that person what is normal chicken behavior and what isn't. There may come a day when you'll be very glad you did. So what if your livestock is the family dog? Same rule applies. Make sure someone else knows the ins and outs of feeding, walking and favorite treats.

Food can also be scrutinized. Your food system is different than mine, your tastes and dietary needs will be different. But again, do you have backups? Are you able to make a couple of meals ahead and freeze them? We all know how cruddy illness can make us feel, and if you are the sole food producer in your family, or even if you live alone, the day is eventually going to come when you'll need those backup meals made ahead.

These are just a few elements of our "homesteads" that we can develop backup systems for, and why we should. Even a home on a mid-sized suburban lot is a homestead once you develop it. Can you develop a water system if you don't already have one? How will you cook your meal if the power goes out and stays off for a number of hours? How would you heat your home in the winter?
One of my favorite sayings is "Have backups for your backups". This requires careful planning and frequently, trial and error. But it's well worth the time spent today to make your life a little more comfortable down the road.
Do you have backups?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Not Quite Wasted Week

Every time I think I have an awesome post for you, something gets in the way. So, instead of going to bed, I'm going to post!
First off: an Independence Days check in.

Plant Something: I planted two sunflower seeds indoors! I'll take anything that grows green and happy right now! Although it looks like I might lose the peas to damp-off disease yet again, damnit. They grow so well, so vigorously, get lots of light and then BAM! They wilt and die.
Harvest  something: Nope. It's too early here, and I planted no sprouts this week.
Preserve something: Nope.
Waste not: I added some  vegetable peelings to the compost bucket, kicked it around the "yard" a bit and flipped it. Also found a great source of leaf mold right under my feet! Almost. I'll add a couple of shovelfuls of it next week.
Want not: Hmm, upon reflection, we added nothing to the pantry. We'll have to fix that next week! I did pick up a couple of very short LED keychain flashlights tonight. The thinking there was that if we get caught out somewhere in an abrupt power failure, we'll have emergency light.  When we go out, we always have our keys, so we'll always have VERY bright light! Does this count as a "want not" item? We'll never be wanting for light...
Eat the food: Obviously we've been eating. No new recipes though. I didn't bake 4 dozen cookies or dehydrate anything. Nothing new to report here either. Wow.
Skill up; Finally! Something to share! We've been submersing ourselves in almost everything chickens, except the fowlpoo. The day is coming...oops, can't let that cat...err, bird out of the bag just yet...
Okay, maybe I can.

On Thursday, I posted very briefly that we were going to the TSC Store. I had hoped for video. Well, who knew the store would be busy!? I got some video before the iPod ran out of room, but I swear there was a district manager and thirty employees in there, and they all started looking at me a little strangely when I started filming. Anyway, the video isn't worth wasting your day over. Suffice it to say that the store was impressive! They had clothes, horse halters, english style saddles, chicken waterers and feeders, heat lamp bulbs, basic animal care supplies, rabbit feed and pens, fencing, chicken feed, hoof trimmers, overalls, boots, first aid kits for humans, cables, books, garden knick-knacks, hoses, electrified fencing equipment, dog food and supplies, shovels and rakes of every description, truck maintenance supplies, small tractors, model tractors, remote control tractors, and... and...I can't list it all, I didn't even see half the store! We'll have to take another trip to see all that we missed the first time. If you are living out in the sticks, or want to move there, if you own livestock, or want to, or you are lucky enough to have a mini-farm, if you have the opportunity to visit a TSC Store.. do it. You won't be disappointed.

What prompted all this? We've been given the go-ahead to acquire and raise chickens once we move! So now we're full-on into the research and development stage. We're learning all we can from a variety of sources, planning to build a coop and narrowing which varieties of birds will do best for our purposes and winter conditions. So far, we're having a blast! Because the hatchery that we're going to be getting our fuzzballs from does not carry Buff Orpingtons, we're likely to be getting Barred Plymouth Rocks, Red Sex Links, Black Sex Links and Rhode Island Reds. (Maybe next year, Jacqueline!)
Now you know why the brief post on Alektorophobia.
No, no one here has it.

Are you participating in the Independence Days Challenge? If you are, how did you do this week?
For those who are not, what did you learn this week?