Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Juicing Zucchini, Cucumber and Other Homestead Plants

If you grow Zucchini or cucumbers, you understand how a few plants can give you way more than can be used. There is only so much of Zucchini that can be made into bread, frozen, and cooked.  Therefore, I came up with another way to use Zucchini.

About a year ago we watched a movie called Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead on Netflix.  It was about an Australian who improved his health and dropped a bunch of weight by with a juicing diet.  I also have a friend who undertook this diet and dropped 30 lbs.

For those that know me, Paleo has been working for me and keeping me healthy.  Part of Paleo is vegetables and fruit.

The idea dawned on me to get a juicer and process plants on the homestead that we weren't consuming into a juice.  This adds a healthy drink to the diet.  A few months ago we bought an Omega J8006 Nutrition Center Juicer.  This was recommended to us. The part that I most liked from the recommendation was the ease of cleaning.

What I really like is the addition of garden herbs like mint or borage can also be juiced with some cucumbers, pears, apples, etc... to improve the nutrient diversity and flavor

Saturday, August 2, 2014


I found this plant the other day growing by the dog house.  After research the plant is Mullein.  Mullein has large leaves that are very soft.  It is known as the toilet paper plant because the leaves can be used as toilet paper.

I am waiting for it to seed so I can propagate it around the property.  Mullein looks like a hot weather plant that provides shade to the ground.  It is a biennial plant; therefore it only flowers every other year.

Mullein has medicinal qualities as well.  The leaves can be used for wounds to the skin such as burns and bruises. The flowers can be made into a tea to help with sore throats.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Difference in Egg Color from Homesteaded Chickens

We recently went on vacation and forgot to take our own eggs.  We have more eggs then we can eat on the homestead.  Can you believe we forgot them? Therefore, for the first time in years, we bought eggs from a store for the trip. We ended up buying the Organic high omega 3 caged free eggs, or whatever that really means at $4 a dozen.  I can say the shells were rock hard on those eggs, so they are sure getting a lot of calcium.

After the trip there were a few eggs left over.  I was cooking breakfast and decided to cook them up.  I ended up making some scrambled eggs.  I cracked two of ours and the last two of the store ones into the pan.  I was shocked at the difference side by side.  Our eggs were orange compared to the store's eggs. This is because our chickens truly are cage free and free range on the property.  They eat more grass and other greens which increases the beta-carotene in the egg as well as other micro-nutrients.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Large Spinach

One of the great things about growing a garden is you aren't bound to the grocery store or a farms' beliefs of when to pick vegetables and fruits. Zucchini and spinach are two items that we have more uses for when they grow longer.  With large spinach leaves we are able to make things like spinach wraps.  They can still be chopped up for salads or even juiced.  In the store you only find the younger, smaller leaves.  My pallet does not notice a big difference in taste.  The stem is thicker, but that isn't a big deal either.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

5 Gallon Chicken Waterer

Have you ever searched the web and found a "how to" video that just makes you feel dumb because its too easy.  That is how I felt after finding the video on how to build a chicken waterer with a 5 gallon bucket.

As recently discussed in my post on our Freedom Ranger chickens we are raising, we need a better watering system.  Currently used is a gallon waterer that is at any feed store.  The problem is that 27 birds seem to drink about 3 gallons of water a day. Therefore, we have to get new water for them at least 3 times a day.  I don't really want to spend $20 plus at the feed store for a waterer.

It really is as simple as getting a 5 gallon bucket with a lid and a steel pan with a lip of about 2-3 inches. These are easily found at a feed store like Coastal Farm.  Drill two 3/8 inch holes about an inch up from the lid.  Fill the bucket with water, put the lid on, and flip it upside down in the pan.  There you have it, a 5 gallon chicken waterer.  If I remembered my physics classes from college this would make sense.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Freedom Ranger Chickens and Turkeys

A little over 5 weeks ago we received a 6AM wake up call from the Post Office notifying us that our Freedom Rangers had arrived.  I was able to pickup the chickens before the Post Office opened which was unexpected and a nice thing for them to do.  The little chicks all made it, and were place in the brooder a friend gave us a few years ago.

We choose the Freedom Rangers, sold by Freedom Ranger Hatchery, because the birds are suited towards free ranging on our property.  Cornish Crosses don't range very well because they grow so fast and have leg issues. Also, when a Cornish Cross time is up, they must be processed.  I am assuming won't want to process all birds in a single shot at a specific time.  This is our first time raising meat birds and I was torn between the Red Ranger and Freedom Ranger.  I was sold on the marketing.

Unfortunately, when the birds arrived we did not have the starter feed on hand, so the wife ran off to the feed store.  While at the store, she noticed they had turkeys for sale.  We were wanting to raise a couple of turkeys, but I didn't find a hatchery that would mix birds.  These hatcheries required an order of 25 turkeys, way too many for us. We quickly learned that Turkey's require a higher protein feed versus a chicken.  In the organic world this leaves us with no options locally at first.  We were able to order some in.  In the meantime we picked up a bag of Purina Flock feed.  We have come to hate Purina as a feed for birds.  This is the second time we have used one of their feed products.  If you want to know why people think chickens stink, just give the birds Purina. The brooder stunk up the garage to where it smelt like a chicken house.  When switched to a non-gmo flock feed the smell was about a 1/4 as potent.

The birds grew amazingly fast.  I was hoping to have them in the brooder a little longer than 3 weeks, but that didn't happen.  A dog run was purchased from a pet store.  This idea came from a friend.  For probably the same cost as a chicken house and run, we got a chain link 15 x 5 foot run.  The door was modified the bottom so the birds won't slip out.  Basically wire-tied 2x4 fencing that was lying around.  Sheet metal was used to build some cover inside and supported by tree branches.  Tree branches were run through the chain link so the birds can roost.  There was left over straw from the winter so it was thrown down for bedding.

So far the birds have been okay, not great.  Five chickens have had a leg or foot sprain.  I'm not sure if this is normal with the breed, the mix run or something we are doing.  We have never had 25 birds before with multiple males.  We have been pulling out the injured birds and quarantining them until they get better.  After five weeks, the gallon waterer has to be refilled 3 times a day and the birds are eating about 50lbs of food a week.  My next project will be looking into building a waterer from a 5 gallon bucket with nipples for the birds.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Mushroom Equal Soil Life

Spring is here and the weather is warming.  All across the property mushrooms are cropping up.  Mushrooms indicate a good amount of fungi in the soil.  The fungi feed the plants.  Dozens of mushrooms are in the mint and lavender patch that is outside our front door.  For the last two years I have been laying down bark and pine shavings from the chicken coop.  The mushrooms look like Saint George mushrooms and the timing is right for them to appear.  Since, I'm not a mushroom expert I am not going to try to eat them.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Front Berry Bed

One of my daughter's favorite shows is Backyardigans. There is an episode that involves worms. For months she was obsessed with collecting worms around the yard. To get worms, meant digging.  After a few months of putting in a mini swale and digging in other areas, I was running out of places to dig. I decided to turn an area between the driveway and fence into another berry area. I figured we could dig a giant trench and find some worms.

It took a few weeks to dig a trench that was about 18 inches deep along the 30 foot stretch of fence.  The reason it took so long is my daughter had to collect her worms as we dug the trench together.  A three year old doesn't have the longest of attention spans.

Once the trench was dug, wood was buried with a mixture of alpaca manure and soil that was originally removed. The wife was happy to have the wood pile at the end of the driveway gone. The bed was then lined with cement blocks. In theory the cement blocks will hold up to accidents when someone backs into them. Go figure a few weeks after finishing, my dad backed his trailer into it and displaced the blocks slightly.  

The cement blocks have 3 x 6 inch holes in them. I tried transplanting some strawberries that went crazy in the garden area in the holes. The strawberries were growing in the wood bark path of the garden. It was simple to get a hand under them , pick them, and keep a lot of roots. I filled the holes with some potting soil and planted about 50 plants. A month later they are doing great.

In the bed itself, 3 rhubarb plants were planted. They are coming up nicely. For bushes I planted three elderberries and three goumis that fix nitrogen.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Growing Grapes in Hugle Mounds

As mentioned in the wood burning stove post, there is a grove of trees near my drain field. I don't want rooting to become a problem, so they were recently cut down. The trunks and large branches were cut up for firewood, but there were a ton of smaller branches. The first idea was to stack them up and rent an industrial chipper shredder, one large enough that comes on its own trailer. Unfortunately, this would cost a couple of hundred dollars and be a pain to maneuver back to the area.

As I was stacking the branches along the fence line, another idea came to mind. Why not build hugle mounds and plant into them? A hugle mound is a mound with a wood core and organic matter over the wood core. Plants are planted into the mound and the wood retains water as it breaks down.  By holding more water there is less of a need to irrigate. The breaking down of wood adds more bacteria and fungi to the soil as well as organic material. This in-turn helps the plants thrive.

The wood was stacked in a U shape, sort of a sun trap with the opening facing south. I'm not sure how this idea will work, but it was worth a try. The wood covered about 50 feet in length with a width of 3 foot and a height of about 2 foot. There was even enough wood left over to make another 10 foot stretch of mound in a shadier area.

With all this wood, the question quickly becomes where to get enough organic material to cover it. A quick search on craigslist revealed that horse manure is given away by the truck load. Some horse boarding facilities even load with a tractor, others are hand load. The manure is generally mixed with pine or cedar shavings or sawdust. Most of the manure found was well seasoned with thousands of worms in it; therefore, there was no fear of it being too hot for plants. It took about 15 yards of manure in 6 different loads to cover all the mounds.

Even though, the manure was seasoned, I still did not want to plant into it. Therefore, I picked up an additional 7 yards of a compost soil mix from a local wood recylcer to put on top of the manure. While this ended up costing about $200 in my mind it was better spent money than a chipper. At the end of the project there was over 60 feet of 3 foot tall mounds to plant into.

The biggest problem with the horse manure is it has grass seeds in it. Therefore, covering with compost helped kill a lot of the grass that has started to sprout. Unfortunately, some grass is growing through the clean compost. Therefore, vetch, clover and Austrian snow pea were planted into the mounds. All three are legumes and fix nitrogen in the soil. When the weather warms the legumes will be cut back inside the circle. The goal is to plant squash, flowers and herbs into the mounds on the inside. The outside will be left as nitrogen fixers and be used to feed our rabbits. On top of the mounds grapes and honey berries have already been planted.  Finally, on the mound that has more shade currents were planted on top.

After this project, I rethought horse manure. I think horse manure would be great for adding fertility to a pasture.  Possibly sheet mulching on top of it would have suppressed the grass growing back through.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Conduit on the Homestead

One of my favorite materials to work with is stainless steel electrical conduit.  It runs $2 for a 1/2 inch diameter, 10 foot long piece at Home Depot or Lowes.   Compare this to 8 foot treated 2x4s ($5), 5 foot T posts ($4), 3 foot rebar ($3-5), etc..., conduit is cheaper and easy to work with. Conduit has a lot of adapters to make angles or can be bent into shape.  Drilling conduit allows for adding hooks and other hardware attachments.  Cutting 1/2 inch conduit is quick.  To cut the conduit, I bought a decent conduit cutter for about $15.  It takes about a minute of spinning the cutting wheel around a piece to get it to cut.

Some of the uses I have found for conduit:

  • Trellis for garden - great with gray PVC angles and metal sheet screws.  I found some Nylon netting on Amazon and hooked it to the conduit with zip ties.
  • Stakes for saplings - cut in half and pound about a foot into the ground with a 3 pound sledge.
  • Stakes for garden plants - just push down into the soil.
  • Temporary fence post - fence off areas for animals that don't test a fence like alpacas and chickens, slide the post through the fence, interweave it between the squares, pound into the ground.
  • Wood pile stabilizer - pound into the ground around the wood pile to stop the logs from sliding
  • Putting around a socket wrench handle to get more torque to loosen a nut - bent the conduit but worked great.
  • Breaker bar for leverage removing my ATV's tired. Bent it a bit but still worked.
  • Securing electrical wires that would be exposed in a shop or garage - obviously.