Wednesday, March 30, 2016

4 benefits of rotational grazing


When I was new to homesteading, I thought you just put up fences, stuck your animal in the pasture and left them there all year. However, there are a lot of reasons you should NOT do that! Subdividing larger pastures into smaller paddocks and moving the livestock from one to another every week or two has lots of benefits.

  1. It's healthier for the pasture. If you leave animals on a piece of land for too long, they'll eat down some of the grass to the dirt while other areas will be ignored and the grass will grow too tall to be palatable.
  2. It saves money for the farmer or homesteader. If you are better managing the pasture, you will ultimately be able to let the animals harvest their own dinner for a longer period of time. This year, we went all the way into December before we had to start feeding hay to our sheep because we kept moving them to new areas.
  3. It's healthier for the animals because they are leaving their poop behind them in the old pastures. This reduces parasite loads because by the time the worm eggs in the poop hatch, the livestock have moved on, so they are not around to ingest new larvae on the pasture. Over the course of a few weeks, the larvae dry up and die without a host.
  4. It's healthier for the humans eating the meat and drinking the milk. Grassfed meat and milk have higher levels of healthy omega-3 and lower levels of not-so-healthy omega-6. It also has 3-5 times more conjugated linoleic acid, which is another healthy fat.
This infographic, courtesy of ElectroBraid, provides more details ...


Guide To Rotational Grazing

To learn more about incorporating rotational grazing on your farm or homestead, check out our previous post on the topic.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Monday, March 7, 2016

Compost: my only fertilizer


Most backyard gardeners use raised beds or dig up the dirt in the yard and plant directly in the soil. Because it is highly unlikely that your dirt will be suitable for growing anything other than a lawn, amendments are usually required. You could have your soil tested and buy exactly what you need and mix it in, or you could try what works well for so many of us gardeners who can’t be bothered with details—composting.

With all of the chemicals available for gardening and farming today, some people think composting is a new idea, but stuff has been rotting since the beginning of time. We know that at least a couple of hundred years ago, people realized that compost made plants grow better. George Washington, whose land at Mount Vernon was very heavy with clay, wrote extensively about using manure on his fields, and he had a “repository for dung” built near his stables where manure and other plant material was composted to be used as fertilizer. It is thought to be the first building erected for the purpose of making compost.

There is lots of science behind composting today, and you can get extremely technical with your carbon–nitrogen ratios. However, stuff rots. And stuff has lots of nutrients in it that will feed your plants and make them happy. This is all I knew about feeding my garden for several years, and it worked quite well. Then one year, because a large portion of my compost pile came from mucking out my goat barn, I wound up with the most amazing crop of thistle. I can’t imagine any weed that I want in my garden less than thistle. It is horribly invasive, has very deep roots, and is quite painful to touch, which makes natural eradication a challenge. I realized at this point that perhaps I needed to know a little more about compost, and that’s when I learned about the difference between hot and cold composting.

I had heard about hot and cold composting, but had no idea what either one meant. We would usually pile up the straw and manure when we cleaned out the barn because I’d heard the phrase “compost pile” and figured we should make a pile. Then I thought, why waste time piling it up and spreading it out later? Let’s just spread it out all over the garden from the beginning. It will rot; right? I conceived this brilliant idea right around the time that the thistle in the pasture had gone to seed, and goats love thistle, and seeds can survive the intestinal tract of a goat just fine. In fact, thistle seeds come out the other end in convenient little fertilizer pellets that can’t wait to grow into healthy thistle plants when given a little sunshine and rain. I learned the hard way that you need to hot compost if there are weed seeds in your compost pile.

This is where the left-brained gardener will start talking about carbon–nitrogen ratio, and if you are interested in that, you can certainly read what others have written about the perfect ratio. However, I’ve read about so many different perfect ratios that I don’t worry about getting it right. Besides, stuff has been rotting forever with no help from us humans. There is something more important than the carbon–nitrogen ratio, and it is not nearly as hard to figure out, which is good news for me because I’m not the kind of person who will weigh my garbage to make sure I have the perfect ratio. Your pile needs to be big enough to get hot. It needs to be at least three feet high and three feet wide, and bigger is better. If the pile is smaller, it may not get hot enough to kill the weed seeds, although everything else will rot eventually.

A commercial compost bin placed in a sunny location may not need to be that big because these bins are usually black plastic, which absorbs and traps heat from the sun. The downside to a bin, however, is that it is plastic, which has its own set of concerns for gardeners who are concerned about the environmental issues associated with plastic production and eventual disposal. Plastic compost bins represent an interesting irony, because although they are creating compost, which is sustainable, they are made from fossil fuel and will not decompose for centuries.

If you don’t want an open compost pile in your yard, you can create your own compost bin from repurposed building materials, such as cinder blocks, wire fencing, or wood. If you use wood, however, be sure it is not treated with chemicals, which could leach into your compost. Yes, untreated wood will rot eventually, but that’s why you are using repurposed wood rather than buying it new. It was destined for the landfill, and now it has a new purpose.

So, what do you do after you pile up the compost ingredients or fill your bin? Let it sit for a week or two, and if it heats up to 130°F–40°F, the temperature should have killed any molds, bacteria, and weed seeds. It won’t get that hot on the outer edges, so you need to turn the pile at some point so that all of the outside compost winds up at the bottom and middle of the new pile. How do you know it got hot enough? If you don’t have a thermometer that is about a foot long to stick into the pile, you can stick your hand in there, but be ready to pull it out quickly, because if it is 130°F, it will not be comfortable. If it is rather cold out, you may see steam rising off the pile, although this does not happen predictably.

Once you have cooked your compost, it is ready to use. It does not look like the compost you buy commercially, but it can be used in the garden at this point. In most cases, straw will still look like straw, and manure will still look like manure. If you let it sit in the bin longer and keep turning it, it will eventually look like the stuff they sell as compost. This could take anywhere from a month to six months, depending upon how often you turn it and how warm it is. If the temperature outdoors is colder, it tends to take longer to compost. However, I personally don’t care how it looks, so if I need it, I don’t hesitate to use it after it has passed that two-week cooking period.

I spread it out in a thin layer across my garden, mix it into the hole when transplanting things like tomatoes, and I also use it as mulch. If you are really motivated, you could dig it into your garden soil. If you have raised beds, you can fill them with 30 to 50 percent compost and mix it with topsoil, sand, peat moss, or coir. You can also throw in some vermiculite or perlite for good measure if you want.

This is an excerpt from Homegrown and Handmade: A Practical Guide to More Sustainable Living by Deborah Niemann.

Friday, March 4, 2016

30+ free presentations at Home Grown Food Summit

If you want to become more self-reliant, you can learn from some of the world's leading experts in the Home Grown Food Summit, which starts Monday. There will be a variety of online presentations all week so you can learn more about gardening, herbs, composting, vermicomposting, chickens, bees, and more. And yours truly will be talking about raising goats naturally.

Here's a little taste of another talk that will be shown during the summit ...

 

The event is entirely free. Click here to sign up, and you'll also receive two free e-books.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Learn to grow your own food from 38 experts


Mark your calendars for March 7 to 13 for the Home Grown Food Summit. It is an online gathering of 38 experts in backyard food production, homesteading, and off-grid living. Presented by researchers, organizations, and best-selling authors to help you become more self-reliant. Not only is it entirely online, so that you don't have to travel anywhere, but it is also free!

I'll be presenting a talk on the basics of raising goats, and here are some of the other topics that will be covered:
  • How organic gardeners produce 2X to 10X greater yields
  • How to spend $0 feeding your chickens
  • Guide to making $80 worth of compost per week
  • Legally keeping chickens and goats in the city
  • Natural beekeeping... how to do it WITHOUT chemicals! 
  • Raising your own superior eggs, milk, and meat... in your backyard
  • How to get FREE access to local seed varieties
  • The BEST species of worms for backyard composting 
  • Instant solutions for growing food -- without land
  • 24 herbals you can use to treat colds, flus, allergies, infections, and more
  • Protect yourself as a small-scale farmer from the 5 most common lawsuits
  • Understand the Cottage Food Laws (CFLs) that regulate food production on your property 
  • Our role in breaking the monopoly of big chemical and seed companies
  • Lessons we can learn from World War I & II trends in food production
  • How science supports backyard gardening as a cure for most major diseases
  • Creating a garden biosphere
  • Addressing wildlife and insect issues to rebalance your garden
  • Recipes for herbal drinks you can make every day for better health
  • Learn easy, brilliant, FREE secrets for composting in place
  • Save $100s making your own fish emulsion fertilizer
And did I mention that it's free?! PLUS, you'll get 2 bonus e-books, just for signing up: "How To Make a Simple and Effective Watering System For Small Livestock" and "Top 10 Survival Plants: How To Grow Them and Collect Their Seeds." Click HERE to sign up!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Beans: the perfect intro to seed saving

Did you know that pinto beans, kidney beans, black-eyed peas, and other dried beans are simply seeds? If you grew beans last year and dried some for eating through the winter, you can use those very same beans to plant in the spring. Although saving seeds from some vegetables can be complicated because of cross-pollination issues, this isn't normally a problem with beans, which makes them a perfect introduction to the world of seed saving.

When we grow beans, we only pick the smallest and most tender beans to eat as green beans. Once we can see the seeds bulging in the pod, we leave them on the vine to dry. Then in the fall, when they are completely brown and crunchy, we pick them. We normally shell the beans by hand while watching television or chatting around the kitchen table. This excellent video from Seed Savers Exchange, however, will show you how to do it more quickly by threshing and winnowing.



Why would you want to grow your own beans when you can buy them cheaply at the store? Because you can easily grow them organically and because you can grow a huge variety that is not available in the grocery store. There are literally dozens of different beans available, such as Cherokee, calypso, rattlesnake, and lazy wife. In addition to having different looks and flavors, they also have different attributes.

For example, one reason I grow lazy wife beans in my garden is because they are a favorite of Japanese beetles. Yes, you read that correctly. Because the beetles love them, they ignore my other beans. It's a win-win because I get a great crop of green beans from other varieties, and it makes it easier to knock the beetles into a bucket of soapy water in the evening because they are all congregating on the lazy wife beans. When you grow different varieties, you'll soon discover which ones grow best in your garden.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Ecothrifty Skin Care - Creams and Moisturizers


Creating a product that works for you is really a matter of figuring out which oils and butters have the properties that suit your skin. Typically, people with drier skin prefer butters, and people with normal skin or combination skin prefer lighter oils, such as grape seed or sunflower oil. If you have oily skin, you may not need to put anything on it to keep it from drying out. Even dry skin may improve dramatically if you simply try a soap that is gentler. Because we’ve all been exposed to advertising that leads us to believe we have to use complicated products to stay beautiful, the idea that skin may need no additional moisturizer or only needs a single oil seems too simple.

I typically start with something that I already have on hand and go from there. If you have sunflower oil in your pantry, try that. You won’t have to buy anything special if you like the result. For something that’s more moisturizing, try jojoba or olive or grape seed oil or one of the butters, such as shea butter or avocado butter. Cocoa butter is rock solid at room temperature so if you want to use it in a cream, you have to melt it and mix it with a softer butter.

There are commercial creams and lotions, and some companies market moisturizers, which can be either. The main difference between a cream and a lotion is that a lotion has a larger amount of water, which makes it easier to spread across your skin. It appears white because the oil and water have been emulsified by the addition of an emulsifying agent to prevent separation. I don’t make any lotions because once you add water, you introduce a medium for bacteria growth, which means you have to add a preservative. Many times alcohol is also added, which has a drying effect on the skin. When making your own, however, you can use only the purest ingredients and avoid the need for chemical preservatives.

Body Butter 

1 ounce Avocado Butter
1 ounce Sweet Almond Oil
a few drops essential oil (optional)

Shea Butter
Weigh all the ingredients on a digital scale and then mix together using either a mixer or a fork. Add essential oils for fragrance or aromatherapy benefits, and mix well.

Savings: This body butter is similar to a high-end cream that boasts 25 percent shea butter and retails at $42 for seven ounces. This recipe, which has 40 percent shea butter, costs $1.65 to make five ounces, not including the essential oil.

This is an excerpt from Ecothrifty: Cheaper, Greener Choices for a Happier, Healthier Life by Deborah Niemann. It is part four of a four-part series on moisturizers. I hope you enjoyed learning about these high-quality and all-natural ways to care for your skin.


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