Monday, March 31, 2014

Some ideas on sustainable farming

For the past few years I've been planting a 2 acre market garden that so far I have been able do without any chemicals or commercial fertilizer and aside from some weather issues and not being able to make enough compost to suit me, it's gone ok. To me, any kind of sustainable venture needs to include growing vegetables, any vegetables that you grow will save money at the market plus you know how your food is grown and, if all goes well it should give you some cash besides, it really is about the same as growing money. Back in my Grandfathers time it was called truck farming,I'm guessing because the vegetables were put on a truck and hauled to market and I like that name. There is a lot of thought that needs to go into something like this and if you get it started, you will probably be constantly tweaking to come up with a combination that works for you and that is the most important part, making it work for you. Education is your best weapon here and I'll be including links here or you can go to one of my Facebook pages and find links to articles that I've used in the past but the bottom line is that you really need to figure out what will work for you and then start working at putting that plan in motion. One of the biggest problems with truck farming is that most of the work happens over a couple months in the summer so if your going to make this a venture that you can live off of then you need to spread it out to as close to year round as possible. Most of the months from April to October will be covered but adding crops like garlic which around here is planted in the fall or mushrooms like oyster or shiitake that will grow with little input  from you once they are started will help spread out the labor some and in the case with mushrooms, give you a crop to harvest in the spring. I've mentioned chickens before and if you can build a market for eggs and meat chickens, they can add some extra late fall/early winter income or extra spring income that can get you through the winter and give you the added benefit of eggs,meat and fertilizer. Now those chickens will have to be fed all winter even if production is down but by starting hens laying at different times in the year you should be able to keep some laying over winter plus if you can free range them in the garden through the fall plus grow a late season garden of mostly greens that will usually get you into winter at least and a fodder growing system that will keep feed costs down for the laying hens in the winter months it is workable. Looking for new ideas and figuring how to make them work in your favor is your best bet for coming out on top of any business venture and sustainable farming is no different.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

A man, a small tractor, a couple acres and chickens

I've done a good bit of research in the past year on sustainable farming and permaculture and I really believe that it has, not only the benefit of being good for the earth but can also provide a good income or at least a very good second income to anyone with a couple acres and some ambition. A few years ago I would have been satisfied with $5000-6000/acre of off a market garden but I really think now that there is a lot more potential. If your not familiar with permaculture it involves putting all of the waste back into improving the soil for the future. One of the setbacks that I've experienced in the past couple years has been to have enough compost to make a difference in the soil for a 2 acre market garden. I use everything that I can compost around here and get some extra from a nrighbor with a landscape business but so far it's been a pretty small amount. About a year and a half ago I added a few chickens and recently increased the flock to 20. In my opinion, chickens are the ultimate composting machine along with providing eggs to eat. Now 20 chickens are still only going to add about 600lbs of fertilizer/year but I really think 2 acres can support a much bigger and still healthy flock of chickens especially if it includes broiler chickens a couple times/year. And that is what permaculture is all about, having a plan to use the land in the most efficient and sustainable way. Stay tuned for more thoughts on this and see where this project is headed.

Here's the results of my fodder growing experiment

As fodder growers go I'd call myself a rookie but I had some questions that I wanted to try to find answers for so I set up this little experiment a few days ago. Now I'm growing wheat sprouts/fodder for laying hens so if your growing fodder for other animals what I have done here probably won't mean much to you but on the other hand I did get a feed that may also work pretty good for rabbits, goats or horses out of it. I usually only grow my fodder to about day 5-6,that is when the protein for wheat is suppose to peak at somewhere around 16% which is very similar to most commercial layer feeds. What I was noticing was that there seemed to be a lot of unsprouted grain in my feed at that point,if you look at the pictures you can see the difference, both pictures are wheat at 5 days growth. Here's what I did different, originally I would soak the wheat seed for 12 hrs in water with a little bleach in it to clean the seed, then I would transfer the seed from that bucket to another bucket that I drilled holes in the bottom, the seed spends 48 hrs in that bucket getting watered/rinsed every 12 hrs. From there I transfer the seed into a 1020 seed starting flat for 72 more hours and feed it at the end of 72 hours. I did 2 things different with the wheat that came out grassier, I didn't put the seed in the buckets for 48 hrs to drain/rinse. Instead I put the seed right into the tray from the soak bucket. The tray that I used was a stainless steel tray from a buffett cart that had a flat bottom instead of the ridged bottom that the 1020 trays have. I did end up with a grassy mat that had a real nice root mat but as far as extra weight it only increased by about a half of a pound. I fed it this morning and the chickens ate it ok but what I did notice was that they scratched and tore it apart and scattered it around some which they don't do when I feed it as mostly sprouts. I'm not sure what caused there to be as much difference in the growth and I'm trying to determine that right now with a couple more trays, I'll let you know what I find. For now I'm kind of undecided what I'm going to do, the grass is good for egg quality but I don't think there's much benefit as far as production goes and the grassy stuff didn't give me a tremendous weight gain, I think I'm going to try hitting a medium by putting the seed in a bucket to rinse /water for 24 hours then into a tray and see what that does. And maybe I'll just grow 1tray a week or so of really grassy fodder until I can get some more greens from the market garden into their diet. The bottom line is, anyway you look at it this is a very cost effective and healthy way to feed chickens, especially in winter when they can't find any other greens to eat and the best part is it only costs about a penny per chicken per day with very little extra work or added expense. They still need some oyster shell, egg shell or commercial feed for the minerals that aren't in the fodder but it can still make a big difference in the feed bill.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Fodder growing experiment

I've been working on an experiment with growing fodder the past few days, my normal routine is to soak my wheat seed in a bucket with water and bleach for 12hrs then put the seed in a bucket with drain holes for 48hrs, watering it every 12hrs then traying it at the end of the 48hrs for another 36 hrs before feeding it. In the pictures that is the first picture.The middle picture is wheat seed that was put straight into a stainless steel tray right from a 12hr soak. The ss tray has a flat bottom on it where the 1020 trays are ribbed to give them some extra stength. What I wanted to see was if I can get better germination rates with the flat bottom tray and if there was any benefit to traying the seed for the whole time and eliminating the 48hrs in the bucket. So far it looks promising as the last picture shows, the seed that skipped the bucket step is 12hrs behind the other but already has more roots and a lot more sprouts than the seed that came out of the bucket, the next 12-24 hrs should tell a lot. The one issue that I am having a little bit is just a tiny bit of white mold in the seed in the metal trays and at this point I'm not sure why but it is a managable problem so I'm going to keep forging ahead.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

My $10 fodder system

Growing fodder to feed livestock isn't a new idea,they've used it in other parts of the world for quite some time but it's really caught on here over the past few years with people with a few animals or small sustainable farms. The concept involves taking a pound of grain and in about 5-6 days time sprouting and growing that grain into about 5+ times that amount of feed for your animals. I start 1lb of wheat everyday for 22 chickens, I use a system that uses 3 small buckets and 3 1020 greenhouse growing flats. I soak 1lb of wheat for 12hrs, next it goes into another bucket that I drilled the bottom full of 7/32" holes, the grain spends 48hrs in that bucket. Usually by the time it comes out of the bucket it has little short root hairs on it. From the bucket it goes into the 1020 trays, I put holes in either end of the tray so water will drain out after I water, that's the only thing special with the trays. My watering schedule is every 12hrs, I water at 7am and 7pm but I have already skipped 1 watering with no ill affects. When I water, whether in the buckets or the trays, I rake the seed around with my hand then pour in about a gallon of water that floods the seed and then I just wait about a minute for most if the water to drain off. That's about the extent of it, it's really simple, in the beginning I figured it added about 40-45minutes per day to my schedule but after I got going it didn't take long until it was an extra 15minutes each watering. Figuring what it has saved me in commercial feed it is well worth the little bit of time. I feed fodder at about a 2/3-1/3 ratio of fodder to commercial feed, my chickens really love it and they have been laying just fine.

Outback Farm

Outback Farm, even though it had no name back then was an idea I came up with back around 2007. I was in NY at the time working as an owner/operator with a tri-axle dump truck. Work was getting slow, fuel prices and everything else except rates was going up and I was looking for a way to make some extra money.My plan at the time was to rent an acre of ground from a neighbor that was downsizing her operation but a few other things came up and I figured that I'd be better off in Pa where I had access to more resources. Now before I go any farther, I'm not someone that is tired of the workaday world and wanted a change in scenery, I spent most of my first 40 years on a working farm and I'm the 9th generation to farm land in Nescopeck Twp so I know the life and knew what I was getting into but I also have a good idea of what I'm doing when it comes to farming. I do have to admit though that I have always been a fly by the seat of my pants kind of guy and really never had much of a plan until recently. I figured in the beginning that I could make an ok living on a couple acres of produce and a woodlot but in the past year I've really looked into sustainable farming and I'm pretty convinced that I can make more than a decent living off of the couple tillable acres that I have with time being the biggest investment. I mentioned Joel Salintin from Polyface farm, Will Allen from Growing Power and Geoff Lawton from the Permaculture Institute of Australia before but I'll tell you if your not familiar with their work do yourself a favor and check out some of the things they are doing, it's pretty amazing stuff. In their world anyone with as little as a half acre or or less can feed a family, if you have a couple acres, you can do that plus have a good business besides. So what does that mean for Outback Farm? Well you can already see that I'm into produce and chickens for eggs. Hopefully by this fall I can be raising chickens for fresh meat. Down the road a year or so I'm figuring a 20x50 high tunnel greenhouse that I can raise greens almost year round, tomatoes and peppers by early June and then raise turkeys for fresh meat until November/December. And looking even farther ahead I might even get into selling compost. That's the plan lets hope it works.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Starting chicks

I see a lot of people are getting chickens to raise  right now, I know TSC has had theirs in for a few weeks now and I see a lot of questions being asked about starting them. Chicks are really pretty easy to raise when it comes right down to it, they are one of the few animals that are born with the instinct to find their own food and unless your getting chicks at day 1 from a hatchery most have already gotten a pretty good start on feeding. All the little critters really need is a warm, dry place to sleep, food and water and they'll do fine. People worry a lot about keeping them warm enough but unless your keeping them in an unheated garage or something they should easy stay warm enough to survive, they do need some extra heat but the idea that they need it to be 95degrees is a little overrated. If you keep an eye on them for the first few days put your heatlamp in one corner of their enclosure and then see where they lay, if they're laying in a pile right under the lamp then the heat should probably be raised a little by putting the lamp closer to them but if they're spread out some they're fine. Really all you want is to keep them from sleeping on a pile and risking suffocation.

The pictures here are from 30 that I got last October, the second picture is from a few days ago, that was the first nice day that they could be out on their own free ranging. I still have 20 of them, I sold the rest, these guys are doing great and right now are giving me almost a dozen eggs per day. Stay tuned for more chicken adventures.

An overview of my $10 fodder system


A lot of where I'm going to be headed here has to do with sustainable farming practices. It's pretty easy to find info and I usually listen carefully to guys like Joel Salitin, Will Allen and Geoff Lawton but at the same time some of what they do doesn't translate to other peoples operations. I know in my own experience I have to resize things to suit my own circumstances and abilities and that's the things that I can hopefully pass on here.

Back again, finally!

Wow it's been just short of 3 years since I did this last. In my defense, I considered getting back to it this time last year but..................  well anyway! A lot has happened in the past few years and there are new things coming up all the time that I'm figuring on commenting on. I'm starting to see some direction in my little farm and that's probably where this will go for the most part. So if your new here pull up a chair and, hopefully enjoy.