Be Relevant

Relearning everything we've forgotten.

Monday, August 30, 2010

How to really Start Gardening, Farming, Homesteading, Self-Sufficiency, Survivalist Whatever you want to call it

Whether you want to get back to the land, be a little less dependent on WalMart or your local grocery store, or conserve more of our natural resources for the future I have a message for you.  YOU CAN start anywhere.

A lot of the books, magazines, and blogs that I read are great sources of knowledge.  The majority of them all push the same message; you don't need land to farm.  Another theme is you can start homesteading now where ever you live.  I believe both of these are true.  But, how the heck do you do it without land?  How the heck do you get started?  What do you do if you are cash strapped and land poor?  Most of the resources don't tell you how you can get started other than renting land or starting a community garden.

Renting a plot of land probably isn't the wisest if you have no experience.  Apartment complexes aren't the most community garden friendly either.  So how do we get started?

I'm suggesting two avenues that you do simultaneously.  First go online and google your local Farm Bureau.  Get the number to your local office and call it.  Tell whomever picks up the phone that you are looking for a farm that you can volunteer with.  They should give you a couple of names.  Here in San Diego its La Milpa Organica and Tierra Miguel Farm.  Now go to their websites and look at what they produce and what their philosophy is.  You don't really want to go to a farm that sprays if you are interested in organically grown food.  If you like what you see contact them.  Tell them what you are interested in - learning to grow food - and work out when you can volunteer.  I suggest for the first time early in the morning for half a day.  Farming takes some easing into.  Then go do it.  Over the next few months you'll learn so much (even if you only go once a week).   Plus some of these farms give fresh produce to their volunteers for helping out.  Depending on how much you volunteer you could wind up volunteering yourself into your own source of fresh fruits and vegetables.  No matter what you'll start to learn how to grow your own food and that's the point - to build up our knowledge base.

The second thing you need to do is take stock in what you have.  How many windows and windowsills do you have?  Do you have a patio?  Front stoop?  Garage corner?  What available space do you have?  Next what is the orientation of that space?  Which way does it face?  North, South, East, West.  That is important because we need to know which sides get the most sun.  Then how much sun does that area get?  Does anything caste a shadow over the space like a tree or another building.  My back patio gets the morning sun directly on it but by 10 am only the railing is getting sun.  So all my growing has to be oriented to grow on the railing to get the 6 hours of sunlight I get.  Most plants need a minimum of 6 hours of light with 8 being the best.  But don't fret we can find something to grow out there.  Is there ventilation from a breeze or does the corner just get baked by the sun?  Watch the area(s) that you are thinking about for a couple of days and jot that down in your garden journal.  You have to have a garden journal to jot down all your volunteer knowledge and to keep track of when and what you planted.

Luckily, it is the beginning of the fall winding down for most vegetable farms.  If you live in an area where you can grow year round then you are fortunate.  Honestly, I can't wait to get back to the East Coast and have seasons.  Seasons offer you a natural cycle of work and rest.  I'm not big on farming year round.  I want my yearly vacations too!  Since it is winding down it gives us some time to start thinking about next year's garden.  Also if you volunteer now they may have more time to spend with you to teach you more.  So now is the perfect time to get started.

Don't go out and buy anything yet.  We'll get to all of that later and I'll show you ways to keep from breaking the bank on your garden supplies.  In fact we can get a good bit of it for FREE!  That's always nice.

So the two things to do is contact your local farm bureau and volunteer and take stock in what you have available.  I know these seem like they are gardening centric and not necessarily homesteading centric but they are the first steps and when you start talking about self-sufficiency everything becomes intertwined.  I'm interested to hear what volunteer opportunities everyone finds and what resources they have available to them.


Monday, August 23, 2010

Airplanes, Bunnies, Dogs Eating Hay is No Longer Funny, and Snuffles

The past week has been full of events.  Mel gave me a flying lesson for my birthday and last Monday we were finally able to collect.  The weather here in SD has been quite funny this year.  We kept re-scheduling trying to get a day with clear skies so we could fly over the coast.  Check the little slideshow to the right for some pics.

I kept trying to use the yoke as a steering wheel on the ground but it isn't meant to work like that.   You have to use the brakes and rudders to maneuver which are controlled by your feet.   Quite a difficult task for someone as uncoordinated as myself.  We took off from Montgomery Field by where I live and flew up to the coast over La Jolla.  Then down the coast to Pt Loma and up through the bay and over the Coronado Bridge.  We went to Brown Field and did 2 touch and go's.  Check out the video of me landing!  Then we headed home over the city and the SD airport.  Pretty neat to be above the commercial airplanes.

I talked Mel into getting rabbits!!  She said if I found someone to watch over them while we were in Italy then we could get them.  My co-worker Liz is such an enabler.  Last Monday, yes before we went flying, we became the proud owners of 2 Angora rabbits.  One is a white English and the other is a black Giant/German Hybrid.  The English will maybe get to be 5 lbs and the Giant/German's g-ma was 13 lbs!!  That's the size of Scout our Yorkie.  We named the white one Lele which is Hawaiian for hop and the other is named Kueka - Hawaiian for sweater.  I really wanted to name them sweater and socks but socks in Hawaiian is a mouthful.


So the rabbits are actually inside.  It seems Angoras don't like the heat.  There goes my greenhouse heating up idea.  No biggie.  In an apartment its kind of inconvenient but once it cools off they'll be back outside.  A funny thing to watch is that our dogs, Bleu our blue tick hound in particular, is worrying herself to death over these rabbits.  Every slight move they make she has to be right at the cage to see and the shrill whining is ridiculous (she has stopped that by now).  But she picks up some of their kicked out hay and she takes it to her little bed and chews on it.  Kind of cute right?  It was even funnier on Thursday when she was passing the hay.  She was quite regular and it made us laugh.  It ceased to be funny Friday when she had the runs all over the house.  This lasted 2 days.  2 days I tell you.  Needless to say, dogs eating hay is no longer cute or funny.

Snuffles - A respiratory disease that can prove to be fatal if left untreated in rabbits.  It is characterized by yellowish, white discharge from the nose, constant sneezing, and a hacking cough.   Very contagious to rabbits.

Lele came down with the Snuffles so we took her back to the breeder on Saturday.  She offered us another one but we've started to bond with Lele.  The breeder is going to keep her for the next month and treat her and then we get her back.  That works with the Italy trip.

That was last week.  This week looks to be shaping up pretty well.  I'm trying to post more - daily in fact.  I also want to take this blog up a notch and give it some depth other than just rants and journal like entries.  I want it to be useful and inspiring.  Its all a journey!  Coop

Egg Recall Expanded After Salmonella Outbreak

Egg Recall Expanded After Salmonella Outbreak (full story)

Had this company just followed the FDA's new rule of not allowing tours of the farm this could have been prevented. Give me a break. This is exactly why WE need to know where OUR food comes from. Get ready for more of this since the FDA wants to separate US even further from OUR food supply.

Let's put this into perspective. The FDA law only affects those producers that have 3000 laying hens or more. That is roughly about 4,000 producers who make up 99% of the eggs sold in the US. Most of these, not all, are the large chicken factories that we all get a glimpse of on TV. 7 to a cage, 6 cages high, beaks clipped off so they don't peck each other since they are stressed, full of antibiotics because they are sick from the stress and no room to nest but only stand and shoot out eggs onto a conveyor belt that prevents humans from touching the eggs anyways. 

The other 1% of our egg supply is from some 50,000 small farms. That's how consolidated our food supply is. It's even worse in beef and meat production ( I think 4 major companies).  Allowing our food supply to consolidate into so few companies means that an outbreak like this can shut down 99% of the food. 

We all know what happens when we put all our eggs in one basket - pun intended.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Market Rant and Homemade Goat Sage Cheddar Ravioli with a Pesto Cream Sauce for Listening

Why does homemade pasta taste even better the second day?  Mel and I hit up the Farmer's Market in Little Italy yesterday.  The first time we've ever been.  We drove over to Mission Valley and took the metro downtown to avoid the parking issue.  I see now why two things are happening in this country.  First is public transportation has to be one of the most inconvenient modes of transportation.  Ok that's a blanket statement so let's just say half the time its inconvenient.  Who wants to be inconvenienced half the time?  No wonder everyone drives everywhere.  It cost us $10 for two day passes.  To have parked would have cost us $10 for two hours.  Gas money vice time spent waiting and trying to figure out the schedule.  The system is flawed from the beginning.

Second thing is that buying organic or from farmer's markets is very expensive.  I see a lot of good trends towards eating locally and moves towards organic farming.  I'd rather spend my money at a local farm rather than a grocery store.  Since I'm involved in farming groups it seems like the whole country is trying to get back to farming.  I wish it were the case.  But I can't shake this feeling that buying organic, being sustainable has, on some level, sold itself out to profit.  Don't get me wrong.  Farmers have the right to make a decent profit and when I finally get to rolling commercially on my own place I want to make a decent profit.  Yet I paid $6 for a dozen pastured fed chicken eggs.  That's .50 an egg for letting them roam across fields and eat grass and insects.  I'm over simplifying but that is pretty much what it is.

Again I don't begrudge a farmer a decent profit so they earn a respectable income.  However, we as farmers and farmer wannabes will never beat the industrial farms if our produce is priced so that only a percentage of our country can afford it.  The way we win and create good health in our country is by growing the healthiest food possible and pricing it competitively to the industrial models.  The chemical farming won't be able to hang on.  They'd naturally have to drop prices even lower but the cost of all that petroleum based "cides" and fertilizers won't be getting any cheaper.  Granted their government subsidies would spike to make up for it but that would be a sinking ship as lobbyists would move on to something that was floating.  At that point the government would be dealing, once again, with the small farmer.  Jobs would be created and cottage industries would be re-born back into small town USA.  Maybe we could reverse this onset of Child diabetes, rampant obesity, and all the cancers and medical issues that harm us physically and financially by over-burdening Medicaid.  The savings in health insurance alone would make up for some of the "lost" profit of pricing our healthy food competitively.

I got the recipe for the pasta from Leslie but the rest is all Mel and I.  I added 2 whole eggs instead of only one.  I did use a cup and half verse her cup and quarter.  Its your call. I also think that refrigerating it made it harder to roll.  Again your call. I used a small cookie cutter to make circular raviolis.  Remember you need 2 cut outs for 1 ravioli.  I was really worried we wouldn't have enough at first but this made enough for 4 servings.  Of course it all depends on how thin you roll it.

1 1/4 cup flour
3 egg yolks
1 egg
will be very stiff
knead it about 5-10 minutes til it gets elastic
will be pliable but still very stiff
refrigerate it for about 1 hour before making it into pasta

I cut up a Bartlett pear into little cubes, I'm talking diced onion small and used a "pinch" of pears with a "pinch" of cheese.  You'll start off under portioning then you'll figure it out very quickly and get it to what you need.

We bought some Goat Sage Cheddar from Spring Hill Farms This stuff is great and they sound like a great farm.  I totally want to visit and see how they make cheese.

To seal the raviolis is easy.  Place one pasta disk over the other that has your stuffing and pinch the edges together.  If you need to, run your finger around the edge after dipping it in water to help you seal.  Same thing with egg whites (which is the secret to making your dumplings stick together).  Then toss them into boiling water and they sink.  When they float they are done.  Fresh pasta doesn't take that long to cook.

The sauce was the Pesto that I froze from the large batch I made and half of a small container of Heavy Whipping Cream, 1 tsp of butter, salt and pepper to taste and some corn starch to thicken it up a bit.  Always dissolve your corn starch in water then add it to the sauce so as not to introduce lumps.

It was incredible! Thanks for listening to the rant.


Rationalizing Rabbits, The Art of Cuteness, and A Pseudo Homemade Rabbit Cage

"Adding any animal to a family is a big decision.  But once that animal is integrated into our family life things seem to run on autopilot.  Right?  Additionally, if WE want to keep larger animals in the future WE should learn how to keep smaller ones.  WE should start out with one or two first. "

Those were just a few of the rationales that I gave Mel on why we should get a couple of rabbits.  Couple that with pictures of cute rabbits (especially babies)  and it was a done deal.  (The pictures worked so well I'm trying it with ducks - check out Little Homestead in the City's blog titled Baby Quackers - but don't tell Mel!)

Part of the deal is that we have to wait till we get back from Italy.  We're going at the end of September for Mel's sister's wedding.  We were lucky enough to find sitters for the dogs so we can't push our luck with the rabbits.  However, having to wait a month and a half after we agreed to get them is killing me.  Waiting does not fit into my impulsive lifestyle.  Maybe I'm not as smart as I think I am.

How to pass the time?  Start getting set up for our two new little friends.  We decided - it was more like I kept suggesting - that we get two Angora rabbits.  Mel is very partial to the English and I want a German.  Mel has based her decision on aesthetics and I have based mine on economics.  At between $4-$6 an ounce for unspun hair, the German produces over 10 oz every 90 days.  The cute, aesthetically pleasing English comes in around 7-8 oz every 90 days.

Let me preface everything with the fact that these two rabbits are pets first.   Eventually when we get the space and setup a greenhouse for transplants we plan to house rabbits out there as well.  They'll help provide heat in the greenhouse and also a fair amount of manure for composting.   But to use them for only that is cost prohibitive; their costs outweigh their gains.  To find a solution that doesn't incur selling them as meat we came across using them for fiber production.  So our two little rabbits are going to help us see where the break even point is.  How many would we need to produce heat, how much fiber do we need to sell, etc.  They will also help us see if we can set up a small market for their fiber.  Whether in raw materials or finished goods.  We want to find out if this idea is economically feasible before we go out and actually purchase a bunch of rabbits and find out that we just made a huge mistake.   Our number one goal now and for always will be to produce the healthiest, organic product possible while being good stewards.  Bottom line.

To follow through on our promise to be good stewards we needed to get them a good rabbit cage.  I am the biggest advocate of using  I posted an add wanting a rabbit cage but didn't get any hits.  Side note:  if you live within driving distance of San Diego, own a truck, and have space there is a lady trying to get rid of a 6 ft tall, 4 ft long, 2 ft deep rabbit/chicken hutch with storage underneath, let me know.  I started searching for information on rabbit cages and came across Harvest Moon Angoras website.  This is a great site and has tons of information on care and feeding as well as detailed directions on building your own cage.

I was all set to start from scratch when I realized that we had an old kennel of Bleu's.  When we first got her she weighed 20lbs and everyone said she'd only get a little bigger so go with the medium kennel.  50lbs later and she's sleeping comfortably in the large kennel.  The old kennel was taking up space in the garage but Mel being a pack-rat (Seriously she doesn't qualify as a pack-rat but trying to get rid of anything with her  concurrence is difficult.  What if we need it down the road?  Apparently, she was right this time. I should just start listening to her) didn't allow me to get rid of it.  Good thing.

The cage is perfect.  It has 2 doors and the tray is removable without opening them.  Its also made of extremely durable metal.  Best of all it saves us $$ and time.  We need to make a few adjustments to the cage so that our furry friends will be comfortable.  Also we can't have them directly on the tray as that is not sanitary for them to be housed with their droppings.  It also would ruin their hair which defeats the intent here.

I used the directions on Harvest Moon Angora's website for constructing the floor of the rabbit cage.  I figured if I put in an additional raised floor that would solve all our problems.  I went to Lowe's and found in their garden section a roll of 1"X1/2" Galvanized Hardware Cloth.  The dimensions are small enough for the rabbits to sit on but large enough to allow their droppings to pass through.

We unrolled the hardware cloth on top of the cage leaving an overhang on all sides of about 2 rows.  We did this to insure we cut the right size - you can always cut more off - and we wanted the edges to be bent down vice cut so as not to create sharp edges for the rabbits or us.
A great hint here from Harvest Moon Angoras - MAKE SURE THE 1/2" SIDE IS FACING UP, I.E. THE SIDE THE RABBITS WILL BE ON.  It doesn't sound like it makes sense and it actually takes a minute or two of staring at it but it does matter and there is a difference.  Angoras have very furry feet.  These furry feet create padding that allows them to sit on the wire, or walk across things in comfort.  Much like we use shoes.  But there is an extent to the size of their feet.  The 1" side is soldered in such a way as to create miniature troughs.  Where as the 1/2" side creates a relatively flat surface.  Besides having to constantly step on a raised bar every 1" if one of those freak accidents happen the troughs have the ability to allow the rabbit to get its foot stuck.  I don't want my rabbits pulling an Aron Ralston.

Next bend the sides down to form a hat for the cage.  We then slid our new floor into the kennel.  We had to unhook the end to get it in and we had to cut a little here and there and received a couple of mashed fingers.  Well I did anyway.  Finally, we zip tied the flooring into place a couple of inches above the sliding tray.

We decided to zip tie it for three reasons.  First it was cheaper than buying the metal clips and metal clip attacher thingy.  Second it allows us to break the cage down if we needed to move or we ever want it to be a kennel again.  Lastly, I'm not sure if it is high enough off the tray once two rabbits get in there.  Scout, our 13 lb Yorkie, graciously simulated one rabbit and it held up nicely.  Still not sure about two though.  If when they do arrive and they weigh down the floor I can easily move it up to the next horizontal rung.  The only drawback is that Mel says they will probably chew through the plastic.  My plan is to replace them with metal clips as we go through them if that is the case.

Total tools so far are a $10 pair of tin snips which I'll use again.  $16 roll of hardware cloth which probably can be found cheaper.  The roll will provide me with at least 2 more floors when we plan to build more cages.  Zip ties I had but they do not cost that much.  Oh, make sure you bend under the cut edges of the zip ties.  They always seem to find a leg to scratch.  The cage we had laying around otherwise it wouldn't have been worth it.  Total time was about an hour for two people - I tend to goof off a lot.

Last note:  What to do with the droppings you ask?  Well my friends they will be added to the worm bin that I have on the porch.  I started with 1 lb of Red Wigglers and am now up to 2lbs after 4 months. They eat, collectively, a lb of organic waste a DAY!!  That is they eat half their body weight a day.  They also provide me with castings that the plants love.  Plus the bin smells like wet earth.  Is there a better way to dispose of such stuff?

Things we need to look at next BEFORE we get the rabbits.

Feeding and care
Finding a local vet that has experience with rabbits
Finding a breeder that fits our needs.

Parting shot:  I love harvest time.  Summer Squash, Butternut Squash, Yellow Squash, Basil, Leeks, and more!  Coop

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Earth worms in a potted plant's soil?

A friend of mine asked me about putting worms in potted plants.  Here is what I sent him.

"I wouldn't do it.  The thing you are after with the earthworms are their castings. They also loosen the soil but if you are doing pots your soil will be aerated. Just change out the soil each time you re-plant. What I would do is just start a worm composter. You can buy one or build one. I built my own. Then I bought a pound of red wigglers. After about 4 months they double. They eat half their weight of your compostable stuff. That includes paper and paper products - napkins. 1 lb = 1/2lb of food per DAY. The thing doesn't smell in fact it smells like moist earth. They really do the trick. Then you can add that stuff in your potting mix or you can take it and dissolve it in a watering can and make worm tea - sounds gross I know but it is like all natural steroids for your plants. If you start one but are worried about waiting 2 months to get a supply you can buy worm castings from nurseries. That would hold you over till you started to get some for free.  Send me some pics when you get it started. Also if you want to build your own worm bin I can help you out."

Then I found Growing Power's website and sent him another email.

"So I have to amend my previous posting.  This website is an urban farm and they advocate putting a handful of worms into each pot. They produce a ton of food and are going strong so I would have to say they know what they are talking about. If you want to be creative try two pots - one with and one without and see which does better. Just plant the same thing in each.
Let me know what you decide." 

The jury is out for me on this one.  There are a lot of variables at play here.  Do they have a high turnover on the plants potted and are constantly adding new soil mixture?  They use mostly compost in their pots so does this make it ok?  Is it dependent on the size of the pot?  Most of the stuff I'm reading on the internet is off of forums and there seems to be a resounding negative to doing this.  I have to admit that my first reaction of saying NO was because "We've never done it that way" mentality.   

OK, let's look at this logically:
1. Worms are beneficial in the garden because they eat organic material and deposit castings.  They help build soil. 
2.  The mucus they do excreet helps soil to clump together which helps in water retention.
3.  They aerate the soil, loosening it up for roots to grow deep in search of water. 
4.  The micro-organisms associated with the worms help digest minerals and place them into a form that plants use.
5. The one bad comment is that their burrowing allows water to run out of the plant too fast. But if you treat your potted plant's soil like you would if you had a huge garden then you shouldn't have this problem.  Basically, mulch your pots to help with evaporation and you won't have to drench them with water which would add to compacting the soil over time.

I'm ammending my first opinion and saying go for it.  I used to treat my pots like they were their own entity and somehow different then if I was growing in a field.  They are not.  Building good soil is the same whether its in a field or in a pot.  If anyone has experience with this I'd love to hear about it.


Friday, August 6, 2010

An old pest identified, a new one discovered, and more back-breaking evidence no-till is the way to go

Adult drying his wings
An Old Pest Identified

The Imported Cabbageworm (Artogeia rapae) has ravaged my broccoli.  I spent every third day picking the green caterpillars with a thin yellow stripe on their back off the leaves of my poor plants.  They are actually quite hard to see as they blend into the foliage pretty well.  But their dark green droppings give them away.  They lay yellow cones on the underside of the leaves.  They really love plants in the cabbage family and I found a few eating away on my potato plants.  The adults (pictured) emerge in the spring from pupae that hibernated over the winter, and they lay more eggs.  The pupae will eat for 2-3 weeks then move down to the soil to pupate.  In about 1-2 weeks you'll have a fresh supply of adults to start the cycle over.  They do this 3-5 times a year.  I should have killed it but alas poor Yorick I knew him well.  To control this pest you can use a floating row cover.  The most effective and requiring the most attention is handpicking them off.  You have to do it.  There are also yellow sticky traps that capture the females.

A New Pest Discovered

Here are two pictures of my lovely patio garden.  Lovely isn't it?  I'm making do with the limited space I have.  I also have melons, sunflowers, and corn out front.

So I get rid of the Imported Cabbageworm and find this new pest bothering my garden. 
Apparently, I can't have anything overhanging the rail into the landscaping.  This also includes not having plants next to the landscaping out front.  Solution:  I moved the stuff out front closer to my door - it gets a lot less light and will probably die but we all ready got one great harvest of sunflowers and the melons and corn are stunted anyway.  On the back patio, I just inverted my extension so it now juts into my patio.  The whole idea was to get more light and not take up more space and my new pest has succeeded in giving me less light and taking up space.  Such is apartment life and prevailing attitudes toward growing your own food.  I have not yet found a control for this new pest but I'll let you know when I do.

More Back-breaking Evidence No-till is the Way to Go

Last weekend at the farm I hand hoed a full row to get it ready for planting of Arugula.  This thing was overgrown.  I hoed it, raked it, composted it, smoothed it, then spade it.  See the nice brown, dark soil on the left of this pic?  I started with the nice patch of green weeds that's to the right.  Yeah by hand.  Granted they wanted to plant this bed in Arugula right away.  But this bed was a prime candidate for no-till.  There are two ways to go about it.  First go through and cut down the foliage that is all ready present; either with a mower or a scythe.  Next you would lay down a layer of straw or you could lay cardboard on top and allow it to smother the weeds below and then lay a layer of straw.  The biggest drawback (I actually cringe to use the word drawback as I personally see no drawback to no-till but for the lack of a better word) to no-till is that you would leave this bed till it had decomposed the green manure, as its called, below.  This means you would have to have enough beds to be able to rotate your crops through.  This can be done and just takes extra planning and a little more space.  But no-till does several things for you.  It replenishes most the nutrients and water you all ready expended on this bed by using the weeds as a green manure.  You don't disturb the soil so healthy earth worms and microbes remain undisturbed.  Dormant weed seeds don't get brought to the surface to sprout a new. After a couple of cycles the weeds you do get will be far less in number.  You are building up the biomass in the soil.  The only thing that I would do is pull any parts of the crops you were growing out and compost them regular.  You don't want to allow pests to linger.  As you can tell I am all for NO-TILL.  Best stuff since sliced bread! 

In case you need more proof here is the garden from 2 weeks ago.  Look at those sweet little beauties and the weeds are non-existent!!  
Parting thought of the week:  Buddha said that every good buddhists should plant a tree every 5th year of their life.  I'll round up and say I owe 7 but I know I planted some as a kid.  I think that's a good rule of thumb for everybody.

Parting shot of the week.  Bleu (she's the Blue-Tick Hound mix - I know witty name) has somewhere in the past week annexed the couch and Mel's silent approval has made it part of her official territory.  Viva la revolucion! Or something like that.  Coop