Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

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11/15/2014

Hi, my name is Alexander Goldberg. I am 15 years old and live with my mom, dad, and little brother on our farm in the mountains of central Virginia. My family raises food for our table. In addition to growing fruits and vegetables in our large garden and fruit orchard, over the years we’ve raised meat and layer chickens, pigs, lambs, ducks and guineas. I have my own flock of over 25 chickens, a motley assortment that I have gathered over the years, including Egyptian Fayumi, Silver Polish, Spangled Old English Game Bantams, Single-combed Nankins and of course my beloved Sumatras (blue, black and splash)! I am a member of the Livestock Conservancy (formerly the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy) and a member of my local 4-H club. My special interests include rare and endangered breeds of poultry, especially the Sumatra chicken. I attend a couple of poultry shows every year and successfully participate in the senior showmanship class.

Promoting Heritage Breed PoultryAlexander Goldberg With Endangered Poultry

My first experience with Mother Earth News was in 2011. Brian Welch (editor for Mother Earth News) came to Charlottesville, Virginia, to speak at the Heritage Harvest Festival (a festival held at President Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, to which many people come and give lectures). While here, he was interviewed on television about his book, Beautiful and Abundant. The Livestock Conservancy emailed its members, looking for a small, friendly bird that Mr. Welch could hold during the interview. I volunteered my Old English Game Bantam hen, Comet (nicknamed Metta). I got to meet Mr. Welch right before the interview and I watched it from the sidelines. Metta behaved admirably with the exception of a tiny little accident on the table.

In this blog I hope to chronicle my trips to shows, experiences with the breeds I am raising, and other stories that come up. I will also share stories and information about rare and endangered (and possibly unheard of) breeds of poultry, interesting facts about them, and why efforts to protect these breeds are so important. The Livestock Conservancy is an organization that helps to find and preserve rare and endangered breeds of livestock and poultry. I first learned of the LC from my grandparents who have friends involved with the organization. They introduced our family to the LC and, when I started with 4-H, I also started reading the newsletters. Later, after I had become a member myself, Dr Martin, who is the Research and Technical Programs Director for the LC, came to visit our farm along with Dr Eric Hallman, the Executive Director, and asked me if I would be interested in blogging about my adventures and here I am today!

What Species is a ‘Giant Runt’?

At the end of each post I will have a question that I will answer in the next post, and this week’s question is: What species of animal is a Giant Runt? Have fun finding out! Feel free to share your answers in the comment section. See you next time!


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.



11/14/2014

Greenhouses can be interesting environments to grow in. This is because standard greenhouse materials like glass and plastic (“glazing”) are extremely good at letting in light and heat in, and extremely good at letting heat out. With so much glazed surface area, greenhouses usually overheat during the day if uncontrolled. And because glass and plastic provide no insulation, at night they lose all that heat, causing them to freeze. Take this October day in Boulder, Colorado for instance: An all-glass greenhouse fluctuated from a high of 110 F to a low of 30 F in one day. Plants, like people, do not like this.

The primary challenge with greenhouse growing is stabilizing these temperature swings. Conventionally, people do this by blasting energy via heating or cooling systems into the greenhouse. But the smarter, more sustainable way of creating a stable greenhouse environment is to harness the excess solar energy coming in during the day, store it and use it at night. Or, if working with an existing greenhouse, to add an efficient heater that uses cheap and renewable fuels. These strategies all take understanding and research, and have some upfront cost, but the pay-back in terms of added growing and long-term savings is well worth it.

Also, remember there’s no cheaper energy than the energy you don’t have to use, so if designing a new greenhouse, build it so that it does not require much heating and cooling in the first place. This means using building a air-tight, insulated structure, using proper roofing materials, and orienting the greenhouse with the glazing facing South — where all our light in the Northern hemisphere comes from. If growing in an existing greenhouse, you can insulate your greenhouse and weather-strip air leaks among other things. Reducing your energy requirements to a minimum is always the first step, then incorporate the strategies below.

1) Store solar energy in thermal mass

The easiest and most common way to even out the temperature of your greenhouse is utilize thermal mass, also called a heat sink.  Thermal mass is any material that stores thermal energy. Most materials do this to some extent, but some do it much better than others. Water for instance, holds about 2 times as much heat as concrete, and about 4 times as much as soil.

Incorporating mass does two things. First, it absorbs excess energy during the day, creating a cooling effect. When the temperature drops at night, it starts releasing that energy, thereby ‘heating’ the greenhouse. Note: though I say ‘cooling and heating’, the thermal mass is not actually providing the energy, it’s simply storing it and releasing it later, like a battery. The size of the battery (or how much energy you can store) depends on the heat capacity of the material and how much mass you have. Below is a table comparisons a few different sources of thermal mass and their heat capacities.

Thermal mass and heat capacities chart

How-to

The most common way to use thermal mass is water barrels, because it has such a high heat capacity. By stacking several 55 gallon drums of water in a greenhouse, the grower can incorporate a lot of thermal mass. Barrels should be stacked where they are in direct sunlight, often on a North wall. Since plants will be warmer around the water barrels, put more tender plants — like seeding trays or warm weather crops — on or near the barrels. Growing with an aquaponics system — growing fish and plants symbiotically — has the nice benefit of the fish tanks doubling as thermal mass. Other variations include building concrete or stone into the greenhouse — such as using a concrete North wall or flagstone floor. Even the soil in raised beds will add thermal mass.

While the easiest to install, thermal mass can be slow to react. It takes longer to disseminate the heat throughout the greenhouse, limiting its effectiveness. But, given the low upfront cost, adding thermal mass to a greenhouse is a popular method for extending the growing season. It may not get you year-round growth of all things, but it can certainly take your greenhouse to the next level.

2) Incorporate a heat exchanger

Pipes in an underground heat exchanger

To go one step beyond standard thermal mass, you can incorporate a heat exchanger to circulate air through the source of mass. This idea goes by many names. It’s often called a Climate Battery or a Subterranean Heating and Cooling System (SHCS) — a name popularized by John Cruickshank of sunnyjohn.com. Ceres Greenhouse Solutions, based in Boulder, CO, also has a variation of the system called a Ground to Air Heat Transfer (GAHT) System.

There are many configurations, but the mechanism of energy transfer and storage is always the same. When the greenhouse heats up during the day, a fan pumps warm humid air from the interior of the greenhouse through a network of pipes buried up to 4’ underground (most systems consist of a couple layers of tubes buried at 4’ and 2’ below the surface). The drop in temperature forces the water vapor to condense, and in that process (called a phase change) energy is released. That energy is stored in the soil, causing the soil to heat up. Thus, the process creates a large mass of warm soil underneath the greenhouse year-round. At night, when the greenhouse drops in temperature, the fan kicks on again and extracts that heat from the soil. It’s a relatively simple, time-tested system; ground to air heat exchangers have been used in homes for decades.

3D model of an underground heat exchanger

A ground to air heat exchanger works very well for two reasons: First, the amount of available mass (the size of the battery as we mentioned before) is huge. For example, there are 768 cubic feet of soil beneath a 12’ x 16’ greenhouse, assuming a 4’ depth. If you lined the whole North wall of the same greenhouse with two rows of 55 gallon water barrels (16 barrels) they would have a total of 118 cubic feet of mass. That means, using the volumetric heat capacities in the table above, the underground heat exchanger has about twice the capacity as the water barrels. Moreover, because a ground to air heat exchanger connects to the deep earth and thus theoretically has an infinite capacity. For a diagram to better understand this, see CERES Greenhouses picture here.

Secondly, because air is actively being pushed through the ‘battery’ it increases the rate of heat exchange. The hotter / cooler air is distributed around the greenhouse more evenly, preventing cold pockets. Additionally, using fans allows you to use the mass when you want: a thermostat kicks the fan on and off at certain set temperatures. I.e., the fan will start pumping warm air down into the soil when the greenhouse reaches a set temperature (say 80 F), and draw it back up when it has gone below 50 F. Thus, an underground heat exchanger gives you some control over thermal mass; it’s kind of like taking thermal mass and making it smarter.

Variations

The material of the battery can vary. Some people backfill the area underneath the greenhouse with gravel or stones instead of soil. If you already have a greenhouse, or can’t excavate on your site to do much ground work, you can create an alternative battery above ground. You can build an insulated mass of soil or other material, such as a box of river rocks in front of the greenhouse. The system works the same way, only the location of the thermal mass is different.

3) Use an efficient renewable-powered heater

The above systems show you how to harness the sun and store solar energy, which is a good first step to natural heating. If additional heating is needed, consider a highly efficient heating system that runs off of cheap and renewable fuel.

Rocket mass heater

One of the common systems used in greenhouses is the rocket mass heater, a super efficient variation of a wood stove. Instead of just exhausting hot air straight out of a chimney like a standard wood stove does, the rocket mass heater first circulates the hot air through a mass of cob, brick or stone before it’s exhausted out. The air warms the mass which holds the heat and slowly radiates it back into the greenhouse over a long period of time, even after the stove is done burning. The rocket mass heater also uses a double combustion chamber, making it much more efficient than a standard wood stove — a couple hours of a burn with a small amount of wood can heat a greenhouse overnight. Most rocket mass heaters are DIY systems; you will have to investigate and design a system that fits for your greenhouse using the plethora of plans and explanations online.

Compost pile under construction

Another common greenhouse system is the compost-pile heater, which relies on the magic of aerobic bacteria to break down organic material and give off waste heat. Like the underground heat-exchanger, a compost heater also relies on a heat exchanger: water is circulated through tubes running through a large compost pile. Because of the aerobic decomposition, a compost pile can maintain temperatures of 100-160 F. The heated water is then is circulated through the greenhouse where it dispenses heat. Of all the systems, this one probably takes the most tinkering to get right and keep going. You must first build your compost pile with the right material and consistency to get it to a high temperature, and keep adding to it or re-building the pile as it decomposes. However, a large, properly constructed pile (see picture below) can keep a 1,000-2,000 sq. ft. greenhouse heated for a winter. For these reasons, compost pile heaters are often best suited for larger greenhouses.

Completed compost pile

Summary

Which way to go? Several factors play in:

What are your goals (how much space are you trying to heat, and to what degree)? Each system has a different capacity for heating. How much control do you want to have? (Some systems are active and some are passive. (i.e., You can crank up a rocket mass heater but there’s not much you can do to change water barrels).

What constraints are you already working with? (i.e., difficult/rocky soils will rule out an underground heat-exchanger.) Think about how much floor space in the greenhouse you have for things like water barrels. And most importantly think about the time and labor involved in installing each system, as well as the on-going time/labor that it can take to run each system (i.e., an underground heat exchanger can be automated, whereas a rocket mass heater cannot be). Again, while you need to do some homework upfront, having a warm greenhouse churning out fresh food throughout the winter (and free!) is the best payoff you can get.

(Top) Photos courtesy Ceres Greenhouse Solutions: Pipes in an underground heat exchanger for a 12 x 20 greenhouse. 3D model of an underground heat exchanger below ground.

(Middle) Photo courtesy Verge Permaculture: Rocket mass heater in a greenhouse.

(Bottom) Photos courtesy Golden Hoof Farm: Compost pile in mid-construction with tubing for aeration. Completed compost pile.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



11/14/2014

Deer Isle got walloped by an early and unexpected winter storm this past weekend. Snow heavy spruces snapped or got uprooted, tearing down power lines and telephone poles as they blocked roads and driveways. In our off-the-grid, solar-powered cabin we enjoyed lights and a movie on our laptop all through the storm and the next day we salvaged several great blown down logs from around the neighborhood. I mustn't have read the forecast very carefully, since our plans for this stormy day initially were to continue laying the pipes in our new grey water system and washing the windows in our house. Well, being a homesteader and living off the land often means being subjected to natural conditions beyond our control. Most of our work is closely connected to nature and we have to act and react accordingly to what's put in front of us – sometimes predictable changes of seasons and temperatures, other times curve balls such as unseen pest pressure, hard frosts in late May or heavy snow in early November. It's hard to plan projects that involve nature by looking at the calendar, rather, it requires observation, a keen mind and light feet that can quickly change direction when needed.

For each passing year as a homesteader I more and more came to appreciate the premises nature so often sets in our daily life. I'm working alongside a much greater force that I can either fight and make more work for myself, like by planting seedlings in a dry weather spell and having to water them or comply and have it work in my favor, by planting just before rain. We can also take advantage of these conditions by, for example, doing our laundry in the morning on a sunny day for maximum solar power gain and utilizing the afternoon breeze for the clothes to dry on the line. Season and weather will also aid in things like the most efficient processing and drying of both firewood and lumber.

A lifestyle where these natural circumstances is the main determining factor for what gets done when is getting increasingly rarer – humans have gained what some consider an advantage by manipulating the world into a state where we can remain unaffected from the forces of nature in many ways. We've developed vehicles that can traverse distances in almost any weather and indoor work areas where heating, cooling, light, air and humidity is totally independent of outside conditions. Fertilizers, greenhouses and infrastructure allow us to eat anything everywhere at all times and we're able to manufacture all the goods we want thanks to finite resources without considering the supply of local, natural material such as wood.

This manipulation has led to an illusion-like concept that we can sustain ourselves largely independent of nature. Hence, humans' actions in the natural world are also disconnected from it and too often carried out without consideration for what impact they may have or the long term sustainability. These actions lead to the depletion of resources, such as land, water and fossil fuel and when we do see the consequences of those actions, such as large scale crop failure, water shortage and devastated urban infrastructure in the wake of severe weather, the initial reaction is rarely one of reflection over the link between lifestyle choices and the outcome we now see. Rather, the more common reaction is one of surprise over water companies that can't provide usable water, outrage over air lines that can't keep on schedule and the government, unable to protect us from these forces. Since they have all been able to gain control over nature, they should, with this logic, also be able to keep that control. The next step in this line of reasoning is to push for even greater manipulation of the natural world in order to gain even greater independence, another loop in challenging spiral.

Here at the homestead, most days come as a reminder that we will gain the most by working with nature rather than attempting to stay in control over it. If the leeks need to be picked on a Sunday, I pick the leeks on a Sunday even if I'd planned on a day off. When I see the winter apples fall to the ground I put other projects on hold and secure the apple harvest, and when spruce logs seem to present themselves right in front of us, well, then we better get them. Some days it feels as if all I do is trying to catch up, other days the wind and the weather do the work for me, and do it even better still. One year the miserable cold June killed all of my tomato plants but next winter the miserable cold January killed most all of the squash bugs that would have eaten my pumpkins next summer. After a long stretch of sunny days there's usually a gray one coming, just as we needed some rest. I live in nature and with nature. Some days we get socked by unexpected weather and some days we can reap what the weather gave us. It's all a part of the same great picture.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


11/14/2014

Do you know that with each beautiful summer rain millions of little worm eggs are being shed by the worms inside your goats to live in your pastures? Do you know that internal parasites cause more goats to die than the total of the next three leading causes of goat deaths combined? Do you want to know how to win the war on worms? So do I and every other goat farmer and producer on this earth.

Many of my fellow goat friends have lost goats this year due to worms, and these people were not just goat newbies. This spring and summer were wet in the south-east and it made living easy, most of all for the worms and coccidia bacteria. These little critters just love the heat, humidity and the rains, in fact it takes rain for them to hatch and to infect your livestock.

One Barber pole worm alone can lay between 1,000 and 6,000 eggs per day. And of course a goat will not just have one worm. Multiply this by the number of goats you have and realize how many worm eggs you may have on your pastures and pens. Tape worms and other stomach worms don’t cause the deaths that the Barber pole worm does, but they cause diarrhea, unthriftiness and a suppressed immune system.

Coccidia are bacteria that take advantage of a suppressed immune system and cause diarrhea, dehydration and death if not treated quickly. Coccidiosis often piggy-backs on goats having a suppressed immune system from being wormy and take them downhill even faster.

12 Tips to Prevent Worms and Coccidia in Goats

My little blog post is way too short to give you all the answers and information you need to keep your goat herd healthy, but I wrote down 12 tips for you based on our experience that can give you a start and a chance to stay on top of the worms and coccidia.

1. Learn. Go to the American Consortium of Small Ruminant Parasite Control website and read and learn as much as possible. A fabulous six part article has been published by Steve Hart.  Another very good resource on this website is a goat dewormer chart, which lists all the recent wormers and their dosage and how to administer. The members, researchers, scientists, vets and producers who contribute to this website are on the forefront of fighting the goats’ internal parasites, the website and its articles are easy to read and are full of awesome information.

2. Watch. Keep a very close eye on our goat herd. We spot check every goats’ eyelids every couple of weeks per the Famacha method to see if their lower inner eyelids are a nice strong pink color or not. A pale color is an indication of anemia, which could be caused by the barber-pole worm, a bloodsucking worm. It could also have other causes, which also should not be left untreated such as iron deficiency.

We do a safety and health check on all goats four times a day, morning, noon, evening and bed check. This is not involved and doesn’t take a lot of time. We check if any goat is behaving as if it is not feeling well: off feed, standing alone in a corner, head hanging low, tail hanging low, hunched up. If we see any of these signs, then we spring into action and treat. Goats get sick quickly due to their high metabolism, but also recover quickly with speedy treatment.

3. Fecals. We check all goat poop that is not pellets or pine cone (pellets sticking together in the form of a pine cone) under a microscope and count worm eggs and cocci eggs. These are the categories of: “bread loaf poop” (not diarrhea, but comes out and plops down in the shape of a bread loaf), mushy poop (we call it “frozen yogurt”), and diarrhea. We do this right away when we find that poop. This is a “game” of speed and numbers. All goats have some worms and some cocci eggs (as we do!). It is an overabundance of either or both that will cause problems. Learn how to do a fecal so you can find out with what and how much your goat is infected. Then you know whether to treat for worms or cocci, or both and you can do it right away so your goat’s immune system doesn’t get compromised to the point of no return. Now, sometimes diarrhea can also have a different cause, but first rule out the simple ones and then go on to check for other causes. A good microscope can be bought for $100, the supplies needed are simple and cheap. A fecal done by a vet costs about $10 to $15. You do the math.

4. Prevention. We do a group fecal in every goat group about every three to four weeks. We collect a sample of various goat poop piles, mush them up and look at them under the microscope. If there are only a few worm eggs or coccidian eggs, we don’t treat, but if the fecal shows an infestation of one or the other or both, we treat. We treat that group only, not the entire herd. This is compromise to the mantra of “only treat the infected animal." With over forty goats and running a farm, we just don’t have the time to do a fecal on each goat once a month. So we test the group and treat the group. This, by the way, is a practice endorsed by the ACSRPC.

5. Stock Up. Have the wormer and cocci medication on hand in your medicine cabinet. Don’t wait until you have a sick goat with runny poop to have to order the medication on-line and have to wait two days before it arrives. These extra 48 hours without treatment can be the difference between a quick recovery and a slippery slope towards dehydration.

6. Rotate Pastures. Rotate pastures. We try to leave at least one pasture vacant for 30 days to give it a rest from grazing and we keep it mowed and harrowed to break up the poo and let the sun get to the insides of the poo where most of the worms and eggs are hiding. 30 days is not near enough, considering a worm can live six months or more, but it helps.

7. Rotate Species. We also rotate species through the pastures. After the goats leave a pasture, we rotate in horses or cows or chickens. The worms and cocci are species specific, which means goat worms and cocci cannot live in chickens or cows or vice versa. They are each other’s clean-up crew. The chickens eat the goat worm larvae and worms and they die inside the chicken because the chicken is not its natural host. Bingo. This is a huge help.

8. Copper Bolus. We copper bolus all our goats at least once a year, but most of the time twice a year. Copper oxide wire particles in low doses have been found to help with controlling worms. The emphasis here is on help.

9. Don’t Rotate Wormers. Use the same one until it no longer works, so you don’t create resistance to several types of wormers at once.

10. Give all Wormers Orally. Due to their high metabolism, injected worm medications (whether in the muscle or under the skin) are absorbed before they reach the worms. Pour-ons poured on are not effective for the same reason. Pour-ons given orally are also not effective, because of their oil based carrier, they will be through the intestines and out the other end before they’ve had a chance to work.

11. Don’t Underdose. Buy a weight tape to know the weight of the goat and account for the “spit-out” factor. If a goat weighs 140 pounds and at a dose of 1cc/25 pounds should get 5cc of wormer, give 6 cc. Except for Prohibit (Levamisole). Learn the wormer chart from ACSRPC.

12. Alternative Wormers. Use alternative dewormers in addition to the previously mentioned methods. Lespedeza grass or pellets, a tannin rich grass, is being documented as being very successful in reducing worm egg numbers and coccidia. Research on herbal wormers or diatomaceous earth or garlic is not conclusive and not consistent enough for me to say “yes, use” or “no, don’t use”, although there are many people who give anecdotal evidence and say it works and many other people who say it doesn’t work. We bought it and read the directions and again, for over forty goats, the directions for use were so complicated that we didn’t even try.

Considerations When Worming Goats

Last, but not least, don’t ever let your guard down, and if, which will happen, one of your goat comes down with diarrhea from worms or cocci, find out which it is quickly, and treat aggressively and immediately. Don’t wait for the diarrhea to go away on its own. It won’t. Your goat will become dehydrated. A dehydrated goat is a dead goat.

doeling

Isolate the goat, treat with the wormer and/or with the coccidia medication of your choice and provide supportive care such as an injection of banamine to make the goat feel better (as indicated by your vet), give plenty of kaopectate (pepto in a gallon jug), not only to slow the diarrhea but also to protect the lining of the stomach from the damage of the coccidia or worms, give vitamin b-complex and electrolytes and provide a clean and dry environment. Within 48 hours, your goat should be back up and feeling better, eating, and pooping bread loaves. Check with your vet. I always do, he has become a great friend and mentor since I’ve had goats.

No one ever said that goat keeping is easy, and this is one of the hardest parts of goat keeping – keeping them healthy. Stay on it, stay with it, and most important, don’t give up and ask for help early. Don’t accept that your goat has to die from worms and cocci. They don’t.

Hugs as Always from this Goat Nut.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



11/13/2014

A fun part of beekeeping is using the products of your beehives to put together creative, practical, and thoughtful gifts for friends and family.

First, let’s talk about honey. In and of itself, a jar of honey makes a fine gift. But, if you want to jazz it up a little, think about creative jars and bottles you can use. One of our favorites for gift giving is a “Muth Jar” of honey. It is a very pretty bottle, with a “vintage” feel. With a nice bow, it makes a great gift. You can also attach a nice looking honey dipper to make it even more special. Also, think about pairing the honey with other items such as: tea and a nice mug, a homemade loaf of bread, or cheese and crackers. Baked good made with your own honey are also a welcome gift. Bread, cookies, and other desserts can be made ahead of time, and frozen until you are ready to give them as gifts. Honey can also be used to make flavored “creamed” honeys that many people enjoy. I have also sometimes included a honey – themed cookbook with a jar of honey.

Beeswax can be used to make a wide variety of candles. I try to give different types of candles as gifts on different years. Some years I might give taper candles, another year I made tree candles, and this year I bought a mold to make pillar candles with a fern design. Again, the candles could also be paired with other items such as candle holders, decorative matches, and candle snuffers to make a nice gift set. Votive candles are very simple to make, and there are many types of votive holders out there to make each gift unique.

You could also try your hand at making beauty products with beeswax. One year I made beeswax lip balm using a kit. It was quick, easy, and made enough lip balm for all of my friends and family. There are also many recipes online for hand salves, lotions, soaps and bath products using honey and/or beeswax.

Another simple idea that makes a great stocking stuffer is beeswax bars. We make these small bars of beeswax by using a simple mold, gift wrap them, and attach a note explaining that it can be used for sticky drawers or windows, waterproofing leather boots, etc.

Of course, you can combine any of the ideas above to make fun gift baskets with several products of the hive!

Gift for the Beekeeper

Now, what about gift for the beekeeper in your life? Here are just a few ideas!

One of the nicest “beekeeping” gifts I have received came from my husband last year. He put together a gift box of exotic varietal honeys for me to sample.   It was so much fun to try unique honey that is not produced in this area – Chamiso, Tamarisk, Huajillo, Kiawe, and Chestnut honey. I have also received Heather and Chestnut honey as gifts. Even though I produce my own honey it is a lot of fun to do taste tests of these other varieties of honey!

If the beekeeper makes candles, you could look for a new mold for them to use. This is especially nice if you know they are looking for a particular type of mold. If they do not already make it, kits that allow you to try out making beeswax soaps, lip balms, or lotions are a lot of fun. It gives the person a chance to try it out, and they can then decide if it is something they want to continue making or not.

What about books? There are so many beekeeping books out there! Practical “how-to” books, books on the history of beekeeping, and narrative beekeeping books that are just plain fun to read. In my previous blog, Dealing With Winter Honeybee Withdrawal I talk about some of my favorite beekeeping books. There are also many videos about beekeeping as well!

Bee-themed items can be nice, but be careful of overdoing it! Honeybee jewelry, stationary, mugs, t-shirts, etc. can make great gifts, but make sure the beekeeper is not already saturated with these types of items.

If you are close enough to the beekeeper to know if they need a particular piece of beekeeping equipment, it will be greatly appreciated as a gift. If not, a gift certificate to a beekeeping supply company makes a practical gift that will always be welcome.

I hope that I have inspired you to make beekeeping a part of your gift giving this year! Happy Holidays!

Jennifer Ford owns and operates Bees of the Woods Apiary with her husband Keith. You can visit them at Bees of the Woods Apiary & Mallard Pond Maple's website.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


11/13/2014

Almost 30 years ago I made one of the best decisions ever. It’s led to a surprisingly happy rural life for my family and I, and I’m very grateful for this. Part of my gratitude gives me the urge to tell others what I’ve found and to explain how it works. That’s what I’m doing here. Perhaps your own version of this life is just the thing for you, too.

Although I’m tempted to call what I do homesteading, that’s not the best description. The word “homesteading” implies some kind of Little House on the Prairie time warp, and while we do share something in common with Laura Ingalls and her family from the 1880s, there’s lots that’s different, too. That’s because the world we live in today has changed in ways that make modern homesteading better, easier and more satisfying.

The best word I know of to describe what I’m doing here in my rural life on Manitoulin Island is a term I made up myself. I am a “countrepreneur”, as in a “country entrepreneur”. Here’s what I mean by that:

“Countrepreneur: a person who combines small digital and physical business ventures, hands-on practical activities, a do-it-yourself attitude and hard work to earn a living in a rural setting without ever having to leave the property.”

A countrepreneur does a lot of things directly, as any old-time homesteader would. Growing food, raising animals, fixing machinery, building a house, and directly meeting energy needs as much as possible are all part of my life. But a countrepreneur also does everything necessary to earn the money they need with their own business ventures, without taking on work that makes them leave the homestead property. Why is this important? Time and focus.

Leaving your rural property for 8, 10 or 12 hours a day invariably means that the actual management of your gardens, forests, buildings and animals takes a back seat to your absence. I can work a full day on the money side of my countrepreneurial ventures and still find time to split firewood, convince a stray beef cow to go back into her pasture, change the oil in my 1953 Farmall Super H tractor, work alongside my kids while teaching them about life, and still enjoy a couple of home-cooked meals a day with my family. Being a countrepreneur means I don’t waste time, gas and vehicle wear-and-tear just getting to a place where I can begin to earn money. Taking geography out of the equation as far as money earning goes is a huge source of joy to me, and I do it in ways that are always evolving. I’ll tell you more about the details later, but in the mean time let me leave you with one thing.

One of the greatest joys I have on our homestead is working alongside my family most days, and eating most meals with them around the big cherrywood table I made for the kitchen. I often feel like John Walton sitting around the dinner table in that classic TV show from the 1970s, and that makes me smile big. The foods we enjoy around that table are so special, especially things like the apple pies my wife, girls and other ladies bake together a day or two each year during their annual pie bees.

You can watch one of their good, old-fashioned pie bees in action right here:


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11/12/2014

Steps to winterize your barn. Transitioning your barn from fall to winter.Transitioning between seasons on a farm always brings new opportunities and new hurdles. Over the years, I’ve made sure that my little barn at our micro dairy is fairly weather proof and requires very few modifications for seasonal changes. But this might not be the case on all farms, so I’ve pulled together a quick list of seven steps that can help you get your barn ready for winter.

1. Ventilation. During the winter months, all barns need a source of fresh air. In my barn, all that is required for cold weather is simply closing the windows a bit but not all the way. I leave them cracked at the top for fresh air and ventilation. The stable area is also ventilated by a variable speed wall mounted exhaust fan that sucks the stale moist air out of the barn and brings in fresh air through the partially open windows. I like to keep the stable area around 45 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit during the winter.

2. Winterize the water lines and troughs. I start by begrudgingly draining my water troughs and the 3/4-inch black PVC water lines that feed them when I know I can no longer avoid the freezing cold. I store the troughs inside but leave empty water lines out in the pastures for the winter. I then set up a trough for the cows close enough to the barn to fill with a hose. But thanks to the freezing temperatures in the winter, I have to break and remove ice nearly every day. And I’m tired of it — and you will be too eventually. I am planning to put a floating electric heater in the trough this winter to keep the water from freezing. Transitioning the barn to winter.

3. Barn yard clean up. Every spring and fall I thoroughly clean up the barn yard where the cows stand and linger when they eat at their feeder.  I used to scrape off the manure regularly and put down a layer of hard-pack (a local form of crushed stone commonly used for driveways and dirt roads) in the fall and spring; however, I no longer do that. Instead of crush stone I now put down a thick layer of wood chips that I buy very reasonably from a local tree trimming and removal company. They work much better and last a lot longer than hard-pack. Plus they are easier on the cows' feet. And I'd much rather put a few rotten wood chips in my composted manure than crushed stones when I clean and scrape my barn yard.

4. Assess the barn yard shelter. Because I don't have to make many modifications to my barn to prepare for winter I try to make time to make one or two improvements every fall.  One fault in my set up is the lack of a run-in shed for my cows where they can find shelter during miserable cold rainy fall weather when they are out of the barn. So, this year I am optimistically planning to double the size of my hay shed/calving pen that is next to the barn and make it available as a run in shed for my cows to seek shelter during inclement weather.

5. Have a plan for removing and storing manure. Cows make 100 lbs. of manure per day. In the winter months, I have clean the manure gutters daily just to keep up. This is a big change from the summer when I only clean the manure gutters once a month because the cows are outside night and day. But when the cold weather arrives and the cows are inside a lot more I shovel the manure into a wheelbarrow and dump it on a pad just outside the barn door. Then every few days, I use my small bucket tractor to move the accumulated manure to the compost pile.

6. Adding plowing to the list of chores. While plowing snow is a non-productive chore that takes a lot of time it is unavoidable in snow country. Make sure you and your equipment are ready for the worst.

Have a plan for manure removal in the winter.

7. Plan to change the feeding routine. During the summer and fall my cows eat outside. I will give them a little grain while I milk them but otherwise, in the warm months they enjoy the lush pastures around the farm. However, during the cold months I feed my cows inside primarily, both hay and grain. When possible, the cows do still go outside, especially when I clean the barn and I will give them a bit of hay or haylage to keep them occupied.

Finding time to make improvements on a small dairy is difficult, even on a Micro Dairy.  Most improvements cost money and most dairy farmers hate to spend money even when they have it. Plus, time is often as scarce as money because of the time it takes to do routine chores that need to be done every day on a dairy. But it is important to keep you dairy moving forward by making even small inexpensive changes that make your micro dairy more efficient. Don’t adapt to your inefficiencies, eliminate them so you can improve the quality and flavor of your milk, reduce the time required to operate your farm and make it a more comfortable place for you and your cows, goats, sheep etc.

As I write, the weather outside today in central Vermont is cold, gray and rainy.  Most of the leaves have fallen and the days are getting shorter. Looks like I am in store for a few seasonal adjustments myself. And for me those can be the toughest.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.









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