Homesteading and Livestock
Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.


Keeping Your Working Dog In Line

 

That morning started out like any other morning on the farm, with Fly helping me with chores.  My soon to be two-year-old Border collie gets to help me move goats around, while I put feed out.  Fly moved perfectly and perhaps a little slower than normal but not enough to cause alarm.  Two hours later, when Fly walked in the door from playing in the yard with her brother, Tucker, her back legs were not working correctly and I immediately knew we had to get her to our vet.

Dr. Arbuckle pulled blood on Fly but nothing showed up but the physical exam was much different.  There were no broken bones but she was definitely out of alignment and needed a chiropractic adjustment.  Not only was Fly whip-lashed, two other spots along her spine were out of place.  Fly was not happy with the adjustment and dragged herself over to me after the adjustment, back legs still not working correctly.  Two weeks of complete rest were ordered and I carried my scared pup out to the car and home.

The day of the adjustment, Fly's legs went from barely working to not working at all.  I carried her outside to do potty breaks, which she quickly figured out what I was trying to help her do, by holding her back legs for her.  I put her on a puddle pad in the living room, while I was sitting beside her and the rest of the day, she was in the crate.

The second day she showed some improvement and was standing on her own but needed me to carry her outside to do her potty breaks.  You could see the look in her eyes that she did not understand what was happening to her.  My heart was nearly broken, thinking she would never fulfill the dreams I have for her going to a sheepdog trial.  I wondered if I would ever see her circle the goats and creep up on them in her flashy way.

Two weeks later, Fly was starting to come around to her normal self or at least she was trying her best with all the restrictions she was under.  The vet adjusted her again at the two week visit and ordered another adjustment two weeks later.  By the third adjustment, Fly was bouncing around as if she had never been unable to walk.

Our vet was very adamant about Fly getting regular chiropractic adjustments.  She lectured me that every working dog should have regular adjustments, to keep them in working order.  They are athletes and like human athletes, the occasionally tweak their body and need to be put back in alignment.  Dr. Arbuckle also said that Fly's longer body style also makes her more prone to slipping out of alignment.  Lesson learned.

Your working dog is an extension of you and that extension is not an unbreakable.  They strain muscles and break bones.  It is up to you as their owner and caregiver, to ensure they keep themselves in top operating shape.  If they get tumbled by a cow or goat, you may want to consider chiropractic care, just to help them recover faster.  If your vet doesn't do chiropractic care, you should find a vet that is trained to do adjustments so you can keep your working dog athlete in tip top shape.

Mary Powell is a goat rental business owner and agricultural educator with more than 27 years’ experience working on ranches, farms and feedyards. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Animal Science from Kansas State University with an emphasis in Livestock Production Management. Follow Mary and her many misadventures with the goats on Facebook at Barnyard Weed Warriors and Ash Grove Goat Ranch or on her BarnyardWeedWarriors.com website.  If you have questions for her about her goats or Border Collies, email Mary at barnyardweedwarriors@yahoo.com. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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You've Heard About Pet Shops, but What About Poultry Shops? Part 1

The brooder 

When you have a barn fire, you lose more than just the motivation. You lose pets and years of hard work. We are beginning a new chapter in our book and moving from Rescue into Retail. It was truly a hard decision but with how our situation unfolded, it was the best decision for us and our animals.

Moving into retail is a different world. Being a chicken, goose, duck, and quail lover, I was looking for items for my kitchen, my traumatized birds, and myself and going through eight different websites was time consuming and really just a hassle. One website for medications, one website for specialty items, and another for kitchen decor. I stopped browsing and went to bed. The next morning, my husband asked if I had had any luck. An idea struck. What about a shop that has everything poultry related all under one roof? No more hopping from website to website to find what I, and probably other enthusiasts, were looking for. 

Since I know nothing about retail, I asked a few close friends how it works. For the past two months, I have researched and started putting together items that I liked. Then, I asked my poultry friends what they would like and it kept growing and growing. The pet chicken world needed somewhere and the homesteading community needed somewhere besides browsing multiple websites online. So my husband and I went back to work. We converted a large shed to hold two separate coops and a brooder. The middle that was left will be the brick and mortar store that we plan to open this upcoming March. There are some amazing websites and brands for both the pet chicken and the working chicken and we are incorporating both into our store. 

I have met some truly amazing people throughout this whole venture who love poultry just as much as I do and I get to work side by side with them! The fire took a loway from us but it has given us many blessings that we would not have had if it had not have happened. So after we figured out that we were going to roll with this crazy idea, work started. Like mentioned above, we bought a large shed. The very first thing we put in the shed was a brooder. 

After the brooder was in, we worked on the coops. One went on either side. We then started adding displays and shelving. Not long after this, product started coming in! We were well on our way to opening but still had a lot of work to conquer to make this crazy idea a reality. Part 2 will get into the nitty-gritty of retail.

Marissa Buchanan is the owner of Buchanan’s Barnyard, a mini-pig rescue and poultry conservation farm. Connect with her on FacebookTwitterand Instagram. Read all of Marissa’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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.

Urban Chicken Predators

When we moved from out in the boonies to a small town and started our new little flock of urban chickens, I thought we'd have an easier life where predators were concerned. Foxes, the bane of our chicken's existence for years, were left behind, as were hawks and owls. 

Imagine my chagrin when six out of twelve of my pullets were taken by a sneaky stray dog that wasn't even interested in them as a food source but was just after satisfying its killing instinct. MY killing instinct was strongly activated too! It was one of those moments when I was really glad we don't own a gun, because shooting that stray was mighty tempting. 

Thankfully, living now in an area with established veterinary inspection services, we had a door we could knock on. I lodged a complaint and, after a while, didn't see that dog again, which makes me hopeful that it was caught. Nevertheless, there are other stray dogs in the area, so, for now, I only let my chickens out under supervision while we figure out a good, affordable, and reliable fencing solution. 

There are other predators in the area, too, which I am wary of:

  1. Cats. My neighborhood is full of street cats, and while I'm a great cat lover and see the importance of cats in keeping the population of rodents like mice and rats under control, feral cats can easily go for chicks and young pullets (though they are less likely to mess with adult chickens). 
  2. This is somewhat mitigated by our own (chicken friendly) cat being very territorial and guarding the yard against other felines. 
  3. Rats. We have some massive rats in the area, though thankfully not inside the house right now. Rats can steal eggs and young chicks, and are strong suspects in the case of two chicks of ours disappearing without a trace. 
  4. Snakes. Like rats, snakes will likely go for eggs or young chicks. Snakes swallow eggs whole and you won't see any broken shells. Thankfully, the snakes in our area are not venomous. 
  5. Mongoose (mongooses? Mongeese?!). in our area, the Egyptian mongoose is pretty common. These little carnivores are very good at sneaking into chicken coops through even the tiniest openings and can decimate a whole flock in the blink of an eye. We haven't encountered them here yet, but other chicken keepers in the area have shared horrifying tales. 

Bottom line: Never assume you get fewer predators when you and your chickens move to another area. There will always be something that wants to eat your beloved birds, so invest in a watertight coop and well-fenced run. 


Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna, her husband, and their four children live on the outskirts of a small town in northern Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Anna's books are on her Amazon.com Author PageConnect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blogRead all Anna's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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.

The Honeybee Swarm that Got Away: Lessons from Overextending on Homestead Tasks

A year into our homesteading adventure, I was talking to some friends who had retired about their new boat and their plans to sail the Bahamas all winter. “Hmm,” I mused, “It’s funny that when you say, ‘I bought a boat,' it has entirely different connotations than when I say, ‘I bought the farm!’”

Homesteading offers many joys and even more challenges. It’s easy to fall into the trap of romanticizing the “good life” when we are stuck in city traffic or hemmed in by suburban monotony (I am not picking a fight; I am one those people who had the romanticized notions).  The people who actually get to homestead are the lucky ones who find that perfect intersection of time, opportunity, money, grit, and fearlessness to take the plunge.

Incredibly Exciting and Terribly Hard Work

Buying a farm or land, moving toward greater self-sufficiency, experimenting with heritage breeds and old-fashioned pastimes is incredibly exciting and terribly hard work. We moved from the inner city to the country and took on a lot: renovating a house, plowing and planting new pastures, starting a garden, starting an orchard, buying a pregnant team of mares, buying a pair of pregnant pigs, buying chicks, building pens, coops, acquiring two new puppies and setting up fences — all while living 20 minutes away in a rental house and while my husband had a full-time job!

I found the fantasies being swamped by the realities of being scared of my own animals, having to destroy a colt with a broken leg, waking up to the cops telling me my horses had gotten out, my guardian dog biting the mailman, discovering that thunderstorms are a whole different ballgame when you have livestock. The reality was hard.

Over time, we woke up to fact that we are bound to this land and these animals (and that it’s really difficult to find a quality farm sitter.) So while the beauty is still present every single day, the wonder can get lost in the pressure to plant, manage, problem solve, weed, prune, castrate, breed, move, spray, mow, bale, haul, dig, keep on weeding, mulch, and (did I mention) weed.

The Honeybee Swarm that Got Away

So this morning when I went outside to walk the dogs, I rounded the barn and realized something was off.  The air ahead of me was a moving brown haze and the dogs all pulled back on their leashes as a loud buzzing filled my ears. The hive of honeybees that occupied the hollow tree along the road had thrown a swarm. They were just leaving the tree and were gathering on a small peach tree just about 40 feet from the original hive.

I had had a feeling that this might happen. Don’t ask me why, I am a rank amateur when it comes to bees. In fact, we had talked about purchasing a hive in case they did swarm but, of course, we had never gotten around to doing it. After calling several beekeepers (none of whom were available to help us out), we found a store that we could buy a hive, gloves, and veil to try to catch the swarm. However, it would be at least two hours before we’d be back and ready to try. We stood in the kitchen and suddenly it struck me, we didn’t have to do this.

I think as homesteaders we feel compelled to take advantage of every opportunity that comes along. It goes along with the risk-taking and the willingness to give things a whirl, but the cost can be really high. We can find ourselves overextended and strung out with too many plates spinning, unable to do anything well and feeling like we really have “bought the farm”.

It was hard, I kept weighing the advantages of catching that swarm, but I had pigs to move, a guy coming over to buy a sailboat, and seedlings that needed planting. The equipment would set us back about $250 — that would buy a lot of high-quality local honey. Plus, I already had a hive which, though I couldn’t get the honey from it, was diligently pollinating all my trees and crops.

So, I let the swarm get away, I was moving pigs when they left. I didn’t even see which way they went. I hope they make it but even more so, I hope we make it and part of ensuring that that happens is sometimes letting opportunities fly away.


Nicole G. Carlin is a Northwest Pennsylvania homesteader and educator who raises heritage-breed livestock on her 22-acre, restored Singing Wren FarmConnect with Nicole at Smoldering Wick, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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.

The ABCs of Homesteading: T is for Tools

Tasha Greer Garden Stakes Soil 

Hi all!  If you’ve been following my ABCs of homesteading series here on Mother Earth News, then you know I love using the alphabet to write about homesteading stuff.  We’ve worked our way through Asceticism, Borrowing, and Creativity, Ducks, Edible Landscaping, Fodder, Goats, Horticulture, Income, Jack of All Trades, Kitchen Skills, Legal Considerations, Meat, Mushrooms, Nutrition Management, Organic and Beyond, Ponds and Preparedness, Quiet Reflection, Responsibility, and Seeds, Storage, and Spice

That brings us to this post “T is for Tools”. Personally, I am a low-tech homesteader. I do as much by hand, without electricity or fossil fuels, as possible. But there are still some tools I use routinely that make my life easier and our homestead operate better.  

I bet you already guessed that I am about to give you the A-Z rundown on all the tools I have found beneficial for gardening, livestock care, food preparation, and more. Before I do though, let me give you a little advice on homestead tool selection from my own experience.

Hard Costs

Every tool you own comes with all sorts of costs. There are the obvious costs such as to buy, maintain, and operate your tools.  Then there are the more difficult to calculate costs like your time in caring for your tools and space storing them when not in use.

Psychic Costs

If you go a layer deeper, then you get to all the psychic costs of having tools. If you become dependent on a tool for your homestead activities, then you may start to worry about what would happen if you didn’t have it. That happened to me when I started heating half my greenhouse.

I realized how dependent my plants were on that heat. So, then I had to buy a back-up heater in case something happened to my primary heater or all my tropical edible plants would die. I do that with brooder lamps and bulbs too. Having two of the things I rely on is the only way I can minimize those endless “what if” thoughts that come with tool dependence.  

If you buy a tool and don’t use it, then you must bear the burden of being wasteful. For anyone focused on greater self-sufficiency, that feeling of having wasted anything is as palpable as a punch in the gut. For me, the best thing to do when I realize I made an unnecessary tool purchase is to use the gift economy to find that under-utilized tool a new owner who will use it.

Don’t be a Tool!

Of course, the best way not to be a tool when buying tools you don’t need is… to not buy them! Or at least take time to really consider whether you need that tool before you take the leap.

Very few things are urgent on the homestead. Urgent stuff tends to be matters of life and death, and for that, you either have the tools already or you don’t. Most of the other things we feel a sense of urgency about are driven by wants or fears.

Wants, believe it or not, do subside quite quickly if you ignore them. Fears, too, quiet the more capable you become of doing things with fewer and fewer tools. Owning more tools, by contrast, just make you more worried about how you’d live with out them.

So, if you really think you need a new tool, put it on your calendar a month from now.  Then, don’t research it and try not to think about it until that future date.

Trust me, if you sit at your computer reading reviews and watching all the ways other people use those tools, you’ll just want it more.  But if you give it a rest, most of the time you realize you already have something else that works just fine to do the job. Or, you’ll find a better method and are glad you didn’t waste your money.

ABCs of Homesteading Revisited

Now that you are primed not to rush out and buy everything on my homestead tool list, I am going to give you the list. These things work for me in my environment. They may or may not be right for you.

If you happen to feel the compulsion to buy something after reading this list, go back to your ABCs of homesteading.  

  1. Take an ascetic approach and try to minimize your tool dependence.
  2. Check around and see if you can borrow it from someone else before you buy.
  3. If you can’t borrow it, then get creative with stuff you already have before committing to a new tool you may not need.

If you still feel like it’s something you need, put it on your calendar and decide a month from now!

My Favorite Homestead Tools

A: Actively Aerated Compost Tea (AACT)

I bought myself a big hydroponic pump and filled a clean trash can with chlorine free water. Then, I put in a large compost tea bag full of vermicompost in the water, threw in some blackstrap molasses and feather meal for good measure, and aerated the mix for 3 days.

B: Backpack Sprayer

After that, I used a backpack sprayer to apply that aerated compost tea, and all the beneficial organisms generated through that process, on all my perennial plants and in my vegetable garden.

Now, AACT is not a one-time deal. You must apply this stuff to plant leaves and soil at least once a month in warm weather (and preferably more often).  I spray about ½ acre of plants and it takes several hours each time. But it’s a whole lot easier than dealing with all the fungal pathogens and pests here in my Southern climate.

C: Cast Iron Skillet

I do 90% of my cooking in a single cast iron skillet. I usually don’t even have to wash it so that saves me work on doing dishes. We also have a couple extra deep cast iron pans with lids for making bread and stews. 

D: Drums (55-Gallon or Larger)

55 Gallon Drum Rain Barrel

We use 55-gallon drums for tons of stuff. Metal drums are used to scald pigs and store feed. Plastic drums catch rain from our rooftops, hold livestock water, act as heat sinks our greenhouse, help water our garden, and more.

E: Electric Mill

We were lucky enough to have someone give us an electric mill. We use it to grind all sorts of wheat grains. It also works great on corn which is extremely easy to grow but hard to crack and grind manually.  

I don’t know that I would have spent the money to buy an electric mill if we hadn’t lucked into one.  But now that we use it all the time, we would likely replace it if necessary.  

F: Fencing

I am not a fan of electric netting because our land is heavily sloped and full of briars. However, electric wire, step in posts, and appropriately powered chargers are a great tool for rotational grazing just about anywhere.

Pest prevention fencing around orchards and gardens is also an excellent tool to keep from having all your hard work be eaten by deer or dug up by your pet dog.

G: Greenhouse

Greenhouse

I used to consider my greenhouse a waste of money. But then I built a few compost piles inside it, added some black drums of water, and got those heaters I mentioned earlier. That raised it to a USDA zone 9-10 climate year-round.

Now, I grow all sorts of exotic and expensive (to buy) spices and fruits not suited to my native climate. We also have a wood fired hot tub and a seating area in there.  So, we use that greenhouse as an extension of our indoor living area all winter long.

Instead of streaming videos, we soak and garden! The benefits to our mental and physical health and our food supply are astounding.

H: Heated Box

You’d be surprised how many cool things you can do with a heated box. We use ours for fermenting stuff.  You can use it to start plants. It works great as an emergency brooder.  You can make cheese and yogurt. It can even work as a dehydrator for some things.

All you need is a bottomless wooden box with a hinged lid. Then you install a lighting fixture such as fluorescent tube lights or a light fixture. You can change the amount of heat by using different bulbs or adjusting the distance of the light from whatever is inside.

I: Internet

I have reservations about spending too much time on the internet. I read that it has a carbon footprint greater than air travel and maybe on par with concrete. But there is no denying that it is an invaluable tool on the homestead. With just a few keystrokes, I can find possible answers to just about any challenge I have.

The key with this homestead tool, though, is to limit my time online and try to figure things out on my own first. If I jump on for every question, then I don’t use my own reasoning capacity and I don’t experiment. That leads to boredom and me being a dumdum. (And those things often lead to me buying stuff I don’t need!)

J: Jacket

I get most of my clothes second hand from thrift stores. However, a heavy duty, good condition farm jacket is hard to find. So, that’s one tool I consider essential enough to buy brand new. My current Carhart canvas jacket is several years old and even withstands goat nibbling.

K: Knives

I never thought about knives so much until I started homesteading.  The number of things I chop up to preserve, prepare from scratch, and occasionally process is astounding.  Without a good knife, I’d have carpal tunnel by now.

Get the best knives you can afford and have them professionally sharpened as needed. Then, also do your own steeling and sharpening at home to keep them in shape between professional tune ups.

L: Landscape Tools

We have a few scythes that we use to mow our meadowish lawns at certain times of the year. We also use scythes to keep certain native plants from seeding and spreading int our domesticated planting areas.  

I depend on my metal wheelbarrow with an indestructible tire to move mulch, gravel, compost, firewood, etc.  Plus, I keep two off all the standard landscape tools like shovels, pitch forks, rakes, pruners, loppers, hand saws, hoes, hand rakes and trowels.

M: Mushroom Inoculation Tools

Simple Mushroom Inoculation Stand

You can inoculate 100 shiitake logs a year without an angle grinder, inoculation stand, and a spawn plunger. But I wouldm’t want to! These tools save days of work. They also save our backs and limbs from repetitive use injuries.

N: Net on a Pole

I raise ducks, chickens, and occasionally turkeys. It’s been a long time since I’ve needed to use a net to catch or rescue any of them. But, early on in my homesteading career there were a times when having a long-handled net was invaluable. Plus, you can use it when fishing.

O: Organic Soil Amendments

Probably the homesteading tool we’ve spent the most on is all sorts of organic soil amendments.  We’ve brought in compost, leaf mold, mulch, straw, and more by the dump truck loads to build soil where there was none. 

There is nothing so satisfying of having a fresh load of something good for the soil dropped in your driveway. I have never once regretted spending the amount I used to pay for groceries to buy bulk compost and grow my own.  

P: Power Tools

We don’t use a lot of power tools. But there are a few that make projects a lot easier.  Our chainsaw is indispensable for keeping the tulip poplar from taking over our cleared area and staying stocked up on firewood. We keep three electric drills charged and ready for action. We also have some saws for woodworking that we use often.

Q: Quad ATV

Early on as we were setting up our homestead, my dad got a little quad ATV. I hated it because it was so loud. But it was helpful for hauling things on our hilly landscape. It was also fun for city dwelling guests who came to visit. I don’t use one anymore.  But it played an important role early on when we were doing a lot of heavy material moving.  

R: Rags (Lots of Them)

Old clothes make great rags. But nothing beats those pre-hemmed rags they sell in large quantities for cheap. They’re often made from re-claimed t-shirts or terry cloth. I literally use them until they start to disintegrate and then I compost them.

Look for the 100% kind. That way you aren’t adding microplastics to your gray water or septic system each time you run them through the wash.

S: Slicer and Salad Spinner

My partner, Matt, bakes all our bread.  We also make our own bacon and other meat products. Using an electric slicer makes our homemade products as easy to use as commercially produced stuff. So, it’s never a hardship to make a sandwich or slice a country ham prosciutto thin for family gatherings.

A salad spinner is also critical if you are growing a come and cut lettuce patch for daily salads. Get the good quality pump kind instead of the hand cranks. They’re easier to use and tend to last longer.

T: Tall Work Boots

When you are processing pigs in 45ā„‰ weather and wind, keeping your feet warm and dry is key to comfort. With water sloshing over the sides of the scalding vessel, low boots just won’t offer much protection. Or if you have torrential rains for months and your mud is 6 inches deep and sloshing with every step, tall boots are a necessity. 

It can cost $150 for a good pair of knee tall work boots. I wait for sales or use a coupon to cut costs. Plus, I consider all the times I won’t have to crank the heat up in my house just because  my feet got frozen outside. High quality, tall work boots with plenty of room for thick socks are a worthwhile winter essential for me.

U: Utility Buckets

I have an endless assortment of utility buckets.  The majority are the 5-gallon type that you get from the hardware store.  Many are the heavy-duty BPA free feed buckets you get from the farm supply store. Then, there are all the freebies you can get from restaurants. Plus, there are the galvanized styles for more decorative uses.

I have never regretted bringing a new utility bucket home. I only regret when I leave them in the sun too long and the plastic rims start chipping.  Keep the lower quality hardware buckets and freebies out direct sunlight for longer life.

V: Vermicompost Bins and Beds

I have several vermicompost bins and beds all over our property. I feed them just about everything I can, from livestock bedding to kitchen scraps, to weeds, paper products, and more because they make the most amazing compost of all.  

You don’t need fancy bins. But you do need to spend on some red wrigglers to get started. Plus, you need to give them a suitable, safe space to do their good work. You may need to buy a tote or build a bed frame to protect them.

W: Weed Trimmer

I don’t use a lawnmower. But I do love my battery powered weed trimmer. I use it to cut weeds to the soil level every few days until they die. If you do that in hot, dry weather, even the worst weeds eventually give up the ghost. And you never have to use weed killer.

X: X Marks the Spot

I keep lots of black markers on hand to write on jars, plant markers, meat packages, and more. (OK, this one is a stretch for the letter X, but markers are really a must have for me).

Y: Yard Stakes (or Garden Stakes)

Tasha Greer Garden Stakes Soil

These are endlessly useful for staking plants, marking out new planting areas, protecting young shrubs, and more. If you live near a vineyard, you can often get their old stakes for free. They often cut them off at the soil, so an 8 foot stake becomes a 6 foot stake.  But that’s tall enough for most yard applications.

Even if you have to buy these though, it’s good to have them around. You can even use them to make quick arbors in just a few minutes.

Z: Zip Ties

Zip ties save the day in so many situations. Now these are plastic. Even the UV protected ties break down when exposed to sun for a long time.  So, don’t use them for everything or you’ll have little bits of broken zip ties all over your homestead…forever. Or worse, they’ll biodegrade in your soil.

Conclusion

There is no question that well-chosen tools make homesteading easier. But I’ll warn you 90% of the stuff that seemed so important when I first started homesteading was a complete waste of money and time. And when I blew it, I did it big time… the wood chipper we spend more time fixing than using, the movable coop that broke in a few weeks on our unlevel land, the 100 foot chicken netting and solar charger that couldn’t keep a chicken in, much less a predator out, and more!

Take your time choosing tools and weigh all the costs, even the psychic ones, before you commit to new tool dependence.


Tasha Greer spent several years homesteading and gardening in a suburban home in Maryland before moving to a nearly 10-acre rural paradise in North Carolina in 2014. Together with her partner Matt Miles, she raises goats, poultry, worms, and maintains an extensive edible landscape. For an up-to-date list of Tasha's current works visit her here.


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.

Three Good Reasons to Get Bees on Your Homestead

honey bee on a purple salvia flower 

Reason 1: Pollination in your garden

If you grow your own veggies, you will notice the difference a bee hive makes to your harvest. I went from having very little success with crops like eggplant, zucchini, capsicum, pumpkins and tomatoes, to producing a bumper harvest with just one bee hive placed near my veggie garden.

Bees visit flowers to gather nectar and pollen for their own food, and in the process they pollinate flowers. This means you will have better rates of pollination for anything in your garden that produces flowers. You will produce more vegetables, fruit and seeds that rely on insect pollination. 

Reason 2: Honey and beeswax

Who doesn't love freshly harvested raw honey? When you collect your own honey, every batch is different depending on where the bees have been foraging. Bees make the honey from nectar. They mix the nectar with enzymes and reduce the water content so that it can store for a long time in their beeswax honeycomb. 

If you have several hives it is worth investing in gear to extract the honey. Then you can also sell or barter your excess. If you only have one or two hives you can still collect honey by crushing the honey comb and straining it through a sieve. 

When you harvest honey, you will also have some of the honeycomb to melt down into beeswax. This is a very useful natural product. It can used to make things like candles, salves and balms, furniture polish and beeswax wraps. Again, any excess can be sold or bartered. 

Reason 3: Learning about bees and meeting other beekeepers

I recommend that every new beekeeper joins their local club and attends a course if possible. There is so much to learn about bees. We are always reading and talking to other beekeepers. This is a great way for everyone young and old to expand their knowledge of biology. A few friends have found that is a hobby they can share with their children as well.  

beekeeper looking at a frame of honey

Reason not to: Saving the bees

If you've heard that bees are endangered and that is your main reason for getting a hive yourself, this is not a good reason to get bees. Honey bees are not endangered, there are plenty of commercial beekeepers looking after honey bees. Getting a hive that you then don't or can't look after puts those bees at risk of disease, which can then spread to commercial apiaries.

Many other bee species are endangered and need your help. The best thing you can do to save these bees is to plant flowers and stop using chemical herbicides in your garden.

If you are ready for the work (regular inspections of your hives) then you will get the benefits of enhanced pollination for your veggies and orchard, tasty local honey and a crash course in biology (and lots of new beekeeping friends). Then you have all the right reasons to be a beekeeper.


Liz Beavis is a small-scale cattle farmer and soap-making beekeeper in rural Queensland, Australia. On her Eight Acres Farm, she sells beef-tallow soaps, honey and beeswax, and is the author of Our Experience with House Cows, A Beginners Guide to Backyard Chickens and Chicken Tractors, Make Your Own Natural Soap, and the Solar Bore Pump Handbook. Connect with Liz on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

Homesteading With The Right Partner: Dogs

 

There are so many excellent articles written under this heading about “how to” and “experiences in homesteading” it is hard not to be redundant. I prefer to write about those unwritten topics such as in this blog. The seldom spoken about topics that are sometimes taken for granted.

Wildfire. We have resided remotely at 9,800’ elevation full time for over 23 years. Our nearest neighbor is about one mile away and due to a wildfire last year we live in a small oasis of green within an extensive burn scar area. We always knew wildfire was a possibility but hoped we would never experience one. Residing in the mountains of a semi arid state like Colorado there is always the risk of wildfire but it was something we had hoped to avoid.

Recovery takes a long time. Going through the third worst wildfire in Colorado history is terrifying and stressful. Fortunately Carol and I went through the experience with each other which is better than experiencing it alone. There were various service groups which assisted but it takes a long time to get over a wildfire disaster and the service groups leave shortly after the disaster. We then had to lean on each other for our continued survival.

Living the dream together. All the hard work we have endured over the years to make a better life for ourselves could never have been accomplished without a good partner at my side. It has always been my dream to live as we do now but it was a totally new concept to Carol who has spent the majority of her life in cities. Moving to the mountains was a huge transition for her but she has adapted well and found new skills she never anticipated. Being able to live out a dream is pure happiness but having someone you love sharing it with you is beyond description. 

Carol gives 100% effort. When we first discussed mountain living, my wife, Carol, said she was willing to give it her very  best effort. Therefore, we set forth with the planning and had Carol shown any reluctance or uncertainty I doubt we could have prevailed for over 23 years. It is not just being able to cope with all the strenuous work required but someone to encourage you and pitch in and share the load when the going gets tough.

Sharing hard tasks. As I sit here typing on my laptop and looking out the window watching the snowfall, I am reminded that this type of lifestyle is enough to seriously challenge anyone, but having a good wife by my side to help carry the load sure does make life here much easier. Tackling the difficult or often routine tasks together is just about as good as it gets. We have firewood to cut, haul, split and stack, approximately 260 inches of snow, on average, to move and shovel, plus homestead maintenance, which all goes much easier when shared.

Time for entertainment. When we prepared to homestead remotely, we had taped movies on VCR tape to watch when we finally settled into our new lifestyle. We had two boxes of them and a few years ago, we tossed them having never watched any. Life lived remotely and heating with a woodstove doesn’t leave much time for watching movies, going out to eat or engaging in other social events. It seems on our homestead there is always something that needs doing so things get pushed aside like watching movies. Just recently we have set aside Sunday afternoon as movie time and so far it has worked out after 23 years of preparation.

Radical lifestyle change. The life we now live is so far removed from our previous lifestyle in the various cities where we had lived. Having a good partner by your side is instrumental in maintaining this lifestyle and we do it together because we love this lifestyle. Having a willing and selfless helper is what makes living here on the side of the mountain so rewarding. 

Dogs as part of the family. Having a willing and capable partner to help out on our homestead is clearly instrumental but also having our three German Shepherd dogs to assist is another asset that warrants mentioning. Living remotely we have numerous predators that roam our area and the dogs senses are very acute. They warn us of anyone coming around and any predators in the area. When we let them out in our fenced in backyard and all noses go into the air we know there is something to pay close attention to.

Canine warning systems. The dogs are our early warning system and it would be very difficult for anyone to sneak up on us without their letting us know. While Ruby is deaf that doesn’t mean she isn’t an integral part of the early warning system. Her sense of smell is acute and being deaf she is always more aware of her surroundings. Our canine family look out for dangers to protect us from and we look out to also protect them. Life lived remotely is a cooperative effort between Carol, myself and our dogs. There have been times that we have suddenly and unexpectedly come upon a predator. Having our dogs with us on leash has been beneficial in those situations.

Close encounters. I specifically recall one time before we had fenced in our backyard. I had taken our dog Ben on leash out back to do his nightly business. Suddenly, his hackles rose up and he gave a low growl that sounded like it came from the very pit of hell itself.  It was the type of deep growl that would stop anyone or anything in their tracks. We went immediately inside and I later went out and checked for tracks in the snow. We were within 8’ of what appeared to be a large mountain lion standing in the shadows at the corner of our house. We have had many such incidents in 23 years here in the mountains.

From the first day we moved here until today there is always something demanding work or effort and life is interesting and always changing. Very few days are the same. Both Carol and I were thrust into a completely different lifestyle but neither of us would change anything about it.


For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their lives in the Sangre de Christo mountains of southern Colorado, go to their blog site. They live in a small cabin with their four German Shepherd Dogs at 9,800 feet elevation. Read all of Bruce's remote-living blog posts for MOTHER EARTH NEWS here.

 


 

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