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

Nutritional Benefits of Feeding Pumpkin to Chickens

feeding pumpkin to chickens 

Fall decor is one of my favorite things.  I love seeing all of the pumpkins, funky squash, gourds, mums and scarecrows that are displayed this time of year.  I also don't like to feel wasteful, so I like knowing that when I'm done with my fall pumpkins, I can feed them to my chickens to give them a nutritional treat that they will love.

Chickens will consume an entire pumpkin, from the flesh to the 'guts' and seeds.  They will even eat the skin if it's not too thick or too tough.  Pumpkins are full of nutrients that your chickens need to be healthy.

Nutritional Benefits of the Fleshy Parts

Chickens go crazy for pumpkin, probably because it's so good for them.  The flesh of pumpkins is full of vitamins A, B and C.  It's also packed with zinc and potassium.  All of these are key nutrients that your birds need, and may even be deficient in!

Vitamin A

Vitamin A can help regenerate cells and boost a chicken's immune system.  Chickens are usually deficient in vitamin A, which is not good considering it can prevent proper mucus production.  Lack of mucus can lead to dry eye and even respiratory problems.  Do you notice frequent blood spots on your egg yolks? One or two occasionally is normal, but if it's common, you may have hens with vitamin A deficiency.

Vitamin B

Vitamin B is a key player in proper energy metabolism, so it affects almost all of the body systems.  Growth, development and egg production are affected by vitamin B.  It's also crucial for proper embryo and chick development.  A deficiency of vitamin B can lead to hatching problems (due to poor embryo development) as well as kidney and liver diseases.

Vitamin C

Chickens can produce vitamin C, so it's rarely talked about.  However, it's important that chickens have plenty of vitamin C during times of stress.  Stress can occur during times of growth, a sitting hen, flock changes or illness.  Supplementing vitamin C can help your chickens fight heat stress and can prevent water belly.


Zinc is especially important for developing embryos.  It's a good idea to provide zinc to laying hens that you want to hatch eggs from about 2 weeks before they start laying the eggs that you want to hatch.  This will give them a good supply of zinc to pass on to the embryos to ensure proper development.  Deficiency of zinc can cause bone deformities and stunted growth.


Potassium is also key in embryo and chick development.  Provide a potassium supplement about two weeks before you collect eggs to hatch.  Potassium has also been shown to help chickens survive during times of extreme heat.  If you have hens that lay reddish brown eggs, potassium supplements will help to darken the red in the eggs.

Nutrients in the Seeds

Don't think that pumpkin seeds are too large for your chickens to eat.  They will eat them and they can digest them as long as they have plenty of grit.  If you feed pumpkin seeds, it's a good idea to make sure that they have access to the grit that they'll need.  You can feed fresh or dried pumpkin seeds to your chickens to give them a boost of vitamin E and zinc.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a key component in a healthy immune and neurological system.  Zinc can help to boost the immune system and can protect against coccidiosis, E. coli and bronchitis.  Deficiency of vitamin E can lead to wry neck and even severe neurological problems.


Pumpkin seeds contain zinc in the thin shell membrane that is under the shell of the seed.  Don't try to peel the shell off of the seeds before giving them to your chickens.  When you remove the shell, you'll also remove the membrane that contains zinc.

Feeding your chickens pumpkin is a good way to give them nutrients that they need in a treat that they'll love.  Are you feeding your chickens pumpkin yet?

Shelby DeVore is an agricultural enthusiast that enjoys writing about gardening, raising livestock and simple living. You can read her most recent posts on her homesteading blog Farminence.

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.

Reviewing the American Felling Axe by Hults Bruk

axe in the woods 

During the construction of our second cabin, hand tools have been an integral part of the process. Sledgehammers, wedges, and axes have always remained some of the most used items throughout our experiences, especially when it comes to dropping trees for building or for firewood. However, we've learned that the phrase is very true in telling folks that you get the kind of quality you pay for, and we experienced some time back a cheaper axe with a fiberglass handle breaking on us during use. When you're miles away from a store, there's no returning that axe.


We recently had the opportunity, however, to test and review an axe crafted by Hults Bruk. Hults Bruk is a company founded in Sweden in 1697, with experience in forging for over 322 years. This in itself is impressive to me, personally, as it tells me that they've been dedicated to the same quality for that long. Included with our axe was a very informative miniature booklet detailing the history of Hults Bruk, how the axes are made, and very important care tips including how to re-handle them.

The axe we were given the chance to work with is the American Felling Axe, a signature axe crafted in partnership with survival expert David ("Dave") Canterbury. Also included with the axe is another miniature booklet describing who Mr. Canterbury is, and how to use the axe properly. In total, the axe weighs 5 lbs with a 3.5 lb head weight, and comes with a 32" American Hickory wood handle with a MSRP of $214. Designed to fell trees comfortably true to its name, the American Felling Axe also is meant for bucking, limbing, and splitting as well.

information booklets came with axe 

First Impression

Upon removing the American Felling Axe from the box, I immediately took notice of the head of the axe, and how the marks were clear to show this is truly hand-crafted. My husband has always used axes around our homestead, dropping the very first trees to clear our build site years back with only an axe, a sledgehammer, and a wedge. He removed the leather carrying sheath, examining the edge first thing and commenting that it had a sharp, clean edge to it. It was nice and balanced in the hand, and lightweight enough for myself to carry comfortably as well. There always remains concern for a wooden handle on an axe, but I believe proper use and storage would prolong the life of it.

 closeup of felling axe


My husband and I had the ability to put this axe through multiple tests with its recommended uses. After felling a small Oak tree, my husband bucked the log swiftly and we moved on to lopping the limbs with the axe. As mentioned, it was lightweight enough that I was able to limb with it as well. Because this was a fresh log and we wanted to let it dry out before processing for firewood, the axe was instead carried to the wood pile where seasoned logs were waiting to be split. It split through medium-sized firewood hunks with ease, and made it through knots on the inside of the wood where splitting mauls in the past have had trouble breaking through.


I believe it would make a great companion tool even for those who use chainsaws, saving the user gas by limbing with this axe. If you have the ability, this wooden handle is beneficial in that you can replace it in the future. For those who are survivalists, it is lightweight enough to be packed easily while on the move and serve you while in the woods. While it may be a bit heavy and large to be considered a camp axe, but a bit too light for those used to a heavier felling axe, this is a happy medium in that it can be a multi-purpose tool.

As a whole, our impression of the American Felling Axe has been a positive one, and we look forward to putting it through more work. The craftsmanship of Hults Bruk is evident, and the sharpness of the axe was still there even after multiple uses. If you're looking for a quality axe to process wood on the homestead, or pack for survival and camping, give the American Felling Axe by Hults Bruk a try.

 bucking with the axe


View online: American Felling Axe - Hults Bruk
Head Weight: 3.5 lbs
Total Weight: 5 lbs
Handle Type: American Hickory wood
Handle Length: 32"
MSRP: $214

Fala Burnette is a homesteader with her husband at Wolf Branch Homestead in Alabama. They are currently building their own log cabin and milling their own lumber, along with raising heirloom crops in the Spring and tanning furs during the Winter. Read all of Fala'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.

Keeping Pygmy Goats

raising pygmy goats 

Pygmy goats are super cute, friendly and generally easy to take care of.  They don't require as much as larger standard sized goats.  Pygmies are also perfect to raise if you have children.  Here's what you need to know about raising pygmy goats.


Some people get pygmy goats with the idea that they would make good house pets.  Pygmy goats, although smaller than normal goat breeds, are still pretty big.  The average pygmy goat can weigh about 70-80 pounds.  Goats of all breeds, including pygmies, love to climb and will climb on furniture and counters.  I'm not convinced that pygmy goats can work well inside of the home.

With that being said, they can be raised in your backyard.  Pygmies don't require much room to be happy so they can be kept in a small fenced backyard.  If you plan on keeping a pygmy goat (or two) in your backyard, check with your local authorities or HOA to make sure that goats are legal.  Some cities specify that you cannot keep livestock, including goats, within the limits.  Other cities simply have regulations in place (size, housing needs, sex, etc.).

Goats do need shelter to escape from bad weather.  Make sure that the shelter provides them a dry places to escape from rain or snow.  Goats can develop hoof infections from standing in wet ground, so a dry place to get out of the rain is important for their health.

Goats will also need help keeping warm when it's cold outside.  A heat lamp and bedding will be enough to keep them warm.  If you have more than one goat, make sure that there is enough heated space for all of them to be comfortable.


Feeding pygmy goats is just like feeding other goats, just in smaller amounts.  Goats are browsers naturally and if given the choice, will eat leaves of trees and shrubs and grasses.  Pygmy goats are prone to obesity and can gain weight fast if given the chance.  A fat pygmy goat usually looks pot-bellied in appearance.  If you notice a fat goat, check them for worms by doing a FAMACHA score.  If they aren't wormy, chances are that their feed needs to be cut back.

Don't overfeed goats grain.  A goat on good pasture shouldn't need grain.  An exception to this is a pregnant mother or a doe that is nursing kids.  Generally, good quality pasture or hay is enough to keep your pygmy goats healthy.  If you do supplement their diet with feed, make sure to purchase feed that is formulated specifically for goats.  Don't buy livestock feed that is intended for multiple species.  Goats have unique mineral needs from other livestock species.  If you feed them grain intended for sheep, horses or cattle, they can develop nutrient deficiencies and become ill.


Pygmy goats are hardy and adapt easily to many climates.  If you feed and house them properly, you won't have many health issues from them.

Goats of all breeds are susceptible to infestations from the barber pole worm.  Barber pole worms are internal parasites that chew the lining of the digestive tract.  Once they've created a wound, they consume the blood that comes from the wound.  These blood-eating parasites can cause anemia in goats.  You should check your goats routinely for signs of anemia with a quick FAMACHA score test.  You can perform this easily at home in less than a minute with no cost.  If your goats show signs of anemia, worm them.  Only worm them if they show signs of anemia to prevent creating worms that are resistant to wormer.

Hoof issues are the most common issue with goats, including pygmies.  Goats should have their hooves trimmed every 6-8 weeks.  Do this quickly with a pair of hoof trimmers designed for goats.  While trimming the hooves, check for moisture between the toes.  The skin between the toes should be dry.  If you notice that it is wet or there is an odor, your goat may have hoof rot.  Treat it easily with a product like Hoof n' Heel to kill the pathogen causing the infection.

Pygmy goats are easy to raise, especially if you have a small space to keep them in.  With good care, pygmy goats are hardy and healthy and will require little additional care form you.  If you have children, they will fall in love with pygmies.  (There is a reason that pygmy goats are so popular at petting zoos)  Pygmies are curious and friendly.  They love attention and will enjoy spending time with you.

Shelby DeVore is an agricultural enthusiast that enjoys writing about gardening, raising livestock and simple living. You can read her most recent posts on her homesteading blog Farminence. You can read all of her Mother Earth News blog 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.

Making a Milker from a Breast Pump

Maggie and Magpie getting familiar with the milkstand (milker on stall in background) 

If you happen to have or stumble upon a breast pump, you can simply alter it to milk smaller breeds of goat. On our farm, we raise Nigerian Dwarf Goats and during our first year freshening, hand milking became tiresome and time-consuming. This is our first year milking and we didn’t want to invest the cash if we didn’t know how well our girls and we would do. Hand milking was easy but with two does who dropped twins, it took a lot of time down in the barn with them. A year ago, we would have looked at friends and laughed at the thought of owning goats. Further into our Homesteading journey, we decided that we would try it in the hopes of becoming more sustainable. We got our two does and our herd sire. We decided to go with unregistered Nigerian Dwarfs because we do not need a huge amount of milk, but we have a smaller field that they would do well with. Later on, we acquired an unregistered mini Nubian, and two more unregistered Nigerian Dwarf does from strong milking lines. We do not plan on showing so registration was not a deal breaker for us.

Soon the day came when our does dropped two sets of twins. Two boys and two girls and milking began. I have a Medula Pump in Style in which we converted. Converting wasn’t hard at all. The Pump does have a pulse already on it and we made some minor adjustments. We took syringes and cut the tips off of them so that they could plug right into the breast pump. We put the backpack on our stall and ran a drop cord to our milking parlor. Bigger bottles are recommended because they filled the small 12oz bottles up to quick! If you only have smaller bottles available, you’ll need another container to pour your milk into. I like the bottles because you can cap them really quick and this helps with contaminants getting in the milk. It’s a more closed process. You’ll learn quickly what it should and should not look like. If your goat’s teats are changing color, also known as blanching, you need to turn it down or you risk injury to the teats. Always wash the doe’s udder beforehand and use an antiseptic dip after to avoid mastitis. The only alteration that we made to the breast pump was using syringes that were the same size at the connection instead of the Nipple shields that came with it. The 25ml syringe worked great for us. Pair the homemade milker with a DIY milking stand and you are all set!

Marissa Buchanan is the owner of Buchanan’s Barnyard, a mini-pig rescue and poultry conservation farm. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and 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.

Five Winters: Two Conscientious Objectors Find Struggle and Salvation in Their 1970s Move Back to the Land

Introduction by Kerridwen Harvey

In 1969, Jocelyn “Josh” Harvey, born in the American Midwest, moved to a farm outside of Barry's Bay, Ontario, with her husband, David Harvey, who, ever the punster, dubbed the farm Gopherwood, and their one-year-old daughter Kerridwen.  There, the two former full-time English professors who taught in upstate New York, embarked on a politically motivated project of "living off the land" — or attempting to do so.

Conscientious objectors to the Vietnam War, although too old to be draft dodgers, they left well-paying academic jobs and the comforts they provided, to establish themselves as subsistence farmers, never having farmed themselves, on a hilly, 100-acre rock-encrusted farm. They had hoped to sell an anthology of American poetry to help support themselves, but they did not find any takers, so they were grateful for the generosity of an elderly relative who allowed them to survive those years.

They lasted "five winters" on the farm, as Josh characterized it. This piece, written by Josh just after they left the farm to look for jobs in Ottawa, tells of how they managed to eat in this inhospitable environment. Never returning to academia, Josh went on to become an accomplished arts administrator and advocate, working for many years at the Canada Council for the Arts. The family would visit the farm on occasional weekends and at Christmas until David passed away in1990.

Josh sold the farm in the late 1990s and the octagonal house Dave built while they lived there since collapsed. Josh visited the farm, now much grown over, with her daughter only 11 days before she passed away in August 2019. Seeing the farm after all that time gave her great pleasure. Josh remained politically engaged throughout her life and the Jocelyn Harvey Legacy Fund was established following her death to encourage democratic engagement.

Note the language of the piece is of its time (“mod cons”, Eskimo, etc) but has not been altered, because it speaks to a space and a time. That said, many of the themes resonate today with our society’s growing interest in local food, sustainability, and health-conscious diets.

Josh’s Story, Written in 1975

Six years ago, my husband, our daughter, and I moved “back to the land,” leaving behind a comfortable middle-class academic life, two salaries, supermarket food-buying, and other “mod cons”. We were frightened but elated.

This was the adventure other people seemed to put off until their retirement years. We were going to have it now, while were young and capable. We flexed our muscles and prepared with all the wilfulness we’d brought to our PhD dissertations to make something of wilderness life. Before the move, we read everything we could get our hands on: Bradford Angier’s cheery practicalities, the apocalyptic advice of the Whole Earth Catalogue, and enough “How To” books to make us imagine we knew something about the life were going to lead.

In the summer of 1969, we left for Canada, with two immense cast-iron stoves in our rented truck and a gritty look of determination. Within two weeks, we had found a farm in Ontario and bought it and by mid-July, we were beginning to wonder what we would live on without money. Despite our salaries — or was it because of them? — we had come to Canada with next to no money and laid down most of that to pay for the farm. But we were people, as our parents had always said, with “no sense of money," otherwise, surely, we would never have come at all.

We had hopes of eventual royalties from a book we had written and verbal promises of freelance editing work, but the immediate problem, now that shelter was taken care of, was very simple:  how to eat.

Food absorbed our next year, in a way that it doesn’t, even in these days of high food prices, if you can take your wallet with you to the grocery store. Among our multitudinous experience with food some were grim, some exhilarating. A few of them changed forever the way we were to eat, and almost all of them were an excellent preparation for living economically, even in the city, while eating wisely.

In February of the following year my husband’s aunt, a marvelously generous and adventurous soul, began to send us $100 a month (“I mean to leave it to you when I died, but I’d rather have it doing some good while I can watch”), and that money became a part of our salvation. But, in the meantime, from July to February, how did we manage to live? It was mid-summer already, too late to put in more than a tiny garden, seeding plants that would mature before our first expected frost date on September 7. And besides, the farm garden had not been tilled in at least five years and was full of Scotch grass, which has powerful spreading roots and must be painstakingly removed if it isn’t to fill up the garden again.

At the same time, we somehow had to made our aged farmhouse habitable. It had had no resident family for five years and had been used by hunters every fall. Crammed full with broken jars, ancient grubby tinned cans, school papers and old clothing, empty whisky bottles, limitless amounts of dust and dirt, and eight mouse-eaten mattresses, it required almost all our attention. Merely to clean it out, fix the leaks in the roof, and rip off five peeling layers of old flowered wallpaper was a full summer’s enterprise.

The well, too, needed work. The water was undrinkable, and the problem seemed to be that seepage from the land (which had once tenanted a herd of dairy cows) polluted it. The top of the well, flush with the ground, was covered by a rusty trunk door from an old Model T, the rest of which we located behind the granary. So, we cleaned the well, handing the buckets of water up from the bottom, head over dripping head, scoured it thoroughly and finally build a concrete retainer at the top. The water cleared and became deliciously fresh and cold in a few days, but in the meantime, we had little chance of providing our winter food supply. Besides, weren’t we optimists with no sense of money and a boundless assurance, based on our affluent past, that those royalties and jobs would eventually appear like gods over the hill?

By the fall it was clear that they would not. The publisher rejected the book as too expensive to produce and the editorial jobs never left Toronto for the hinterlands. We were back at the beginning — except that we needed food.

By Luck and Generosity, Bulk Food Abundance

At this point we were saved. A new friend of ours, who lived on a farm not far away, found a bankrupt health food restaurant in Toronto and bought up its dry food supply. She hauled it back in a 5-ton truck, set out bags upon bags of food in her living room, and sold it for a pittance. For $35 (very nearly our last money), we bought 100 pounds of brown rice, some soybeans, and chickpeas and, as a bonus, 50 pounds of cocoa!

It is one of the delightful paradoxes of subsistence farming that in the midst of general scarcity, there are often these wholly unexpected and sometimes excessive luxuries: berries which grow in immense abundance on our farm, proved to be one of them — we always had vastly more than we could eat or preserve; zucchinis, as every small gardener knows, were eventually another, but so sometimes were sweet corn, acorn squash, and beans.

We had bought a few chickens from a nearby farmer soon after we arrived and their eggs, Marcia’s dried foods, and skimmed milk bought in big bags from a local creamery provided the core of our winter food supply, along with berries and apples from our small orchard, a bag of potatoes cheaply purchased from a neighbouring potato farmer and an indispensable 50-pound bag of onions.

I am still appalled by another item we bought, raw sugar at $9 for 100 pounds from a Toronto wholesaler, who, we found out a few years later, should not have been selling raw sugar in bulk for human consumption since it sometimes contains ground glass! Needless to say, that was also far more sugar than we should have needed, and much more than we later used when our city diets had changed. From the same wholesaler we bought a large quantity of cooking oil.

Once these staples were in, we lived on our $6 monthly baby bonus. It was literally our “family allowance”. With it we bought cheese, carrots or a cabbage, margarine and apples to make apple sauce or juice for our daughter, who was nearly two. The apples and cheese were particularly precious.  I remember discovering one day that the neighbour’s dog had walked in, eyed the pound of cheese we’d just laid on the table, and wolfed it down. I sat down weakly and cried as if an old friend had died.

We never remotely considered buying meat, coffee or alcohol, but we allotted ourselves one shared cigarillo a day. At Christmas time we had lived on this diet for nearly four months. We were all determined that our Christmas meal would be something special. Each of us chose his or her favourite food. Didi wanted oranges, I remember, Dave chose a pound of real butter, and I asked for cottage cheese. Dave played Santa Claus with five dollars and a few pennies; he spent it all on these luxuries, our Christmas treats. Our meal was an elegant rice stuffing – without the bird.

Generosity to See Us through the First Winter

In February, shortly before Aunt Blanche’s check arrived to relieve the monotony of our diets, some neighbours who heard of our circumstances brought us the only gift they could afford to offer: four boxes of frozen vegetables. Not beans and peas, however, but frozen carrots, cabbages and turnips. Today I find the thought of frozen turnip indigestible, and of course these foods had lost a good deal of their vitamin content, but at the time we simply kept them outside and frozen and used them in cooking, thankful to have even that much variety.

I wouldn’t recommend the diet we lived on that first winter and I wouldn’t like, if possible, to repeat it. Five years later, I still find it impossible to swallow pea soup. But we did survive, and our health remained remarkably strong. Our daughter had a steady diet of pureed beans and peas, plenty of milk, eggs and juice, as well as the children’s vitamins we’d brought with us from the city. We met the recommended Canadian dietary allowances, I expect, but just barely, and very boringly.

Part 2 offers abundance in spring’s food foraging as the family’s back-to-the-land saga continues.

Jocelyn “Josh” Harvey was a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War and accomplished arts administrator and advocate, working for many years at the Canada Council for the Arts. This story is provided to MOTHER EARTH NEWS by Josh’s daughter, Kerridwen Harvey.

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.

Reflections on Loss of a Beloved Farm Dog

ms allie

Allie by Elaine O'Brien

September 4, 2019 will be a day I dread from now on.  That was the day I took my beloved Miss Allie, to the vet for the last time.  My Mom’s dog, Happy also took that last ride to the vet that day as well.  Both old girls were arthritic and were having more health issues that couldn’t be medicated, so the decision was made and I took them to get their ‘vaccinations’.  I was with both as they breathed their last, speaking to them, telling them I loved them and that they were good girls.

I got Miss Allie as a freebee, three days after her second birthday.  A friend gave her to me, papers and all.  This dog taught me how to command her by doing things that got me to respond to how she wanted me to tell her what to do.  and was so in tuned to me that sometimes I thought she could read my mind.

allie as  a pup

Allie at 4 weeks

allie with joy and jinx

Allie with Joy and Jinx

Miss Allie had two litters of pups, after I was pestered to get her bred.  She had ten pups and I kept one from each litter, Jinx is 8 and Joy is 6.  Joy has had two litters of puppies and Miss Allie spent her last months correcting the pups if they got too close to her or bumped her.  Fly loved to tease Allie, which always made me laugh.  Allie knew that pup was sassing her and in a way, enjoyed the ‘lip’.  Tucker was more scared of the old dog and kept his distance but he has a lot of Allie’s ways in him, that quiet demeanor, wise eyes and an old soul.  I look at these young dogs and see a family that has so much of the old dog in them that every time I look at them, I will grin, remembering the old girl.

All dogs are special in their own way.  Miss Allie was a clown, giving silly smiles to beg for food.  She was a quiet worker that was serious about making livestock go where they were supposed to go.  She will greatly missed.

The following is a poem I wrote over a year ago, about my Border Collies, so Tucker wasn’t even born then, but he might get a verse added on to the poem, later.

Border Collies

By Mary Powell

Get around them I said and she flew out of sight;

A black and white streak that ran into the night.

The goats had escaped and all scattered,

But with Jinx in control, she’d catch them no matter. 

Speed like the lightning, skill beyond measure

I smiled with pride at my wonderful treasure.

She stopped their escape and gathered them in,

Sat beside me, looked up and grinned.

No greater value, no better friend.


I can’t brag enough about my border collies,

They are worth more than gold and all the world’s coffee.

They constantly await my command or a pet,

Are they my life?  That you can bet!


Jinx’s sister is Joy, another true treasure,

She works much slower but it getting much better.

Jinx uses speed and pressure to herd,

Joy uses her eyes and barks not a word.

Together they gather the herd back home

And together they help me wherever we roam.

The old dog sits back and watches it all,

Miss Allie the dog who started it all.

This old girl her days are short but her memories and love will forever fill my heart.


The puppy that follows Joy and Jinx,

She’s the next generation and knows how to wink!

Fly is her name,

She has a great future!

Her daddy is a champion and he is a good teacher!


What would I do without my Border Collies?

I’d dread to think of that by golly!

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  website.  If you have questions for her about her goats or Border Collies, email Mary at

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: 'S' is for Seed, Storage, and Spice

Pea Flower 

Pea flower

On the scale of human history, our evolution from foraging to farming to the global economy of today is incredibly short. In about 14,000 years (+/-), we've gone from having minimally cultivated forest gardens to growing soybeans in the US to feed pigs in China.

Setting aside the absurdity of transporting beans over 7000 miles and the complications of the current trade war, it's quite a monumental leap from our first primitive gardens to our current food supply systems. What's more incredible is that the three S words listed in the title of this article - seeds, storage (as in food storage), and spice – are at the heart of that history.

Seeds, Storage, and Spices

Planting and saving seeds to produce food set humans free from foraging. The ability to store foods such as dried grains, legumes, and other crops and in the form of domesticated livestock allowed formerly nomadic people to build durable homes and stay put even when the weather wasn't ideal for food production.

As people genetically accustomed to living varied, wandering lives, being homebodies probably got a little boring. So, our predecessors innovated, improved production, increased transportation capacity, started exploring, and trading spices for temperate climate crops, furs for silks, raw wood for elaborate artistry, and so on.

Global Markets

That early trading shaped the history of our lives and our planet. It still underpins our global markets. Of course, we've moved well beyond trading black pepper for oxen. Today, our lives are so dependent on trade that a drone attack on an oil field in Saudi Arabia instantly sends gas prices through the roof in rural North Carolina.

Honestly, most of us self-sufficiency seekers find our current level of global inter-connectivity unnerving. We homestead precisely so we aren't at the mercy of the precariousness of those kind of supply systems.

Reverse-Engineering Our History

In a way, homesteading today is about reverse-engineering some of the progress put in motion by seeds, storage, and spice trading. We're not trying to go back to the dark ages, but we are trying to get back to the basics and focus on what really matters in our lives.

If you have been following this series, you might be wondering why I waited all the way until “S”, in an alphabetical introduction to homesteading, to get to something as basic as seeds, storage of food, and spices. I mean...shouldn't these things -- considered essential by humans throughout history -- rate above kitchen skills and mushroom cultivation?

The truth is, most of us are so completely dependent on the global markets that underpin our lives, that until you've done all that early legwork of raising your own meat such as ducks, getting edible landscapes in place, honing your horticultural skills, becoming a Jack of all trades, and more, then trying to get your head around the idea of providing all of your own sustenance is unimaginable.

Food Sustenance

Achieving real food sustenance – that which sustains life – is the hardest part of becoming self-sufficient. Food is so readily available and cheap these days, that many homesteaders never even come close to providing this one basic need.

Some of us homesteaders do a whole lot of work that makes it feel as if we are feeding ourselves. We pressure can our vegetables, make jam, ferment salted foods in 5 gallon buckets, store roots in boxes of sand, and feed our chickens with bags of grain. When you add it all up though – the jars for canning, the energy used for the stove top burner, the time taken to put up our salsa and sauce, the processed sugar and pectin in jam, the purchased boxes and hardware store sand, the commercial feed – quite a bit of modern homesteading is really more like re-packaging rather than truly increasing self-sufficiency.

This post is about moving beyond that kind of re-packaging that involves trading one set of purchases for a different kind of purchases. It's about what it really takes to provide food for your family. This level of homesteading isn't for most people because it takes time, land, and know how to do it.

Honestly, not everyone needs to homestead at this level either. We do still live in the age of cheap food and we can still use some fossil-fueled resources to run our homesteads. Yet, for those of us who have the capacity to be all in, the rest of this post is for you.

3 Steps to Greater Self-Sufficiency

Wheat Growing

Wheat grain

If you look back to that history mentioned earlier, you'll find clues to what's needed for the kind of self-sufficiency that leads to real sustenance.

1. You need to grow your own seeds.

2. You need to store a lot of food easily, in various forms, for long periods of time.

3. You need to cultivate spices for trade.

Let's take break this list down step by step.

Step 1: Grow Your Own Seeds

Ancient food independence was based largely on grains and legumes. Early wheat and beans were staples. In some places, corn played a role. Later, thanks to the spice trade, high calorie root vegetables like potatoes and sweet potatoes became a big part of the sustenance equation.

Saving Seeds

It's so fascinating to me that before tofu, hamburger, and chicken nuggets infiltrated our food system our staple foods were also our seeds. Wheat is not only the grain you eat, but the seed you plant. The same is true for corn and legumes. You also use the potato and sweet potato roots we eat to start new plants.

It seems kind of brilliant that nature would make the most nutrient and calorie dense parts of the most productive crops function as easy to store foods and seeds for new plants. For this reason, it makes sense to start growing and saving your own seeds with these key staple crops.

Roots as Seeds

Sweet potatoes and potatoes are the easiest to start with because you don't have to worry about cross-pollination issues. However, do be careful that the roots you use to start your new plants show no signs of disease.

Also, use good crop rotation for the plants you use as seeds. We all know about the Irish potato famine, which was partially caused by planting potatoes in the same soil for too long. That created a build up of potato pathogens that exploded during a period of severe rain.

Plants from Roots

Potatoes naturally form eyes that can used to start new plants. You just need to cut a 1-2 inch section of the potato with an eye or two on it and plant it at about 8-10 inches deep. Then, cover with two inches of soil until the plant top grows through. Top off the soil each time the plant appears until your soil is mounded above the starting point.

Sweet potatoes produce greens, called slips, that can then re-root and be planted. You can start slips by suspending the sweet potato in water or in moist soil. Then, when the greens grow and form root nodes at the bottom of the greens, plant them in soil and keep them well-watered until they are a few inches tall.

Grain and Legume Seeds

Many edible plants that flower and produce seeds for reproduction require pollination. Just as both parents contribute to the genetic make-up of a child, the plant providing the pollen and the plant pollinated both play a role in the resulting seed used to grow a new plant.

Pollination Preparation

As such, when saving seeds, you need to make sure that flowers are pollinated only by plants with the genetics you want in your next generation of plants. That means, you'll want to grow key plant varieties that work well in your soil and climate. Then, take precautions to prevent cross-pollination with any plants that might muddle the quality of your seeds.

Wheat can cross-pollinate with other weed and some weed grasses at a range of about 200 feet.

Corn is mainly wind pollinated and that pollen can travel for miles. Generally though, a planting buffer of trees around your property, and maintaining a distance of 660 feet from other corn crops, can reduce risks for GMO pollination. Also, timing your corn tasseling for at least 14 days later than your GMO neighbor can help.

Peas and beans are considered self-pollinating and usually only require distances of 10 feet between different varieties to maintain genetic quality.

You can learn more about seed saving from organizations like the Seed Savers Exchange, the Organic Seed Alliance, and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.

Math Break

Before I get into step two, do a little math with me for minute. If we each need about 2000 calories a day, 365 days a year, that means we need 730,000 calories a year.

Calorie Crops

In my garden, each sweet potato plant I grow in 2 square feet of loose, fertile garden soil produces an average of about 2,300 calories of food. Each potato plant produces about 1,700 calories in that same space. Those 2 square feet can also produce 700 calories of dried beans, 500 calories of meal corn, or 50 calories of wheat.

Plus, with good planning, I can plant two and sometimes three rounds of crops in that same space. Technically, if I wanted to live on potatoes and sweet potatoes, I could get 4000 calories out of just 2 square feet of soil space in diameter (and at least that deep).

Really though, no one wants to live on sweet potatoes and potatoes alone. We want more diversity in our diets. Also, some crops fail. In actual practice, I average about 300 calories per square foot of planting area.

Reality Check on Sustenance

So, now back to our math. For every person in your family, you'll need at least 2500 square feet of garden space for sufficient calories. That square footage, though, doesn't include paths or seed saving. It also assumes low calorie things like tomatoes and cucumbers are accent plants, not primary crops.

Most importantly, to get those kind of yields, you must constantly add fertility back to your garden such as by using manure, mixed ingredient compost, and more. That means you'll need extra land for housing and feeding animals and doing your composting to be self-sufficient on garden fertility.

In reality, in my North Carolina climate, sustenance takes me about an acre per person. Depending on your climate and food preferences, you may need more or less land. Be realistic in planning not only for your crop space but also for the fertility management necessary to support continued food growth.

Step 2: Store Food Easily

Chicken Keeping

Chicken run

Now, let's get back to this idea of storing food easily for self-sufficiency. I've personally got two freezers full of meat and vegetables sitting in my solar powered shipping container. Nothing about that kind of food storage is self-sufficient. I am completely dependent on my freezers working and the solar batteries that cost a fortune (and will eventually have to be replaced) holding power even when the sun doesn't shine.

Thankfully, that's not what I count on for my sustenance!

Electricity-Free Food Storage

I've also got a few hundred pounds of cured hams, dried beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and grains in outbuildings that require no electricity for food security. Besides that, I've got a diverse array of perennial foods from fruit trees and shrubs, sunchokes, wild greens, asparagus, herbs, and more to harvest from year round.

For perspective, our edible landscape areas provide us about 500 calories per square foot, a bit more than our annual garden does. Perennials take longer to establish. But, they require less work after the first few years and also help feed livestock.

Those livestock then also add calories by way of eggs, meat, and milk to our daily diets. That ultimately adds up to greater per food productivity in perennial food systems.

Fruits of our Labor

Sustenance the way our ancient predecessors provided it looked much like this too. There were long storing foods such as those intensively farmed staple crops covered earlier. However, they also depended on wild-foraged and hunted foods, seasonally grown foods, and a continuous harvest of perennial and livestock-based foods to achieve complete sustenance.

When you think about food storage, don't focus on what you harvest all at once and do a whole lot of processing to make safe for long storage. Instead, give more weight to those things which are easy to harvest, prepare, and store like dried grains, beans, and earthen stored root crops (e.g. in a root cellar). Also plan for a continuous harvest of diverse low-maintenance crops and livestock yields year round to fill in the gaps.

Step 3: Growing Spice

Perennial Food

Perennial food

Now those first two items will get you a good deal closer to total sustenance as a homesteader. But there's one more historical lesson to consider.

There were times in our human history when spices were valued more than just about anything. Spices still number among the most expensive commodities in the world – especially those that require hand-cultivation like vanilla and saffron.

You can absolutely grow your own spices so that you are not dependent on external sources. If you live in really warm regions, spices like cinnamon, vanilla, ginger, turmeric, galangal, allspice, annato, coffee, chocolate, and more are possible.

If you live in a temperate climate you can grow those things in a sunny space in your house or a greenhouse. Plus, you can also easily grow garlic, chicory, and horseradish roots; seed crops like mustard, fenugreek, fennel, dill, saffron, caraway, cumin, celery, coriander, lavender, poppy; and leaves from evergreens like rosemary, bay laurel, or tea.

Spice Trading

Really though, this idea of spice trading is not just meant to encourage you to grow spices. It's a metaphor for producing something that has high value in trade. It can be actual spices, high demand crops, or critical skills that are hard to come by in your area.

I am not a doomer who believes the world is about to end. However, I do believe that the world will change quickly in my lifetime due to a climate crises of our own making. Frankly, we must radically alter the way live to become less carbon-dependent. Or, the natural disruptions resulting from catastrophic climate change will make the supply systems we rely on less and less reliable and lead worldwide devastation along the way.

As such, the global goods and services that people depend on now will become less accessible in the future. Being able to offer those valuable services or goods locally not only strengthens community resilience, it gives you trading power to help you achieve sustenance.

If providing your own sustenance is part of your homesteading goals, grow as many of those seed crops as you can. Store food easily in as many non-fossil fuel dependent ways as possible. Cultivate high value crops or skill. Then, you'll be in a much better position to provide sustenance to your family in a less certain future.

As a bonus, doing this also reduces your carbon footprint and makes you part of the solution. Self-sufficiency is not just about meeting our personal needs, it's also about saving our shared planet so we can all have a future worth living.

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.

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