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


Should You Assist Chicks During Hatching?

chick assisted hatch

It's summer, and incubators are abuzz with activity as backyard chicken breeders are hatching batch after batch of chicks.

Day 21 of incubation is always an exciting time. You can hear cheeping and eggshells are cracking, and your new chicks are coming out one by one — except the ones that don't.

Raising chickens is a precarious journey of loss and rebound. You can do everything right and still lose birds, because that's life. There is rarely 100 percent success in egg hatching. It's expected, but still it's heart-wrenching when a chick breaks through the shell and then gets stuck. Then you, too, are stuck in a dilemma: should you help? Or should you let nature take its course?

Here's my take on this: By popping those eggs in the incubator, you have already strayed from nature's course. There are many reasons to use an incubator, including timing, quantity, and reliability, but no matter what, I have always found that hatching rates are better with a reliable broody that keeps perfect conditions of temperature and humidity.

In other words, if something goes amiss during hatching in the incubator, it's usually my "fault". Maybe the temperature was too low or the humidity not high enough. Either way, it's my responsibility to help all the chicks that possibly have a chance of making it.

Some people say that chicks that are unable to come out of the shell on their own are deformed anyway and should be culled. I have not found it to be so. Often, the chick gets stuck to the shell because of sub-optimal hatching conditions, but with some assistance, will be fine within a couple of days.

In the photo, you can see one of the chicks from our latest hatch. I practically had to peel the shell as if it were a hard-boiled egg. It was pretty weak when it hatched, but a few days later, I couldn't tell the difference between this chick and its peers anymore. There would have been absolutely no sense in letting this, now perfectly healthy, chick die.

So when should you assist in hatching? A crucial principle is "first do no harm". If the chick doesn't have enough time to absorb the yolk sac, they will die. In the majority of the cases, I'd say it's better to step back.

However, if the chick has pipped (made a hole in the shell) but not zipped (pecked its way around the perimeter of the egg) for 24 hours, or if it has started zipping but failed to continue, and the membranes are drying and turning yellow, the chick may be stuck.

In this case, prepare a bowl of lukewarm water, take the hatching egg out of the incubator and, wetting the membrane just below the shell with your fingers, begin gently breaking off bits of shell. Sometimes the chick will be able to get on with minimal assistance. Sometimes you will have to do the whole job, like with my little friend here - the membrane was so dry and stuck I had to peel it off even when the shell was already gone.

Be very careful not to damage the chick's fragile skin while chipping off the eggshell. Chicks are extremely delicate, and you could easily make them bleed. Go slow and steady when you help them hatch.

I hope you enjoy a rewarding hatching season with excellent success rates.

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.


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Back in the Homestead Saddle: Starting from Scratch amid Health Crisis

Fenced In Raised Bed Garden

Seven years ago, we moved back to the U.S. after 10 years in Australia. We started blogging about our plans to build a homestead on the 5 acres we had acquired outside San Antonio, Texas. Most of the blogs were about what we were learning in Australia about cheese making, wine making, beekeeping plus our plans to build a “barndominium” (read that earlier Australia to Texas series here).

We started building the barndominium while still in Australia, working intensely during periods when we returned to the United States. Finally, I returned while my wife, Julie, finished up working. I completed the barndominium, and we set to work on the property and building large gardens and cultivating crops that would make us somewhat food independent. We developed some large raised beds, worked with neighbors and family on livestock and built much of our planned homestead.

Then, life happened. Both my knees became very painful and that made maintaining the property and gardens increasingly difficult. Julie was still working and was traveling a lot, so she could not pick up the slack for me. Our daughter and family relocated 100 miles away, north of Austin.

Much of the joy of our life back in Texas evaporated and we had only been back less than four years. We needed to make a change, even if it meant downsizing our dreams.

Downsizing a Farm-Life Dream (and with Great Ambition)

We spent much of our adult working lives in suburbia and in various locations around the world. We didn’t want to go back to that type of life. We like the water and in Australia had always lived on or near the water, as many Aussies do. On the Northwest side of Austin, Lake Travis made a good target.

The south side of Lake Travis appeared too much like suburbia, but we found many options on the north side of the lake. We would be a little further from town (Julie relocated her job to Austin), but we could get a house with ½ acre and room for a mini-version of our homestead. Better still, the property had a couple of fruit trees and, because we had bequeathed gardens and fruit trees to others every time we moved, we dubbed the fantastic Naval Orange tree the “Karma Tree”.

We moved nearly four years ago with plans for raised-bed gardens, seriously cleaning up the property, building out a nice backyard pool and outdoor kitchen, and perhaps upgrading the home from the neglect it saw over its 35 years of existence.

Better from a quality of life standpoint, we found community groups in the musical and theatre arts — activities and hobbies we enjoyed and had not had time for during our working career. Such groups didn’t exist near where we lived outside San Antonio without driving an hour or so each way. We became very active in these community groups and, along with getting physical therapy on my knees to avoid surgery, procrastinated getting started on our gardens and other homestead activities. It was always “as soon as my knees get better” or “right after our next musical performance” type excuses.

Our fruit trees were productive, and I made and canned enough marmalade to keep family and friends well stocked. We started nursing our pear tree back to life and after our homestead south of San Antonio sold, we built the swimming pool and decks. There was still much to do though.

Homesteading through Health Impacts, Tragedy, and a Pandemic

The following summer, I finally decided to get knee surgery. The first surgery was complete, and I headed home the following day. That evening some of our family who were relocating to our area arrived and, tragically, our nephew had heart failure and died despite the best efforts of family and EMT. We spent the next few months both recovering from surgery and the loss as well as helping family adjust.

The second knee surgery followed over the Christmas holiday and the next few months continued to busy with therapy and family activities. Again, life events took over and the gardens and homestead suffered.

The last 12 months have seen a lot of changes (I’m sure for many of you as well). My knees were back near 100 percent. I was getting much more active and peeling off a bit of the weight from a few years of lower activity. We continued to work on our property and had solid plans for the outdoor kitchen, interior renovations and the gardens, trees, and sheds. We acquired many of the materials to do all the projects, scheduled the work (where we needed outside contractors) and started the demo and preparation work early in 2020.

I was doing a fair amount of substitute teaching work to help buy the materials, so my time was somewhat limited, and we expected the renovations and building activities to take much of the rest of the year. Then the Covid-19 virus started making news in the U.S. We were in Australia during the SARS epidemic, and I was doing a lot of work in and out of China so we were extremely aware of the effects of a pandemic as we had lived through one from close range.

Suddenly, we all had lots of time on our hands. Our community music and theatre groups shut down. Our church and church choir activities were on hold. Julie was working all the time from home rather than driving to the office four or five days a week. I launched into the demo and renovations with some enthusiasm as those activities distracted me substantially from the continual stream of bad news.

We were not oblivious or naïve, either. We had pantries stocked, freezers full, a fair amount of canned and frozen items and even quite a few gallons of fresh water if needed. We learned those habits on our previous homestead and never changed — all good for us at the time. We figured out how to get things without leaving the house and since we had bought months’ worth of building materials and had good internet, were very satisfied in our newly isolated condition.

Hand Holding Yellow Squash

First squash of the 2020 season

Making Progress on Rebuilding a Homestead from Scratch

We finished the house renovations (at least to a high degree) and happily turned our attention to the outdoor gardens.

In our previous homestead, we had a really nice and large area so we had nine 3-by-10-foot raised gardens in a 3-by-3 grid. We also had a large compost pile, a sturdy chain-link fence around the entire with automatic watering (hot Texas summers mean lots of regular watering). Each raised bed could be fitted in the winter with plastic hoops covered with plastic, so we had two gardening seasons a year.

They were wonderful gardens, but we didn’t have that much room and frankly didn’t want anything that large to maintain. Instead, I built a U-shaped garden from three 3-by-10-foot raised boxes. In the current gardens, the corner posts are 8 feet tall and the entire garden is covered with fence wire with 3-inch squares. The top is also covered with 30-percent shade cloth. Summer days here are long and hot with intense sun, and the shade cloth helps protect the plants from a bit of the intense midday sun. The sides and top covers will make it easy to cover the garden with plastic before the first freeze in December — we usually only have 10 days of freezing weather so a plastic film cover and simple incandescent lighting (old-fashioned Christmas tree lights are my favorite) turn the garden into a greenhouse and enable us to garden all year. In fact, I like our winter garden season the best.

Back on the Homestead Saddle (and Writing About it Too)

As a result of the pandemic shutdown, I am back in the saddle again. Our musical and theatrical productions are shut down until 2021. Our church choir, the same. I am not eager to substitute teach until a vaccine is available. Given the current upswing in Covid-19 infections, who knows for sure if we will have school in the fall (we are in Texas, so I am guessing we will try).

But guess what: I am really, really happy that we are back to gardening and, in the midst of a very tough time — neither of us has a job right now but that’s minor compared with what many are dealing with — we have a refuge of happiness right on our property. We take long walks near the lake each day, tend our garden, deal with our animals, and have safe visits with our family nearby. What is not to like about that.

I plan on continuing to blog about our experiences, which you can follow the full series here, and have included some shots of our new gardens and backyard areas. Things I’ll write about:

• Selecting suitable land for a ½-acre homestead

• Mentally and physically preparing for a homestead rebuild project

• Energy: Wind and Solar (we have equipment we will be installing soon)

• Water - procuring enough garden in Texas for the garden

• Food preservation: canning, fermentation – things we have been doing for several years now

• Food growing: What we are doing with our garden

• Home wine making: Something we enjoy a lot and have a log of experience with

 

If there are any topics that you are the most interested in, let us know and we’ll prioritize those. As life has taught us during the past couple of years, none of us have a guarantee for tomorrow anyway, so let us make the most of today.

 

Jim Christie is a retired IT sales and marketing executive and sales person, aspiring builder, homesteader, beekeeper, cheese maker and gardener. He moved to rural Texas with his family after ten years in Australia. Read all of Jim's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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Keep Summer Bees Cool

 A watering tank for your bees that automatically fills itself when the water level falls

When it’s hot in summertime, a full-size colony of bees will use a lot of water — a lot more than you think. At a minimum they’ll use a quart a day. Maximum, a gallon a day. For every colony you have. Think of how much that is for 10 colonies for a week of hot, hot weather. At the very least, that’s 10 quarts a day, for seven days — 70 quarts, or nearly 20 gallons of water, minimum if you allow for some of that water to evaporate naturally.

When large colonies start collecting a gallon a day, you have 70 gallons you have to have available — that’s more than a 55 gallon honey drum plumb full in just a week.

How to Provide Beehives with Water

And they will get that water somewhere. The closer that water is the better, of course. The easier the better. The safer the better. You do supply all the water your bees need, right? If you’re lucky, you have a nearby spring, river, lake or pond. Lakes and rivers are great if there’s not a lot of people traffic nearby, wading, fishing, or boating. But smaller bodies of water — puddles, creeks and ponds — can be problematic during hot summers, because they tend to go dry, right about the time the bees need them most. Keeping an ample supply of fresh water just for your bees is a no-brainer that we far too often overlook. So first, make that happen. How? Good question.

Build a pond. If you don’t have that pond, consider making one near your bees if possible. A small, continuously filled fish pond is ideal. Installing an automatic filler is necessary, and being able to disconnect it in the winter is also necessary, but it’s a good first choice. But, if that’s not in the cards…if you are on a roof for instance, a smaller version of this is possible, that is, a self-filling livestock watering device can work and is a good idea. They don’t go dry because a float valve turns on when the water level falls below a preset point and refills the water holder (just like the pond). Of course you have to have a dedicated water line to that device…and a flexible hose doesn’t work as well as a ridged pvc pipe, so there’s that hitch to get over, but it’s possible.

A little afternoon shade especially later in the summer is not all bad

A slow-drip faucet works, but remember: A gallon a day per hive. It better not be too slow. Pails, pools, stock tanks, barrels…anything that holds enough water works. But the smaller the container, the more you have to fill it the more likely it will go dry on just the day the bees need it most. And once dry, they go somewhere else…bird baths, swimming pools, pet bowls, air conditioner drains…lots of places you don’t want a bunch of bees. Bees need water and will get it somewhere. You wouldn’t think of letting your dog, cat, chickens or other animals go without water. Why your bees?

Ventilation for Beehives

Screened bottom boards have taken a roller coaster ride in popularity during the past few years because of their role, or no role in Varroa IPM, but for ventilation Varroa plays no role at all. More than 120 years ago, A. I. Root suggested, and then made for sale screened bottom boards for his hives expressly for better ventilation. He used window mesh screen because he wasn’t worried about Varroa or other creatures, he just wanted fresh air inside.

Langstroth was insistent on having fresh air inside his hives and made certain there were many and large openings for air to go bottom to top and escape rapidly. For your bees, use screened bottom boards in the summer, and make sure there is escape above for all that warm, moist air to rise and release. If you use inner covers or crown boards raise them up so air can move up even faster than simply through the ventilation holes provided. Lift up the cover, too, for better air movement. The bees will guard the cracks and crevices you create, and you can always reduce them if you think robbing might be a problem…and it might if it is so hot that the plants have quit producing and scout bees find a weak hive to plunder.

Some beekeepers make sure each box has one less frame: nine for 10 frame, seven for eight frame, to widen just a bit the gap between frames to assist air movement — not a bad idea, especially if you have seen hives so hot the wax begins to sag. That is not a pretty sight. When it becomes very warm, say 110 degrees or so, it gets soft, and loses its shape and lets go of the frame if it is heavy with honey or brood.

If your climate is so hot, so very hot that sitting in the afternoon sun rises the inside temperature to wax softening  conditions, then afternoon sun, no matter that Varroa or small hive beetles hate full sun, should be avoided. That dappled afternoon shade isn’t all bad. 

Some beekeepers go so far as to offset supers on the back side of the hive, leaving a one inch gap or so, so hot air can escape from every super and not have to travel all the way to the top of the stack. Bees will guard these entrances, and even in very rainy weather little water will get in the hive, and then, it will simply run out the front door. The increased ventilation these gaps allow more than makes up for this small inconvenience.

And better ventilation is good for other things than just being cool. Think honey dehydration…you need to stay hydrated, but your bees want to dehydrate all that honey they are bringing in. And if warm, moist air can’t readily escape, it takes more bees fanning to get it dry, and until it’s dry there’s less room to store incoming nectar…it’s a downward spiral from the bees’ perspective…so give ‘em room, give ‘em ventilation, and give ‘em enough water to get them through another hot, hot summer.

An automatic watering device is perfect for your bees because it doesn't go on vacation, take the day off, go somewhere else to work, or just plain forget to refill itself. 

Full sun in the spring can be good because it keeps the hives warmer, but later in the summer, when it gets really hot, those trees in the back will provide some welcome shade.

Kim Flottum is the Editor-in-Chief of Bee Culture magazine, a leading beekeeping resources covering the practical side of keeping honeybees, from one or two colonies to hundreds. He is the author of In Business with Bees, The Honey Connoisseur, and The Backyard Beekeeper, among others. Before writing about bees, Kim worked four years in the USDA Honey Bee Research Lab, studying pollination ecology. Read all of Kim’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

kbb-leaderboard

'Blind Hog and Acorn’ Podcast Brings Ozark Homesteading to Listeners

 

For a little while now, I have been blogging, or attempting to blog, for MOTHER EARTH NEWS, but life always seems to get in the way. We live on a farm (who has free time?) and until last fall, I also held a part-time job off the farm. Time was, and still is, a precious commodity.

And for some odd reason, sitting and typing up a written blog post seemed to take way too much time as it should  This is purely my perception. I think the act of sitting down and writing was more of a luxury when we had so many other things that needed to be done.

One of my issues with blogs, particularly for farmers, is that they are meant to be read, which means the reader has to be “glued to a screen” to scan over the written words. Podcasts? They are ultra portable and can be enjoyed while the listener is busy doing other things, like pulling weeks, mucking out a barn — you name it.  When you subscribe to a podcast, new episodes are downloaded to your smartphone or tablet, ready and waiting for you to listen. If I don't have time to read blogs, why should I expect that you do?

And with that, gentle reader, I am writing this blog post to invite you to my new podcast: Blind Hog and Acorn. The old saying even a blind hog picks up an acorn every now and then is pretty much the running theme of our farm, marriage, life in general. We are fortunate to enjoy the life we live, and how we got here seems to be by pure chance, or dumb luck.

I will be talking about life in the Missouri Ozarks, how people with no previous farming backgrounds (us) learn by doing: our mistakes, our successes, and with me being me, I will go off on the occasional tangent. Still need pictures? I will be posting them on our website as well, under the post for each episode.

That said, please look up our podcast Blind Hog and Acorn on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts. Until later, take care and get outside.  I can hear the weeds growing in the garden!

Mary Jane Phifer is a heritage cattle farmer and owner of Steel Meadow Farm in Mansfield, Mo., where she and her husband raise Irish Dexter cattle and Spanish commercial goats on their farm. Listen to Mary Jane’s Blind Hog and Acorn podcast, and read all of Mary Jane’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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Home, Garden and Orchard Layout

Cleared and Staked Out Area 

Cleared and staked out area.

The Off-Grid and Free series recounts one homesteading couple's journey to build a new homestead in Nova Scotia.

The last time we corresponded, we had cleared out a section of property, flagged out the location of house, garden, orchard, well, septic and solar array and were ready to do the nitty gritty on the house.

A Quick Personal Update

But first a bit of house keeping. As many of you know, we moved from the wilderness of Saskatchewan to Nova Scotia to start our third and final homestead build. It was my intent and desire to write occasionally to bring you along on the journey and share some of what we’ve been up to.

To be honest, I’m still finishing the “eternal house,” have just started building our greenhouse, am working on getting ahead on firewood etc. and I’m simply maxed out. But we still have the pep to get things done; in fact, part of the last year was taking some of that pep and training for sprints to compete as an old guy. I used to run sprints as a younger man and then gave it up for about 35 years. I paid a high price last year in terms of time and pain (torn quad, gimpy knees, torn hamstring) but I set the Provincial records this winter in my age group. I have no desire to toot my own horn and I mention it to offer encouragement to all that no matter your age and aspirations, it’s never too late to follow your dreams, including living a more self-reliant life.

In regards to this self-reliant life we’ve enjoyed, a little over a year ago, we were asked by a publisher to write a book about self-reliance. That book, The Self-Sufficient Backyard: For the Independent Homesteader took an enormous amount of our time to write. We compiled 40 years of experience and knowledge into one comprehensive book and we can now breathe a sigh of relief that it is on the market and we can get back to building our homestead. I’ll provide a link below for anybody that cares to check it out. Now let’s get back to our post.

At the time we had the roadwork done to access our small clearing in the forest, we also had the excavator dig a well to confirm we had a viable water source here. Based on the positive results, we installed the well and staked the house location properly in relation to that well.

One of the reasons we chose this exact location is because the view of the ocean is directly in front of the house which faces south. Perfect! We want the house to face south and having a view of the ocean as well is a bonus. With my properly set compass and 100-foot tape measure, I set out to locate the corners of the house.

Compass and Declination

I should mention that it is important at this stage to have a compass set with declination factored in. In North America, you might be off plus/minus 20 degrees from due south if declination isn’t taken into account.

In a nutshell, the earth’s core is molten iron and it creates a magnetic field that is slowly migrating around. The fields created by this molten iron core are in a northern “zone”. This is magnetic north which is what your compass will point to whereas the axis the earth spins on is true north. Depending on where you live, true north might be east or west of magnetic north. Declination is the difference in degrees between true north and magnetic north based on your particular location. There are websites dedicated to showing declination for all areas and then it’s simply a matter of finding your particular area with the amount of declination and adding or subtracting those degrees from magnetic north (what the compass points to) to find true north. Once you have true north, 180 degrees from that is due south. Most compasses have a way to modify and set the declination and many modern GPS units do so automatically or have a user entry.

House Layout

Getting back to locating the house, I drove a stake in for the back corner (NE corner) of the house. To be the most accurate, I then set my compass right on the top of the stake and used that as a stable platform for siting the next corner (SE corner) due south. I didn’t pound any stakes in too deep since they will need a bit of tweaking. I ran my 100 foot tape measure and measured the appropriate length for the house and set the southeast corner. I repositioned the compass on top of that stake and repeated the process with tape measure and compass to find the last 2 corners. In my case corner 3 was due west (SW corner of the house) and corner 4 was due north which was the northwest corner. I then took my tape measure and measured both diagonals. The idea is to make those two measurements exact. By doing so, I know I have a perfectly square outline.

It may take some tweaking to get a perfectly square shape. If the diagonal measurements are unequal it means I have a parallelogram. The idea is to turn that parallelogram into a rectangle or square which will be the ultimate shape of our house. Equal tape measurements signify we had right angles for all 4 corners. Now we knew exactly where the house would sit.

We needed to make sure the solar array was also facing due south and we needed to consider if the nearby trees would shade those panels on the short days of mid-December when the sun is at its lowest angle. It’s easy to overlook that when you are laying everything out in summer and the sun is high in the sky. It will be a huge problem if one sets the solar array and doesn’t take potential shading in winter into account. It is deceptive how low an angle the sun can track in winter especially the further north one lives.

Our greenhouse would be attached to the south side of the house. We needed to clear and make sure trees would not be a shading issue there as well.

Garden and Orchard Layout

The garden and orchard were the next areas to tackle. Johanna researched the proper spacing for the various types and quantities of fruit trees and fruiting plants we wanted to grow and using graph paper laid out where everything was to go. To start with, we wanted to plant cherries, peaches, plums, apples and pears along with grapes, blueberries, currants, strawberries, black berries and raspberries.

Once again using tape measure, stakes and sledge hammer, we tentatively pounded stakes in where every tree was to go in a logical, orderly manner. The corners of plots where asparagus or strawberries were to go were marked out as well. Each row of fruit trees was staggered from the previous row so that the sun had the best chance of reaching each tree once they were fully grown.

The Start of Our New Garden

When the excavator was finishing the driveway, we also had the man rip out the roots from some of the orchard and garden sections and rummage around for any boulders it could find. And it did find numerous boulders which were piled off to the side. The excavator saved us weeks of back breaking work by wrestling with stumps and rocks in both the orchard and garden areas. As it was, we still wrestled with boulders and rocks every few feet while tilling. Slowly but surely, we have lugged or dragged them out one at a time and tilling is becoming easier with each passing season.

Boulder Wrestling

Boulder wrestling.

By the time the excavator had plucked rock and roots out, we were well into June but decided to try planting a small garden. It was a pathetic garden since the soil needed some serious work but it still gave us a sense of accomplishment to have a small harvest by summer’s end.

The last thing we used an excavator for was to dig out the basement. It was our intent to only have a partial basement that would house a few supplies and be a cool area for our root cellar. The rest of the area under the house would be more of a crawl space. We figured this would save us money on building costs. Less concrete having to be poured for the basement floor; less digging with the excavator which charges by the hour. But at the suggestion of the operator, he advised us it would be easier in the long run to dig the whole area out for a full basement and in hind sight, it made the job of laying out the footings a much easier task.

We ended up only pouring concrete in one area of the basement while the rest was left with a vapor barrier and foam insulation as a floor finish. Now we have lots of room for storage as well as our root cellar.

Frost level in our area is 4 feet so our excavated hole was 4 feet deep. We had to make a split second call on taking the advice of the operator since he suggested digging the whole thing out after he had started. But in hindsight, I wish we had given it a little more thought. I would have only had him dig down 3 feet and then all the fill taken out of the hole could have been banked up around the house which would have made a good grade for water drainage. Additionally, and this would apply to anyone, being a foot higher would have lessened the chance of water in the basement. Less digging also would have saved some money.

Next time we get together, we’ll discuss why we chose a dug well over a drilled well and why we chose a new construction technique of ICF (insulated concrete forms) as opposed to traditional wood framing.

Ron Melchiore and his wife Johanna are currently building a new homestead on the coast of Nova Scotia. Ron is the author of Off Grid and Free: My Path to the Wilderness published by Moon Willow Press and is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Ron and Johanna are the authors of The Self-sufficient Backyard: For the Independent Homesteader. Connect with Ron at In the Wilderness and on Facebook and Pinterest.


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Best Homesteading Grill in the World

 

As homesteaders going on year six, we’ve made many changes from our city way of life. One big change is around our food. Besides growing our own food, raising up egg layers, making sausages from scratch and canning our own food we’ve also changed how we cook our food. Our biggest change is that we don’t go out to eat like we did before and we therefore have to cook a much larger percentage of our food, well almost all of it, ourselves.

We want to be able to smoke and preserve meat, we want to be able to bake year round and not overheat our house on a hot summer day and we love saving money by searing and grilling the perfect steak at home.

So when it was time to get a new grill we wanted to get a perfect grill for our situation. We ended up getting a pellet grill, in particular the Yodor Smoker S640s. Full disclosure we are not being paid to review this grill. This is our honest take on the grill after putting it through the wringer.

We went with this grill for several reasons including:

  • Built in the USA
  • Built like a tank, with heavy duty steel and weighing in at over 350 pounds
  • The versatility- you can smoke, sear, grill and even bake in this grill! 
  • The pellets. With this grill we simply set a temperature and the pellets auto feed to stick to that temperature. This means we can cook low and slow or back at a steady temperature. 
  • The reviews. This particular grill has very good reviews 

Cooking with the Yodor s640s

We’ve had the Yodor S640s for some time now and I can say it's the best grill and it delivered the best tasting food over any grill that I’ve ever used. I tested it out with all sorts of foods. Here are a few experiments I ran:

Salmon- Marinated overnight and spiced with dil, drizzled with olive oil. At 140 degrees, the smoked salmon turned out perfectly cooked. It was moist and delicious. I use 1 of the 2 temperature probes that came with the grill. The probes display the internal temperature on the grill screen itself and on my Android phone using their app. 

The burger and buns test- Great smoky taste and wonderfully juicy burgers. I slow smoked the burgers for 1 hour and then turned up the temp to finish them medium rare. The smoky flavor was great and again- with the temperature probes I cooked the burgers to a perfect temperature

Baking- We baked homemade hamburger buns in the grill! With the pellets auto feeding in we simply set the temperature and let them bake. These turned out great AND all that heat from baking was outdoors and didn’t overheat our homestead kitchen inside. 

Smoking an entire turkey- My favorite meal ever. I cannot wait for Thanksgiving to do this again.  The texture was just right, soft and juicy and delicious. And to think that I had never done this before! 

Searing Steaks- With the Yodor you can remove the heat diffuser plate and get a nice flame going. I got the grill up to 700 degrees F!  I got a nice sear and the steaks came out tender and appetizing, just like the steak at the fancy restaurants! Mighty impressive for the cheap steak that we had used (pretty hard getting meat these days).

Cons

As hard as we tried, we found only one con: the price. These grills are expensive, starting at $1,799, but given the features and functionality, the price is completely worth it. Also, it is made in America and I will have this grill for the rest of my life.  

Pros

  • Versatility- You can do a lot with your grill, from basic grilling, to searing steaks and even baking bread. The cast iron griddle adds even more convenience.
  • Keep the heat outside-  You wouldn’t want to bake or grill indoors and add to the summer heat. With this grill, you can do much more, outside and keep your home cool.
  • Built like a tank- The shipment was a couple of hundred pounds. Pretty heavy, but easy to handle and assemble. (Check out our video for the assembly part.) It is built with 10-gauge steel, the kind of heavy-duty material that will last you a lifetime. It isn’t one of the Chinese-made grills that will end up rusting and falling apart. Also, the thick steel sheet keeps the heat inside and helps maintain temperatures consistently. 
  • Technologically advanced -The grill has a temperature probe that gives you the exact food temperature. The temperature probe and the thermostat are connected to an app that sends you notifications on your phone when your food is cooked. So, you are not hanging around the grill forever! All you need to do is set the time and temperature (the two factors that ruin most recipes- overcooked or undercooked!) and go about doing other stuff until you get a notification. You can set programs in the app, called Drive Programs. You can feed steps into the app. Easy to use. 
  • Unbeatable taste- It beats charcoal, propane, wood fire grills hands down. Awesome results. The turkey definitely didn’t look like it was cooked by a beginner! 

In conclusion. I’ve cooked with charcoal and propane, I’ve cooked over wood fires and I’ve used smokers. By far the best results In terms of taste and nailing the perfect internal cooking temperature have come with this grill. I know that saying this is the best grill in the world will get on some people’s nerves, but for our situation as homesteaders who want to smoke, preserve, sear, grill and bake and keep the heat outdoors, with an American made product, there is no question in my mind this is the best grill in the world for our situation. Watch the full video on this grill.

Kerry W. Mann, Jr. moved to a 20-acre homestead in 2015, where he and his family use modern technology, including YouTube and Instructables, to learn new skills and teach homestead projects. Connect with Kerry on his Homestead How YouTube pageInstructablesPinterest Facebookand at My Evergreen Homestead. Read all of Kerry’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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Techniques to Stop Your Honeybees from Swarming

Photo by Damien Tupinier on Unsplash

How wonderful it is to visit your apiary and watch all that industrious honeybee activity — oh, no, wait! You see hundreds of bees flowing upward on the hive exterior from the entrance and bottom board? That means you've got a hive that's swarming. It's a sign that there are problems in that hive that requires prompt attention.

Common Reasons Bees Swarm

We all know who's in charge of the hive: the queen. If she decides that more space is needed, or if the original queen was superseded and more than one queen is present in the hive, one of them will signal to the colony that they're leaving. Stop! There she goes with 40 percent of the colony!

This all means that you didn't check conditions in the brood super, or reverse its position in the spring, and you also didn't check for supercedure cells. Well, give yourself a quick whack on the wrist with a hive tool (ouch!), and then get busy and do some hive inspections.

Technique to Stop a Swarm

There they are, flying in a cloud right through the air as you stand there and gawk. Well, you just might succeed at stopping them if you try a trick I learned during my nearly 20 years of keeping bees.

Keep an old tin bucket, stainless steel bowl, or other metal container, and a heavy metal spoon, handy to your bee yard. Then, if you're present when the bees are leaving the hive body, start banging on the metal container with the spoon (or your metal hive tool). Keep it up nonstop, as loud as you can, until you see them going back into the hive bodies. Don't worry what your neighbors will think — they might decide to watch and learn something in the process.

As I understand it, bees don't exactly hear as we do, but they're sensitive to vibrations in the air. Something about that clanging noise causes them to turn around and head back to the hive. Even when they're in flight through the air, I've seen them change course and return back home.

It's worked for me many times and is really nothing short of a miracle. This technique may sound like an old wives’ tale or witchcraft, but it works. A very experienced beekeeper friend and winemaker clued me in on this. At first, I didn't believe it, but I tried it, and it worked almost every single time! Usually my apiary contained about 15 colonies, so it wasn't just a hive or two, and I didn't want to lose any of them. After trying this the first time, I became a believer.

The Bees Returned. Now What?

When they come back, you must be right out there and prepare to give Madame Queen more space — now! Try to quickly enlist a helper during this "crisis" who either can do the clanging and banging, or fetch the stuff you'll need.

First, immediately either reverse the deep supers of the swarming hive, or give the colony another deep super of clean empty frames, placed at the very top of the stack directly under the lid. After the bees have settled back in a bit and you see a large population, you'll likely need to do a split. Don't walk away, figuring you can come back later and do this. It must be done right away if you want to keep the hive intact.

Count all the Queens

You'll need to do a queen count as quickly as possible. If more than one queen is present in the colony, they'll swarm again. You'll need to either do a split, making sure you get a queen for each colony, or take a chance and cold-bloodedly kill all but one queen and hope she holds the colony together.

We'll discuss these, and other swarm prevention measures I mentioned in future blog posts (check my full blog post list here). If you have any of the good beekeeping books such as The Hive and the Honeybee or The ABC XYZ of Bee Culture, around, they cover this subject very well, complete with great photos. A veteran beekeeping mentor can also explain and show you what must be done.

Don't be afraid to admit that you still don't know it all when it comes to beekeeping. (Hint: nobody really does; we're all still learning!) Having bees in your backyard is a privilege and an opportunity to marvel and learn, and swarming is an incredible sight. But once is enough — too much swarming and you'll be out of bees and have to start all over. That's both expensive and unnecessary. Good luck!

Mary Moss-Sprague is a certified Master Gardener and Master Food Preserver in Corvallis, Ore., and author of Stand Up and Garden: The No-digging, No-tilling, No-stooping Approach to Growing Vegetables and Herbs. Read all of Mary’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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