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


Assessing (and Minimizing) the Environmental Impact of Your Homestead

Soil on Homestead

If you're a homesteader, there's a good chance that one of the things that you love about homesteading is coexistence with nature. Whether you're building your homestead from the ground up or are living on an existing homestead, there are many things you can do to ensure that your homestead has minimal impact on the property where you live. Taking steps to preserve the beauty of your property will help ensure that your property will thrive for decades to come.

Protecting Local Water Resources

Water drainage on your property can affect nearby bodies of water, including creeks, streams and even your well. If these water sources should become polluted, it could affect the safety of you, your family members and your animals. Potentially, you could even taint your crops. You can protect your local water resources by properly managing drain water and waste water, and taking care to avoid chemical runoff. 

Septic Tank & Wastewater

Your home's septic tank has a leach field (also called a drain field) where waste water from the septic tank will be absorbed into the soil. Follow all local codes when installing your septic tank, paying close attention to its placement. Placing your septic tank in the wrong location could lead to waste water or sewage from your home contaminating your soil, which could lead to contaminated runoff entering local bodies of water. You can avoid this by following building codes.  

Pesticides and Fertilizers

If you're using pesticides and fertilizers on your crops or lawn, improper drainage can cause runoff from your fields and grass to pollute your water systems. Read all instructions on chemical treatments, paying close attention to manufacturer's recommendations for ensuring protection of local water systems. 

Control drainage to keep water runoff from affecting your water supply. For example:

  • Know your soil type and how easily it absorbs water.
  • Avoid over-watering crops using drip systems. 
  • Install a green roof to help control rain runoff. 
  • Know all nearby bodies of water and how drainage from your property impacts those bodies. 

Unpolluted Creek Near Homestead

Minimizing Damage to Trees and Wildlife

As you select a site for your home, pay careful attention to the placement of nearby trees. When selecting a location for your house, keep in mind that roots from nearby trees could penetrate your foundation. Building a home too close to a tree could require later removal of the tree. 

Although small trees can be planted as close as 15 feet from the foundation, large trees should be 20 feet away. As you're considering the placement of the house, don't forget the placement of out buildings like your barn and shed. Clear a space that is large enough for all of these buildings.

Consider placement of buildings as well as the size of the space. It won't matter if the space is large enough if the placement will be inconvenient. If you haven't yet purchased a property, take this into consideration as you view different plots of land with different placements of trees. 

Using Sustainable Construction Materials

The most sustainable construction materials are the ones already in existence. Using buildings that are already standing or reclaimed materials from recently torn down buildings is the best way to ensure that your homestead will have a small carbon footprint.

If you're not able to use an existing building or reclaimed materials, look for locally sourced materials like stone from local quarries or wood from local forests. The closer the materials are to your home, the fewer non-renewable resources need be spent getting them to your property. 

Natural Comfort at Home

One of the most effective ways to reduce your homestead's impact on the natural environment is to keep your home comfortable without running electrical systems. There are multiple ways this can be done. 

Temperature

Many people control the temperature of their home by running their HVAC system extensively. However, careful placement of your home and installation of smart features can help keep the home a comfortable temperature without relying heavily on your HVAC system.  

  • Place the longest sides of the home facing north and south, to take advantage of prevailing breezes.
  • Position the house so the south side is shaded by mature trees.
  • Use short overhangs to shield the windows from the sun in summer.  

Lighting

Good lighting is another way to keep your home comfortable. Although you'll want to have electric lighting for nighttime, good window placement makes it possible to keep your home alight during the day.

Install windows to allow light into your home, but use low-e coatings, window tinting and other energy saving techniques to prevent your home's windows from heating up your home during the daytime. Consider the natural shrubbery when trying to shield your windows from direct sunlight. 

Making smart decisions when you design your homestead is a good way to ensure that your property will meet its full potential. Designing your homestead to be environmentally friendly can also reduce your bills and make your property more attractive to future potential buyers. Best of all, designing an environmentally friendly homestead also helps protect the land you love. 

Ryan Tollefsen is the founder and team leader of Unity Home Group. As an avid supporter of sustainable living, he aims to help homesteaders navigate some of the lesser-known challenges of finding the right place to build roots for their homestead in his guide to assessing off-grid land. Read all of Ryan’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.

A Different Perspective on Mowing

 

Do you enjoy mowing? I don’t. Or rather I have to say I don’t like just mowing the lawn. It’s boring. Like vacuuming. I know, I know. Some people love vacuuming. I have a good friend who loves it. “The satisfaction of a clean house”. More power to the vacuum lovers I say. Mowing, like vacuuming is tedious to me. You just finish and it needs it again three days later. Seriously? 

Lately, because I am running such a small flock and they’re not keeping up with keeping the pastures down, I’m needing to mow fields. Now, we’re in a whole other realm!

I don’t own a tractor or even a riding mower. I’m not into mechanical stuff. I use a hand saw for pruning, a pair of hand shears for trimming and yes, I even own a reel mower. Even though I don’t like mowing, I love that thing. It reminds me of mowing the lawn when I was a kid. It was the only mower we had. I clippity-clopped my way through our suburban back yard, happily barefoot and covered in grass clippings. If it was good enough then it’s good enough now. Did I mention I have 20 acres? 

Enter my next door neighbor whose property lives adjacent to mine. This year, rather than tackling his rather extensive holding himself, he’s hired a local landscaping crew to keep it neat and tidy. He’s retired from throwing pots, as in clay. Not mowing gives him more time to volunteer at the library, give rides to seniors in need and meet up with fellow bird watchers for outings all over Maine! He has a pretty awesome riding mower (actually, it’s a beast), and has graciously offered usage of it “any time I want.” “It will be good to keep it in use” he suggests. It’s August, the girls are starting to disappear in the fields. “I want”. 

Riding around on the mower, knocking back knee high grass, weeds, I think I even took on a few saplings, was totally empowering! I tamed fields, opened up paths and vistas! It was awesome! I can’t wait to let the girls out in the morning to see their reaction! There’ll probably be conversations like “oh wow, look, we can go way back near the apple trees now, there’s probably some primo grass back there”! 

Part of my property includes an old gravel pit. Maine is famous for it’s granite quarries and stone. This carved out indention runs along the edge of the pastures. Evidence of “harvesting” the gravel still exists and I keep open the path used to bring the stone out. It leads way back on the property to where the 10 acres of forest begins, and is my favorite place. Lined with blackberries, wild Maine apple trees, and blueberries, I completely disappear when I wander through it’s magical space. I love sharing it with the ewes and does, they nibble as we wend our way along, exploring and enjoying a cool respite away from the summer sun. I have imagined a tiny cottage back there, with a screen porch. 

Mowing. Maybe it’s a matter of perspective, at least the kind of mowing that opens up possibilities for exploring. I have to say, I do like when I’m done and am able to walk back through the pastures without having to plow my way through. Secretly, I always did want to ride in one of those massive harvesters the big farms use. Maybe I’ll compromise and settle for my own riding mower some day. Or maybe I’ll grow the flock again instead. I do miss lambs in spring.

Dyan Redick is an artisan cheesemaker, writer, and fiber artist is coastal Maine where she operates Bittersweet Heritage Farm, a certified Maine State Dairy offering cheeses made with milk from a registered Saanen goat herd, and fiber from her Romney flock. Follow Dyan on Instagram, visit her mymainefarmgirl.com site 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.

Homestead Road Building and Site Clearing

Excavator Reclaiming Access Road 

Road Clearing

Once we chose our property, one of the first priorities was to reclaim the beautiful gravel road that is about a mile long heading across the peninsula. From lack of use, the road was overgrown with alder. After consulting with a local contractor, he recommended that we use an excavator with a grapple that can actually grab an alder bush and rip it out by the roots. This is by far more costly and time consuming but it is the best method in the end. We could have opted for a bulldozer to plow and shear the road open but any alder roots that remained would regrow quickly and we would be overgrown again in a few years.

Another alternative would have been to use either a chainsaw or clearing saw to hack the alder down but we would be faced with doing that routine every few years due to the roots sending up new shoots. Using an excavator with grapple is the best method for long term control of the alder lining the road. It also leaves the majority of the roadbed undisturbed so hopefully the roadbed doesn’t reseed and rejuvenate itself in alder.

Up until this point, we had been lugging gear and supplies through the alder to get to the proposed house site. We are getting older, have thrashed and bashed our way through the bush over the years and having road access so we can actually drive to our site would be heaven, so the excavator couldn’t get its work done fast enough. How nice it was to drive our car down a freshly cleared road with a newly graveled extension right to the house site! Now we could bring in supplies and set up another tent to serve as a temporary, albeit long term home while we built our house.

Proper Chainsaw Attire

Choosing a Building Site

We also had to select a specific location for the homestead itself, a daunting task that we accomplished by wandering around the heavily treed property. We chose an area that looked to be an old homestead site or pasture. From the vantage point of cliffs and high ground about 65 feet above sea level, the site overlooks the ocean. The views are magnificent.

Johanna and I cleared the property via chainsaw. Much as we did at Hockley Lake, our last homestead site, I cut and limbed the trees while Johanna lugged off the stems and brush and piled them along the edge of the clearing we were creating for dealing with at a later time. Stems would ultimately be firewood and all brush would go through our chipper for garden and orchard mulch.

Safe Chainsawing

Please take note in one picture of my chain sawing attire. Although we are closer to medical help than we were when living alone in the wilderness, it is still imperative to be fully protected when using a chainsaw. Steel toed logging boots, Kevlar chaps and a helmet with eye and ear protection. For those who haven’t read my book, I spent a good 20 years logging our wood lot in Maine. My very first day “on the job”, I was very lucky not to be seriously injured when I looked up and a falling branch hit me in the eye. Foolishly I had begun my logging career with no personal safety gear. Fortunately, I was given a second chance and I immediately bought all the proper equipment. I’ve safely cut thousands of cords of wood since that incident so please consider wearing all safety gear before using a chainsaw!

At that point in time, we had the septic approval from the Province and the building permit application was started. Roughly one acre would be our homestead site.

Once the acre was cleared, it was much easier to assess the lay of the land and stake out the exact locations of house, garden, orchard, well, septic and solar array. The relationship between each of these entities is essential to an efficiently laid out homestead. While the excavator was out, once it was done with all the road and driveway work, we had it dig the well. Before spending any money on building, it was imperative to know we had a potable source of water. That told us a lot. In addition to telling us the quantity and quality of water at our disposal, we determined the depth of the overburden and where the water table was. Overburden in this case is referencing to how thick the layer of soil and gravel is until bedrock is hit. That along with the depth of the water table dictated how we built the foundation as well as if a root cellar/basement was feasible under the house.

One additional consideration for us is the fact that we are on high ground overlooking the ocean. It is obvious that the soil is eroding at the cliff edge although at a fairly slow rate, or so we thought. The rate of erosion seemed slow because further down the eroding slope approaching sea level we could see mature spruce trees that had a tenuous grip on the soil. But we have lost more ground than anticipated in the couple years we’ve been here. Regardless of the minimum legal setback from the ocean, 25 feet, we set back a longer distance from the edge, at least 125 feet. This will hopefully give us peace of mind plus there’s no point making the news when the last remnants of our house slide over the cliff into the ocean to become a curiosity for the fish.

Join us again in the next installment when we flag out the house, start a new garden and invite the excavator back to dig a foundation.

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. Connect with Ron at In the Wilderness and on Facebook and Pinterest  Read all of his 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.

What Aspiring Homesteaders Should Know About Easements

Road Leading to Rural Homestead

If you're currently in the market to build or purchase a homestead in a rural area, you may want to learn a thing or two about easements. Easements are common in rural areas, where land owners may have large, expansive properties. If you already own a rural property, you may already understand certain easements and the way they affect property owners in your area. Easements can protect you and other parties when a piece of land must be shared by two individuals. However, as with most real estate concepts, it is best to be armed with knowledge in order to avoid costly mistakes or conflicts in the future. The following tips and information can help you navigate life as a homesteader and land owner. 

What Is an Easement?

An easement is an agreement between two parties to share use of a property. The easement allows the property to remain under the possession of the property's owner, while allowing the second party to use the property for a specific purpose. 

Imagine that two property owners share a common driveway. The driveway is primarily located on property A, but branches off onto property B after about 50 feet. The easement allows the owner of property B to use the portion of the driveway that crosses property A. This is a common scenario that happens often in rural areas, but can be found in cities as well.

Types of Easements

There are many types of easements. The type of easement used depends on who needs to use the property, and for what purpose. 

Easement by Necessity

An easement by necessity occurs when accessing the property is unavoidable. The example of the driveways written above is an easement by necessity. In this case, the easement is made to protect the rights of the person who owns property B. The owner of property A is not allowed to deny the easement, because doing this would prevent the owner of Property B from accessing their home, and thus would infringe on their rights. 

Public Easement

A public easement is an arrangement that allows the public to use pathways on a property. For example, if a public beach is inaccessible because it is blocked by private land, the public would be given the right to pass through that private land in order to reach the public beach. 

Utility Easement

These easements allow utility companies the right to access utility lines that run beneath or over individual properties. Utility easements also allow utility companies the right to access meters on the property in order to perform the regular meter reading. 

Private Easement

A private easement is an agreement that is entered into when one party would like to access the property for convenience or for other reasons. Private easements often involve monetary compensation. Sometimes neighbors request a private easement to gain access to a public sewer, or to tap into another nearby utility line.

How Do Easements Affect Homesteaders?

When deciding whether to enter into an easement, homesteaders may have some important factors to consider. For example, many homesteaders have livestock on their property. In some cases, these animals may be allowed to roam loose on the property.

If the property is being accessed by other people on a regular basis, the interaction between people and animals could become a problem. Some farm animals can be a liability if they're not fully domesticated. If a person attempting to access another property is bitten or otherwise injured by the farm animal, this is obviously not ideal. The opposite problem could also arise. If the people accessing the property should cause injury or do damage to the animals on the property, this too could become a problem for the property owner. Those purchasing or building upon land with an easement may want to assess where things are located and if any additional barriers may be needed.

Farmland is another issue that many homesteaders must manage when establishing an easement. If the easement enables someone to access the property in an area where farmland is being grown, loss of crops could be the result. 

In other words, an easements may require homesteader to make changes to their property to prevent problems. This may involve installing fences, clearing new land, and making similar arrangements.

Although an easement may require the property owner to make changes, there are some advantages to entering into an easement. If a neighbor is requesting the easement for convenience, entering into this type of agreement could create goodwill between neighbors. Some easements also include financial compensation, and others may not affect a homesteader's day-to-day life in any meaningful way. Then again, other easements may involve some kind of inconvenience for the property owner. Sometimes these inconveniences are temporary and short-lived. For example, if the easement involves putting pipes under the ground through the owner's property, the inconvenience will end when the pipes are in the ground. Unless the pipes need to be repaired or replaced, the person who owns the property need not deal with the problem.

Finding Suitable Land for Homesteading

Buying Land with an Easement? Consider the Following

If you're thinking about buying a property with an easement already in place, read the details of the agreement carefully. 

Animals & Livestock

Do you keep animals on your property? How many and where? What can you do to prevent the animals and the easement from coming into conflict? Do the animals create safety concerns? Will the easement(s) pose a threat to these animals' well-being?

Farmland

How will you prevent the easement from interfering with your food-growing activities? Will the easement reduce the usefulness of the land, and if so, will the land continue meet your needs? 

Those who do not deal with this on a regular basis may be unable to understand the legal terms and jargon of a standard easement. Working with an expert can help. A legal professional can help read over the agreement and give advice to proceed. Even if a parcel of land does not currently have an easement, having an expert assess the likelihood of one developing in the future may also be worth the expense. Remember, there is a chance that you may benefit from some sort of easement as well, so do not forget to explore that possibility.

As I stated in my previous article, it is extremely important to understand what you intend to do with your new property—especially when you dream of living a self-sustaining lifestyle. Jumping into a deal too quickly may lead to unnecessary costs and heartache. With a little planning and due diligence, you'll get to the fun part of homesteading soon enough.

Ryan Tollefsen is the founder and team leader of Unity Home Group. As an avid supporter of sustainable living, he aims to help homesteaders navigate some of the lesser-known challenges of finding the right place to build roots for their homestead in his guide to assessing off-grid land. Read all of Ryan’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.

Clicker Training Farm Animals (with Video)

Clicker Training with Ducks 

Photo By Fala Burnette, Wolf Branch Homestead

Most of the jobs I have held in my young adult life were centered around the animal care field. Working at animal shelters, you see a variety of behavioral issues that not only cause animals to be surrendered, but also to be returned after previously being adopted. Shortly after being introduced to clicker training by another worker, who was passionate about improving the chances of adoptability in the animals, I implemented it into the handling of my work as well.

Clicker training involves the marking and rewarding of a positive behavior response in an animal- you are helping them note the moment they did something right, and rewarding them for it. It begins by associating the sound of the clicker with a reward, in most cases the reward being food. While the sound is usually made by a handheld clicker that makes a loud sound when you push down on the button, some people choose to mark the action with a verbal cue such as a cluck, or simply saying a word such as "good".

The click must be immediately followed by the reward for effectiveness, so that they associate the sound with the reward. Once you have repeated this step, you then move on to marking the desired type of behavior with a click-reward. For instance, in teaching a dog to sit, you click and treat immediately when the desired behavior is performed. During this process, you also associate the word or hand signal with the action by giving it to the animal to ask them for that response. The process requires repetition and patience, but is an effective training method that is non-violent.

From a young age, I was interested in studying the body language and behavior of the animals at my Grandmother's farm, in order to better understand how I handled them. When I was researching clicker training for shelter animals, however, I was guilty at the time of thinking it could not work for livestock and poultry. I eventually discovered the work of the late Dr. Sophia Yin, who promoted low stress handling in animals, and noted that she had videos and articles about clicker training for horses and even chickens! It served as inspiration for further studying how a positive reward system could benefit livestock/poultry and their handlers.

I wanted to start off with the young hen we had at the time, who had been hand raised, but who was not always easy to catch. I began by withholding her normal bowl of feed, and instead I gave it to her throughout the day by associating it with the clicker. After a period of repetition with this, we moved on to various things such as "heel" in order for her to follow directly beside you, and "up" to put herself into her coop without fuss. I also began to use a hand signal to ask her to fly onto my arm, whether it be from the ground or a perch. Combining these three commands, the issue of chasing her around was eliminated.

Years down the line, we now have Khaki Campbell ducks who have been clicker trained as well. Before they were even feathering, the pair of them knew how to ring a service (desk) bell. While this was more of a training session for fun as they grew up, it led to teaching them to put themselves back into their run when they heard a bell ring. This became another instance where clicker training has saved us from having to herd them around, as they know now that they will receive a positive reward for coming to us when they are called.

It's not only poultry that can be trained in this way, as it can be applied to many other aspects of livestock handling. I have seen a growing number of horse trainers implement clickers into their work, teaching even an untouched Mustang that human contact isn't so bad! It can even be used to encourage a goat to learn to walk with a collar and leash. In the future, we have plans to use this method on training cattle (even though there is some debate on the effectiveness of it with working oxen) for various projects.

I recommend that anyone interested in using clicker training in their livestock and poultry handling first understand the basics of positive behavior/reward based training, and how to properly use the clicker (or verbal cue) followed by a treat. Have a good understanding of the body language of your animal, and also know what sort of treats or food will catch their attention. Young people should always have an adult present when handling their animals, and all of us should use sense and safety when training (again, being able to read an animal's body language fits in to safety).

Consider using these methods for effective training of your animals, whether it be for practicality or for fun. We've mentioned in the past that socializing your livestock can make the difference in everyday handling, and can even make the difference when selling animals. Can you picture the difference in a horse who is willing to lift his feet without a fuss, or a goat who is willing to walk to the milk stand calmly on her lead? Think about the enjoyment you could have with youngsters as you teach a backyard hen to run a miniature obstacle course! I encourage you to think of the ways that clicker training can benefit your homestead, not just for your dogs and cats, but for all the livestock and poultry too!

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.

Host a Homesteading Camp for Grandchildren

Every homesteader (modern or traditional) with grandchildren wants the youngest generation to learn some self-reliance skills. A surefire way to get young people interested in living more sustainably is to make it fun. How about a week or two of Homesteading Grandparents’ Camp? It’s a great way to build intergenerational bonding.

girl with flowers

Even if you’re not a homesteader yourself, you can help your grands discover basic do-it-yourself skills while they learn greater appreciation for Mother Earth. Many of the following ideas can be used by urban grandparents, too, even if you have no outdoor space of your own.

Here are some tips for hosting a memorable and earth-friendly camp experience for the young ones.

Field Trips

Take a family farm tour—especially one with animals. Think baby goats!

Visit a farmers’ market and let the kids help you select some fresh vegetables for the week’s meals. Chances are they’ll meet some kid farmers while they’re there.

If you don’t have chickens of your own, maybe a friend does. There’s nothing quite like the face of a five-year-old holding her first chicken or gathering eggs from the nest. The next day’s breakfast will be a special treat.

child with chick

Look for a nearby pick-your-own blueberry or apple orchard. Some may have pastoral picnic areas or even some storytelling or musical entertainment.

pick your own

Other Outdoor Adventures

Go for nature walks in the woods or a field of wildflowers or a nearby park. Add a pair of binoculars for bird-watching. Have the kids hold an ear to a tree to listen for sounds. Count rings on downed trees. Look for different kinds of mosses and lichens.

Grab a good field guide and teach the young ones about edible flowers and ‘weeds.’ You probably need go no further than your own yard. Look for chickweed, purslane, or young dandelion leaves to use in a salad. Top it with nasturtium, pansy, or daylily blossoms for a pop of color.

Got an ice cream churn? Put it to use. Let the kids lick the equipment afterwards—it’s camp! (Be sure to take pictures.)

churn ice cream

Find a creek. Let them wiggle their toes and make mud pies while searching for salamanders or watching water striders ‘walk’ on water. Children can sail homemade boats or build a tiny waterfall with creek stones. (Instruct the parents to send along some mud-worthy old clothes. Water shoes are a good idea, too.)

After dark, watch fireflies or lie on a quilt and look at stars. Your grandchildren may have never seen a sky full of stars if they don’t live in the country. If light pollution is an issue where you live, drive out into the countryside.

Snatch a couple of paper bags and hunt for woodland treasures—twigs, small cones, leaves, seeds, acorns, etc.. Back home, the grands can arrange their finds on a piece of plywood or scrap lumber with some hot glue (with adult supervision, of course).

How about building a fairy garden in a secluded spot with natural findings? You can enhance it with a purchased fairy or other items from a dollar store, if you wish.

In the Kitchen

Make sprouts. You can buy seeds at a local natural foods store. They’ll be ready before the week’s up. You don’t need special sprouting equipment. Here are some growing tips.

Most kids find it fun to help cook, especially if they haven’t had much experience. Start with something simple, like a grilled cheese sandwich, or a pizza with fresh herbs and veggies from the garden. For a stove-free activity, make lemonade together and share an afternoon snack.

Make mozzarella cheese and then add it to a homemade pizza. Yum! (It’s not hard, and only takes about half an hour.)

Make butter in a mason jar. It takes some hard shaking, but it's magic. 

Building Projects

You can find simple wood working kits at home improvement stores for birdhouses, model trucks, and so forth. Add a mini-hammer and a grandparent for an hour’s worth of productive fun and bonding. Your grandchildren will learn simple woodworking skills and have a take-home project.

Engage them in a bigger building project. A fairly simple one is this bench—they can take it home or keep it at your place for when they need alone time or want to read a book out in nature. 

build a bench

If You Have a Garden

Let them help you plant seeds or seedlings, even more fun if you surprise them with kid-sized gardening gloves and tools. They can reap the benefits of their efforts on a later visit. Or if they live too far away, send photographs of the growing plants or the prepared dinner dish.

If the kids come for a visit at the right time, they can help harvest the evening’s meal. How exciting to dig in the earth and discover potatoes there! In our experience, children also love to twist ears off of corn stalks and shuck them. But watch out—they may chomp down on raw corn before you have a chance to cook it.

pick some broccoli

Here’s one that needs some advance preparation. Plant a bean tepee. All you need are some tree branches (or bamboo poles from your local gardening center), some twine, a handful of pole bean seeds, and a small well-composted space. Plan a visit for some time after the vines have reached maturity and you’ll have a unique shady spot for children to play in.

pole bean tepee

Winding Down

Be sure to include quiet activities. Try storytelling and reading together. Talk about when when their parents were young.

Hang up a hammock for some sky gazing, daydreaming, or a stress-free chat.

Help them make their own book about their camp experience. Poster board cut into 5x8 sheets makes a sturdy background for drawing or gluing magazine cutouts and relatively flat nature findings. Punch holes and string them with colorful bits of yarn to finish the book.

Carole Coates is a gardener and food preservationist, family archivist, essayist, poet, photographer, modern homesteader. You can follow her Mother Earth News blog posts here. You can also find Carole at Living On the Diagonal where she shares her take on life, including modern homesteading, food preparation and preservation, and travel as well random thoughts and reflections, personal essays, poetry, and photography.


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 Making of a Vegetable Herding Dog

 

English Shepherds are herding dogs. They are work dogs and need to be kept busy. We have animals on our farm, and our dogs help herd and protect the farm animals at times, but it’s not a full-time job. And this puppy needs a full time job. We are vegetable farmers. Vegetables don’t need much corralling. Now that Kenai is two, I am starting to realize we have created a job opening we didn’t know we needed. He really is herding the vegetables.

Not So Helpful Help

As a puppy, when we would dig in the soil to plant, he would dig in the soil too. This was not helpful help. When we were digging up sweet potatoes, he would dig holes too. Cute, but this is a job that could get out of hand. I could see how this digging job could become a real problem on a vegetable farm. We needed to find a different job for Kenai.

The hard-working dog was just trying to find his job. He tried on another hat that summer. When we would carry row covering, he would try to tug the pile of cloth the other way. Another not-so-good job. When we were carrying a big crate of produce, he would try to get under our feet or take the opportunity to bite at our shoes. More unhelpful helping.

Herding Vegetables

Kenai is two years old now and he has settled into his role as a vegetable herding dog.  Here is how it works. When I am making my way down a row of cucumbers or zucchini, harvesting, he walks along, keeping close attention to what I am doing. When I find a dinged up cucumber, I cut a piece off and throw it. Kenai dashes after it. He chews it a little, drops it and waits for the next one. Sometimes he gets a few in a row, back and forth along an open row, and then he knows he needs to wait a while. He will stay at attention, monitoring for the next cucumber to step out of line. You’ve got to keep those vegetables all together, when you are herding produce. Minutes go by; you might be lost in thought. Look up, and you will find you are being watched quite intently. He is on the job, herding vegetables.

Kenai is very good at his job. He respects the little piles of cucumbers or zucchini that I set next to the plants as I am harvesting. He might look at them longingly, but he doesn’t touch them. He doesn’t really want one anyway. Taking one for himself is not what he is after. He wants me to pick one up and cut it, so he can catch or chase a piece.

When you’ve got 300 feet of cucumbers to harvest, you might need a farm vehicle to help haul heavy crates. After that, it is good to have a friend to help get the job done. And in this case, a vegetable herding dog might be just what you need.

Ilene White Freedman operates House in the Woods organic CSA farm with her husband, Phil, in Frederick, Maryland. The Freedmans are 2013 MOTHER EARTH NEWS Homesteaders of the Year. Ilene blogs about making things from scratch, putting up the harvest, gardening and farm life on the farm's Facebook Page. For more about House in the Woods Farm, go to the House in the Woods website, and read all of Ilene's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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