Simple Living Archive


Designing Your Own Solar Cooker & Dehydrator

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

In today’s world, nearly everything we use, from phones and computers to cars and kitchen appliances, requires energy derived from fossil fuels. Wouldn’t it be nice to offset some of that energy use by harnessing the renewable power of the sun?

Josh Trought, founder of D Acres—an educational center in New Hampshire that researches, applies, and teaches skills of sustainable living—is experimenting with a number of alternative energy projects that can help reduce our reliance on gas and electricity.

In the following excerpt from his new book, The Community-Scale Permaculture Farm, Trought shows us how to prepare and preserve food using solar dehydrators and solar cookers. Simply constructed and easy to operate, these devices are a great way to incorporate solar power into your daily life.

The Community-Scale Permaculture Farm: Solar Dehydrator and Cooker

A Mini-Festo for Earth Day – Rebuild the Foodshed

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015

For the past month, author Philip Ackerman-Leist has been on a Twitter MiniFesto campaign – each day sending out a new tweet designed to spark conversation and pass along some lessons he learned whilst working on his last book, Rebuilding the Foodshed.

You might also know Philip as the author of his memoir Up Tunket Road or as Director of the Green Mountain College Farm & Food Project and the Director of the Masters in Sustainable Food Systems at Green Mountain College. Or, from his carbon offset approach to commuting to work.

We know that Philip spends some of his time answering tweets and questions from his PastureFone (a mobile phone that doubles as a cattle herding device we think), and we all know that some of our best thinking can come when we’re away from devices, and getting dirty, or frustrated, with our daily chores.

So on this Earth Day we’re offering up the full Minifesto of Ackerman-Leist below, and a link to a downloadable and printable file that you should feel free to print and download, and then put up in the nearest outhouse wall, bathroom stall, or other popular, quiet reading places.

Your Revolutionary Minifesto Friends at Chelsea Green Publishing

Minifesto: Tweets for Rebuilding the Foodshed

I. Start from the grassroots—and move all the way down to the highest levels of government.

II. Sustainable farms are run by the sun: the rest of the food system needs daylight, too.

III. When thinking about farms: management first & scale second. You figure out where location fits. (Hint: about 1.5)

IV. Fully understanding the expanse between farm to plate demands the full distance between one’s ears.

V. Local was never intended to be universal.

VI. Small successes are easier to manage than big failures.

VII. Success leads; policy follows.

VIII.Crow tastes like chicken: Be prepared to eat some.

IX. Main ingredient in a recipe for disaster: sticking to the recipe when you don’t have all of the ingredients.

X. Two ingredients not needed in a recipe for success: us and them.

XI. Leave the selfie at the door. Shift to panorama mode.

XII. All white ain’t alright.

XIII. PC quickly becomes passé: Do what’s right, not necessarily what is correct.

XIV. Get off the can (BPA, dude!) and out of the box!

XV. Change comes more from victual sharing than virtual sharing.

XVI. Food is neither left nor right of center, but in our politics we are left with the right to food question.

XVII. Food system as economic driver: A job doth not a fair wage make.

XVIII. The divide is less urban/rural than it is have/have not.

XIX. Trust the windshield view more than the dashboard indicators.

XX. Don’t just move the needle. Bend it a little bit. When all else fails, consider a new dial.

XXI. Nuance provides precision–and it’s too often the victim of well-intentioned advocacy.

XXII. Numbers & values: sometimes the same thing, sometimes in opposition.

XXIII. Behind every label lies a story…some are fairy tales.

XXIV. Fields of expertise: Farmers & fishers need to be at the table, too—not just profs, chefs, wonks, & good intentions.

XXV. Finitude sucks. Prioritization rules.

XXVI. Don’t forget to dig! (We might even require ag in school if it weren’t so complex.)

XXVII. Old dirt, same story: New horizons in soils help cultivate common ground, common sense, & uncommon potential.

XXVIII. Food system waste is nothing more than a lack of ecological imagination.

XXIX. Tomorrow is only 1/3 of the answer.

XXX. Impatience is your most important ally; patience is your best friend.

To follow Philip on Twitter go to @ackermanleistp

Anno MMXV “Twitterus rebuildum”

 

Download the Minfesto, print it and spread the revolution!

 

Minifesto-RebuildingTheFoodshed Day30 by Philip Ackerman-Leist

Wild Edibles: 5 Tips for Beginner Foragers

Monday, April 13th, 2015

Ever spotted a dandelion growing in your backyard and wondered, can I eat that? According to wild plants expert Katrina Blair, the answer is a resounding yes. And there are plenty of other commonly found weeds that fall into this category as well.

In her book The Wild Wisdom of Weeds, Blair introduces readers to thirteen weeds that can be found growing all over the world—especially in densely populated areas like cities and suburbs. These nutritious “survival plants”, as she calls them, can be eaten from root to seed and used for a variety of medicinal purposes to achieve optimal health.

If you are new to foraging, below are a few beginner tips from Katrina Blair to get you started on your hunt for wild edibles. And, next time you are taking a walk around the neighborhood keep your eyes peeled for these thirteen plants: dandelion, mallow, purslane, plantain, thistle, amaranth, dock, mustard, grass, chickweed, clover, lambsquarter, and knotweed.

For more information on edible weeds and how Blair uses them for food and medicine listen to her interviews on Sierra Club Radio and Heritage Radio Network’s “Sharp and Hot”. Or if you’re ready to eat now, check out her suggestions for how to use lambsquarter.

*****

5 Tips for Beginner Foragers

  1. Ask for help. Seek the guidance of a local plant expert who can help you identify the subtle differences between various plant species.
  2. Stay close to home. The wild plants that grow closest to where you live are the ones best adapted to support your ability to thrive in your current environment. Wild plants are extremely resilient and they help us embody those same qualities of excellence.
  3. Be mindful of where you harvest wild weeds. Use your observation skills to determine if an area may have been sprayed with herbicides or heavily fertilized with chemicals. If a plant is discolored or curls downward in an unnatural way it may best to harvest elsewhere.
  4. Start off simple. Look for the common simple plants first that are easy to recognize like dandelions. Dice them up finely and add to your dinner salad along with something sweet like apple slices.
  5. A little goes a long way. Wild plants are very potent so it is best to start by ingesting small amounts. Begin by nibbling a taste of a common wild edible plant and slowly introduce it to your body and taste buds.

 

Building a Sustainable Community: The D Acres Model

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

If you were going to create a community-based homestead or farm from scratch, where would you start? What building materials would you use? What crops would you grow and what animals would you raise? How would you develop an organizational structure and connect with your community? And, how would you make sure all of this evolves in perpetuity and is truly sustainable?

For the past twenty years, Josh Trought, founder of D Acres of New Hampshire, has been asking himself these very same questions and has come up with a model to help others seeking practical alternatives to the current environmentally and economically destructive paradigm.

D Acres is an ecologically designed educational center located on the slopes of the Appalachian Mountains in northern New Hampshire. In addition to it being a fully operational farm, it serves multiple community functions including a hostel for travelers, a training center for everything from metal- and woodworking to cob building and seasonal cooking, a gathering place for music, poetry, joke-telling, potluck meals, and much more.

In his new book, The Community-Scale Permaculture Farm, Trought describes not only the history of the D Acres project, but its evolving principles and practices that are rooted in the land, its inhabitants, and the joy inherent in collective empowerment.

Booklist calls it, “An immensely useful guidebook for organic farmers, cohousing advocates, and anyone interested in learning about a place where sustainability is truly possible.” Trought hopes this book encourages more people to become involved in the land-based service movement. He writes,

While the book may be valuable to most anyone, my purpose in writing was to offer a compilation of information that I wish was available when I began farming. By providing a basis of understanding of the farm system, I hope that readers can use this model as a platform for their own innovation and creative living.

From working with oxen to working with a board of directors, this book contains a wealth of innovative ideas and ways to make your farm or homestead not only more sustainable, but more inclusive of, and beneficial to, the larger community.

For more insight into Josh Trought’s work building a sustainable community at D Acres, check out the author interview below.

*****

A conversation with Josh Trought— educator, farmer, author, builder, community organizer, dreamer

A key aspect of D Acres that comes across in this book is its flexibility, and that it evolves based on the changing needs and ideas of both the onsite members and the surrounding community. Is there a project or idea that has surprised you because at first it seemed unlikely to work, but has instead flourished? 

JT: Transforming the land with pigs has been an eye opening process that we are continuing to explore. Experimenting with the number of animals, age of the critters, what time of year, in what soil conditions as well as rotational opportunities allows for continual observation and ongoing evaluation. At first it seemed that the compaction pigs caused would limit subsequent annual production without mechanization, but we had heard about planting potatoes in thick mulching of wood chips on compacted soils so we just tried to build the soil from the ground level up. At this juncture it has proven effective beyond our expectations and continues to yield benefits throughout the process.

I am also amazed at the attraction of people to tree houses and the playground is a super element I would not have foreseen when we began this project.

This book covers a lot of ground, from alternative building techniques, renewable energy, and holistic forestry to hospitality management, organic gardening, and more. All of these specialties require skilled labor. What are your strongest skills and what are you most excited to learn more about right now?

JT: I am really humbled by this whole process. I feel like a novice in so many ways.  grew up in the suburbs and have learned a lot by both doing that which I am passionate about and that which is necessary. I am excited about being part of a cultural continuum that will span into the future. I am excited to be part of a permaculture movement that will enrich the ecology for the next thousands of years. I imagine a future record/book such as Farmers for Forty Centuries that documents the evolution as members of this vibrant ecology on Earth. I am excited to be a very small part of this immense movement towards an ecological society.

My strongest skills are probably in construction design building with an emphasis on natural and reclaimed materials improvisation. I am really excited to continue seasonally improving my skills in the garden and the woodshop. I am necessarily compelled to learn more about human nature and our relations to one another.

As a child, you spent many summers with your family on this property in northern New Hampshire and now you have been living on it full-time for the past 17 years. What do you love most about the D Acres landscape and is there anything new about it that you have recently learned even after all these years?

JT: Every year I try to get more in tune with the natural cycle and rhythm of the land. The farm is so seasonally dynamic.  I like to notice the seasonal shifts as they occur.  I have started documenting these changes using my senses as well as journal and videography to view not only the seasonal changes, but also those that differ year to year.

I like getting more in touch with the water resource. I enjoy swimming in our local rivers and appreciate the resource for its ecological value. I have been more focused on how the water works on the land and our role to clean and purify this resource.

What advice do you give people that want to start their own community-scale farm?

JT: While I encourage them to do so, there are several comments I like to share with them. I think while it is important to start and initiate projects of this nature everywhere, it is also important to nurture existing projects. It is a good idea to join an existing project to learn from models that are up and running as well as support the projects in place.  We are proud of the people who have participated in our project and then gone out to start their own family farms or projects unique to their locales. I also think it is important to recognize that the D Acres model is a response to a wide array of circumstances. Any new entity would naturally be a reflection of the surrounding variables including the individual personnel and their strengths, land base, and community needs.

You’ve Got Mail. And it’s Chicks!

Thursday, March 19th, 2015

There’s nothing quite like having a box of cute, fluffy chicks arrive in the mail. It’s miraculous, notes author and homesteader Ben Hewitt, that a newly hatched chick can survive without food and water for exactly the amount of time it takes to mail a package from anywhere in the United States to anywhere else in the United States.

If you’re considering purchasing some mail-order chicks, read the following excerpt from Hewitt’s recently released The Nourishing Homestead for tips on housing, fencing, feed, and more.

Or, if you think ducks might be more your speed, here’s a comparison of ducks vs chickens from Carol Deppe’s The Resilient Gardener.

Cheep! Cheep!

Chickens and Other Poultry

The crazy thing about chickens is that you can order them through the mail. Actually, this is not entirely true, because you don’t order chickens through the mail; you order chicks. Day-old chicks, to be exact, and it shouldn’t be possible but it is, because chicks hatch with just enough energy in their tiny bodies to live for two or three days without food or water. As it turns out, this is precisely long enough for them to be shipped via mail from pretty much anywhere in the United States to pretty much anywhere else in the United States.

Although I have become
 accustomed to it by now, it 
would be hard to overstate just
 how extraordinary and delightful it is to walk into our post 
office each spring and hear the
 cheeping of our freshly hatched 
birds from behind the counter.
 The notion that something so
 fragile and alive can be sent
 through the mail seems to me 
to border on the miraculous. I
 mean, is it merely coincidence
 that just-hatched chicks can survive without food and water for precisely the amount of time it takes them to traverse America by train, plane, and automobile? Surely it is. Surely there could not have been some sort of grand plan in place since the days of the Red junglefowl, the Asian bird from which all modern chickens have evolved over the past 5,000 years. But still: How many other newborn creatures can survive being enclosed in a cardboard box and then sent on a dark, hurtling journey across thousands of miles?

Every year, there comes a day in late May or early June when the boys and I drive home from the post office with a box of chicks on the passenger seat, filling the car with the smell of wood shavings and something that’s harder to identify, and which is perhaps best described as the smell of chick. It is a warm smell, and if it is possible for a smell to have a tactile sensation, it is the smell of soft. The boys always want to pull “just one or two” out of the box to hold on their laps for the ride home; imagining the chaos that would inevitably result, I always prevail upon them to wait for the three or four minutes it takes us to get home.
At home, we carry the box gingerly to our brooder setup, which consists of an open-floored “box” of screwed-together boards, about 12 feet by 12 feet. We assemble our brooder in one of the small greenhouses, although doing so requires constant monitoring, as only a short period of sun on an otherwise cool and cloudy day can fry the birds if the sides aren’t raised. A heat lamp dangles from overhead, low enough that the heat is directed into the box, but high enough that there’s no danger of fire. We make a crude “peak” with two-by-fours, over which we drape plastic to retain heat. This allows us to run the 250-watt heat lamp intermittently, saving electricity, and we can even swap the high-watt bulb for a 100-watt incandescent bulb on warmer days. For the next three weeks, until their feathers come in enough to insulate them from the cool nights of late spring and early summer, this is their home. We bring them clippings of grass and other organic material every day, along with whatever waste milk the pigs aren’t consuming.

Chickens are simple creatures. And while fast-growing meat birds seem to be particularly lacking in charisma, the same cannot be said of layers. Perhaps I should not be so quick to admit this, for it may reveal something unflattering about our general level of sophistication, but this family has passed many hours doing little more than watching our birds. This was particularly true in the early years of our homestead, when we allowed our small flock of layers to roam in the yard, close to the house. Owing to the preponderance of vegetables in this area today, and chickens’ fondness for perfectly formed green peppers, we no longer allow them to range near the house. But I won’t soon forget the times Penny and I sat on the front stoop of the house, watching those curious birds do their little dance.

Pasture Requirements

Again we have a creature that is well adapted to a wide variety of landscapes and ecosystems. Like pigs, chickens do very well in forested areas; after all, every single chicken alive today evolved from jungle fowl. But so long as they have some shelter and shade, chickens also do very well on established pasture, and there’s nothing like a good dose of chicken shit to turn grass a shade of green so vibrant it looks digitally enhanced.

The surprising thing about chickens, particularly given how small and light they are, is their capacity to do tremendous damage to the soil via compaction. In remarkably short order, they can turn a small, fenced-in pen into a barren wasteland of stone-hard soil. Not only does this ensure they’re extracting few nutrients and calories from the ground, but it also does damage that can be remedied only over long periods of time or via mechanical intervention.

It’s hard to prescribe a fixed amount of pasture per chicken; what I can say is that we keep our flock of about 20 layers enclosed in a single length of flexnet for perhaps two weeks before moving them. We move our meat birds much more frequently, mostly because there are 500 percent more of them, but also because they are much larger than our layers.

Fencing

We utilize the same flexnet for our chickens as we do for the goats and sheep. It’s important to move their shelter regularly within the flexnet, or they’ll quickly “burn” the ground under the shelter with nitrogen-rich manure. How often you have to move it depends entirely on how many birds and at what stage of growth they’re at; when we have 100 mature meat birds, we move it at least twice per day. When we have a dozen layers, maybe only every other week.

Housing

There are innumerable designs for portable chicken coops, and if none of those ring your bell, you can always buy a $1,500 unit from Williams-Sonoma that comes with “white glove delivery” including on-site assembly. Or you can do like we do and knock together simple structures from materials on hand. We have constructed a variety of mobile structures over the years and have come to rely on a very light “chicken tractor” built on skids and covered by a tarp for our meat birds. The lack of weight is critical, since we’re often moving it twice per day and because the nature of our land means that many of these moves are in an uphill direction.

For the layers, we prefer a somewhat sturdier structure that of course accommodates nest boxes and roost poles. In general, the simpler and lighter the design, the better it’s worked for us. We prefer structures that offer plentiful headroom for those times we need to enter the coop and that feature at least one clear roof panel to provide more natural light for the birds. We’re also extremely fond of having nest box access from outside the coop.

By winter, the meat birds’ home is the freezer (with a last move to the oven or pot of bubbling lard) and the layers usually move into the tomato greenhouse, which has been outfitted with nest boxes, roost poles, and copious amounts of bedding to reduce compaction.

We also maintain a permanent, fenced-in run with an old coop that we semi-jokingly refer to as the “Problem Poultry Pen.” The PPP becomes home to any birds with a propensity to escape their portable coops, until we can either determine how they’re escaping or eat them. In keeping with our theory of building flexibility into our animal housing, the PPP has also served as a winter home for pigs.

Summer/Winter Feed

Both our layers and meat birds receive organic grain, table scraps, and, if there’s more than the pigs can consume, waste milk. The milk is particularly helpful in curbing the meat birds’ enormous appetite for grain. We are constantly scheming ways to reduce the grain inputs to this small farm, but we have not yet evolved to the place where our birds do not require grain. This summer, we are planning to incorporate Harvey Ussery’s maggot feeding system (sticking the carcass of a small animal into a bucket with lots of holes and letting the maggots that form drop to the ground for the birds), as well as cultivate a plot of comfrey for chicken feed.

I know some homesteads that simply allow their layers to have run of the place, and the hens seem to find plenty to eat without supplemental feed, at least during the warmer months. But they also seem to find places to lay their eggs that are never seen by the human eye. Never mind what a flock of hungry hens can do to a row of almost-ripe green peppers.

In a further attempt to curtail our grain habit, we are also experimenting with ducks again, in the hope that their proclivity for foraging will reduce our dependence on purchased grain. During the brooding stage for all our poultry, we bring clippings of grass and other greenery. Another trick we learned from Harvey Ussery is to feed hard-boiled eggs. Of course, this only works when we have an excess of eggs.

Minerals

In the winter, we mix a couple of cups of kelp with every 50-pound bag of grain. In addition to supporting the health of the birds, the kelp helps to keep the yolks dark yellow when there is a lack of other greenery to eat.

Breeds

We’ve been all over the map with chicken breeds, from heritage to commonplace. In all the years we’ve kept poultry for eggs and meat, the only breed that’s really stuck is the Kosher King. Kosher Kings are relatively fast-growing meat birds that in our experience, are vigorous, prone to foraging, and still capable of producing 6- to 7-pound roasters at 10 weeks. They are also exceptionally tasty, producing a large quantity of the dark meat we covet. We purchase cockerels from a small hatchery in Pennsylvania called Clearview Hatchery. There is no website, and the owner always answers the phone himself, which might be part of the reason his prices are so reasonable.

Interestingly, Kosher Kings are the very breed permaculturist Ben Falk discusses in his book The Resilient Farm and Homestead as being difficult to contain and
 generally unsuited to his
 farm. Our divergent experi
ences with the exact same 
breed are yet another
 reminder that the powers of
 observation should always
 trump the dogma of concept.

For layers, we have experimented widely, looking for catchphrases like great forager, exceptionally cold hardy, and consistent layer. We’ve been quite satisfied with Golden Comets, Rhode Island Reds, and Lace Winged Wyandottes, but we’re always experimenting. This year, we’re getting Black Javas, mostly because we have a local source for chicks.

New Audiobook—Slowspoke: A Unicyclist’s Guide to America

Thursday, March 12th, 2015

If you’ve ever yearned to slow down, let life’s winds wobble you, and devote yourself to the act of anticipation rather than immediacy, then learn to ride a unicycle. Or, you could follow the thoughtful and guiding principles of  author, homesteader, and unicyclist Mark Schimmoeller in his latest book Slowspoke.

Now available as an audiobook, listen along as the author reads from this inspiring, and engrossing, tale that blends cross-country unicyclying, finding one’s true love, and learning how to fight for what is truly important in your life, and that of your family.

Even for those of us who have never experienced the peculiar pleasure of seeing the world from atop a unicycle, Schimmoeller’s book and the life lessons it contains are relatable no matter how many wheels get you from place to place. His memoir is about more than a cross-country trip on a unicycle; it’s a meditation on a way of life that Americans find increasingly rare: one that practices a playful, recalcitrant slowness.

See what we mean by listening to the following sample of the audiobook that is now available at Audible. Narrated by Schimmoeller himself, he describes setting off on his journey and what he packed—books, food, and money for along the way. Enjoy the ride, the slow, slow ride.

Peppered throughout the book are what Schimmoeller considers his “guiding principles”—moments of often humorous, pithy advice on how unicycling is inherently connected with the nature of slowness and the art of getting there, no matter where “there” exists. Fifteen of these principles from Slowspoke: A Unicyclist’s Guide to America are listed below.

In Schimmoeller’s characteristically unassuming way, these best practices appear to be for fellow unicyclists, but truthfully he is reminding us that it isn’t the means of transportation that matters. These ruminations on the importance of mindfulness end up speaking to each of us, if not as literal unicyclists, then as travelers traversing often rocky terrain without stopping to enjoy the view.

15 Life Lessons from a Unicyclist

(adapted from Slowspoke: A Unicyclists Guide to America by Mark Schimmoeller)

  1. Relax the emphasis on arrival.
  2. In squandering time you demonstrate its availability.
  3. Unicyclists must become devotees of anticipation.
  4. If you find yourself looking up at the sky instead of at the terrain in front of your wheel, it’s likely you have fallen.
  5. Don’t go on a straight road unless you can curb your desire to get someplace.
  6. Adventure begins only from a feeling of security.
  7. Motion without consideration of beginnings and endings can shelter a unicyclist from time and speed and progress.
  8. The art of unicycling is knowing, in part, when to give in to desire.
  9. It doesn’t make a difference one way or the other if a unicyclist takes a break.
  10. The act of falling partway plus corrections equals movement.
  11. The simple act of reducing your velocity…could eliminate a significant number of sharp turns in the world.
  12. It’s conceivable that someone could study wobbliness long enough to discover a corollary of strength.
  13. When it comes to attracting the opposite sex, don’t compete with bicyclists.
  14. There are limits, too, to slowness on a unicycle…The pace should inch just ahead of sorrow.
  15. A unicycle is who you are. For whatever reason, you are not any other form of transportation. You are a unicycle. Please love yourself.

Ducks Vs. Chickens

Thursday, March 5th, 2015

Thinking about adding a laying flock to your backyard, but having trouble deciding between ducks and chickens? Agonize no more. Carol Deppe (The Tao of Vegetable Gardening, Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties) has the lowdown on which type of poultry might be right for you.

Deppe is a duck-lover at heart. In the following excerpt from The Resilient Gardener, she explains that ducks are easy to herd, have routine egg laying hours, and are superior to chickens in terms of pest control. However, she concedes that chickens are more readily available, usually cheaper to purchase, and are a better confinement animal, which is an important factor if space is an issue.

We’ll be sharing additional content about our feathered friends in the coming weeks, including how ducks and chickens fit into a farm ecosystem, how to make your own chicken feeder and waterer, and much more.

For now, check out Deppe’s analysis below and decide for yourself if you’re on Team Duck or Team Chicken.

*****

Ducks versus Chickens 

By Carol Deppe

The most ecologically well-adapted livestock for the maritime Northwest is the duck. The best-laying duck breeds lay better than the best-laying chicken breeds. Ducks can free-range year-round in our region. Ducks forage much more of their diets than chickens and eat a larger variety of natural foods common here. Ducks eat snails and slugs, and are better for yard and garden pest control. Ducks love our weather. (I should perhaps mention my biases. I’ve kept five breeds of chickens, two breeds of geese, and seven breeds of ducks. The ducks are my favorites, especially Ancona ducks, and at this point, I keep only a flock of thirty-two Ancona ducks. But I like chickens too.)

Eggs

Many people who are allergic to chicken eggs can eat duck eggs. A few people are allergic to both. I have also run into occasional people who claim to have problems eating duck eggs who can eat chicken eggs, though this pattern seems to be rare. Ducks from the better-laying breeds and strains can lay well enough to earn their keep for years. Laying chickens are usually not producing economically beyond the second year.

Ducks are much easier to control than chickens. Ducks of laying breeds can be easily confined with a fence only 2 feet high (as long as they have food and water and their buddies with them). Most of the egg breeds of chickens can fly well enough to get over any fencing. Keeping them out of the garden or the eaves of the porch often requires wing-clipping every bird.

Ducks tend to lay eggs that are bigger than chicken eggs from a breed of equivalent size. Some dual-purpose duck breeds (such as Anconas) lay eggs that are very big for the size of the bird.

Ducks normally lay their eggs between 4:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m. daily. This means they lay their eggs in the nests in their night pens instead of hiding a nest in the yard. You can pick up the duck eggs just once per day, at the same time that you let the ducks out to forage. Chickens have a twenty-six-hour laying cycle, meaning each hen lays a little later each day. So a flock of chickens is laying at all times of the day and night. When allowed to free-range, they sometimes come back to lay in their nests and sometimes don’t. So recovering all the eggs can be problematic.

Pest Control

Chickens can help with pest control in yards, gardens, and pastures under certain circumstances. But chickens don’t eat big slugs or snails, two of the most important garden pests in the Northwest. (Some chickens may eat small slugs or snails.) And the scratching of chickens tears up plantings and scatters manure and dirt over the rest. Ducks are considered the premier critter for pest control. All the laying breeds of ducks are big enough to eat even 8-inch banana slugs, and do so with enthusiasm, swallowing them the way a sword swallower does a sword.

Moving Your Ducks and Chickens Around

Ducks are easy to herd. You can use one or two herding staffs, or you can just walk behind the ducks with your hands extended sideways, making scooping motions in the direction you want the ducks to go and saying, “Let’s go, ducks.”

In Asia, the free-range egg industry is based upon ducks that are kept in secure permanent quarters at night and herded to various separate foraging areas during the day. Since chickens can’t be herded, the night pen or house usually needs to be in or adjacent to the foraging area. To rotate chicken forage, you move their house, which must be portable. To rotate duck forage, you just herd the ducks to a different spot during the day, leaving their permanent pen in its permanent spot.

The crowing of roosters is much louder than any noise ducks make. Neighbors are less likely to hear or object to the sounds of ducks.

Climate Considerations

In many areas free-range chicken eggs are only seasonal, but free-range duck eggs are year-round. Here in the maritime Northwest, the free-range duck is happy foraging outdoors the entire year, and ducks of appropriate breeds are good winter layers. Ducks delight in cold rain. Chickens are so miserable in cold rain and use so much energy keeping warm that they either don’t lay or their egg production isn’t economical. The duck is the only way to get economical, year-round, free-range egg production in the maritime Northwest and other areas with cold, wet winters. (In areas where the ground is frozen much of the winter, there is no way to get winter free-range egg production from any poultry.)

Diet

Ducks can forage a larger part of their diet than chickens. Chickens eat mostly grain and animal life, with greenery as a salad. Ducks eat grain and animal life but also considerably more greenery than chickens, including grass, as long as it is succulent and growing.

In addition, ducks can make excellent use of wetlands, waterways, lakes, and ponds.

Ducks are more resistant to disease than chickens. Ducklings are hardier than chicks. Ducklings are more heavily feathered and have a layer of subcutaneous fat. They are designed for cold, wet weather. Ducklings can be outdoors earlier in spring than chicks. If allowed to waterproof themselves properly, ducklings can be out foraging in their third week. Chicks are normally kept indoors the first six to eight weeks.

Ducks, however, are much more vulnerable to four-footed predators than chickens, especially chickens with intact wings. Some people with marginal fencing or night housing can keep chickens but not ducks.

Chickens are much more readily available and usually cheaper. Day-old chicks of many breeds are often sold sexed, so you can get exactly as many of each sex as you want. Most laying breeds of ducks are much less available and are usually sold as straight-run only, meaning you don’t know how many of what sex you’re getting.

Water

Ducks need bathing water. Chickens maintain their skin and feather condition via dust bathing. Some people find it much easier to provide a dry dust bath than a bathing pool. Books sometimes say ducks can be raised without bathing water. Although this is technically true, raising ducks that way isn’t kind. Ducks keep their skin and feathers in condition by bathing in water and preening and coating their feathers with wax. All you need for a handful of ducks is a kiddy pool of water changed a couple of times a week. My ducks have a small pond I made by propping up a piece of pond liner on the hillside so I can open one side and drain it and hose it down easily. If you are unwilling to provide bathing water for ducks, I suggest you get chickens.

Chickens are a much better confinement animal than ducks. Ducks drink far more water, have a much looser, more liquidy poop, and need more space when confined than chickens. Some people need to confine their poultry and bring the garden produce and food to the birds. Chickens are usually the better choice for that situation.

In areas where winter is harsh and the ground is frozen or covered with snow for months, any poultry has to be confined. This fact can translate into chickens being the most workable option. If I lived in Minnesota or Wisconsin, or upstate New York, I think I would keep chickens instead of ducks.

Don’t Put Ducks in a “Chicken Tractor”

The “chicken tractor” is a small portable house with no floor that is moved around to fresh ground every day or so. There are many books and articles about this style of poultry keeping. It is actually a confinement situation in which the birds get a little greenery but not actually very much animal material. It works best for commercial broiler chickens, which don’t forage very actively or move far from the feeders anyway. Laying hens in chicken tractors produce eggs that are more a commercial-diet-based egg than a free-range one. However, chicken tractors are the only option many people have for their laying flock, and the chicken tractor, managed optimally, produces eggs that are better tasting, probably more nutritious, and certainly more ethical than those from commercial caged layers.

Chicken tractors work best with chickens. You can’t just substitute ducks. Laying chickens roost on raised perches at night and will use nests stacked in a bank against the wall. So the chickens use three dimensions of the space in a small movable house. The “chicken tractor” usually has one wall of nests that can be accessed from the side without entering the pen and a built-in roost on one side or end. A chicken tractor for ducks is problematic. Ducks use only floor space, and so need much more floor space than chickens, even before taking into account that their manure is much wetter. They need extra floor space for nests and resting. They need much more water and bigger water containers and bathing water. By the time you have given the ducks a big enough pen to be comfortable for them, it won’t be able to hold many birds in it, and it will not be very portable.

In America and Europe, chicken eggs are the standard. Most people don’t know how to cook duck eggs. During the last two decades, I’ve developed cooking methods and recipes for an American style of duck egg cookery. If you sell duck eggs, you will need to do some customer education on how they should be cooked.

Many people will enjoy trying both chickens and ducks. Generally, the two species should not be brooded together or housed in the same night quarters (unless they’re in separate pens). They have different requirements. However, chickens and ducks can usually share their daytime foraging area.

Roadkill 101: An Insider’s Guide to ‘Asphalt Hunting’

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015

We’ve all come across one while driving — a doe, a deer, a female deer — dead on the side of the highway. Admit it, carnivores and omnivores alike, you’ve often thought to yourself, “I wonder how long it’s been there … and … boy, am I hungry!”

After checking the rearview a couple times and being thwarted by oncoming headlights, you probably speed off with the smells of an imaginary venison stew giving your stomach pangs. Your trunk? Also empty.

Face it, lean times financially mean many of us seek inexpensive, yet still wholesome, ways to feed our families.  Author and homesteader Ben Hewitt asks us to consider roadkill as an option of putting meat on the table. Yes, honestly and truly – roadkill. And, why not? In many instances, the animal has been freshly killed, and if it’s a sizable deer (or even moose), that’s a lot of meat that can be stored away into the freezer for another day.

In his new book, The Nourishing Homestead, Hewitt offers some basic tips on the etiquette and edibility of “asphalt hunting.” One thing is to be sure, there is an upside to the deep freeze of a winter that many of us are experiencing.

Read on, and start searching the side roads for your next meal.

*****

Determining the Edibility of Roadkill

This excerpt is adapted from Ben Hewitt’s The Nourishing Homestead (March 2015).

Folks who hear of our fondness for “asphalt hunting,” which has netted us three deer over the past four years, frequently ask how we determine whether or not a piece of roadkill is prime for the stew pot. Like so many aspects of food production and processing, such a determination depends on a number of factors.

First and foremost, what time of year is it? While we have harvested roadkill during the warm months, doing so requires much more luck (to have come across the kill shortly after it met its fate) and a bit more discernment (to know what safely constitutes “shortly after”). For that reason, I can only recommend harvesting in winter, with the exception being if you are unfortunate enough to be the one who hit the animal or if you actually witness its demise.

When we come upon roadkill, the first thing we do is to assess the level of bodily damage. This is not always obvious, because severe internal injuries are not generally visible, although they also don’t preclude harvest, as there’s still likely to be a fair bit of edible meat. Generally speaking, if we find a deer that’s really torn up, with a fair amount of visible blood, we leave it. Shattered and twisted legs look dramatic but are actually a sign that the animal took the hit down low, rather than directly to the body, where the majority of the meat is contained.

Regarding freshness, the colder it is, the less you need be concerned. That said, anything that’s frozen stiff suggests to me that (1) it’s been there awhile and (2) it’s going to be a real hassle to transport and dress. The ideal situation is exactly like the one I came across last October, when I rounded a corner on a rural road to find an SUV pulled to the side of the road and a fellow in designer jeans hauling a dead doe into the ditch. I hit the brakes and hopped out of the car. “Are you planning to do anything with that,” I asked. It was a rhetorical question, because I could see that his plans for the deer ended the moment he reached the bottom of the ditch. He looked at me quizzically: “No, why? You want it?” He sounded skeptical, but was kind enough to help me load the animal into the back of our Subaru. Ninety seconds later, I was on my way home with a freezer full of fresh venison. I doubt more than 10 minutes passed between impact and loading the deer into our car.

That doesn’t happen too often, so you should be prepared to make a judgment call. In general, what I like to see in cold weather is a body that’s still limber and maybe even a little warm. That’s a sure sign it was a recent hit. Of course, if there’s snow on the road, you can usually tell whether any spilled blood is fresh and bright red or congealed and duller in color. I suppose it goes without saying, but when it doubt, leave it for the birds. Which brings me to another simple rule: If birds or animals have been feeding from your quarry, it’s been there too long. Or too long for my taste buds, anyway.

Do expect some internal damage. A burst stomach is not uncommon, and while its contents can appear to have spoiled a lot of meat, it’s actually pretty easy to clean up the resultant mess, via either a vigorous scrubbing or a careful cutting away of affected areas. Fortunately, there’s not much meat directly around the stomach cavity, so contamination of prime cuts is unlikely.

Finally, you might want to check state wildlife laws before gleaning any roadkill. Here in Vermont, it’s actually illegal to glean roadkill without notifying a game warden; the deer herd belongs to the state, a fine example of how the common wealth of the land has been commoditized. The truth is, most wardens are happy to see the meat go to good use. The other truth is, damned if I’m going to let a perfectly edible animal rot in a ditch while I try to track down a warden for permission.

The Seed Series: 3 Steps to Start Your Plants Off Right

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015

How you handle your seeds and your practices around seeding is your first chance to get your plants off to a good start and help them achieve their full potential. Ben and Penny Hewitt, authors of The Nourishing Homestead, have developed a three-step process which starts with inoculating the seeds, then sowing them in high quality potting soil, and finally using soil blocks instead of pots to start seedlings.

It may not be quite as easy as 1-2-3, but the increased vigor and yield the Hewitts have experienced with their crops using this system has made it worth the extra effort. Check out the following excerpt from The Nourishing Homestead for more details on how you can incorporate these three steps into your early spring planting routine.

And, for additional information on seeds, read the previous article in our “Seed Series”–an excerpt from Carol Deppe’s latest book, The Tao of Vegetable Gardening about creating your own seed bank. Up next, learn from award-winning author John Navazio about the right questions to ask when determining what crops will grow best on your land.

Related Articles:
Seed Saving Basics
Become a Plant Breeder 

*****

Seeding

Perhaps the best way to think of your seed and your practices around seeding and starting your plants is to draw the obvious analogy to human gestation. Starving your seeds of nutrients is no different from starving your unborn child of nutrients, and the results will be no better in the long haul. This is the first opportunity we have to minimize the stresses that negatively impact your crops’ potential.

Step 1: Inoculate

You may be familiar with inoculating legumes, which is the process of coating the seed with the bacteria that allow it to “fix” nitrogen in the soil. But it’s not merely legumes that benefit from inoculation. In fact, prior to sowing, we treat all of our seed with a high-quality inoculant (we get ours from the Nutrient Dense Supply Company, the same source for many of the trace minerals, inoculants, and enzymes we use).

Seed inoculant is cheap as all get-out: For a mere 13 bucks, you can purchase enough inoculant to treat 100 pounds of seed, and the process is ridiculously simple. Just mix a pinch of the powdered inoculant with the seed inside the seed packet. Doing so assists with germination, improves seed vigor, and breaks down nutrients so they are available to young roots. In other words, it’s a jump start on plant health.

Step 2: Sow Your Seeds into High-Quality, Inoculated, and Mineralized Potting Soil

Ideally, we’d be making our potting soil from scratch, but until we realize that goal, we purchase high-quality potting soil from the Vermont Compost Company. Their Fort Vee potting soil includes compost, sphagnum, rock phosphate, gypsum, protein meal, kelp, bone char, crushed granite, and vermiculite. We add more kelp, montmorillonite clay, humates, and alfalfa meal, which can generally be found at your local farm supply store. We also add two ingredients that will likely require a bit more diligent shopping: a biological inoculant (we use Biogenesis from NDSC) and an enzyme microbial stimulant (Pepzyme from NDSC).

The quantities of our additions are not an exact science. Roughly speaking, to a 60-quart bag of potting soil we add a quart each of the first five ingredients, a few grams of inoculant, and half a milliliter of Pepzyme mixed into the water we use to moisten the soil.

Step 3: Punt the Pots

One of the best investments we’ve made in the health and vitality of our seedlings, and therefore of the vegetables we ultimately grow and eat, is a soil blocker. This is a small mechanical contraption that compresses loose potting soil into tight seedling blocks that are then released into an open flat. They are available in numerous sizes; we use one that makes twenty 3⁄4-inch blocks for starting peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant. Because we have limited space for our starts, the mini blocks make it possible to germinate lots of seedlings in a small space. The most vigorous seedlings are then transferred to a larger block shortly after germinating.

The size blocker we use most makes four 2-inch blocks. We own two of these blockers, one with a seed pin that makes seed-sized holes in the top of each block and one with a 3⁄4-inch cube pin that creates a hole in the top of the block that’s just the size of the mini blocks. Coincidence? I think not. The blocker with the seed pin is used for brassicas, lettuce, chard, celery, celeriac, onions (four seeds to a block), basil, parsley, and other herbs and flowers. We also use it for germinating squash, cucumbers, and melons. The 2-inch blocker with the cube pin is, of course, for anything that has been sown into mini blocks, as well as for larger seeds like corn or beans.

Lastly, we have a blocker that forms a single 4-inch block with a 2-inch square relief in the top to accept the 2-inch blocks. We use this for “potting on” (a term that means potting up in size) cukes, winter and summer squashes, peppers, and eggplant.

The two smaller sizes of soil blocks are quick to make after a little practice. It’s key to get the soil moisture just right; generally, we make it a bit wetter than for pots. Think spongy, not soggy; you should be able to squeeze a few drops out of a handful. The larger 4-inch blocks are more time consuming to make, simply because they tend to fall apart without a studious effort to really pack the soil into the form. For this reason, we are not above using large pots instead if time is short. We always use 6-inch pots for potting on tomatoes, because with the 4-inch blocks, it isn’t possible to set the original 2-inch block deeply enough in the soil to take advantage of all the little root hairs on the stem that will create a stronger root system if buried in the soil.

The advantages of soil blockers are numerous. First, they eliminate the inevitable waste and expense of cracked and broken containers that must be discarded and replaced. Second, the blocks are cubic, rather than tapered, providing more room for root growth. Third, by eliminating the impenetrable walls of a plastic container, you eliminate one of the primary limiting factors to early plant growth and vitality.

To understand why this is true, remember that the growth you see above the soil surface is merely a reflection of the growth that is happening below the surface. In fact, root growth generally exceeds top growth, which means that a 4-inch seedling in a 4-inch pot is already experiencing diminished potential as its roots bump against the hard container surface. Think of a plant’s roots as its “feelers”; as soon as these feelers hit the container wall, they circle around, looking for more space, and in that circling back, a degree of vitality and development is lost. Before you’ve even put your starts in the ground, you’re losing vigor and yield.

In blocks, instead of the roots circling, they simply fill the block to the edges and wait. When transplanting, there is no root shock and seedlings are quickly established in their new environment. However, if the seedlings are not transplanted in a timely manner, they will eventually grow into neighboring blocks, which should be avoided.

Once the seeds have been inoculated as discussed, Penny then engages in a bit of seed discrimination, selecting the largest, plumpest seeds from each packet for planting. She also plants more seeds than necessary, so that she can discriminate once again when the seeds become seedlings by discarding the ones that lack the vigor of their companions. In the case of tomatoes and peppers, she’ll actually plant at least twice as many seeds as the actual number of seedlings she’s looking for, just so she can have the pick of the litter. If this seems wasteful, I assure you it is precisely the opposite, because by selecting for health and vitality, we end up with far greater yield for a given square footage of garden space.

Our earliest seedlings are started on shelves in front of a set of south-facing French doors. We have chosen to not rely on artificial lighting or heat for our starts, a habit established during the 15 years we were disconnected from the utility grid and simply didn’t have access to the necessary electricity. Now that we are grid-connected, we could rely on these technologies, but we still choose not to, because our cheap electricity inevitably costs someone, somewhere a great deal.

Once the weather warms up, we transfer our flats of seedlings to makeshift shelves on the enclosed porch that houses our summer kitchen. We installed translucent panels on the southern end of the porch expressly for this reason, and the seedlings thrive out there, as long as we bring them inside for the nights, until temperatures warm up. This daily shuffling of our seedlings—out to the porch in the mornings to catch the most light, in from the porch in the evenings to protect them from the cold—is unquestionably a hassle, necessitating reminder notes left in conspicuous places (BRING! SEEDLINGS! IN!). But like most hassles, it seems bigger than it actually is. As the season progresses, there are more and more flats to move, but with the boys’ help, it generally doesn’t take much longer than seven or eight minutes. Just about the time we’re getting sick of this little dance and the number of flats has increased to multiple dozens, it is suddenly warm enough to leave them out at night.

Seeds that need a lot of heat to germinate, such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant, are granted a coveted spot atop our coldbox, which resides near the wood cookstove. As soon as they germinate, they are potted on into the larger-sized soil blocks and placed in front of the French doors with their companions.

The next big stressor event for our seedlings is transplanting. We’ve already mitigated some transplant shock by seeding into soil blocks, rather than containers. We also refrain from starting our seeds too soon. This is not easy, because like most gardeners, by the time March rolls around, we’re chomping at the bit. But we have found that vigorous seedlings of the proper age do better than seedlings that were started too early and have grown beyond the capacity of their soil blocks to fully nurture them. Finally, all our seedlings are allowed a few days in their flats outside to “harden off” in preparation for transplanting. We then transplant on an overcast day or late in the day, to protect the young seedlings from the stress of direct sun.

Over the years, as we’ve learned to select for more vigorous seed and seedlings, we’ve also learned that we have to take this increased vigor into account and provide them with a little extra space to fully express themselves. Whereas we once planted our tomato plants 1 foot apart, we now allow them at least 2 feet, if not even more. This may sound counterintuitive; after all, if we’re planting fewer plants, won’t our yield be greatly reduced? But the reality is precisely the opposite. In fact, over the past few years, our tomato yield has increased dramatically, despite a 50 percent reduction in actual plants. The genetics are the same. The overall space devoted to their cultivation is the same. The only thing that’s different is that we’ve created an environment that allows our plants to come closer to achieving their full potential.

A Man Apart: Remembering Bill Coperthwaite’s Radical Life

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015

A Man Apart is the story—part family memoir and part biography—of Peter Forbes and Helen Whybrow’s longtime friendship with Bill Coperthwaite (A Handmade Life), whose unusual, and even radical, life and fierce ideals helped them examine and understand their own.

Framed by Coperthwaite’s sudden death and brought alive through the month-long adventure of building with him what would turn out to be his last yurt, Forbes and Whybrow deftly explore the timeless lessons of Coperthwaite’s experiment in intentional living and self-reliance. They also reveal an important story about the power and complexities of mentorship: the opening of one’s life to someone else to learn together, and carrying on in that person’s physical absence.

A review in Booklist puts it best: “In this loving tribute to Coperthwaite, Forbes and Whybrow have crafted an inspiring biography … Interweaving anecdotes of their own interactions with Coperthwaite, including the construction of a final, sunlight-filled yurt, the authors capture the full spectrum of this sometimes curmudgeonly man’s gregariousness, resourcefulness, and optimism. Although Coperthwaite’s dreams of worldwide cooperative and sustainable communities have not yet been realized, this reverent memoir will help keep his environmental ideals alive.”

We asked the authors about Coperthwaite’s life and his influence upon them and others. Here’s what they had to say.

Both of you had similar, but different experiences, as mentees of Bill Coperthwaite. How did they differ for you, how did they overlap, and how did you incorporate those different lessons into your own shared experience as a family?

Peter: Bill gave us both a powerful example of how to live a life: the role of work and how to protect what is most meaningful. Our decision to turn to farming and a life led closer to the land was given great encouragement by our relationship to Bill. I had little skill working with my hands before meeting Bill and he opened that entire world up to me. It’s very true that the experience of learning how to carve a spoon became the encouragement to do a great many other bigger things with my life that relied not just on my mead but on his head and my hands working together. That’s been enormously influential and satisfying in my life.

Finally, Bill’s model for how he lived on the land in deep relationship to place and nature changed how I thought about conservation and the role of people and community in land conservation. Directly because of Bill, people and their relationship to nature and to one another became a part of what conservation was meant to protect.

Helen: I think the fact that we knew Bill somewhat differently, and yet shared the understanding that he was central to our life together, makes our story richer and more layered. In some ways Peter’s relationship with Bill was more intimate, and yet as with all intimacy, that also made it more difficult. Bill and Peter did very important work together over the years with land conversation and creating community and it was not without its tensions. I was on the sidelines of that work, and yet Peter and I would have long conversations about it. My relationship with Bill had its own dimensions and really deepened as he aged and our children grew up.

What are some of his lasting lessons in your lives, and what do you think he’s left you to keep figuring out?

Peter: How to live the life you really want as opposed to the life society wants you to lead or the life your parents and family want you to lead. How do you stick with what is truly most important to you. Experience of life is far, far more important than possessions. How do you stay on the edge of experience as opposed to sinking into the comfort of possessions?

Helen: I think what I ponder most since his death is how we learn through life. He showed me that you never have to stop learning or being curious or even traveling in search of new experiences. He went to China when he was 83! He made me think a great deal about how we teach our young, how we treat our old, how the way we approach education is often against the grain of how we naturally learn best. He opened my eyes to how education should be rooted in multi-generational community life, and its goal should be to create empowered, self-aware citizens who want to come up with empathic and just solutions to the world’s problems, not just able to compete financially in a global marketplace and achieve individual status. We started home schooling our youngest daughter after Bill died, and almost every single day I want to talk to him about teaching. I’m left figuring out the How.

Bill Coperthwaite is often compared to Helen and Scott Nearing, and even described as a “modern-day” Henry David Thoreau. Is that accurate? Was he something else entirely?

Peter: Bill considered himself to be a public intellectual and social critic like Thoreau and Nearing, which is why those labels have stuck on Bill. But Bill’s life hasn’t yet achieved that same status because, in my view, he was actually more true to the dogma and less good of a writer than either Nearing or Thoreau. Bill’s experiment in living was more rigorous and true to his values and lasted longer than Thoreau or Nearing, but he didn’t have as effective ways to talk about it. Bill never got a phone and never went on the lecture circuit like Nearing regularly did. Bill remained in true opposition to society: from it but not of it. In this true sense, he lived the better example but it was a much harder example for people to find.

Helen: Like many things, it is and it isn’t accurate. When someone lives a life that is so unusual there are few examples to go by, and few comparisons to make that someone would understand. Bill was strongly influenced by Helen and Scott Nearing. He shared many of their values of how to live, how to be in service, and in particular he and Scott believed passionately in trying to live a life that was not part of a system of exploiting others. With Thoreau he shared an ardent pacifism, and a reverence for nature. He went well beyond Thoreau in his committed experiment in simple living. I think Bill shared an impish sense of humor that comes out in Thoreau’s writing at times. Scott Nearing, on the other hand, Bill thought to be “terribly dour.”


Follow us
Get every new post delivered to your inbox
Join millions of other followers
Powered By WPFruits.com