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Archive for April, 2012

Basic Unit Courtesy Affnan Aquaponics

Aquaponic Gardening is the hottest thing since Justin Bieber.  And for my money at least, is a whole lot cooler.  Aquaponics is a symbiotic gardening method that uses a recirculating system to grow both fish and plants.  The short version goes like this, as the fish breathe and poo, they create solid waste and put ammonia into the water both from their excrement and from gill activity.  Ammonia is  bad for the fish.  The water is pumped out either directly into a grow bed, or through a bio filter of some kind where bacteria converts the ammonia first to Nitrites then to Nitrates.  The plants use the nitrates (and other micro nutrients) as food.  The water is thus purified and pumped or drained back into the fish tank as fresh water for the fish.

This is simple and mimics nature.  It does, though, have a few minor problems that require inputs and therefore impact sustainability.

The pH in the water needs to be monitored and occasionally adjusted.  This is easily done by adding some calcium in the form of crushed sea shells or even egg shells.  The plants require iron which must be added.  A tablespoon of chelated iron every few months does the trick.  I have also heard that suspending some old angle iron, rebar or even nails in the water and rubbing them periodically as they rust, will add iron.  I have not tried that one.

The recirculating allegedly requires only a fraction of the water normally associated with gardening, which is great for the environment and the budget.  It is also this recirculation that creates the sustainability restrictions, and in an emergency situation, could be a fatal flaw.  It requires electricity.

First, electricity is required to run the pump or pumps in the system.  Secondly, depending on the variety of fish, electricity is needed to keep the water temperature at a suitable level.  For example, the most popular fish in American Aquaponics Systems is Tilapia.  Tilapia will quickly die if the water temperature drops below 55 degrees F.  Also, many plants won’t grow in cold water. And lets not forget that if you’re growing inside, electricity is needed to power the grow lights.

I’m aware that both passive and active solar can provide ways to heat water in the cooler months.  I also know it’s possible to use heat generated from wood stoves, if properly vented, but the water must still be transported through the system and that is a problem.  Every system I’ve seen, whether floating raft or flood and drain has at least one pump.  This is troublesome for those of us who want to be as sustainable as possible.

Currently, most affordable solar pumps will only work during daylight hours, so the water stops circulating during the dark periods.  This is fine for the plants, but fish will quickly die if there is not enough oxygen in the water.

I’m not sure what the answer is.  For now, we’re just using electricity and compromising my principles, but in the long run I have to find a solution.

Perhaps investing in a bank of batteries and solar panels will help, but that will require an ac/dc inverter.  Even then, I don’t know if a system will run all night.  It might demand that we run the circulation during the day and use the battery bank to run air stones through the night.

Perhaps there is a way to use a a siphon that runs continuously.  My instincts tell me that would work for a barrel ponics or other small system that has a single grow bed, but might not work as well with larger, multiple bed units.

I am not an engineer, so these challenges vex me terribly.   I want to know that in the event of an extended electricity outage that we can continue to use fish and plants together to assist in Our Edible Suburb.

A workaround might be to drain 20 or 30 percent of a tank on a daily basis, use the water to water traditional raised beds and replace the tank water with dechlorinated tap water, well water or captured rain water.  If the tank is large enough and the stocking density low enough, this might work during warmer weather as long as enough water is turned over daily to prevent ammonia build up in the fish tank or to cause oxygen to be lost.  A simple siphon  running from the tank up into a bucket filled with filter media that drains directly into the  fish tank, might just eliminate both of those problems.

As you can see, I have more questions than answers.  Aquaponic Gardening may very well be the chosen garden method of the future.  It has incredible potential. It has, though, a few steps to go, before it is truly sustainable.  Until then, we make compromises and try to become creative in our inventions.  Or, at the very least, to steal ideas form other people.  So, if you have any ideas I can steal, please feel free to share them…

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Periodically, we have to take inventory of what we have and where we want the farm to go.  This always results in some difficult decisions, because the heart and the head are not always aligned.

We have come to the conclusion, that we are primarily a meat goat and dairy goat farm, with pigs and pork as our secondary livestock and product.

We will continue to raise chickens for eggs, but as mentioned in an earlier post, we are out of the broiler business.  It is not profitable and not sustainable.  We’ll still do a few turkeys every year.

Beef is a difficult one.  We will stick with our two Dexter cows to provide us some meat and some cows milk for cheese.  Our mixed breed heifer will be processed this fall and our bull calf will be processed next year.  We don’t have enough quality pasture to raise large feeder steers for either ourselves or customers.

So, having thought this through, and sitting in my chair praying for wisdom, we are going to make some outstanding animals available for sale.

1.  Our two beautiful Belgian Draft Mules, Laverne and Shirley.  These girls are awesome, but just too much animal for our little place.  They need to go to someone who can work them in harness or ride them.  They are green broke and will need an experienced hand to get them back in practice, but they love attention, stand well for the farrier and load easily. They must go together as they have never been separated.  We paid a handsome price for them, but would let them go for $2,5oo total.  That’s a steal.

2. We are getting out of rabbits.  We have two breeding pair of registered American Chinchilla bunnies.  These are heritage rabbits, barely a year old.  They are worth a great deal and will produce outstanding offspring.  We’ll part with them for $100 a pair.  Again, I know we can get more, but we want to move them.

3. We have some super Nigerian Dwarf Goats we need to sell to make room for bigger goats.  We have some babies, some older girls and even some does in milk.  The milk is awesome, BTW.  We have a couple males as well, one of which has horns, but is positively gorgeous.  If you’re just getting into goats, or have a small place, Nigerian Dwarf Goats are the perfect breed. Prices vary according to age, gender and blood line.

4. We have a one year old pair of Black Spanish turkeys.  These two birds are delightful.  They hatched 14 live poults this spring.  They are good parents and pretty well mannered.  Our place is too near busy roads, though, and they are good fliers, so they need a home somewhere more remote.  They have always been free range.  Call me crazy, but I’ll let them go as a pair for $60 and we get more than that for a Thanksgiving bird.

5.  We have a yearling female Vietnamese Pot Belly Pig.  She is a fantastic mother and had no trouble birthing.  Patty probably weighs a little over 100 lbs. She’s a little bit wild, but if you can catch her, you can have her for $50.

We have three or 4 two year old Buff Orpington hens that can go for $15 each.  They will lay for another year or would make great stewing hens now.  If they don’t sell, we’ll put them in the crock pot ourselves.

I think that’s it.  Our miniature donkeys are not for sale at any price, so no need to ask.  They are expecting a foal again this winter, but we will be keeping it to train in harness.

An opportunity like this will probably never happen again from our farm.  These are quality animals at crazy bargain prices.  Our sacrifice is your gain.  Let us know if you’re interested or pass the word along to someone you know who might be.

 

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Sometimes, raising animals naturally is hard, really hard. This is one of those times.

A couple weeks ago, our Black Spanish turkey hen hatched out a dozen or fourteen beautiful little big eyed poults.  We have marveled at how she has taken to mothering and how Thomas, the dad, has so easily adapted to his role as guardian of the flock.

Our little turkey family have roamed over the farm, foraging through the pastures as ‘mom’ and ‘dad’ teach their little ones the ways of the world.

All that came to a sudden end yesterday in the torrential rains that found their way to North Georgia.

Turkeys are not the brightest of animals.  They are easily confused and can become distraught very quickly.  For reasons I will never know, our new mother led her babies into, rather than away from danger.  It did not end well.

Last night during chores, B noticed both adult turkeys eating with the chickens.  That was the first bad sign.  Once my chores were done, I went looking for the birds.  I soon spotted Thomas and his Mrs. wandering frantically, searching for their brood.

I found them. All dead; drowned in a puddle not 8 feet from shelter.  My heart sank.  It was quite emotional picking up all those little carcasses and disposing of them.  Sure, we’ve had birds die before, but this one seemed so senseless.  Frankly, we could have avoided it by intervening and taking the babies away as soon as they were born and putting them in a brooder box like the baby chicks we buy from the hatchery. But we wanted to raise them naturally.  Unfortunately, nature can be harsh.

Life goes on.  We have baby goats everywhere, along with four young pigs who are growing wilder as they grow larger.  The little porkers scamper about the field, enjoying every minute of life.  They have no fear of the rain or the floods. On the contrary, the water provides them an opportunity to do more damage, by softening up the ground and making rooting not only easier, but more inviting.

We have a donkey foal and a calf in the oven, due later in the year. Last fall’s batch of hens is starting to lay.  Life is good. Life is also fragile. Blessed be the Name of the Lord.

 

 

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Lucy at 10 weeks

When we left Maine, a part of my heart stayed behind.  I have loved sleddogs since I was in Jr. High School, and that wasn’t yesterday!  I got my first husky in 1976.  I have had show dogs, pet dogs and dozens of working sled dogs.  Training and running sled dogs is as much a part of me as being left handed.  I’ve felt like a piece of me has been missing since we re-homed all of our huskies before moving to HOTlanta.

Don’t misunderstand, it’s not like we’re dogless or that I am not crazy about our Belgian Sheepdog, Guinness, our Collies, Lady and Karma, or even Iris the Virus, our Cardigan Corgi.  They are awesome and own their own real estate in my heart, but working dogs in harness is just necessary to my good health.

Sustainable farming has opened the possibilities for a variety of draft animals.  We have our mules and we have our donkeys, both of which will fill certain needs, but I wanted an animal that could be harnessed quickly and hooked to a wagon or cart to help me carry loads about the farm.  Sure, an ATV would do that, but I wanted something that didn’t require gasoline, oil or engine work.  Enter, the Mastiff.

Mastiffs are large dogs who love their people and have a history of being outstanding draft animals.  They are also outstanding guard dogs demonstrate strong protective instincts without being aggressive.  They have been bred for centuries to know the difference between neighborhood children who want to snuggle and the bad guy who wants to burgle.  We have loved them from afar for years.

Last week I saw someone on Facebook who had some English Mastiff/Bullmastiff cross puppies for sale.  I ignored it because we have enough dogs.  When Brittan, though, sent me an email at work asking if I wanted one to satisfy my jones, I leapt at the opportunity.  So on Saturday, we drove up to Ringgold, GA and picked up our little bundle of Lucy.

When she is full grown, Lucy will weigh in at about 120 lbs, give or take and ounce or two.  Even at only 10 weeks, she shows all the traditional calm, assured, quiet Mastiff tendencies.  She is good with people. She is great with the cats and other dogs.  She has shown zero interest in chasing the chickens.  So far, AWESOME.

We will take her to puppy class after her last shots and will get her in an obedience class soon after.  She will be 7 to 9 months old before she gets in her first harness.  By that time, we should have another donkey foal who will also be harness trained.  Life is getting better all the time.

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Yes, folks, it’s time to get those orders in for your Thanksgiving and Christmas turkeys.  I know it seems crazy, but we need to know now, how many turkeys we’ll need for this Holiday season.

This year’s turkeys will be a bit larger than last year.  We experimented last year and left one or two to age a bit longer and they tasted awesome.

Flat rate of $75 this year, with a $25 non refundable deposit.  All turkeys are free range and are never fed soy.  Orders must be in by April 21 to guarantee your turkey.  Processing will be either Nov 10 or Nov 17 depending on weather.

Go to our website to order.

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It’s been a while since I took any of the dogs for an early morning walk.  This morning, I decided that I needed some exercise, silly man, so I put Guinness, our Belgian Sheepdog on a lead and off we went.

It was about 6:15, and still quite dark. I forgot my flashlight, but was too lazy to go back and grab it.  Besides, I didn’t want to upset our other dogs.

We headed off down the road and took a quick right into a vacant subdivision.  You know, one of the thousands in Georgia where some developer put in roads and sewer lines then went belly up before building anything.

This one is quite large, with a nice network of roads and trails.  There are, though, no street lights.  That’s not so much of a problem since the roads are wide and Guinness doesn’t need lights.  He’s a dog.

It was spitting rain and the cloud cover gave a particularly ominous look to the overgrown area.  It’s like a ghost town at the best of times, but this morning it was downright spooky.  Nevertheless, once we were well into our walk and far away from civilization, I turned Guinness loose to run through the haunted streets.  We had a great time, for a while.

Then it happened. From somewhere up ahead in the darkness, something moved.  “Oh, crap”, I thought, “it’s a deer and G is going to go nuts.”

At first, he just stopped and stared ahead into the gloom.  He looked up at me, then his hackles rose and he took off.  Within seconds, I heard him growl, snarl really, and a man let out a scream,  “Aaaahhh, Noooo”. Then silence.

After tinkling in my shorts,  I called out, “Are you ok?”  No reply, only growling.  I called Guinness back to me, and surprisingly, he came.

I shouted again as I put Guinness on his leash, “Are you ok”?  All I heard was the sound of a man running  into the night.  He did not run towards the neighborhood or the streetlights, but into a small forest stand in the center of the area.  How very odd.

Guinness was no longer agitated. In fact, he was quite calm like nothing had happened.  I did have some gunpowder and lead with me, and was not scared, only startled.  Still, we decided it was best to head home.

I have no idea who the guy was, or what he was up to.  He didn’t have a dog with him.  He didn’t fuss or try and confront me.  He didn’t get angry. He just ran.  Weird.  Was he a vagrant?  A homeless guy living in the woods?  Was he just some dude who slipped away for a morning doobie before work?  Was he following us with ill intent?  I’ll never know.  I think, though, Toto and I should have stayed home in Kansas.  Oz is creepy in the morning.

 

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Mostly Not.

It’s time to get the garden done.  Time, ha. Time is an elusive thing.  I can’t seem to catch it, so I make do as best I can.

Starting tomorrow, my plan is to work in the garden one hour each evening after we get back from the farm.  I have some transplants that need to get in the ground right away.  I have some other things that can wait a bit.  I’ll probably go ahead and get some of the beans and squash in the ground, too.  My plan is to do beans in succession this year to save space.  I will plant a few, then as the summer squash finishes, I’ll plant some more in the spaces the squash vacates.  Alternatively, I’ll plant some of the beans where the cabbages vacate.

We grew onions over the winter.  I’m pretty excited about them, but they are taking up a lot of space.  I need to either plant a legume in that spot after they are harvested, or I will need to use a great deal of compost.  I’m sure they sucked up a ton of nutrients.  I’m leaning towards peanuts.

Not much else to report.  I’m not ready for the garden, but the garden is ready for me. So, ready or not, here I come.

 

 

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