Posts Tagged ‘Urban Farming’

PollinationI’ve been following the story of an Australian certified organic canola farmer who recently lost his organic certification because his fields were contaminated by his neighbor’s GMO crop.  You can imagine how devastating it’s been for him.  He works hard to ‘do things right’ and still ends up with nearby fields pollinating his crops.

The story made me think about how difficult it really is to be truly ‘organic’, especially those of us in the suburbs and exurbs. In most neighborhoods, even those where the HOA still allows back yard gardens, the streets are filled with trucks from those companies that spray yards with fertilizers, weed killers and pesticides.  As closely packed as most subdivisions are, is there really any way to prevent contamination of our gardens?

Calling ‘organic’ a ‘myth’ is perhaps hyperbole, but I wanted to emphasize how very difficult it is to achieve and why so many have given up on the idea.

First of all, there’s the wind that blows wherever it wants. The wind understands nothing of property lines or boundaries. As the neighbor’s lawn care or pest removal service sprays for weeds, bugs and to chemically fertilize, is it unreasonable to believe that wind drift could affect the place next door?

What about neighborhoods on hills? The yard at the top of a hill gets treated regularly. The neighbor next door or two doors down, is trying to grow an organic garden. Is it assured that during heavy rains, nothing washes into the organic garden and yard?

Then there are the birds, the bees, the insects and the small mammals who roam freely, carrying pollen and everything else they’ve picked up along the way.  They spread it with their feet, their legs, their beaks, their poop.

Out here on the very edge of suburbia, where we live now (sometimes called, the exurbs), we are smack in the middle of  conventional cotton and bean fields. Some of the farmers alternate with rape seed.  The fields are regularly sprayed.  The area is rather wide open and the breezes blow pretty much all the time.  The same birds, bees and butterflies that buzz the bean fields down the road, play on our blossoms, as well.

All we can do, is practice the best natural farming and gardening methods we can, and leave the rest up to nature.  Chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers are not going away anytime soon.  We are surrounded and out numbered. We fight on.

What about you? Do you practice organic growing methods? What challenges do you face? Are you conventional and think the whole organic thing is humbug? We love to hear from readers. Let us know you thoughts.

As a way of saying thanks to all our readers, everyone who comments on the blog during the month of March is being entered into a drawing to win a copy of Ed Smith’s awesome book, “Incredible Vegetables In Self Watering Containers”.

Send us your gardening questions, pics and ideas. We’ll share them with the world.


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American Chinchilla Rabbit

The days are getting shorter.  The nights are slowly cooling down.  I’m loving it.  In fact, I’m taking my morning coffee out to the front porch about 5:30 a.m. and enjoying the early morning cooler temperatures.  Autumn is my favorite time of year and here in Georgia we have long, very long autumns. It’s one of my favorite things about living here.

Fall is also the time of year we start looking ahead to next year.  We review what went well, what went poorly and what didn’t go at all. It’s the season in which we breed our goats, our cows and our rabbits.

Rabbits love this time of year, too.  From September through May they are in their element.  They thrive in cool and cold weather.  Their coats take on a warm, soft extra layer and their hormones kick into overdrive.  We begin our breeding program the first week of September. That’s sort of my unofficial start of autumn.

Rabbits hate summer. They don’t do well in the heat.  We try and keep them in shady locations where they can get any breezes that might blow and we put plastic jugs of ice in their crates to help keep their body temperatures down.  Despite those extra efforts, over the years we’ve lost some good rabbits and even entire litters of babies to heat stroke. So we rarely have any litters from late May till we breed again in September.

Sure, it impacts our profits, but Our Edible Suburb is about much more than profits. Animal welfare is one of our priorities, too. Each of our does will have a maximum of three litters a year. This way they remain healthier, are less stressed and we prolong both their breeding lives and their lives in general.

Besides, meat is only one of the reasons we raise rabbits. Their by-product is as important to our operation as is their meat. Rabbits produce copious quantities of the finest manure on earth.  It is high in nitrogen and trace minerals, but is not ‘hot’ like chicken manure so it doesn’t have to be composted.  When it IS composted it is the richest, most nutritious garden food you can imagine.  You can kick it up further by using it to feed red wiggler compost worms and let the worms convert it, or at least some of it, into worm castings.  Talk about a feast for your soil!

Even in the dead of winter, the middle of the pile is toasty warm and the wigglers will keep working. We keep our compost pile going year round, so that in the spring we can add a nice thick layer of the stuff to our raised beds.  Even the most inexperienced gardener can have success by using composted rabbit manure.

If you start in the fall, one or two rabbits will give you enough manure for a couple of raised beds by the time spring rolls around.  Unless you’re looking for pedigreed rabbits for showing, you can get a pair of rabbits very cheaply at your local small animal auction, from a local breeder, or even off of Craigslist.

If you’re planning to breed, mature bunnies will cost a bit more, but will pay for themselves in just a few months in either meat, manure or both. Since most does will produce 6 to 8 offspring in a litter that are ready to be processed by 12 weeks, it won’t take long to have your freezer full of nutritious protein, or have your compost heap filled to capacity.

We started with about 12 rabbits. We had a mixed bag of young and mature.  We grew out some of the young males for the table and kept all the young does along with a couple unrelated mature males.  That first winter we had rabbits everywhere. There were weeks we had multiple days with two or more litters arriving.  It was work, but it was also fun.  That next spring we had our best garden ever.

If you have a small space, or are not interested in meat, you could consider some of the dwarf rabbit varieties.  Some of them are really cute, make great pets and can be wonderful with

Dwarf Rabbits

children.  Despite their tiny size, they do a great job in the manure department.

Fall is upon us. If you’ve been thinking about adding rabbits to your farm or garden, now’s the time to get started. If you’ve got questions, please feel free to send them our way. We’d love to hear from you.

For those of you already raising rabbits, we’d like to hear from you, too. When did you get started and why? What has your experience been? Don’t be shy now.  You’re among friends.




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I was sure he was gone. I mean I did everything short of calling out the National Guard to make sure the beast and his kind were eliminated from our little piece of the burb.  Ok, I didn’t call in a priest either, but I considered it, so that has to count for something.  I set out traps. I flooded the dens. I even used poison.  I picked up carcass after carcass. In early March, my garden area looked like ratmageddon.  The battle was over and the human spirit had prevailed. Hail to the victor.

Could I have been more wrong?  Yesterday, when I went to water the garden, I noticed that something had nibbled on many of my green bean plants. I thought that was odd, because we’ve never had that happen until later in the season.  Bugs will be bugs, I thought. Or, I mused, it could be rabbits.

Tonight I learned the bitter truth. The Zilla was not dead; not dead by a long shot. He has returned and he is not alone.

I stepped into the garden, picked up my garden hose and turned towards the beans.  Something was amiss. The plants looked…shorter. Some even appeared to be missing.

As I pondered the mystery, the chilling truth revealed itself, first as a rustle in the bean patch, then as a full scale stampede. Rats ran in every direction. There were ten or maybe a dozen.  My heart sank.

It was in that moment, when I thought the terror was at it’s peak, he showed himself in all his demonic splendor. He raised himself up to his full height, then turned in his blood lust to face me down.

It couldn’t be, but there he stood, in full battle array, gore and venom dripping off his gruesome fangs as he snarled his warning. I blinked and he was gone. Did he vanish? Are his reflexes that fast? Is this some kind on Ninja rodent king?

Though our encounter was brief, much was communicated in that single instant. We both understood the terms. This time, there can be only one.  This time there will be resolution.  This time, I’m getting a bloody shotgun.  That freaking rat has got to die.  There will be no prisoners.  There will be no mercy.  There will be no quarter. I am the human.  I am the apex species. It’s my garden, darn it.  And that stupid Disney character ate ALL my beans.  There will be no early bean harvest this year.  I have to start over.  But I will start over knowing that the RATZILLA lies cold beneath my compost heap, even as his soul burns in the darkest, hottest corner of hell.

Was that over the top?  Nah, I think I nailed it.


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Adult Coppernose Bluegill

All I wanted to do was add some bluegill and catfish to my aquaponics plan so that we would have some cold water hardy fish for extending the vegetable growing season.  Since both species tolerate cold water exceptionally well while Tilapia require specific temperature ranges to thrive (survive) it seemed like a good idea to buy some.

One week ago today, despite being quite ill (unabashed self pity), B and I went to the feed store to pick up some hay and get some fish.  A pond stocking company would be there for one hour selling a selection of fish.  Unfortunately, there was a 100 fish minimum.  I only wanted 30.  I should have walked away when I heard that.  I’m not very good at walking away, though, when I’m on a mission.  Besides, my head was not clear from being sick.

At any rate, I proudly put 70 Coppernose Bluegill and 30 Channel Catfish in the back of the truck. They were in oxygen infused bags of water, of course.

Things went downhill from there.

First, we had to stop at the farm to do evening chores.  Those take an hour or so when B and I are both there.  That would be no problem for the

Pan Sized Channel Cat

fish.  And, it wouldn’t have been, but we got guests.  Some neighbors stopped by to chat.  We have lots of visitors. We love the fact that so many people enjoy dropping by to shoot the breeze and hang out with the animals.  That extra hour was not good for my fishies.  It certainly was no good for the water quality.

I had prepared an aquarium to hold them for a day or two while we fixed up a big aquaponics tank.  I did the usual acclimatize the fish slowly routine, then put them into the tank.  They seemed to adapt nicely, if a little crowded.  Mission accomplished.  NOT!

The next morning, there were dead fish everywhere and the water was almost black.  Obviously the filtration wasn’t large enough and/or there was just an overload of ammonia and nitrites from the little bit of bag water that made it into the aquarium.

I removed the dead fish and treated the water, but had to get to work.  Brittan emailed me with the news that more fish were dying.  To assist me in overcoming my panic, she set up our 300 gallon stock tank.  That would do the trick.  Later that evening I transferred the survivors to their new, larger digs.  I was confident of the larger tank’s ability to remain stable.  My confidence was misplaced.  By morning the water looked like the aquarium water and there were more dead fish.

Over a three  day time frame about 80 of the fish died. I was in a panic and the garage was stinking to high heaven.  Finally, in desperation, I took a 20 gallon aquarium, and set it up with two filters, one for a 50 gallon tank and one for a 30 gallon tank.

After cycling the system, I caught the surviving fish, put them in an isolation bucket for an hour or so to kind of wash them off and acclimatize them again, then put them into the new, smaller aquarium.  Today is the third day since doing so and the fish are ok.  I added a pre filter last night. The pre filter is just a home depot bucket with some filter material and a drain.  A pump sucks up water from the bottom of the tank and shoots it into the bucket.  The filter material catches the solids and the water drains back out into the aquarium.  I am hoping this system will work until I can get a larger system set up this weekend.

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine running disaster recover for pond fish. Tilapia are easier.  Such is the life of a wannabe homesteader living la vida loca in the Edible Suburb.

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Here’s the deal. Our mules, Laverne and Shirley (don’t ask), need a new shelter. They are just too big for the ones we have built for the other animals. They can stoop way over and squeeze in, but it’s really uncomfortable for them. They tore the heck out of one shelter built out of cattle panels, tarps and t posts. One or both of the girls stood up inside it and pulled the whole thing out of the ground and twisted it like a pretzel. Did I mention that they are very large and very strong?

We want to build a couple of run in shelters for them, but we could use some extra hands, so we’re hoping to have an old fashioned barn raising (sounds better than run in shed raising) on Saturday, January 14. We’ll start about 9:30 a.m.  If we get a good enough group we’ll build two.  We have a couple of pastures we want to put sheds in.

All you need to do is show up and be willing to work. If you have tools, like hammer, saw, screw drivers, wrenches and pliers, feel free to bring them. They’ll come in handy. The event is gender and age neutral. If you can work and like to have fun, you’re welcome to join in.

We’ll have coffee and bottled water available. After the work, if it’s a nice day, we’ll all come back to the house for a cookout. We’ll have burgers made from our own grass fed beef.  If it’s not nice, as in January bone chilling cold, we’ll have some warming beef stew. In the case of rain, we’ll reschedule.

If you’d like to join us for some fun on the farm, just let us know.  And, thanks in advance for the help. Oh, don’t forget to tell a friend and bring a friend. The more the merrier.

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Being a bi-vocational farmer is hard.  Notice, I didn’t say ‘part time’.  Nothing about our operation is part time, except maybe, sleep.

My day begins and usually ends, lighted by headlamp.  I’m out in the garden, watering, weeding and harvesting long before my suburbanite neighbors are caffeinating themselves to prepare for the daily commute.  A part of my morning routine is watching the lights go on, as one by one, the locals rise to face another day.

By 7, I’m getting ready to join the multitudes fighting Atlanta rush hour traffic.  This is when my wife takes over, grabbing a milk bucket and motoring the 5 miles down to road to the farm to alternatively feed, milk and cuddle our collection of grazers, browser and rooters.   When she gets home there is plenty of canning, freezing, baking, grinding, stewing, snapping, grating, chopping and blending, to fill the rest of her day.

Once Corporate America sets me free and I race the crowds home, there is just time to do a quick change of uniform and head back to the farm.  Sometimes we grab a bite of supper first, other times it must wait.  Often, it just doesn’t happen at all.

Evenings consist of a repeat of the morning chores along with various tasks like, planting, composting, mowing, mucking out, grooming and pairing up animals for breeding.  Saturdays are just like weekdays except we replace the morning commute for a trip to the feed store and extra chores.  Saturdays also mean processing animals and harvesting vegetables.

Sundays, after milking, we get a reprieve, because we have Church from 8:30 a.m. until 11:00 a.m., but since I teach a class at 8:30, we’re not exactly idle.

Yes, bi-vocational farming is hard, but it pays off in more than dollars.  Farming pays in a currency called, joy.

How can I describe the feeling of walking out in the quiet dark of an Autumn morning to wrestle the fog and dew in order to harvest a few squash, peppers and collard greens?  How can you explain the peace of looking over your garden, while scratching the ears of one or more of the herding dogs intent on remaining underfoot the entire morning?

Evenings are special times, too.  For some reason known only to Heaven and young ruminants, sunset turns juvenile goats and lambs into a kind of gymnast/rodeo clown hybrid. They run, they jump, they butt heads and generally get on the nerves of every adult animal in the pasture.  For the humans on the farm, however, they bring only smiles, and the occasional belly laugh.

As darkness begins to fall, chickens and turkeys start to look for fences, walls, limbs, window sills and feed troughs on which to settle in for a good night’s roost.  I really don’t have the right words to relay how the peaceful sounds of cooing and clucking can soothe away the stress of a day in the American Rat Race.  The sounds of roosting poultry provide a gentle serenade as we search the pastures for our hens’ latest egg hiding place.  Despite the presence of nest boxes in each pasture, every day is an Easter egg hunt in our world of free range chickens.

Back in the neighborhood, people are turning on lights and television sets for an evening of “Dancing with the has beens”, while we are being entertained by a small band of piglets squealing and gyrating around the milk stanchion, hoping to get a share of the fresh goat’s milk that’s being rhythmically squirted into the milk bucket by the Lady of the house.

Sometimes, she will aim a stream at a waiting porker who will open his mouth and grab the flying lactation out of the air.  He will wag his curly tail like a Labrador retriever and dance with delight.  There is absolutely nothing on cable or satellite television that can compare.

We started farming so that we could better control our own food chain.  We figured the best way to know exactly what goes into our food was to grow it, process it and cook it ourselves.  It worked.  We eat better.  We eat less.  We eat fresher.  Our food has something we didn’t realize it could have; flavor.

We got everything we expected from farming and more.  We got sweaty.  We got calluses. We got cuts, scrapes and bruises.  We got muscles.  We got tired.  We also got something we didn’t expect, something that money can never buy.  We got pleasure.  Pleasure to treasure, pure joy.  They just don’t sell that at the supermarket.

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First, for those of you who read my first book, “IOU NO MORE”, thank you.  I had a lot of fun doing it and it’s been pure joy seeing the results and changed lives from those who adopted the principles for becoming and living debt free.  But it’s been 4 and a half years since that book came out.  Wow, where did the time go?

Last winter I updated it and like the results.  I will release “IOU NO MORE 2.0” this winter as an e-book.  Watch for that.

As usual, though, I digress.  I’m currently writing a book on how to live more sustainably and self sufficiently whether you have acreage or live in a studio apartment.  Lots of people want to grow some of their own food, but either don’t know how to get started or what they can do given their space limitations.  I am taking 6 scenarios; apartment,1/10 acre, 1/4 acre, 1/2 acre, 1 acre and 5 acres and imagining what I’d do with that space to optimize my opportunity.

It’s a lot of fun, so far.  I’m writing about gardening, livestock and even aquaculture ideas.  It’s going to be very practical and quite user friendly, but I’m having a problem.  I can’t come up with a title that I like.  So far, I hate all my ideas and I’m wasting too much time trying to come up with something, so I’m turning to you for help.  Please help me name my book.

I’m going to run a “Name Sam’s Book” contest through the month of September.  Along the way, I’ll try and drop some excerpts into blog updates to help get your creative juices flowing.  The first week of October I’ll pick a winner.  The winner will get a mention in the book, 3 free copies once it’s published and a year’s subscription you your choice of “Mother Earth News”, “Countryside Magazine and Small Stock Journal”, “Hobby Farms” or “Urban Farms” magazines.

No purchase is necessary and all ideas are welcome.  You can  to me or even add them as comments to this post so that the whole world can see your talent. Thanks in advance for your help.  Now, go out there and get creative!

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