Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Cover Crops, Not Just for Farmers


Over the past couple years I've been experimenting with cover crops in my garden. So far I've planted: crimson clover, hairy vetch, winter rye, buckwheat, fall cover crop mix, spring cover crop mix and various other legumes. Cover crops play a variety of roles in your garden. Use them to protect soil during the winter, they prevent erosion while improving it. They can also help control nematodes and mitigate other soil issues. They work beautifully as a suppression crop on a newly made garden keeping the weeds at bay.
Crimson clover is my favorite, it's a beautiful cover crop. The first time it bloomed in my garden 2 years ago I knew I'd be using it for years to come. It grows quickly, smothers weeds and brings up nutrients for future crops - all this while looking fabulous!
This past winter I experimented with an overwintering cover crop mix. It contained: winter rye, hairy vetch and crimson clover. It started growing last fall and reached a height of about 6 inches. Throughout the winter it went dormant and protected the soil. This spring as soon as it warmed up slightly the rye started growing. Soon enough the vetch joined in and before long it was almost 4 feet tall.
I chopped it down last week as the vetch was just beginning to bloom. Using pruners, I cut it down in 6-8 inch segments and then went to work digging it into the soil. Before long my neighbor came over inquiring if I was wanting to work up the soil. He'd just purchased a new toy and was itching to use it. A few minutes he returned with his new tiller and starting working the cover crop into the soil. Mr Chiots came out and did the rest while I chatted with our neighbor.
I source my cover crop seeds from Johnny's Selected Seeds. They have a great selection of single crops and mixtures, just about everything you'll ever need. Here's a great chart from them to help you chose the right crop for your application (click on the image to view larger, readable version that you can save if you want to).
It's quite amazing the difference a cover crop will make when it comes to improving the soil. It takes patience because you have to wait for it to grow, buy it's certainly an inexpensive way to amend large areas of soil. I'm looking forward to trying a few other varieties. I currently have mustard seeds and I'm looking forward to trying a turnip as well. Now that I have a new large garden they'll come in handy for smothering weeds on the newly cleared land and they'll improve the soil in the process so it will be ready when it comes time to grow vegetables!

Do you ever use cover crops in your garden?

Monday, 27 June 2011

Chickens for the Freezer, Final Stats

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

We butchered our meat birds yesterday and so now I have all my final facts and figures in place enabling me to see just how much it costs to raise this portion of our food.



I used the standard Cornish Cross meat bird because I appreciate the growth efficiency that has been bred into them. They provide lots of bang for the buck. Not to say that they can't be fraught with problems if you don't follow the instruction sheet. Basically these are race car chickens and they need the high octane fuel, My old 6 banger hay truck doesn't need race car fuel and it is slow as heck, but it gets the job done. So if you want,need, or desire a slower growing chicken by all means grow that type of chicken, but please don't try to fit the industrial Cornish into the slow growing, low protein type feed, it can end up very sad for both birds and the people raising them. There's plenty of opinions out there on what breed of bird, type of feed, and raising methods to use. I am not addressing any of that here, I am just reporting what it took to from hatchery to freezer on my farm. My equipment is already off the depreciation schedule so I haven't included start-up costs. And labor costs vary depending on how much you think your time is worth or what you are willing to pay someone else to do your work for you. Obviously the longer you raise your birds the more time you have into them.

EXPENSES
$ 126.00 - Chick Cost (day-old includes shipping)
$ 450.00 - Feed (custom mix non-organic broiler feed)
$ 5.00 - Electricity(brooder)

$<581.00> - Total Expenses


*VALUE (*reflects comparable product available in my area)

$1764.00 - Meat 441 pounds @ $4.00 per lb
$14.00 - Hearts/livers 10 lbs @$2.00 per lb
$ 29.00 - gizzards 14.5 lbs @ $2.oo per lb
$72.00 - feet 18 lbs @ $4.00

$1885.00 -Total Value

$1304.00 - NET

I started with 77 birds and lost two, one within hours of receipt, and one a week later when I stepped on him. Ouch. He ran off, but was dead the next morning. Looking at the figures above my birds cost approximately $8.00 each to raise. More than the Fred Meyer version and less than if I had to buy them. By the time I get my husband's lunch meat for the week, 2 more meals at least, and 5 quarts of broth, plus dog food I have gotten my moneys worth. Most of the birds weighed in the 5 and 6 pound range with a few outliers at 4.5 pounds and 7.5 pounds. I used 1500 of feed for the Cornish and pullets in the 8.5 weeks, which works out to about a 3:1 feed conversion rate. The leftover feed from the ton will be used for my pullets and with some cutting of protein my adult hens can eat it too.

Another factor that you have to take into consideration is processing costs. I butchered at a friends house, and will help them butcher when their chickens are ready. Processing at a state facility in my area starts at $3.50 per bird. Which is worth it if you're squeamish.

As for feed, I co-oped with a neighbor who needed pig feed. I did the ordering and delivered the minerals, and when the feed was done, they picked it up. Still we had some costs involved in time, and fuel. I also raised my replacement pullets for eggs with this flock and it would be hard to track what they ate in the 8 weeks.

And certainly with some ingenuity and attention to detail you can really gather some good chicken manure for your garden in the time you are raising these birds. I have some good material from the brooding stage and used the birds to renovate a small pasture that needed some help.

So while not for everyone, raising chickens for meat is certainly a good place to start. Chickens are small and easy to handle and in two months plus, you have a product to eat. Much quicker than any other type of meat animal.

And it is delicious!

Friday, 24 June 2011

Making Music

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
I learned to play the accordion when I was eight years old. I was really interested in the piano, but that was financially out of the question. When my parents found a used accordion they could afford, they convinced me to learn that instead. So I took a couple year's worth of lessons, learned to read music - both bass and treble clef, and eventually learned how to play an instrument where you can't see what your hands are doing.

After a couple of years though, I got interested in other things, and stopped taking lessons. I grew up, and eventually moved out on my own. For a few years, that accordion sat in my parents' house, but I never would let them get rid of it. Eventually, when I'd matured enough to be a bit more stable in my living arrangements, I took it back. It's since made every move with me.

Even though I didn't play it for months, even years, at a time, I never did think about selling it. Every once in a while, I'd pick it up - just to see if I still remembered anything, and to make sure it was still playable. And now, recently, I've started playing it regularly again. I found an old guy nearby that did accordion repair, and had him fix a broken strap bracket and one stuck reed. He blew the dust out of the inside, and said my accordion is still in fine shape - I'd obviously taken good care of it over the years.

Having learned to play so young, the muscle memory came back quicker than the mental exercise of reading music. But that's coming back to me too. As a kid I had to play polkas, waltzes, and marches, but recently got myself some zydeco and movie soundtrack sheet music. I've even started to think about memorizing a handful of tunes and trying my hand at busking downtown.

So I'm just wondering: how many of you out there play a musical instrument?

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Who Loves Porridge?

by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin

I love porridge and so do my chickens!  In fact the whole family loves porridge, even the dogs.

Such a versatile breakfast, all full of goodness to start the day.  Rolled oats (or Quick oats) and milk (or water) in a ratio of 2:3 (oats to liquid) and cook until thick.  Kim and I have it with a teaspoon of jam to sweeten it up, and I have an extra dash of milk, but other than that, no other additives.  It is also one of the cheapest breakfasts you can buy. 

The chickens get it straight up and thick which they love.  Here is some pictures of me feeding them some warm porridge this morning.  They just go crazy for it.

Fever pitched excitement amongst the chooks.

They just can't wait to eat it straight from the spoon.

We've got lumps of it out the back.

Line the wagons up in a circle, Pilgrims!

Nice breakfast Mr Man.  You're welcome, Miss messy face.

Don't worry girls, there is lots more.

I just love their messy little faces.

As you can see, they prefer the warm porridge than they do their complete seed mix.  Well, if I was a chook, so would I.  It is full of protien and calcium for making strong bones and eggs and warms up their tummies on a cold, cold morning.

Go for it girls!


Monday, 20 June 2011

Weekly Rhythms Which Help

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches


After a few weeks which left me feeling positively disheveled, I've been taking some time to commit to getting back into a rhythm which helps me lead a simple, green & frugal life even among the chaos of life! And for me, right now, those essential rhythms include...



















:: A weekly walk, preferably repeated each day ;)




















:: Homemade soup, perfect for a winter's eve - or for tackling summer allergies & sinuses



















:: Weekend cooking sessions so meals are healthy & simple during the week - this week roasted trout, brussel sprouts, cooked sweet potato, roasted lemony carrots and broccoli salad



















:: A few sessions with the needles - the perfect way to unwind

And when I take the time to incorporate a few little activities which help me lead a simpler life, I find that I'm learning an important lesson. A lesson in understanding no matter how busy, there is always a choice. A choice to rest, a choice to be in that moment, a choice to let go of the distractions and instead take a few minutes to focus, to be, to let go. And in that very moment - even if in the background there is noise and lists of things to do, I see the beautiful! And when I find that beautiful, even just a few minutes each day, it helps me set the tone for a relaxed and simple week.

What activities do you incorporate into your life which help you lead a simple, green or frugal life?