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Showing posts from 2014

Holiday on the Homestead

Life is cyclical. Sometimes there are storms. Sometimes calm. Lately, thankfully, I can say there has been sunshine. Our family has experienced a number of unexpected blessings of late. Some kind soul, a secret Santa, had a local garage put tires on our van. The garage even picked the vehicle up and delivered it back to our house. We have no idea who extended such generosity but are sincerely thankful that they did.

On the same day close friends of ours delivered a new chicken coop they had built for us. They travel with their young children during the winter. This year they are heading west to California to leave the cold New York winter behind. The catch is they have four hens and needed a sitter. We had recently purchased four hens ourselves. So they suggested that in exchange for watching their hens they would build us a coop with a run. How could I possibly say no?

There are some things that I do well but I am comfortable admitting that there are some things that I do not do so w…

The Working Poor and Gardening

“The average person is still under the aberrant delusion that food should be somebody else's responsibility until I'm ready to eat it.” Joel Salatin, Folks, This Ain't Normal: A Farmer's Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World
Over the years I have found that statistics can be easily manipulated to enhance the viewpoint of a particular presenter in an effort to sway their audience. Personally, I do not feel the need to show you the numbers in regards to Americans living below the poverty line. I do not believe that I need to provide you with brightly colored pie charts to include that often overlooked portion of our population, the working poor. I believe that our own daily experiences provides us with a stable platform to view the world we live in and for most of us if we are not living below the poverty line or are not working poor ourselves we know someone who is. Chances are as a collective we all know far more people struggling financially th…

December Morning

Thanksgiving brought a beautiful snow to our neck of the woods. Eventually the seasonal rains appeared washing away the remaining snow leaving the ground barren and brown. My wife is expecting our fourth child in late February so I have felt a renewed urgency to accomplish as much as possible when the weather allows so that we have a little less to do next spring. So I took the opportunity to gather a wheelbarrow full of stones for our raised beds. I have been making the transition in earnest from wood to rock since last year. It will not decay in my lifetime thus saving some money and there is a part of me that believes it must add something of value in the form of minerals to the soil over the long haul of its existence.

The air was crisp this morning. It would have been comfortable if not for the light but persistent breeze. I could feel the cold gnawing through my work gloves and biting the tip of my nose as I walked down the old dirt path in search of the perfect stones. I could…

The Year in Review

For the past three days the weather has been wonderful. It has been in the high 50's and though a little cloudy no real rain to speak of outside of this morning. The beautiful weather provided ample time for our family to catch up on some work on the urban micro-farm that we affectionately call "Whitaker Gardens".

Our mailman graciously gave our family some organic garlic from his garden and shortly thereafter our neighbors, who have a nice garlic patch themselves, gave us four varieties of garlic for our gardens. So my son and I planted nearly 150 cloves that shall sprout in 2015. We carried wheelbarrow loads of fallen leaves from the nearby forest to the gardens and covered the garlic beds and then put the rest down on the soil that has yet to be worked over to add organic matter.

This year we also planted green manure at the suggestion of some family friends. We planted red clover which is extremely helpful to the soils health and consistency. I have spent a better p…

Backyard Chickens

"A farm today means 100,000 chickens in a space the size of a Motel 6 shower stall."
~ P.J. Rourke ~

Those of you who have read "Seed to Harvest" in the past know that responsible self-sufficiency is important to our family. I am a firm believer that self-sufficiency and the opportunity to provide food for oneself or their family is a human right. One has to be neighborly of course and make sure their animals are not a nuisance or a public health hazard but if one is practicing responsible husbandry than those issues should not even be a factor. Backyard chickens provide an opportunity to continue that philosophy.

One may be surprised to know that there are drastic health differences in a factory farm egg compared to "backyard" eggs. As an example we have all heard that eggs contain far too much cholesterol for a healthy diet. You may be interested to know that only half the cholesterol present in factory eggs happens to be found in backyard eggs. I some…

Black Turtle Beans

There is evidence that the native people of what is now Peru and Mexico were cultivating beans nearly 9,000 years ago. Our families history with the bean is not nearly as established but about three years ago our family did begin growing black turtle beans in our garden. We ordered the seeds from Fedco-Seeds out of Waterville Maine.

There were a number of reasons that we began growing these particular beans. To begin with we eat a ton of rice and beans and it simply made sense financially to grow our own rather than paying a dollar a can multiple times a week. Second, who really knows where these beans are coming from that we are buying in the grocery store. Third, we wanted to attempt to increase our food storage for the fall and winter seasons. The majority of our garden provides fresh eating during spring, summer and even early fall but as we roll into the lean months aside from some popcorn, canned items and a small freezer full of veggies and fruit we …

How To Plant Garlic

We have been growing garlic since day one in our garden. We have had great success with it and I believe that most home gardeners will find it a worthwhile pursuit.
The first thing that you want to do, as with all your crops, is prepare the soil. Remember that you are not necessarily feeding your plants but the soil itself. Healthy soil equals healthy plants. We use green compost which is a mixture of kitchen scraps such as veggie and fruit leftovers and any number of plant materials from our lawn that have been in the compost bin for months on end. We also have a rabbit and she graciously adds endless amounts of manure to our soil as well.
I admittedly jump the gun on occasion and plant in early October but really in my neck of the woods I should be waiting until at least November to plant my cloves. You want to plant your individual cloves with the “hard” side down in the soil. Plant them 4 to 8 inches apart and cover them with soil. The thing to keep in mind is that the closer toge…


I try to tuck a few calendula plants in the garden every year. It is a rather prolific plant that produces amazing resinous flowers that hold a number of uses.

Calendula has a long history as a medicinal plant. The flower has been used to prevent muscle spasms, gastrointestinal problems and is even used to treat bee stings . It can be applied to the skin to reduce pain and swelling which is why some people use it as an alternative cure for diaper rash. It can also be made into a healing salve which is how I first became aware of the plant. My wife dried the flowers in our first garden and used them in the bath water. It has a hydrating effect on ones skin.

It has also long been used as a culinary plant. The petals are edible and it has been used to color cheese and butter and even as a replacement for saffron in some dishes. You can use the flowers in salads, soups and rice dishes as a garnish to add flavor and coloring.

An interesting historical note on this flower is that it used …

The Importance of the Family Garden

"If you grow a garden you are going to shed some sweat, and you are going to spend some time bent over, you will experience some aches and pains. But it is in the willingness to accept this discomfort that we strike the most telling blow against the power plants and what they represent." ~ Wendell Berry~

As I have noted in the past our family owns a home in a small rural community. We possess 1/16th of an acre and every inch of soil is precious. Things are tough in my community. It is a dinosaur in some sense of the word. It is a blue collar factory town. Opportunity is rare in the form of corporate commodity but here families are creating their own opportunity simply by digging in the rich dirt in their own backyards.

Our family, in many ways, is similar to most people in that we live paycheck to paycheck and we have to get down right creative to put healthy meals on the table. We are also a bit different from the general populace in that our family of five, soon to be six,…

Ground Cherries

We have been growing ground cherries in our garden for nearly four years now. Originally we ordered a few plants from The Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa. Since then we have been growing our heirloom plants from the seeds that we save each fall.

Ground cherries, which are known by a number of names such as husk tomatoes, Cape gooseberries, strawberry tomatoes and my favorite poha, are a new world plant for the most part. They are a member of the nightshade family. They produce miniature fruits that are protected and preserved in tight husk that resemble a Chinese lantern. While not much bigger than a blueberry they produce a large flavor. If eaten while immature they have a bitter green tomato taste. If they are mature they have a wonderful flavor that has been described as mango, vanilla and even pineapple. They really do have a taste of their own and while I don't necessarily think it taste like any of the descriptions I just mentioned it is very delicious. The immature f…


Shallots, which are botanically named Allium ascalonicum after Ascalon (or Ashkelon) a town in South Palestine, were believed to have been brought to the U.S. by De Soto during his Louisiana explorations.

Personally speaking shallots are my favorite allium though in truth I like them all. They are much more mild than the typical onion or garlic and add an amazing sweet onion flavor to almost any dish.

Shallots are cool season perennials that grow well in our northern clay soil. If you plant an individual clove in early spring by the middle of summer you will have a nice robust cluster of five or more bulbs. Similar to onions you can tell that they are ready for harvest when their green stem falls over and begins to die. Just like your onion patch you want to make sure they have an opportunity to dry before storage. If stored properly, which for our family is simply putting them in a hanging wire basket in the kitchen, they will last well into the winter months. Believe me when I say …

Spanish Onion

The onion has a long and somewhat interesting history. According to the National Onion Association, yes there is such a thing, it is difficult to tell the exact origins of this allium because their tissue leaves little trace. But with that said it is believed that they were a part of human diet well before farming and that our prehistoric ancestors were enjoying wild varieties.

There is some conjecture that they were cultivated in Iran or West Pakistan and there is evidence of onions being grown in Chinese gardens well over 5,000 years ago.

Onions played a roll in ancient Egyptian burials with remains being found in King Ramses IV tomb. In the sixth century B.C. onions were celebrated in the medical treatise Charaka Sanhita.

But that is not all. The Greek physician Dioscorides believed in onions medical properties. The Romans carried onions all the way to Germany and England during their campaigns. During the middle ages the three staples of the European diet were cabbage , beans and…

Book Review (The Contrary Farmer by Gene Logsdon)

I live in rural New York State. Just down the road in the small town of Bainbridge is a farmers market called Frog Pond Farms. I remember when Frog Pond was simply a few tables full of summer squash and other seasonal items located in the owners driveway. Over the years with hard work and great service it has grown into a local attraction not only for those of us who live in the area but also those who travel in from out of state. It has live farm animals, livestock for sale, starter plants, seeds, produce, honey and farm fresh eggs just to name a few of the items.

It also has a giant corn "sandbox" that my children love to play in when time allows. Recently I took a rare trip that only involved my four year old daughter. After checking out the rabbits and buying some fruit she asked to play in the corn. As she settled in to play I took a glance at the bulletin board located not far away. A book by Gene Logsdon called The Contrary Farmer (Chelsea Green Publishing Company P.…

Sunday Afternoon in the Garden

I have just finished foraging in the local landfill. I was able to find a healthy vintage hollyhock. It's roots eager and sprawling. Yellow flowers crowning the four foot plant. It sat forgotten with deep roots among the collected yard waste. I can't but help wonder who it used to belong to? I would like to think it would make them smile knowing it has found a new home among our hosta and zinnia. A showcase center piece positioned along the new stone walkway my wife put down by hand this spring. Bees already sipping nectar from its bonnet flowers.

I was also able to harvest four poppy plants as well. I have to admit that I am not 100% sure as to their variety. I believe they may be Icelandic Poppy at my wife's suggestion but I am willing to admit I may be wrong in such an early verdict. The plants caught my eye while I was walking my dogs one afternoon. Their brilliant pink blooms among a sea of green and yellow. There they were waiting from a garden long forgotten.


Utilizing Natural Feed Options for Meat Rabbits

Our desire to invest in meat rabbits was a decision that was driven by a number of larger issues. To begin with it was a financial decision. We are a one income homeschooling family and every time I find myself in the grocery store I leave more determined to provide as much food as I possibly can through my own hard work. The price of food products are not in relation to the majority of families wages these days and that is putting it mildly. I also felt a spiritual/ethical need to take responsibility for the meat that goes on my families table. It is rather easy to buy meat wrapped tidy in plastic and Styrofoam at the supermarket but to raise an animal and eventually take its life is a much more intense experience. I feel that on some level I owe it to the animal I am consuming to take part in its life and death rather than just swiping my debit card. It was also a decision based on health. Take but a moment and do some research not only on the conditions of the animals you eat and …

Book Review (Backyard Homesteading: A Back-To-Basics Guide to Self-Sufficiency by David Toht)

Backyard Homesteading: A Back-To-Basics Guide to Self-Sufficiency by David Toht is an excellent starting point for those interested in urban homesteading. Mr. Toth covers a number of worthwhile subjects such as raising vegetables and herbs, owning chickens and beekeeping. It also touches on brewing beer, canning foods and growing fruit, berries and nuts. The catch with the book is that it is definitely for the novice homesteader. Though it touches on a number of issues it does not necessarily do so in an in depth manner. With that said it does point you in the right direction for further research and that in and of itself is valuable.

I am the sort that even if I cannot successfully or maybe even legally take part in a particular branch of homesteading, such as raising goats, I still enjoy reading about it. Personally I found the section on beekeeping extremely interesting. I was not familiar with the holistic approach of beekeeping using the top-bar hive until I read this book. If y…

Your Gardens Health

Eight years ago I planted a garden with my family. It has slowly spread its roots all through our tiny 1/16th acre. In fact it struck me the other day that we may have officially graduated from gardeners to micro-farmers.

We were conscious from the very beginning that it was important to grow food in a manner that would be healthy not only for our bodies but for our small corner of soil as well. After all our yard is simply a microcosm within the much larger context of the world macrocosm.

Our family has attempted to work within the framework of nature. I suppose some would say we incorporate a combination of permaculture, biodynamic gardening and some good old fashioned common sense in regards to our gardening techniques.

For example we have embraced the local wildlife as part of our responsibilities as land stewards rather than foes to be eradicated. The first two years that we had a garden we did not even have fence around our property. The rabbits who lived in the neighboring for…

Book Review (Canning & Preserving by Ashley English)

I recently finished reading Canning & Preserving by Ashley English. This is one of a number of books English has written in the Homemade Living series. This 133 page book is a helpful guide for those interested in food preservation.

One of the aspects that I enjoyed about the book is that it set up so that the reader experiences quick burst of meaningful literature. The layout reminded me of a blog or a website and in this particular case that is not a bad thing.

The book covers everything from equipment needed to the science of canning safety. It also contains recipes and up close portraits of those who have experience canning. Descriptions and techniques are provided for jams, jellies, preserves, marmalade and fruit butters as well as conserves and curds.

This book is certainly worth having on ones bookshelf regardless of your interest whether it is health, cutting food cost or self-sufficiency this short read covers it.

Ashley English can be found on a number of social media s…

Book Review (The Complete Gardener by Monty Don)

Every so often one is able to discover a true gem of a book. The Complete Gardener by Monty Don happens to be one of those rare reads.

The author covers a year in his English gardens. Though he discusses a number of subjects that you may find in any good organic gardening book such as soil health, seed starting techniques and recipes it is the manner in which he presents the material. Monty Don is an inspired man with a fantastic sense of humor, a depth of knowledge, and truthfully is as talented with the pen as he is in the garden. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, not to find yourself motivated by his appreciation for the smallest details of gardening. Our family garden has experienced a number of small but significant changes stemming from his influence. We now have more established boundaries and paths in the gardens. We have embraced the idea that it exist well beyond the summer and though we have long dreary winters it is possible to stimulate the senses visually w…

Pruning Your Apple Tree

"A Pembrokeshire proverb. Eat an apple on going to bed, And you'll keep the doctor from earning his bread."

~February 1866 edition of Notes and Queries magazine~

As you can see from the Welsh quote listed above , "An apple a day keeps the doctor away" has been with us for some time. Apples obviously far longer, thousands of years longer in fact. Currently there are over 7,500 cultivators available for apple connoisseurs. If you are interested in old heirloom varieties I would recommend requesting the free Fedco catalog.

Just a few days ago with the wind chill it was 3 degrees Fahrenheit, today mid fifties. I decided it was time to prune the apple tree. The old tree was here when we bought our home nearly 8 years ago. It is difficult to tell if there was initially a vision for the tree in regards to pruning. By the time we arrived it had obviously been neglected for some time.

We have tried over the past few seasons to create a h…