Category Archives: Homesteading

Articles which cover a variety of subjects from composting, gardening, animal breeding, aquaponics, and more.

Guest Post: Suburban Bees

It is always nice to find other beekeepers and homesteaders in the burbs’. Here is another great story from the opposite coast!

thekitchensgarden

Greetings from Northern California! As I write, the rain is pouring down, a real boon for our drought-stricken area. Looking outside, I can see the plants in our raised beds looking a little limp, and our chickens huddled miserably in the dry corner of their run. I can’t see any honeybees at all, though, and that’s because they are snugly huddled together in the middle of their hive, between bars full of honey!

I enjoy reading Cecilia’s blog so much, for many reasons, but I think the thing I find most fascinating is the larger scale of her operation. Cecilia has many barns, pastures, and animals, spread across acreage. Heavens, she even has to zipline across a creek to reach some of them! (Ok, maybe not yet.) Reading about the size of the Farmy delights me.

Here at Poppy Corners Urban Farm, space is at a premium. Four of us…

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Aquaponics-Grow bed maintenance

I had to make some changes in the greenhouse this winter which gave me the opportunity to take a closer look at my grow beds. The grow beds had a high concentration of fish solids making it difficult to maintain clean water and a proper ph balance.

These tanks have been in operation for over 3 years so I guess that’s not bad considering how lax I have been cleaning the swirl filters, which removes 80% of the fish solids. Note the mud like substance in the photos as well as the algae buildup in certain areas of the grow bed.

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The only real option I had was to remove the grow media and rinse it through strainers to remove as much of the solids as I could before returning it to the grow bed.

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Hopefully I will never let it get that bad again, but I know my fish and plants appreciated the clean out.

 

 

 

Priorities & the Chicken Coop 2.0

When tragedy strikes your life as it did ours last August with the death of our son, priorities immediately need a re-grouping. Some projects or goals just seem to lose the “importance factor” that they once had. Our chicken coop, although way behind schedule, was not a project that could be dumped as we had new hatchlings ready to inhabit the expansive new home and run.

Below is a video of the project to about 80% complete.

New Coop 2.0 2016 from Stephen Luckett on Vimeo.

Here are a few pictures of the completed yard and moving the hens from the old coop to join the new family of hens.

We only finished one side of the run, but as the weather breaks in the next few weeks, we will get out and build the other side of the run. With a double run system, we can always keep one side growing in fresh fodder. Hopefully this will keep our hens happy and laying eggs for us on a regular basis.

Just one little note, be very careful if you are going to have two roosters in an enclosed area. You could wake up to this!

 

Neither rooster died, but you could not tell it from the amount of blood all over the coop.

Although our priorities have changed and we are not as intent on our homesteading life, I intend to keep writing about our life here in suburbia. As a follower of Christ, God put man in charge of the gardens and the soil that abundance may grow to sustain our earthly life. We will do, as instructed by Him, including maintaining our greenhouse, aquaponic gardens, and apiary.

Genesis 2:15 “And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. ”

I have always considered myself a Christian, being raised in the Baptist Church, but I have lost sight of what it means to be a true follower. His expectations are simple of me: Love Him, walk away from sin,  and grow His Kingdom. These are now my priorities, sustaining life on this world while building up my treasures in Heaven. (Matthew 6:20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal)

 

Maybe I Should Have Gone Bigger

When we first built our greenhouse on the side of our house a few years ago, I thought this is more than enough room for what we will ever do in here. Wow, was I wrong!

Putting in the three 300 gallon fish tanks, with the grow beds, gutter garden, and potted plants seemed to be about perfect, but this year when an opportunity presented itself to acquire some 4 to 5 year old citrus trees, I took it. I now have a total of 6 citrus trees which must be protected from our mid-Atlantic winters.

Lemons, limes, mangoes, and banana trees have made a home in our greenhouse. To make room I had to eliminate one fish tank and build a step-platform to hold the trees. I still have 2 fish tanks which is more than adequate to keep my grow beds alive. Here are a few pictures of our overcrowding.

 

 

 

Garden Growth-Good and Bad 2016

Watering, weeding, and digging, but very little close to harvesting. This year has been very strange. I think the spring weather, almost constant rain, getting the garden out later than normal, and now near drought conditions are causing strange growth patterns in our garden.

I actually took time to walk around our 1/5 acre homestead the other day just to survey how all the plants and trees were doing. I was a little surprised at the lack of growth from some plants that usually do very well, while their is an abundance of growth from other plantings.

On the good side-Our corn is ridiculous! I planted it next to one of our sheds and it has grown taller than our 10′ high shed! Not only that, but most years we only get 1 ear per stalk, most of the stalks this year are giving us two!

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20160717_090435Most of the melons are doing very well-trying to take over the garden even when I built “towers” for them this year.

This is the second year for my Jerusalem artichokes and they are feeling very happy as well.

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Many of my fruit trees-in particular the pears- which gave us an abundance of fruit last year, has not even flowered this year. The trees seem full, healthy and happy, but no fruit.  The apple trees, right next to the pear trees are bearing much this year-I had to thin out the fruit growth  there was so much.

I think everything else is pretty much on track with our late planting. Have some nice green tomatoes, green beans are vining well, all the herbs and other plants seem to be doing their job. My only real concern is the pepper plants.

Our pepper plants are usually very prolific. We get so many peppers that I cut the amount that I normally plant down to just 8. They are still growing, but they are much farther behind than other plants. They don’t seem unhappy, just slow growing. I will just keep an eye on them  and if they don’t spring up I may go ahead and plant more, or I guess if they don’t produce, I can put some in the greenhouse aquaponics for late season or winter.

Here are some pictures of our garden beds around our yard. Enjoy!

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Water Retention is just “Swale”

On our little 5th acre suburban homestead in the Mid-Atlantic Region, there is always one area of concern from mid-June through late August…..Water.

We don’t tend to get a lot of rain during these months and when it does rain, it is a quick storm or sudden downpour. The problem with the rains we do get is it runs off very quickly instead of soaking through for a deep root watering of all our plants.

So, this year I decided to try and build a water retention ditch through part of our back yard. Most of our ground is very level, so I don’t know if you could call this a true swale, but it is built of the swale concept.

I started by digging a trough basically about 18″ deep and made sure that the bottom grade of the ditch was perfectly level from one end to the other. Getting the base level means that although the trough is anywhere from 12″ to 18″ deep, the water will still remain evenly throughout ditch.

After the ditch was dug and I insured it would hold water evenly, I put a layer of landscape fabric before adding fill. The fill is done with old logs and tree trunks, which will help retain the moisture of every rain.

Then to top it off is a “path” of large rock. The rock will allow easy water flow, yet adds the appearance of only being a path through the mulch of garden beds.

Sorry I did not get pictures of the area when I first started, but here are the pics of the project and finished work.

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The swale runs between some fruit trees and in the middle of a larger “food forest” which I am hoping that it will keep enough water dispersed throughout during the dryer season.

The berm built on the side from the dirt dug from the trench will serve as extra planting space. Have not decided exactly what I will plant yet, but I will have it finished up in the next few days.

My plan is to add two or three more if this does exactly what I am hoping it will do. Any way I can keep more water on the property is a great advantage to the amount of watering we have add to do these past few years.

2016 Honey Flow

Its that time again. Around July 4 seems to be the perfect time to harvest our honey from the hive. I had high hopes this year, as this was the second year that this hive would give us honey, but once getting into it, I was a little let down.

Last year (2015)we were able to get about 11 pounds of honey. Not a fantastic harvest, but still very excited about our first year. This year I truly expected that we would be able to harvest two to three times that amount, as the hive seemed very strong and thriving.

I guess sometime in the spring, we must have had a swarm from this hive. When I opened it up, the bee population seemed very low. Unfortunately, I had my wife taking pictures while I explored the hive and none of those pictures came out for some reason.

In the brood boxes, I found lots of empty cells, drone and female, along with a good amount of brood. There was a layer of pollen and honey, so the house bees seem to be keeping up on their duties. I did not find any queen cells, so the hive is not “thinking” about a new queen. I am guessing that this queen is starting to fail (I did not re-queen in 2015) so I am going to get a new queen and make that change now, so there will be plenty of time to assimilate and grow winter stores.

Back to the honey. I did get almost the same amount of honey this year as I did in 2015, so I guess I can’t complain too much. I will say the honey this year was much darker, so they must have got nectar from a different source than last year. I will be adding 2 more hives in the spring, so I look forward to the coming years of beekeeping.

Please enjoy some of the pictures from our day.

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Project expansion-Barrel Garden & Aquaponics

A few days ago I wrote about many of the projects I had been working on since it was almost impossible to get outside between raindrops to plant the garden.

I talked about the potato barrel project, which since first installing, I have expanded quite a bit since I had so many extra barrels. (Some already cut for AP tanks) The potatoes seem very happy in the new “digs” so I thought other plants might feel comfortable as well. I have not decided what else I am going to plant yet-other than a couple of barrels of red potatoes-but I have no doubt that my wife will soon let me know what I am thinking about.

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Another project I had been putting off but really needed done was to paint all of my fish tanks and grow beds in the greenhouse.  I have had a real issue with algae, and although I have kept Plecco’s (algae eaters) in the tanks, the issue is still out of control.

So I finally took the time to paint the exteriors of all my tanks and grow beds flat black. This will keep the sunlight from penetrating, thus reducing my algae growth. I also bought black bucket lids to put on to20160512_171615 20160512_171622p of my swirl filters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hopefully this solves my issues.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Powered by the sun-almost 2 months in

Solar.SaveGreenGoingGreen.netIt has been almost 2 months since we had the solar panels installed. We have a website to monitor the production on a daily basis and I must say I am pretty happy with the first few weeks-even with all the cloudiness and rain.

In April, which we were only live about 20 days and most of those days were deluged with rain, we were still able to produce 291.5 kw of energy through the solar panel. I would say this is not too shabby of a start.

So far in May (Through May 28 2016) we have produced 310.69 Kw. Still a little low, but as you can see from the graph below, we have still had a lot of clouds and rain.

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Our highest day production was 22.07 KW on May 16th. If we could produce 20 Kw a day for an entire month (600Kw for 30 days) This would run my greenhouse without issue, never having to pull extra energy from the grid.

Comparatively, my electric bill from the local utility (Baltimore Gas & Electric, BGE) for LAST YEAR AT THIS TIME due June 1, 2015 was a total od $280. I received my bill this year and it was for $195-a total reduction of $85.

But lets look at Kw usage from our utility bill. (Does not include solar production)

May 2015-934 Kw Average temp 57 degrees

May 2016-538 Kw Average temp 56 degrees

This is a reduction of 396 Kw from last year overall, but since I cannot know the exact days to calculate to compare apples to apples, meaning I do not know the exact reading dates that are accounted for in billing. If I did, I could calculate how much energy I produced in solar for the exact same days-giving me a very good picture of how we are doing.

I will be tracking our progress as I want to be able to have accurate information for anyone who may be thinking about going solar.

For more information on how easy and inexpensive it is to go solar please visit:

Solar.SaveGreenGoingGreen.net

 

 

Some Chicken Evolution on the suburban homestead

We started just a few weeks ago with these:

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Which in just about 7 weeks turned into these (Cornish Rock):

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But everything on the suburban homestead has a purpose, so two days ago they became these:

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And last night was a neighborhood barbeque!

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The dark meat toward the left is part of a deer roast from this past years trip to the cabin.

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From 4 hens in just 7 weeks after processing, we had a full 20 pounds of chicken meat! We still have the carcasses to turn into broth which we will can/freeze for future needs.

As an added  note, I will have to say that I am very proud of my wife who wanted to learn to process the chicken and did all 4 chickens herself. Good Job!

We are still fighting our county to allow chickens-if you would like to keep up with our struggle please check out our facebook group:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/chickenrevolution/