Category Archives: Homesteading

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

Recent Projects…Like I don’t have enough to do!

Getting the garden in place this year has been a real chore with the deluge of rain we have been getting in the Mid-Atlantic Region.  So I have been filling my time, in between raindrops, doing a few little projects that needed done.

First we moved the rabbits out of the greenhouse into their own new digs. The housing use to belong to our chickens, but since we no longer can have them on our property (Thank you Baltimore County), it seemed like a great place to house our rabbits. I just needed to add a small rabbit condo to the mix.

We always have extra wood laying around and in this case I had an old antique secretary desk that was beyond repair. This made for the perfect base and 2 floors for the new rabbit condo. All I really had to do was add a third level (we only have two female rabbits housed here) and some ramps for them to climb.

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Overall I think it turned out pretty good for just a few hours work.

Next I had to take the new chickens-our 6 meat birds-and get them out of the house. They were getting too big too quick for the extra large dog cage we were using. We are going to dispatch them next weekend, so I only needed a couple more weeks. I moved them into the greenhouse where the rabbits were to keep them out of sight of our 1 problematic neighbor.

20160513_164109 20160513_164230They seem happier in the expanded space, I just hope no one tells them about our weekend plans!

Another project I have been wanting to do was make some dedicated space for our potato crop. We have done ok with potatoes the last few years but I am horrible about adding to the hills as they grow, thus reducing my harvest.

This year I decided to do as a friend of mine did last year: grow my potatoes in barrels! I cut three barrels in half, drilled in some drainage holes, and set them along the fence row where they will get plenty of sun all day.

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If you do this be sure to clean up all the little curly plastic or mama gets upset!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once having the barrels set, I mixed some our local dirt (clay), compost, and perlite to formulate a good bedding mix for the new potatoes. I scooped this into each barrel and leveled it at about 4 inches deep. This seemed a good starting point with potatoes.

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I did this a few days ago and I just looked into the barrels this morning and saw several of the potatoes growing. When they get to about 6-8 inches I will add more dirt, burying the plants to about 4 inches again. I have already made up an extra barrel of the dirt mix and have it standing by so hopefully I will add more each week to realize a larger potato crop.

My friend that showed me this method got a great yield from his 1 barrel last year so I am real excited to see how this does for me.

This is just a few of the projects I have done over this rainy period. The last few days, there have been enough dry spells to get the garden in, so I will have several updates in the coming days.

 

 

 

 

Relax and Tour the Gardens

I took a little time off last Saturday since it was going to be a beautiful day, except for a few sprinkles early morning. I decided to go to one of our local garden experts tour and talk, so I visited Miriam’s Gunpowder Gardens.

This is the first time I have ever been to Miriam’s but I must say it was not only beautiful on the banks of the Gunpowder River, but educational. Miriam is very versed in all manner of flower, shrub, and tree on her property. With over 30,000 plants that is some feat indeed!

One of the great things about taking the free tour of the gardens is the opportunity to ask a lot of questions and learn more about specific plants and gardening techniques. Not to mention, when the tour is over, the opportunity to dig and take some plants home-again absolutely free!

I went to the tour with the idea of grabbing a few bee-friendly plants to enhance our honey production from the hives. There was so much, I ended up walking away with several varieties of bee-friendly plants and trees.

It was a great day and Miriam offers free tours every Saturday-weather permitting- through the summer. The tours start a 9 & 11am with 1 afternoon tour at 1pm.

For more pictures or to ask Miriam a question follow her on Tumblr at:

http://miriamsgunpowdergardens.tumblr.com/

Here is just a 2 minute preview of the gardens from our tour.

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I can’t wait to go back when everything is in bloom….Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

Hop on to experimentation

I have had many ups and downs over the past several months. From epic fails to neglect, I have learned that I need to pay closer attention to my aquaponics systems. So I am starting another experiment.

I just completed writing on how I neglected my system over the winter and the issues it caused. One of the best ways to keep a system in balance is to keep it planted at all times.

I planted some herbs, garlic, and onions, which have all done well in the system previously. My wife had just purchased some Hops plants for one of the garden beds, so I thought what a perfect time to experiment with something new.

Hops-yes the hops used for beer making-are a very prolific plant and can be extremely invasive if not cared for properly. They also like a moist, sunny area to grow, but do not like sitting in water.

My thought was putting it in a fill and drain system which would allow the roots to get watered 3-4 times an hour but they would not sit in water full time if I used a large container and set it near the top of the grow media.

I dug into the grow media to find the water level when the bed was full of water. This was about 2″ below the media surface. I then filled a large planting pot with media and planted the hops in it, being sure that some of the roots were at the very bottom of the pot with the majority of the plant toward the top of the pot.

20160420_075002 20160420_075010I then set the pot into the hole I had dug in the media bed and pushed the media up around the sides of the pot to hold it firmly in place. Hops tend to grow to around 20 ft tall and since I only have 10 ft from the top of the grow bed to the top of the greenhouse, I put a cage in the grow bed so I could espalier the growth as it gets too big. The large pot, I am hoping, will keep it from spreading too far in the grow bed.

I will post an update once I see it taking hold and growing-or if it becomes another failed attempt at growing plants not usually in an aquaponics system.

Aquaponics-Can’t neglect the system

This last year  has seemed to quadruple in speed. So much has happened and changed that I did not even realize how much I have neglected my aquaponics systems in the greenhouse.

You know you have not been paying attention when you find moss growing on your grow media! The grow bed above “B” tank in my greenhouse has collected a large amount of fish poo in the grow media, allowing for moss growth on top and around all the edges.

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Honestly this past winter, I did not grow much in this bed and kept feeding the fish as normal.  The tank is currently over-crowded with about 30 adult tilapia fish, which produce a large amount of waste.

I have a swirl filter attached to the system to help eliminate heavy solids, but I have not kept up with cleaning and draining the swirl filter on a regular basis. The swirl filter with an over-populated tank should be drained every other day and cleaned about once per week. Through the winter, I probably drained it every 2 weeks and cleaned the filter once a month-very neglectful on my part. Truly I am surprised I have not lost fish from the tank as the ammonia levels are way out of control.

I dug down into the grow media a few inches and found the majority of fish waste was contained in the top 2-3 inches of the media.  I took off the top few inches and rinsed it thoroughly before replacing into grow bed.

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I  added a pound of red wigglers to the bed, which should reduce the amount of solid fish waste, since they feed heavily on the waste. Planting the bed full of herbs or other plants will have a significant impact as well.

Over the course of the next few weeks I will drain the filter daily and clean the filter two to three times a week. I am hoping within the month this will clean the majority of the waste from the system and get it back in balance.

 

Bee-utiful Morning

Finally! Had a nice weather day and some actual time in between planned and unplanned projects to see how my bee hives looked.

My one hive is empty because the bees swarmed last year and found a new home. I took it apart first just to see if I could determine any cause in the housing conditions to make them swarm.

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Left empty over winter since the bees swarmed last year

20160413_115817 20160413_120058 20160413_120149I could not

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Threw away all the existing frames. Don’t want to transfer anything to the new hive.

get any definitive information from the empty box. The pest’s that took up residence may have come in after the swarm, so I can’t really blame it on hive moths, veroa mites or other small critters. I may have inadvertently killed the queen at one stage last year and the bees decided to leave with the new queen they had grown. Who knows?

 

I am throwing away all the “guts” of the hive and will burnish the interior of the hive body with a torch to  be able to use it for my next hive. Hopefully this will kill anything that may have survived after the last bees left.

So, on to the good hive. It has been thriving well. This is the hive I got 11 pounds of honey from last year. They seemed to over-winter well, but I felt I need to take the hive down to see what is actually happening.

20160419_104008 20160419_104023I put a honey box on top a couple of months ago because the weather has been strangely warm-and rainy-so I just wanted to see how it would go. Surprisingly, when I pulled the honey today, it was about half full and the majority of comb was drawn and ready to accept more. This may bode well for this years honey harvest in July. But my main concern today was to check and see that we had a good brood, meaning lots of new bees over the next few days.

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Top Hive Body
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Bottom Hive Body
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Switched Hive body boxes and installed Queen excluder between honey box

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When checking the top box of the two deep hive, plenty of activity and lots of capped cells. So we should start seeing an explosion of bees in the next week! But maybe not….

The lower box was empty! I really was not expecting it to be empty, thought I might at least see some eggs or larvae. I went ahead and switched the two boxes positions (Since bees like to work their way up) and I will check it again next week to see if the queen is laying in the top box now.  I am hoping that will be the case, so just have to wait and see.

I will update when I get into the hive again. For now the hive is back together with the honey box on top—-fingers crossed.

 

Dreaming of Fish Poo Plants

I love to hear stories from people discovering the joy of aquaponics.

NipplesAndJoysticks

Written by Jackie

Living through our 20’s are tough for most of us – it’s the time we make some of our biggest decisions. We have moments of clarity and joy, scattered with moments of inquisition and uncertainty. We question the time we spend on this planet earning money, and whether more money and stability is worth sacrificing happiness. Through our love of the environment, science, and community, Sean and I discovered aquaponics, and the possibility of a tiny business selling plants grown from fish poo. Sounds exciting right?!

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Catfish Added to Aquaponics System

For the last five years I have fueled my aquaponics entirely with Tilapia Fish, but this year have seriously considered expanding our systems with catfish. Have not as of yet, but probably will before summers end.

Symbi Biological

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After a little bit of a wait, I finally got some catfish to help power the system. They’re really small at about 4 inches. Not sure if we should be calling them kitten fish at this stage. I’ll have to check on that. After the big fish kill from the aerator diaphragm failure, I wasn’t sure how many hybrid carp I had left in both tanks. So to make room for the catfish, I emptied the tank with the least amount of fish “stashing” most of the water from the 500 gallon tank into the rest of the system. Earlier in the day, I noticed the sump tank was low and figured if I clear the swirl filter to lose about 100 gallons, I could isolate the fish tank by closing the valves and use a pump and hose to empty it into the rest of the system saving my…

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6 new additions to the family

There has been much debate in our household about adding to our flock. Needless to say….I lost!

So now we have acquired 6 new Cornish Bard hens to add to our existing family of 10 hens & a rooster. Difference being that these are not egg produces but fast growing hens for meat production.

The debate is whether after 10 weeks of feeding and caring for these hens that I can bring myself to butcher them for Sunday dinner.  These are 4 days old currently.

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Oh well, I guess now it is just wait and see.

Let the sun shine!

Finally, we have the approvals to turn on our solar system from the local utility! Of course the first few days of operation were cloudy, rainy, and generally nasty, but we still managed to average .8-1.0 Kw per hour.

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It is a very small system since we don’t have a lot of roof space facing the southern direction. It will only pull about 3Kw maximum if everything is perfect. But even the small system will have not only a direct impact on our utility bill but we our now having a more positive effect on the environment, reducing our overall carbon footprint.

On the first sunny day when I checked the system, we were getting pretty good-pulling the full 240v and averaging between 2.1 and 2.6 Kw per hour. During the peak of the day, our utility meter was actually spinning backwards. So not only were we generating enough power through the solar panels to run everything we had on, but the utility was giving us credit for the overage-further reducing our electric cost from the utility.

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Overall I am pretty happy with the system so far. Considering that it did not cost us a dime to install and I don’t have to worry about any maintenance or repair for the next 20 years. I am actually looking forward to our next electric bill to see exactly how much of an impact this system will have.

Continued-

2 Months In

Power in the Proof