This is Marjory Wildcraft. On this edition of Homesteading Basics, I’m going to talk about the lessons I’ve learned from several years of operating a hoop house.
The Easy Greenhouse Alternative
This is a hoop house that’s about 12-feet wide by 48-feet long. If you need a big greenhouse quickly and economically, a hoop house is definitely the way to go. In fact, for me, it was super easy. I actually built this thing with one finger.
Yeah, I said to my husband, “Hon, I want a hoop house right there.” He built it. He’s really handy, and he loves it. Actually, I did help some. Anyway, it really is pretty quick to put up, and it’s very cost effective.
My DIY Hoop House Plan
There are a couple of things we’ve learned about it. We’re growing here in Central Texas, and we get extremes of heat and cold. In the summer, we get a lot of intense sun here. What we found works really well is using a 70 percent shade mesh in the summer months. It provides a good amount of shade, yet allows a breeze to go through. We are able to grow things really well inside the mesh-only greenhouse.
In the winter, just taking the mesh off and having plastic on is the best way to go. The plastic definitely keeps the greenhouse nice and warm. We are able to grow fabulous plants all winter long.
The main thing about this is it creates a pretty big maintenance issue twice a year.
In the spring, we’re taking the plastic off and putting the mesh on. Then, in the fall, we’re taking the mesh off and putting the plastic on. We did operate it for a while with both the plastic and mesh on in winter, and we found that it just doesn’t work that well.
That maintenance chore twice a year is going to take about four people for a greenhouse this size. That means we get the whole family involved with that chore.
But you can use a greenhouse for all seasons if you’re willing to do that kind of work.
Plans For A Summer vs. Winter Hoop House
My other concern is that the mesh seems to be holding up really well, but I’m not sure what the lifetime of the plastic is going to be. I think taking it off and putting it back on adds extra wear and tear to it, and it may not last as long as it would if we just kept it in place throughout the whole year. I’ve spoken with different operators of commercial greenhouses, and it seems the plastic lasts anywhere from one to three years according to the different farmers you talk to.
Personally, I feel that that’s a lot of waste. But it does seem to be effective, and that’s the way it is.
This is Marjory Wildcraft on operating a hoop house. Again, if you need a big greenhouse really quickly and fairly inexpensively, this is a good way to go. We’re going to be doing a lot more about greenhouses and growing in greenhouses on future episodes of Homesteading Basics.
Stay tuned. I’ll see you on another one.
(This article was originally published on January 30, 2017.)
Homesteaders who grew up on a farm, or whose family lived in a rural area, are very likely to have many survival skills in their arsenal.
If that’s you, things like milking a cow; butchering a pig; fixing a tractor; repairing a chicken coop; sewing, mending, and washing clothes by hand; and many others could have been part of your education growing up. Parents and grandparents were likely your teachers, as they wanted help with these chores and an extra pair of hands comes in handy.
If you did not have this opportunity because you lived in urban or suburban areas or your parents were busy working outside of the home, you can still get the skills you need to homestead.
Homesteaders, Start Here
The first place to start is the Internet. Search for any skill in which you have an interest, and there is likely a video online of someone doing that. Even if this is not “hands-on” learning, it will still give you an idea about what you may be getting yourself into.
Some videos are better than others, so you may have to watch a few to find one that features a good teacher.
This will usually take you to that person’s website and other written resources that may be available on that skill.
Gaining Skills Through Hands-On Learning
While online tutorials can be a great way to learn the basics about a particular skill, there’s no doubt that the very best way to learn a new skill is “hands on.”
Connecting With Locals
When I started researching resources for our property, I found people in the area who were already doing some of the things I wanted to do: raising goats, raising ducks, and growing vegetables and fruit trees.
You can always ask someone questions about how to do what they are doing, so that’s exactly what my husband and I did. One woman gave us free goat-milking experience. A local fruit tree grower gave us useful hints on how to successfully raise fruit trees and bushes in our area.
Taking a Class
A more intensive way to connect with people who already have the skills you want to learn is to take a class in a specific skill.
Recently, my husband and I attended a weekend at the John C. Campbell Folk School in North Carolina. He took a class in beginner wood turning and I took a beginner class in weaving on a loom.
We both had a great time and enjoyed working with the instructors in our respective classes.
Weaving New Skills
Our classes started on Friday evening, right after dinner, so that we could get as much done as possible over the weekend.
In my class, the instructor helped us to pick out the yarns we would use from an extensive collection they had in stock. Every color of the rainbow was represented in a few different fibers, and each person was allowed to choose a palette.
I was amazed at the number of technical terms that are used in loom weaving and asked the teacher for a glossary, which she provided to all of us. We learned how to measure the threads and get them set up on the loom so that by the second afternoon we could all start weaving.
Preparing the loom is the most time-consuming part of weaving, and proper preparation makes all the difference in the final product.
Learning to Turn
For my husband, the first night included basic instruction on the tools and a demonstration of safe wood-turning technique. The teacher made sure that students had proper tools at the work stations before they made some practice pieces on the lathe.
By the end of the weekend, my husband had made a honey dipper from apple wood, plus a pen and a pizza cutter handle with different colors of wood.
Sunday, after breakfast, everyone was given an opportunity to show off what they had learned. It was incredible to see all the end results.
The other classes for that weekend included beekeeping, making a kaleidoscope, basket weaving, iron forging, playing a native flute, three-dimensional paper folding, wood carving, felting, and journaling with watercolors. Amazingly, that is only a tiny sample of the various classes that they make available throughout the year.
Only the Beginning
When we returned home, my husband researched local classes with an eye toward improving his wood-turning skills. I also located a local weaving guild that I can join.
Taking the class was just a beginning. Lots of practice will still be needed to hone our skills, but now we know how to start and can add to our knowledge as we go.
Remember the excitement of going to the State Fair? This is no different! At the Mother Earth News Fair, you’ll find amazing workshops and lectures to help you on your path to independence and self-reliance.
So many things to do and see
Whether you want to learn how to grow and raise your own food, build a root cellar, create a green dream homestead, or see what new products are on the market, this is the fair for you.
There is a whole selection of vendors and a bunch of hands-on workshops. There were too many great booths and exhibitions to list. The place was buzzing with alternative energy vehicles, traditional folk arts and crafts, heritage and landrace livestock, homestead-scale saw mills, and so much more.
Would you like to test drive a tractor? I think I could do some damage with the front-end loader.
Sawmill? If you want to fell trees from you land, the sawmill area is the place for you!
In the livestock area, you’ll find heritage breeds, like Rosie and her calf. They are Dexter cows, which are miniature cattle. I love this breed!
Inside there were hundreds of vendors with all kinds of things to see and do. It’s a great place to do a lot of shopping!
The speaker lineup is awesome, and I’m sure everyone who attended will agree that there wasn’t enough time to take in all of the information that was flying around. There were great talks on sustainability, herbal medicine, vegetable gardening, raising and processing livestock, alternative energy… you name it.
Joel Salatin was there talking about chickens, pigs, and cattle and how to create the deepest and best soil by choreographing the movement of ancient herds.
You even get to talk with these experts!
There is so much going on at these amazing events. I really encourage you to visit one.
These fairs are all over the U.S., so there should be one near you. If not, it is well worth the drive.
In this edition of Homesteading Basics, let’s talk about learning homesteading skills you need if you’re going to be a modern-homesteader, and where the best place is to get those skills.
Watch the video here: (video length: 2:38 minutes)
A True Story
My son was using the mower the other day and ran out of gas.
He left it in the south pasture with the key turned on, and the battery died.
Now he’s off on a trip, and I’m stuck with a dead battery.
This got me thinking about all of the skills you need to be a modern-day homesteader.
Do you have the skills you need?
Here are some basic skills that you’re definitely going to need on your homestead:
Basic electrical knowledge
Gardening methods and techniques
If you don’t already possess this knowledge, these skills can take a while to acquire.
Where to gain homesteading knowledge
One of the best places to get the knowledge you need is to attend a Mother Earth News Fair. They are held all over the U.S. There are a lot of different workshops in a two-to-three-day period. They offer the basic skills you’ll need for your homestead.
Here are a few other suggestions to help you improve your homesteading skills:
Your local farmer See if he or she will give you a few tips or pointers on something specific, like animal husbandry. Offer to pay him or trade him something that he needs, maybe even your labor.
Big Box Stores A lot of the big box supply stores offer Saturday morning classes in home improvement skills, including basic plumbing, electrical, and carpentry.
Local Community College Many community colleges offer nighttime and weekend classes in auto repair, small engine repair, carpentry, basic plumbing, and electrical.
Online Classes There are thousands of online classes from home medicine to gardening. Choose the one that gives you the knowledge you need and works with your schedule.
County Extension Master Gardeners Master Gardeners are a community of volunteers trained in horticulture by the County Extension Office. You can become a Master Gardener by learning valuable plant and soil information. Then volunteer 40 hours during the year and give your knowledge back to your community. Check your local or state extension office for more information, or call your local Master Gardener hotline for more information on the public classes they offer.
Local Master Classes In many places, there are local classes offered by specialty groups. For instance, Master beekeepers, Master composters, and others often offer classes for free or a small fee to attend. Look online for groups near you.
YouTube videos There are hundreds of thousands of videos online to help you gain the skills you need in just about any area of homesteading.
Let’s improve our skills together.
Where are you getting the homesteading skills you need? In the comments below, let us know what skills you have and which ones you need.
On this edition of Homesteading Basics, I’m going to show you a really simple tip to regrow onions from the scraps.
Who doesn’t love onions?
I cook with onions, and we all know that when you’re getting ready to chop your onion, you cut the ends off. You cut off the top and the bottoms.
On that back end, where the roots are, you’ve got just a little bit of a scab. Here’s the tip: You can actually plant this, and it will regrow.
Take the scab of the onion. Put it in some dirt, and leave it there.
I’ve been doing this for the past couple of weeks. Look, you can see that some have already sprouted. Now, this is not going to make a whole new onion bulb, but rather beautifully small onion that looks a lot like a shallot. You can chop them up, and put them into soups and salads. They have that nice onion taste.
Another really great thing about this, they’ll become onion plants that sprout those big, beautiful allium flowers. They are very decorative.
This is a green that’s going to grow through the winter. The time to regrow onions is when it is moist and cool outside.
See…you’ll be able to get way more out of that onion than you first thought.
Other foods that you can grow from scabs
Simple and easy-to-regrow!
Place the root end in a jar of water and watch it regrow in a few days. Just make sure to replace the water every couple of days or as needed.
Smells so good!
Regrow lemongrass exactly the same as the spring onions and leeks, but wait to harvest it until it is about 12 inches tall.
To the roots…
Plant a small chunk of either ginger or turmeric in well-drained potting soil about two inches below the surface. Ginger and Turmeric like indirect sunlight in a warm, moist environment. The shoots and roots will begin to regrow in a few days. Once the plant is established, harvest by pulling up the whole plant, including the roots. Remove a piece off of that plant. Replant it to repeat the process or regrowing your ginger and turmeric.
Choose a potato that has a lot of good eyes. Cut it into 2-3 inch pieces. Each piece should have 1 to 2 eyes on it. Allow the cut pieces to sit at room temperature for a day or two. This will allow the cut areas to dry. Potato plants thrive on a high-nutrient environments, so be sure to add a lot of compost before planting your potatoes. Plant your potato pieces about 8 inches deep with the eye facing up. Cover the pieces with 4 inches of soil. Leave empty space above the 4 inches of soil. As your plant grows, you’ll add more soil.
Be aware! A lot of potatoes are Genetically Modified. Be sure you get your potatoes from a reputable source.
Cut the leaves or stalks off to about an inch above the roots. Place the root end in a shallow pot of well-drained soil. Make sure the roots are in the soil, but do not cover the rest of the plant. Place the pot a sunny window and mist with water 1 to 2 times a week.
Boost Your Immune System
Break a bulb apart a few days before planting. Leave the papery husk on the clove. (You can also plant garlic cloves in the ground before the ground freezes.) Plant a garlic clove 2 inches deep with the root-end down in well-drained soil. Sit the plant in a sunny window. Once established, cut back the scapes (green part) and use for cooking. This forces the plant to produce a garlic bulb.
And don’t forget the fruits…
Cut off the leafy top about half an inch below the leaves. Twist the leaf away from the base. You’ll be left with the leaves and a stub. Remove the lowest set of leaves until you see roots. The roots look like small, brown-colored bumps around the stem. Plant your pineapple crown in warm and well-drained soil. Water your plant regularly. Don’t be afraid to water the leaves. They are meant to catch water. The roots should be established in about a month or two. Put your pineapple plant in bright, indirect light.
One of my favorite wild plants is the Farkleberry, or Sparkleberry. They are a native blueberry. If you cut out sugar from your diet…like I have…the berries can be really sweet! I always offer this plant what I call “Garden Gratitude” or “Plant Gratitude,” if you prefer.
I know this might sound kind of woo-woo. When I leave offerings and give garden gratitude to the Farkleberry that I’m harvesting, I see more and more of them. It’s almost like they call to me.
We know that plants give us air, food, clothing, shelter, and medicine—but did you know that these living beings are able to communicate, too?
Think of a beautiful flower. The beauty is what calls to us. This is that plant’s particular way of communicating with us. If you want to take it one step further, ask it why it called you over.
The Basics of Garden Gratitude
We tend to walk through the world without acknowledging that plants, animals, the wind, etc, are living things. If you walk through your life with awareness, you’ll be surprised how often plants communicate with you, and how they respond to you. We can choose to deliberately engage.
What It Is: Giving gratitude to plants, the elements, and animals is based on the premise that everything is alive, and that we are all interconnected. It is a two-way street in which the plant and the person achieve mutual understanding, each communicating in their own language.
Who Can Do It: Garden gratitude is natural and simple. Everyone can do it. It comes quickly and naturally once a person understands and practices it.
How to Get Started: There are two tricks to having garden gratitude for plants. The first is to believe it enough—even skeptically—to try it. The second is to actually speak to the plant. Third is to leave it an offering.
Ways to Give Gratitude to Plants
Offerings have been around for thousands of years. It is a practice that is found all over the world. However, modern-day society has forgotten the old ways.
Anytime I’m harvesting something I’ve planted, or even a wild one, I want to express my gratitude. My gratitude is for the plant producing the fruit and letting me pick and eat it, so I leave an offering. Plants also exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen, helping us breathe, too! Some plants give us medicine, shade us, and clothe us.
There are many reasons to give garden gratitude!
What Do You Have to Offer?
Anything can be used as an offering. I’m sure you’ll come up with a ton of them. Just make sure it comes from the heart.
Here are some offering ideas to get you started:
Hair (great source of protein, which turns into nitrogen)
Saliva (offers trace minerals and water)
Song (research has shown that plants grow larger with certain types of music)
Urinate beside them (it provides nitrogen for the soil)
Water (plants need water, too)
Tobacco (make sure it is additive and chemical-free, but is a source of decaying organic matter)
Cornmeal (stimulates and feeds beneficial micro-organisms)
Breathe on it (plants love carbon dioxide)
As you can see, there are some scientific reasons these offerings help the plant, too! Just making an offering of some sort is beneficial to your relationship with all wild plants.
Offerings do several things…
It is an exchange of energy and a place of humility for you. We are all one and equal—You and the Plant.
Offerings show you that we are all in the same world. All of us only get to be here for a short time, so be present and intentional with your time here.
It’s Not Magic!
Every couple of years, I grow tobacco. Tobacco is a plant that has been used for centuries by the Native People of the Americas.
It is believed that Tobacco offers its own gift of interpretation, which helps us with disputes.
Just a pinch, spread on the winds…with words of thanks and garden gratitude. Your words to the plant can be as simple or elaborate as you’d like.
Want to know more about working with nature spirits to grow more food? Check out this article.
Learning From Your Plants
What to Expect: Sometimes, in the same way that ingesting a plant affects our body, communicating with a plant will affect our minds. You can also communicate and have garden gratitude for plants when you’re dealing with strong emotions or difficulties. Different plants offer help in different ways. Which plant in your garden calls to you? Why has it called to you right now? What are you dealing with in your life that perhaps the plant is trying to remedy?
Why Some Plants Seem to Harm: Plants carry a level of energy that is very normal and safe for you to interact with. Even plants that can hurt you, don’t do it maliciously. In fact, once you accept that, you can work on understanding what else the plants are trying to communicate to you. For example, when people get a rash from poison ivy, often it is because there is an irritant or issue in that person’s life that they have chosen to ignore—something the plant is trying to get them to deal with. Once a person understands that, he or she can get a lot of help from that particular plant and others like it.
Guns aren’t useful for digging or anything like that. However, if you are becoming self-reliant, you may want a gun for home defense.
Let me tell you a true story that happened to me and made me decide to go buy several guns. This from a woman who couldn’t even look at the glass case where the guns were kept in the sporting goods area. Avoiding my eyes on the way to the camping section was the norm.
In the early days of The Grow Network, back when we first produced the DVD “Grow Your Own Groceries,” I went to several local stores to see if they would sell it.
Watch the video to hear the rest of my story (Length: 4 min.15 sec)
How scary is the thought of being without a home defense strategy?
Think about what you would be protecting.
A big cache of backup food supplies
Your garden and food for the coming year
If you don’t own a gun, are you really prepared for any scenario?
When he looked at me for a long moment, as if I was stupid…
…and pulled out a big, black semi-automatic weapon, at first, I didn’t understand. Then, as he carefully laid it on the counter between us, I was stunned. He wasn’t threatening me. Looking back on it, he was opening my eyes.
His words, “Well, if anything happens—it is like this—with this gun, I can get all the food I need from people like you.”
I was speechless. Note:I didn’t sell any videos either.
Now I live in Texas, which has a proud tradition of gun ownership.
Buying, selling, and swapping guns is easy and legal. In fact, it is a major pastime for many Texans. While that doesn’t mean that everyone in Texas would be part of a marauding band of gun-totin’, food-stealin’ individuals, that mentality exists in some form everywhere. It’s the “haves” versus the “have nots,” and feeling like you’re owed something for which you didn’t put in the blood, sweat, and tears.
In recent history, it is well-documented that crime and violence go up as economic conditions go down. Certainly, there are scenarios where law and order could break down. In that case, having some level of home defense is not only an important skill, but smart!
After the experience with the shop keeper…
…I realized I needed to learn a whole new set of skills that included home defense. Getting over my fears and prejudices about guns and putting emphasis on understanding defense became a priority.
In an upcoming article, I’ll write about what guns I choose to use and why. I’ll also do a short series on resources that I’ve found particularly useful for understanding principles of home defense.
As shocking as the experience with the shopkeeper was, I see it as a good thing. It opened my eyes to a reality I hadn’t been willing to see. While this site is mostly dedicated to food and medicine, I will let you know what I’ve been learning about personal and home defense, too.
Home gardeners spend millions each year on fertilizer for their gardens and houseplants. WOW! While many scientists agree that chemical fertilizer is harming the environment, organic fertilizer is draining our wallets. The good news is that you can easily make your own fertilizers from organic waste material and other things that you have around the house.
3 Reasons You Need Organic Fertilizer
Your plants need organic fertilizer because:
Most soil does not provide the essential nutrients that are required for the best plant growth and production.
Even if you are super lucky to have rich loamy soil that all of us crave, as your plants grow they absorb those nutrients and leave the soil less fertile.
All of those beautiful flowers, fruits, and veggies that you grew last year took the nutrients that were in the soil. This year, your garden needs another boost of nutrients for this year’s plants.
Why It’s Important To Know Your Soil
While it’s important to fertilize your plants and the soil, it’s also important to know what your soil needs. That’s where a soil test comes in. Get one from your local county extension office. When you send in your sample, you’ll get the report. It tells you what your soil has in abundance and what you really need to add for best plant growth.
Also, soils vary in their ability to hold nutrients and make them available to plants. Sandy soils do not hold nutrients well, clay soils do. However, clay soils do not like to give up the water they hold, so it is more difficult for plants to take up the nutrients that are available.
Which Do I Need A Soil Amendment Or Organic Fertilizer?
Soil amendments are mixed with soil to improve the physical properties or increase microbial action. It makes a plant’s roots happy and healthy. Amendments improve the soil’s water retention, permeability, drainage, air holding capacity, and structure.
Fertilizers are soil amendments that are applied to promote plant growth not change the soils characteristics.
The short answer is you need both. Okay, so what’s the difference? Soil Amendments are added to…well…the soil! You can add them before, during, or after planting. However, the nutrients are not readily available for the plants to take up. Microorganisms in the soil need to break them down further so the plants can use the nutrients in the amendment. Fertilizers are pretty close to being available for the plants to get their nutrients pretty quickly. Think of soil amendments like eating your favorite veggie. The nutrients in that veggie aren’t readily available for your body to use right away. Your body has to digest it for the nutrients to be available for your body to use.
Organic vs. Inorganic Manufactured Fertilizer
Organic fertilizer comes from the remains of or are because of different types of organisms. Microorganisms found in the soil breakdown the organic material, making its nutrients readily available to the plants.
Inorganic fertilizers completely or partially contain man-made materials. Manufacturers combine these in different ways and amounts to get a super-growth fertilizer that may or may not be organic. Many inorganic fertilizers are manufactured using fossil fuels, too.
TIP: Over use of inorganic fertilizers or adding a fertilizer that your soil or plants don’t need can lead to a buildup of salts and other minerals in the soil causing damage to your plants. It can also be a waste of money. More is not better when it comes to any kind of fertilizer!
Organic fertilizer releases nutrients slowly and decreases the risk of over-fertilization. The slow release of nutrients also means they are available for a longer period of time. Many organic fertilizers improve your soil, by increasing your soil’s ability to hold water and nutrients. They will also help decrease erosion and hard, packed soil due to wind and rain. Organic fertilizer adds natural nutrients, feeds important microbes, and improves the soil structure.
On the downside, organic fertilizer is released slowly so your plants will be nutrient deficient until the decomposing process is completed, and some organic fertilizers contain lower percentages of the three key nutrients: Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium (N-P-K). Timing is everything with any fertilizer. The best time is to add them when your soil is waiting to be planted.
TIP: There are fast-acting organic fertilizers, too. Bat guano, fish meal, and worm casting all have nutrients readily available for plants.
You’ve probably already read about
15 of the best fertilizers here.
Here are 35 more great fertilizers to consider:
Worm castings – Worm castings are soil superfood! They provide nitrogen and make soil absorbent. A huge number of beneficial microbes and bacteria are introduced to the soil, too.
Beer – The jury is out on this one. Many tests have shown that beer doesn’t add anything, but some people swear by it. Beer is a simple sugar and plants need complex sugars. Scientifically speaking, it probably doesn’t work. However, it does work to get rid of slugs and is a great cool down on a hot gardening day! Also, if you brew your own beer or live near a microbrewery, you might want to use “Beer Mash” (the grains leftover from making beer). It’s a great soil amendment.
Ammonia – Ammonia naturally occurs in the soil. There are microbes in the soil that pull nitrogen from the air and put it into the soil in the form of ammonia. The amount is what is important here. Use 1 or 2 ounces per gallon of water mixed with molasses. Microbes love this stuff. If you’re uncomfortable using man-made ammonia, you can always slide down the list and use urine instead.
Liquid Dish Soap – This is another one that is up for debate. There are a lot of studies that show that dish detergent (made with a lot of chemicals) is harmful to plants. However, there are some organic dish soaps that will help your “supertonic” to penetrate the soil. You only need a couple of drops in 32 oz. of water to get the job done. Remember, more is not better!
Dog and Cat Food – Make sure that it is an organic pet food. Sprinkle the dry pet food on the bed or container. Turn the soil or water it in. It provides protein to feed the fungi and bacteria, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and calcium, plus other minerals. To discourage vertebrae pests, be sure to cover this fertilizer with cardboard.
Tea – Tea and tea bags are excellent for your garden. As the bag and tea decompose, they release nitrogen. First, make sure your tea bag is compostable. You don’t want the ones made of polypropylene. If the bag is slippery, don’t use it in the garden. Tea also makes a great brew for acid-loving plants like azaleas and blueberries. Tea also helps deter some root maggots.
Bone Meal – Alright so this is a stretch for just having some lying around the house. However, bone meal is a really good source of phosphorus and protein. It is coarsely ground animal bones and waste products. Make sure you need phosphorus in your soil before adding it. A soil test is your best friend in the garden. However, if you want to make your own bone meal, here’s what you do: 1. Collect bones by storing them in the freezer. 2. Clean them by making a bone broth. 3. Once they are clean, sterilize them. Place them on a baking sheet under the broiler for 10-15 minutes. 4. Dry the bones by placing the cooking sheet on the counter for about three to four weeks. They need to be completely dry. 5. Crush them into a fine powder with a food processor. If you use a mortar and pestle, be sure to wear a mask over your nose and mouth. 6. It is now ready to use.
Antacid Tablets – If your soil is low in calcium, this should be a go-to. It helps prevent blossom end rot in your tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. Push one tablet into the soil by the plant’s roots. Voila! Instant calcium boost.
Coconut Coir – Coconut coir has become the replacement for the non-renewable Peat Moss. This soil amendment adds air and space to assist with water retention and nutrient uptake. It makes a great seedling starter!
Humanure – (To prevent pathogens and disease, only use for fruit and nut tree, not vegetables) Okay, I hear you with your “Ewww’s,” but hear me out. This organic material is a valuable resource rich in soil nutrients. In the U.S., each of us wastes more than a thousand pounds of humanure each year. Composting is key! It takes a year to fully compost human feces and breakdown the pathogens. For more information, check out The Humanure Handbook by Joseph Jenkins.
Newspaper – Makes a great mulch and soil amendment. The added bonus is that the soil-based ink kills diseases in the soil. It can be shredded or laid in a thick layer on your beds. It is best to wet the newspaper before applying.
Comfrey – This deep-rooted herb was once a traditional remedy to help heal broken bones. Its vast root system acts as an accumulator by extracting a wide range of nutrients from deep in your soil. These nutrients naturally accumulate in its fast-growing leaves. Cut 4 to 5 pounds (1.8 to 2.27 kg) of leaves from each plant. It is super-rich in nitrogen and potassium. Some research has shown that comfrey leaves have 2 to 3 times more potassium than farmyard manures!
Urine – Yes, you read that right! Human urine is an excellent source of nitrogen. It is great to add to compost tea or your compost pile as an activator. Pathogens, disease, and toxins are quickly killed within 24 hours of leaving your body. Dilute the urine with water in a ratio 1::2 and water your plants.
Citrus rinds – Stir those rinds right into the soil. As they break down, they’ll release sulfur, magnesium, calcium, potassium, and more nutrients. You can also dry the peels and grind them into a fine powder that can be added to the soil.
Kelp meal or seaweed – Kelp contains small amounts of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus, but it’s very high in trace elements, too. Typically, you’ll mix this liquid fertilizer with water. Use it as a foliar spray or pour it onto the soil around plants.
Granite dust – Granite is made of volcanic rock. It is filled with more than 60 different elements, including potassium, calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium. Trace elements in granite make the soil nutrient dense. Be sure to read the label!
Green manures – This is a favorite! Green manures are a fall cover crop that is grown on beds or pastures before or after crops or flowers to add nutrients back into the soil as they grow. They get turned under after their season. Some green manures include clovers, vetch, rye, and mustards.
White Vinegar – There is a lot of chatter on the Internet about white vinegar changing the pH level of your soil. Tests have shown that it may have a temporary effect, but it is nearly impossible to change the pH of your soil, except over the very long-term. However, feed your container plants with a mixture of 1 Tablespoon of vinegar, 1 tablespoon of sugar in 8 ounces of water. Bring the mix to a slow boil until the sugar dissolves. Then, let it cool and feed those hungry plants.
Grass clippings and Weeds – These are an excellent source of nitrogen and potassium for your fertilizer teas. Put the clippings in a 5-gallon bucket filled with water. Cover and let marinate for 3 to 4 weeks. You’ll have a lovely batch of “green” fertilizer tea.
Mushrooms – The part of the mushroom that you see is actually the fruiting body. In the soil is where the real magic happens. Fungi are part of the soil web that helps bring nutrients to your plants.
Borax – Some plants of the Brassica Family, like broccoli and cauliflower need boron (found in borax). Be sure to do a soil test to see if your soil needs boron. If it does, sprinkle 1 Tablespoon over 100 linear feet.
Bat guano – Whether fresh or dry, bat poo adds a heavy dose of nitrogen to the soil. It acts fast and has very little odor. It also helps enrich the soil and help with drainage and texture. Add it directly to the soil or make a bat guano tea!
Rabbit droppings – Bunny poo has a high concentration of nitrogen and phosphorus, as well as other trace minerals. It can be added directly into the soil or added to your compost pile. Bunny Poo Tea can be made using a 5-gallon bucket, a shovel full of rabbit pellets, add water, and let steep for two days. Water the soil when it’s ready!
Chicken feathers – Feathers from your backyard chickens add nitrogen to your compost pile, and eventually, the garden. First, put them into your compost pile to let them decompose.
Shellfish – Lobster, shrimp, and crab shells provide nutrients, including phosphorus. However, the bacteria that breaks them down is even more important! Simmer the shells for 20 to 30 minutes in boiling water. Drain well. Put them in a food dehydrator or oven until dry. Crush the shells with a mortar and pestle. Add to your compost pile or directly into the soil.
Baking Soda – In order to sweeten tomatoes and discourage pests, lightly sprinkle baking soda on the soil.
Compost – Compost is a great soil amendment and provides nutrients and micro-organisms to your soil. The microorganisms make the nutrients available for the plants to take up. However, some research is showing that compost teas are ineffective. Basically, it is watering down the nutrients in the compost, and doesn’t make it any more available to the plants to take up. Click here to read more about boosting your compost pile.
Alfalfa – Alfalfa is commonly used as part of livestock feed. However, alfalfa meal is simply ground up so that it breaks down faster. This particular fertilizer has low amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. As a result, alfalfa meal works fairly slow. The best use for this fertilizer is as a soil amendment in the early spring prior to planting crops.
Nettles – The stinging hairs of the nettle plant may deter you from using this bad boy, but if you can stand it, put your harvest into a 5-gallon bucket, and cover them with water. In 3 to 4 weeks, you’ll have wonderful plant food for your garden.
Hydrogen Peroxide – Your plants’ roots will thank you for a little extra oxygen. Mix 1 tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide with 2 cups of water. Water your plant’s roots with the solution.
Pine needles or Straw – Adding pine needles supplies nitrogen to your soil. It also adds bulk that will bring in the beneficial microbes to help break them down.
Blood Meal – Add crucial nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen to the soil by using blood meal to promote healthy plant growth. Want to make your own blood meal? You can! Gather the blood. If you’re a woman, use your menstrual blood by collecting it in a menstrual cup. You can gather it from your meals, or from butchering some of your animals, too. Either way, pour the blood onto a baking sheet. Put it into a 375° oven. Keep it in the oven until all the blood is completely dry, about 20 minutes. Let cool. Scrape the dried blood off the baking sheet and into a container. Use a mortar and pestle to ground the blood into a fine powder.
Fish Emulsion – Fish emulsion fertilizer is high in nitrogen but pretty stinky! It is also very acidic and should be used lightly to avoid burning plants. Nonetheless, fish emulsion acts immediately once it is applied, which makes it a good treatment for leafy greens that are suffering from low nitrogen levels. Be sure to experiment. Some plants may not tolerate it very well. There is a recipe below!
Ground oyster shells – You may or may not have access to oyster shells, but they are a slow-release fertilizer to keep your garden healthy. Crush them into small pieces and bury them in the garden. The calcium carbonate in the shells will make the soil alkaline. Again, make sure you know your soil before adding this amendment.
Nut Shells – Pop the nut in your mouth and toss the shell into the garden. It’s a win-win! Nut shells add bulk, which will allow water and nutrients to get to the plant roots. Microbes will be super-happy with your discarded shells.
Five More Easy Homemade Fertilizers
What you’ll need:
Brick to hold the comfrey leaves down
Big bucket or plastic trash can with a lid
Submerge your leaves for 3 to 5 weeks in a bucket or trash can of water. It depends on the warmth of your climate.
Mix the comfrey solution with more water to dilute (so it doesn’t damage or burn the root systems of plants), a 1::3 (water) ratio should work.
Store in a cool dark place.
WARNING: Comfrey Tea stinks like crazy, but is OH-so good for your plants!
For Acid Loving Plants
Mix 1 tablespoon of white vinegar in one gallon of water. Hand water your acid loving plants.
Seed Starter Organic Fertilizer
What you’ll need:
1 drop of organic liquid dish soap
2 drops of ammonia
1 tablespoon of worm castings
Place the above into a one quart misting bottle.
Fill with water.
Shake it gently and mist the surface of the seed container every day until you start to see little sprouts.
Fill blender halfway with water. Don’t add too much water because there is already liquid in your kitchen scraps. (You don’t want your blender to explode compost all over the kitchen!)
Place lid on blender. Start on a low setting and puree until everything is combined and becomes a liquid.
Feed it to your container soil.
Pour it on top of the soil, and let it sit for 24 hours. Then, water it in or turn the soil.
Water it in as soon as you put it on the container’s soil.
If you already have plants in place, pour the mixture into large bucket and fill with water. Then pour the water-liquid over soil.
There are a lot of different types of fertilizers for you to try. However, use what you have locally or in your home to save you some money. If you are in the Midwest, there is no point in ordering Oyster Shells. Use what you have! Whether you are a Hobby Farmer or a Container Gardener, here are your first steps in a nutshell (pun intended!)
Start your compost pile. Regardless of what your soil test tells you, a compost pile will be an invaluable source of nutrients that will feed your soil’s microbes and your plants.
Get a soil test to know and understand what your soil needs. More than likely your county extension office will have soil testing kits.
Understand what your plants need at different times of the season. Are they growing, flowering, or needing to add roots? Fertilize at the right time with the right organic fertilizer!
Make up a batch of fertilizer that is just right for your garden. Experiment. Learn. Have fun!
Remember that gardening is an adventure. Try different things and make note of the results. Some things may work better for you than others. You be the judge!
What’s your favorite organic fertilizer and how do you use it in your garden? Tell us in the comments below. We’d love to hear about your gardening adventures!
Is your bad back a real pain when you garden? If so, you’ve faced the reality that there are certain gardening methods that are easier on the back than others, such as gardening in containers or planting in waist-high beds.
But what if you want to embrace traditional gardening methods and plant straight in the ground, but can’t—or don’t want to—double dig?
Summer: Bake the Soil to Kill Grass and Weeds
In this video, Marjory shows you how to turn a patch of grass into bare soil using a simplified version of a technique called “solarizing.”
By laying a tarp or 2 mil black plastic on the would-be garden bed, weighing it down with rocks, and letting the plot bake for a few months in the summer sun, you can effectively kill grass, weed seeds, and even unwelcome soil diseases. Some research has shown that using a clear plastic does an even better job killing unwanted grass, weed seeds, and soil-borne diseases.
If you live in a hot area and get a lot of sunny days, you’ll usually need to wait a few summer months before removing the black plastic.
In places where the summers are mild, wait even longer.
(Shorten this timeframe by tilling and re-leveling the soil before laying down the plastic, but it’s certainly more back-friendly to just lay down a tarp and wait!)
Autumn, Part 1: Reintroduce the Good Microbes
For solarizing to be really effective, your soil needs to reach about 150°F (66°C).
That’s hot enough to also kill some of the good microbes in the soil. In late autumn, top dress the soil with about 4 to 6 inches (10 cm to 15 cm) of good organic matter—compost, composted manure, or green manures.
We’re going for no more bad backs. So, spread the top dressing and let irrigation and earthworms pull the nutrients down into the subsoil.
(Do this each autumn to increase soil fertility.)
Autumn, Part 2: Use a Garden Fork in Rocky Soil
A note here for those of you with rocky soil: Once you remove the plastic covering, apply a garden fork to soil to remove the bigger rocks.
If you must do this yourself, be sure to use a garden fork with a long, lightweight handle. Try to keep your back straight by bending at the knees instead of the waist.
(Do a YouTube search for “gardening without back pain” for other helpful videos on safely using long-handled tools in the garden.)
Alternately, ask a relative or friend to do it for you, or hire someone to help with this task.
Trade with fellow gardeners—the work you can’t do for the work you can. Perhaps you could provide compost in exchange for help tilling rocky soil, or seedlings in exchange for help weeding.
Spring: Strategic Planning and Garden Planting
When it’s time to plant in Spring, some folks with bad backs like to use a simple, homemade seed-sowing tool.
Simply take a four-foot length of 2.5 inch PVC pipe and cut a 45° angle on one end. (If you buy your PVC at one of the larger home improvement stores, they will often cut it for you at no charge.)
Use the sharp end of your seed-sowing tool to make holes or furrows.
Hold the pipe upright. Drop the seeds in the top hole, and let them fall through to the soil.
Then, use the tool to cover the seeds with soil.
When deciding what and how to plant, consider reducing the need to weed by using companion planting methods, mulch, a block-style layout—or a combination of the three.
Achieve Gardening Success—Even With a Bad Back!
It’s well-known that converting a plot of sod into a fertile garden is backbreaking work.
But, through pre-planning and gardening smarter, not harder, you can work your beds successfully—without overworking your back!
Now let’s hear from you. What tips and tricks do you use to keep your back in tip-top shape? Tell us in the comments below.
Have you ever noticed that you never feel like you are ever really done when it comes to a homestead?
I realized how frequently I feel like I am caught with my bloomers down last year. It felt like I wasn’t prepared for winter.
But then before I knew it, spring was upon us, and I was chasing my tail again.
So here are a list of spring chores that you should keep on your radar so that your homestead will run smoother. I’m happy to say with a little more organization, I feel much better prepared for my homestead duties this year.
Remember, organization is key to homesteading. Here are a few ways to help your organization along:
1. Nurse Your Garden
If you don’t plan on buying all of your seedlings (which I don’t recommend), then you’ll need to start your own.
Depending upon where you live will depend greatly upon when you need to start your seeds. Here is a great seed starter calculator. However, whenever you can start your seeds, do so. This will save you lots of money and also give your plants ample amount of time to grow.
2. Bring the Babies Home
If you do not set your own eggs, then the spring is the right time to purchase new chicks and ducklings. This is the right time also to purchase chicks that you plan on raising for meat.
Also, if you purchase a hog to raise for meat instead of keeping a breeding pair of pigs, the spring is the right time to purchase it. Keep turkeys in mind too. If you want to purchase just a few turkeys to eat on special occasions instead of raising a breeding pair, then you’ll want to purchase them in the spring too.
3. Rev Up the Incubator
My husband runs our incubator year round. Between it and the massive brooder box he built, we are able to sustain baby chicks, ducklings, and keets year round.
However, if you don’t have a small hatchery in your backyard, then you’ll probably only want to start incubating eggs in the spring and summer months. This means that the spring is a great time to start pulling eggs out of your coops and giving them a chance to hatch.
4. Build Tractors
We use a lot of tractors around our homestead. They are great for baby bunnies, chicks, ducklings, and keets when they are starting out.
However, this means that we must build and repair them in the spring while the babies are still too small for them. Then when the babies get bigger, we can place them in the tractors to move them around the land and allow them to safely forage. This give the animals a healthier diet and saves us a lot of money on feed.
5. Get Ready to Milk
As spring comes around so does the baby boom usually. If you have goats, cows, or any other animal that you use for dairy purposes, then you’ll need to have your milking supplies ready.
We use a basic set-up with a milking station and a pail. However, I have to make sure that my milking stand is in good condition and that my pail is still clean and ready for milk. It is better to make necessary repairs or purchases before it is time to milk. That way you aren’t caught off guard.
6. Prepare Your Birthing Kit
Being prepared for birth is a necessity so you get the most out of your homestead. For rabbits, you need to ensure they have nesting boxes and hay. Be sure your brooder is cleaned out and ready for baby birds.
Though, I actually have a birthing kit when I’m expecting baby goats. It is nothing fancy. It is a laundry basket I purchased at the dollar store. Inside of the laundry basket I have fresh towels and blankets. I also include some latex gloves as well.
However, each spring is a good time to make sure it is easily accessible and that I have everything I need inside the basket. Goats don’t really need much help when birthing, but I’m usually present and there to pull (if needed) and to help my nanny goats clean their kids as I feel sorry for them trying to clean one kid and birth another.
7. Take Down Winterizing Materials
Depending upon where you live, you may have to winterize your coop, hutches, or bee hives. When warmer weather finally comes around, you need to go through and take all of the layers off.
Even though I live in the south, I still winterize to some extent. Our rabbit hutches are layered with more wind breaking material and so are our coops. When summer hits, we remove some of the layering because they just don’t need it.
So spring is the perfect time to go through and shed some of those heavier layers of protection for your animals and bees.
8. Clean Out Your Sheds and Barns
Sheds and barns are used heavily during the warmer months. It is important that they are organized so that you can find everything that you need as efficiently as possible. My husband use to be the world’s worst at just laying stuff down or not putting it in its place.
Finally, I had enough and my oldest son and I went to town on organizing things. It is amazing how much more functional our homestead is now. My husband has even become more organized because it truly makes life that much easier.
So go ahead and clean out your barns, buildings, and storage sheds while you can. It will make your summer and fall much easier.
9. Mend Your Fences
It is a fact of life that things break. Unfortunately, a lot of things break during the colder winter months. Fences are often times one of those things. Something will happen while it is cold and snowy outside.
Often for us, we’ll slap a band aid on it until the warmer months. However, when the warmer months roll around go ahead and mend those fences. It will save you a lot of time later when you aren’t having to round up animals that have escaped through your band aid.
10. Repair Your Buildings
Buildings are not cheap nor easy to build. Taking care of them is a necessity. Over time though, they wear down.
So instead of just letting them fall to ruin, make necessary repairs during the spring. If you had a roof collapse from the weight of the snow, go ahead and put a new roof on it with whatever materials you have on hand. It will save you a lot of money in the long run.
11. Repair Equipment
In case you haven’t noticed my theme yet, spring is a great time to make repairs. The reason is that the busy season is almost upon you. You are making preparations for when your homestead is in full swing again.
So go ahead and get your equipment in tip top shape so you won’t lose precious times in those warm months having to fix a tiller, a tractor, or whatever else you need to help your garden along. This will certainly make your life easier later if you make the time now.
12. Place Your Order
Some times we have to break down and purchase things. I hate those moments because I’m frugal. Yet, they must be done. For instance, I can’t grow a tractor part,gardening tools, or even farm equipment. I can purchase them inexpensively or even second hand, but it still requires I place an order.
So if there are items that you absolutely need and you have to purchase, spring is a good time to go ahead and get it over with. That way you’ll have what you need for the busy season, and hopefully the busy season will be a profitable one as well in order for your to recoup some of the money spent.
13. Build Garden Beds
Every year we add a few more garden beds. It just seems that we want to plant more so we naturally create more space for it. If you have any garden beds that need repair, or if you are needing to build extra space, then consider this a good time to begin building them.
So when spring rolls around, try a few of these garden bed ideas to get your amped up for the grow season.
14. Harvest Winter Vegetables
If you live in a warm enough climate, you can still grow vegetables during the winter months. We usually grow vegetables like carrots, radishes, turnip greens, and lettuce throughout the winter.
However, before we use the gardening space in the spring I have to be sure to go through the beds and pull up any left over veggies. This is particularly true for carrots as they hide very easily beneath the soil.
15. Clean Up Winter Greenhouse
If you have a cold frame or a fully heated green house, chances are you may use it to grow vegetables throughout the winter. I think that is awesome! I have a smaller greenhouse I use to start seedlings and grow fodder for my animals throughout the winter months.
But these greenhouses have to be cleaned up and ready for a fresh cycle of planting. The spring is a good time to clean them up and also to plant in them again for the next cycle.
16. Mix Up the Compost
Planting season is upon you if spring time has rolled around. In early spring is a good time to mix up your compost. This gives everything a good chance at complete decomposition by the time you need it for planting in around mid to late spring.
So keep this in mind in the early months of spring. Compost is a vital part of having a successful harvest during the summer and fall harvest.
17. Plant the Future Harvest
If you expect to have a harvest, then you must first plant the seeds. Mid to late spring is when most items need to be planted. This can be a large task depending upon what size garden you have.
We have a larger garden so it usually takes me a couple of days to get everything planted. I also feel like I’ve had a tremendous work out by the time I’m done. So expect to put in a lot of work with this chore.
18. Plant Some Eye Candy
I love flowers. I know a homestead is meant to be functional, but for me, I want it to be gorgeous too. This is why décor around my homestead is super important to me.
So if you love having a beautiful homestead too, then use the spring months to plant gorgeous flowers in beds and in window boxes to add some natural color to your property.
19. Create an Outdoor Living Space
I have lots of outdoor sitting space. I want my home to be a place that sustains us while also being a place that we can enjoy.
For this reason, I create outdoor living space. We have a back porch that gives us a shaded space to rest on hot days. I have a front porch that gives me a great place to relax at night and enjoy the view.
However, when spring rolls around I must put out my outdoor furniture in order to enjoy these spaces. So if you have outdoor furniture the spring is a great time to pull it back out and enjoy those outdoor spaces again.
20. Clean Your Heating Source
I’ve mentioned that we do have HVAC, but we also use awood stove to heat our home during the winter months. When spring time hits, I know it is time to clean out the wood stove one final time as well as the ash pale.
Also, I need to clean my HVAC unit so it can be ready to blow cool air as those warm temps are just right around the corner. This is a good time to perform routine maintenance on these items as well.
21. Work on Your Water Barrels
We use multiple water catchment systems around our house. You should consider these options if you aren’t familiar with rain catchment systems.
However, the spring is a great time to make sure your rain water systems are working as they are supposed to. Use this time to do routine maintenance so you can water your gardens and animals without having to use the water for your home.
22. Defrost and Clean Out Your Freezer
Spring is upon you so the cycle of refilling the freezer for winter has begun again. This is a good time (when it should be at its emptiest state) to defrost the freezer, clean it out, and reorganize the items that are left with in it.
This way you will be able to know what is oldest and eat it first so nothing wastes. You’ll also be able to spot if your freezer needs any maintenance. Plus, you can take inventory of what you have available to eat in your freezer as well.
23. Get Your Pantry Up to Par
I don’t know about you, but my pantry can become a mess rather quickly. I have multiple children who rummage through it and have a way of taking my organization and throwing it to the four winds.
So spring is a good time to get a grip on that situation. I go through the pantry, reorganize, and rotate canned items so I know what I need to eat first. Plus, I make room for the items I’ll be canning in the upcoming seasons.
24. Make Room for Staples
My husband works a regular job while I work at home and then we homestead on top of that. However, his job is based upon work load. So he usually makes a lot more money in the summer in comparison to the winter months.
So I use these months to stock up on staples while I have the extra cash. But I also have to make room in my home to hold these extra staples. Spring is a good time to start making room and dedicating certain spaces in the pantry, closets, etc. to hold certain staples that you can buy cheaper in the summer and use all year.
A few examples of items I’ll buy in the spring and summer are wheat seeds (I grind my own wheat), sugar, baking supplies (like baking soda and baking powder), and often I find coffee cheaper during these months. So I go ahead and stock up for the year so in the winter when I don’t have as much stretch to my budget, these items are already stored away for when I need them.
25. Clean Your Homestead Home
You didn’t think in all of this preparation I was going to forget about your actual dwelling space, did you?
Well, I didn’t. Having a clean house is so important because it helps to keep things organized and that just makes life function so much better.
Not to mention, there are certain areas in our homes (like behind the stove and refrigerator) that need some attention every 6 months or so. This is a good time to make the time to clean these items so you start the busy season of homesteading with an organized dwelling space.
26. Pull Out the Cool Stuff
I’m talking about temperature cool. Spring starts bringing warmer temps with it so you’ll need to put away the warm winter clothing and linens.
Instead, you’ll need to replace them with lighter weight options. This will keep you comfortable and organized too.
27. Clean Your Canners
Canners need a good scrub down. I usually scrub mine down after I complete a season of canning and then again before I begin. You might think that odd of me, but I want to make sure they are put away clean.
Plus, I want to make sure that all of the dust that can gather on them during the winter is removed. It is also a good time for me to check my canners out and make sure they are functioning properly so they can do their jobs.
28. Go Shopping for Canning Season
Spring time is the time to shop for canning supplies. If you need to buy a new canner you better do it before the season really gets started.
Also, you must buy lids. If you live in my neck of the woods, when lids come into town in certain stores with the lowest prices, you have to hustle or you’ll miss out.
So use this time of year to get prepared for canning season and make sure you have all of the supplies you need.
Well, there are 28 chores that should help you use your time in the spring to better prepare for the busy time of year that is only right around the corner.
But I’m curious what chores you do around your homestead in the spring time. Do you have anything specific that isn’t mentioned here?
Please let us know by leaving your thoughts in the comment section below.