2014 has proven to be our biggest push into self-sufficiency and experimentation yet. I believe with all the prior years combined, this year still has us doing more new experiments and new additions. This is just a portion of what we have going on. This doesn’t include urban food plot project, building a “tiny” house and furnishings, recycled pallet projects, normal vegetable gardening, classes, medicinal herbs, food storage, podcasts etc. Want to learn more on the podcast…check out 2 Midwest Guys.
This year we started breeding meat rabbits to supplement our meat and protein supply. Two does have had kits and out of 15 rabbits 6 have survived. We are giving the does one more chance before culling them. We are hoping for 6+ kits per litter, ideally 9+ kits per litter with little to no losses. We are waiting on our 3rd doe to kit. We have been supplementing the pellets with yard waste mainly in the form of weeds and grass clippings from when we do mow. 2 years ago we seeded our lawn with alfalfa and clover and now are able to benefit from that. By supplementing with yard “wastes” we have greatly reduced our dependency on pellets. The rabbits seem to prefer the fresh greens over pellets, and we feed less, and the pellets are more of a back up to feeding them.
Ducks were another new addition this year, and so far have been somewhat a love hate relationship. They refuse to eat duck food, and instead prefer fish food. Looking at the protein content of the chick starter/grower it is 18% protein, and the fish food was 38% protein. This fact, is probably why they are almost full grown in 3 months time. They have eaten all of my water plants, my lilies, my cat tails, my reeds, my duckweed, my Azolla. They have eaten everything, which resulted in an algae bloom, and we now have green water. We added snails to the system to help clean the waste and water. They ate those too. They ate all the leaves and bark off my willow trees I was hoping to help clean the water. They ate ½ of the goldfish in the pond. So far no duck eggs, if they keep this up, we will be eating them and marking it up as a lesson learned. On a positive note, in the last two weeks they have moved into the vegetable garden away from my pond (it could use a break). They have eaten and trampled the majority of the weeds and seem to have left my vegetables alone. If they keep this up, there may be hope for them. If not, Duck, it’s what’s for dinner.
New aquaponics design
The new design took the 400 gal in ground pond, and added a 35 foot creek, a radial filter, and 8 grow beds bringing the system to roughly 5000 gallons. The new design has had some setbacks, mainly the ducks and my own issue of adjusting the pH. We are working through some of the issues, and hopefully it will start to recover. I have some ultra concentrated bacteria on its way and we will see how that works. The frog pond and plant nursery is doing much better. The frog pond, which was once my main aquaponics, is doing well with more frogs showing up, and I am now using it as a trellis, and plant nursery. The benefit, no ducks. I finally caught “Gigantor” and now have a new nemesis now that the Gigantor challenge has been met. Chipmunks.
Sun chokes aka Jerusalem Artichokes
Sun chokes are a new addition for us this year. They have tubers similar to potatoes, and a sunflower like top. The tops can be fed to livestock, and the tubers can be cooked and eaten. The preferred method seems to be fried like fried potatoes. The sun chokes seem to be doing well. We won’t know how well until harvest later this fall. We plan on harvesting ½ and leaving ½ for next year. On our tour to Brambleberry Farm we are planning on getting a different variety, Purple chokes.
Fig is a new fruit for us this year. After our purple peach didn’t make it over the winter (we did get a bunch of seedlings started), we wanted another tree in the area. The fig we got from Brambleberry Farm is doing very well. Once the tree is more established we plan on taking cuttings and propagating more trees from the mother plant. I remember having a fig tree as a child in Louisiana.
Ground nuts are something we got on a whim, and another new addition this year. At first we didn’t think they would grow but after a few weeks we have now begun seeing vines growing and climbing. No progress as to what is going on under the ground. Once they are ready to harvest it supposedly is another protein source. We may hold a few back to propagate next year if they do well.
Tilapia were a new addition to the aquaponics portion of our operation. We have had goldfish, catfish, bluegill, redear, tadpoles, and crawfish. We got ours locally as 40 fingerlings from Blue Note Hatchery. All 40 survived, however, 2 met tragic ends on my part while moving a pump. They are growing strong and getting big. I am not sure if they will make it to the big pond or not. I am not sure about the ducks and the tilapia. Either the fish need to be much bigger or I may put them in a 275 gal tank for grow out. I did notice that our temperatures inside the house were not warm enough for them and I had to add supplemental heat to keep the water 70-80 degrees. Once I did this they started eating like the ravenous hoard.
Amaranth is a grain alternative. The varieties we got are native to South and Central America but will grow well here in the warmer summer months. We actually have a native variety here in Indiana and the local farmers call it pigweed. Pigweed has become almost immune to most commercial sprays. Family members who are involved with large scale agriculture have stated it is becoming a real problem. The two varieties we got were both for appearance, yield, and hardiness. This is another plant we will harvest ½ for use, and the other ½ will go for seed stock for the following year.
We picked up 2 elderberry plants from Brambleberry farm when Dustin and I went down for our 2 Midwest Guys tour. We have an open tour June 7th which is THIS Saturday. They are still in the pots as we were babying them and wanted to make sure good and hardy before putting into the ground. That is a project for this week. You need two different plant varieties to pollinate unless you have a wild one in your area. This is sometimes the case with people in rural areas. This will be used as a food and a medicinal once we start getting fruit.
The Gumi berry is still a little sad and we are not putting it out in the “General Population” until it is a bit bigger. The “wee one” will likely trample it. This is a nitrogen fixer, as well as a food producer. I will take pictures on Saturday of what it is supposed to look like when grown.
While the goji isn’t new (we had it last year) apparently the ducks seem to like the leaves and ate it down to the ground. We may be starting back a year on this one. We protected them, and see if that helps. If not it will have to find a new location. This is more a warning, ducks will eat your goji, and well anything else that is green.
While the hops aren’t new I wanted to share how well they are doing this year. We now have a living privacy wall and shaded area just from the hops vines
Canning isn’t something new to us, but we tried canning fresh pineapple this year. Aldi had a great deal of $0.89 per pineapple. We bought a bunch and made dehydrated fruit snacks, canned a bunch and even from some of the waste material made fresh pineapple juice. Each pineapple yielded about 1 ½ quart of pineapple, and ½ cup of juice. Cheaper than buying canned pineapple in the store, I controlled what goes into them, I got bonus of 5 quarts of juice, and feed for animals. I took the woody centers that are not fit to eat, and ran through my food mill. Collected the juice and fed the pulp to the chickens. I cut as close as I could to the outer peel, and any “eyes” I cut out and ran through the juicer. Anything the chickens wouldn’t eat, went to the worms and compost. You can actually regrow pineapple from the tops. While I am a big fan of this, I don’t have the indoor space to keep it over winter, and was a bit more work than I wanted to do moving it in and out. When we get a better greenhouse this may be an option. This is something to look out for of eating and buying within season. If you can find a good deal on something if at a farmer’s market, store, or even your own back yard, find ways to preserve it and stock up.
Most people today don’t know what a scythe is. Think what the grim reaper carries. With the addition of the rabbits, and soon to add goats, we needed a way to get hay and feed to them cheap and easy. We didn’t have access to a mechanical way to cut, and bale pasture hay/weeds unless we paid someone to do it, and that just wasn’t in the cards. We did however have access to old fashion scythes. This is how people used to gut fields before machinery, on the cheap, just using your time and labor. I can tell you it was a workout, and while a bit sore, we both like the manual labor, and proving we can do it. I think we as a society have become too dependent on things that make life easy and another reason we have a weight problem as a nation. Before we invested in a new hand tool, and an expensive one at that ($200-500) we wanted to give it a try. We found some older (60 or so years) tools in my wife’s grandfathers barn. I researched how to clean, sharpen, and bring back these older pieces of technology to life. Calling around, I couldn’t find any stores locally that carried a scythe, let alone any parts or maintenance pieces. As with everything, I made do with what I had. After cutting about 1/4 an acre in an hour or so I think we are hooked. We may get a few tips from Brambleberry Farm as Darren and Espri use the scythe a their place. We think with a little practice, and tips on our technique this may be a good solution. I already came up with a way to make a mini baler out of repurposed cat litter boxes.
This blog has already become too long; I will have to write-up all the medicinal and culinary herbs later. Below is a list of all the new herbs we have added this year. I will continue to put posts on the Herb Blurb page with more details on each herb as time goes on.
St Johns Wart
Rose of Sharron