Category Archives: gardening

Food shortages and prices may make you rethink homesteading

Many factors in both the US and overseas are beginning to affect food process. Food prices have steadily increased over the years yet there is more “food” being produced. When I say “food” not all of the food being produced is either consumable by humans or eaten here in the US.

Here in the Midwest and other locations the Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PEDV) has taken its toll on pork farms. It is estimated that 10% of the pork production has been removed due to the illness. Removed defined as being either killed from the virus or killed to prevent further spread of the illness. Once a Confined Animal Feed Operation (CAFO) has been infected it spreads extremely fast. As a result pork and my beloved bacon prices will be increasing. Pork prices were already on the rise due to increased feed costs.

PEDV News

Across the globe droughts in some areas and flooding in others has played havoc with grain prices. The poor crop production is not only here but UK, Russia, Australia, and China.

Wheat Drought

Crops US

I know several larger scale farmers or people working the farms here in the US. Weather plays a big part on when you can plant, when you can harvest. Some days they are in the fields 20 hours a day or on a rotation to keep the equipment running 24 hrs due to the weather window. The fields are too wet to get machinery out, or too much wind, or the ground is ground still frozen. This winter did not help many I know.

The hard winter for many here in the US has also hit the tropical crops such as avocados, oranges, lemons and limes. Florida was hit hard by colder than normal temperatures and as a result the orange crops will be affected. For example the number of dropped fruit has increased due to the colder than normal winter, but another problem is facing Florida. A virus spread by an insect is hitting the citrus production hard.
Citrus Production by State

Citrus Virus

California is in a world all its own. While it once was the breadbasket of America this year it may be the cause of food price increases. The drought, and lack of snowfall in the mountains (supplies much of the water to the growing valley) has caused some municipalities to turn off the water to orchards and farmland. The drought is not only impacting the fruits and vegetables but also beef, and dairy. California once a major exporter of dairy products to the rest of the world, many ranchers are now sending in the herds for slaughter because it is simply too costly to feed them during the drought.

California

The food issues are also affecting alcohol production. Hard cider breweries are having a harder time keeping up with demand. Due to lack of heirloom verities and increased demand Cider production may feel the hit as well.

Cider

When you add in the political tensions between the US and other countries where agriculture is a significant export you are looking at all around food increases not only here in the US but across the world. Then add to that the continual erosion of the US dollar, the mismanagement by our government of our debt, and our problematic monetary system and we are looking at massive price increases over the next couple of years.

What does all this gloom and doom about food prices, poor yields, and droughts have to do with permaculture? EVERYTHING! These problems go to show that our current food production system is unsustainable and this is just the tip of the iceberg. You can reduce your food bills and dependency on what is placed in front of you claiming to be edible. Grow your own. You can do this even if you have only an apartment and now windows. Stop growing lawns and treating with mass amounts of chemicals and fertilizers so that you have a “green carpet”. You are doing more harm than good. What does green carpet do for you? Absolutely nothing. Even if you were growing it to feed to animals, you have contaminated it to the point it is toxic to keep out weeds and make sure it stays green. Permaculture is a method to not only produce for your family but can also be a supplemental income source.

This year our family has made the biggest leap into food production expansion than we ever have before, due mainly to what we see happening here in the US and the world. We are getting dairy goats because we cannot afford to pay $6-8 per gallon of milk that we estimate will be coming in the near future. We have been tracking prices of the food we purchase, and a 5lb bag of cheese went from $8.99 2 years ago to $15.99 recently. If prices like this continue we cannot afford to still eat like we have and cook from scratch. Having dairy goats, eliminates the need to purchase, cheeses (we like many different kinds cheddar, cottage cheese, hard cheese, cheese sticks, ricotta etc), butter, yogurts, milk, sour cream, and ice-cream. Add to that the ability to use the goat milk to make soaps and lotions and that is a huge reduction. We can now control what goes into each of these products and we are independent of the price increases. We are adding amaranth to our crops to reduce grain needs. We have expanded from our own yard, to using two other growing spaces so that we will be able to have an abundance.

Price Basket

USDA food prices over the years

When you look at the prices week to week it may only go up a few pennies. Not enough for many to recognize. But when you start looking over the years there are some massive differences. I am in my mid 30’s and I can remember gas under $1.00/gal, bread under $1.00/loaf and being in amazement when a grocery cart full of food was less than $100.00, and to go over $100 meant that we were having a big party, or cookout. Today the same cart will run $3-400. While we only shop every 2-3 months we still only spend around $250 for a family of 6. Why, because we cook from scratch, grow and make much of our own food. We want to see our grocery bill be less than $100 every 3 months if possible. This is NOT unreasonable if you eat seasonally, cook from scratch, and produce much of your own food? I have heard every excuse you are coming up with, because I have said them myself. “I don’t have time, I don’t know how, it takes too long, etc, etc.”. This is utter BS. Turn the TV off, get off the couch, stop going out to eat so much, and eat real food vs. junk that is pre-made out of a box. I was exactly there a few years ago and can tell you it can be done. It isn’t overnight, it is one step at a time, and it can only lead to good things.

I wanted to say thank you to my friend “Cedar” from Down to the Roots magazine and “Cedar News Service” (inside Joke for the TSP audience) who highlights all the issues relating to food prices and shortages. Without her, I would be unaware of all that is going on outside my small world.

The Anti-Chicken Tractor

Most people who raise chickens are familiar with the chicken tractor. If you are not it is a mobile coop that allows the chickens to get fresh grass and other greens, exposure to other parts of your property, while remaining safe from predators and remaining contained. We have a six foot privacy fence and pretty much let the birds roam free. That is until they destroyed our gardens. So we put up a small poultry netting fence around our gardens. That worked for a while until the birds started eating the grass in the yard. So we seeded with clover, alfalfa, and grasses. But noting ever came up. We seeded again. Same thing, nothing. It wasn’t until I noticed one day the chickens were eating both seeds and new sprouts. So I came up with the Anti-chicken tractor. At the time we didn’t have money for paddock shift fencing to allow one area to be seeded. I did have some leftover chicken wire, and some misc. boards. It is basically a box with chicken wire around it. This is version 2.0. Version 1.0 was just wire with no sides. The Chickens discovered they could land on the top and push it down far though to get to the good stuff. Boom! Now I can seed a small area and allow the plants to take root and establish before the ravenous hoard get to them. It is amusing that there is no foliage around the inner edge where they can get their heads and beaks into it. The anti-chicken tractor also serves as a mobile rabbit tractor. When the rabbits need to be out for one reason or another we can put them on the lawn and mow it down. We USED to be able to put them in the front yard until our neighbors started spraying and the drift went into our space as well.

another anti-chicken tractor
another anti-chicken tractor
Anti-chicken tractor
Anti-chicken tractor
2 weeks using anti-chicken tractor
2 weeks using anti-chicken tractor

Cold Hardy Bamboo

Recently we took a trip down to Southern IN to check out a bamboo farm. I have been looking for local sources of bamboo for referral in permaculture designs, and for general gardening purposes.  We found a great connection. Tim runs his bamboo farm, and sells the cut bamboo and live bamboo to help feed and take care of the exotic leopards he is rescuing. I learned something new, that bamboo is actually a type of grass. Lets see you try and mow this stuff!

Here is a picture of the bamboo we got along with Dustin my co-hose from 2 Midwest Guys, and Tim the owner in front of a bamboo grove we were digging from. I am 6′ call and this bamboo is roughly 20-22 feet tall (based on what we dug).

Bamboo Grove

This was just one of the many varieties Tim had on the property. This particular stand was known as Incense Bamboo Phyllostachys atrovaginata . It can get up to 30+ feet tall and 2 3/4 Inches in diameter. This particular grove we were in front of was only 5 years old and we could only get a portion of it in the picture. Tim explained that the bamboo will grow 2-3 feet per year until it starts to max out around 25 feet then slows down on growth each year.

Tim had some timber quality bamboo as well. Here is a picture of Kevin from Values Driven realty holding one of the cut shoots Tim had handy. This type of bamboo is used in construction, and is very solid. Some varieties of timber bamboo is stronger than steel and 1/4 the weight. In more tropical climates where the timber variety thrive they make buildings, scaffolding, and even bridges able to support 16 tons, out of it.

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Bamboo doesn’t really have many pests or diseases here in the US. It can spread but with proper management it can be contained.

If you are looking for a fast growing privacy fence, wind row, dust barrier bamboo might be the trick. It is also good for erosion control, shade tolerant, evergreen, and these varieties are cold hardy. You can eat it, use it as building materials, vegetable garden poles, fishing poles, trellis, literally 1000 uses for it.

I had originally intended to use it as a living privacy fence. By chance I took some that I had growing at my suburban home up to feed to goats at the Global Soaps facility. The goats ate it like it was candy. So, now we have a new source of feed for our oats we hope to get soon. The less feed and hay I have to buy the better. So I now have a new permaculture plant to add to my grab bag of tools. Bamboo has many uses, and as such is acceptable for our homestead.

The university of KY put out a great publication about bamboo.

bamboo

I am taking another trip down to see Tim and will be bringing my trailer to purchase more clumps. Tim doesn’t have a website, and only accepts cash. If you are interested in getting some of you own bamboo, and are relatively local (Indiana)  please let me know, and hopefully we can work something out. I DO accept credit cards.  I hope to go within 2 weeks of this posting because I wanted to get the bamboo before it starts sending out new shoots and runners with the warmer weather.

Depending on order size and variety it will be $40-70 per clump. These are 3-4 year old plants, 15-25 feet tall with about a 1-2′ root ball on the bottom. They will be available on Indy Southside or could be delivered for an additional fee. The root balls are 50-200 lbs depending on how many shoots are in a bundle.  If you are planting for a privacy fence, 6-10 foot spacing recommended for faster fence, wider if speed is not an issue. If you are wanting some help incorporating bamboo into your landscape contact us!

Aquaponic pictures

Here are some pictures from our current aquaponic configurations. The greenhouse system has been 60% scrapped.  Once redesigned I hope to make into a Chinampa similar to the pic below.

Chinampa

Current designs.

Grow Beds are fed from the pond though the radial filter

Grow Beds

Pond (approximately 5000 gal)

Pond

Creek adds oxygen and will have filter plants along the path

Creek

Return from grow beds (Recycled PVC pipe from Aquaponics V1.5)

Return from Grow beds

Radial filter (with bottom drain not shown)

Radial Filter

Indoor System (Stocked with 40 tilapia from BlueNote Farms)

Indoor System

New addition – Ducks

photo from albc-usa.org
photo from albc-usa.org

We have had aquaponics and ponds for running on 3 years. We have had a variety of fish and the chickens do their part to keep the majority of insects down. Chickens are great for insect control except they eat everything else. Each year we have to come up with more creative ways to keep them out of our vegetable gardens. What does that have to do with ducks? We seem to have a slug problem and ducks seemed to be the solution. Chickens won’t eat the slugs and ducks love them. Supposedly ducks will also leave your gardens alone. Only time will tell on that bit of advice.

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We recently struck out to our first animal auction with the intent on getting some Khaki Campbells. We selected this breed for the higher number of eggs laid per year. I wanted them for slug and insect control, but might as well have one that also produces a product. Along the permaculture principals we are now selecting species or products that have at least 2 purposes. With the ducks it was slug control, fertilizer in the aquaponics, eggs, and because we got a drake (male) as well we can get fertilized eggs to sell or hatch them and wither sell the young ducklings or raise them as meat birds. We learned that ducks will imprint on people at a young age so while at the auction we decided to only get ducklings and not adult ducks. We wanted them to grow up in our back yard around our family so they wouldn’t be afraid of us.  My wife does worry that our youngest child will let them follow her in from the yard into the house. She has already asked to take a bath with the ducks on more than one occasion. Not all ducks needs water, for example runner ducks are perfectly fine without having water to swim. You also don’t need a pond, a small kiddie swimming pool, a stock tank, or just a Rubbermaid tote could work as long as they can get in and out.  

Like chickens, young ducks need some time to grow before they can move outside. So we are back to using a brooder box. They are currently living in our living room under a heat lamp. We were advised that if we give them water to swim in then we risk the chance of them drowning if unsupervised when really young. So, no tub in the box at the moment. We do let them swim in the bathtub when we clean the brooder box out.

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We picked our ducklings up at our local Rural King. When we were at the auction we looked into ordering from a hatchery but after a $7.99 each bird and a $45 shipping fee it would be expensive. Rural King had them for $4.99 minimum of 5 birds, which we wanted no more than 5. While there, another customer happened to be picking out ducks as well. She would reach in and hold the ducks upside down, and either put them in her box, or back in the tub. Not knowing a stranger, I asked what she was doing. She explained that when you hold them upside down you can tell the males from the females. This was news to me, but after watching her there was a distinct difference in the birds. Time will tell if she was right. Supposedly the males will point down at the ground when held upside down by their feet and females will point up turn their body so they face up. I could not find this on the internet when I got home so not 100% sure if it is accurate. By this means we got 4 females and one male. When you talk to old farmers most have all these “odd” ways to determine things such as when to plant, how long winter will be, if there will be a drought, and now how to sex a duck. From what I have found, most are right.

Most of the equipment needed is the same for ducks and chickens when they are little. Some items you will need: A brooder box (to keep them contained and safe), heat lamp, waterer, litter, and feeder. We had all these materials left over from when we raised chicks a few years back. You do not need to buy all of the components, with the exception of maybe a heat lamp. A large enough Rubbermaid tote or any box for a brooder could work. We are using an old guinea pig cage we had left over. The cage has a solid bottom as the ducks like to play in the water, and a cage to keep our other animals and kids out. Food and water containers could be small bowls, Tupperware containers, etc. The heat lamp may set you back $10 for the lamp and the fixture. The lamp does get hot so don’t allow it to get too close to any flammable materials. We do keep them with a small blanket over the top to retain some of the heat.  

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With the little peeps, we can hear them from across the house now. It seems as though they have doubled in size in just a week. I know they are more vocal, and it seems they know our voices. It will be quite in the house or while we are watching TV, until they hear us speak then “PEEP PEEP PEEP”. So as all the projects go, I now need to build them a duck house.

This is what my wife wants me to build. Seems the animals at our place are living in luxury.

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Humor from back in the day

M R Ducks

M R Not

M R Too

C M Wangs

L I B…M R Ducks