Category Archives: Update

What’s new this year update with pictures

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.

Rabbits

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.

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Ducks

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.

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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.

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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.

Figs

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.

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Ground Nuts

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.

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Tilapia

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

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.

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Elderberry

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.

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Gumi Berry

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.

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Goji Berry

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.

Hops

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

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Canning pineapple

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.

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Scything

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.

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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.

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Wormwood

Jewelweed

Ma-huang (Ephedra)

Witch Hazel

Prickly Pear

St Johns Wart

Motherwart

Tansey

Boneset

Horehound

Chickweed

Rose of Sharron

Apple mint

Garlic Chives

Comfrey

 

Posting Delays

Just a quick update. Spring is here and the projects are in full swing. Since I switched from WordPress.com to WordPress.org I have so many new features, and options I don’t know where to start. I met with a good friend last night Adrian Oshea from AdrianOshea.com and he gave me all kinds of tips and tools to help optimize my page, look, and navigation for this site. Adrian designed our new logo for the podcast. So while it may not seem like there are many blog posts lately I am doing a lot of improvements behind the scenes.

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The new podcast is also keeping me pretty busy. We are looking to put out a show once a week until we can get more experience under out belts. We may do more, just depends. If you haven’t heard the new podcast is available at our site 2MidwestGuys.com or through ITunes.

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

New water feature

Over the winter I took down the aquaponics outside due to freezing temps. I let the pump run through a long pipe so that the fish would continue to get oxygenated water. One day while I was out and about I was able to snag a 20×25 foot section of roofing EDPM liner. The family was moving, and he worked at a roofing company and had it left over at his home. He needed it cleaned and I can always have a use for EDPM liner. Brainchild happened. I always loved playing in creeks as a kid, making damns, waterfalls, pools, and just listening to the water. All the kids like this as well, so I put in a new water feature. It served several purposes.

Current water feature 2014
Current water feature 2014
Water Feature 2013
Water Feature 2013

First, adding additional oxygen to the water for the fish in the pond. Having stagnant water hinders the fish growth. Having several waterfalls adds tons of opportunity to get more oxygen into the water. More oxygenated water means a higher stocking density is possible. It is not only good for the fish but also good for the plants and the beneficial bacteria breaking down the fish waste.

Second, the waterfall and associated mini ponds foster more places for bees and other beneficial insects to get water. Having lots of areas where the water is shallow allows bees, butterflies, frogs and toads to hang out. While cleaning out some of the winter litter off the bottom we will have tons of frogs over the next couple of years, due to the number of tadpoles I found.

Third, all the pools, and rocks it mimics more closely what is found in nature. Sediment and particles can settle and be filtered out of the water. I plan on adding more water loving plant species on my next trip to Aquatic Design. I want to plant in the pond itself and along the creek too.

Fourth, the sound is calming and relaxing. We can now sit on our deck (now that it is chicken proof) and listen to the babbling stream in the evenings while we eat on the deck.  Sorry for the “mess” I went out to get a quick video so I can publish. Sounds great. It will look much better once I clean up, finish laying rocks, and put in plants.

Fifth, it acts as a barrier to the creeping plants. Last year we added some mint and catnip to the area. These will get out of control if not in pots or otherwise contained. The creek will act as a barrier to keep them between the creek and the deck (we hope).

Sixth, the creek is an overflow from the water collection rain barrels. Once they are full the water will overflow into the creek.

Lastly, it keeps the kids entertained and is a learning opportunity. How does water flow? Making damns, making pools, boat races, currents, eddies all kinds of lessons can be learned. Once more wildlife sets in we can study what lives in the running water. Where do the frogs hang out and why? The kids and I can spend hours adjusting the waterfalls, where to place the bigger rocks, the smaller rocks, the pebbles, where to have a sand bar. When you move one rock the whole dynamic changes for that section. Who knows, maybe we will make a map like they do for white water rafters. Where are the good rapids, where are the large boulders, where is the waterfall, where are the deep pools. Let the kids name them. Then next year, make a whole new path.

Every year we have found new things to add to the yard, change or redo. What we learned and how to make it better, or change something around. In the five years we have been at this property the landscaping has never been the same from one year to the next.