Tag Archives: Brambleberry farm

Interns and shared learning

When I attended the Indiana Horticulture Congress recently a conversation and discussion came up that wasn’t on the intended schedule but it should have been. Internship, interns and the ups and downs of them.

This topic came up while discussing organic pest management and the study with biochar. The biochar discussion quickly turned over to interns and the benefits. This carried over into the organic pest management and came back up in a later discussion. The majority of small farms speaking indicated that they had previously steered clear of interns and internship believing that they would spend more time having to “babysit” the interns and their involvement with the school would micromanage their normal operations and be more geared to academic study vs growing. This perception was smashed when all the farms involved in the study met monthly and discussed lessons learned, tools, and how to optimize resources. All the farms stated that interns were a valuable asset to their operations. Surveys of both farmers and interns showed for the most part a positive perception change and positive educational experience on both parts as a result of the interns working with the farmers. Some interns have never been on a farm and didn’t know how their food got to the plate. The internships get more people excited and hands on into farming. It also give the farmers a way to pass on their knowledge, and assistance for regular farm chores or the extra set of hands to complete projects that otherwise have been put off for lack of time or manpower.

While we have not looked into the option of an intern we are not at a  production level that we could support that type of involvement. This is why we do have tours. It exposes people to some of the farm operation without a huge time commitment.

Speaking from experience, I somewhat interned at a friends farm who needed some extra help, and in turn I got an education. Interns typically are paid but not always. Sometimes it is a share of crops/products, sometimes it is a wage but lower than a farm had as the education is part of the payment. I personally had never been around a animal based farm production model. I spent about 3 years helping and sometimes working while the owners were otherwise engaged at Simpson Family Farm in Martinsville, IN run by Darby Simpson, and his Family. This experience was extremely valuable in the little things that were learned. What works, what doesn’t, little tricks that aren’t taught in school, but farmers take for granted. I asked a bunch of “dumb” questions that Darby took as just farm life and the way things are done. There isn’t a one size fits all model of what to duplicate. Each situation, each farm, each individual is different and systems that work on one farm for one reason or another may not work on your farm. The key is to learn, and experience what other people are doing and adapt it for your own situation. As an example, Darby is a full time farmer, and income is based on production, so many things going on at once, and volume. 500 meat birds in each cycle, and five cycles is a lot of birds. That is a lot of feed, lot of chicken tractors, having to have a processor lined up, way to transport birds to processing, being able to store the birds after processing, timing of when to get chicks, when to start the next batch. It has taken him years to get a system that works for him. Would this system work for the newbie? Maybe, but his land has been developed over years, his land can support that number of chickens, he has the bugs in the pasture, he has the forage growing.  He has a large flat level area of pasture and cows rotated with the birds, water is already set up, tractors are already build, tractor designs have gone through several rounds. LOTS of stuff I learned by working beside him. Darby, also has a consulting site where if you feel you are ready to go the commercial route he can help advise at DarbySimpson.com. Spending time with him made me realize we needed to work our land for three to five years before we were even to start looking at commercial meat production as an option. I learned a lot from Darby, some things I really liked, some things I liked but modify for our own situation, some things I would stay away from as they were just not right for our operation. The things that we determined were not right, we would have tried on our own farm if we had not experienced them first on theirs. Not that they were bad, but just didn’t fit into our operations. An example would be all his farm operations are geared around single adult operator, say moving chicken tractors. While Brandie can and did move them successfully, Wee One could not, but his system wasn’t designed to have a 5 year old move them nor perform the operations, it was designed with an average adult with enough strength to do the jobs at hand (lifting 5 gallon buckets of grain and water). This is also where I learned a HUGE and valuable lesson, scaling up is NOT just adding more of X, being animals or plants. There usually is a tipping point where the current size system will no longer support more X. You have to have a new system to get bigger. And the same goes true for scaling down, what works on his level of operation, may NOT work for a homesteading model.

Brambleberry Farm down in Paoli had an opportunity for interns and their situation was 16 hrs/week work in exchange for free housing, and access to sections of land to do with as you wanted. Read all about it at the link. It was a separate living space, and the land use had to be approved with their overall farm policy. In past years the interns grew market vegetables and sold at the farm stand and farmers market booth, some grew their own food and had an outside job for income. I have toured Brambleberry several times and incorporated portions of things I learned there into our own operations. It was a tremendous learning experience. Completely different from my experience with Darby who is a meat based operation, Brambleberry was more a plant based operation with animals adding inputs to the farm. Animals were there as meat/protein but not the focus. A more let the land show you what to farm/grow vs change the land to what you are growing. Changing the land isn’t necessarily a bad operation, as an example Darby took a historically GMO traditional crop field and turned it into a lush organic pasture feeding cows, ducks, chickens and turkeys. It’s working with nature, BUT needed man to change it in the right direction for the intended purpose.

Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms one of my mentors and a farming icon has a completely different model of “Fiefdoms” on his farms. He also has internships and apprenticeships, as well as books, tours, videos, documentaries, presentations, speeches, and interviews While not directly intern related, it does allow someone with a specialized knowledge get further into farming without some of the issues on starting from scratch. And I am not even going to summarize, but you can watch a presentation he gave about it.

 

From speaking with other farmers I have heard positive and negative on both sides of internships. There are bad farm managers who don’t know how to manage interns appropriately, and interns who don’t want to work or won’t follow directions and are disastrous for the farmer. My best advise whichever side of the equation you are on is to talk with people who have had real experience with interning, and if possible people who have directly interned in the situation you are looking to get into. If you are a farm, go to markets and talk to other farmers who have had interns before. Go to conferences where other farmers can share their experiences. Learn how to weed out bad interns. One lesson I heard about at the Horticulture Congress, was application, letter about why farming important to them, references, and a 1 day trial period before committing by either side. A try before you buy. Could they do one day labor, could they follow direction, could they put their phones down long enough to work, are you ready to manage an intern, how bad does it mess with daily operations.  Same holds true for interning on a farm. I know of a intern program where the interns have to pay for their internship, and are encouraged to “beg” from friends and family, even GoFundMe pages to get more money pumped into the educational opportunity. They are worked hard for having to pay for education. Just not something I can support. I know of another “internship” where interns are treated like slave labor because they are required a set number of credit hours of working to offset  a regular school education.  Hours are stretched and approval signature is dangled like a carrot. No signature and either tuition is due or kicked out of program.  How do you find interns and intern opportunities. There are programs like Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms, USA (WWOOF-USA) and Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms. I do not have any experience with either one so cannot speak to them. I think we need a better local database/website of connecting local farms, interns, and opportunities. Purdue said they were working on something. But, best way to find opportunities is get out there and start talking to people, farmers, and get connected into your local farming communities.

I highly encourage you to tour as many farms as you can. Do not try to duplicate 100% of what you see and expect identical results Sometimes variables (soil, light, temperature, wind, lifestyle etc.) are not the same on your farm and you may not get the same result. But do experiment, and never stop experimenting, even after you are successful. Do not risk your whole operation on an experiment, but the only way to improve is to continue to evolve. If you are running 200 meat birds at a time, and want to try a 100% pasture/forage type bird try 20 or 40 alongside your regular 200. If it doesn’t work, try to figure out why, and improve. Rather than risk your whole operation failing, you learn one way that did’t exactly work for your operation.

Tours on our farm should begin this spring. If you want an individual/family tour please use the Contact Us page and we will try and work something out.

Tree Grafting Workshop March 21, 2015 1-5pm

So I can finally publish the workshop details. We are bringing up Darren from Brambleberry Farm to teach a tree grafting workshop. If you haven’t heard about Brambleberry I have some links to past publications with them.

Podcast of tour

Post on tour

Here is the flyer for the workshop

Tree Grafting

Here is the details and how to register

Tree Grafting Workshop

Saturday, Mar 21, 2015, 1:00 PM

Burke Farm
6020 E. Raymond st indianapolis IN 46203 Indianapolis, IN

6 Gardener/Homesteader Attending

Are you intrigued by the ancient art of fusing two trees into one but haven’t been brave enough to give it a try? Do you want to learn a skill that will let you create your own superior fruit trees for $2 or less a tree? Do you have a beloved old family apple tree that you want to start anew in your own backyard? Learn to graft and YOU CAN! This Ma…

Check out this Meetup →

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

 

Chicken Podcast on 2 Midwest Guys

The 2 Midwest Guys latest podcast is up. In this episode we talk about back yard chickens. From suburban chickens to rural chickens. SOme lessons we learned along the way and some things to consider. Come on over and give it a listen at 2 Midwwest Guys.

 

Just a reminder the tour of Brambleberry Farm is June 7th. Darren and Espri are offering discounts on plants for the tour. Check it out here.

Brambleberry tour podcast

Our latest podcast is up at 2 Midwest Guys where we recap our tour to Brambleberry Farm a permaculture nursery and farm. If you are looking for permaculture plants, want a local source, and what to see what you are getting before ordering online or from a catalog they have quite a bit, including Comfrey.

Brambleberry Farm

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Herb Blurb – Comfrey

With all of the talk about comfrey in the podcast (2 Midwest Guys.com), in the tour, in classes, on the blogs, on Facebook, I think it is about time we added comfrey to the Herb Blurb.

Comfrey 1

Comfrey as a permaculture plant

Comfrey is a great and almost necessary plant in permaculture. It has deep tap roots that can go down 12 feet or more into the soil to m in minerals out. You will almost always find comfrey in any permaculture designers tool box of go to plants. Typically they are planted around fruit or nut trees. When the trees are just planted and establishing themselves, a ring of comfrey around the tree can boost tree growth. It is extremely fast growing. You can harvest the leaves several times over the season. Here in the Midwest comfrey will die back to the ground during winter. The leaves can be added to compost as a nutrient booster. You can make comfrey tea as a fertilizer for plants. You can feed it to livestock. I can say that our chickens completely devoured a comfrey plant when we first got them. The additional minerals found in the leaves benefit, chickens, rabbits, goats, sheep, cows, pigs. We haven’t seen any of our pets eating it yet, that being the dog and cats. I mentioned harvesting several times a season. Harvesting consists of cutting the leaves back, and you use the leave portions for teas, compost, or feed.

We haven’t had much luck with starting comfrey from seeds. The best way to spread it is through root cuttings. After 2-3 years the plants are well established and you can split them. Much like you would split a hosta. Taking a spade you can divide the root mass into several clumps. Only 1 inch of root is necessary to propagate. The Russian variety do not spread by themselves. Be warned, once you introduce comfrey into an area it can be difficult to remove, since it can regrow from only 1” of root. It is best to cut back all leaves when propagating and allow the plant to send out new shoots from the crown and/or roots.

Comfrey can survive in just about any soil and condition. It does prefer partial to full sun. When on a tour at Brambleberry farm we were told that if you do not expand and move the ring of comfrey around your tree to keep it roughly with the drip line, the tree will shade them out and the comfrey will die out. I believe it is a combination of root competition with the tree and the shade that does it in. The one nice thing about it is as it grows it chokes out all the other plants around the tree, and if you plant in a ring, you have a nice little circle to mow around…if you mow. Throw in some garlic, and you have a good pest deterrent. Add an annual climbing pole bean once the tree is established (2-3 years and 4-6’ tall) and you have the makings of a nice little plant guild. The beans fix nitrogen, the tree is the pole to climb for the beans. The garlic deters moles and other rodents from eating at the tree. Comfrey mines minerals, and all of its other functions.

Bees love the purple flowers that come out in the spring for a mature plant. In the 3 years we have grown comfrey the bees, honey bees, bumblebees, mason bees, and even butterflies have been seen on the purple flowers. We have never observed any insect damage to the comfrey plants. No caterpillars, no Japanese beetles, no aphids and no real leaf damage whatsoever.

Comfrey ad a medicinal herb

As if all the above reasons are not enough to make you want some comfrey. It also has many medicinal properties. While the FDA says it is a plant that has toxic effects, a person would have to consume insane amounts of the plant to reach the levels they say are harmful. Let us not forget, these are the same people that say fluoride, GMO, and thousands of other chemicals are safe. I used to deal with these people on a regular basis for 16 years. My confidence in their ability to determine what is and is not save is absolutely zero.

Comfrey a great first aid for external treatment for wounds and to reduce inflammation associated with sprains and broken bones. Keep this herb growing in the garden so it is readily available for external salves and poultices to help broken bones heal faster.

From WebMD: Comfrey is used as a tea for upset stomach, ulcers, heavy menstrual periods, diarrhea, bloody urine, persistent cough, painful breathing (pleuritis), bronchitis, cancer, and chest pain (angina). It is also used as a gargle for gum disease and sore throat.

Comfrey is applied to the skin for ulcers, wounds, joint inflammation, bruises, rheumatoid arthritis, swollen veins (phlebitis), gout, and fractures.

WebMD also states that it is Unsafe to take by mouth, however many people have done it for years

I can speak from personal experience that I have used comfrey on swollen and sore joints due to arthritis, my wife has used if for deep and severe bruises and sprains (she is a kick boxer). We have used in when I am so accident prone and had cuts, scrapes, deep bruises due to my own clumsiness. We have a athlete who has injured ankles and applied it. In all cases the healing process seems to go much faster than not using it.

Purdue researched comfrey as a feed crop to animals and in the 70-80’s it was used as a feed crop. Here is an article on comfrey as an alternative feed for livestock. https://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/afcm/comfrey.html

Brambleberry farm has comfrey for sale, and if you are interested in a tour we are heading out June 7th for a plant sale and tour of their property. Details on the tour are below. The cost is $10/person paid to Darren and his wife Espri.

Brambleberry tour

Comfrey in our garden
Comfrey in our garden
Comfrey crown 2 weeks old from bare root.
Comfrey crown 2 weeks old from bare root.
Comfrey crown sprouting
Comfrey crown sprouting

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