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Can a suburban lot be profitable as a farm? Pt 2

Can a suburban lot be profitable as a farm? Pt 2

In the last post I wrote about if it is profitable to run a suburban homestead farm. The answer was it depends. There are so many variables to consider. We touched on rabbits, and fruit trees. Today we are going to cover a few more items that in combination with reduction in spending and layering could make a suburban homestead profitable.

We touched on fruit trees and on using the fruit trees for home-made products such as jams and jellies. If you are to expand the fruit tree aspect to also include home based jams, jellies and baked goods you are adding additional function to your income stream without having to add to your space needs. Most if not all of the preserves will be prepared indoors without the need of additional growing area. Each area is different on the regulations required. Some states, cities, and counties will allow an individual to prepare and sell preserves on the farm without any additional requirements. Some areas require that a commercial kitchen be used, while others will allow it to be prepared on farm, sold off farm, if the kitchen is inspected. Do your research, and there are not only the preparation requirements, but also labeling requirements, on a federal, state, and sometimes local level. Do not be discouraged by the regulations, as many are not too over burdensome. If you are going to make preserves, there will always be waste in the forms of peels, seeds, core of the fruit (as with apples or pears), pulp etc. This is not a waste product. This could also be turned into income, in the form of compost, worms, compost tea, or bartered for other useful products. One local farm will barter fresh meat, in exchange for these types of waste, providing that it is chemical free (no pesticides, herbicide, fungicides etc.). The farm will take your waste and feed it to their pigs, and chickens. This can offset meat and egg purchases. If you are raising your own animals, this could offset any feed costs you may have. While you could also include baked goods, pies, cakes etc. in the same operation relatively easy, and would probably need the same level of inspection or regulations, you would be dependent on outside grains for flour, milk, and possible eggs for such an operation. This is not to say it isn’t profitable, especially if you buy flour in bulk, or have a niche market only using organic flour, or gluten-free products.

Composting can take a waste and turn it into a profit center. Composting isn’t hard, and it can be done indoors or outdoors, small-scale or large. It all depends on your climate and location. Some areas will have regulations on compost, but this is usually on a commercial-scale. We have a varied size of compost activities from an indoor box in a recycled cat litter container, to the 3 bin pallet composting, and each one has different purposes, and contents. The indoor system will use some household composting materials and shredded junk mail, cardboard, and fiber board (cereal boxes). There is no smell, and the worms do all the work. We use only non-glossy paper in these systems. These worms do not process large volumes of materials, and is mainly a use for compost tea, keep worms through the winter, and indoor soil amendments. The outdoor system has yard wastes, leaf litter, grass clippings, left over’s from the vegetable gardens, rabbit manure, and bedding from the chicken coup. People who are just getting started are on the lookout for worms to start their own composting system, or maybe something happened and killed off their worms. This is why it is good to have redundant system and only add questionable materials to one system, or rotate what gets the new materials. You always have a back up worm supply. Some people sell them by the pound, some count out the worms. You can also sell the worm casting, or compost tea. The casting can be added to plants indoor and out, gardens, lawns, around fruit and berry bushes. It is a fertilizer that will not burn, there are no chemical additives, and can be applied at any time. The tea is taken from the castings and made into a liquid fertilizer. Some people sell the tea in 1 gal jugs, others sell the dried castings and instructions on how to make your own tea. Like the castings, the compost tea can be put around any plants, indoors or out. The added benefits of the liquid are that it is readily absorbed by the plant during the application, and when sprayed onto the plant leaves acts a bio-barrier against pests and disease. The compost tea promotes a beneficial biological layer that will detour pests, but also aids in preventing many harmful molds, viruses, and bacteria from colonizing on the leaf surface. Will you be profitable from compost tea alone? Not on a suburban lot. But this is a way to take a waste product and turn it into something beneficial, both for your own farm or homestead and possibly turn a profit.  If you want more info on composting with worms check out Castaway Compost.

In part 3 we will talk chickens. We have hit on them a little here and there, but more details to come. So a recap of what we covered thus far in the series, is Fruits, Rabbits, Compost and worms, and preserves and baking. All of these can be managed at the same time on a suburban lot in conjunction with each other.

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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