Let me introduce you to the amazing MASON BEE!
So, what is a mason bee? What makes this bee a better pollinator than the beloved honey bee? And what makes them different?
Well, the most obvious difference is that mason bees do not make honey, but they are extremely good pollinators, as a matter of fact they can pollinate up to 10 times more than a honey bee!
Just a few hundred mason bees are all that are needed to pollinate an entire acre of fruits trees, that is simply amazing.
Another neat fact about mason bees is that
they are native to North America. Honey bees on the other hand were imported to North America.
Mason bees are a solitary species, every female is fertile and she works for herself; gathering her own food, nest materials and building her own nests. Honey bees, however work as a colony and only the queen lays eggs.
When the mason bees emerge from their nests, the males exit first. The males will wait near the nests for the females and some will even extract the females from their cocoons. The females emerge and will mate with several males. The males soon die and within a few days the females begin building their nests.
The female mason bees will find narrow gaps in hollow twigs, or use abandoned nests of wood boring insects, they have even been known to use empty snail shells to lay their eggs. Typical materials used for their nest cells may be mud, flower petals, chewed plant leaves and/or clay.
Mason bees are very docile, the males do not have a stinger. The females will only sting if trapped or squeezed, this makes them a great pollinator for a small back yard or home garden, as they pose little to no threat of stinging.
Native bees have two huge advantages over the honey bee. The first being that they are solitary, they work for themselves and live independently, which makes them less prone to disease and pest problems. The second advantage is that they don't live in hives, which means they can't be trapped and transported for commercial use, which also increases exposure to toxins and takes them out of their naive habitats. The only down side, if you can call it a down side, is that they don't make honey.
Mason bees are common through out the U.S. They are smaller than a honey bee and are typically either blue-black or metallic blue in color, they get their name from their habit of "masonry" nest building, sealing their nest cell after they lay their egg with a mud material.
Females emerge in early spring and begin foraging immediately for pollen and nectar, which they collect from a variety of crops, flowers and fruit trees, they take this back to their cell and pack the far end, until they think there is enough food to feed a young bee, before she lays her egg and caps the cell. She will continue this process, laying 15-20 eggs in her life time. She then dies in about 10 weeks. Mason bees can tolerate temperatures down to about 55 degrees.
They have a 95% pollination rate, where honey bees only have a 5% pollination rate.
Another neat fact about mason bees is that they will stay near their nests to pollinate crops, where honey bees will travel up to 2 miles. So mason bees can give gardeners and farmers more control of pollination, if they provide the correct habitat for them.
So how can you attract these UN-Bee-lievable mason bees?
First offer them a cozy house under an eave or tree cover about 6 ft. off the ground. These can be easily made or purchased online or at a garden center. Photo example below of a mason bee house.
Next create biodiversity with plantings of flowers, trees and/or garden vegetables. Choose flowers that have a single ring of petals for them to easily gain access, examples; Mountain mint, white clover, purple cone flowers, bee balm, etc..
Fruit trees such as cherry are an excellent choice for opportunistic pollinators. Raspberries, lilac bushes, sunflowers and anise hyssop are all great choices too.
A small mound of soil or a shallow hole near the nest boxes can be made so they can easily gather mud to make their nest caps. That is about all one needs to do, they will do the rest! You know your pollinator house is full when you see that the cells have been or are in the process of being capped.
The mason bees are an excellent way to pollinate crops, and as you can see are very easy to attract. Nature provides all the tools needed for success and with a little bit of whole system thinking we can create regenerative landscapes that help our entire ecosystem. Let's work with nature, rather than against it and experience the amazing benefits. Remember do not use pesticides or harmful herbicides on your vegetable crops, trees or flowers.
Thanks for reading!
Some of you may have heard me use terms like;
biological, huglekultur, regenerative, whole system, sustainable agriculture, biochar, permaculture and many other similar terms in a previous class that I have taught, and/or a garden meeting or an article or post I have written? I use these terms a lot, especially when I have spoken or speak about the paradigm shift that has been happening in agriculture!
I have been putting these terms into action for nearly two decades. I proudly advocate for low and/or no till, less waste, using a whole system approach, no pesticides/herbicides, and how doing our part to help the environment, plants and animals however small they may seem can create positive change.
When we participate and take actions that improve our health and environment we contribute in a mighty way to improve our local communities and local economies too.
For the past 10 years I have talked about this paradigm shift occurring in agriculture, not just the crops we grow but the way in which we raise livestock and care for our immediate ecosystems in this country and globally, this shift I speak of is known as "regenerative agriculture".
The meaning of the term "Paradigm Shift"; "A fundamental change in approach or underlying assumptions."
This shift is the change from industrialized agriculture to regenerative agriculture, and folks it is global!
As consumers are becoming more and more educated and aware of the destructive role industrial agriculture has been putting on our environment, and how it has depleted the nutrients in the soil and therefore in the food; fruit and vegetable crops, as well as all meats produced, they have been seeking alternative growers in a big way, these consumers are finding what they seek in "regenerative farmers".
At the core of industrial food production is monoculture—the practice of growing single crops intensively on a very large scale. Corn, wheat, soybeans, cotton and rice are all commonly grown this way in the United States.
Monoculture farming relies heavily on chemical inputs such as synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. The fertilizers are needed because growing the same plant (and nothing else) in the same place year after year quickly depletes the nutrients that the plant relies on, and these nutrients have to be replenished somehow. The pesticides are needed because monoculture fields are highly attractive to certain weeds and insect pests.
Industrialized Livestock Agriculture;
Stockyards were created for increased demand and to put more money in the producers pockets, which has created the out of control use of antibiotics and growth hormones in animals. Livestock feed then had to be mass produced to feed the stockyard animals, so this increased the use of pesticides on grain, legume and hay crops, which the animal consumes and then back to the human consuming, which has created all sorts of environmental issues, and so forth.
What is Regenerative Agriculture?
Regenerative agriculture (RA) is an approach to food and farming systems which aims to regenerate topsoil, increase biodiversity, improve water cycles, enhance ecosystem services, support biosequestration, increase resilience to climate fluctuation, and strengthen the health and vitality of farm soil, by recycling as much farm waste as possible, as well as adding compost material from outside the farm.
Regenerative agriculture is guided by a set of principles and practices.
Here at our farm we are focused on whole system regenerative farming;
Whole system farms FOCUS on soil health and fertility, forest health, LOCAL FOOD, no cides, animal welfare, biodiversity, NO GMO's
no antibiotics, no hormones,
sequestering carbon, less waste, local communities, educating and interacting with people.
These traits are also what we look for in our collaborative partner farms.
This subject is no doubt a controversial one, but I feel it is a VERY important one and one worth sharing. We are past the shift and entering into a new paradigm in agriculture. I am grateful to be a whole system pioneer and excited to be a part of this whole system regenerative agriculture movement.
If you believe in the goals, values, principles and practices of the regenerative agriculture movement, please LIKE, SHARE, subscribe and promote these farms, OR go start one yourself if you haven't already!
This is an exciting time, a new era! If you are unable to become a regenerative farmer, then why not become a "regenerative consumer"! I am coining this phrase.... "REGENERATIVE CONSUMER" LOL
Thanks for reading!
What are they?
Microgreens are tiny edible vegetable and herbs, harvested most often just after they get their true set of leaves, they are power packed vegetable greens, with a super nutrient dense punch that are used both as a visual element and flavor enhancing ingredient that were primarily used in fine dining restaurants; however these super greens are becoming increasingly popular at other establishments;
such as small artisan owner operated cafes and restaurants that highlight farm to table dining experiences; juice and coffee cafes and now the home kitchen;
they can be eaten as salads, braised, juiced, or added to; smoothies, salads, wraps,
sandwiches, soups, or as a super snack!
They are delicious and nutritious.
How are they grown?
They are grown in multiple ways, just like full size plants; in the ground, in containers, hydroponically or aquaponically.
There are numerous types of substrates, not ALL are organic!!
The seeds used to grow microgreens are the very same seeds used to grow full size vegetables, but not all seeds are the same.
When I teach my biological gardening class
I go over all of the characteristics of choosing the proper seeds.
Seed choices are extremely important to successful crop growing in ALL aspects of gardening and farming, but the MOST important when it comes to growing microgreens.
The seeds should ALWAYS be organic and the substrate and or soil used should ALWAYS be organic.
Not all microgreens are grown the same, just as not all vegetables are grown the same.
We as consumers must ask the necessary questions to be confident we are getting a safe product.
Why buy microgreens?
Well, let me tell you the first and most amazing benefit of eating microgreens is the TASTE.
I personally will not eat something, NO MATTER how many health benefits it contains, IF I DON'T LIKE the TASTE! lol ;)
So first and foremost, they taste AMAZING!
What are the health benefits?
Researchers found microgreens like red cabbage, cilantro, and radish contain up to 40 times higher levels of vital nutrients than their mature counterparts.
The results are published in the
Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry
Vitamin C, vitamin K, and vitamin E levels were highest among red cabbage, garnet amaranth, and green daikon radish microgreens.
Cilantro microgreens were richest in terms of lutein and beta-carotene.
“All of these nutrients are extremely important for skin, eyes, and fighting cancer and have all sorts of benefits associated with them,” says researcher Gene Lester, PhD, of the USDA.
A little goes a LONG way!
My personal favorite microgreens are Sun Flower shoots. They taste just like sun flower seeds, but they are easier to digest, and the benefits are superior to that of eating the seeds.
Sunflower greens provide a significant amount of vitamin B, vitamin E and Zinc. They also contain chlorophyll, potassium and magnesium.
Sunflower greens offer all the amino acids needed to form a complete plant protein,
containing between twenty to twenty-five percent protein.
Keep checking back here on my blog as I write about the different microgreens and the amazing tastes and benefits they provide!
"Send your taste buds on an adventure"~ Cindy Laney
Know your farmer, Know your food!
This growing season has been fantastic!. We have just 3 weeks left in our winter CSA, then onto the work of prepping for the next season/chapter.
Thank you for following our FB page, Instagram page and especially for reading my blog, (sorry for my grammatical errors, in advance) and to ALL of our CSA members, volunteers and supporters everywhere.!!
I'm humbled and thankful.
This next season, 2019 will be the most special and important for me personally.
It will be because I will be offering "classes in action", this is what I am truly passionate about, sharing my many, many years of experience as a farmer, rancher, market gardener, flower grower and CSA Manager with anyone that is interested in learning tried and true techniques. Keep reading..
We are excited to finally complete the first acre in slab wood retainers on the west end, this will fully complete Phase 1 of the market garden which included;
An acre of no-till grow space,
a 750 sq. ft. hoop house, water lines, wash station, microgreens set-up, faucets and fencing.
A few touches this winter in our "down time", and phase 1 will be 100% complete.
Phase 2 will include;
fencing the upper and lower pastures in permanent fencing.
Adding additional space for;
"bio-intensive livestock and crop rotation".
Building another hoop house
Installing additional water system
Building a small greenhouse
**CLASSES IN ACTION**
Are you interested in learning how to restore your soil and increase your overall crop yields?
There are numerous ways we can restore and replenish the soil and protect the atmosphere by sequestering carbon.
Food can be grown in a variety of ways to improve soil. Here on our farm we teach and practice a variety of methods; whole system, no-till, hugelkultur, permaculture;
diect drill, cover crops, composting in place and a stacking method for fruit trees.
We feed the soil, not the plants
The plants uptake the nutrients they need from the soil and some plants and crops are returned to the soil for the cycling of nutrients all over again.
We are not re-inventing the wheel here,
some of these methods have been used with great success all over the world for thousands of years.
However, whole system is a new and cutting edge form of farming and it is my focus.
Classes in action
It is my passion and goal to teach these methods that are incredibly successful.
The whole system farm takes patience and time to develop, it requires discipline, focus as well as intention.
The gardens here at Orchard Creek Farm were build with the intention to be used as a hands-on classroom from the beginning.
There will be opportunities for all levels of experience for both farmers and gardeners to use orchard creek farm as a living classroom, literally "classes in action" for students to see, feel and touch the living soil and witness its symbiotic relationship to the plants and insects, both good and bad.
Soil is just a sampling of whats in store for those whom are interested in learning things that may change the way you look at our entire ecosystem, forever!
I'm excited, are you?
When I talk about building great soil, I am literally saying that we are building "life in the soil".
So what does that mean?
It means that there is a profound difference between "soil" vs. "dirt"
Dirt is inert; lifeless, it is neither chemically or biologically reactive, it does not interact with anything. Dirt contains no organic matter, and therefore is not significant for growing plants. The color of dirt can give you clues about mineral content it may contain; example red or yellow hues is an indicator of oxidized iron, the darker the red, the higher the iron content, but is is not alive.
Soil is ALIVE;
One teaspoon of living soil is said to contain more microbes, than humans on earth!
How's that for excitement?
Now hang on all you out there that are shrugging your shoulders and shaking your heads!
Because some of you brilliant minds are now thinking, yeah right!
Entertain me for a moment.
Yes, there are bad microbes, phytophthora an entire genus of oomycetes, a water mold, is a plant-eating microbe that causes potato and tomato blight.
But the good news is that the beneficial microbe community works tirelessly to out compete with the bad microbes, many of the good microbial species will kill or inhibit the bad bacteria, fungi, and nematodes.
It is all about microbial balance, the plants have a symbiotic relationship with the soil microbes, therefore if we feed the soil food web, the soil food web feeds your plants and keeps them healthy.
We can use our own bodies as an analogy, we have bacteria and germs in them and on them at all times, waiting for the right combo recipe to make us sick. (I have been in healthcare for 22 years, I can attest to this. LOL)
However, research has shown, our gut has its own microbes that help us ward off these bad bacteria when we feed our bodies the proper nutrients. Scientific studies are showing that consuming
whole foods, eating local nutrient dense fresh fruits and vegetables grown without pesticides or herbicides are paramount to our health. We see new products hitting the market everyday, there are many microbial products out there; live cultures kefir, probiotics, fermented foods, etc... all aimed at balancing the bacteria, both good and bad in the gut. (I am neither endorsing or encouraging these products)
The soil is very much the same, there is an underground world of biodiversity, and its interactions with the plants is essentially doing the same thing, warding off bad bacteria to the plants.
When plants photosynthesize , the energy that is created sends healthy chemicals to the roots that secrete in the soil. These chemicals are proteins and carbohydrates that activate the microbes in the soil.
The organisms feed, digest and give the nutrients such as nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus back to the plant. This is called cycling of nutrients.
If you are interested in learning more about the "Classes in Action", a hands-on series at Orchard Creek Farm in 2019, send me an email of your interest, so that I can keep you updated as the time nears for classes to begin. You may also let me know what days/times will work best. This will help me to arrange a schedule that meets the majorities needs. These classes are for adults age 18 years or older. If a person 12 years and up is accompanied by a paying adult at all times they may attend for FREE, please confirm with me ahead of time. These classes will be taught in a series of three subjects, each subject is $10.00 per person.
This fee is extremely low for the knowledge
given. The goal is to provide opportunities of learning at an affordable cost and to cover the costs of materials.
I am ready are you? Let's get growing right!
The tobacco hornworm (manduca sexta), are often confused with the tomato hornworm (manduca quinquemaculata). These rather large worms can decimate plants of the night shade (solanaceae) family, examples; tomatoes, peppers and egg plants. They also both eat tobacco plants. Both start out as an egg that hatches into a tiny caterpillar that grows and becomes a huge sphinx moth, both can be parasatized by tiny wasps that make cocoons on the worms (cocoons in photo), the wasp larvae feeds on the worm eventually killing the hornworm. Both worms have similar droppings. When I check my nightshade (solanceae) family plants, especially my tomatoes I look on plant foliage for dark green to black droppings which is a good indicator of where to look for the worm, usually near the top of the plant. They blend in really well and they are sometimes hard to locate quickly.
So how do you tell them apart?
The tobacco horn worm (shown in photo), has a red horn and black margins on it's white stripes. The moth of the tobacco hornworm has six orange spots and thick dark bands on the bottom wings, manduca sexta, describes the moths six spots ("sexta" means "six" in latin)
The tomato hornworm has green margins on it's white stripes, a dark blue horn, five orange spots on the moth, and a thin dark band on the bottom wing. Manduca quinquemaculata, describes the moths five spots. "quinque", means "five" and "maculata", means "markings" in latin.
So how do we eradicate them?
The easiest way to eradicate them is knowing how to identify them, as I have described above, then simply find them on the plants and hand pick them off and feed to your yard birds, or put them in a coffee can filled half way with soapy water. The BEST way however, is to create a balanced, healthy ecosystem, which will encourage parasatoid wasps to enter your growing areas and lay their eggs on them, which will eventually destroy the hornworms and increase the beneficial wasps presence in the garden, fields and/or indoor grow spaces.
Host defenses can occur, for example, some insects secrete poisonous compounds that kill or drive away the parasatoids. Ants that are in a symbiotic relationship with caterpillars, aphids or scale insects may protect them from attacks by wasps. I have witnessed both red ants and aphids doing this very thing on a patch of my kale plants with cabbage worms. The parasatoid wasps are winning the war however, as I have noticed and documented more cocoons and a significant decrease in caterpillars and damage to foliage. Please understand that I do not use ANY harmful herbicides or pesticides of any kind on my farm. My goal is to balance the immediate ecosystem through natural balance of both the beneficial insects and the non-beneficial.
Like any ecosystem, gardens involve an intricate web of life, from the soil microbes, (we can not see) that live beneath the ground, to the birds we see in the tress and everything in between. It's easy to grab a bottle of spray to kill the dandelions or knock off the aphids or other pests eating the plants, but what are we really doing when we do this? We are essentially creating a domino effect of destruction to our environment, are we not?
Use of chemicals disrupts the food chain of the weeds, plants and animals. Many of these weeds, plants and animals, we may think of as the bad guys are essentially providing services that we often can't comprehend, or even begin to understand.
Many species of flies and wasps are actually pollinators as adults, and as larvae they help control many of the pests on our plants and/or decompose organic matter. Small reptiles, like lizards and geckos eat garden pests, like mosquitoes, crickets, caterpillars, moths, grasshoppers and slugs.
Plants that are often looked at as weeds have benefits too. Clovers and dandelions provide flowers for ladybugs, hover flies and bees. Clover has the ability to transfer airborne nitrogen into the soil to be used by neighboring crops. It is also a nutrient accumulator, it accumulates phosphorus. It also makes an excellent egg laying site for beneficial lacewings. Did you know the flowers of clover are edible? Clover as many useful benefits in the garden or fields.
Dandelion (Taraxacum Offinale) One of the most beneficial of ALL weeds. Nutrient accumulator, accumulates potassium, phosphorus, calcium, copper, magnesium and more, while loosening soil. Attracts numerous pollinators. Dandelions are edible, the entire plant can be used, the flowers medicinally. I allow both clover and dandelion to grow in and around my farm as part of my whole system no till farming approach. The less we disturb the soil, insects and the plants, the healthier the immediate ecosystem.
Whole system farming and thinking is the ability to see the interrelationships of all living things, rather than all living things as individual or separate. It is a focus of looking at patterns of change, rather than static pieces. All living things are interconnected with one another. If we disrupt a negative, we can create two negatives. If we allow a healthy balance, we create harmony.
"You can't solve problems with the same thinking that created those problems" - Albert Einstein
Have you flipped through a seed catalog or shopped for seeds and wondered what is the difference between all the seed types? It can be an overwhelming experience just trying to choose a variety, the choices can seem endless.
There are open-pollinated (OP), F1 Hybrids and Heirloom. Lets discuss each and explain what each of these seed types mean below.
If your goal is to be self sufficient or to pass your favorite seeds down to the next generation you will need heirloom or open-pollinated varieties. These seeds will produce plants that will grow true from your saved seeds, IF the open-pollinated plants do not cross pollinate with similar plants. Example, if you want to save an heirloom squash variety one season, you must be cautious not to plant a different variety that same season, like a zucchini and pumpkin. Hand pollination is another option.
Heirloom, this means that the seeds have a generational history, heirloom seeds have a verified and documented history of being passed down from one generation to the next. These seeds have come from small farms that are not associated with large-scale commercial agriculture. These seeds often carry stories with them. ALL heirloom seeds are open-pollinated, but not all open-pollinated are heirlooms.
Only a small fraction of the plant world are considered to be true heirloom.
Open-Pollinated, this means that the flowers of the plants are fertilized by pollinators, the wind or water. Pollinators such as wasps, bees, moths, butterflies, birds, flies and even bats. Put simply pollination is movement of pollen to a flowers stigma which results in fertilization of the flowers eggs. An adequately fertilized flower will produce seeds and fruit surrounding seeds, which ensures a new generation of plants can be grown.
Pollination is mutually beneficial to the plant and the pollinators; the pollinators benefit from the nectar, carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, fats and minerals. Note; Open Pollinated (OP) varieties are genetically diverse, so there can be a lot of variation in both the plants and fruits.
F1 Hybrids, This means that the plants have been selectively bred by cross pollinating two different parent plants. F1 is the abbreviation for Fillial 1- Literally "First Children". Hybridization has been around since the 19th century. Hybridization came about to improve the crop, increasing disease resistance, improving plant vigor, fruit production and sometimes flavor.
If you save seed from a hybrid and grow it, you will end up with one of the parent plants, not the plant that produced the seed. Hybrids have to be bought every year and they will usually have more uniform fruit and better growth. Organic hybrids are now available.
There is some confusion regarding hybrids and GMO's. Hybrids are NOT GMO, genetically modified. GMO's are modified in a lab setting, they are NOT hybridized.
If you want good production, more disease resistant plants, or want to put food up for storage then hybrids may be a good choice.
If your goal is to save seeds for the future, then open-pollinated heirlooms are a good choice.
It is winter and thus the time we all can experience a little "cabin fever", depending on where you live, of course. Here in North East Tennessee the winters are very mild comparatively. I still find myself getting a little cabin fever in the winter months though. I am definitely an outdoors person, so even on a warm and rainy day like today, I feel a little cooped up, sigh...
On days like these I am indoors and so to keep myself busy I will tidy up the home indoors, listen to music and write if I get the chance. Writing is definitely not as therapeutic for me as being in the garden or with our critters, but it is therapeutic none the less. So I thought I would take my readers on a short journey of what we have been doing on our farmstead as of late.
We have been blessed to have met some wonderful and committed members of our communities that have volunteered with us, completing various agriculture activities in exchange for farm goods. These folks have been busy here and there on various tasks from cutting up down and dead trees to helping in the grow beds, cleaning them out from last years crops and building new erosion control barriers. We all learn from one another and in turn these relationships build a stronger community of skill sets, resiliency and food security. I appreciate each person that comes to the farm, everyone has something to offer, I really enjoy this aspect of creating the CSA.
A CSA fills multiple needs in a community; feeding families local, nutrient dense food, sharing skill sets with volunteers, being physically active, eating healthier, creating emotional health by being involved with each other in communications, which often times helps those that live alone. These are just a few ways a CSA can positively affect a community.
O.K., I got a little off the subject of the goings on at the farm, but after all, we are growing the CSA and the volunteer interns are a big part of the success of the CSA
Some of the projects;
Approximately 6 weeks ago the new beds were completed on the East side, filled with organic materials and will sit all winter resting and growing millions of microbes.
A few weeks ago I built 3 new 100 ft. x 4 ft. beds on the South facing slope.
Yesterday these beds were filled with composted materials and are now complete.
Next weekend two more 100 ft. beds will be added on the South slope and 2 more 50 ft. beds will be completed on the West slope. This will complete all of the added growing space for this year, next year is a different story! LOL
We have reconstructed our hoop house footing, the goal is to complete the hoop house before Spring, (was supposed to be done already, sigh..it will get done this year, God willing) so we will keep working on it. We will be depending on volunteers to help with the green house plastic when the time nears.
All of the bare root plants, tubers, etc... have been ordered and my seed bank is full for the 2018 season. So just a couple small orders and this seasons crops will be complete!! Exciting! I am one of those growers that plans months in advance ;) That is one reason why a CSA is a good fit for me. It requires an immense amount of planning and preparation and I thrive on the fast pace. ;0)
The dairy goat birthing nursery has been completed as we await the first birth from one of our Does on this farm.
The piglets got an addition built onto the first sow shed for added protection from the elements.
One more small project that has to wait for a dry day will be finishing the electric fencing of the hog lots, which will give them fresh forage.
Which brings us up to speed on the farmstead! The truth is as many of you know, the work never ends and the chores can quickly pile up on a farmstead, but winter is truly a time of much needed rest indoors.
Whenever I start to get a little frustrated at the weather, I tell myself that this is Gods way of slowing be down!! LOL!!
So today I will be grateful for a little cabin fever...
Housing/shelters- Ventilation is very important in designing your livestock shelters. The shelters should keep them dry and out of cold winds, but also vent well to decrease ammonia build up.
Provide ample insulation that will keep the animals at a minimum of 4” off of the ground or cement. The cement or ground will pull heat from the animals that lay directly on these surfaces.
Clean, dry straw is a good insulator that will provide a comfortable place for animals to lie down on and helps to insulate against the harsh elements.
Another neat trick is to use deep litter (thermophilic composting) methods to keep certain species of livestock warmer in winter. The basic principle is to create layers of livestock manures, then clean straw and repeat the process all winter. As the animals are defecating and urinating in the bedding, you simply turn it over every few days, allowing the microorganisms to breakdown the waste beneath and adding clean straw to the top. This method generates heat beneath as it composts and allows the animals to benefit from the heat generated from their own waste. It is important to turn it each time you add clean straw and to have proper ventilation for an aerobic, healthy composting to occur while keeping ammonia levels at a minimum.
The deep litter method works well with the FLOORS of chicken coops, goat and sheep shelters. For larger livestock, mucking out each day is advised because these species have wet manure and A LOT of it, so daily cleaning and weekly sprucing up and adding fresh straw or shavings is essential for good health. For chicken coops, the nesting boxes need to be cleaned and fresh shavings added daily, this will keep hens healthy and happy and the eggs nice and clean.
Water- All animals need water in cold temperatures, especially if it is freezing! Animals will quickly dehydrate in cold weather.
If there is no power outlet near your water tanks or buckets there are a few things that can help prevent the buckets from freezing.
There are several options for barns or livestock shelters with a power source nearby;
Electric water heater, de-ice devices, electric buckets, etc.…
Feed- Animals need more feed in the winter months with cold temperatures. The colder it gets the more energy they use to stay warm. Without high quality nutrients animals can deteriorate in body condition, thus making it harder for them to stay healthy. It is important to keep good quality hay available on a free feed basis and provide either grains or energy blocks that contain protein, fat and minerals. The roughage is the most important.
A few more tips;
Heavy duty plastic livestock curtains can be used on shelter openings to help reduce drafts in the shelters that do not have doors.
Keep hooves trimmed to prevent damage and rot that can be caused by muddy, wet ground in pens.
Avoid penning animals inside barns. Animals will take care of their needs if allowed clean dry bedding and ample room to exercise. They will also gravitate toward places that warm up in the day; example, our dairy goats like to hang out against the outside wall of their shelter on sunny days.
South facing shelters are the best in terms of living in an area with cold weather in the winter. This allows daytime sun to dry out and warm up the shelter, naturally.
There have been many articles written on this subject, these are a few things that we have used in the past and/or are using presently that have proven successful on our farm for our furry friends.
It does not need to be a complex matter, but it does take time and a few resources to get you started.
First let’s review the 4 basic soil types: sand, loam, clay and silt ~
loam: is known to contain a mixture of clay, loam, sand & organic matter.
Sand: is the largest particle in the soil. It is rough when rubbed together; it feels like sand paper, because it has sharp edges. There are not many nutrients in sand.
Silt: is the size and texture between sand and clay. It is smooth and powdery; it does not get sticky when wet like clay.
Clay: is considered the heaviest of the soils. It can contain a lot of nutrients, but due to its density it does not let air through (anaerobic). It also does not drain well, unless amended for aeration. Even though clay may be hard to work with, its high nutrient value makes it an excellent choice as a base for building upon.
Clay mix soil is what most of us in the East TN region deal with in our gardens, so we will be discussing building our soils with a clay base in this blog.
If you wish to have your soil tested first it will enhance this blog post and will give you a good idea of what you will need for amendments in your specific area. Inexpensive soil testing kits can be purchased at your local garden centers or local home improvement store, or ordered online.
About No-Till or No-Dig Gardening:
Here at Orchard Creek Farm we practice No-till gardening, it is much healthier for the soil microbes, protozoa, worms, etc..And can be easily built upon. I utilize several composting methods to achieve my goals and adhere to the NOP standards. We are talking about small to medium size gardens here in both open small fields and raised beds. The type of no-till farming practices in large agriculture circles will likely lead to soil compaction since they run heavy equipment across the earth and kill off the worms with herbicides. In contrast, no-till management in a backyard garden leads to rich, healthy soil that grows nutrient dense, high brix food. No-till gardening can be achieved in a variety of ways; raised beds, garden plots, containers, etc...If you haven't considered using the no-till method, I would encourage you to research its benefits and disadvantages for your specific growing needs and area.
The materials you choose will determine the length and temperature they must be composted to meet the National Organic Program (NOP) standards. For a composted product to qualify under the NOP, it must start with a carbon to nitrogen (C:N) ratio between 25:1 and 40:1 and be maintained at a temperature between 131 degrees F and 170 degrees F for 15 days, during this time the material must be turned a minimum of 5 times. If the composted material is made this way, the compost can be applied to crops with no restrictions.
The NOP is very specific about the use of manures. Composted manure is preferred, but if raw manure is applied, then the timing of application is critical. Where raw manures are used on land growing crops for human consumption, it must be applied within 120 days of harvest for crops where the edible portion touches the soil, or 90 days of harvest where the edible portion does not touch the soil..
If the compost consists of only plant materials, it is considered plant waste and there are no restrictions on timing.
How to Build Organic Soil for the No-Till Garden:
Choose your planting site that is free of tree stumps, shrubs, etc..., don't worry too much about short grass or weeds. Begin with layers of newspaper, cardboard, shredded junk mail on the bottom to create a base directly on your soil. Begin mulching the area on top of the base with mulch materials like; animal manures (if you can get them free of pesticides, herbicides and antibiotics), old straw, wood chips, pine needles, coffee grounds, wood ash & kitchen scraps. The idea is to get equal amounts of greens and browns, with the aim to get a carbon to nitrogen ratio of 30:1, (this is what I personally aim for) Keep repeating this process until it is several inches thick (I prefer 6-12” for our area and let over winter), taking care to keep it moist, but not too wet. It will need several months, depending on depth and weather to decompose correctly and would then be ready for direct spring planting. Keep excellent records!
How to build soil for raised Beds:
In order to have the correct soil for raised beds try the layering method combined with either indigenous clay soil excavated from your yard or organic soil can be purchased at a materials company, or a local garden center. Use the same method above; cardboard or newspaper as initial base, then mulch material, then soil and repeat the process until beds are filled, keep moist not wet. Like a wrung out wash cloth is ideal.
How to build soil the conventional way:
Till the area you wish to plant, compost all your mulch materials in a compost bin or pile, they will take several weeks to decompose depending on air flow and moisture content. Again keep the pile moist, not too wet. When your mulch material smells like earth, is dark and it is finely composted till into your garden site. Create rows and plant.
Food For Thought- Did you know that GMO alfalfa, alfalfa meal and soybean meal is NOT PROHIBITED under the NOP?
Another interesting point is that, both bone meal and blood meal are also allowed under the NOP, even from NON-ORGANIC animals.
Organic farmers need to be careful with the materials they choose to compost for this reason.
Know your farmer, know your food!
We have been so busy this summer on the farm, that I haven't had a chance to write about whats going on. Well it is breeding season for one, and there is love in the air for our 4 legged goat family! Ha! I prefer to let them have their dates in the Month of October, so that we have babies in Spring, BUT sometimes this planning does not always work out. One of our Does decided that she really wanted to be the first to have her kids, so I decided to allow the date in a controlled environment. This makes a huge difference if you are wanting to know within a few days of when your Doe is expected to kid. I have always done planned breeding's so that I can keep track of when a Doe will kid and have a birthing area and emergency kit handy in case the Doe and/or kid/s, needs assistance. Keeping good records is an important part of a sustainable farm and not just limited to the stock, but also any other things produced on the farm. Good records are also imperative to the registering of your animals with livestock registries, and if you don't decide to register them, good record keeping will prevent inbreeding when selling unregistered stock to other farms. It takes effort, but it is well worth it in my opinion. The good news is that it does slow down a bit in the late fall and winter. As a person whom has lived and worked on a farm my entire life, I must say that my goal has always been to grow food and raise livestock with the seasons. It makes perfect sense to me that bucks go into the rut in the fall and kids are born in the spring. There are less insects in the cool spring weather, the parasite population is at its lowest in cool weather and the animals have the most stored fat and thicker coats in the winter months to protect themselves. I love goats, both dairy breeds and meat breeds. Goats are a pleasure to be around, they are curious, smart and friendly. They are the perfect homestead animal to have on a small or large farm. We are super excited to have babies again. We hope to be making cheese for our family next summer and making our wonderful goats milk soaps!. We still have lots of handmade soaps that I made from my herd of Nubian goats in AZ for ourselves that I brought with us when we moved, but our inventory is dwindling. We should have just enough bars to last until I can whip up some more! Nothing better than making and using your own products on a sustainable farm.