Greenstalk Garden System UPDATE

This is a real nice way to grow vegetables, berries and herbs in a small area. Perfect for small backyard and patios.

Greenstalk Stackable Garden System Review

Here’s an innovative way to garden that won’t break your back.
No stooping and bending with the Greenstalk Garden System !

A Simple Emergency Power Station

Well, here it is… Tornado and Hurricane season. Depending on where you live that may not mean a whole lot, but to some of us (I live in a place known as “hurricane alley”) every time a storm brews, it’s always in the back of our minds. People in the northeast probably didn’t think about hurricane season with any sense of anxiety… until last fall. Then Sandy hit. I think she changed everything up there.

Remember Katrina? Who doesn’t? Thousands were displaced in the aftermath, but in the first days and hours, so many were left stranded, alone and powerless. Powerless… by that I mean they seemed to have no control over their lives, but also millions were actually without power… powerless. Can you imagine what having just a little electricity would have meant to them? Unless their homes were completely underwater, having power could have meant they could stay in place and not have to be moved to another town… or state… or the death trap they called a stadium !

What I want to show you here, is that it is relatively easy to put together a small, inexpensive system that can provide power when the power is off. And, if you have been without power for any length of time, you know how helpless it feels… unless you can beat the system and provide your own. I’ve made a video detailing the components of the system, and how it’s put together. Check it out below:

 

One of the first things you need to do is determine how much power you will need. You can find that out easily. This is one of the handiest things I have seen in a long while. The Kill-A-Watt meter lets you know exactly how many watts your appliances, TVs, etc will be using. It is easy to use and will provide you with information that you really need to know.

 

Click on the picture above to check out the Kill-A-Watt meter

So, let’s look at the components of the system. That’s pretty easy to do since there are only three.

The heart of any system is the battery bank. Why? That’s the storage facility for the power you will need. If the storage is depleted, you are no better off than your neighbor. In this case these batteries are easy to find, They are deep cycle Marine batteries. They can be found at Walmart or many other places. Why deep cycle, why not just a regular car battery? A car battery is not designed to be discharged and recharged over and over. Typically a car battery is kept charged by the alternator. So, if everything is working right, as soon as you start the car, whatever power was used to start it, is now being replenished by the charging system. A deep cycle, on the other hand, is designed to be pulled down… recharged… and pulled down again… over and over again. They can handle the stress. So, here is a look at the deep cycle batteries I used:

Snapshot 9 (5-1-2013 8-43 AM)

Again, there’s nothing special about them. I picked them up at Walmart for about 80 bucks each. Now, do I need two? Could I get away with one? Yes, but here again, it’s all about storage. If the power is out for several days, I could deplete my battery “pantry” pretty quick.

The second component is a battery charger. Your alternator charges your batteries as the car runs, but these batteries will just be sitting there. How will they be kept up to full charge? The battery charger, of course (makes sense, right)? The battery charger used needs to be powerful enough to put the charge into the batteries in as little time as possible. Here is a look at the one I used:

Snapshot 2 (5-1-2013 8-38 AM)

It’s small and easy to carry if you need to move it. Why couldn’t I just use my trickle charger? Well, consider this scenario… If the power has been out for a long time and your batteries are getting low, why not just crank up your car, connect a small inverter (which I will show in a minute) and recharge the batteries. So in this case, even if the power has not come back on, you can still recharge your batteries. That’s why you would want a battery charger that will put as much power back into the batteries as fast as they can take it. From my research, for this battery bank, a charger that is around 30 to 50 amps would be needed. Could you use a smaller one? Maybe, but if you are idling your car trying to charge the batteries, why would you want to run your car for hours waiting for an underpowered charger to top them off. Besides, this type of battery is made to accept a charge quickly. A “trickle” charger might not bring them up to where they need to be.

Here is the charger I used:

Click on the image above to take a closer look at the Shumacher charger.

This charger is computerized. It has a maintenance charge, a slow charge and a 30 amp fast charge option that will cram the power back in your batteries quick. It also has a “Start” option which is 100 amps. This can be used if the battery on your car is dead and you need to start it now. The “Start” option should not be used on your battery bank, though. It’s just for starting your vehicle.

Now, really there is just one more component. That’s what makes this system so neat. It is very simple, only 3 components, and with the exception of the batteries, all of the components come with their own cables. You don’t have to buy or build the right size cables to match up with these components. Cables are included… how cool is that?

The final component is the inverter. Man, there are a lot of inverters out there. I chose to stay with a brand that I recognized, and one that has a ton of great reviews. The inverter I used is a Duracell 800 watt inverter. Now, if you think 800 watts will be too small for you, there are plenty of larger options out there, and I will give you a link to check them out. One thing to note is that once you go over around 800 watts, the inverters might not come with cables. That is something you will have to research, and size your cables accordingly. Here’s the inverter I used:

Snapshot 7 (5-1-2013 8-42 AM)

Click on the link below if you want to take a closer look:

 

The Duracell 800 watt is very popular and is often sold out, so if the Duracell is not available, here is another well-known brand, with great reviews, in that same wattage:

Click the picture above to take a closer look.

There are lot of different inverters on the market that are around this size, some that come in lower wattage and some with much higher wattage. I have a list of many of them at my website. Just click on the MY STORE tab above, then look at the “Browse by Category” section under “Solar Power Components”. I have several chargers, inverters and even batteries listed there, along with solar panels, charge controllers and many other items that are needed to put together a Home Power Station. Here’s something many don’t know… if you are an Amazon Prime Member, they ship most items for free. Can you imagine getting some 60 LB batteries shipped half way across the country for FREE? That is definitely something you might want to check into. And, you can have several family members on the same Prime membership, so everyone saves!

Speaking of solar, in the video above I mention hooking up a solar panel or two to charge your batteries. On my BIG system at home, I have 4 solar panels charging a huge battery bank. There’s a charge controller between the batteries and the solar panels to make sure the batteries are not overcharged. It’s difficult to discuss all the intricacies of that system here, so be sure and watch the video below to get a good idea as to how I put together my larger system. It has well over a QUARTER OF A MILLION VIEWS on YouTube. That’s amazing! Here’s that video:

 

 

Now, you may have noticed in the very first picture on this post, that I have 2 batteries. I wired the 2 batteries in “parallel” with two #4 cables. This increased my capacity, but kept the batteries at 12 volts. If you use more than one battery, you will need to use cables to join them together.

Here’s a set of #4 cables that are color coded and might be right for you, if you don’t feel comfortable building your own cables.

 

 

So, that’s about it. The inverter powers things in your house (via an extension cord), the inverter gets it’s power from the batteries, and the batteries get their power from the charger. Kinda like the “Circle of Life”, huh?

I do hope you’ll watch the videos above because, if a picture is worth a thousand words… a video must be worth a million.

Don’t be caught with your “pants down” in a “grid down” situation… it’s too easy to be prepared for it. Oh, did I mention that this whole thing cost about 300 bucks? That’s a small price to pay for a heck of a lot of peace of mind.

Also, watch this video about Off Grid Lighting. It might just change your mind about keeping a lot of kerosene or oil lanterns around your house. It’s a pretty informative video about having light, when everybody else is in the dark.

 

 

I hope this helps somewhat. I enjoyed putting the system together. I really didn’t need the batteries (yet) but wanted to buy a couple of them to show you what can be done on a limited budget. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll use the batteries at some point. My tractor and truck will be the recipient of them soon, I’m sure.

Speaking of batteries, you may ask how long I expect the deep cycle batteries to last. Well, on my tractor and old truck I still have the deep cycle batteries that I bought when my power went out during Hurricane Ike. That was in September 2008. That’s a long time, for a small investment. By the way, we were without power for 5 days, but we really fared pretty well because of a little planning and preparing.

You can too.

Disclaimer: The system described here is for educational purposes. I am not responsible for any injury or accident incurred by anyone attempting to duplicate this

Greenhouses Built Using My Design

I am thrilled that so many have built greenhouses (and other structures, as you’ll see below) using my design. I guess it confirms to me that it is as easy and affordable, as I always thought it was. Sweet!

Many have sent in pictures of their new greenhouses. It makes me feel like a proud papa to see them. Some built bigger than the drawings. As I said from the beginning, one of the neat things about this design, is that it is expandable. You can make one pretty much as big as you need.

If you have a picture or two (or three) send them to me and I will add them to this post. If you enjoy looking at these pictures, check back every now and then to this post to see if I have added any new ones.

Since I am not sure about the locations of most of these, I won’t do much commenting, I’ll just share the pictures.

 

So, here goes…

17

18

 

14

15

16

0

          img_20130408_150414

 

107

img_20130331_180754

img_20130331_175047

img_20130408_150523

img_20130408_150358

12     11

8      6   7    9    img_20130331_163847

img_20130331_1704591

1      2

 

 

Greenhouse Misting System

If you are going to build the Greenhouse I’ve designed, you might want to consider installing a misting system to water your bedding plants and seedlings like the pros do. If you go into most nursery greenhouses, you will find misters hanging down watering the plants with a gentle mist. If it’s good enough for the Pros, why not YOU? Too hard to do, you say? Naaaa.

First you need to understand a little about a drip system and it’s components. To me, the heart of the system is the Mainline. It carries the water, IN VOLUME to the misters, sprayers, drip tape and emitters, depending on what it is you are trying to water. I water my fruit trees with emitters, my blackberries and strawberries with T-Tape, and I have a set of misters installed in my TP Greenhouse. I just did a video explaining how simple it is to install the misting system in your greenhouse. You can see it here:

Several have asked about the misters I used. I could only find them Here …everything else can be found in the Store (I think). I used the 3/4 GPH barbed ones, in case you want to try them too. There is a yellow-tipped mister in my Store that I have ordered and will try out. They are adjustable. That might be a plus.

Keep in mind (as I mention in the video) that you can use the greenhouse design for a great little chicken tractor. If you live in the south where summers can be brutal, you might want to consider putting in a mister or two to help the girls out. I think they will thank you for your efforts with more fresh eggs. You help them out they help you out… Mmmm

Now… you will be punching a lot of holes in the mainline tubing. “What for” you ask? Well, the Mainline is just a supply line for the water to travel to the end-users, which are the emitters, sprayers etc. An awl type hole punch will work, and you can find them at any big box store, but I have found them to punch an inferior hole (have you ever heard of such a thing?) If you are going to be punching a lot of holes, an awl type hole punch gets old real quick on your hand and wrist . You should think about getting a nicer one.

This the Hole Punch I use:

Get your Hole Punch like this one here:

 

The hole punch will make a 1/4″ hole in the 1/2″ mainline. After you punch your holes you will be inserting something into the mainline to channel the water where you want it to go. It may be a 1/4″ hose (via 1/4 barb), it may be a sprayer, emitter or mister. There are lots of ways to configure your system to suit your needs, and the particular thing you are trying to keep alive. I use all kinds of ways to water. I even water a small raised bed area with overhead sprinklers.

By the way… stop buying sprinklers !

You can make your own cheaper, and they will last a lot longer. If you water your lawn with movable sprinklers, I have a better design for you to try. Watch my video “Mo’ Betta’ Sprinkler” here:

The Pop-UP type sprinklers have screens in them that you can clean out, and I have found this design to work great on a garden (get them up higher in the air) or for my lawn. Build at least one of them this year, and you won’t buy another store-bought sprinkler.

Now… fruit trees. If you don’t water ’em you’re gonna kill ’em. ‘Specially when they are in their “formative years”. You should water them deeply and regularly, I have found that a drip system, on a timer, works great. I haven’t lost one yet that was on an irrigation schedule. I have about 3 dozen fruit trees, and I water them all with emitters like this one. They seem to be very happy.

Get your emitters here today

 

So, there are lots of ways to water your crops, veggies, fruit and nut trees. You will just need to pick a delivery system that is right for the application.  T-Tape works great on row crops like my above mentioned blackberries, but also for veggies planted in rows.

I made a video covering the basics of building your system. It is really an Irrigation 101 type video, explaining the individual parts and what the heck you should expect them to do for ya. Here is a link to it. The video explains it, better than I can type it. It is much more VU (visually understood). I don’t go into filters or pressure reducers in the video, but I plan to do a follow-up on it soon, so stay tuned.

So, what are some other uses for this? Well, if you are prone to propagating (rooting) your own cuttings, you can use a propagation bed with misters overhead to bring a much greater level of success. Again… I have a video on that too. Seems like I have a video on everything, huh? Well, this bloggin’ thing is new to me, but I’ve been doing how-to type videos for several years.

In other words, this ain’t my first rodeo (pronounced Row’DeeOh not Row-Day’-Oh)…

So, you can see the wide variety of uses for drip irrigation. My vids really do explain better than I can here, but don’t be intimidated by drip irrigation. It is really that easy. Try it. And, think about getting a few timers to take all the guesswork out of it. They can be a lifesaver (and a plant saver).

You can visit the Drip Irrigation Category in the STORE tab above. I think I stocked it with everything you’ll need.

Check out all my videos here

 

 

Greenhouse

IMPORTANT… IF YOU ARE HERE FOR THE GREENHOUSE PDF FILE

So many have asked for them, I’ve had to automate the process.

As you can imagine, having to copy and paste dozens of names and email addresses was a pain. So, instead of leaving a comment, you must click on the Signup Form. I appreciate your comments, and hope you will continue to leave them… but again… leaving a comment will NOT get you to the Greenhouse PDF page.

Thanks for understanding.

 

Seed Starting Basics

Well, here we are again. It’s time to start thinking about the spring garden. And… if we’re going to have anything to put in the ground, we’ve got to get the seeds started now. Which ones? Well of course, it depends on where you live. If you are in the southern part of the U.S. you need to be starting tomatoes, peppers, watermelon, squash… basically all the warm weather crops. But you say, It’s COLD outside! Yea, I know, but it takes the plants 6-8 weeks to get to the point where you can plant them outside, so if you do the math. Let’s see… February… minus April… carry the one… Yes… it’s time NOW!

OK you say, but you’ve never started anything from seed. Is it hard? Nope. But, there are a few things that you have to remember to make sure you are truly “starting seeds”… and not just giving them a decent burial. Anyone can stick a seed in some potting soil, but not anyone can get it to sprout and grow. I have been starting seed for a few years. The first time, I failed miserably. I just figured since I built a greenhouse, all I had to do was plant some seeds, place the cups in the greenhouse, walk off, and voila… supper. Yea… well, they died. At least most of them did. I didn’t realize that the seed I was planting needed warmth, not just light and dirt. Oh, speaking of dirt, don’t figure on using your garden soil to start your seeds. Unless you have marvelous, died and gone to Heaven soil, you will have very poor results. Always start with “potting soil”.  I’m not recommending any special brand, but you can find lots of choices at the local Big Box stores.

Decide whether you are going to plant in 2″ pots, 4″ pots, flats or in a “bulk planting” method that I will discuss later. Let’s assume that you are starting your seed in 2″ pots. Fill the pots almost full with potting soil. Pack it down, so all the gaps are filled in. Place your seed (or seeds) in the pot and cover with about 1/4″ of soil. You can even use Pearlite or Vermiculite to cover the seed. I have found that the perlite and vermiculite work even better than the potting soil as a covering, because it is less restrictive on the little seedling trying to push it’s way out of a dirt nap. Now, as I said in the beginning, I found that heat (or more accurately “warmth”) is essential in the germination process. And, each type of seed has it’s own desired temperature that it needs to wake up. Most are between 75 and 80 degrees. I have found that a seedling heating mat dramatically increased my success in starting seed.

Now… as I said before, there is another way to plant that, while a little more labor intensive later, is one of the easiest ways to get a LOT of seedlings going in a small space. This is what I call the “Bulk Method”. It probably has a more correct term, but I’ve never been accused of being “correct”. Anyway, using this method, you will put your potting soil in a container of some sort (I like to use a tray, about 2-3″ deep. Scatter the seed very thickly (think poppy seeds on a roll) on top of the potting soil, then cover with more soil or pearlite, etc. The seedlings will come up in a mass. When about 75% of them are germinated, it’s time to get them under the grow lights, or in a greenhouse. Then later, when they are 4-5″ tall and have their first true leaves, you will separate them into individual pots or cups to grow without any competition. Recently I made a video on this that explains it much better than I can right here. It can be seen at:

Some folks plant their seeds way too deep. But, whether you are starting seeds indoors, or are planting seeds directly in the garden (direct sow) the seeds should only be planted about 1/4“ deep. Any deeper than that and they really have a tough time trying to push out from under the extra soil. I have just planted some Celebrity seeds, indoors using the bulk planting method. The difference between covering your seeds with potting soil, and covering with pearlite or vermiculite is dramatic. The vermiculite and pearlite are much lighter than regular potting soil, and the seeds push up through it in just a few days. My Celebrities came up in about 3 days (using the heating mat). Here is a picture of them on the 5th day:

Celebrity Seedlings at 5 days

Celebrity Seedlings at 5 days – Ready for the grow lights !

Once they are germinated, you will need a way to give them plenty of light. A window is not enough. Your seedlings will begin to get “leggy”. That’s a fancy, gardeners term for they will grow very long, very fast. But the stem of the seedling is very thin and not developed enough to support the plant. I guess they are stretching out, trying too hard to find some light. Most of these will not survive in the garden. The ones that do won’t make a very good plant. At least that’s my experience. No, placing them by a window is not good enough, Your seedlings will need LOTS of light. You will either have to put them under some sort of “grow light” setup, or in a greenhouse. If, when you reach this point, you still aren’t getting a lot of natural sunlight in your part of the world, I would suggest building a simple grow light setup. A video of mine called (interestingly enough) “My Grow Light Setup” can be seen here:

You could bring them out each morning (assuming the temperature allows) and let them stay in the sun all day, bringing them in at dusk. This is a little labor intensive, and you have to remember to bring them in each night so they won’t freeze to death, etc. So for me, the grow light setup is just too easy, and doesn’t require much thinking. I leave the lights on for about 16 hours a day. It’s on a cheap W’Mart timer, taking all the guesswork out of it. They only thing you need to do is make sure they are watered, and raise the grow lights as the plant grows up and reach it.

At this point they are ready to be planted in the garden. You may need to “harden them off” first. That means taking them outside to play for a few hours each day, to get accustomed to the temperature change. After the danger of frost in your area (check local listings) stick ’em in the ground. You should water them right after planting to seal the soil around the roots. That will eliminate any air gaps that could dry out the roots.

So (unless you live in the arctic… like… I don’t know… Minnesota…) you need to get going because it’s time to get your seedlings cookin’.

“Gentlemen… Start Your Seeds”  (Ladies, too)

 

Watch all my videos at:

Starting With Fruit Trees

SONY DSC

Where do I start  with my homestead? What do I put in place first? Good questions. Quick answer… It depends. You may be starting your homestead from scratch, or perhaps you bought a piece of property that already had some improvements made to it. Obviously, any improvements on your land is a head start for you, but sometimes it may be better to start from scratch. One example would be an established garden spot on a north-facing slope when a south-facing slope (that would catch more direct sunlight) would be better. Maybe they planted ornamental trees that have grown to such a size now, as to be a hindrance to plants, trees, berries and bushes that would be food (and perhaps income) producers. So starting on virgin property could be a plus. Of course, if the previous landowner put “hard” items in place like a pond or a well, then believe me, that guy saved you a pile of cash.

So, if you are starting fresh, let’s look at what should be done first.

stockvault-let-her-bee127528

Spring Blooms

My advice (and that is why I’m here) is to start with fruit trees. Why fruit trees? First of all they take about 2-4 years to start producing. You shouldn’t concentrate on a garden that will produce this year and neglect something that will take several years to get a yield from. Start the ball rolling first on your fruit and nut trees, then plant your garden. Fruit trees should be planted in winter anyway, when you have very little to do in the garden.  Don’t forget nut trees. Most of them will take even longer to produce. Now, as far as what type of fruits to concentrate on, I would say plant what you eat. It is hard to beat a fresh apple, peach, nectarine or pear.  Go to your state Agricultural University website. For me it was Texas A&M (sorry UT fans). The information they have there is invaluable. Find out from them what trees, and what variety of tree does best in your neck of the woods. What grows well in E. TX may not do worth a durn in MD. After you see what will grow in your area, I suggest you buy the biggest trees you can find. By that, I mean that you should look for a trees in a 5 or 6 gallon container. I know… they cost more, but you are saving yourself 2 – 3 years of growing time over a bare root tree. How much is 2 years worth to you… 10-20 bucks? That’s about the difference you will pay between a 5 gallon tree and a twig. WELL worth it. Then… plant them “right”. The old saying around here is “dig a 20 dollar hole for a 10 dollar tree” (that may lose something in translation). In other words have compost, peat moss, and good topsoil ready to mix and put in the hole with the root ball. One of the best places I’ve seen to learn how to plant a tree is at DirtDoctor.com. He has several pages on planting and maintaining fruit and nut trees. Most trees are grafted, and basically you want to keep the graft (the little knot on the trunk that is just above the soil line) about 3″ above the soil when you plant. The graft needs to be above ground so suckers don’t grow from the root-stock. One way to remember how to do this is “Plant it high, it won’t die… plant it low, it won’t grow”. This is something to remember when you plant just about anything…but… not tomatoes…. plant tomatoes deep. They, along with a few other plants, will root on any part of the stem that touches the ground. Planting tomatoes deep will result in a much better root system… But… I digress… Back to fruit trees.

Plant your trees at the correct depth, with the graft well out of the soil. Water it in well. This will seal the soil around the roots so you won’t have any air-gaps. The root don’t need to be exposed to air. I highly recommend installing a drip irrigation system. Not only will it insure that your trees are watered on a timely basis, but it saves you a lot of time standing around with a water hose. If you plant your trees in winter, the initial watering will be enough for a few days, so you don’t have to have a drip system installed immediately, but you should surely consider it. It is not very expensive, and it takes the guess work and manual labor out of keeping them watered well. You also want to make sure to plant them in a well drained area. Around here we have a lot of clay. Clay holds water like a bowl. If the roots stay soggy, it can cause “root rot”… probably a lot like athletes foot in us. I usually plant on a slope of some sort, but around here everything is on a gradual slope one direction or the other.

Now, what type of trees? Well, what do you like to eat? Plant something that you and the rest of the family will enjoy freshly picked. I will say that some trees can be a bigger pain in the pa-tootie than others. Peaches and plums for example will need to be sprayed every 10 days to 2 weeks with an insecticide and fungicide. A combination spray makes that a little easier as it contains both the insecticide and fungicide together and you kill 2 birds with one stone. Other trees, on the other hand, are much less care intensive. I have had 3 pear trees for 25+ years and have done very little to them. They produce abundantly just about every year, without expensive (and unhealthy) sprays.

stockvault-two-pears101925

Pears

I have found that apples are just about as carefree as the pears. Apples don’t do extremely well in E TX, but they may do great if you are in a cooler climate. I planted several apple trees 2 years ago, and got a few apples the following year. Not huge fruit, and not a huge crop… but the trees were still small, and I was very proud of what they (and I) accomplished. So I guess they can do pretty well in TX. And, they were very tasty. It’s a pretty cool feeling to walk around your place, see some ripe fruit hanging on a tree, and say “I don’t mind if I do”… Sweet rewards.

stockvault-green-apples100101

Green Apples

If you live where the summers are brutal, then for the first year or two, you might want to put up a little shade for them. Hundred degree heat can burn a young tree.

Here is a video I did on protecting young trees from the summer heat. This was in 2011. We had 82 days of 100+ degree heat. It was awful !

Fruit trees DO need to be pruned. First, they need to be pruned before you plant them. That is a GREAT reason to buy from a nursery  and not a big box store. Ask the nursery guy (or girl) to prune them for you before you leave. Then they will need to be pruned as the years go by to stimulate fruit production. There are a lot of YouTube videos on this and a lot of places to go and read about how to prune fruit trees. Your state AG Extension Service will have a ton of info and lots of pictures showing you to how to do that.  I won’t go into it now. You need some trees to stick in the ground first, right?

So, decide what trees you want to plant (researched well as to your location and climate). Try to buy them from a reputable nursery in your area, not a big-box store. And, buy them in the largest pots you can find (and afford). You won’t be sorry.

You may even lose a few, but it should be a small percentage, and will usually be to circumstances beyond your control like the weather, or perhaps gophers, voles, deer or some other critter. I haven’t had any deer problems, but you can build a cage (small fence) around them to protect them from deer till they are tall enough to be out of reach.

So get crackin’. Plant some trees that will give you years, and perhaps decades of enjoyment… and put food on your table. With the price of food going up daily, this one thing could be one of the biggest money saving things you do… Not to mention the level of self sufficiency it will bring to you and your family.

stockvault-where-are-u-going-lady-bug127527

Lady Bug in the crotch of a fruit tree

 

Watch all my videos at:

Backyard Chickens For Egg Production

Of all the critters that you have to choose from to stock your homestead, chickens should be a no-brainer. Whether you have an urban backyard, or have found yourself a few acres in the country, the backyard chicken can be one of the greatest assets you can have. They provide eggs, meat, manure and insect control to name a few of their benefits.

There are more breeds of chickens than I can possibly go into here, but I will tell you some of the ones that I have personal experience with. Birds that will help you bring your backyard into egg production. The breed (or breeds) that you select should be chosen for their ability to bring something to your table.  

DSCN5419

Part of my flock. I have nearly two dozen in all !

First of all, are you wanting a chicken for egg production, or for meat? Or both? Some breeds lend themselves to producing both eggs and meat. If that’s your ultimate goal, these are the ones you might want to consider. The breeds I will recommend are some obvious choices. For a dual purpose bird (meat and eggs) I would suggest you think about Orpingtons, Rhode Island Reds, Barred Rocks or perhaps a Sex Link. The Sex Link comes in red and black. They are called “Sex Link” because as soon as they are hatched, they can identify the gender, just by their markings. Other chicks have to be turned upside down to check. They squeeze them and squirt stuff out and… well, let’s just say it’s not too pretty. Even then, determining the sex of a day old chick is a skill that takes a long time to develop, and I couldn’t do it if my life depended on it.

I have found that the sex link hen it’s one of the best layers, and grows to be a large enough bird to make it a good meat bird also. They are one of the best layers I’ve ever had. They seem to lay well year-round. Even in the winter.

DSCN5421

This is a Black Sex Link. Beautiful black hen with gold neck. She is over 5  years old !

Ranked up there (as far as I’m concerned) is the Barred rock, as they are great layers too. They will pretty much lay year round. Very friendly.

DSCN5430

Barred Rock Hen

I never had any Rhode Island reds, but they are said to be one of the best laying chickens too.

So, it really is important so take care as you select the breed you want.  Right now, as part of my flock, I have six Production Red hens and one PR rooster. They are beautiful and are great layers. They are a cross from Rhode Island Reds, and look a lot like them. I am a little disappointed with the size of the egg. They are medium. But then, I am probably just spoiled to the extra large eggs that the sex link and barred rock lay.

DSCN5425

Production Red Hen

If you are fortunate enough to have someone close to you that will sell you grown chickens, buy them! That’s the easiest way to get started. If that’s not the case, you will probably be buying day-old chicks. I have dealt with McMurray hatchery on several occasions, I found them to be professional, and have great stock, as well as service. All the breeds discussed above can be found there, as well as dozens more. If you do buy day-old chicks, you will need to build a brooder before they come in the mail. This is pretty easy to do. You can make a brooder out of a cardboard box, or anything else that has side walls. I have even used a small wading pool as a  brooder. You just need to make sure the sidewalls are high enough to keep the chicks from jumping out (about 10-12 inches. Some sort of heat source will need to be placed above it. I’ve always hung a 250 watt heat lamp about 12 inches above the brooder. You want to give the chicks enough space that if they get too hot, they can move away from the light. The temperature needs to be between 95 and 100 degrees at first. After a few days, they will begin to grow feathers. You can raise the light, which will decrease the temperature in the brooder. Every week you should drop the temp about 5 degrees. If the chicks get too cold, they will move under the light. If they get too hot, they will move away. If you are doing this in the spring, and live where the climate is not too cold, you might get away with using a 100 w light bulb instead of a heat lamp, thus saving you money on electricity. After a while, when they get completely feathered out, they shouldn’t need any heat source. Also, be aware that the chicks will need to be fed “Chick Starter” not just regular chicken feed. It is higher in protein, and will give them a much better start.

After they are about 4-6 weeks old, they can be put outside. Keep in mind that they need to be feathered out pretty well if it is cold where you live, or you will still need to provide a heat source.
Now that they are outside remember… everything… and I do mean EVERYTHING that lives in the woods think you brought the chickens to your place to feed THEM. It seems that there are more predators out there than you can shake a stick at. They include foxes, wolves, possums, skunks, raccoons, hawks and owls… not to mention the neighbors dog, and maybe even your own. I have gone through several dogs, and have only found a couple, that didn’t pay them any attention. Your chicken coop should be closed at night, and secured against any of the above, or you WILL be feeding the local wildlife. I lost 13 hens to a possum in 3 nights. I had left a VERY small opening in the top of the coop, and he went in and helped himself to some chicken dinner. I might as well have put some biscuits and gravy out for him too. I fed him well. But then the Lord called the poor critter home… if you know what I mean. You can even make a moveable chicken pen, called a “chicken tractor”. As you move it around it gives them fresh grass/bugs/worms to eat, and fertilizes your yard to boot. How cool is that ?

DSCN5417

My chicken tractor. Note that it’s on skids…

Here’s a video of my Chicken Tractor

 

Also an often asked question is… do I need a rooster? Depends. If you are in the city, and have neighbors that want to sleep past 05:30, I would say… uhhhNo.

 

DSCN5424

Production Red rooster crowing

Roosters are not essential for egg production, only for fertilizing the eggs (you remember the birds and the bees, right?) So you don’t have to have one. Personally, I like to hear them crow… makes it sound more like a farm  🙂

If you can, let your flock free range during the day. This will cut down dramatically on your feed bill ! If they are out eating bugs and worms, they are not inside eating the expensive feed you bought.

Chickens can provide so much food (and fun) that I can’t understand why anyone who can have them would not have them.

Entire books have been written about their care and benefits, so I won’t keep you any longer, but I do want to encourage you to start your flock soon, and discover Da Benefits of Da Bird !

One of the benefits…

DSCN5433

Fresh eggs !

Take care, leave a comment, and check out my YouTube Channel

Emergency Preparedness: What YOU Need To Know

OK… Lets talk about Emergency Preparedness (EP). I know what you are saying. I thought this blog was about “Homesteading”…? Well, for me EP has always gone     hand-in-hand with homesteading. Whether it’s gardening, cultivating fruit trees and berries, raising small livestock or just about anything else going on around the farmstead, all roads lead to being better prepared. “Prepared”? Prepared for what? Well… prepared for whatever may come… (I know, that sounds even more evasive). Prepared for all the “what if’s” in life. You say you don’t HAVE any “what if’s”? Sure you do.

But… first I need to get the “P” word out there. You know, the word that’s all over TV right now. “Prepper”… there… I said it… but not too loudly. Why…? Because most of the “Preppers” being portrayed on TV are shown to be weird, crazy, obsessed, neurotic (though very colorful and entertaining) idiots….er, I mean… individuals. Having said that, it’s important to realize that the producers of the shows are trying to make sure we perceive them as such. But, the idea of being prepared is certainly not new. It has been around as long as human civilization.

Don’t believe me? OK, how far back ya’ wanna go? How about a few thousand years? Remember the Biblical story of Joseph? Long story short, he was given the keys to the Egyptian empire because he was able to interpret a dream for the Big Guy (his boss). Seven good years of plenty was a comin’, followed by seven years of squat… really…  I think the actual Hebrew word was “squat”… it just didn’t translate very well. Anyway, his brainstorm was to store up lots of goodies in the good years, in preparation for the bad years. Boss man said “good idea, lets get ‘er done” (this was in southern Egypt). So, not only did they have enough stored up for themselves when the “poop hit the prop” (a phrase I have coined), but they had food to spare for all the surrounding folks to come and spend their drachmas on, or barter for. Boss Man got even richer (as usual) and lots of folks (including ol’ Joe’s peeps) were saved from starvation.

OK… you say that was a long time ago, right? Well, you’re right, it was… but depending on how old you are (I have recently entered into the sixto-generian club) you may well remember a time when there was no Walmart Supercenter, or Kroger, or Safeway or ANY sort of “supermarket“. I remember the corner grocery store, and what we considered, at the time, a big grocery store or two in town. But even the biggest store then, was nothing like today’s supermarkets. Aisle after aisle of goodies shipped from all over the world. But… if you think back about 60 or 70 years (ask an old person) almost EVERYONE was a “prepper”. Really. At least in rural areas they were. Most everyone had a garden, canned their own food… or… even if they didn’t grow and can their own, they stored a lot of extra in their pantries. You didn’t just run to the store when you needed  a can of beans, you bought several cans, on the rare occasions when you went to town. So, the idea of relying on a local supermarket to give you anything your heart desires, is a relatively new concept.

Now… let’s cover another strange word. This one may be new to you… TEOTWAWKI… Never heard of this? It stands for The End OThe World AWKnow It. I know what you’re saying… Dec 21st has come and gone, and we are still here, right? Well, look at what I just said. Not “the end of the world“… but, “the end of the world as we know it“.     Big difference. It means something happened that change the future I had envisioned. Ask someone from the Jersey coast if Miss Sandy didn’t given them a TEOTWAWKI punch. It did. For millions of them. For some it was just a temporary inconvenience. For others, their lives may never be the same. Homes are gone, jobs are gone, shorelines have changed, plans put on hold, or cancelled altogether. The end of the world as we know it is just a fire, tornado, job loss or bad x-ray away. Or a myriad of other catastrophes. We just don’t know.

So… prepare. How much you do and how far you go is up to you, but consider this question. If your lights went out for 24 hours, how would you fare? I know… some of you would head for the nearest motel. But could you make it for a while, in place, if you had to? Do you have an alternative power source? Do you have another way to cook or bake? Would you be taking cold showers? Would you have water available to even take a shower? In other words, is there a Plan B in your life?

Homesteading is about Plan B’s. Putting things in place… on your place… to divert, or at least deflect the fastballs life throws at your noggin’. So start now. Consider what you would like to do that would be beneficial long term with regards to your family. Then start doing that, or at least planning that, right now on your homestead, or in your backyard.   The size and scope of your “homestead” is not the determining factor of your success.

In future posts, I’ll write about where I think you should start… tin-foil hats are optional…

http://www.youtube.com/user/texasprepper2