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Seaweed in the Garden

Seaweed in the Garden

I’d heard about using seaweed in the garden. It was supposedly a miracle cure. It helped turn dirt into soil (dirt is dead but soil has living organisms), they said. It helped control blight on tomatoes, they said. I wondered if “they” knew what they were talking about. Living near the coast, it was worth a trip to pick up seaweed. Even if it didn’t live up to the claims, it would at least add some organic matter to the soil in a brand new garden.

Joining up with Maple Hill 101!

seaweed

The first thing I needed to do was call the town office to find out what I am allowed to pick up. Laws vary from state to state and town to town. On the third call I learned that rockweed washes up on the public boat landing so heavily that it gets tangled in boat trailers. The clerk told me to go at low tide and gave me the time. She also gave me a list of things to take with me to make getting seaweed for the garden easier:

  • burlap or mesh bags make it easy to unload at home, but one filled bag can weigh more than 50 pounds.
  • a garden fork
  • heavy duty sled to pull weed to the truck. I said I have a garden cart I could use but she pointed out that wheels get stuck in sand. I’m glad I mentioned it.
  • water proof gloves

We can gather rock weed lying on the beach. We can’t take any seaweed attached to rocks. I went on a weekday when the beach wouldn’t be as busy. It didn’t take long to fill the back of a friend’s truck, and we gathered it all from around the boat landing. I see why trailers get tangled up. It was dense, wet and heavy.

Seaweed is full of micronutrients that improve the soil. I made seaweed tea by filling a five gallon bucket half full of seaweed and topping it off with water. I left the cover on for a week. Stand back when you open the bucket. The “aroma” was strong because I left it in the sun. Next time I’ll set it in the shade. Some of the yellowing broccoli and cauliflower plants improved a few weeks after I mulched them with seaweed and watered with seaweed tea.

I added a layer of seaweed to the compost pile. It’s not high in nitrogen so it didn’t give the pile I hoped for, but the added nutrients to the finished compost were worth the effort.

Mulching the tomato plants is said to help prevent soil born blight because it keeps water from splashing blight spores onto the plants. We didn’t have an outbreak of blight last year but the tomatoes sure did do well. I’ve been to the beach again this year to get more seaweed. I planted the tomatoes in the same spot as last year by pushing the seaweed aside to plant the transplants. I do believe there are a lot more blossoms than last year’s plants have!

I wanted to rototill the seaweed into the soil but remembered the warning about trailers, and I knew it would be a tangled mess in the tines of the tiller. It didn’t break down by the end of last summer but there wasn’t a lot left on the surface this spring. I turned it into the soil with a garden fork.

A couple of things to think about:

  • There were insects in the seaweed. I thought they’d die as soon as the seaweed started to dry out. They didn’t. They’re sea fleas. The don’t harm the garden. As long as the soil under the weed stays moist they’ll live for weeks, and that’s perfectly okay.
  • Seashells! There aren’t a lot of shells in the seaweed so it’s not a big benefit but every little bit helps. Seashells break down slowly and add calcium to the soil. A friend who first told me about seaweed in the garden told me it took five years for the last of the shells to break down.

If you don’t live near the coast you can still use seaweed in the garden by purchasing it as an additive. It seemed expensive to me up front but you don’t need a lot so overall, it’s a good investment in plant and soil health and added nutrition to our food. se

Reasons Why You Should Raise Backyard Chickens

Reasons Why You Should Raise Backyard Chickens

When it comes to animals, Jordan Walker is an expert to that. He tries to help other pet owners through writing useful information in the Coops And Cages blog. And now, he shares with us the several reasons why raising backyard chickens is a great idea.

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People start to realize the myriad of benefits raising chickens can provide; hence, they want to start having a brood in their own backyard. Before, only people in the country are enjoying keeping and reaping benefits that their chickens give. However, with the advancement of technology and the growing health concerns of people, raising backyard chickens has gained popularity.

However, for those who live in the urban area, you need to know about your city’s laws and regulations first when it comes to raising chickens. Most cities in the US do not allow having chickens raised in the backyard because of the noise chickens make. But nowadays, even people living in the city enjoy keeping chickens due to relaxed laws and regulations. That is why it is no longer a wonder if you happen to see a chicken coop in the urban zone.

Is raising chickens right for you?

If you are planning to raise chickens, it would be best to also ask farmer neighbors and people who have been raising chickens in their whole life. This would help you determine if you are best fitted for the endeavor.

Another thing to consider is your feasibility to give your chickens’ basic needs. Will you be able to devote some time to feed and water them, or clean their chicken coop? Yes, chickens also need a home. Of course, you wouldn’t want your neighbors to start complaining about free range chickens going over their fences, right?

Chickens also produce a lot of noise. Their crowing and cackling might get through your nerves. But if you really insist on raising chickens, it would be best to raise more hens than roosters because these crowned chickens are a lot noisier.

Another annoying thing that chickens might do is to destroy your garden–unintentionally. They like to dig and peck at anything they deem tasty. So if you want to keep your garden safe, a chicken coop confines them when you’re not keeping watch.

If you can keep up with all the needs of chickens as well as their behavior, then congratulations! You might be able to survive the responsibilities of chicken farming.

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What’s in store for you if you raise chickens

Aside from laying eggs and their protein rich meat, chickens are great pets, too! Their sweet and mild temper has attracted breeders to keep them as pets. They would eat from your hands, or even respond when called. Chickens offer a lot of benefits apart from being easy to take care of. Here are some rewards breeders reap from raising their backyard flock:

  • Cheaper costs. Starting a brood in the backyard is relatively cheap. Breeders can feed them with kitchen scrap including vegetables, fruits, grains and even meat.
  • Fast meat sources. Depending on their breed, chickens are fast growers that can give breeders a tasty meal. For instance, a Cornish Cross can be processed when they reach seven to nine weeks. This means that breeders need to feed them for about two months and they can already be served in your dinner plate.
  • Healthier eggs and meat. Breeders know what food their chickens eat. Thus, a tastier and healthier eggs can be enjoyed and meat as well. Eating meat and eggs from the chickens you raised is a lot safer compared from those bought in the supermarket because backyard-raised chickens contain less fat.
  • Hefty supply of backyard eggs. Chicken breeders enjoy a large supply of fresher eggs compared to their non-chicken raising neighbors. This is because a brood can lay one to two eggs a day for a number of years after reaching about 6 months old.
  • Good pets. Children will be able to enjoy the company of backyard-raised chickens because of their friendly nature. They are easy to manage and only entail low maintenance costs.
  • Great gardeners. Chickens are also great gardeners as they love to eat grasses. They would weed around your shrubs and trees that would create a meticulously weeded landscape. backyard chickens
  • Pest control. Chickens are also great agents in controlling pests. They eat insects, worms and even mice and snakes. The best thing about them is that they control the pest in your area for free! backyard chickens
  • Excellent sources of fertilizer.  A breeder’s garden will have no problem regarding fertilizer. This is because chicken poop is full of nitrogen needed to make excellent compost. In return, the garden soil becomes rich to be able to grow more plants.

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Downsides of raising chickens

Aside from the numerous benefits breeders get, there are also some things to watch out for while raising backyard chickens. These are the unforeseen happenings that breeders might meet along the way. Remember that it is not just about getting fresh meat and eggs as farm life is also not just about the roses. Here are some of the major downsides of raising chickens: backyard chickens

  • Chicken waste. Although chicken poop is a good source of fertilizer, chickens can poop a lot than what you need. It is best to have the surroundings of the house cleaned as guests might be having a hard time cleaning their shoes every time they come to visit.
  • Unexpected chicken deaths. Other animals including dogs, raccoons, foxes and the like can hunt down your chickens. They are just some of the most fearsome chicken predators. Some breeders tell of their horror stories after learning the deaths of their chickens. backyard chickens
  • Decline of production. As your chickens age, the production also declines. This happens after two years of laying eggs. However, this is not really a problem as breeders can always keep the chickens as pets or have their meat stacked inside the freezer.

Although raising chickens has some downsides, the benefits you can get are still more than its disadvantages. This may be one reason why more and more people are getting attracted to having a brood in their backyard. backyard chickens

Image Sources: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7]

Author: Jordan Walker
Jordan is the lead content curator for Coops And Cages as well as a couple of other pet related blogs. His passion for animals is only matched by his love for ‘attempting’ to play the guitar. If you would like to catch him, you can via Google+ or Twitter: @CoopsAndCages

It’s not just a butter mold…

Sweet Mary’s Wood Butter Mold is not just a butter mold. We have ideas! Is there something else you’d do with the mold other than butter? Subscribe to next week’s newsletter to learn about our ideas.

butter mold

Sweet Mary’s Butter Mold

What to Grow in the Garden – Pumpkins and Winter Squash

What to Grow in the Garden – Pumpkins and Winter Squash

Pumpkins and winter squash can be space hogs in a garden but oh aren’t they fun to grow! I have some creative ways to grow them without losing garden space you need for more productive vegetables.

what to grow in the garden, pumpkin, winter squash, connecticut field

Connecticut Field heirloom pumpkin

Many varieties of pumpkins and winter squash need long growing seasons. Choose your varieties according to the average number of frost free days you have. You can push the number of days on each end by using HotKaps, IRT and low tunnels and gain a week or two. You can buy yourself a little more time by starting the seeds indoors in large pots three weeks before transplanting. This gives your seedlings time to form their first true leaves before you put them out but it’s a short enough time to keep the seedlings from becoming root bound. Root crops are fussy about having crowded roots and transplanting so be gentle.

Pumpkins and winter squash can be grown in mounds or rows. Mounded soil warms faster and provides better drainage. Disturbing the soil to make mounds also helps slow cutworm damage.  It’s more time consuming than planting a straight row but the trade off might be worth the work.

Pumpkins and winter squash are very heavy feeders. You’re going to need rich soil or a lot of fertilizer. I dig a hole two feet deep and fill it with compost. If you’re planting outside of the garden you’ll want to save the soil in case you want to fill in the hole later. If not, you can use the soil in a raised bed or simply spread it out in the garden. Build a mound on top of the hole. By the end of the growing season the mound will have sunk and become not much more than bump. Compost is temporary.

You can use similar methods on porches. I have heavy nails hidden under the roof on my back porch.

If you have limited space for a garden you can choose varieties with shorter vines or bushing habits, or find a place to grown them vertically. Fences work well. Add a planter bracket to the top edge of each fence post. Cut sturdy twine one foot longer than the distance from the ground to the bracket. Tie the twine securely to the bracket. Transplant one seedling or two seeds under each bracket. If both seeds germinate you should pluck the smaller/weaker seedling when they are about a month old. Train the vines to attach themselves to the twine. All you should need to do is let the vine touch the twine. Prune excess vines as they spread to concentrate growth in two or three pumpkins per vine.

Cattle or hog panels can be braced and bent into an “n” shape. Plant the seeds or transplants on each side and allow them to grow across the panels. It makes a fun space for for kids to get in out of the sun when the vines cover the panels.

I must have dropped a winter squash seed or two under a young black cherry tree one spring. For reasons I forget now we didn’t cut the hay that year. In the fall, after the leaves started to fall, I noticed a bright orange blob in the eight foot tall tree. And then another blob, and a third blob. Bright orange winter squash decorated the tree. I’ve made the tree a yearly base for the winter squash now even though it’s now 15 feet tall. Doesn’t everyone use a ladder to harvest squash now and then? 😉

What to grow in the garden, pumpkins and winter squash, pumpkins, winter squash

Your pumpkins and winter squash are ripe and ready to pick when the stem is drying and woody.  Cut the stem close to the vine, brush dirt off and if possible, allow them to dry outdoors in the breeze. I set mine on pallets under a canopy so they sun doesn’t hit them. Throw a tarp over them if there’s going to be a frost.

If your pumpkins and winter squash aren’t ready to be picked when there’s going to be a frost you can protect the plants that are on the ground with tarps. You can try clothes pinning tarps or at least a sheet or two over vertically growing plants. Warmth from the fence post will help protect the plants with the help of a covering.

Money Saving Tips for Homesteaders

Money Saving Tips for Homesteaders

We’re taking a break from gardening in the blog for a couple of weeks to help out a fellow homesteader. We received a request from a family who is struggling to make ends meet. They need money saving tips while they work on ways to add income to the family budget. We did some brainstorming and came up with a long list of tips.

    1. Nicky Smith suggests not having a clothes dryer. The amount of money you’ll save in electricity will pay for clothes racks and lines in a few months. Hang your clothes outside when the weather cooperates and near a heat source in the winter. Thanks to Nicky for sharing her tip on Facebook!
    2. Julie Dodd shared her tip on Facebook. “Unplug and turn off every light…not in use…saves a bundle.” Did you know that? That little light on the DVD player, Wii, coffee maker and every other appliance you’re not using adds up over time.
    3. Sue Wickson, another of our Facebook faithfuls, suggests not spending. “Don’t. Spend it.” Period. Just don’t spend money. It’s surprising what we can do without if we flat out refuse to spend the money.
      3.5 Stay out of stores. Do your grocery shopping no more than once a week. Do all of your errands on that day and do go shopping again that week. It takes a bit to get organized but you can do it.
    4. Shop sales. That seems obvious and we all know this but it’s easy to fall out of the habit. Stock up on items that have great sales. If possible, set aside $10 additional money for stocking up on those items. It might be hard in the beginning but after a couple of months it’s worth it.
    5. No soda, fancy coffee, sports drinks, flavored creamers, etc. Drink water. Add a slice of fresh citrus or sprig of mint for variety. Having given up soda 15 months ago, I know it’s hard but it’s worth it. I feel a lot better!
    6. Are you sure you need an extended warranty on purchases? Your state might require manufacturers to stand behind their products for a reasonable amount of time, usually longer than the basic warranty. Look for “implied warranty.” In some states it’s enforced by the attorney general’s office.
    7. Make your baby food. Puree what you’re eating as long as it’s not too spicy, hot, etc. Puree before you add salt, pepper and other seasonings if your child is too young for them. You can freeze the puree in ice cube trays.
    8. Glean. Check with local farms to find out if they allow gleaners into the field to clean up after the harvest. Broccoli side shoots, cabbage that was missed, potatoes that weren’t dug, whatever the vegetable is, it’s worth asking for.
    9. Make your own bread. I pay $6 for two pounds of bulk yeast. That’s the cost of two loaves of not very good bread. For about $1 a loaf I can make larger loaves of excellent bread that’s more filling because it’s higher in fiber and better for us. I mix up my bread at night and let it rise in the cool/cold kitchen. The added heat in the kitchen each morning is nice.
    10. Use your leftovers. Make TV dinners, turn them into casserole, soup or stew, play Restaurant with the kids and let them order off the Leftover Menu, or feed it to the chickens. No food in the trashcan. (Bones and fat go into the woodstove.)
    11. Skip do-dads. Decorate with items you can gather. Skip goodie bags for birthday parties. A homemade useful item in the Easter basket will be used and remembered much longer than a do-dad that’s lost in a day or two.
    12. Love to learn? Try free classes online. Coursera offers a lot of free classes. A quick internet search will turn up more options. Or learn from friends and neighbors. Learning a useful skill can lower or eliminate a repair bill some day.
    13. Are you a blogger with a good following? Test products and blog about them. You get to keep the product in exchange for an honest review.
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    14. Don’t keep egg laying chickens or ducks unless you’ve crunched all of the numbers and know you’re not losing money, and if someone nearby sells eggs. By the time I pay for fencing, nest boxes, shelter, food and all the other expenses I don’t save any money raising them myself. I’d stop raising layers if I could buy them locally.
    15. Buy quality. You don’t have to buy items brand new. Shop at thrift stores and pawn shops for lightly used items in good condition. If you buy quality once it’s less expensive in the long run than buying inexpensive items that don’t last.
      15.5  Try pawn shops later Friday or first thing Saturday after items have been pawned for weekend money. Leave a list of what you need and your name and contact info with the shop.
    16. Limit dry cleaning. Spot clean when necessary. We take our wool pants and vests to the dry cleaner in the spring. That’s it. Once a year.
    17. Sell what you don’t need. If you haven’t used something for a year you probably don’t need it. Earn some extra cash to put toward the extra $10 on stocking up on grocery sales.
    18. Have an energy audit of your home. Cover windows with shrinking plastic. You dry it with the hair dryer and it shrinks to fit and is clear. Use towels or blankets on the windows on the coldest nights. Caulk leaks.
    19. Close off the heat to rooms you don’t use. We don’t heat our bedrooms. Instead, we have heated mattress pads and an extra blanket. The mattress pad warms up the bed for about an hour before we go to sleep. It’s warm and cozy and we stay that way overnight.
    20. Avoid expensive household cleaners. Vinegar does a great job of cleaning.

We’ll continue this next week. There are still a lot more tips to share.

Salt Pork

The piglets arrived in late June. They ate all our food scraps, lots of spent plants from the garden, grass and clover in their pasture, and some commercial pellets. During a harsh old spell when the overnight temps dropped close to 0* they enjoyed a can of cracked corn each and extra flakes of hay. Everything was late except the cold weather. I was concerned about Red and White staying warm, and that maybe there wouldn’t be enough fat for salt pork.

There was no need for concern. I made put up 36 pounds of salt pork today. It will sit at the bottom of the cellar stairs, hovering above freezing, for the next month. I’ll check it weekly to be sure it’s curing rather than spoiling.

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Uncured pork belly.

I wasn’t able to find the tons of information I expected on curing pork, specifically how to make salt pork, online. Turns out there’s not a lot to write about. It’s a simple process.

My pork belly was cut into slabs, vacuum packed and flash frozen by the butcher. I thawed the pork overnight in a cooler.

You’ll need a container for your pork. A crock is great. If you don’t have a crock you can use stainless steel, plastic or glass. Wash your container thoroughly.

Salt Pork Recipe

Cut 2.5 pounds of pork belly into slabs that are six to eight inches wide. Rinse each piece with cool water and dry well with paper towels.

For each 2.5 pounds, mix together:

10 oz Kosher or sea salt
1/3 cup white sugar

That’s it. This is very basic. Coat each piece of pork belly and stack them close together in your containers.

 

I put a 1/4″ layer of salt and sugar on the bottom of the container before placing the first pieces. Add more salt and sugar blend to the pieces to make up for any you lose when moving the fat. More salt than necessary isn’t better. You don’t want your salt pork to be so salty it’s hard to use.

salt pork, how to make salt pork

My container of salt pork is sitting at the entry of the cold cellar (they lead in from outdoors so it stays cold), on the cold side that hasn’t been blocked to keep the cold out. I’ll check it every few days, and I plan to let it cure for at least a month. When it’s done I’ll wash the salt off, dry the salt pork well, and vacuum pack it before placing it in the freezer. My cellar won’t stay cold

One of the first recipes I’ll use the salt pork in is Boston Baked Beans. They’re a traditional Saturday meal around here. I’ll slice the salt pork and place it on top of the beans. The pork will help the beans stay moist and the meat will be delicious. I’m also going to dice pork to fry pan fried potatoes and saute mixed greens.

There’s always a little concern about using fat. Moderation! Use a little, only what you need. Use the same caution with salt pork that you use with butter and all other fats. This fat is all natural real food. Enjoy!