Homesteading Thoughts

If you are farming directly into the soil on your property, be sure to rotate crops and patches of gardening land each season!Crops sap nutrients from the soil, so growing the same plant in the identical place each year can cause the land to become barren over time.Allowing animals to spend time on land you’re not farming, such as setting up your chicken run there, will turn over the soil and help fertilize it with their manure.Composting and FertilizerRegardless of how naturally fertile the soil in your homestead is, best farming practices call for adding fertilizer to the soil.If you’re a homesteader who values sustainability, you probably have a compost heap, where you might be storing weeds and grass clippings, food scraps, animal manure, and any other unwanted biological material.As the compost turns into rich, black soil, it becomes the perfect natural fertilizer to add to your garden.Compost that is fully decomposed is best for gardens.If the compost is still in the process of breaking down, most of the nitrogen in the mixture is being used by the bacteria responsible for the decomposition process, allowing them to digest the compost and reproduce.This nitrogen becomes available to your plants as the compost breaks down further.The one exception to this is manure because any parasites within the manure need time to die off before adding to your plants.You can apply compost to your garden one to two weeks before you start to plant in the spring.Spread the compost over the garden area at a thickness of one to two inches, and mix it into the soil using a rake or hoe.It’s also recommended to add compost in autumn, to restore nutrients to the soil over the winter months.This is especially important if you’re planting again in the same place come spring.In these cases, you’ll need to add more compost.A thicker layer of three inches usually does the trick.Raised Bed, Container, and Vertical GardensWhat if the soil on your property is not rich enough to grow crops directly in the ground?A raised garden bed is planted in rectangular enclosures, which are filled with outside soil and fertilized with compost.You also won’t have to rotate your planting locations as much as you can replace the soil in the beds.When building a raised bed for your crops, ensure that the soil inside has adequate drainage to prevent flooding.These containers can be creative and versatile, so long as you drill holes in the bottom to allow drainage.Container gardens have been successfully established in flower pots, Tupperware storage containers, animal troughs, crates, and even old bathtubs!Not only does this save space, it can also help protect your back by reducing how much you have to bend over while gardening!You can also rig shelves on which to fit containers, or containers that hang under window sills.Anywhere that gets enough sunlight can become part of your garden with a little imagination and craftiness.Indoor GardensWhat if the climate outside is so harsh that growing crops isn’t worth the effort, or there’s simply not as much space in the backyard of your urban homestead as you’d like?You can successfully grow plants indoors with modern technology.Setting up a container garden inside can be a great way to make the most of the climate you’ve got.Beets, radishes, carrots, leafy greens such as swiss chard and kale, as well as microgreens and herbs, are all great options for an indoor garden.Indoor gardens use the same soil and compost as outdoor ones.You can get away with only watering your indoor garden twice a week, as the water will be used up more slowly in indoor conditions.While you don’t need access to direct sunlight when growing an indoor garden, you do need to ensure that the room is kept above freezing.At the same time, avoid using wood stoves or other sources of heat that will make the room very hot, as this will cause your plants to stop growing and go to seed instead, limiting how many harvests you get.Grow lights are the most important aspect of indoor gardening, as they act as the sun for your plants.In colder regions with shorter growing seasons, indoor gardens can be used to start growing outdoor plants, which will be transplanted outside after a couple weeks of growth.This allows you to get a head start on your garden, helping you to get as many harvests as possible out of it before winter sets in.How Much to Plant Per Person?There’s no clear way to determine how much to plant in your garden to feed your family, as so many factors play a role.You can reduce the amount of space needed in your garden by planting crops that can be harvested multiple times per season, allowing you to get more food out of a smaller space.For example, three to five cauliflower, pepper, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, cucumber, or tomato plants will be sufficient for one person in a season.If you’re able, it’s advisable to plant a little more than you think you need by these calculations.Depending on whether you’re raising chickens primarily for meat or eggs, you’ll want to select different varieties.If you want to keep chickens to collect their eggs, Isa Browns, Leghorns, and Rhode Island Reds are all optimal egg laying chicken breeds for beginners.If you’re looking to raise chickens for meat, the Cornish Cross and Jersey Giant grow bigger and quicker than the laying varieties mentioned above.How many chickens will be sufficient to keep your family in eggs depends on the breed and the amount of people in your house.In most cases, eight laying hens are plenty for a family of four.Chickens are housed in chicken coops.This consists of a small structure with both room on the floor for chickens to move around, as well as bars to roost on, boxes in which to nest and lay eggs in, and containers for water and feed.A chicken run is a wire pen that may or may not be attached to the coop itself.If your run is not attached, you can rotate it to different places around your property to ensure that your chickens have access to fresh grass and insects to eat.Some chicken coops with attached runs are mobile.A run should have at least 15 square feet of space for each chicken, while ten square feet of space per chicken is the recommended coop size.In climates where the temperature drops at night or during the winter, chickens will require heating in the coop as well.A wide variety of space heaters, as well as heated pads and perches for the chickens to sit on, are available online starting at approximately $30, but this can go much higher depending on the model.You can cheaply modify a small shed into a coop to cut down on costs, build it from scratch, or purchase a prefab coop.Most homesteaders slaughter, pluck, and butcher meat chickens themselves to save on costs.Before committing to doing this, do some research to ensure that you’re able to handle the task and can do it humanely.CattleCattle are one of the most popular animals to keep worldwide for meat and milk, but their large size can make them challenging for beginners.However, done right, a small herd of cows can be a great way to keep your family supplied with protein.You’ll need to have a paddock or pasture set up to enclose your cows before they arrive.It’s required by law to keep your animals contained in many states, and it’s safest for everyone to do so anyway.You’ll need to have a strand running close to the ground, as well as one at a height of four feet, to ensure that they can’t wriggle out.Electric fencing can also be used if your power production method can handle it.Cows can graze happily on rich pastures, but in most cases won’t have access to enough grass to meet all their dietary needs.A lactating dairy cow can eat as much as 100 pounds of hay a day.Oat and alfalfa feed can also be used to supplement hay and grass.If you know how to humanely and efficiently slaughter and butcher a cow on property, you can save money by doing so.However, if you’re new to the process, it’s better to hire a professional to butcher your beef cattle, ensuring that the process is humane and that you get the most out of each animal.When determining what breed of cow to buy, you have many options depending on what you’re using them for.Brown Swiss cows are known for being easy to handle and great milk producers.If you’re raising cows for milk and meat, consider the Dexter or Holstein breeds, which are great for both purposes.Goats are highly valued not only for their rich milk, but also for their soft hides, hair, and delicious meat, which is notably lower in cholesterol than beef.Keeping goats can give you a lot of return for what you put in, but, like any type of animal, they require their own specialized care.Goat meat comes in two formats.Goats, unlike cattle, are browsers rather than grazers.If you’re thinking you’ll let your goat graze around the property to keep the grass short, you’ll be sorely disappointed.Goats like to munch on a variety of plants, and their teeth are better suited to this than to grass.Try to provide your goats with a range of weeds, shrubs, and leaves to make sure they’re meeting their nutritional needs.Browsing can be supplemented by alfalfa feed if there’s not enough brush on your property.Regardless of whether you’re letting them browse around the property, goats will need to be contained in a pen or paddock at least part of the time, with a fence with a rail low enough to stop them from wriggling out underneath.They should have access to shelter from the elements and bedding, usually straw or sawdust.Change out goat bedding t daily, and make sure there is fresh water always available.Depending on whether you want to keep goats for meat or milk, there are a range of breeds available for you to choose from.They live long and healthy lives and can be great producers!PigsWho doesn’t love bacon, pulled pork, or pork chops?As pigs require more space and care than many people assume, keeping pigs can be a bigger undertaking than many would guess.However, a single butchered pig can keep your family in pork for quite a long time, so if you’re interested in producing all of your food on site, raising pigs might be an option to look into.As pigs are social animals, it’s recommended to have at least two.Some people keep their pigs with their goats, chickens, or other livestock for the same reason.Expect to feed your pig between six to eight pounds of corn or soybean feed per day.While pigs require less space than cattle, they do need to be able to move around.Four hundred square feet per pig is ideal.As with other livestock, they should have access to shelter from the elements, as well as constant access to drinking water.One major concern with pigs is that they are known for being able to escape from most backyard fence setups.The fence should be sturdy enough to prevent pigs from pushing it down, with a low enough bar that young pigs can’t get out underneath.