Category Archives: Hobby Farming

Happy (Belated) Patriots Day!

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If you love freedom and what was sacrificed many, many generations ago to secure it for us, then April 19th is probably a pretty special day to you.

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Apologies to my two (or is it three now?) readers for the lag between posts. Spring has sprung and I am, after all, a farmer. That means work outside caring for plants and animals. Not that there hasn’t been a veritable cornucopia of events to blog about. Oh no! Far from it – we’ve got World War IV brewing in the Ukraine, Ebola wiping out huges swaths of the population in a few African countries, and the opening moves in the Second American Revolution occurred just a few weeks ago in Nevada. Interesting times indeed (in the Chinese curse sense of the word).

If you missed the excitement in Nevada, here are a few links to catch you up.

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I’m A Chicken Farmer!

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Today is the one week anniversary of my first attempt at raising actual livestock. In this case, chickens. Laying hens (aka “yardbirds”) are the most numerous domesticated animals on the planet. I love eggs. Getting them for free every day from your own back yard is one of the truly sublime satisfactions in life.

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Once upon a time, keeping chickens was considered a civic duty. Times have changed and now we go to a store to buy the things we eat. The sad part is that we have no idea where those things come from or what’s in them. Me? I’d prefer to see what my chickens are eating and it had better be 100% organic.

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In fact, I’m so picky about my eggs that I refuse to eat store-bought eggs. They are less fresh, less healthy, and more expensive. They don’t taste nearly as good either!

three birds

So, if it’s legal where you live, and you have a quarter acre yard (or bigger); seriously consider getting a few chickens. And don’t be fool and think you can eat them! Each of my hens will lay upwards of 320 eggs per year. Compare that to one meager chicken dinner and you’ll quickly understand that keeping chickens alive is the smart move. Even if you can’t eat them all, your eggs will make great food for your dogs and cats and have a surprisingly high barter value.


I Have A Truck (Finally!)

dodge

Last week was my one year anniversary on the farm. Having declared at the outset three easily achievable goals for myself within that first year – a fence, a generator, and a truck – I found myself down to the wire and running out of time. At the last possible minute, I totally lucked into a beautifully kept low-miles 2002 Dodge Ram 1500 SLT 4X4 that I spied last Wednesday while looking out the window of my office at work. By Friday (yesterday), the title was in my sweaty hands and my trifecta of first year farm-life goals had been fulfilled (whew!)

Things I like about my first-ever truck:

1) It’s surprisingly fun to drive. Must be that Hemi under the hood. Or the aftermarket stainless dual exhaust that rumbles your butt every time you tap the accelerator. Or the howl of that aftermarket intake/filter/throttle body set up under the hood. Maybe the herculean grip of the aftermarket cross-drilled and slotted four wheel disc brakes with oversized four-piston calipers. A hot rod truck? Nah, I just bought it off a pure motorhead retired mechanic who rebuilds late-60s Chevelles and El Caminos and drops Chevy small blocks into Jeeps for fun. My Japanese bullet train can still run circles around this behemoth but, I must admit, there is a certain satisfaction to being the biggest, loudest, most obnoxious thing on the road. Good God, somebody stop me –I think I’m turning into a Murkan!

2) It has four wheel drive. No, I can’t laugh at driving in a foot of snow quite yet (gonna need proper snow tires for that). But at least I now have options beyond the former pull-over-leave-it-and-walk-home whenever it gets a teeny bit mushy out.

3) It has room to haul tons of crap. Four tons to be precise. This baby’s storage compartments have storage compartments. The bed is only a smidgen over over six feet long but that’s not an issue since the truck has the factory tow kit and is rated to pull 8,000 pounds. The extra row of seats in the cab fold up to reveal all kinds of bins and tool boxes. Very macho…and utilitarian.

4) I paid cash for this truck. That is an extremely satisfying feeling.

Things I don’t like:

1) I’ve lived so long (nearly a half-century) without a truck, that I catch myself looking out the window at the thing in the driveway and wondering “What now?” I thought I’d start hauling and schlepping from Day One but that hasn’t happened. Anybody need help moving?*

*Just kidding.

2) This beast gets absolutely atrocious mileage. You can look it up but all I’ll say is that I’ll be lucky to get (and stay) in double digits as I haul and schlepp “stuff” from there to here. So why buy a gas-hog with WWIII right around the corner? Well, after a full year of searching, I simply couldn’t find a better truck for under $10k. There was zip-nada out there. Sure I could’ve found a dirt-cheap rusted-out retired fleet truck beater but there was still no guarantee it would get better mileage and it would’ve likely crapped out on me right when I needed it most (no thanks!) So, I’ll just resign myself to looking (and sounding) fabulous (not to mention gloriously Murkan) as I burn up the last remaining gallons of those precious liquefied dinosaurs that nature will never make any more of ever again.

Now, who wants to go for a ride??!!


Garden Porn

One day haul

Never fear – I’m working on a couple of nice fat, juicy posts that are full of more of that paranoid ranting you all love so much. In the meantime enjoy this beautiful photo of the bounty from my garden. Our vicious mid-July heatwave finally broke yesterday and I was able to go down and check the garden (first time in three days!). What you see here is what I brought back after just a half hour of picking. It was almost too much to carry in one trip: several pounds of tomatoes and cucumbers, about a gallon of green beans, and a nice sheaf of kale and chard. I could (and probably should) go down and pick this much again today.


Ain’t That A Pickle

pickles
I got up early this morning and picked about a half bushel of snap beans and about eight nice pickling cucumbers. More on the beans later…

Sure, you can make pickles the old fashioned way but I don’t have that kind of patience. Here’s my recipe for “refrigerator pickles” that are ready to eat in 3-4 days:

Step 1: Start a garden and grow cucumbers.

Step 2: Heat three cups of vinegar in a pan with about an eighth of a cup of salt in it. I like either white or cider vinegar. When the salt has dissolved, remove vinegar from heat and set aside.

Step 3: Lightly rinse off* your cukes and slice them (halves or “spears”, your choice). Place them vertically in a large canning jar and add a half-dozen cloves of garlic, a tablespoon of black peppercorns, a few stalks of fresh dill, and a dash of red pepper flakes.

Step 4: Pour vinegar brine over cukes. Place lid on jar tightly and set on counter. After an hour or so, the jar should be cool enough to refrigerate. Stick the jar in the back of the fridge and forget about it. In four days, crack that sucker open and feast on the crispest tastiest pickles you’ve ever eaten!

*Don’t scrub your cucumbers if you intend to pickle them! Just brush off the larger chunks of dirt and debris. The lactic acid that forms on the skin of a straight-from-the garden cucumber accelerates the pickling process. Wash too much of it off and you end up with something that really isn’t pickled enough to earn the name.


Back To The Garden

“We got to get ourselves back to the garden.” – Joni Mitchell

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Whenever things get too heavy around here (and you’d surely agree with me that they have), I like to get back to my garden. You see it’s not just a place to pick food. It’s not just a hobby. It’s not just the true “prepper’s pantry”. It’s all of those things of course, but it’s primarily a place to meditate on life and feel in tune with nature. The hippies had Woodstock, I have this garden. My Garden of Eatin’!

tomatoes
As you can see, life is fairly jumping up out of the ground here in early July. What a difference from just a month ago! It’s almost a full-time job keeping up with the weeding and the harvesting.

green beans
Green beans are one of the easiest things to grow. We’ve already started eating and preserving them. The faster you pick them, the faster they seem to grow.

kale
Kale is a “superfood” for sure. I try (and mostly succeed) in eating a serving of kale every day. Usually I just throw it in the Vitamix every morning with the bananas, strawberries, blueberries, apples, yogurt, and cherry juice. If you wash and freeze your kale first, it will blend into fine particles that you can barely see and not even taste at all. A stealthy and stupidly easy way to get your daily greens! Growing kale is no different than growing grass. Well, except that you never have to mow it!

onions
Onions are another superfood that is ridiculously easy to grow. I’ve heard it said that the man who eats an onion a day will never get cancer. We’ll see about that. I’ve been eating onions my entire adult life and have been cancer-free so far.

OK, so that’s a quick peek at the garden in July. We’ll check back in a month to see what is in season. I don’t mean to brag but I must point out that everything in the garden is grown organically (chemical- and GMO-free) from heirloom seeds. There simply is no other safe or sustainable way to do it.

“But Kirk, where’s the rhyme?”

Ah, that’s just it: the seasons are the rhyme this time. Every year, certain things have to be done at certain times for all this to be a success. After you’ve had a garden for a decade or so like I have, you are bombarded with rhymes: “These tomatoes were soooo good last year, let’s grow them again!” “I forgot how easy kale is to grow.” “July is Tomato month!” “Where did I put that Three Bean salad recipe that we liked?” And so on. Gardening is like playing music, timing is everything. Literally everything you do with seeds and soil will rhyme once you get into the flow.

If that wasn’t enough uplift for you dear readers after a series of depressing posts, then watch this clip of the ever-profound and always inspirational Gerald Celente. It will fire you up with the spirit of rebirth, revolution, and rebuilding!


Grow Your Own!

“The sun comes up in the morning,
Shines that light around.
One day, without no warning,
Things start jumping up from the ground.”
– Neil Young, “Homegrown” (American Stars ‘N Bars, 1977)

Living in the country means many things: privacy, fresh air, room to live, but most of all: making things grow with your bare hands. Tending a garden is one of the truly sublime joys of life.

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When we moved to the farm, there wasn’t much of anything growing (unless you count grass). I’m no horse and not much of a horse-lover either, so I see grass as the canvas upon which a gardener paints his or her masterpiece.

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I’m also not a real farmer. I have no desire to get a tractor and plow, till, cultivate, seed, and fertilize on an industrial scale. I did that for one summer in college and it was too much like real work. Instead, we put our plants* in raised beds. You can’t see them all in the photo but we have nearly 30. You just pick a spot, build a bed, put cardboard in the bottom, lay in a couple of inches of organic compost and a few more inches of top soil and you’re in business. Of course, you’ll need some way to keep from sharing the bounty with the local fauna. Dogs work as does a scoped rifle. But for full-proof garden security 24/7/365, nothing beats a deer fence. No it wasn’t cheap and yes, putting it up was sweaty knuckle-busting work. But we did it all on our own.

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Between the garden and the barn we put in a dozen fruit trees. Fresh organic apples, cherries, and peaches will really put a smile on a face. And you can’t get any more local than your own backyard.

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When the collapse comes, you’ll have three choices when it comes to sources of food: 1) Loot, scavenge, or beg for whatever is still available in town whenever you get hungry (not recommended due to associated health hazards); 2) Survive as long as you can on your supply of grains and canned/dehydrated meats and vegetables that you wisely stockpiled in advance (good option for the rich and/or lazy); 3) Raise plants and animals that continue to feed you for years (so long as you know what you’re doing).

I think you’ll agree that Choice #3 makes the most sense. Many people might think gardening is hard work but just remember the last time you were really really hungry. Doesn’t seem so “hard” to pick up a hoe now does it?

So get out there and start a garden. Grow whatever YOU like to eat. If you have a surplus at the harvest, learn how to can. I only have two pieces of advice: use heirloom seeds whenever possible (hybrids are not sustainable); and go organic. If you can only keep your garden going because of all those bags and jugs of nasty chemicals you get from the store, then you are doing it wrong. Organic (artificial chemical-free) farming is cheaper, easier, and healthier. It’s also the only way that will be available after the collapse so why not learn how to do it now?

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Uh oh, I almost forgot the “rhyming” part of this whole story. Once upon a time, our elected (and unelected) masters told us it was good for us all to grow gardens. They called them “Victory Gardens”. Of course, today you’d be hauled off by the INS for hiring the wrong people to work your fields or perhaps the IRS would audit you because of all that undeclared “income” you made from your garden. Or maybe a USDA SWAT team might show up and do a “no knock” home invasion because you were suspected of distributing uninspected produce (if you’re really lucky, they’ll not shoot your dog). Oopsie, now you’re getting sued because your seeds weren’t Monsanto-approved. On second thought, don’t grow a garden – because gardening is what terrorists do!

And people wonder why sometimes I can’t help but look forward to the collapse…

victory-garden

*Currently in the garden: tomatoes, onions, potatoes, blueberries, strawberries, kale, cabbage, peppers, lettuce, spinach, carrots, radish, chard, thyme, sage, oregano, sage, cilantro, parsley, rosemary, garlic, beans, watermelon, and peas.


Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

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When we moved to our little farm in the country last summer, we had a list of things we knew we needed to do right away. Near the top of that list (right below “Start a garden”) was “Put in a proper privacy fence.”* Well, we can scratch that off of our to-do list!

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All this property ever had was three board paddock fencing. The back yard had chicken wire stapled to this all the way around and this really classy bamboo screen around the pool. C’mon, really? Did anybody really think this was private or even halfway pleasing to the eye?

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Imagine having a 25,000 gallon heated concrete in-ground pool that you can use only when everybody is looking at you. That dude who walks his dog twice a day, those joggers, that pack of bicyclists, and every gawking kid riding to school in Mom’s Prius. They all got an eye full. Not any more.

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You really can’t put a price on privacy. But since I brought it up…yeah, this fence cost a pretty penny. Nearly 400 linear feet (with three gates) at $30 a foot – all installed in a day and a half by the best danged fence company in this part of the country – will put a sizable dent in a budget. It was either a) standby generator and pickup truck; or b) privacy fence. I couldn’t afford both so I went for the thing that maximized my family’s enjoyment of the property…right now. A truck and a generator are not far off either. Trust me.

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A fence is about much more than privacy. Sure, six feet of wood will stop most prying eyes. But it will also keep many vermin out, and the dogs in. Before, the dogs could see everything that went on for 100 yards 360 degrees around the house. Now, when they go out, all they see is the sky and the tops of trees. That cuts down on 90% of the “false alert” barking that we’ve had to endure for the past nine months. Now you can actually hear what’s going on instead of just the dogs responding to it. Privacy, security, and a peaceful place to relax and enjoy the summer. What more could a guy ask for?

*As always here at RWH, you must click on the thumbnails to see full size photos.


Getting Serious Part II


Summer is almost over and it’s time to start thinking about getting ready for the change in seasons. My summer began with a search for a new home. I am happy to announce that my search was a success. Without too much difficulty I found exactly what I was looking for. We will be moving in over Labor Day weekend. Although I can’t tell you where the new house is, I can show you a picture of it from the back acreage. The building in the foreground is the four-stall horse barn which will be used for a chicken coop and goats. The house can be seen further up the hill. From where I was standing when I took this photo, the property extended about the same distance behind me as it does to the road about 200 feet on the other (front) side of the house. So imagine turning around from this perspective and seeing another two acres of fenced pastures that lead down to a fresh creek that flows from a spring less than a mile away.

Moving to my “secure location” will alter the focus of this blog slightly for the next year or so. Bear with me. I’d like to share my experiences as a hobby farming prepper with you so that you may benefit. This property already scores a 12 on the “SISS” index*. That’s a great start but I’d like to double that. In addition to farm animals and a huge garden, I plan to install a stand-by generator and a modest solar array in the first year. I also plan to replace the current asphalt shingle roof with a steel roof to allow water cachement. A new quality-grade privacy fence will keep the dogs in and prying eyes out of the backyard and swimming pool area. And some sort of barrier will have to go up around the planned garden behind the barn to keep out the estimated 20-30 deer that graze in the back pastures every night. I’d rather not feed them until they have to feed me.

Getting out of the cities and suburbs is always a smart thing to plan for. I was fortunate to be able to do it now instead of in five or ten years. I can’t call my new farm a “bug out” location because it’s still not remote enough. But it’s a massive improvement on the suburban house I am sitting in right now.

*Sustainability Index Scoring System
Factor/Points
Off-grid sources of water (well, stream, pond, pool, etc) 1 pt ea.
Off-grid sources of energy (LP/LNG tank, woods, solar array, etc) 1 pt ea.
Off-grid sources of food (cattle, deer, chickens, garden, etc) 1 pt ea.
Off-grid sanitation system (septic, cesspool, outhouse) 1 pt
Elevation (per 500 ft above sea level) 1 pt
Distance from nearest major population center (per 20 miles) 1 pt
Distance from ocean (per 100 miles) 1 pt
Enhanced construction features (brick, underground, steel roof, etc) 1 pt ea.


Getting Serious

It’s been six weeks since my last post. I hope you missed me.

So what has everybody’s favorite preppertarian been up to? I’ve been looking for a farm. That’s right, a farm – or what I call the ultimate “bug-out location”. Unfortunately where I live, land is very expensive. So when I say “farm” I am really only talking about 3-5 acres of pasture like you’d find on a small horse farm.

After much reflection, I have come to the realization that my current location is not sustainable. Here on my quarter-acre lot in suburban hell, I have a long list of issues that I simply would be unable to mitigate in a SHTF/TEOTWAKI scenario. At the top of the list are the “big four” problems typical of any suburban homestead: lack of arable land, lack of off-the-grid water and sewage infrastructure, unacceptably high population density, and near-total absence of privacy.

I won’t bore you with all the tedious details that go along with real estate shopping. What I am trying to pull off is something approximating a straight up swap of my suburban property for something in the country. Selling shouldn’t be hard (or at least that’s what my agent says), it’s the buying that is kicking my ass. With a little patience I might be able to swing a three-acre horse farm about 15 miles further out of town later on this year. I’ve found a few properties just beyond my reach that have all the goods: a well, septic system, barn(s), fenced pastures, plenty of flat space for a garden, and a well-maintained ~35 year old medium sized house of solid construction. All I need is to get serious on socking away a nice fat down payment. Which leads me to my next point (and fulfills on my promise from the end of my last post)…

A big part – perhaps the biggest – of getting serious is turning off the background noise of modern life that infects us all. My reaction to the “anti-prepper backlash” that I described in my last blog entry was to cut my cable. Why bother spending over $150 a month on something that just makes you angry? Besides, if I really need TV, I can pick up about a dozen channels – in HD no less! – for free with an ordinary indoor antenna. The second question everybody asks (right after the first one “Why?”) is “What are you doing with all that free time?” Kicking TV probably freed up two or three hours of my day. What I tried to do at first was to leave that time unstructured and see what filled it. Of course, the obvious happened. My other hobbies and interests grew and that vacuum of former “TV time” disappeared. I’m reading about three books a week now (about double my previous pace), I listen to about 50% more music now too. As the weather improves and Spring gets rolling, I find I am outside much more doing healthy things.

Being outside is something I will gladly do a lot more of once I have those three acres. If I do it right, I will always have some crop that will need planting, tending, or harvesting. Oh, and there will be chickens too. And maybe even a goat. It’s called “hobby farming” and is a totally normal progression for a middle class, middle-aged, empty-nester like me. Even non-preppers get the itch to live on a farm once the kids have moved out. If you are still waiting on yours to “launch” from the nest, maybe you could announce your intention to buy a farm. The threat of non-stop chores might just do the trick!

The downside? My commute will probably increase by 200%. Sounds scary until you realize my current commute takes a mere 10 minutes. So I’ll need to spend a half hour in a car getting to work from my hobby farm. Big whoop. I know plenty of folks who have commutes twice that bad and they live in ridiculously unsustainable townhomes or suburban death-plots smaller than mine!

So, what if nothing happens?
That’s a good, if somewhat irrelevant, question. While I consider it highly improbable that “nothing” catastrophic will happen to our planet/country/society/neighborhood/economy/way of life in our lifetimes, I would no doubt be extremely relieved if, like all the Y2K panickers in 1999, I was prepping for nothing. Relocating away from population centers, moving off the grid, and learning to be more self-sufficient is a lifestyle choice that is its own reward. I would want to do it even if I wasn’t a prepper.

The world is full of people who are OK with dependency. They know no other way of living. One hand is out and the other is empty. Readers of this blog already know what I call them.