Archive for September, 2013

Urban Homestead Tour: Day 2: Part 1

I love their yard! Particularly the ornamental stream for dealing with runoff.

I love their yard! Particularly the ornamental stream for dealing with runoff.

Day two started with beekeeping. Just FYI, apparently bees will sting you if you wear black near them. Dang it- there goes half my wardrobe. The homestead of Christine Faith and Ben Gleason (ooh- a blog I need to read) had the usual gardens and chickens, but also had ducks, aquaponics, and, of course, their bees.

It looks like they use koi for their aquaponics, but a lot of people use tilapia since they can be eaten.

It looks like they use koi for their aquaponics, but a lot of people use tilapia since they can be eaten.

Just in case you didn’t know- honey bees are not native to America. They were imported to aid in pollination for agriculture. They do seem to have taken to living here pretty well, though. Well, they were doing well until recently. About 40% of the colonies were lost last year. That was something like 30 million bees. Sadly, even if you are an excellent beekeeper, your colony is still at risk because the drones (male bees) flit from hive to hive sharing both genetics and diseases.

Their land borders an open space, but that's not required since bees usually fly three to five miles from the hive for pollen and nectar.

Their land borders an open space, but that’s not required since bees usually fly three to five miles from the hive for pollen and nectar.

There are practices that can make you a better bee-keeper. Don’t use HFCS as a supplemental food source. Seriously, that stuff isn’t good for humans who use it as a part of their diet. Think about how much worse it would be if you had to live off of it after you run out of honey for the winter but before the first spring flowers have bloomed? (If you’re going to lose a colony to starvation, that’s when it happens.) Buy only new “deeps” and “supers” or make your own. There are diseases, like foul brood, that can’t be cured and can’t be cleaned from the boxes. If you happen to contract that disease, burn everything and start over. If things are going well, you still want to burn and replace your frames every three to four years and your boxes about every 10 so that any diseases and such that have built up can be cleaned out. Make sure that you have two deeps so that your bees can store enough honey to keep them through our long winters. You get any honey that goes in the “supers” on top of the deeps.

Two deeps, two supers, and their sugar water for supplemental feed.

Two deeps, two supers, and their sugar water for supplemental feed.

To get started, their setup was about $1,000. Half of that was the bear fence, a very sturdy metal fence electrified by a solar panel. She said that if you live downtown where you don’t (usually) see bears, you may not need it. However, the bear fence not only keeps out bears, it also keeps out skunks, raccoons, curious children, and anything else that might disrupt your hive. When they bought the bees, they chose a pretty calm breed that is also fairly sturdy when it comes to cold winters. However, that queen bred with a local breed. The resulting offspring ended up potentially hardier, but they’re more wild than the original set. When you do buy your first set of bees, make sure that you don’t release the queen when you release her caretakers. If they don’t have time to meet with a cage between them, they will eat her. If you lose the queen you lose the hive, since she’s the brains of the operation. She’s also the uterus of the operation, so hope for a promiscuous queen. The more often she breeds on her mating flight, the more eggs she will have, and the longer she will live. They also mentioned that bee queens were much like the queens in Tudor England. When it’s time for a new one, the worker bees will nurture several without the current queen’s knowledge. The first to hatch will then sting each of the other queens so that she’s unchallenged.

Most of the rest of the necessary gear.

Most of the rest of the necessary gear.

After the first year, which gives them time to settle in, you can start harvesting your honey. If you keep it cool (106 degrees will kill the enzymes- you can reach that by leaving it in the sun), then you will have raw honey. Raw honey is antibacterial, antifungal, antimicrobial, and good for outdoor allergies if it’s local. Also, it’s delicious.

The second stop was vegetable gardening with Allison Buckley of Buckley Homestead Supply. I really need to check that place out. It sounds awesome. Her talk was also very practical and applicable.

If you’re starting a new garden plot- dig it over today. The freezing and thawing over the winter will help to break it up in preparation for planting. You can also use cover crops like buckwheat, rye, or clover. Their roots start to break things up and they can be turned under to add organic material to your garden area. (I was talking to someone recently who mentioned that oats have absurdly long roots for loosening/holding soil.)

To the right- lasagne. To the left, a berry patch that doesn't do so well with lasagne. The berries were weeded more times than the rest of the garden.

To the right- lasagne. To the left, a berry patch that doesn’t do so well with lasagne. The berries were weeded more times than the rest of the garden.

For help with the weeds, she did try laying down black plastic. However, that doesn’t just kill the weeds. That also kills all of the soil microbes that we need for healthy soil and healthy plants. What she’s moved to is the lasagne technique. This layers cardboard or newspapers, straw, and compost. To plant, dig a hole through the layers to the dirt. As the layers decompose, they create organic material for the microbes, but until they decompose, they are an effective block for the weeds.

Don't be intimidated by compost. You're just helping things rot. Keep it moist enough, and keep it aerated so it won't smell.

Don’t be intimidated by compost. You’re just helping things rot. Keep it moist enough, and keep it aerated so it won’t smell.

Water is always an issue here. Usually it’s because we don’t have enough, so irrigation is important. I’ve been reluctant to set up an irrigation system because I assumed it was difficult. According to Allison, if you have played with legos, then you’re qualified to build an irrigation system. She offered some tips to make it easier. They’re easier to build if they’re warm, so leave them in the sun for a while, first. Once they’re built, hide them under straw to keep the sun from damaging them, but don’t bury them, since you’ll need to watch for leaks. Use a section of hose before you move to the black sections, since the connector tends to leak a touch. May as well have that leak somewhere useful. Have a section of solid flexible hose before you add the microdrip section. This will give you more flexibility for planting from year to year. Speaking of water- learn the water laws! Water barrels are illegal in town, even if you have them on a drip hose. They may or may not be legal if you live out in the county and are on a well- check first.

These girls only get let in the garden after everything is harvested, but they love to be fed the weeds from the garden.

These girls only get let in the garden after everything is harvested, but they love to be fed the weeds from the garden.

The last part was pest management. For that- shift your thinking. You want to have the least impact possible. Sometimes, that means accepting that you might have to share some with the local creatures. It might mean working a little harder by hand-picking bugs or high-pressure washing trees to remove things without harming the environment. She also suggests rotating your crops and using mini-hoop gardens because the sunshades can be a physical barrier to pests. If you do end up spraying, spray the smallest area possible, even if it’s organic. If what you’re spraying will kill one thing, it will kill other things, too, so be careful.

How awesome is this?! More on this technique in the next post.

How awesome is this?! More on this technique in the next post.

Speaking of hoop houses- she explained what went wrong with my peppers this year! Peppers don’t like cool evenings. A hoop house with even a light covering will help hold the warmth a little later in the day. This winter I will be researching and building hoops so that next year I should have a better pepper crop. The tomatoes should enjoy it, too.

Urban Homestead Tour: Day 1: Part 2

grass, urban homestead 092

I knew I’d have to do each day separately, since I’m excited about this topic and that makes me verbose. However, I thought that splitting each day in two would keep the word count reasonable. Silly me.

It's so pretty, with the little garden and the flowers.

It’s so pretty, with the little garden and the flowers.

Homestead three was a co-operative chicken coop presented by Frank Kinder and Michele Mukatis. Four families took over what appears to be an alley between yards to build a chicken coop and run. Each family cares for the flock for one week at a time, and that week is when they get the eggs from the flock. To do this well, pick your co-op carefully and communicate, communicate, communicate! Michele thinks that having laidback members helps a lot, but they aren’t so laid back that nothing gets done. By making it a group effort, the work for any one person or family is minimized while still being able to have that immediate connection to your food source. It also means that you have people to take over if you want to go on vacation.

Rhode Island Reds are a pretty sturdy and reliable breed for egg-laying.

Rhode Island Reds are a pretty sturdy and reliable breed for egg-laying.

Because they aren’t as close to the coop as, say, John was, they opted to go for a very secure run that the hens could walk in and out of at will instead of being let in and out each day. With a larger number of people invested in this coop, they had enough labor and money to make a predator-proof run. For the construction, industrial staples were strongly recommended. Apparently the regular ones pull out way too easily. They had to work out who buys the feed (two bags at a time on a regular rotation through the families), who cleans the coop (every five weeks, so that it rotates families), and how to resolve conflicts. They also had to talk about how to handle a person wanting to leave the co-op and what to do with the hens that were too old to lay. Commercial hens are generally replaced annually. However, real hens often lay for three to five years before they become unreliable. Would the older hens hang around as pets or would they turn into dinner? I suppose being on the same page as to practicality would help a lot with making that decision.

Being birds, they like to sleep off the ground.

Being birds, they like to sleep off the ground.

Again, much of the coop was made from cheap to free materials. There was a monetary investment, but you don’t have to break the bank to get started. As with most things, there is a learning process. Chickens are very scared of the sound a tarp makes in the wind. They need shade, so look for something like canvas as a non-rigid shade cover. They bed with leaves that they collect from people’s curbs and yards in the fall and leave bagged up until they are needed. When collecting leaves, though, bear in mind that oak leaves don’t break down well and if the homeowner sprays chemicals, those chemicals will end up in the chickens and their eggs. To keep predators from digging into their coop, they put down a layer of cinder blocks with the holes vertical. This allowed drainage, but most critters will give up if they run into something solid when they start digging.

Bugs are more good than bad. And your chickens happen to find them delicious.

Bugs are more good than bad. And chickens happen to find them delicious.

They learned the hard way that while you can feed chickens kitchen scraps and weeds, you really don’t want to feed them grass clippings. They get balled up in the craw and are gross to get out. If your chickens do get ill or injured, though, it looks like Pikes Peak Vet might be the only vet in town that takes them in.

grass, urban homestead 100

The last stop for the day was goats with Monycka Snowbird. At this moment in time, goats are not legal within the city limits, but Monycka is working with Council Member Jill Gaebler to fix that. After all, they’ve been legal up in Denver for two years, and they’re becoming legal in all sorts of other cities across the country. It’s about time we got our act together. Chickens are the gateway drug (everyone had chickens), but goats aren’t far behind.

Yep- that's the attack goat.

Yep- that’s the attack goat.

Major point to remember- that goat smell? That comes from un-neutered males, or bucks. They will probably never be legal within city limits due to that smell. However, wethers (neutered males) and does (females) don’t stink. Not having bucks around also means that the milk won’t be nearly as goaty. When it’s time to breed, you just take your does out of town for a date. They gestate for five months and then can be milked from 12 to 18 months, though you do get less the longer you milk them. Her goats are registered Nigerians and should produce one to two quarts each per day once they have had a kid or four. Apparently they frequently come out in multiples.

Chicken coops on this tour were anything from utilitarian to gorgeous.

Chicken coops on this tour were anything from utilitarian to gorgeous.

When you’re getting goats, you need at least two. They are herd animals and they won’t bond with your dog to keep them happy and socialized. She recommends Craigslist for finding goats. People don’t usually take good goats to the livestock auctions, so avoid those. Expect to pay $2-300 for a good goat. However, if the doe is a solid milk producer, the kids should be easy to sell since those things tend to run in the family. (Please let your goat mature completely before you breed her, though. It’s very hard on them if they aren’t quite there.)That’s also why you should check out the dam of your new goat before you buy. If she’s a solid citizen, yours probably will be, too. Make sure that your goat has been debudded. Apparently the process is traumatizing for humans to watch, but it’s done for the safety of the goat and everything the goat comes in contact with. Horns can get caught in fencing which may make them panic and break their neck. They also tend to enjoy bowling for chickens and small children, so no horns reduces injury to the creatures being bowled for. This has to be done when they are no more than a couple of weeks old. There’s no way to do it later.

A meat rabbit.

A meat rabbit.

Speaking of fencing- goats are smart. Once they figure out a way out, they won’t forget it. This includes the dog-door into the house. Your fencing needs to be secure to keep large predators out, but it also needs to be really secure to keep the goats in. Your pet dog may or may not make friends with your goats and chickens. Dogs are predators, goats and chickens are prey. Not all dogs are able to see them as something to be protected rather than something to be eaten. Goats are also very territorial. They may learn to accept the house’s dog in their territory, but they do not like dogs they don’t know at all. Not even if you take them out hiking with you. Yep, they’re smart enough to be leash-trained and to carry packs. As an odd aside- apparently goats and pigs are mortal enemies, so you might want to pick one or the other for a small backyard.

Everyone that wanted to got to try their hand at trimming goat feet.

Everyone that wanted to got to try their hand at trimming goat feet.

Everyone has heard that goats will eat anything. It’s not true, though. They are browsers, not grazers, so they will not mow your lawn, but they will mow down your blueberries that you imported special soil to grow. They will also demolish a garden in record time if it isn’t fenced very well. However, once their hay is pulled out of the feeder and hits the ground, they won’t touch it. They also won’t get hungry enough to give in. They would rather starve than eat something they don’t like. On the other hand, they will taste anything, so watch out for shirt hems and paper in their presence. The eating results in lots of pooping- however, healthy poop has almost no smell and it doesn’t need to be composted before it goes on the garden. The lack of smell also means that it attracts almost no flies. If they do get into something they shouldn’t, there are only two vets in town that take them- Dr. Valch and maybe Airway Vet.

This picture was not altered in any way . . .

This picture was not altered in any way . . .

Chickens are pretty easy, but goats require a bit more from their owners. Not only do you have to keep them from tasting things that might make them sick, you also need to trim their hooves to keep their feet from rotting. (Unless you want to hire me to do it. I could totally be the goat farrier.) They are an awesome addition to your homestead, but make sure that you think harder about the responsibilities than you do for chickens.

Urban Homestead Tour: Day 1: Part 1

Gardens, chickens, ducks, doves, rabbits, cats, and a pair of very friendly dogs. All in one urban back yard.

Gardens, chickens, ducks, doves, rabbits, cats, and a pair of very friendly dogs. All in one urban back yard.

It was pure chance that I stumbled on the schedule for the first annual Urban Homestead Tour, but I’m so glad I did. Each homestead had a 45(ish) minute presentation staggered so you could attend all four of them each day. Each homestead was also open for four hours so that you could come before or after the crush if that worked better for you. It turns out the turnout was a bit more than expected. Next year, presenters, could you have the homesteaders do two or four presentations during the open house to spread out the mob a bit? It’s only going to get more popular, and some of the yards weren’t set up in a way to handle large audiences. That being said, even if I missed some parts of some of the presentations, each one gave me a good dose of information. So much, in fact, that you’re only going to get an overview here. You’ll have to come out next year to get the whole scoop.

It's a treadle sewing machine! That she uses!

It’s a treadle sewing machine! That she uses!

The first stop on the tour was Kathy Olson, formerly of Couch Comfies by Kathy. Her topic was fiber arts. She was a fantastic start because when she asked me if I was a homesteader and I demurred (I consider myself to still be aspiring to that title), she asked if I canned, or froze, or sewed? I don’t can at the moment, but I’ll get serious about freezing once my freezer arrives, and I do knit. I guess I do belong with these folks! She then described the best way to freeze herbs. Wash and dry them, lay them flat in a ziplock bag and squeeze the air out. Once they’re frozen, you can just open the bag to cut off what you need.

She made the bear when she was 12, and he's sitting on her first quilt and other samples of very doable quilting.

She made the bear when she was 12. He’s sitting on her first quilt and other samples of very doable quilting.

Once her talk started, it was pretty clear that her approach to fiber arts was both practical and welcoming. Quilting is basically being able to sew straight lines. But don’t be afraid to quilt something other than, well, quilts. She was wearing a pretty quilted vest, and she had several examples of gifts including pillows and wall hangings. She, personally, likes to knit hats and scarves herself to match them to her coats. As for practical, her biggest hint for quilting was that if it doesn’t work quite the way you intended, finagle it until it does work. The odds are that no one else will know that the pattern isn’t quite what you’d intended when you started. The other option is to box up “mistakes” to look at later. If you start an afghan today and get bored, you might be ready to finish it two or three years from now, so hang on to what you’ve done.

Yep, looks like homesteading to me.

Yep, looks like homesteading to me. Yum.

Did you know that Amish quilts always have a flaw because only God is perfect? They aren’t the only culture that has some variation of that idea. Did you know that if you get a genuine antique quilt, you’ll probably find an even older, worn out quilt inside of it acting as the batting? Waste not, want not, you know. Her suggestions for beginning homesteaders are to make it Convenient, Organized, and Not a Chore. The easier you make it for yourself, the more you can do. Also- patterns are really just suggestions.

Coooookies! (All American Sun Oven)

Coooookies! (All American Sun Oven)

The second stop was John and Louise Conner to learn about chickens. However, we were first greeted by the scent of baking cookies. The sun oven is so good that it even works in the winter, if you have enough sun. It’s a bit pricy, but apparently if you find them on Facebook, you can get some decent discounts on it. The other thing that greeted me was that the yard looked, well, normal. I could see having friends over for a picnic in that yard and not weirding out your non-homesteader friends. Of course, how the yard comes together does depend on how much you put in it and how it’s shaped, but it was nice to see the variety of possibilities.

It looks so normal . . .

It looks so normal . . .

He started off talking about reading a whole lot of books when he was thinking about getting into chickens. He read them, and promptly forgot most of the information. Most of what you will learn will be from experience, but knowing it’s in one of your books to refer to will be useful. His two favorite books are Keeping Chickens by Barbara Kilarski (a friendly intro to chickens) and City Chicks by Patricia Foreman (a more in-depth look at them). He also suggested backyardchickens.com, warning us that it’s got such a huge group of people that it might be a little intimidating.

. . . until you get to the cool part.

. . . until you get to the cool part.

The city rules are up to 10 hens and no roosters (although apparently you can have as many as you want if they’re under 6 months). He finds that four hens can be a bit excessive since it’s just he and his wife. During the summer, hens usually lay daily. They taper off in the winter unless you fool them with extra lighting. The city requires two square feet inside and four square feet outside per chicken. John (and other presenters) pointed out that if you give them more room outside, they can accept less room inside. They just come inside to lay eggs and sleep, generally. Most back yards aren’t big enough to have genuine “free range” chickens- particularly if you intend to do anything else with it. However, the more room you give them, the happier they will be.

That's a happy chicken.

That’s a happy chicken.

When it comes to housing, he suggests keeping it close to the house since you will be going out twice a day in any weather- letting them out in the morning and locking them up at night. However, you will need around a 10’X10′ space that gets sun in the winter which may determine where the coop goes. He purchased plans for the coop- the Playhouse coop– but the run was constructed from broken dog runs. Freecycle, Craigslist, and dumpster-diving seem to be a part-time job for most of the homesteaders, but you get some pretty awesome results from re-thinking how to use cheap to free objects. When you’re placing and building your chicken coop and run, you need to bear in mind that chickens will probably destroy the ground in their run- they love to dig- and we have a lot of predators. Even if you don’t have a neighborhood bear, you will be dealing with foxes, coyotes, birds of prey, cats, and dogs. This is why you lock them up overnight. It’s easier to make a perfectly secure coop than a perfectly secure run. The other thing that you need to think about is having enough ventilation but no drafts. If you get it right, chickens don’t need a heater in the winter. He also chucks in old leaves for them to shred and peck at. Once they’re broken down, he’ll scrape the top layer out of the chicken run for lovely compost.

The world would be a better place if more street corners looked like this.

The world would be a better place if more street corners looked like this.

He doesn’t like using the word “sustainable” for homesteading since it’s been co-opted. He’s got a good point. These days, it’s about as meaningful as “organic.” The word he likes is “resilient.” During the Black Forest Fire, one of their major concerns was the fire getting to the highway and shutting it down. Not because of the commuters to and from Denver, but because most of our food comes via Denver. It would be possible to find other ways to get the food here, but it would be a lot further and a lot more expensive. As I mentioned in my last post, most cities have about three days worth of food. However, if you have a garden and a couple of chickens, a hiccup in the food supply isn’t that big of a deal. Heck, if you’re also canning and freezing, you might not even notice that the stores are short on stock.

It Never Rains . . . But It Pours!

Step one: Check out these photographs: http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=82090 and Step two: After you put your eyes back in your head, here are a few numbers for you: http://krcc.org/post/high-costs-colorados-high-water-numbers Step three: After you put your eyes back in your head again (really, it’s not good for them to do that), here’s a video from down by me: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y_Hgcl2ltSg Colorado Springs wasn’t hit nearly as hard as they were up north, but it’s been rough. Manitou Springs has been dealing with flooding all summer because it was built on a flood plain (not so smart) and is now downhill of the Waldo Canyon burn scar (not so lucky). All of those trees and plants that got burned are no longer able to slow the flow of water down the mountain. They’ve also been having trouble in both burn scars with flood mitigation. Because they’re in the mountains, they simply can’t get the big machinery where it needs to be. While there are some amazing people doing amazing things to protect both the mountain and those of us at the bottom, they are limited if they only have the tools they can carry in.

Summer

I apologize to my readers for not being around much this summer. I’ve been a little busy, and my depression has been kicking my butt. Between the two, I just never made it on here to post anything.

My depression is actually part of my interest in food, gardening, and nutrition. I have been working with a book called The Mood Cure by Julia Ross. Her basic premise is that a large number of our mental and emotional health problems are actually due to being malnourished. Our brains aren’t being given the amino acids, among other things, that they need to function correctly. The explosive increase in problems is linked to the increasingly un-nourishing food we eat. It sounds silly to say that Americans are malnourished, considering how large we have gotten. In fact, Colorado (the thinnest state) is now fatter than Mississippi (the fattest state) was in the early ’90s. However, obesity is also linked to malnourishment. A body will eat until it gets what it needs to maintain itself. What it needs is more than the almost pure calories that so much of our food has become. If it only needs 2,000 calories worth of food to get the necessary macro and micronutrients, it will be able to stop there. If it can’t get the nutrition without eating 10,000 calories worth of food, then it will remain hungry until it gets them.

I feel confident saying that without supporting links, because in my own n=1 experiment, the more nourishing my food, the less I eat. The more I adhere to the eating guidelines and supplementation from The Mood Cure, the more balanced I am. “Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food.” Hippocrates, 400 B.C. For some reason, the medical profession has forgotten this little gem. Can we drug it? Can we cut it? Can we tell the patient that they’re imagining things? If one or more of those work, why would the food they ingest even be considered? Granted, there are mental and emotional (and physical) problems that do require the intervention of drugs and surgery. However, drugs and surgery should be used for what they are- treatments for acute and severe dis-ease. They were not designed for (and often don’t work well for) the management of chronic or mild problems. Of course, there would be much less money to be made in the medical industry if patients could manage and cure their own problems by changing what they bought at the grocery store or picked out of their gardens.

On a lighter note- here is a brief overview of what I’ve been up to this summer:

Ranch Rodeo 065

 

I went to the local ranch rodeo. Real cowboys doing the sort of things they do in their daily lives. The other rodeo, Pikes Peak or Bust, is pretty cool- but not as cool as this one.

Ranch Rodeo 056

A pirate and a cowboy. Game over. He wins.

Ponies, garden 008

Yep- I get to live here. This was from a hike on the West side of Pikes Peak.

Ponies, garden 006

I did some weeding for a client.

Ponies, garden 007

It gave me a whole lot of time to think. And to realize that having Hotel California stuck in your head is a major bummer when you don’t know the whole thing. I can’t wait to see what it looks like, though, when the grass finishes filling in.

Ranch Rodeo 003

Lastly, I’ve been spending time at Ruby Ranch Horse Rescue. This is Mack making sure we don’t forget his noon meal. He’s more accurate than the clock.

Ponies, garden 033

These two, Olive and Olivia, went to their new home on Labor Day. Olivia took forever to be born, but she was pretty independant from the moment she hit the ground.

Ranch Rodeo 067

Also- chaps and wranglers.