Category Archives for "On the Homestead"

How to Bathe a Guinea Pig (Steps by Steps)

You might be thinking about getting the best guinea pig shampoo out there, but this must be a safe guinea pig shampoo, of course. Well, a guinea pig will allow you to have a lot of fun because this animal is truly gorgeous.

You need to keep your guinea pig truly clean because this will allow you to have fun with it for a long time. But you need to read the right information about how to do this right away, and you should not spend an arm and a leg to keep your guinea pig looking good at all times.

We are going to let you know how to clean your guinea pig as soon as possible so you can truly get what you want. The tips we are going to give you are not hard to do, and you will manage to use them right off the bat. Therefore, we encourage you to continue reading so you can know more.

Wash It

You have to calm the guinea pig before bathing it. You need to understand that the animal might become afraid or anxious because it does not know what you are going to do. Use a damp cloth to wipe your guinea pig’s fur as soon as you can too.

Use a container and pour just two inches of water into it. Put just a small cloth on the bottom of your container so you can prevent your guinea pig from slipping down the road. Lowering your guinea pig right into the water is something that you have to do right away too.

Use warm water to rinse your guinea pig as soon as you can. Scoop warm water with your hands to achieve this goal. You have to make sure that the fur of the guinea pig is wet after pouring the water into it.

You have to use shampoo right away so you can rub it onto the fur of your guinea pig as soon as you can too. Warm water should be used right now to rinse the fur of your guinea pig, and that will be awesome for you down the road too. Make sure that you use enough warm water over the food of the guinea pig.

Drying It

Use a clean towel to dry your guinea pig right away too. You have to wrap the guinea pig up gently as soon as you can too. The towel will get rid of most of the moisture over time. You have to towel dry the fur of the guinea pig now.

You need to brush the fur of your guinea pig as soon as you can too. This is useful if you have to deal with a long-haired guinea pig down the road too. Using a hairdryer is also great, yet you have to use this machine with all the caution in the world too. This machine is useful if you are in a cold climate.

Keep It Clean

Keeping your guinea pig clean is not as hard as you might have thought these days. You just have to change the bedding of the animal once every day, and that is all. You need to both disinfect and clean the cage once every single week down the road too.

You need to spot clean as needed too. You have to take a look at the cage of your guinea pig once per day so you can keep it free from any dirt out there. Keep the animal’s play area or hutch free from dirt.

Keeping your guinea pig looking good is not as hard as you might have thought because you can do this quickly and easily at all times. Make sure that your guinea pig is not afraid of you before starting to clean it these days too.

Remember that you will need to use warm water and a towel to achieve your goal. And getting a high-quality shampoo will also help you a lot down the line too. Make sure that the towel will be clean so you can truly clean your guinea pig down the line too. Keeping your guinea pig looking terrific is not hard because we have told you what you have to do right away. Do this and have fun down the line too.

Simple ways to celebrate the holidays without breaking the bank


Editor’s note: This story, by Jennifer Cazzola, was originally published in the Dec. 2013/Jan. 2014 issue of From Scratch. Read that issue here. Read more from Jennifer at the Black Fox Homestead.

The holidays are a time to celebrate with our family and close friends but often times our schedule is so overloaded with holiday parties, shopping, and entertaining, that the season can pass by without spending quality time with our loved ones. Not to mention the fact that gift giving can be more of a financial burden than a blessing.

With that in mind, here are a few ways that will give the gift of quality time together, that shouldn’t break your budget.

Have a pre-holiday tea

Begin the Christmas season with an intimate afternoon tea. Tea fare need not be fancy or expensive. It can be as elaborate as scones and finger sandwiches, or as simple as a single tea cake. In addition to an assortment of teas, provide coffee, and perhaps punch or sparkling cranberry juice for the non-tea drinkers among your guests. Light lots of scented candles, play some soft music (Thomas Newman’s Little Women Soundtrack is a good one) and provide an atmosphere of peace and tranquility where guests can visit and reconnect before the holiday rush sets in. If schedules are already beginning to fill, consider allowing guests to come and go at their leisure.

Organize a skating party

Whether you are fortunate to live near a picturesque pond, or an outdoor rink, invite your guests for an afternoon of skating together. Bring along a basket of scarves and mittens to keep warm, as well as a thermos (or two) of hot cocoa. Extend the afternoon by inviting everyone back to your home for chili or beef stew and old fashioned board games such as Yahtzee, Monopoly, or Sorry.

Host a cookie exchange

Cookie exchanges are the most popular and obvious way to lighten the Christmas baking load while enjoying a nice visit with friends. However, it can be the gateway to a sugar overload at a time when neighbors are already bequeathing you with tins of holiday fudge. If you feel you might be cookie-ed out over the holidays consider a soup exchange or even a casserole exchange instead.

Invite a small, intimate gathering of friends to bring a batch of favorite soups or casseroles and a visit over a cup of coffee or cocoa. Allow everyone to leave with enough healthy food to get them (and you) through the rest of the holiday season. Don’t forget to ask everyone to include a hand written recipe with their offering.

Host a gift wrapping party

A gift wrapping party is another way to lighten what can be a heavy load while getting in a visit. Provide a large table, a few snacks, and a marathon of classic Christmas flicks. You and your friends can enjoy the time together while accomplishing a mammoth task that is often put off until the last minute.

Some things to consider in advance:

  • Holiday schedules begin to fill quickly. Schedule your event and contact your guests as soon as possible.
  • In an era of email and Facebook a handwritten invitation sent by post can be a gift in and of itself.
  • To lighten your load and expense, allow guests to pitch in with the food.

Alpacas: Not just a pretty face

An alpaca suns itself in the summer sun. Photo by Renee Henry

Photo and story by Renee Henry

Wondering why it seems like you are seeing more and more adorable alpacas inhabiting local farms and homesteads as you drive through the countryside lately? Pondering what the fascination is with these unusual creatures? Alpacas are growing in popularity as a welcome livestock addition to many small farms and homesteads as word spreads about their gentle manner and practical uses.

Alpacas, members of the Camelid family, are smaller than their Llama cousins, typically weighing in between 100-200 lbs. and standing at approximately 3-4 feet tall. Their smaller stature makes them easier to manage than some larger livestock, and they can be transported in vehicles as small as a minivan.

There are two types of alpaca: The Huacaya and Suri. Huacayas have a thick, crimpy, fluffy fleece, and Suri alpacas grow long, silky fleece that often looks like dreadlocks. They are a herd animal and therefore it is recommended that you should always keep two at a minimum, although once you get a couple it is easy to get hooked on acquiring more. A three-sided structure is recommended — at the basic level – to provide a windbreak and storm protection, and fencing is necessary to keep them safe from predators such as coyotes and dogs.

Alpacas are a low-impact variety of livestock, as they can subsist on smaller pasture areas and they have soft footpads rather than hooves which means they do less damage to their pasture. Generally, one acre of grassy pasture can support a herd of up to ten alpacas. In addition, their food is supplemented with grassy hay (approximately 1-2 lbs. of hay per day) and grain, especially in winter or times when grass is less plentiful.

Maintenance is fairly low-key and much of it can be managed by their owners once a few skills are learned. Most importantly, alpacas must be shorn once each year to remove the thick coat of fleece that they grow. This should be handled by a trained and skilled shearer in order to avoid any harm to the animal and to ensure that the fleece blanket is removed properly to maintain its value as a commodity to your homestead or hobby farm. Alpacas are sturdy animals evolved to withstand the cold temperatures of the Andes Mountains and in order to keep them comfortable and healthy they need to have their heavy fleece removed before the temperatures soar in Spring/Summer. In addition to shearing, alpacas require occasional trimming of their toenails and regular vaccinations against the Meninga Worm, which can be deadly to the animals. (you can use these trimmers)

The fiber produced by an alpaca is praised for its warmth, softness, strength and fire-resistance, and can be a great resource for your homestead business. Alpaca fiber has a hollow core, which boosts its thermal capacity, making it warmer than sheep wool and other fibers. Nothing beats the cozy warmth and water resistance of a knit alpaca hat or scarf on a bitterly cold day. Additionally, alpaca fiber is considered to be almost completely allergen free because it lacks the lanolin oil that naturally exists in sheep wool – meaning that it can be worn even by those with allergies to wool products.

After shearing, the fleece blanket can be sent out to a fiber mill for processing and is a real delight for hand spinners and fiber artists who enjoy more hands-on involvement in the processing of fleece. Fiber can be carded into roving for use in many needle felting and wet felting craft projects. It can be spun on the spinning wheel to create soft and luxurious yarn to knit and crochet into ultra-cozy apparel. Alpaca fiber comes in twenty-two natural shades! Colors range from white, grey, black, brown, fawn and a multitude of gorgeous shades in between. It is also very suitable for dyeing, making it possible to create a virtual rainbow of colors for use in handmade projects. If homespun yarn and fiber art is of interest to you, consider the ways in which having your own source of this fine fiber can help you boost production of handmade items to sell from a homestead shop, or perhaps offer classes in fiber processing (carding, spinning, dying, knitting) to create a source of income.

Many homesteaders focus on best practices to support production of their own food sources, and here, too, alpacas can provide added benefit. Alpaca dung, commonly referred to as beans because of its similar appearance to coffee beans, is a nutrient rich source of natural fertilizer for garden production. It is generally high in nitrogen and potassium and is not considered “hot,” meaning it can be spread directly onto garden plants without the risk of burning them. The herd uses communal dung piles, which makes it easy to quickly scoop up and remove manure from their pasture areas and use it directly in vegetable gardens or add it to composting heaps for later use. Many alpaca owners find a source of income through packaging and selling their surplus beans to local gardeners who are eager to get this power-packed fertilizer into their own garden beds.

Alpacas are quiet, gentle creatures. As they munch away on pasture grass, you will notice the subtle humming sound they make to indicate their contentment. Many owners will comment that they find themselves just hanging around the pastures to enjoy the peace and calm of the alpaca hum. While they are not overly friendly, alpacas are good-natured and rarely display aggressive behavior (males will sometimes spit and tussle to assert dominance in the herd). Alpaca babies, known as crias, often enjoy being petted and older animals can usually be hand fed grain as a treat, which is a real delight for visitors to your farm. No one can resist snapping a picture or two of these beautiful, doe-eyed creatures while visiting, and the lure of their “exoticness” can be an additional boon if you are working to create foot traffic to support a homesteading business.

Renee Henry is a fiber enthusiast residing in rural Western New York, where she and her husband and two children are learning about and practicing sustainable living while gardening, raising a flock of chickens, and lending a hand at her parents’ alpaca farm. A graduate of SUNY Geneseo, Renee works at a local community college and enjoys working with the many facets of processing and crafting with animal fibers.

Righteous Bacon

photo provided by righteousbacon

A self-proclaimed guacamole addict, Diana Prichard spends her days deep in the heart of Michigan on a hog farm. As a farm, food and political blogger, she shares her exciting life with a captive audience. We had a chance to talk to her recently.

When you were young your mother told you that you should marry a hog farmer? What made her come to that conclusion?

Yes, an Italian Hog Farmer to be precise. I’m not sure, exactly, but suspect it had something to do with my unique ability to put away a plate of spaghetti that weighed more than I did and my tendency for having champagne tastes on her beer budget. She must’ve been under the impression that hog farmers make a good living. She was wrong, but the benefits are paid in bacon so I keep at it.

Tell us about Olive Hill.

I joke that it’s my quarter life crisis. I was working full time and taking more than full time credits in my pre-med program in college when I decided to be a farmer instead. In hindsight it was probably more of a miniature mental breakdown than a purposeful decision making process, but it’s led me in an amazing direction so I can’t complain. Worn down and feeling lost, I’d gone AWOL from classes for a week.

I was on a trail ride with a good friend in the back forty, the fall breeze ruffling the soy beans beneath our mares’ bellies. As I vented about my schedule my friend planted a seed, suggesting I might be happier doing something else. Shortly before that I’d undergone a battery of tests for what looked like at the time to be ovarian tumors. They turned out to be cysts and nothing serious, but during the process I’d written a bucket list that had included “raise chickens for meat.” My mare’s name was Olive and, as they say, the rest is history.

Since then the farm has gone through several incarnations. We began with those chickens, just for ourselves. The next season we raised more and then more again later in the season, selling first to family and friends and then friends of family and friends of friends. The third season it kind of ballooned into this thing with a mind all its own. It was all wonderful experience, but I’m enjoying the more refined nature of the operation now. These days we have just the pigs, raising heritage breeds and their crosses on paddocks and in dirt and deep-bedded pens. We sell pork locally, direct from the farm, and we’re looking into wholesale opportunities for later this year.

You recently visited Africa with ONE (a grassroots campaign of more than 3 million people committed to the fight against extreme poverty and preventable diseases). What was the experience like? How did it change the way you view the world?

You know, I went into the experience very much expecting to be changed, but I think I just came back stronger and more rooted in who I already was. I’d like to think that means I had a strong sense of self and perspective before I left. I never felt like those things came easily growing up so it’d be quite a triumph for me at this stage in life. All the same, it was an amazing experience that I will never forget. When I first came back I wrote that I wasn’t so much moved to give as I was moved to do, to take action. That feeling has really stayed with me throughout the journey of re-entry and re-acclimation to our western ways. The people of Ethiopia gave me a tremendous amount of hope for the future and renewed my faith in our ability to make the world a better place.

The programs that are working on the ground in Africa, and Ethiopia specifically, are making tremendous strides and all in ways that empower the people to do for themselves. It’s not all drop shipping food and water like is so often purported. The initiatives they have for educating farmers were, of course, especially interesting to me. Like all of their programs it’s really a full-circle effort, teaching everything from farming techniques to educating families on ways to prepare the new crops they’re growing so as to maximize the nutrition.

Above all, I’d say the people of Ethiopia taught me a lot about resilience and joy; two things on which you simply cannot put a price tag.

You do a lot of work helping farmers connect to their communities with social media. What advice do you have for farmers who are trying to get their message and products online?

Patience and persistence. Bringing up a social media presence is kind of like bring up livestock. They can’t fend for themselves at first. You’d never throw a chick or a calf or a pig out in a field and expect it to survive without a little help. You can’t throw your social media presence out there and hope for the best either. It takes time and you’re not going to net any results until you’ve at least raised it up to market age.

What is a typical day in the life of a woman hog farmer/writer/photographer in the middle of Michigan farm country?

One of the really great things about being a small operation is that we’re not doing the same thing every day. Our chores are still cyclical. Some are static, of course — feeding, watering, bedding, general tending — but things like farrowing, weaning pigs, castrating, and shipping pigs to the processor are all intermittent. I tend to write and shoot in the down times. When we’re busy with those “extras” there is less writing and less photography happening, and when we’re slow with just the everyday tasks I spend a lot of time behind the Macbook and camera.

What advice would you give other women who are taking a similar path?

Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. I see a lot of new farmers wanting to completely reinvent the wheel just for the sake of reinventing the wheel. It can cause a lot of headaches. You don’t have to agree with everything someone does to get something out of what they do. Pay attention, dig until you find the ‘why’, that’ll tell you something about how to go about change if change is what you desire. And you may just find that once you understand the ‘why’ change isn’t the goal so much as refinement.

How do you see the food movement in the United States? What would you like to see change?

I’m really excited about what I see happening in the food movement right now. There seems to be a greater sense of cooperation emerging, more willingness to listen and learn. These are the conditions under which real innovation comes about and that makes me very hopeful.

As for change, I’d like to see more of our prominent food and ag voices coming from farms. Right now most of our big food and ag names are people who are writing from behind desks in NYC, Berkeley, and so on and so forth. They’re sitting in urban centers, surrounded by concrete with no real life experience in fields and barns. That’s a big problem and aside from my farming aspirations, it’s something I’m really trying to change.

What do you see as the future of Olive Hill?

I’d like to do more wholesale, more farm tours and ag education. I’d love to open an on-farm shop and classroom to facilitate that. We’ll see. Right now we’re just focused on the hogs, turning out the best pork we can and growing smart rather than fast. Quality is important to me. Balancing flavor, production practices, and economics is our first priority in whatever we do.

What people/experiences have inspired you the most?

My Grandpa, who we called Poopsie, hands down. He and my Granny had a whole herd of kids, as was customary of German Catholic farm families of their time, and the family lore is that he ruled with an iron fist. I never saw it and I guess I’m happy about that. It allows me the luxury of seeing him through a smitten child’s eyes forever. He was the main cook in the family long before feminism made engaged fathers a thing. He was a gardener and I remember the smell of his musky cologne and tiny tomato plants filling the back porch of their farm house whenever we went for a visit in the late winter and early spring. He passed away when I was a teenager. I was far too cool to ask him about his gardens and recipes at the time and I regret not having had that chance a bit.

We asked Diana what her favorites were. Here’s what she said:

Favorite Farming Books

I’m one of those really nerdy people who choose to read things like ‘The Nutrient Requirements of Swine’ for fun. I also waste inordinate amounts of time digging through dusty boxes in antique shops hoping to find farm manuals and cookbooks from decades ago. Unfortunately, this makes me absolutely worthless at recommending books that people can 1) find and 2) will find at all entertaining. A few that I’ve enjoyed recently have been ‘Food In History’ by Reay Tannahill; ‘Blood, Bones, and Butter’ by Gabrielle Hamilton; and ‘The American Way of Eating’ by Tracie MacMillan. Not exactly farming books, but related.

What music are you listening to right now?

Barton Hollow by Barton Hollow.

Favorite Blogs?

My friend Karen Walrond of Chookooloonks inspires me on a daily basis.

The folks at Frog’s Leap Farm fulfill my tomato lust.

I visit What Katie Ate regularly just for the photography. Her ability to capture texture in food photography is unrivaled.

Favorite bacon recipe.

Bacon Cabbage Homefries. I love warm, hearty fare. If it can’t be eaten with your fingers I prefer it to be something best suited to a bowl.

Canon or Nikon?

I shoot Canon, but have to be honest. I chose my first Canon simply because of the brand name recognition, I knew it was a good company that would stand behind its products and knew nothing about Nikon. I’ve been pleased with that assumption, but I’m not as rabid about my brand loyalty as many.

Adventures in the dirt

Jenna Woginrich, of Cold Antler Farm

Jenna Woginrich, of Cold Antler Farm, in Washington County, New York, is a blogger, writer, farmer, shepherd and musician who is inspiring the world with her unique journey. From Scratch magazine had the chance to talk to Jenna about her life, farm and inspiration.*

What made you decide this was the lifestyle for you? How did you get started? Did you have any mentors?

I started farming shortly after I graduated from college (with a degree in graphic design, not agriculture!) because of an experience I had in the Smoky Mountains. It’s a long story, including a near-death experience and a 35-ft tall waterfall but to put it bluntly: I realized life was short, and if it wasn’t for a grocery store and gas stations I had no idea how to live it. So in the spirit of those first pioneers in the Southern mountains I did as they did. I moved west. I got on some rented land. I learned beginner livestock husbandry through bees, rabbits and chickens. I learned to cook and sew and bake bread. I even taught myself the fiddle. It was in their honor and out of a love of the feeling of independence it welled up in me.

I did have a few mentors, most notably a fellow coworker in the office I was working at named Diana. She taught me the basics of chickens and bees, and showed me it was possible to have a farm and a desk in a cubicle at the same time. Something I never would have thought possible.

Tell us about your farm.

Cold Antler Farm has had many incarnations, and is currently on its third. It started on a rented ex-cattle ranch in Idaho, then moved to a log cabin in Vermont, and in the spring of 2010 I bought my first ever scratch of land. I now proudly own and farm six and a half acres of a mountainside in Jackson, New York. Here I raise sheep, dairy goats, pigs, working horses, poultry, honey bees, rabbits, and vegetable gardens. It’s become my full time job to keep this place (and its home online: running smoothly.

Who helped bring Cold Antler Farm to life?

Cold Antler is my home, and I am the only person who lives here, but it is the work of hundreds of people and thousands of readers around the world. The list of people would be too long to print, but know that none of this was a one-woman operation. I had mentors, neighbors, coworkers, family, relatives, friends and organizations create the farmer I am now.

How did you make it self-sufficient?

It’s not entirely self-sufficient yet, but that is the goal. I moved from oil heat to wood stoves shortly after moving in. My goal to move towards solar and wind keeps me saving my pennies. The animal systems are not a full-circle. I need to buy in hay and feed for my animals, because I can’t grow it. I have adapted to bartering though, and learned I may not have enough trees to grow all my firewood but I can trade lambs or sides of pork for cords of wood, and so even if I can’t create everything I need to keep the place moving, I can trade for a lot.

What has been your biggest achievement so far?

I think buying the farm has been the biggest step, but what feels like the biggest achievement has been taking on horses. When I started homesteading five years ago I would never think I would be putting a harness on my own cart horse and driving down the road with lines in my hands across the country just five years later. Learning to ride, drive, and live with my wonderful Fell Pony, Merlin, has been as magical as it sounds. He changed my life, my self esteem, and gave me courage I didn’t know I had.

What has been your biggest challenge so far?

I find it is the finances I have the most trouble with. The reality of any business is it needs capital to keep moving and growing. I had to adapt and change to the very true fact that I needed a lot of money to do this and didn’t have any. It required a lot of sacrifices, penny pinching, and learning to do things like barter for basic supplies and move from shopping at Banana Republic to Goodwill. When I left my job to do this full time, it got even harder, but the mortgage still gets paid and the blog readership grows and I feel like I am winning a secret game every morning I wake up here and don’t have to drive into an office. It’s not easy, but it is so ridiculously worth it.

What advice would you give someone who is just starting out?

Start now. Go out to your bookstore or library and get a book on your agricultural interest. Visit local farms, become a CSA member, or ask to be an intern. Turn your vacation time into haycation time and instead of going to the beach, go to a workshop on dairy goats or fiber management. If this is something you want, you can have it, but it requires constant immersion in a new world. Go get it!

What is a typical day in your life like?

I wake up around 5 am, winter and summer, and head outside to do morning chores. There are no tractors here, so I carry buckets to troughs, carry bales of hay and bags of feed, and check the health and status of the animal crew here. My border collie, Gibson, is always by my side. Together we herd and watch our animal staff go about their lives of life and birth, and in some cases death. I raise pigs and chickens for the table, some lambs too. I would love to tell you what happens next on a typical day but it varies so very much depending on seasons and the farms needs. For example, an April day would have me checking for new lambs and getting shots in babies and tails docked. A June morning would have me knee deep in the garden weeds, or plowing a field with Merlin for a pumpkin patch.

An October day could be cider apple collecting and pressing, or hosting a workshop. Regardless, every day I write and every day I make time for some good meals and exercise. My day is book-ended with another set of evening chores and I head to bed early. Some nights I tie one on, but most nights it’s a book or a fiddle by the wood stove and a dog curled up at my feet.

What do you see as the future of Cold Antler Farm?

I see it growing as I grow, becoming larger and more productive. I’m sure i will find more adventures and bigger pieces of land. I hope to find love out there in the dirt as well. Right now it is as open a book as could be, but my thoughts are positive and my main focus is to help get other people who want this started and thriving. For all the kindness I have received it is the least I could do.

What would you like your legacy to be?

Luceo Non Uro! (I shine, not burn!)

Story by Melissa Jones

Photos provided with permission by Cold Antler Farm. Originally by Jon Katz.

Beekeeping: 10 Questions to Ask BEFORE you get Started

If you are remotely interested in sustainable living or homesteading, chances are you have toyed with the idea of beekeeping. And why wouldn’t you? You love honey, you need bees to pollinate your plants in order to grow food, and who doesn’t appreciate making a little Do-Re-Mi on the side? If you ask me, it would be silly NOT to want to be a beekeeper. BUT (and this is a large BUT) there are, in fact, many reasons why you shouldn’t keep bees and many things to consider before you grab your butterfly net and start climbing trees to catch a swarm.

1. Is it legal in your city/town to own bees? Do you live in a HOA?

If it’s against the law, research ways you can make an appeal, educate others, start a petition, and see if you can get the law changed for your area. I see too many people that buy bees regardless of the laws then end up being forced to re-home them, fined, and even sued. Avoid this by knowing your rights beforehand.

2. Is any member in your family allergic to bees?

It is still possible to own bees if you have allergies but extra safety precautions need to be taken.

3. Does your homeowners insurance allow it?

Ask before getting bees and inquire about adding additional liability in case of accidental stings.

4. Do you have a location out of high traffic areas?

Bees like to stay high and dry with a wind break and protection from the elements; boggy, wet areas should be avoided.

5. Can you provide a water source?

A beehive can drink up to a liter of water a day.

6. How close are your neighbors? Will the bees bother them?

You always want to keep your neighbors in mind when pursuing your homesteading dreams.

7. Is there a nectar source within 3 miles?

Bees will fly up to 3-5 miles away in search of nectar but will visit thousands of nectar sources in order to make that liquid gold. Chances are, you will not be able to provide enough nectar/pollen on your property to provide the bee with what they require.

8. Will you have time?

Bees are relatively low maintenance but they do require monthly inspection & check-ups, several hours during honey extraction, regular feeding, watering and adding frames/boxes.

9. Can you afford it?

There are ways to become a frugal beekeeper, However, the average person will not have access to, or the ability to, go the frugal route and the start-up cost can be pretty hefty, so this may be something you will want to save for.

10. How Many Hives Do you Want? I ‘thought’ I wanted one; I was informed I wanted two. Why two?

So, you have something to compare your hive to. If you’ve never seen a failing hive how would you know when to recognize the warning signs unless you had a healthy hive to compare it to?

• If your queen dies and you need to merge hives. Accidents happen and life happens, or in this case death. Ordering a queen bee is not always easy or affordable ($30.00 and up + shipping for one queen) and combining colonies may be the best choice for you at the moment to avoid losing a hive altogether

• Weak colonies. Combining a weak colony with a strong colony is sometimes needed for the survival of your hive.

• Double the honey. With all of the beekeepers in the beekeeping course and the hundreds of years of combined experience, not once did I ever hear “I have too much honey”, you will never have too much honey

Article by Amber Bradshaw

You may aslo like:

Everything you need to know about Growing Heirlooms

growing heirlooms

For many of us, a large component to modern homesteading is growing fruits and vegetables for ourselves and our families. We enjoy having a little bit of control over what we’re eating and how it was grown. Growing and eating fresh produce is hands-down a healthier lifestyle and it leaves us with healthier wallets, as well. If you have yet to try your hand at growing heirlooms, there’s some compelling reasons to introduce a few into your garden this year. One of the most exciting is the hundreds (and hundreds) of heirloom varieties that you won’t find in the typical grocery store. Everyday commercial vegetables don’t begin to scratch the surface of the many shapes, sizes, colors, and flavors that heirlooms (and other open-pollinated varieties) can offer.

When you do find the one or two heirlooms in the produce aisle, they’re extremely expensive. Growing these special vegetables in your home garden will have you saving money, eating the ultimate fresh food, and enjoying intense vegetable flavors that you’ve probably never tasted before. To top it off recent studies have shown heirloom vegetables to be higher in nutrition than their half-breed cousins — the commercial hybrids. Heirloom and open-pollinated seeds can be saved year-to-year, which means that technically after the initial purchase you’d never have to buy seeds again. Unless, of course, you’re like me and can’t wait to try the next variety that catches your eye (or palate). If generous gardeners around you (and vice-versa) share seeds from their plants; you may never have to purchase seeds for your garden again.

When you plant heirlooms, you’ll be putting food on the table that has its own genes and produces true seed. But what exactly does that mean? First let’s talk about the definition of open-pollinated, heirlooms, and hybrid plants (by the way, these terms define flowers and bulbs, as well as vegetables).


Photo courtesy of: Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply/Grow

Defining Heirloom Characteristics: 

Hybrid: The offspring of two plants of different breeds, varieties, or species as produced through human manipulation for specific genetic characteristics. Seeds kept from hybrids won’t breed true to the parent plant and can actually be sterile (as is the case for some commercial hybrids).

*Hybrids should not be confused with GMOs. A genetically modified organism has been altered by genetic engineering such as placing the gene from one species (like a fish) into another species (like a tomato).*

Open-Pollinated: These are plants that are pollinated naturally (by insects, wind, water, birds, or mammals). Seeds from an open-pollinated (OP) plant will produce seedlings and fruit that will look like the parent plant. In other words, these seed varieties are said to “breed true.”

Heirloom: Heirlooms are a sub-set within the open-pollinated class. Generally, they earn their title when they’ve been handed down from generation to generation for fifty years. Let me further clarify what puts heirloom varieties into a class of their own:

1. Heirlooms have time, stability, and history behind them. But the truth is that there’s no “official definition.” In fact, some purists don’t like to put varieties into that category unless it’s 100 years old or older (most agree to the age of 50 years). One thing is for sure, heirlooms are rich with culture being brought to us courtesy of immigrants from all over of the world. Plus, many of these seeds have wonderful stories — and names — attached to them.

2. Heirloom vegetables are always open-pollinated varieties, although not all open-pollinated varieties are heirlooms. One example is when open-pollinated varieties are “created.” This happens when a plant breeder uses two heirlooms (or an heirloom and a hybrid) and crosses them in order to get certain desirable traits. The plant produced from the seed after the cross-pollination is a hybrid. This hybrid can be grown out, allowed to become naturally pollinated, and these seeds are saved.

They’re replanted and the cycle begins again and again for five years or longer. At the point where after the seed is grown out and it consistently grows true to its parent, it’s considered “dehybridized” and can be referred to as an open-pollinated variety. Are these new OP kids destined to become heirlooms? Maybe. If they’re loved and kept around for generations, these new open-pollinated plants could end up being the heirlooms of our future. After all, family heirloom varieties whose seeds have been passed down through the generations originated from cross-pollination (started out as natural hybrids) in the garden or on the farm.

3. It’s extremely important to note that no one owns open-pollinated or heirloom varieties; they remain public domain. Unlike many commercial hybrids, heirlooms have no secret parentage (as can be the case with hybrids) and they’re available to any gardener. By the way, the above characteristics belong to the open-pollinated veggies that aren’t necessarily considered heirlooms. They just may not have the extensive history as their counterparts.

Why We Celebrate Heirlooms 

Due to some misconceptions floating about, I’d like to explain that hybrid plants are not being demonized within the heirloom-loving communities. Hybrids certainly have their place and I don’t know anyone that’s actually banished them from their home garden. Rather, the idea is to celebrate and share the incredible value of heirlooms and open-pollinated plants. Here’s the part where I share what it is about our heritage plants that just rocks our world (literally).

Unrivaled flavor — I’ll be the first one to admit that any vine-ripe vegetable grown in the home garden (hybrids included) beats the flavor of store-bought vegetables any day. That said, most heirlooms have the flavor factor in spades; the prolific hybrids have a hard time competing with that. Commercial hybrids are created for uniformity in color, shape, size, yield, transporting abilities, and the ease of machine-harvesting. This isn’t to say that there aren’t delicious hybrids — there certainly are. But there’s an amazing assortment of heirloom varieties (and therefore, flavors) to please the palate.

Genetic diversity — We can thank genetic diversity for the fact that so many varieties of vegetables exist in so many different areas. Gardeners in Alaska can have potatoes just like gardeners in California all because there are varieties adapted to each environment. A big drawback to planting monocultures (a large amount of only one plant variety) is that a single pest or disease can come in and wipe out an entire food crop. Genetic diversity in a garden is the first defense against this potential threat. An excellent example is the Irish potato famine of 1845. At that time all of the potatoes grown in Ireland were a variety called ‘Lumper.’ Farmers lost all of their crops,  the people lost their food. Because the plants were genetically identical more than a million people died of starvation.

Adaptability — Heirloom plants have an inherent ability to adapt naturally over time to their environment (these plants are referred to as “landraces”). They adapt not only to the soil they’re planted in, but also to the climate.

Historically, as vegetable varieties adjusted to their environments they also developed resistances to local pests and diseases. The resulting plants ended up strong, viable, and suited to every area in the world. You can create landraces by planting an heirloom that does particularly well in your garden, saving the seeds from the best fruit, and replanting year after year.

A Little Control — Food is a basic human necessity and he who controls the seed controls the food supply. Unfortunately, about ten companies control three quarters of the commercial seed world-wide. They literally own it. You’ll be happy to know that heirlooms are owned by no one — and everyone.

A Link to Our Past — So when did “heirlooms” become heirlooms? It might surprise you to know that the term didn’t exist before the early 1980s. Before that, they were know by a different name; food. These plants were simply traditional vegetables grown in gardens everywhere — the staples of life. I find it fascinating that some of the heirlooms preserved by family seed-saving go as far back as 2000 years or more. Connected to these seeds is the history of our ancestors and who they were; giving us a basic indication of who we are. Seeds are truly living family heirlooms.

Purple Pod Bush Beans

Photo courtesy of: Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply/Grow

Those Funky, Fabulous Names 

If you aren’t sold on heritage seeds by now, their names and stories will surely win you over. Check out this small example of some marvelous monikers:

  • Drunken Woman Frizzy-Headed lettuce — You’re really going to resist that?
  • Moon & Stars watermelon — This melon literally has a big, gold moon and little starts on the rind.
  • Dragon Tongue beans — You can grow Dragon Tongues?
  • Mortgage Lifter (Radiator Charlie’s) tomato — M.C. Byles of West Virginia (“Radiator Charlie”) bred this tomato variety to bring in more money while he was struggling in the 1940s. He bred the plant for six years to achieve some stability in the variety. He sold the plants for $1 each and paid off his $6000 mortgage.
  • Rattlesnake beans — Pour these seeds into your kids’ hands and tell them to go plant some rattle snakes in the garden.
  • Tigger melon — Tigger is child-hand-sized, bright yellow with zig-zagged orange stripes.
  • Cherokee Trail of Tears beans — This bean was carried from the SmokyMountains to Oklahoma during the winter death march (1838-1839), 4,000 graves were left along that trail.
  • Mascara lettuce — Named for her brilliant red, frilly leaves.
  • Depp’s Firefly tomato — Read the name again. I’m just sayin’. 

Perfect Pollination

If you’d like to grow heirlooms and save the seed for next season’s garden, you’ll need to protect your plants from cross-pollination by other plants in the same family. The goal is collect pure seed and in order to do this, varieties are usually grown a certain distance apart (depending on the plant family), or by using physical barriers such as caging or bagging techniques. For example, pumpkin varieties can all cross-pollinate with one another, which would produce impure seed and the pumpkins produced from the next generation would end up a hybrid. I should also mention that there are times when it may not matter to you whether your plants are cross-pollinated or not. If you don’t plan on saving seeds, then it wouldn’t matter how (or who) pollinated your plants. Here’s why: When a plant is pollinated it produces the right fruit for that variety.

Let’s say the a honey bee carries the pollen from a ‘Dixie Queen’ watermelon and pollinates the flower of a ‘Crimson Sweet’ watermelon, the fruit borne on that plant will be a ‘Crimson Sweet.’ Cross-pollination doesn’t affect the resulting fruit of the first generation. It affects the seeds within that fruit. Therefore, only if you were going to save the seed from that pumpkin would you be concerned about whom was pollinating whom. One of the keys to successful gardening is choosing the right variety for your climate — this doesn’t get any truer than with heirlooms.

The best advice I can offer on choosing the right varieties for your area is to talk to your local nurseries and see if they offer varieties that thrive in your zone, find out what your neighbors are growing, and ask heirloom seed companies for guidance before you order. This year, plant the vegetables with the laugh-out-loud names, rich heritages, amazing colors, and mouthwatering flavors. See for yourself why the varieties of the past have earned their way into the hearts and homesteads of so many gardeners of today.

Chris is the gardening/home ag editor of From Scratch Magazine. She is also a freelance writer, blogger, and author of five books including Vertical Vegetable Gardening (Alpha Books, 2012). She balances family, writing, and all things modern homesteading from their hobby farm in the Northern California foothills. She’s blessed with four fabulous kids and four darling sugar babies.

It’s Time for Your Vegetables to Grow UP


When Less is Actually More

It’s obvious that growing vegetables up instead of out saves space, which opens gardening doors for almost everybody. Lack of space is certainly a great reason to start thinking vertically and that may be the road that led you to consider growing things vertically.

However, a small space is only one reason on a long list of great reasons to grow vertically. Even if you have plenty of gardening room, you may want to add vertical components in order to take advantage of the other compelling reasons to grow up.

Less Time and Work

This reason alone is enough to keep my interest. Between raising kids, working, keeping house and garden, cooking meals, livestock care, and volunteering, I lead a very full life. My guess is that you do, too! Gardening and growing fresh food is something that I strongly believe in and have no intentions of cutting out.

The question is, how many things can I grow? Most of us keep up a busy daily pace just to stay afloat, so it may feel like one potted pepper plant is all you can manage. This is the beauty of growing vertically[md]the time commitment is very little compared to what’s considered a horizontal garden bed. Of course, how much time depends on how many vertical gardens you’re tending.

I should point out that even if you choose to have a large garden of vertical veggies, you’ll still get twice as much done for your vertical plants as you would their horizontally grown counterparts. This is because there’s very little soil for you to deal with, especially if your veggies are in a container.

Less soil means less time watering for those of you who are hand-watering. Pruning plants such as berry canes, tomato plants, or fruit trees is easier. And harvesting? Harvesting is a quick endeavor when fruit is at eye level and can be easily seen and picked.

In short, your back and knees will thank you for adopting an upward gardening plan! Each of these factors also make vertical gardening the perfect method for those with physical limitations, as well. Gardeners in wheelchairs or with other physical challenges find that growing veggies up makes their hobby much easier[md]or perhaps even possible.

Less Money

Personally, this is a deal-maker for me. It’s a tough economy, right? If you intend to create raised garden beds, growing plants vertically will save you money on purchasing soil because you won’t need to build large rectangular beds. In fact, you’ll be able to get away with obtaining just enough soil for the roots of the plants. When you garden with large horizontal gardens, you’re providing fresh soil for the vines that simply rest on the soil as they sprawl; soil that’s basically wasted.

The same principle applies to compost. Compost is the best thing you can do for your garden and whether you have your own compost piles going or plan to purchase this important amendment. It’ll go a lot farther when you’re adding it only to the area that really needs it — the plant roots. I believe that no single thing benefits plants more than rich, crumbly, nutritional compost.

The building materials used for the upright climbing structures may be the area where most of your dollars go. However, this isn’t necessarily so. With a little imagination you can recycle and upcycle discarded items for the vertical garden that otherwise have been discarded.

Fewer Weeds, Pests, and Diseases

One of the best vertical gardening perks is that you’ll have very few weeds sprouting up. Even when they do rear their ugly heads, they can all be tugged out in minutes. On the other hand, with horizontal beds you’re also weeding all of the bare soil areas in-between the plants so that they don’t take over the garden as they mature. Vertical gardening has you working with much less soil surface and many times you’re starting with bagged soils that are weed-free from the outset.

Plants grown vertically enjoy exceptional air circulation — much more than most of their ground-dwelling counterparts. More air circulation around plant foliage means less trouble with pests and disease, which means a stronger plant and that will produce more unblemished fruit. And much, much less food waste due to rotting.

When plants are grown horizontally, their leaves often cover the soil leaving it damp and warm which can expose plants to soil-borne diseases. By allowing plants to grow up instead of out, you also limit their physical contact to neighboring plants. This is a major plus as plant diseases are readily transmitted through physical foliage contact. Crops grown on a support also have much fewer problems with rot, and therefore, waste.

More Produce

If the above advantages aren’t enough to have you scrambling for fencing and trellises, this one just might push you over the edge: a bigger bounty. That’s right, gardening vertically can actually increase your vegetable production. This increase in production is due to the plants and veggies receiving better air circulation and sunlight, which help maintain healthy foliage. Healthy plants with fewer pests and disease offer bigger yields, yet in a smaller space.

Ripe veggies that are grown vertically also have a much better chance of being spotted by the gardener. There are a couple of reasons that this is important. One is that you won’t pass up a perfectly ripe fruit that’s ready for the kitchen. But the other reason it’s important to keep ripe fruit picked from the vine is that for many plants an overripe fruit is a signal to halt production.

Cucumbers, for example, will produce like mad until one or two of the fruits ends up left on the vine and becomes overripe. At that point, as far as the plant is concerned, it has met its goal. It has now produced some fruit that contains mature seeds that will be part of the next generation of cucumbers. Thus, production comes to a full stop.

When vegetables are harvested ready for the kitchen (but not fully mature), the plant keeps trying by maintaining vegetable production.

Interested in growing YOUR vegetables vertically? Then you have to check out this book!


Goat Facts – 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Goats


If you have ever even thought about homesteading, then you’ve thought about getting goats. These intelligent, curious and delightful animals are often considered a “graduation” of sorts: Most homesteaders start with chickens and move onto goats before considering larger livestock.

Goats can provide homesteaders with milk which can also be used to make cheese, soap or butter. Here are ten things you may not have known about domestic goats (Capra aegagrus hircus).

  1. Goats can vary in size from the 35 lb. Pygmy goats to the 230 lb. Boer goat. Both goats are actually raised for meat production, however, the Pygmy goat is also known for its high-quality milk.
  2. Genetic tests indicate that all domestic goats are descended from the wild Bezoar Ibex of Anatolian Zagros, a part of the Middle East. Scientists believe goats are one of the earliest domesticated animals, with evidence that suggests they were domesticated at least 10,000 years ago.
  3. Goats are naturally curious. While they don’t actually eat tin cans and paper, they are often seen chewing odds and ends mainly to find out more about these objects. Behaviorists think goats chew these items to find out more about them and to see if they are edible.
  4. That curious nature may be the root of a legendary story about goats and coffee. An apocryphal story on the discovery of coffee goes like this: Kaldi, an Ethiopian goat herder, started chewing coffee beans after his goats started dancing when they ate the beans.
  5. The largest number of goats in the United States resides in Texas. Goats can be raised, however, anywhere in the United States.
  6. While calling a group of goats a “herd” is acceptable, the more proper names for a group of goats is a tribe or trip.
  7. Cashmere, the super-soft and desirable wool used in many garments, is harvested from Cashmere goats. The wool is shorn from the goats and then “de-haired” which separates the coarse outer hair from the soft inner downy coat. The softer hair is spun into yarn and thread for textiles. Originally the goats were cultivated in Nepal and Kashmir, but they are now raised all over the world.
  8. The famous fainting goats don’t actually faint. A condition of the central nervous condition called Congenital myotonia, in which the muscles of the animals are temporarily paralyzed when they panic. The condition causes no pain, but the animals do fall over. Older fainting goats, however, keep themselves braced against a wall or other support, so they don’t fall over.
  9. The London Telegraph reported last year that goats have accents. Scientists at the Queen Mary University of London discovered the calls of goats change as they grown older and move into different groups. Goats in the same group sound similar to each other as they spend more time together.
  10. Milk goats should be separated by gender. If does (female goats) are kept too close to bucks (males) their milk can take on a “goaty” flavor, influenced by the strong scent of the buck. *Although, it should be stated that this is a controversial topic for goat dairy farmers… With many people stating that they would NEVER separate the goats. And many saying that they would never dream of having the goats live together in the same quarters because of milk flavor and breeding practices.

Read more:

The GMO Question?


It is with great trepidation I wade into the debate regarding Genetically Modified Organisms and farming. But, where angels fear to tread and whatnot…

So, first things first. This piece should in no way be construed as a criticism of farmers that use GMO seed, no matter the source. Quite frankly, farming is a deeply personal decision and I cannot envision a world where farmers are not allowed to make decisions about how they farm, with the exception of obvious regulations which provide for the health and safety of all. Most farms are run by people heavily invested in their land, products and animals, and attacking them for the decisions they make to keep their farms from collapsing in an increasingly difficult market isn’t fair.

Secondly, it should be conceded, GMOs and their proponents have, by just about every measure, probably won the debate already. It’s nearly impossible to purchase some food, for the bulk of the people buying food in America, that isn’t genetically modified in some fashion or another. Our supermarket and grocery shelves are filled with foods derived from corn and soy. Michael Pollan, noted journalist and agricultural activist, pointed out in one of his many interviews or books, that nearly all of the processed food produced in the United States contains a soy product, a corn product or a combination of both (I’m not going to cite the book or interview or article: Just go and check out everything the man does, it’ll be a lot more informative than anything I’ll write here today and probably for the rest of my life).

These soy and corn products, which are ubiquitous in modern, processed foods are more likely than not derived from GMO strains.

In addition, the majority of the meat produced in America (and in many parts of the world) is produced from animals that consume GMO feed. (see the links below for specific data)

With those figures in mind, it’s hard to envision a greater rubric for success for GMO proponents.

Regarding the safety of GMO: Multiple studies have been conducted showing the safety of GMO food vis a vis human consumption. (see below for specifics)

While these studies are conducted by multiple parties, for multiple reasons, it must be noted an accusation of bias is nearly impossible to prove or disprove. No matter which side of the fence you sit on in this debate, you can go down the skepticism rabbit hole in either direction and find plenty of reasons to believe or disbelieve these studies.

I’m inclined to take them at face value, primarily because I don’t have enough background in medicine and science to dispute them. (I’ve included links below to sites that bring up potential health issues with GMOs and links that prove the safety of GMO. Pick your poison, no pun intended). In these situations, just as I trust my doctor to look out for my health, I’m in no position to argue with an expert. And, just as with my doctor, I do my best to be informed, regardless. I trust our readers will do the same.

Regarding the science of GMO: Honestly, it’s kind of cool. The science behind GMOs (direct genetic modification of organisms) is a natural progression of the genetic selection process used for thousands of years by farmers all over the world via seed selection and codified by Gregor Mendel in the late 1800s.

Genetic engineering has produced golden rice, an unqualified success in the field of genetically modified crops which has the potential to prevent hundreds of thousands of deaths all over the world from Vitamin A deficiency.

In addition, the company Glowing Plants has genetically engineered plants that glow in the dark, which has the potential to offset energy costs worldwide by replacing electric lights (I’m a sucker for anything that glows in the dark).

So, considering the above — the supercool science with all its paradigm shifting potential, the success of GMO products in world agricultural markets, all the studies verifying the safety of GMO food and the belief that farmers should be allowed to do whatever they need in order to stay competitive and economically viable through the future — how do I feel about GMO crops?

Honestly, I don’t like them.

While the science is really neat, it’s hard to ignore studies like Cornell’s that show damaging impacts on Monarch Butterfly populations from crops genetically modified with DNA from Bt, a popular, organic pesticide.

Organic farmers who use this pesticide take steps to avoid negative impacts on pollinator (including bees and butterflies) when they use Bt. That’s not possible to do with a crop wherein the pesticide is always around to contaminate beneficial insects.

Golden Corn and glowing plants are amazing, but many of the genetic modifications wind up being used to allow farmers to spray even more pesticides and herbicides on their crops. Considering the damage that’s already done to our environment regarding the use of many commercial chemicals used in agriculture, it’s hard to argue that increasing technologies that allow greater use of the chemicals is a good practice.

Additionally, the way the science is used damages the economic viability of farmers in the long term.

Seed saving and sharing is time honored method for farmers to save money and earn income.

Most of the patents on GMO crops prohibit seed sharing. While it’s completely a farmer’s choice to enter into those contracts, it seems strange to use GMO to increase economic viability of farms while removing one of the methods (seed sharing and saving) that farmers can use to be more economically sustainable.

(Also, I would argue that the use of patents to establish ownership of genetic strains is the wrong instrument. Since we’re dealing with genetic code, it seems that a copyright would be more appropriate, but that’s a separate article altogether. Whenever I feel the urge to reveal my ignorance about copyright and patent law, I’ll be sure to write that.)

In addition, the current use of genetically modified foods seems to encourage more monoculture farming, which an article from the University of California, Berkley points out has some very real negative impacts on agriculture and the environment.

So, since we’ve already established the ubiquity of GMO products and foods, what do we do?

At the very least, offering consumers a chance to support non-GMO foods seems like the bare minimum we could do. I believe mandatory labelling laws would allow consumers who care about non-GMO products to purchase them, while supporting growers and producers who use non-GMO seed and feed.

Supporting these producers allows us to make sure that crop biodiversity is encouraged, which has very real benefits, including food security, for agricultural systems worldwide.

Essentially, the more types of fruits and vegetables (and animals we raise) means our food system is more secure from disease, pests and environmental factors.

Home gardeners and farmers who believe supporting non-GMOs is important can purchase non-GMO seed and feed (like the products provided by companies like Scratch and Peck, Sow True Seeds, Victory Seeds, NE Seeds and other — full disclosure, these companies advertise with From Scratch. We sought out these companies because of their dedication to providing non-GMO options to homesteaders).

And, finally, as a country, we can support national, state and even local policies that encourage biodiversity, discourage a centralized food system, promote increased biodiversity and advocate for responsible use of pesticides and herbicides.

Related Links and resources: