December 17, 2018

Heritage Wheat Fail

Something I've been wanting to grow is heritage wheat. We've been growing our own wheat for several years now, but it's commercial seed purchased in a 50-pound bag from the feed store. By growing our own we avoid herbicide and pesticide contamination. Also, the glyphosate (round-up) that is used by commercial farmers to kill and dry the crop evenly for processing. Plus we can improve the nutrient content. But it's still modern wheat, which has been so "improved" over the past couple of decades that it's causing a lot of health problems for people. As with all things industrialized, these "improvements" designed to make the crop more profit-friendly not human-friendly. All excellent reasons to switch to a heritage type of wheat.

Several years ago I bought a packet of Egyptian wheat seed.

Egyptian wheat that I grew the summer of 2015. 

It grew well but I didn't realize it is actually a large-seeded sudan grass rather than a true cereal wheat. There's certainly a place for that as critter feed, but I was disappointed because I wanted a true wheat for making bread.

This year I decided to try again. The problem was that I was unable to find bulk seed. I could find small quantities of an ounce or 500 seeds or so, but not enough to plant a quarter-acre like we usually do. Even those small amounts are pricy. The Heritage Grain Conservancy website offers an excellent variety of heritage wheats, but they want $25 for an ounce of seed! That is counter-logical to me. If one wants to conserve something, doesn't it make sense to get it growing by as many people as possible?

Fortunately, Baker Creek Heritage Seeds had several old wheat varieties on offer, so I decided to try Red Fife, a landrace wheat.

Landrace types are old heritage types with a diverse genetic base. That means that they are adaptable to a number of conditions. I figured I'd have the best chance with that.

Red Fife can be planted in spring for a spring wheat crop, or in autumn for winter wheat. Winter wheat has always worked well for us because of our mild winters. It was only sold in ounce packets, so I figured I'd grow one bed as a seed crop. No special soil preparation is necessary, but I added a little compost to the soil because I chose to plant it where I had grown our summer's corn.

I mixed it with ladino clover seed for added nitrogen and planted in mid-September. Three months later the bed looks like this -

Bed in which I planted wheat and clover.

Doesn't exactly look like wheat is growing there, does it? That's because it isn't!


If you look closely you can see some of my clover growing. But except for a blade or two of grass which may or may not be wheat, I'm chalking this experiment up as a fail. I'm going to give the bed a deep blanket of mulch and try heritage wheat in another spot next year.

Thankfully our commercial wheat patches are growing well.

Winter wheat mixed with clover it looks like lawn at the moment.

We plant about a quarter acre, from which we harvest enough wheat berries to last until the next year's harvest. Hopefully, as we improve our soil we'll improve our yield. My goal is to harvest enough for our year's supply plus enough to save seed for the next crop.

 Heritage Wheat Fail © December 2018 

December 14, 2018

Our 2018 Homestead Goals: How'd We Do?

2018 will be over in just a little over two weeks! Can you believe it? It's time to take a look back over the year and see how well Dan and I accomplished the goals we set for the year. I blogged about all of these fairly recently so I won't go into detail. You can follow the links if you missed those blog posts. In a nutshell, here are our goals and how well we did.

1. Finish the barn


2. Pasture Improvement and Fencing


3. Continue working on the house 


How about you? Were you able to accomplish much on your new year goals list?

December 10, 2018

Something I'm Glad I Recently Bought

Blogging this morning from the public library because our internet is down. Here's why -

What we woke up to Sunday morning.

After an inch of rain on Saturday, we got three inches of snow overnight. Plus, everything was coated with ice.

I dread ice worse than snow. While our northerly neighbors get snowed in under feet of snow, we get iced in by as little as a quarter inch of ice. It coats absolutely everything and makes it near impossible to drive (or walk) anywhere. It's not uncommon for tree branches to be so heavily laden with ice that they break and fall onto power lines. That can mean days or weeks without electricity.

These two pine trees didn't fall on power lines, but they fell on pasture fence!

What's interesting is that Dan was just talking about thinning out some
pines to mill into posts for his carport repair project. Here they are!

Fortunately, we only lost power for two hours. I know some areas in the Southeast are still without, so I'm thankful we didn't have it worse. Still, it made me glad I recently bought something that has been on my winter preparedness to-get list for several years - an Ecofan.

Top of the line AirMax 812 model

It sits on top of the woodstove and makes its own electricity from heat differences between the top and bottom of the fan (technical explanation here). It's a brilliant off-grid way to help circulate heat, because heat from a woodstove typically tends to stay in one room and be slow to move to other parts of the house. Our ceiling fans help with that, but when we lose power they're of no use. That's why I've had my eye on an Ecofan.

It's a bit pricey, however, so when I noticed a huge price drop for it on my Amazon wishlist, I thought, I can live with that. Most folks seem to agree that we're in for a severe winter, so it seemed prudent to finally invest in one. I clicked on the link and discovered that the nice price was for Prime members only. The rest of us would just have to pay the not-so-nice price (unless, of course, we wanted to join Amazon Prime, hint, hint).

That annoyed me. I immediately deleted the Ecofan from my wishlist and set off on a search for a better price. I found it too, at Tractor Supply. Fifteen dollars cheaper than Amazon's exclusive price and with free shipping to my home. I bought two.

So what do we think and how do we like it?

I'd hoped for a photo with blurred spinning
fan blades, but my camera wouldn't cooperate. 

Dan was dubious at first, but after using it for a week or so, we both agree that the house is warmer. And with smaller fires. We can position the fan to direct heat toward us, into the next room, or down the hall. That means that rooms which rarely benefit from woodstove heat are warmer than without the fan.

Whirling away on the back of the wood cookstove.

We still do other things to help the house stay warm: close off rooms that aren't in use, keep curtains closed unless the sun is hitting the windows, and open or close specific room doors to direct heat where we want it.

The only thing I wish I'd known before I bought it is that the Ecofan has a little motor which is recommended to be replaced every several years. Looking back over various web advertising, I can't find that information anywhere, but it was in the leaflet in the box. That's not a deal breaker, but it's disappointing because I'm not keen on things that need me to keep buying stuff for them. It would have been nice to know this beforehand, but that's the downside of shopping on the internet (and fodder for another soapbox).

Still, I'm happy to have another useful item crossed off my preparedness list. It's well made and has some heft to it, so in spite of the one downside, I would still recommend it. For the mechanically minded, here's a link for a DIY model.

A technician is coming out tomorrow to look at our modem, so hopefully, I'll be able to respond to comments and return blog visits soon.

December 3, 2018

Developing a Pasture Management Plan

This is the last part of my blog series on sustainable pastures. 

Pasture improvement was one of our 2018 homestead goals because good forage is one of the most important elements in my goats' diet. Good forage consists of grasses, legumes, and forbs or edible weeds. Forbs are herbs or other broadleaf flowering plants that add variety and nutrition to the livestock diet, as well as plant diversity to the pasture. True weeds are what I call anything that the goats won't eat! Here are some examples of true weeds I have problems with.

I don't know what this is but the goats don't eat it and it shades out the good stuff.

Grasses and clovers are shaded out beneath weeds like these and struggle to grow. Because the goats don't eat them, they tend to dominate.

Another serious problem is ground ivy.

Ground ivy is a real problem in one of the girls' areas.

The goats don't eat it either. It spreads vigorously and chokes out everything we want to grow. We have one paddock that we now estimate to be about 70 to 75% ground ivy. That same pasture once grew clover and orchard grass!

Another discouraging weed is horse nettle.

Horse nettle flowers

Horse nettle berries.

It's a nightshade, so it's toxic, and it has nasty little thorns that can pierce even garden gloves. The tips of the thorns break off in your skin and fester. It always leaves some root in the ground when pulled, so it's impossible to eliminate.

Weed problems like these point to several causes. One is mineral deficiencies or imbalances in the soil, the other is improper management. Grazing animals will eat what they like first to the point of killing it. That leaves the stuff they won't eat to take over.

So what's the answer? According to Joel Salatin in Salad Bar Beef the first step toward weed control is to start rotational grazing. By not letting stock eat the good stuff down to oblivion and giving it time to recover, he says the forage in a pasture will not only recover but can be completely changed. Other graziers confirm that, even though it seems incredulous to me.

So we've made a start. To plant, I undersowed the existing forage with as diverse a seed mix as I can, both perennials and annuals: wheat, oats, winter peas, perennial rye, hairy vetch, chicory, radish (both garden and Daikon), oregano, lespedeza, turnip, timothy, orchardgrass, non-endophyte fescue, alfalfa, birdsfoot trefoil, rape, small burnet, sanfoin, kale, buckwheat, phacelia, sudex, and a variety of clovers (red, crimson, sweet, and several kinds of white). Next Dan mowed the standing growth to mulch the seeds. Then, I started stringing electric fence.

So far I have one pasture seeded and subdivided into three paddocks.

The corral gate controls whether they can enter paddock #3,

or have to go down the corridor.


An experimental gate controls whether they can enter paddock #1 or #2.

The wire runs through a makeshift pex pipe arch.
The baby gate directs which side they can enter.

After it runs through the pipe an alligator
clip fastens it to the wire on the other side.

So far the girls have been cooperating. They've all had their noses zapped so there's no trying to break through to somewhere else. Amazingly, no one has tried to break through or jump the baby gate. They love the fresh forage and know that's where I'll lead them, so they follow willingly.


Something I didn't understand at first is mob grazing. Joel talks about it in his book, but I had trouble grasping the concept. Now that we've started this rotation plan, however, I'm seeing the mobbing effect in action. Because the goats are in a relatively small area, they are competing for the best bites and aren't so choosy. Initially, they spread out.

Forage is pretty spotty right not, so it doesn't take them long to eat it down.

But soon there's competition. In trying to eat everything so no other goat can get it they create a "mob."

The result is something like this...



The tops of all plants are eaten and the rest is trampled down. The eating stimulates plant growth and the trampled leaves and manure break down to feed the soil microorganisms. Folks who practice this say the land responds in a positive way and begins to produce more good livestock forage and fewer weeds. The other plus is that this management method sequesters large, measurable amounts of carbon in the soil.

The last step is to rest the paddock until the plants have had a chance to recover and new growth is shooting up. Then the girls can go in again. We started this in autumn, however, which means plant growth is slower. There are a number of days when they have to go down into my "sacrifice" area, i.e. the woods. But it's acorn season now, so they don't mind.

Browsing in the woods.

I plan to do a similar setup for the bucks.

If you've hung in there with me to the end of this post, then it's probably because you are interested in sustainable pasture too. Here are links to my other blog posts in this series.

December 1, 2018

Spread Some Holiday Cheer

I think most of us can relate to the concept of economic self-sufficiency. There is a definite appeal to the idea of having a home business or at least making money from products we create ourselves. I want to encourage you to explore avenues this year for unique handcrafted or independently produced items as gifts for family and friends. It's the best way to optimize your spreading of holiday goodwill and cheer. You'll not only bestow it on the receiver of the gift, but also on the maker of the gift.

Of course, as an indie author, I include myself in that category. Still, I realize not everyone is looking for books or perhaps not my books; therefore the appeal to consider buying from indie producers in all categories. Or, leave a good review. That's a gift in itself.

My own offerings include an eBook that has been out of print for a while - Goat Tales. It's one set of tales from my paperback Critter Tales. Click that link to get a "Look Inside" at Amazon. If you're an Amazon Prime member, it's free! Anyone who loves goats or farm animals in general would enjoy this, I think.

My other offerings include Prepper's Livestock Handbook. Best current price for the paperback is at Amazon, where it is now 30% off list price. Also, Amazon is offering a $5.00 off coupon when ordering $20.00 worth of books. But you'll have to hustle because that offer expires at 11:59 p.m. PT on Dec 1st. It's a good deal for a book lover!

Prepper's Livestock Handbook is also available for Kindle and NOOK. If you are a Barnes & Noble shopper, they are offering a 10% discount coupon, details here, but it ends Dec. 2nd.

5 Acres & A Dream The Book is also nicely discounted at Amazon. Currently 40% off, it's at the best price I've seen so far. Combine that with the soon-to-expire coupon and you can stretch your gift dollars.

Unfortunately, with Amazon's print-on-demand publishing department switching from CreateSpace to Kindle Direct, they are recommending price hikes. This is because KDP apparently uses a more expensive printer. I think many authors are raising prices, so now is the time to buy books (especially with the coupon I mentioned above).

This might also be a good time to mention that next year  Acres & A Dream The Book will become Book 1 in a series. So much has changed since I published that book that a sequel is in the works.

Critter Tales, is not discounted.  😞 But I still think it's worth it, LOL. It contains tales of animal antics along with much of my research into sustainable livestock care and how we've implemented it.

How To Bake Without Baking Powder is another of my prepper books and the only one in my How-To series that is available in paperback as well as ebook. Amazon hasn't discounted it either, but it's not unreasonably priced. I notice that shipping is free, even if you buy the one book! Combine it with that soon-to-expire discount I mentioned and you can have books for gifts as well as yourself. If you choose the Kindle edition, you can get a 75% credit toward more Kindle books.

The rest of The Little Series of Homestead How-Tos are a collection of ebooks. You can see a complete listing plus where to buy, here. They are $1.99 each, but the first volume, How To Preserve Eggs is always free!

Well, I had to get in a plug for my books at least once this year. I never wanted to turn my blog into one big ad, and I haven't, because as much as selling books makes me happy, I value my online community even more. I don't want to be constantly pushing things at you just so I can make money. If you do buy my books, however, a hearty Thank You!

So spread some holiday cheer this year, and support your favorite authors, weavers, woodworkers, spinner, knitters, blacksmiths, potters, (etc.) with uniquely special gifts for family and friends.

 Spread Some Holiday Cheer © Dec 2018