permaculture

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You CAN do it!

We made a video of how we process chickens today, just for fun.  July 25th is the date you can come and learn how to do this at home.  It really isn’t hard!  Raising chickens is an easy place to start in raising your own meats–and you CAN do it all yourself.  Check it out:

Fencing

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This week we moved the smaller feeders out into a fresh pasture.  That brought to mind an important topic for anyone considering adding livestock to their repertoire.  One of the most crucial factors to the success of raising animals of any sort is having the appropriate fencing.  We say this from hard experience.  In the range of difficulty, goats are by far the most difficult to fence, with cows and horses being about the easiest.

Because we use our pastures for multiple species, we’ve invested in a woven wire perimeter fence and then use electric to protect the fence and subdivide the fields as needed.  Electricity is the essential ingredient for all fencing.  You can fence just with electric, but we’ve found that the combination is a good guarantee of positive neighborly relationships.  Here is how the pig fence is set up:

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The standoff electric fence is about 6-8 inches off the ground–right about where the pig’s nose snuffles along.  We make a point of “electric fence training” them before they go out into a bigger field.  You can subdivide a field using the wire at about 6-8 inches and another at about 14-18 inches.  We’ve used various types of posts and insulators over the years.  We came into some fiberglass pipe recently and it works really nicely for electric wire.  Pigs have a great respect for electric fence, but are contiually checking it and will sometimes figure out that they can run through it.  That’s why we use a woven wire fence to back up the electric.  Note the yellow insulator up high.  When we have cows in this pasture we can run a wire at the top to keep them from leaning over the fence.

The key to a good system is a good fencer.  Plug in fencers are great.  They are powerful and reliable.  We use several of them near the barn.  Solar fencers give you the flexibility of containing and moving your animals anywhere you need them.  You don’t have to buy the most expensive fencer, but don’t buy the cheapest either.  A good quality fencer that is more than adequate for the space you’re electrifying is a worthwhile investment.  This fencer has an insulated “hot” wire running to the electric fence and is grounded on the woven wire fence.  Be sure that your fence is grounded well.  We’ve chased animals back in (especially goats) more than once only to discover the sand around the grounding rod was bone dry and not working as advertised.

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This is one example of an easy way to pasture birds.  Turkeys, hens, ducks, geese don’t like the confinement of a “chicken tractor.”  They need to roam, but can do a lot of damage to gardens and flowerbeds if they can wander anywhere they like.  The feathernet fencing keeps the birds in and predators out.  It can be electrified, which is a very satisfying way to convince racoons to leave your hens alone.  You just need two fences: one in use, the other set up around the next section of grass so that you just shoo the birds into the next net, close it up, and leapfrog the first net to the next section of grass.

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Then, there are always the ones that won’t cooperate and find the alfalfa is higher on the other side of the fence.  However, our sheep doesn’t stray far from her herd mates, the dairy cows, who are on the right side of the fence.  Plus, since we have the whole pasture woven wire fenced, she won’t be eating the neighbor’s daffodils.  This fence does work really well on the cows and horse.  A single strand of electric fence on a step post contains the animals and is easy to move using the same leapfrog method as with the feathernet.  With the dairy cows, someone goes out to move the fence and open up new pasture while the cows are up at the barn to get milked.

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Being able to put your animals on grass is the key to utilizing your resources to the maximum.  Weeds become feed, which in turn yields to you the most nutritious food possible, whether it’s eggs or steak.

Pastured Poultry

Remi, Jadwiga, and Rudina proudly display their hand-plucked chickens in last year's class.

 

Polish farmer Remi and Mark discussing how to work various enterprises together on a farm.

Polish farmer Remi and Mark discussing how to work various enterprises together on a farm.

Remi, Jadwiga, and Rudina proudly display their hand-plucked chickens.

Remi, Jadwiga, and Rudina proudly display their hand-plucked chickens.

Our Pastured Poultry class in June featured an international flare.  Two of the students had come all the way from Poland to learn how to raise animals on Pasture.  Remi and his wife Jadwiga have worked with SAND International  to learn vegetable production for many years.  Now Remi wants to expand his hilly 9 acres on the edge of a small Polish town to include pastured chickens and sheep.  They chose to attend an Anyone Can Farm class because we are located on about the same latitude so farming conditions will be similar.  Remi faces other challenges that make sustainable farming appealing: his land is pretty much all fairly steep hillside, and gas is about $8/gal. so gas powered implements aren’t an economical option.

Remi and Jadwiga enjoyed the many aspects of the farm, like collecting eggs.

Remi and Jadwiga enjoyed the many aspects of the farm, like collecting eggs.

Remi soaked in everything about chickens he could.  A lot of the lessons were firsts for him!  He had never slaughtered an animal before, never handled many of the power tools used to build the chicken tractor in class, and has never seen a diversified farm that strives to make everything compliment the whole.  Remi already composts vegetable matter on his farm, so the compost piles and how we use the animal wastes to build compost that then makes better animal feed was of interest to him.  He also made a point of discussing the pigs and the rotationally grazed cows with Mark.  He even helped Mark move the cows on Saturday.  He felt he carried enough information away from the weekend to start at home with his large plan for his small acres.  The weekend was a success!

Hosting folks from Poland, as well as their American hosts who had experience in India, Liberia, and Poland made the class an educational experience for us, as well!

We hope to meet YOU at the next class, July 19-21.  You can still sign up!  The next weekend class is Hog Harvest Days,

In this video, Mark explains what a Pastured Poultry class involves:

Nature

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Here is anDSC03160other example of how the first permaculture principle can play out with animals:

Anyone who’s raised animals very long can tell you that sometimes things go wrong.  They aren’t really “Acts of God.”  Things were designed to work a certain way and when it goes wrong it usually involves nature, as in “the nature of the beast” (literally).  Animals have a way of looking at the world, and when they become difficult it’s usually because we aren’t understanding their viewpoint and meeting their needs. (Temple Grandin is a proponent of this if you want to read about it elsewhere.)

Last night was a case in point.  Our youngest group of chicks is about 3 weeks old now.  They needed to transition out of the brooder, but Joe didn’t have space until Monday and needed to let the next pen dry off before he moved them.  They had sustained a couple of losses, but were generally doing well.  Then, Tuesday morning, Keith came rushing in: “I have a BIG problem!”  Apparently the thunderstorm the night before, or the humidity of the storm, or something caused these easily stressed birds to panic and they “piled.”  They climbed on top of each other seeking comfort, suffocating the ones on the bottom.  It can be ugly, but it’s their nature.

This started out as a group of 600 chicks.  By the time Joe and Keith got it sorted out and various ones had revived once rescued from the pile, Keith counted 169 dead.  Ugly doesn’t begin to describe the feeling.

They cleaned up and Joe moved the chicks into the next pen.  The chicks had been very stressed by now—big storm, moving, new and unfamiliar surroundings.  Then dark descended.  By their nature, they wanted the comfort of their big, solid walls and low ceiling.  This big, open pen scared them.  So they started to do what they do when looking for comfort.  They started to pile again.  The “Act of God” was that Joe, contrary to his nature, decided to check on them again after he was nearly in bed for the night, and came back over at 11:30.  We lost about 10 or so birds, but that’s all.  We gave them walls and a ceiling and rigged a heater.  That was all they wanted, after all.  We put more wood shavings over top of them once they settled in, shut the lights off, spread the last few who were determined to pile out to the edges, and said goodnight.  By their nature, they don’t move much during the night.  We’d provided the security they desired, with a little extra warmth to boot.  That was all we could do.

I’m happy to report that we lost zero chicks during the night.  At 6:30 this morning they were running around, chirping happily, drinking and eating and dust bathing.  They were in and out of their security area and generally looked very happy with life.  It doesn’t take much to be happy when your brainstem is bigger than your brain.  Those of us with the cognitive capacity just need to slow down sometimes and consider the nature of things, and go with it.

Now, Kimi the bull-who-climbs-through-small-holes-in-the-wall is a story for another day.

Intro to Permaculture and Soils, this Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday.  Come learn a new way to look at your “farm.”

Soil

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Picture 081Last night we attended a seed saving class taught by Craig Schaaf.  In all the seed information, Craig slipped in some great soil information.  As a seed saver, the mineralization of his soil is very important.  A well mineralized plant is one that is grown in soil with plenty of trace minerals–not just the potassium, nitrogen, and phosphorus that concerns most gardeners or farmers.  A well mineralized plant is healthier, more disease and pest resistant, and produces a stronger seed.  It’s fruit or produce tastes better and will keep longer.  He recommends testing your soil through a lab like Biosystems: Soil testing and consultation services, who can do a trace mineral analysis for you.  Trace minerals are the minute but essential nutrients a soil needs to have healthy flora (good bacterias and funguses) and fauna (worms, nematodes, etc.) that in turn help plants to grow strong, resilient, and productive.Kelp is Craig’s recommended all-purpose amendment.  It contains about 60 trace minerals, all of which are readily available to the soil life and your plants.

One mineral tip Craig shared concerned heavy, clumpy clay soilssoil types_0.  Michigan has clay areas interspersed with sandy stretches, so this is an issue here.  When we were in Montana we encountered “gumbo.”  That’s the heavy, clumpy soil that defines such soil.  It is the stuff that gives you platform shoes on a rainy day.  What this soil type is strong in is magnesium.  That is a binding mineral.  Calcium is the antidote mineral.  They have the same polarity (and therefore attractiveness), but calcium is stronger and therefore limits the binding action of the magnesium.  This is an example of how knowing the mineralization of your soil can make a huge difference in your garden.

Thought for the day:  “The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.”  Elbert Hubbard

Remember, Anyone Can Farm!

Permaculture

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per·ma·cul·ture

/ˈpərməˌkəlCHər/
Noun

The development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient.

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“Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted & thoughtful observation rather than protracted & thoughtless labour; of looking at plants & animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single-product system.”
Bill Mollison (from the permaculture.net website)

I’m learning what permaculture is.  This is a course that will be taught by someone else (Penny Krebiehl and Craig Schaaf), so I have a functional knowledge, but not the technical knowledge needed to teach it.  In many ways, it seems to me that permaculture is what our great grandparents did, whether they lived on a city lot or an 80 acre farm.  They studied their situation, which included the land, the climate, their social situation (this was important in the water sharing west as well as the urban areas), and their total resources.  They figured out the best way to get the most production, both food and financially, that their situation would allow.  They sought to work with the land as much as possible because they didn’t possess the petroleum means (tractors, fuel, fertilizer) to force their will.  This is, to my understanding, the essence of permaculture.  It’s the construction of a productive system that uses the components to benefit and sustain each other. 

A row of chicken "tractors" marching across a field.  The birds leave behind well fertilized forage for the next grazers.

A row of chicken “tractors” marching across a field. The birds leave behind well fertilized forage for the next grazers.

On our farm, we graze animals to build the soil to grow healthier plants to have food to graze the animals on.  For our efforts we get meat, milk, and eggs.  Plus, the animals provide the raw material for compost to enhance the soil of our garden so we have good vegetables.  Any organic “waste” from the butcher shop or milk processing (such as whey when I make the family’s cheese) goes back into the system one way or another.  This is one example of permaculture.

Since soil is the key to growing anything, it is a critical component in building your permaculture system.  Craig Schaaf is an experienced farmer and respected teacher of this kind of agriculture.  Craig has modeled his farm on Eliot Coleman’s work, focusing on soil building to achieve amazing harvests from small spaces.  Craig will be teaching us how to use what’s naturally available to us to build a well mineralized soil that can support intensive planting.

turnipsThis is a class that I anticipate will be of great use to beginners who just want to know where to start.  I recommend it as the starter class if you’ve never grown a thing in your life. Permaculture ideas provide an umbrella for you to understand sustainable, organic type farming.  Soils are the foundation of all growing.

I also anticipate that this class will be full of information for those of us who have been growing all sorts of things for most of our lives.  There is a lot to know about permaculture and soils and building a sustainable system.  Your farm or garden will benefit from your time with Penny and Craig.  We will be inside learning the basics, but also out in the field applying what’s in the books.  In this class you can learn:

  • Principles of permaculture – your guides as you observe and plan.
  • Ethics of permaculture – how to apply the principles to your land and your life.
  • Soils – applying permaculture to the foundation of all that you will grow.
  • Design – Planning your food growing enterprise with permaculture principles and ethics in mind.

Hope to see you here!  Introduction to Permaculture and Soils

Planter ideas

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Yesterday we enjoyed an afternoon in Cadillac, sitting by the lake, chatting with passersby.  It was the kick-off for Transition Cadillac’s “200 Yarden Dash.”

DSC03389-001I saw a couple clever ideas I thought I’d share.  Vickie Purkiss was demonstrating this modified raised bed.  It’s made from hay, although she said straw was recommended.  She added the dirt and compost mixture a couple of inches deep.  Then she planted the cabbages into the dirt.  The plants were wilty because they were in a cold breeze and weren’t used to the outdoors, but she said she’d had good success with this method before.

DSC03387-001These are very basic outdoor plant beds.  One lady I talked to lives in an apartment, but wants to grow more of her family’s food.  They have a small yard and are going to have a few rabbits and use one or two of these beds for vegetables.  They won’t have to dig up the yard for their garden, and the beds are easily mobile when they move.

The class that seemed most appropriate for many people just starting out was the Soils and Permaculture Class.  Soil is so basic to any food enterprise, whether it’s vegetables or animals.  It’s important to learn about managing it well no matter what you want to do.  Permaculture is a fancy word for getting an overview of your property/area and figuring out how to manage it as naturally as possible.  This class is a good overview and basic skills primer for all the other classes.  Plus, you can see how we use it with both plants and animals and can figure out how, say, 5 layer hens in your backyard can be used to benefit your lettuce and beans or begonias.  It’s a great beginner class, but I’m looking forward to it as well.  You can follow the link to learn more about it, and sign up with “buy now” button.

Hope these ideas help spark some thoughts on how you might “farm!”

Permaculture

Students learning to lay out and plant a garden.
Moving chickens behind beef in a pasture is an example of permaculture practices with livestock.

Moving chickens behind beef in a pasture is an example of permaculture practices with livestock.

I’m working on the Permaculture and Soils course today.  Here are some thoughts from Penny Kriebel, who will be working with Mark to instruct the course:

 

Students learning to lay out and plant a garden.

Students learning to lay out and plant a garden.

 

“O’k Permaculture Design, Penny Krebiehl:

Taking a permaculture course can be very inspiring, and for me and many others awakens a whole load of creativity, positivity and eagerness to be a part of the solutions for our world. I took my first permaculture course in 2005, with several more to follow.  Why did I repeat a permaculture course? I wasn’t “held back” nor did I fail the course, I decided to continue my study and apprenticeship and because of the value of learning from many different teachers.  Each with a shared permaculture language, yet, like the Baker family with their experience in farming and animal husbandry, shared their own passionate understanding and skill set.

In 2009 I traveled out to NY state and completed an intensive and incredibly valuable Permaculture Teacher Training with,Dave Jacke, author of Edible Forest Gardens.  Since that time, I’ve also worked alongside of permaculture teachers, Peter Bane, author of Garden Farming for Town and Country, and Keith D. Johnson, who are also editor and co-editor of the Permaculture Activist Magazine.  I feel honored to continue my study and practice of permaculture with a plethora of experienced teachers and students and have only named a very few here, but definitely recognize and credit them with being amazing, inspiring mentors, and while feeling very, very grateful.

Through the years of adopting my own permaculture life-style practice and then starting to teach, I realized that permaculture was more than just gardening and it could be used to really transform our lives and transform our relationships and turn us all into happier, healthier people.  I’ve always planned my “career” and paid work around the needs of my family, and included my own children in the design of my working hours.  Since 1997, I’ve worked at and tweaked  a creative curriculum which has ultimately taught permaculture to children as young as age five, through college age.  I’m pleased to say that in teaching my most recent permaculture design course in North West Michigan in 2012, I was able to work alongside of a remarkable group of adults, upwards to 69 years old.

Much information about permaculture is available electronically, in books and published on the web.  But honestly, the most valuable learning experiences have happened when I’ve been immersed in a learning and sharing community that an on-site permaculture course offers.  The people part of learning permaculture in a class or workshop setting is a way to consciously mimic what happens in the natural world, and has proven over and over again to be an amazing adventure in knowledge-based skill sharing.

In permaculture design we try to turn around the limiting factors of a system, so if we’ve got something that’s limiting us it becomes one of the aspects we pay attention to in our design. This is where we ask – how can we use the permaculture principles and design in all areas of our lives?

Penny at Bakers Green Acres

I’m pleased to be invited as a part of the Anyone Can Farm teaching staff and share whatever I can of my passion and learning of Permaculture Design.

Penny Krebiehl

231-922-2014

penny.ok.art@gmail.com

www.pennyokart.com    “

 

Check out the class, which runs May 24-26.  Hope to see you here!