Archive for March, 2009

A guest post from Eva Johansson.

All good gardeners know and work with their climate or even microclimate. They always have and always will. So why consider climate instability?


With more unstable weather and more extremes it becomes harder to plan your garden. We are likely to see greater extremes, regardless of whether it gets warmer or cooler, wetter or drier in times of climate instability.


Climate instability means that you may get more or less rain, earlier or later frosts, more or less snow, and hotter or colder weather than “normals” for your area. It means that even if you have kept records of the weather for many years, these records may mot be as reliable as they were previously. Climate instability means you may have to revisit which zone you live and garden in. It will affect what you can grow in your garden on a year-to-year basis. See this interactive map that shows how the 1990 zones compare to 2006 zones.


Here are some ways to prepare and adjust for climate instability for annual gardening.


* How to prepare/adjust if you are in an area that is prone to droughts or irregular rainfall


Make sure you have adequate irrigation. Don’t depend only on a creek or well that already has low water flows. Build back up water storage; look for alternate sources of irrigation water (well, spring). Look into water storage. If you can make a pond or dam or build a storage tank then you’ve got that much more of a buffer. On a smaller scale, rain barrels can help store water that runs off your roof.


Use mulch to cut down on water use. Avoid watering in the middle of the day when a lot of the water will evaporate before it gets to the plants. Water less often but thoroughly so that your plants grow deep, healthy roots. Dig a hole to see how far the water has penetrated.


 * How to prepare/adjust if you get too much rain


See Sharon’s post on “Water, from the Other Side” February 10th, 2009


* Adjusting to early/late frosts and unusually hot or cool weather


Sow your garden in stages, rather than all at once. The same goes for setting out transplants. By sowing/setting out over a several week period you will lower the risk of killing tender plants in a late frost. But try starting some things earlier than usual, too.


Grow a few different varieties of each type of veggie – an early, a midseason and a late tomato. They are likely to flower and ripen at different times and thus be less vulnerable to extreme weather.


Use covers to protect against frosts. Regular bed sheets work fine but are a bit heavy, get too wet if it rains and must be removed to let the sun in. Row covers specifically made to protect against frost are available from seed companies and farmers and garden supply stores. They are better than sheets, but more expensive.


Look for varieties that are bred for a warmer, drier, or cooler climate than yours. Grow a few of each. This doesn’t mean that you have to spend lots more money on seeds. Find a gardening friend or two and share. There are still a few regional seed companies that specialize in seeds for northern, southern, or dry climates. Look through their catalogs, call them and ask what does well in hot or cool weather if you are unsure.


Try some new veggies. Even if “everyone ” says they don’t do well where you live planting two or three might give you an interesting experience.


If you get too much sun, grow some tall plants “in front” to shade the tender plants. This way the tender plants will be less likely  suffer from sunscald and will need less water.


Grow a bit more than you think you’ll need. Then if some plants die due to weather extremes you might still have enough. If you end up with extras instead, you can share with your neighbors, the chickens, or even the worms in your compost.

Eva lives in BC where she keeps small flocks of sheep, ducks and chickens. She also gardens and runs a small business.

Read Full Post »

newborn-baby1I’m an Englishman, living in France, writing on an American blog: so how does that work then?  The first bit’s probably the easiest to explain as I emerged into this world, 48 years and one week ago, in the maternity unit of Northampton Hospital, thereby staking my undeniable claim to a British passport. 


Some 42 years on from that auspicious event, having completed my career, then my university education (I don’t always do things in the right order) I was invited to join some friends on their French holiday.  They had ambitions of buying a holiday home and I was just along for the ride.  However, I was nursing ambitions of building my own home and had recently become aware of permaculture.  As I dragged along behind my friends, whilst they surveyed estate agents’ windows, I started to get excited about how much property was available, often with a nice chunk of land and for no more than the price of a second-hand car. 


My friends journeyed home undecided and empty-handed, whereas I—who have a propensity for making quick, some say “rash”, decisions, —had signed up to buy a disused barn.  The die was cast, I’d build my house in deepest, darkest, rural France.

Back home in England, I began to plan the Great Escape and put my house up for sale.  I also found time to volunteer on a local community eco-build.  There I met the beautiful Gabrielle, who was, in a voluntary capacity, company secretary of the association doing the building.  Call me an old romantic, I asked her out to dinner that night, and over plates of spicily delicious Lebanese cuisine, I told her that I was planning to leave the country.  Great, she thought, if it doesn’t work out, at least he’s not going to hang around.  Just months later, I sold up, crammed my car with belongings, put the rest in storage and crossed the English Channel on a ferry to a new life.  Gabrielle’s daughter was in the final year of college, so I spent the first year on my own.  We got to see each other every six weeks or so; what do they say about absence making the heart grow fonder?

In terms of my French adventure, I was in the honeymoon period and still firmly wearing rose-tinted glasses when, on a sunny autumnal day, I came across an old mill , with a couple of fields and a patch of woodland, near a beautiful lake.  Paradise! mill-in-snow But what appeared tranquil during the summer translated into isolated during the winter and I spent a miserable first few months alone there before we jointly decided to sell up and start over.  Gabrielle’s daughter had finished her schooling by then so Gabrielle came to join me at the mill, just as we were coming back into summer.  

With the mill sold, we looked at a road map of France and realised what a big country it is,roadmap-of-france twice the area of the UK with about the same size of population.  With no family, friends or jobs to drag us in a particular direction, how to choose a place to settle wasn’t at all obvious.  During the second of a couple of fun road trips in the van, we found ourselves Brittany, NW France.  The people are warm and welcoming; they see themselves as Bretons first, then French, which perhaps makes them more open to strangers.  There’s a strong cultural tradition of their history, patrimoine  (sort of heritage of land and architecture) music and poetry.  This time, we followed the advice we’d read in books, which suggested renting for six months before committing to buying property.  Convinced that Brittany would work for us, we searched for somewhere to live, with a building plot for our proposed straw-bale house and enough agricultural land to grow fruit and vegetables and raise a few animals.

We moved into our 3-acre site three years ago and also had the good fortune to buy 11 acres of mixed planted woodland nearby.  We live in a commune  of 200 people.  (Quick precision here: France is divided into 38,000 communes, the smallest administrative subdivision, which could be a village, town or city.)  We’ve made great efforts to integrate since we’ve been here; the most important of these is learning the language.

gabrielle-with-violin1Gabrielle plays her violin in a local traditional Breton dance group and, during several weekends in the summer, she can be seen in traditional 18th century Breton dress, serenading the dancers through the streets of Brittany (see photo).  We were married a year ago last September by the maire (mayor) of our village, who is otherwise a farmer of sheep and chickens.  

We have a small flock of small Ouessant sheep, a mixed flock of free-ranging chickens, rabbits, and we fatten a couple of weaners sheepduring the summer months.  We’ve had geese a couple of times and Gabrielle is keen to try ducks and also wants to take up beekeeping.  For two people whose previous experience of animal husbandry was the childhood care of a hamster and a few cats, we’ve had loads to learn.  We rent out a gite (holiday cottage), which has been really successful and so I’m in the process of converting the upstairs of one of our barns into a second gite.


With spring definitely here, Gabrielle’s fully occupied in the vegetable patch and polytunnel. We work hard and enjoy our life together and punctuate our days sitting down to good quality food cooked well, often accompanied, of course, by French wine or cider.

The last part of the answer to the question I posed at the top is that I’ve been kindly invited by Monica and Kathie to join this collective blogging project, Not Dabbling in Normal.  This post is by way of an introduction and I’m due to post here again in a month’s time.  Meanwhile, you can read what we’re currently up to on our own blog permaculture in brittany

Read Full Post »

changing routines

spring’s arrival brings a subtle shift in routines and methods around our homestead. many things factor in to these changes and while some are apparent and abrupt (does freshening, no more fires in the wood stove) others are subtle (gradual increase of sunlight early in the morning and later in the evening, no thanks to daylight savings time which i loathe with all my being).

with does freshening brings the routine of milk. at first, i milk them once a day but as the babies are weaned or bottle fed if we are feeling up to it, i shift to milking twice a day. this must be done no matter what…my life must revolve around milking for the goat’s sake and the milk’s sake. the milking brings the routine of using the milk. some is bartered or sold in shares. the rest goes to making yogurt about once a week, kefir almost daily (to feed our smoothie habit), mozzarella weekly and ricotta weekly. plus, there will be times we’ll make ice cream as well and hopefully with milking more goats, i’ll be able to make some butter as well. i so do love fresh buttermilk for making pancakes and biscuits! if there’s not enough cream in the milk, i may purchase cream from a fellow local homesteader who has a dairy cow.

the lack of a fire in the wood stove brings a new method to cooking as well as a shift in the routine of preparing daily meals. i’ll be dusting off the solar oven very soon, it’s actually overdue since we are only sporadically building a fire anymore. using the solar oven means i’ll need to prep dinners first thing in the morning and get them in the oven by 10 am so i have the day to slowly cook using the sun’s heat. that also frees up a bit of late afternoon from dinner prep to do other things outside.

homeschool routines will shift from late morning when sage is napping to early morning before he gets up (hopefully). barring that, i will be attempting to do it in the morning anyway, trying to distract him with muzzy or sesame street. we’ll be outdoors more helping to keep the house a bit neater so less time will be needed to straighten it up. nature walks are a daily must as well as weeding and planting and translanting seedlings as they are ready. while we’ll still homeschool 4-5 times a week formally, the focus here will be on food.

sowing, weeding, harvesting, starting are all on ours minds right now. while we won’t be harvesting for awhile, planting seeds and coaxing seedlings forces us to dream about the not too distant future of reaping the rewards. windows start to open and close daily, letting in fresh air. the stagnant smells in the house go away. it smells alive and fresh with the intoxicating breathes of spring…lilacs! roses! rain! soon we’ll be hunting for morels, making dandelion mead and jelly, violet jelly and chickweed pesto. greens will grow and be ready to eat, the first peas of spring will be eaten. potatoes will be sprouted and planted, and before we know it, strawberries will be bursting from the beds!

oh happy day, spring is here at last! all too soon, the heat of summer will force us to change this routine to opening windows at night and closing them in the morning.

this changing of routines in the spring is one i look forward to every year. winters are so long and dreary and sunless that i feel exhausted just trying to stay alive it seems. the return of listening to the peepers through the open windows while feeling the gentle breeze, the endless watching of the barn swallows’ dance through the air (which i am eagerly anticipating the return of and watch for daily) and the blooming of green and other color to the landscape signals the end of the dreary routine of winter and the beginning of the living routine of spring. it’s the rejuvenation of a routine that i crave all winter long.

Read Full Post »

Homemade egg breakfast sandwich...tender, but no jiggly egg whites here!

Homemade egg breakfast sandwich...tender, but no jiggly egg whites here!

It’s taken me a while (say, ohhh, 42 years and going…) to “cotton to” breakfast.  I’m wired for a slower body wake-up time, and my stomach rarely wants food early in the morning.  However, being married to a breakfast person as well as having odd sleep hours due to my work schedule, I’m adapting to making it one of my real meals of the day instead of having just my daily cup of hot tea.

Well, most days, that is… it’s hard to beat that “cuppa.”

For the days I do choose to have breakfast beyond a hot drink or cold glass of orange juice, I’ve re-embraced the simple.  When I make homemade granola, we really enjoy that with some whole milk.  Other days, it’s a satisfying bowl of hot oatmeal, usually cooked with some dried fruit (softened with the cooking) such as cranberries or blueberries or dried cherries…whatever’s on hand…or just plain with a touch of brown sugar and pat of butter.  Or it can be some slices of cantaloupe or fruit in season.  Or open-faced toasted cheese toast.

The one food it took me longer to re-incorporate into breakfast was the egg.  I grew up with scrambled eggs and toast being on the menu most mornings, only they were usually cold and the whites were not always fully cooked and were squiggly and partially transluscent…gross!  It’s little wonder we begged for Cheerios!

Back in that day, it was thought that skim milk (for cereals) and aerosol non-stick spray (for skillet cooking) were the healthiest ways to cook, and corn oil margarine ran a close second.  It was also thought that eggs were the harbinger of instant cardiac death, or not far from it.  That was before I knew the difference between naturally-raised chickens and battery hen operations.  We never much asked where our eggs came from back then, either…an egg was an egg was an egg.  Today, my husband and I are of a different bent when it comes to some of these things.  We do not yet have a source for pastured poultry eggs, which would be our first choice, but we cook with natural fats such as real butter or olive oil, and just use less.  It greatly improves the taste, but we believe it has nutritional benefits as well.

Wherever opinion may fall on that subject, learning to cook eggs differently than I ate in my childhood means that they’re back on the menu.  And something surprising (to me, at least) has been how fast real breakfast (served hot) at home cooks up…in fact many times faster than it would take to get in a drive-through line, order, pay, and receive a sack involving a lot of packaging, and a biscuit sandwich loaded with preservatives and cooked with who knows what.  There have been times I’ve been short on time and have gone the drive-through route, but most times I’m left wishing I hadn’t.  If for no other reason, the cost adds up quickly.

Any of the above foods can be cooked in minutes, for those of us who aren’t programmed to linger for an hour over breakfast (though that can be really nice with family on days when time’s not a factor).  I’ve changed the way I cook my eggs now, and instead of half-raw squiggly egg whites, these come out firm, with a nearly-crisp buttery underside, regardless of how firm or runny one prefers the yolk.  (I like mine somewhere between mostly-firm to really firm)


I simply cook my eggs the way my paternal grandma did, only she used bacon grease to cook hers.  We don’t eat pork, so I take a small skillet and dot the surface of it with a few dots of olive oil.  I then add a small pat of butter and then turn the heat to medium-high, just till it’s all melted together (doesn’t take long).  Using the olive oil with the butter keeps my butter from turning to burnt brown yuck.  Just as soon as it’s melted and hot, I turn the heat down to medium-low (3 or 4 on my dial) and crack some eggs into it.  I sprinkle with sea salt and pepper (or whatever spices I want) and immediately cover with a lid.  Fitting the lid over it gives it an even cooking.  When the center is done to my liking and the edges are bubbly and crisp, I take a metal spatula and divide the portions however I want and slide the spatula underneath and remove to serve.  I like mine on a thin piece of whole wheat toast and topped with a spoonful of salsa.  You could also keep on going with it and add some shredded cheese just before removing from the skillet, just when it’s all melty and delicious, and add fresh snipped herbs…mmm!  It’s also good As Is, with a cooked portion of turkey sausage…or whatever you like.  In summertime, I love mine with homegrown tomato slices and cracked pepper.  Eggs on toast…now I think of them as Yum rather than Yuck!


Here’s a pic (above) showing the egg turned upside down (as is in the very top pic, too), to show how the white is cooked firm with a crisp bottom side.  It comes right off in one piece when removed from the skillet (which also makes the skillet easy to clean.)  A whole world of difference from squiggly rawness…

For someone who for so long stayed far, far away from eggs, this way of cooking them changed that for me.  And from start to finish, including washing the skillet, it takes no more time for me to make than going through a drive-through…

…at least on those days when “ya gotta eat. ”  I still like my solitary cup of tea most days.  (I love most teas, but keep returning to my faithful standby.  It used to be Earl Grey.  Then I cheated on the Earl and now it’s Constant Comment even over all those other lovely exotic ones.) 

But when breakfast, that proverbial Most Important Meal of the Day, is on the menu, there are some great, fast, homemade options…the very best of fast foods.

Read Full Post »

The Family Dinner

There is a myth about family dinners in simple homes. A sort of Norman Rockwell image of smiling, freshly scrubbed children waiting, wide eyed, for an apron clad, well coiffed Mom to serve up steaming mounds of hardy farm fare, while Dad presides at the head of the table, beaming at his wife and progeny. The air is filled with wonderful smells, there is laughter and conversation, and all is right with the world. This is the heart of the family, the place and time when connections are made, stories are told, and traditions are built.

Many of our friends think that this kind of meal is the very best thing about living a simple country life, and that we are very lucky to have the time to create such wonder every day. Reality tends to fall something short of the myth. Our life may be “simple” but it is no less busy. The day starts early and runs late. There are myriad obligations that must be met. Livestock make demands, children have projects and schedules that must be accommodated, and jobs and business still take large chunks of the day, and entropy reigns supreme. Somewhere in the midst of all that, we are supposed to find the time to make a fabulous meal from scratch everyday. Right!

That time, not the myth, but the daily family meal around the table together, talking, laughing, connecting, has been a goal of ours from the beginning. We struggled with it for a long time. We could usually manage dinner together once or twice a week, a bit more often if we used already prepared, convenience foods like pizza. But the whole process was taking too much time, causing too much stress, and the quality of meals was not very high. That changed this past fall. A friend loaned us a book called Once-A-Month Cooking: A Proven System for Spending Less Time in the Kitchen and Enjoying Delicious, Homemade Meals Everyday. That book revolutionized dinner for us.

The basic idea in the book is to come up with a menu for a month, prepare the main part of the meals over the course of one day, freeze them with all the bits needed to complete the cooking, and have on hand all the side bits to round things out. You develop an ingredients list that combines like things from all the different recipes, so you prepare those things all at once. For example if there are several different menu items that use chopped onions you prepare enough chopped onions for all of them, not redoing it for each one. We spend one day cooking. It is a long day, but we all help and it is a lot of fun. Depending on the condition of the pantry, we may also need to spend a few hours the day before doing some shopping. It is critical to have everything you need on hand on cooking day. By the end of the cooking day we have a months worth of main dishes packed into the freezer.

The rest of the month we follow the menu. We get the nights dinner out of the freezer in the morning so it will be thawed by dinner time. The cooking directions are taped to the packet so we don’t have to go searching for the recipe. It usually takes about 20 minutes to prepare the meal at dinner time. That’s the time to add in the fresh salad, bread, etc., set the table, and make everything look nice. Using this method we manage to have a nice family meal about six nights a week (there is always one night that gets away from us for some reason.) It’s not the myth. It’s not Norman Rockwell. It’s not “simple”. But, it is good quality family time without stress. It is good food, made by us. It is time to eat and talk and laugh. Almost perfect.

Read Full Post »

There are times, as I have gone through my life, that I have struggled with the thought of “am I really a farmer”.

I don’t know why I get stuck on that occasionally. Deep down inside I think it would be cool to be called a farmer and for people to know me as such. Kind of like “hey…that lady over there…she’s a farmer”. However, it’s not like I live to be able to put “FARMER” on my income tax forms or anything– but it bugs me periodically. And the oddest thing about worrying about it is even if I was one, I am not sure I would want people to call me that. Not in the way most people historically mean anyway. Because the word farmer still seems to bring a some what negative connotation, like country bumpkin, and I don’t know if I would be a big enough person to handle the “ohhhh…your a farmer?! Neat”. With the odd facial expressions and funny eyebrow movements that go with statements like that. Because…based on those types of reactions…we all know that the farmer is the one that lives not in the ultra cool city, is “dirt” poor, wears dirty jeans and not good dress clothes and goes to the outhouse at night. Possibly they have running water—if they’re lucky.

Joking aside, when I really start thinking about what constitutes a farmer I get to the confusing part of exactly what it means to most of us? Oh I know what people “see” when they think of farmer…but is that really what a farmer truly is?

I also know that I am not the only one that struggles with this “am I a farmer or not” kind of mentality. But in a sense when I think of myself that way, I sometimes feel like a fake. Or a sham. Or a pretender.

So…what actually makes a farmer a farmer?

The dictionary says it is someone that cultivates land, crops or livestock. Some definitions also add: as their occupation. But, starting with the occupation part, did farmers ever just do farming as their sole occupation? Disregarding the fact that many farmers and their spouses now work off the farm, there are other much more famous farmers that have worked off the farm. I mean George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are two obvious examples and because they didn’t JUST do farming. They did way more than that. So I figure that pretty much kills that part of the definition.

So what exactly constitutes a farmer of crops, land or livestock?

I know often I hear people make statements about the amount of land a farmer owns. So is that makes him or her a farmer? I don’t think so because then people like Bill Gates and other wealthy people who have money to buy homes with lots of mowed (glorify that word into “hayed”) acreage and then they would be called farmers. Now that’s just too laughable. So we will hopefully all concede that to be a farmer, and in turn farm, does not require a certain amount of land because then any Tom, Dick and Bill would be farmers. If I remember correctly there are also people, like the family in California (pathtofreedom.com) that make their entire living on an average city lot. So…. it seems that ¼ acre could fit as well and 400 or more acres.

So then, could it generally be someone that has 20 cows? Or do they need more? Can they have less like in my case…now just one. We’ve had more…but right now we don’t. If that were the case would someone with only say….10 …. not be a farmer either? Of course if you want to get technical then someone with no cows but a huge flock of say…chickens or sheep would not be a farmer. Right? Or is that being to picky? Obviously then it’s not the type or amount of animals we own since some people farm with just a few animals and some have super large flocks and/or herds and some have none. I think in this case, regarding the animal/livestock clause, we can all agree that a large “flock” of dogs won’t really make you a farmer 🙂

Maybe it is someone that can grow all their own feed for their animals? Well, that leaves me out for sure since I don’t own enough land to fully care for my animals winter wise. I can “borrow” some from my neighbors though…does that count? But I think in this case that assumption also leaves out others besides me. Like some of the larger dairies—as just one example. Many of them do not fully grow their own feed. They have it trucked in. Sometimes it’s a time/work issue meaning they just don’t want to mess with it. Sometimes though it is a matter of too many cows for them to support with their own land. Grain or hay—take your pick. It could be one or the other or both.


How about a true farmer being someone that can completely feed his or her family by harvesting every vegetable, fruit and grain said family needs and then storing it for use throughout the year? Again…I don’t know about that since many people are called farmers even though they are growing only one crop. Like just corn or just cotton. Besides you can get into the sticky wicky part of that scenario and then have to also include enough cotton and such to clothe said family. Or can we exclude that part? If they do have to buy something like….corn meal because they run out…then are they a failure and there for no longer regarded as a “true” farmer(s)? Or how about the diary farmers that sell all their milk then buy store milk? I have heard of this…often… and first hand. Does that change their farming status to a lower one or something? Kind of like a half farmer? Or an almost farmer? A partial farmer possibly?

What about people that farm odd crops? Like trees. Do they go into the local feed store and say “No I don’t need any help I’m just stopping by to chat….my pine trees are fine thanks”. Or what about a pineapple farmer? Or a coffee farmer? Are coffee farmers even called farmers?? How exactly did they get to be known as farmers when most of us don’t even think of coffee as something to farm. Maybe where coffee grows that can’t imagine being called a farmer if someone grows something like…silk worms. “Hey…nice to meet you…..I’m a mulberry tree farmer.” Maybe that’s “Hey…nice to meet you…I farm silk shirts” ??

Often too people think of farmers as people with livestock and that generally eating them comes with the livestock raising. As part of the definition of farmer, eating the livestock is irrelevant because as we noticed the dictionary didn’t say they had to eat the animals…just be involved with them potentially. I can think of a number of reasons for not eating livestock but still being considered a farmer of them. Not saying at some point some of the animals won’t get eaten but that doesn’t mean the farmer himself eats those animals. Some of these reasons could be wool and fiber production, milk, eggs, horns shed from natural horn shedding deer, draft animal breeding, raising and training cows and horses— and I am sure other things I can’t even think of. Oh yeah…technically they don’t eat the silk worms either.

So in the end …. maybe ….a true farmer is a just a person that loves the land and working with it and/or loves to supply his or her family with good food or quality products as best he can and/or maybe is someone that gets lucky enough to interact with livestock. All this is in disregard to the amount of land the “farmer” owns, whether he has an outside job, owns some form of livestock, or even in disregard to what type of “crop” he might choose to raise or  how much of it he may harvest. I am not sure if anyone will agree with me on that though and so after all the points I have made about what really constitutes a farmer the only thing I am really 100% sure of is that…. I now know that to be a farmer you can’t just have a large “flock” of dogs….

I don’t think anyway.

Read Full Post »

Onion Rye Scones

At our house, soups with homemade bread are common dinners in the winter.  We enjoy these savory scones with our soups instead of our usual sourdough bread on occasion.  These scones are especially good with chowders and creamy soups, though they go well with anything.

Onion Rye Scones

1 Large Onion, Sliced

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil

3/4 Cup Rye Flour

1 ½ C Unbleached flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

3 Tablespoons Butter

2 Tablespoons Molasses

2 Eggs, Beaten

3 Tablespoons Sesame Seeds


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a baking sheet.

Saute the sliced onions in the olive oil until translucent.  Set aside to cool.

Combine the flours, baking powder, and butter with a pastry cutter, knives, or your fingers until crumbly.  Add the molasses and eggs, mixing well.  Add the milk a little bit at a time, until a dough forms (you may not need the entire 1/4 cup).  Knead the dough slightly.  Form the dough into a 9″ circle. Place the circle of dough onto a greased baking sheet.  Score the circle into triangles by slicing 1/4″ inch into the dough.  Top the dough with the cooled onions and sprinkle with the sesame seeds.


Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until golden brown.  Enjoy!

Read Full Post »

A guest post this week by Karl O’Melay.

A chicken tractor is basically an open-bottomed movable pen that houses chickens. We use our chicken tractors to raise meat birds (Cornish-X broilers). I have a few criteria for our tractor design. First, my pregnant wife must be able to move it easily. Second, it must hug the Ozarks’ steep and rocky terrain. Last, it must endure for several years in the weather.

This chicken tractor (plans to follow) was years in the making. I perused several books, searched the internet high and low and consulted with my father-in-law. The final result is simple and elegant. The thing that makes it elegant is that it is light and easy to manage.

My six year old son can move it easily, feed and water them for the day with just one visit. Being based on electrical conduit was my father-in-law’s idea and the cornerstone of this tractor. Electrical conduit -also called EMT (Electrical Metallic Tubing)- is inexpensive. This chicken tractor uses 1/2″ EMT and cost us around $100. EMT is galvanized and should last for upwards of ten years in the caustic chicken raising environment. People have asked me why I don’t use PVC pipe. It won’t hold up in the direct sun, it is heavier and isn’t as strong as EMT. I also considered pressure treated wood but rejected it because it is treated with poison and chickens will try to eat anything. I don’t want to eat pressure treated wood even once removed.

The dimensions of our chicken tractor are 8′ by 10′ by 2′ high. These dimensions are to optimize the materials–EMT comes in 10′ lengths. Normal chicken wire comes in 4′ widths and hardware wire mesh comes 2′ wide. This size also fits through our farm gates and maneuvers through our small paddocks easily. People have made narrower versions of this tractor with great success.

Some of what our tractor is made from is found materials; I collect stuff. We live fairly near an attraction that supports plenty of billboards. Billboard tarp is a godsend. We use it everywhere and it is almost free. Chickens need shelter from the hot sun and rain. Billboard tarp is our answer. You’ll need to find a similar solution. Lumberyards usually have surplus lumber tarp.

The poultry fountain and feeder are both items that I spent a lot of effort optimizing. I built the hopper-style feeder from found parts. That is a topic for another day. The poultry fountain is commercially available</a> but needs simple plumbing to make it really useful for an uneven terrain chicken tractor.

The tractor parts list:

  1. 13 pieces of 1/2″ electrical conduit EMT
  2. 8 pull able 90°s for the 1/2″ EMT
  3. 100′ of 12 to 16 gauge galvanized steel wire
  4. 37′ of 1/2″ squares hardware wire cloth
  5. 21′ of 48″ wide standard chicken wire (the smaller holes)
  6. 30″ length of steel roofing 30″ by 3′
  7. 98″ length of 1″ EMT the axle bushing
  8. 2 wheels with axle extending one foot out one side of each wheel
  9. a handful of 1-1/2″ self tapping metal screws I like the kind that have a 5/16 nut driver head
  10. tarp UV stable 5′ by 8′ or larger. has to be a rip stop type of material

tools list

  1. flat head screw driver
  2. hack saw
  3. linesman pliers
  4. variable speed electric drill
  5. drill bit sized to pre-drill for the outside diameter of your metal screws. just a little bigger than your screws
  6. magnetic 5/16″ nut driver bit to fit your drill
  7. 1/2″ EMT pipe bender
  8. six year old helper optional

The concept of this tractor is to be flexible and light weight. It needs to follow the contour of the terrain. That is why 1/2″ EMT is better than any larger size.

The first step is to take apart the EMT 90°s. Save all the plates and screws, you’ll need them later. This is a good job for a six year old. Then, drill out a hole in the exact center of each removed plate from the 90°s.

Cut eight of your ten foot lengths of EMT, two feet off each one. You should end up with eight 2′ pieces and eight 8′ pieces of EMT. Assemble two rectangles 8′ by 10′ using the EMT and pullable 90°s. This is also a good job for a 6 year old. Hand tighten each corner firmly–you’d better double check your helper.

Especially since he was only five in this photo.

Mark four of your 2′ pieces of EMT in the exact same spot at both ends. You can do this by holding the EMT firmly on a flat surface and marking the top. This step helps keep things lined up. Attach one removed plate to each end of all four pieces of 2′ EMT (the corners). They should be 1/2″ away from the ends. The self tapping screw can drill right through the EMT without pre-drilling. I put the little escutcheon of the plate facing the head of the screw. Just make them all look the same.

Reassemble the plates (corners) to the 90°s this forms the box shape of the tractor. Five gallon buckets are helpful to keep the other three corners off the ground when first starting.

Cut one inch off the four remaining 2′ pieces of EMT (the side supports are 23″ long). Make four more side support pieces from the remaining 10′ piece of EMT.

Let the drilling begin. Mark and drill holes on every end of each piece of remaining EMT minus one of the 8′ pieces. these must all be drilled on the same plane so be sure to use the marking method described earlier. The holes should be large enough that a piece of your 12 gauge galvanized wire fits easily through. Pieces to be drilled should include:

  1. one 10′ piece
  2. three 8′ pieces
  3.  eight 23″ pieces

Wire this baby together.  The 10′ piece gets wired to bisect the top first. Wire it by threading the wire through the hole and wrapping the other pipe and twisting them tight. It is clunky at first but you’ll get really good at it. Each wired spot should make a perfect “T”. Wire the three 8′ cross supports above the 10′ on the top at 30″, 60″ &amp; 90″ respectively. Make everything parallel to the edges. Wire the the cross over points together too–wrap twist snip twist some more.

The center needs a support in case any kids or dogs decide to climb on top of it. I bent the remaining piece of eight foot EMT 90° and held it to an edge and cut the tails off. The tails make good handles. Then I wired it to the center support like a swing using the wiring method above. When the tractor is moved it slips around obstacles and rights itself at final resting place to act as support (see second photo below).

Wind protection
Cut the tarp into strips 2x(8′ by 30″) or one long strip 16′ by 30″. Choose an end of the coop to have the door and all the heavy stuff. Wrap this end with the tarp leaving the extra width on the bottom to act as a skirt when moving it. The wind break/skirt should cover the entire door end and wrap evenly along the sides. Wire this in several places to the top and bottom. Slightly thinner gauge wire can be used for the tarp covering if you have it.

Wire the hardwire/hardware cloth to the perimeter, overlapping any joints. Wire this securely every foot or so and doubly at the corners. This is your main defense so don’t cut any corners here because regular chicken wire won’t defend against raccoons.

The top
Stretch and cut the chicken wire to the top. Leave a rectangle on the door end open for the door. Wrap a little extra length around the EMT at the perimeter ends and door. The wire should join at the center cross support. Wire it together and to the 10′ cross support frequently–every 6 to 10 inches.

The door

I use a piece of steel roofing material for the door. Hinges are made of wire.

The door, feeder and water should all be on one end–the heavy end. I have a set of small wheels with axles from a kids bicycle trailer. I wired a piece of one inch conduit in such a way to receive the wheels.

I lift each corner by wire handles and slip the wheels on.

If you don’t have extremely heavy gauge wire for handles you can thread a stub of EMT less than 12 inches long. This photo shows a threaded bent handle at the move-around end.

Once the wheels are on the entire thing moves around like a wheelbarrow. The chickens follow along and are happy to dig-in to the newly exposed area. It is amazingly light, anyone can move it, even a six year old. This feature is surprisingly important since during the last few weeks of occupancy it is best if you move them twice per day. I find that if I have to muster my courage to attempt farm chores they easily slip to the back burner until just shy of too late. We raise twenty five broilers twice per year per chicken tractor–we have two of them.

The wonders, benefits and sustainability of chicken tractors are the subject of a few books. Here are a couple of them.


I narrowly escaped the corporate world to become a homesteading dad. I have a lovely wife, Tabitha and four of the most wonderful children, Tristan 6, Kassi 4, Anatoly 2, Romneya <1–they are my every joy. We are here, in the Missouri Ozarks, for our kids grass between their toes and trees to climb. We are trying many crazy things mostly trying to be self sufficient. We usually raise a big garden. Our animals include 30+ laying hens -the girls, a Jersey heifer -Jocelyn, a livestock guardian dog -Henry, farm cats -Hermoine is the matriarch, Jersey-bull to butcher -Phoenix, two pigs -Zelda & Kirby and in less than a month we’ll have 50+ broiler chicks. My interests mostly focus either on sustainability or my family and usually both at the same time. Our homesteading exploits about our animals, garden, greenhouse, root cellar, fruit trees, solar hot water systems, homestead improvements on the cheap, natural foods and family are at http://omelays.blogspot.com.

Read Full Post »

Even as little kids, most people have the desire to sell something and make a little cash, or a lot of cash.  So it is no surprise that we still have that desire as adults.  Who doesn’t want positive feedback, and if it pays all the better.

One thing you have to decide is how much time and effort do you want to devote to production and  then marketing that production.  Just making or growing something you love may not be enough.  If you live in an economically depressed area, high priced items may not find enough of a market to make your time spent worth the effort.  Do you want to ship items, or are you committed to local sales?  So many questions, and so many answers.  Is your family on board with this?  If you want to sell at a market, are you prepared to spend a good part of two days, preparing and then selling?  You may decide that you want to produce enough for your family and not sell, reaping the benefits of not paying taxes on your efforts.  But if the desire is strong to sell, here are a few ways to find a market.

A good way to gauge the need for your product is to visit markets that specialize in your wares.  Craft markets and farmers markets are a good place to check out.  Make notes about what is selling and what appears to be missing from the mix.  Your product may just be the thing that will fill in that gap.  If everyone is selling mesclun mix, you don’t want to show up with more.  If you can, find the market manager and inquire about what type of vendors they are looking for.  The manager will also have vendor guidelines that will be helpful in your decision making.  Some markets require that you stay until the market is over, if your production doesn’t meet your sales, you may be sitting there for hours, with potential customers passing your empty table.  It feels awkward.   Plan for these gaps and have an order sheet ready for the next market, your shortfall may appear to potential customers like you have sold out, which is true, they don’t really need to know that you didn’t plan it.  They will feel special, and you will have additional orders for the next week.

While you are doing market reconnaissance, make a note of the price swings.  You don’t want to price your products too high, or be the jerk who shows up and sells your eggs for a $1.00 a dozen.  You will have to assume the prices are in line with what people will pay in your particular area.  Pay attention to the booths that are busy and try to determine what is drawing the customers to it.  It may be low price and volume, or it may be an attractive display and smiling helpers. 

You will have to decide if you can make a profit at the going rate, or if you are going to charge more, be passionate and able to show your customers why they should buy your product instead of the next guy’s.  You need to figure in all your expenses plus labor and that includes all your time spent on this particular enterprise.   Sometimes the lowest cost to produce will be where you make your money, not your highest priced item.   A bakery we sold our small eggs to, made great products, but she always had a hard time with cash flow.  We dropped eggs off weekly and took her compost buckets home for our pigs.  When we got a look in the buckets, we saw why she had a hard time making ends meet.  Her menu was set in her mind stone, expensive delicious pastries, pies and breads along with fresh soup every day.  The buckets were filled with whole loaves of bread, pie dough and pastry scraps, and whole zested lemons.  Apparently she could cook, but she had never taken home economics.  She could have turned the stale bread into croutons or stuffing mix, the dough scraps into little spiced snails, and the lemons into lemon whatever – the possibilities were almost endless.  Our pigs loved it though, and she eventually went out of business in debt.

If you want to stay home and sell your wares, put out your sign, and state your days of business.  Do this only if you feel comfortable having drop in customers.  You may want to state on your sign BY APPOINTMENT ONLY giving you a little more control of your hours.  Before doing this though, make sure local ordinances allow this type of activity in your home. 

Depending on your product line, you may want to contact your local established CSA’s and see if maybe your product would fit with their offerings.  You could pre-sell your product and have one delivery point.  We sold eggs to CSA’s and restaurants and made one delivery a week.  It took all day, but it was preferable to spending a day at a market. 

Just remember, you have a great product and you want to seek out customers that have already forsaken the store mentality for their shopping.  Your potential customers are seeking your one-of-kind creations, or food that has been produced with loving care, and they won’t mind paying you for your efforts!

Read Full Post »

One the the hardest parts of running a homestead can be getting all the work done, especially in the summer when gardens are in full swing and there are extra livestock duties (milking, butchering, etc) and there are little kids to care for on top of the homesteading duties. Hiring help can often be out of the question due to financial restraints. We have lost our sense of ‘community’ so it can be hard getting the work accomplished because we don’t have the advantage that homesteaders of the past had with sharing work with neighbors. What’s a modern homesteader to do?

We have found that the WWOOF program works well for us. WWOOF stands for World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (also known as Willing Workers on Organic Farms). The program is offered world wide, as the name implies. As a host farm, we created a listing that tells how big our farm is, what we do, what animals we have and what help we need. We also discuss room and board and hours of work in our listing. We do not pay WWOOF volunteers with money, instead, they help us in exchange for a place to stay (usually a tent in our backyard), food to eat and the experience they receive working first hand on our homestead.

In addition to helping out with the garden (weeding, planting, harvesting, preserving, etc), they help out with the orchard (harvesting, maintaining, preserving), the animals (feeding, watering, gathering eggs, milking, and some butchering, making yogurt, cheese and kefir) and the bees (maintaining, harvesting honey) as well as help with making herbal products, cooking meals, assisting at the farmer’s market, canning food and sometimes even distracting the kids so I can get a break!

The great thing about the program is, as the host, we get to set the rules…how long we want/need them, what we want them to do and what times of the year we want them there. We have found that June through August is our peak time of need so we tend to only allow them for those times of the year. If we had more permanent sleeping quarters (such as the garage we are trying to renovate into a guest cottage as time and funds allow) we might be able to host for longer periods and during the less desirable times of the year (earlier in the season when we are getting the garden in for instance). We’ve also learned that 2 at a time are usually the best amount, whether it be a couple staying with us or 2 individuals. We’ve had 3 at a time which only worked because we had fencing that needed to be put up and it went faster for 3 than it would have for 2. 1 person can get swamped with all the gardening work, even with me around working as well.

We supply a tent for them if needed and they would be welcome to park a camper in our back yard as well. We’ve only had 1 WWOOFer who objected to staying in a tent and we were able to accommodate her inside since she was only here for 2 weeks. If there is bad weather on the horizon, we’ve usually had them bring their things inside and allowed them to sleep in the living room since tornadoes, hail storms, strong winds and thunder/lightning storms can get pretty bad here at times during the summer.

We have found that the best time frame for WWOOFers to stay with us tends to be longer periods of 4-6 weeks although those staying shorter times were helpful too. Those staying longer seemed to get into the routine better which is beneficial for both them and us.

The best part about the WWOOF program is it doesn’t matter what size your homestead is. Our ‘farmette’ is only 4 1/2 acres but because we have diversity, we have plenty to offer and usually have to turn some WWOOFers away because we have more volunteers than we do work! We usually communicate through emails or phone calls to determine that we’ll be the right fit all around. We let them know what we need to have done in the time frame they’ll be here, how long we expect them to work (usually about 6 hours a day), what type of food we eat (we have found it can be difficult to host vegetarians although it has worked for us in the past so we try to remain open to it but will turn someone away if we decide it will be too difficult to feed them) and where they will be sleeping. Our back door is always open so they can come inside at night to use the bathroom or seek shelter if a sudden storm pops up. Once the guest cottage is complete, this will be less necessary.

Some of these choices we’ve made can be a turn off to others hosting. Some do not feel comfortable allowing strangers into their homes. Also, sharing meals with others 3 times a day can get a little old, especially if you feel like you are entertaining for every meal, which is why vegetarians don’t always work out well. Since we live on a strict budget, we do not have a lot of room to buy things such as tofu, tempeh and other vegetarian specialties. However, if a vegetarian wanted to make those items from scratch, we could offer that option (and I have even dabbled with making those items in the past). On the rare occassions that we go out to eat, I feel guilty leaving the WWOOFers behind. I have started to make peace with that though since I allow them to use our kitchen and any food we have to make their own meals if necessary. I have found that most WWOOFers love to cook and are happy to even share the cooking duties with me. Also, they too enjoy a break from us when we go away for an evening! Again, it’s a comfort level with allowing strangers into my home and allowing them to even ‘take over’ an area of the house at times.

We have even allowed WWOOFers to use our car to go exploring in the past. We’ve had WWOOFers show up on bicycles as their only mode of transportation as well as them showing up at the bus station with NO mode of transportation so we try to be flexible and once we’ve established trust, we give them the option of taking the car for the day. The only restriction is they have to be able to drive a manual because that’s all we have.

This year will be our third year hosting WWOOFers. Each year gets better as we gain experience with directing and sharing our daily tasks and household. I know this program won’t work for everybody, but for us, it has been a lifesaver, especially with having little ones afoot. Our garden would not have survived the last 2 years if we did not have the help! So, if you are struggling to get all your seasonal tasks done on the homestead, you might giving WWOOFing a try! It can be a very rewarding experience for both you and the volunteers.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: