How to Plant Onion Sets

Onions are one of the most healthy foods in our human diet; they are an immune system booster. Growing your own onions is simple and they act as a natural pesticide in your garden making for a more successful garden. You can seed onions and allow them to grow into onion sets; but, this takes time. Onion sets should be planted in early Spring, depending on your planting zone, so if you plan on starting from seed you need to take that into account. Onion sets can be purchased just about anywhere that sells seed. I prefer to purchase organic and non GMO onion sets. This year I have started some onion seed in the greenhouse for our Fall garden. We have a long enough warm season in Kentucky to be able to have two cool weather gardens.

Preparing the Soil

Your soil needs to be loose enough to allow your onions to expand in the soil until they get rooted enough to pull the dirt out from around them. We have two large gardens so we plough with the tractor. Your dirt needs to be turned over the first time before the last freeze and again just before you plant. We grow our onions in rows. When making your rows you need to pull the dirt up and create a furrow to set the onions. Growing onions in an onion bed is also a very efficient method as you can keep the soil loose and water more efficiently. You can also grow onions in planters.

Garlic and onions grow good in raised beds. And apparently so do farm dogs named Sunny.

Setting and Covering 

If you are planting for whole onions you will need to space your onions three inches apart; you can space them two inches apart if you want green onions only. Be sure to plant the root side down and set them firmly in the ground. Some people do not cover their onion sets at all; however, I have found that mine don’t stay where I put them unless I cover them some. When you cover the onions just pull up a little dirt leaving the very top of the onion exposed.

Pulling Dirt

When your onions begin to grow green tops and start to show bulb growth you can start to pull some of the dirt away from them so the bulb can grow. Be cautious about pulling too much dirt and disturbing the roots. I use a fork set aside for garden because it is a more precise tool. From this point in the growth process all you can do is wait, weed, and water. I usually put mulch around our onions to keep the soil moist and the weeds down. If your soil gets too hard packed be sure to hand till it or the bulb will not grow.  

Starting Seeds in a Greenhouse for Organic Gardening

Starting your own seeds is a wonderful way to ensure that your plants are grown by the methods you think are best and is also a much more cost effective form of gardening. Plants can be grown in a variety of different places; you do not necessarily need to have a greenhouse. And you also do not need to have expensive greenhouse equipment to grow good food. Your plants will need some extra care with their environment no matter where you choose to keep them. Other than the basics of what a growing plant needs to thrive there are endless possibilities of seed starting methods out there and likely some you will create on your own.
Cost
Cost is always a factor in gardening. If you don’t monitor your expenditures you can find yourself spending more than you would at the Farmer’s Market. Your initial costs will be higher than successive years, because of the set up. When trying new things like different pots or seed be sure to start small in case it does not work out.
Seeds
Saving seed is an easy way to be cost effective; of course the first year you will need to purchase your seed. If you know others who garden they may be willing to share seed with you saving you from buying so much seed. People who save seed usually have more than they can plant. There are also seed companies that do seed exchanges and offer free seed like Seed Savers Exchange, many local libraries, extension offices, and community centers. There are numerous community resources if you know where to look. If you plan on saving seeds you will want to purchase seed that is organic and heirloom for the most successful plants. Some seed from hybrid plants will sometimes not germinate; and the ones that do will not be the same as the parent plant causing unpredictability in your harvest. I usually purchase non genetically modified seeds just for the fact that I know what they are and how they will affect our bodies. In my opinion there has not been enough research done on GMO’s to know the long term effects. It is also a good idea to seek out seed that is open pollinated.
Temperature
Temperatures for the plants must stay above freezing and below 80 degrees and they will need some air to prevent mold. If you start your plants later you may want to provide them with additional heat. We do not use additional heat unless there is going to be freezing temperatures. In the instance of a freeze we heat the greenhouse with a small, low heat, propane burner. Some people use passive solar heat by placing buckets of water in the greenhouse to heat during the sunlit hours; however, I found that open water in my greenhouse resulted in an early mosquito infestation. You can use heating pads under your plants to promote early sprouting; but, you have to be cautious about heating them too much and drying them out. I love to work in the greenhouse so my seeds get started fairly early.

Containers
When we first started growing plants I used whatever containers I had to start my seeds in. Every yogurt cup, plastic container, or pop bottle bottoms at the house or other people’s house I could scrounge was filled with dirt and seeds. While on this glamorous garbage crusade, I gained a sense of what was going to work and what was not. Most plants do not need very much space to start; with the exception of tomatoes. Tomatoes need to stay indoors for longer than other plants so they need more root room. Containers that are more than two inches all the way around are going to be adequate for most plants and three inches for tomatoes. Be sure your containers have holes in the bottom for water to drain through.
As I started to plant more, having better pots seemed to be a logical next step. I experimented with peat pots some because they seemed to be a good natural option. They were a disaster. My plants did not thrive in the peat pots because they do not hold water very well allowing the plants to dry out more quickly and the pots are not very stable if you need to move them. Peat pots do not dissolve well in compost so their disposal is also an issue. We try not to purchase plastic if at all possible; however, this year I made an exception for good plant pots. I shopped around and found a company in the United States that makes pots out of recycled material. The pots are durable enough to last many seasons lessening the impact on our environment. And the pots were not very expensive.
I use masking tape and permanent markers to label each plant. While this seems like a time waster, I have found it to be effective in monitoring my plants. Sometimes you will need to move plants around. When I have seeds that do not sprout I empty the pots so I am not wasting fertilizer on empty dirt. Having each pot labeled is very useful in relocation or if you have too many plants and want to share them with friends.


Soil
Most people who grow their own plants use sterilized potting soil. Like everything else in my life I feel the need to fight the tide of normalcy. We use organic material and peat from our woods to seed our plants in. I have several spots on the farm where an old tree has fallen years before my time and I will dig out under the tree scooping up all of the rich dirt and rotten tree bits.
The disadvantages of digging out your own soil are only two things by my thinking. The living dirt will have weeds in it. I don’t mind the trade off; I just have gotten good at recognizing what our weed seedlings look like and am religious about putting my chosen seeds in the center of the pots. Another disadvantage is a small amount of extra work digging. I have come to think of the digging in the same way that I think about all of our farm work…it saves me money in gym membership. We try to be smart about doing manual labor by using the right tools and not overdoing it; the work will always be there tomorrow and it will never really be finished. You have to come to peace with that or go crazy.
The advantages of digging out your own soil are overwhelming. The cost of seeding several plants can rack up quickly. Dirt you get from your own place is free. The satisfaction of knowing what is in your dirt can only happen when you know for sure where it came from and what has been put on it. Purchased potting soil can have all kinds of additives and it is packaged in plastic; and we all know plastic is not environmentally friendly.
Another enormous advantage is that my soil comes with mycorrhizal fungi already in it. Mycorrhizal fungi is a symbiotic fungus that protects plants from disease and gives them the ability to better absorb nutrients from the soil. You can purchase this fungus to put in with your soil; but, why when it already exists naturally. Using dirt for seedlings from the same area that they will be transplanted to creates less issues with root shock. To make the collection of my soil a little more muscle friendly we purchased a garden trailer for the 4 wheeler. That trailer has been one of my most effective farm purchases. I use it for so many things and it is a fun mode of transportation.

Fertalizer
Fertilizer is something I do purchase for my seedling; although, there are other options such as making your own fertilizer. We do use our own compost and animal dung for fertilizing outside. I have found liquid fish fertilizer to be the most effective for young plants. It smells incredibly bad so usually I do all of my other work in the greenhouse and then I fertilize and run out of the greenhouse. The smell mostly subsides after a few hours. After sprouting I typically fertilize once a week.
Hardening
If you have a very enclosed and warm place that you keep your plants you will need to get them used to the outdoors. This is called hardening the plants. Basically you expose the plants to the outdoors in larger increments of time over the period of a week and you start to water them less to simulate their outside conditions. Start the first day with a partially sunny location for a few hours and increase until you are leaving them out at night as well. When the week of hardening is up your baby plants are ready to be on their own.
Helpful Websites
http://www.seedsavers.org/csrp – Seed Savers Exchange is a non profit seed library

Caring for Baby Chicks

There are few farm animals in their baby stage that are more adorable than baby chickens. And unlike some animals they are completely worth the effort as they provide not only meat and eggs; but, pest control and entertainment. Good care of your chicks from the start will ensure you get the most value out of your flock. As with any agricultural venture, there are multiple ways to successfully raise chickens and you must find what methods best suit your situation.

Habitat

Before you purchase or hatch your chicks you must have a habitat prepared for them. One of the most harmful dangers to new chicks is temperature and moisture. Chicks need to be kept in around 80 to 90 degree heat and they need to be dry. We put heat lamps over ours. You will know if they are too cold when they huddle up under the lamp. And you will know when they are too hot if they are all bunched up away from the lamp or if they are panting. If they are panting and lethargic they are in real danger of overheating. When your temperature is right the chicks will be running in all directions. When your chicks start to develop feathers you can begin to reduce the heat. Chicks need a good bedding under them to keep them dry. A layer of wood shavings or hay will soak up their droppings and mess, keeping them dry. You will need to change their bedding frequently depending on the size of the habitat versus the number of chicks.

Water

Chicks need a lot of water to drink; but, not water on them. You will need a watering system that does not allow the chicks to accidentally submerge themselves or each other. It helps to think of these little guys as being exactly what they are…babies. If there is a puddle of water just about any baby will be drawn to it and in it if not stopped. To prevent pasty butt, a clogging of the waste vent, you can add a few tablespoons of organic apple cider vinegar to a gallon of water.

Food

Babies need baby food. Before you get your chicks you will want to purchase a feeder and chick starter. In a pinch you can feed your chicks out of a small bowl; however, a feeder will make the starter last longer. Chicks like all babies make messes and they will make messes in a bowl of food making you have to replenish it more often than you would with a chick feeder. If you are creative there are all kinds of ideas out there to make your own feeding and watering system; but, if you purchase it the price is fairly low. I like to sprinkle a little bit of grass and weeds around the habitat so my chicks begin to learn how to forage. We have pasture raised chickens which means that our chickens have the run of the entire farm so they forage all day for bugs and greens.  

Handeling

Holding babies and the desire to touch things that are soft make handling your chicks almost impossible to resist. In the first few weeks you should try not to handle the chicks too much and use great care not to drop them. Do talk to them though, especially when you feed them so they are trained to come when you feed them. Chicks will imprint on whoever raises them. Enjoy your babies, they will grow fast.

Some helpful websites:

http://www.backyardchickens.com/ : This site is full of information for all things chicken related.

https://www.mcmurrayhatchery.com/chickens.html : This is the hatchery that I order from.

Building a Small Greenhouse from Reclaimed Materials

If you live in an area that has a limited growing season and you want to grow your own food; putting plants in the ground rather than all seed will be your means to a good harvest. If you are like us, and not independently wealthy, you may not be able to afford to purchase plants in the quantity or type that you want. When we first started to seriously garden, our tomatoes and peppers were purchased in convenient locations like Walmart and Lowes. As we began to educate ourselves about food, and the effects of pesticides and genetically modified foods on human health, we started to look for healthier options. We started to purchase our plants from a local nursery that is organic. I felt very good about this until I realized how much it was going to cost us each year. The cost of plants was a huge factor in how large our garden was. We were willing to put in the labor; but, were having difficulty justifying the cost. At this point we started to make plans to build a greenhouse. However, it was not until disaster struck our farm in the way of a tornado that we actually set to building. The tornado did not hit the house, thankfully. It did a fair amount of damage to our trees and it moved the kid’s trampoline, from the yard to the other side of the hay field, completely destroying it. The broken trampoline became an opportunity. It became the roof of the greenhouse.

Poles were cut, holes were dug, poles were set, and slowly the greenhouse began to come together. James pieced the trampoline frame together to fit the span of the poles cut from our woods and secured the frame to the poles. The shelves inside of the greenhouse were built out of reclaimed lumber from the old part house that was torn down when we were building on to the house. In its current state the only materials that were purchased new for this project was the plastic. Modifications are continuing to be made as we learn better what will work and what will not. With any type of farming, especially sustainable farming, no project is ever totally complete. There are always ways to improve and new techniques to learn; that is part of the adventure.  

Outside the greenhouse we have been constructing raised beds for herbs out of reclaimed lumber and the inner parts of an old washing machine.  The soil under these beds is very rocky and poor so covering them with raised beds is a functional use of the land and clearly more beneficial than mowing and weed eating that space. 

What ever path is most practical for you to grow your own food is the correct path for you. Don’t be afraid to get creative in growing your own food. I have seen fellow farmers grow seedlings in everything from upcycled food containers to egg shells to ice cream cones. The process of learning how to best to accomplish food production is part of the experience.


Hand Milking Goats

Goat milk is incredibly healthy for baby goats and for people. It is digested more easily than cow’s milk and has been used to treat stomach issues for centuries. Our youngest son’s stomach troubles was what started us on the path to goat tending. I purchased my first milk goat, “Olive,” from a good friend that I teach with. Olive was in milk when we got her; she had lost her kids but still had good milk. I had done some research on milking goats and had milked cows many years ago so of course…I was “competent.” My husband built a milk stand out of an old coffee table, we picked up Olive and brought her home, and I proceeded to milk her. If only there had been a way to have captured the look of pure disgust on her face as I utterly, or I should say udderly, failed to express more than a few drops of milk. After a few YouTube videos and much fumbling around underneath my new milk goat we figured out how to milk. Goats are a continual learning process. Much of the information that I acquired has come from the blogs and videos of other goat farmers. I hope to add to that wealth of knowledge. Goats are among the first animals domesticated for food; so the process for milking that follows is by no means the only way to successfully milk a goat.

Getting a Goat

The first thing you need is a female goat. Every goat’s milk tastes unique so even within specific breeds you will get a variety of tastes. Milk breed goats tend to have a larger milk supply, making them attractive to people who want milk for more than just drinking. For example it takes roughly one gallon of goat milk to make one pound of cheddar cheese; that is a lot of milk for a goat. The more popular milk breeds are Alpine, LaMancha, Nubian, Saanen, Toggenburg, Oberhasli, and Nigerian Dwarf. I personally only have experience with Alpine and Saanen; however, I also have a Boer meat goat that has some of the best tasting milk we have ever had. So your goat does not necessarily have to be bred for milk depending on how much milk you need. I would strongly urge doing some research on each of the breeds to see which type of goat will suit your needs. Once you have chosen the type of goats you want, you need to consider how you will manage and keep them.

Goats need good fence and shelter. If you decide on smaller breeds such as the Nubian Dwarf you will need a tight fence to hold them. If there is one thing that goats love best it is being where they are not supposed to be. Also you should choose whether you want a horned or de-horned herd from the beginning. It is dangerous and clearly unfair to put de-horned goats in with horned goats. Your goats will fight and play in a rough manner no matter how much you cringe. We prefer horned goats as the horns act as natural handles whenever I need to get a hold of them and it is a natural defense system against predators. We do not put collars on our goats unless they are being moved because they will hook their horns under each other’s collars. If you have ever tended to the needs and safety of a small human child all of this will make perfect sense to you because goats behave very much like small children.

Depending on where in the breeding cycle you come into your new goats, will determine how much you need to know. If you are breeding your new goat you will want to do as much research as possible on how to care and tend pregnant and birthing does. Each doe will need her own space for at least a couple of weeks after the birthing. Other than that it is fine to keep all of your goats together with the exception of bucks that are ready to breed. First of all you don’t want your bucks to breed the wrong doe or breed at the wrong time. And if you keep bucks with your milk goats the milk will taste like the billy goat smells. We usually get a buck when we need to breed the does and then sell him when the job is done. Frankly billy goats are just an excessive amount of trouble, and the barn is so much more peaceful without them.

The Milk Stand

A milk stand is not a necessary tool for milking goats. People have milked goats in fields for thousands of years. However, a milk stand will make life easier on your knees and back and it is easier to milk an immobilized goat. There are numerous styles of milk stands. We converted an old coffee table and have had great success with it. Your stand needs to be low enough for the goat to hop up on it with a full udder. It needs to have a head catcher on it that will adjust for neck size if you plan on having more than one milk goat. And your stand must have a small food box so you can convince your doe that she should get on your milk stand in the first place.

If you have a goat that has never used a milk stand you may need to coax her up on the stand with the food or if she is in particularly stubborn you may need to pull her up onto it the first few times. Once your goat realizes that there is grain on the stand she will jump up with no encouragement. Goats are creatures of habit. You will notice over time that if you change the routine your goats will resist. Something as simple as moving your goat stand a few inches will sometimes be enough to distress a milk goat. Again, they behave like small children.

Once her head is in the catcher you can begin milking. If you have a goat that is new to milking or is a habitual milk pail kicker I recommend using a pair of goat hobbles; they immobilize the goats rear legs to keep them from kicking. Goat hobbling can also be accomplished by tying one leg back so the goat cannot lift its leg to kick. I have found that a pair of goat hobbles seems more comfortable for the goat because she can have both feet on the stand. Once a goat is trained to the stand it is rare that you should need to hobble; they typically are excited about eating and getting the relief that milking provides.

Milking

Goat teats are different than cow teats. Milking a cow is much easier; it just takes longer. Before you begin milking you need to treat the teats with an antibacterial agent. There are sprays for goats teats that you can purchase commercially or you can make your own. We practice organic farming so I choose not use commercial sprays. I make a spray out of water, vinegar, and tea tree oil. Spray the teats before you begin and squeeze a small amount of milk out before you milk in the pail. The first bit of milk that comes out has a larger amount of bacteria in it. Place your pail under the goat.

A small stainless steel milk pail is well worth the expense. They are shaped to catch milk more effectively, are weighted for stability, and are easier to clean than other materials. Goat teats are shaped almost like a rounded triangle. You have to gently feel around for the milk sacks that are at the top to make sure you are not squeezing the sacks. If you rupture the milk sacks it damages the teats and causes blood to appear in your milk.

Once you have found the sacks place your index finger and thumb around the teat just below them. The goal is to trap the milk in the teat by pinching that part and squeezing it out with your other fingers. Depending on the size on the teat this may be done with half of your fingers or most of your hand. It is my personal opinion that women and children are more successful at milking goats because of their hand size in relation to goat teats. On the rare occasion that I am gone and my husband milks this is an issue and my goats are always pleased to see me return.

Keep pinching and squeezing until the milk is gone. To get the last bit out you can gently punch up on the bag once or twice to simulate what her kids would do to get as much milk as they can. She will produce more if you keep her milked out. Goats need to be milked two times a day and it is best to keep within one to two hours of your milk schedule. You will get more milk if you space milking times evenly throughout the day cycle. For example I milk at six in the morning and at six in the evening.

When you are finished milking it is best to treat the teats. I use a mixture of organic essential oils. My mix has a coconut oil base, tea tree and lavender oil for bacteria, and a small amount of peppermint oil to encourage blood flow for the prevention of mastitis. Mastitis is a blockage of a milk gland and is pretty rare.

Below is a short video of me going through the milking process. When I first started milking I found videos to be the best tutorials.

After Care of the Goat and the Milk

When you are finished with the goat make sure she has plenty of fresh hay and water, Milk production hinges on a good food and water supply. If you worm your goat be sure to read the guidelines for milking carefully.

Now you need to strain your milk. You can use coffee filters or cheesecloth. However if you plan on milking long term purchasing a milk strainer is well worth the expense. Be sure to refrigerate, or pasteurize and refrigerate, your milk right away. There are some differing opinions about pasteurizing milk or consuming it raw. If you keep close track of your goats health and everyday care you may choose to go all natural and reap the health benefits of drinking raw milk. I know people who swear by pasteurization.

We do not pasteurize our milk; although, with several children in the house we also don’t keep it in the fridge for every long. I make cheese, soap, and yogurt our goat milk that we do not drink and cook with. We have stopped purchasing milk from the store all together. One of the few disadvantages to goat milk over cow milk is butter. Because goat milk has such a low fat content it takes an excessive amount of milk to produce butter.

Helpful Websites

There is a wealth of information online about the care and health of milk goats. Here are a few that have I have used and a supplier  that I purchase milking supplies from. I am not affiliated with this supplier I have just had very good dealings with them. I hope this information is helpful and happy milking!

http://www.goatwisdom.com/index.html#topics – An excellent site for general information

http://hoeggerfarmyard.com/xcart/home.php – Great supplier for goat milking supplies. They also have good recipes for soap and cheese. There are also some supplies on Amazon that I have had wonderful success with.