Tag Archives: Small-Scale Farming

The Homesteading Bucket List Part 2: 25 More Practical Country Living Projects

The Country Living Bucket List Part 2

Ready for 25 more skills to build on the ones you mastered previously? This set is considerably more advanced than the first, so take your time and be prepared for the learning curve.

26. Prune a Fruit Tree

Although more involved than pruning cane fruits, pruning fruit trees is still quite essential to keeping your trees productive and healthy. Be sure to study some diagrams carefully before you tackle this one. Every cut you make will affect your harvest for better or worse for years to come.

Helpful Resource

Pruning Fruit Trees
Handy free document with illustrations from K-State.

27. Build a Fence

Good fences make good farms. Fencing the garden is a must to keep animal pests at bay. Fencing the yard is highly recommended if you have pets. Fencing the perimeter of the property discourages trespassers. One type of fencing that is better avoided at first, however, is permanent fencing subdividing pastures. Most grazing management experts recommend that beginners use only portable fencing to break up pastures for the first three years or so, as there is a strong tendency to overdo it when starting out, creating logistical mayhem in the long run.

Helpful Resource

How to Make Osage Orange Fence Posts
Making your own fence posts can be surprisingly easy.

28. Learn an Intensive Gardening Technique

Intensive gardening methods seek to maximize the yields of produce per square foot of growing space. These methods were usually created in response to the inefficiencies of traditional row gardening, which was developed based on commercial horticultural implements. For making the most of small areas, intensive gardening techniques cannot be beat. Consider some of these possibilities:

  • Biointensive gardening.
  • Container gardening.
  • Interplanting.
  • Lasagna gardening.
  • Mittlieder method.
  • No-work gardening.
  • Raised bed gardening.
  • Square foot gardening.
  • Soil bag gardening.
  • Straw bale gardening.
  • Succession planting.
  • Tire gardening.
  • Vertical gardening.

29. Work with a Team of Draft Animals

What can draft animals do for you? Plenty. Two areas where draft animals still excel today are in small-scale grain growing and in sustainable logging. For farms with an agritourism bent, draft animals have considerable educational and entertainment value, as well.

Helpful Resource

Draft Animal Power for Farming
Important information to know before you get started, conveniently available in a free PDF download.

30. Grow Grain

You would be surprised at how little space it takes to meet a family’s annual grain needs! Furthermore, raising your own grain can be a way to avoid pesticides and GMOs while taking advantage of the impressive nutrient profiles of traditional grains that may be hard to find at the grocery store.

31. Freeze Eggs

Once your layer flock hits its stride, you will probably start wondering what to do with all those eggs. Freezing them is an incredibly simple way to save them for the winter, when your chickens will be taking a holiday. Frozen eggs are quite satisfactory when used for baking or scrambling.

Helpful Resource

How to Freeze Eggs
Step-by-step instructions.

32. Sell Homegrown Food

This is not an easy task, but fortunately it doesn’t have to be done on a large scale. If starting a full-fledged food business is not for you, sell a dozen eggs to some close friends. If you are more ambitious, set up a produce stand or sell grassfed beef to a restaurant.

Helpful Resources

Starting & Running Your Own Small Farm BusinessStarting & Running Your Own Small Farm Business
A 10-step overview covering everything from business plans to product pricing to sale venues. Read our full review.

Farm Fresh
Plenty of ideas for marketing grassfed meat and milk. Read our full review.

Kansas Department of Agriculture Licensing Guides
Important information to know before making your first sale. (If you are not in Kansas, check your state’s department of agriculture for a similar resource.)

33. Make Homemade Bread

Making bread does not have to be complicated! While some home bread bakers are true artisans, working with carefully crafted recipes and doing every step by hand, those who are pressed for time or inclination can use a bread machine.

34. Plant a Cover Crop

Whether you grow vegetables or grains, a cover crop is a great way to improve your soil—naturally! Cover crops can offer numerous benefits in the way of nitrogen fixation, weed suppression, and organic matter building.

Helpful Resources

Cover Crop Decision Tool
A superb online tool that factors in your objectives, climate, and soil conditions. Highly recommended for growers of both grains and vegetables.

Cover Crops for Vegetable Growers
Useful site from Cornell that profiles 17 cover crops that work well in the garden.

35. Sew an Entire Garment

Again, keep it simple, especially to start. Make it easy on yourself by starting with a purchased pattern. Also, invest in some internet tutorials and how-to books before you pick up the thread. As a final time-saving tip, consider buying a sewing machine, particularly if you think you are likely to sew regularly in the future. A sewing machine can make garment repair and creation quick and easy.

36. Learn to Quilt

This time-honored tradition can be a great creative outlet! Furthermore, there are plenty of kits and books to get you off to a good start these days. If an entire quilt seems like a daunting first project, consider a pillow instead.

37. Build a Root Cellar

It seems like nearly every homesteader’s dream involves a root cellar. And it’s a great way to keep your produce fresh throughout the long winter months when you can’t garden as much!

Helpful Resource

HomeMadeHomeMade
This handy project book includes tips and plans for building your own root cellar. Read our full review.

38. Shear a Sheep

Shearing is something of a lost art, with few professional shearers left. Fortunately, thanks to a growing interest in country living across America, the skill of shearing still has a bright future among hobby farmers.

39. Learn How to Spin

Once you’ve sheared your first sheep, it is only logical to learn how spin the fleece into yarn. Unfortunately, spinning wheels can be very expensive these days. However, the drop spindle is an affordable alternative, especially if you want to test your level of interest before making a considerable investment.

40. Hatch a Batch of Chicks Yourself

There’s nothing like raising your own chicks from eggs. This is an area where you have quite a few options, too. You may want to purchase fertile eggs from a hatchery, or you can let your own rooster and hens do the work. You can bring the hatching process indoors with an incubator, or you can opt to let a broody hen provide a more natural experience.

Helpful Resource

The Broody Hen Versus the Incubator
A comparison of the advantages of each option.

41. Make Ice Cream

Even if you don’t have farm-fresh milk available, you can still make some mighty tasty ice cream with cream from the store. Many gadgets for making ice cream exist these days, and most come with recipes to get you started.

Helpful Resource

Ice Cream Ball
This is a fun way to make ice cream, but it does involve some exercise and some patience.

Stocking UpStocking Up
The third edition of this classic includes tips on making ice cream. Read our full review.

42. Make Cheese

Again, even if you don’t raise dairy cows or goats, you can still make cheese at home. If you are completely new to the process, consider starting with a beginner’s kit.

Helpful Resource

Stocking Up
The third edition includes quite a bit of cheesemaking information, including specifics on cottage cheese, ricotta, cream cheese, semi-hard cheese, and cheddar. Read our full review.

43. Learn How to Dehydrate Fruit

Many fruits can be dehydrated at home, and often without much investment in equipment. If you are new to food dehydration, consider starting out with your tried-and-true home oven. Other dehydrating options include solar drying, freeze drying, and using a special electric food dehydrator.

Helpful Resources

Stocking Up
The third edition of this old classic includes a considerable amount of information on your many dehydrating options. Read our full review.

Drying
This part of K-State’s Food Preservation site offers links to information on equipment, methods, storage, and more.

44. Make Jam or Jelly

Making homemade jam or jelly is not only a way to preserve fruit, it is also a way to achieve unique flavor. However, food safety considerations are crucial when making jam or jelly, so be sure to read up before you start!

Helpful Resources

Stocking Up
Includes very practical information on making jam or jelly. Read our full review.

Jams & Jellies
This part of K-State’s Food Preservation site has information on working with apples, cherries, peaches, and a variety of berries, along with general information on the various steps of the jelly-making process.

45. Learn to Knit

This is an easy and rewarding skill to pick up, and a natural next step after learning to spin. Start with something really simple, such as a washcloth or scarf, and before you know it you’ll be making everything from socks to sweaters.

Helpful Resource

Kids KnittingKids Knitting
Not only is this inviting, easy-to-understand book a great way to introduce children to a productive craft, it is a superb way for an adult to get started, too! Read our full review.

46. Learn to Crochet

And if you’re going to learn how to knit, learning how to crochet is also a natural choice!

47. Sell a Handmade Craft

Already selling food? Selling crafts is even easier. Considering adding your handmade items to your farm product lineup or setting up shop online.

48. Make an Entire Meal with Only Homegrown Ingredients

This is the ultimate goal for many homesteaders, and it is one that will require some planning. You will likely need a homegrown grain and some homemade butter to make bread or some other baked good. For a dinner, you will also want home-raised meat and a sampling of produce from the garden. For a breakfast, you might consider farm-fresh eggs and some homemade jelly.

49. Learn to Ride a Horse

While not absolutely essential on many homesteads, horseback riding can be excellent recreation, and it can be useful if you raise a larger herd of cattle. Consider this one a reward for a lifetime of homesteading well done.

Helpful Resource

The Basics of Western RidingThe Basics of Western Riding
While you will definitely need a more advanced guide at some point, this should get you started. Read our full review.

50. Teach a Country Living Skill to Someone Younger Than You

Here’s your chance to give back. Whether you pass your knowledge along to your children, to an apprentice, or to a blog reader, sharing your expertise will help ensure that country living skills are handed down through the years.

The Homesteading Bucket List Part 1: 25 Practical Country Living Projects

The Country Living Bucket List Part 1If you love country living, you probably enjoy reading websites and magazines that regularly feed your interest and give you new ideas of things to try out. After all, there are always new skills to be learned, and you never know what will become your next favorite project, hobby, or venture!

While your homesteading bucket list can (and should) be unique, you may find that the following suggestions spark an interest that you didn’t even know you had. You’ll also find helpful resources for jumping into many of the projects. The projects are roughly organized with the idea that the skills will complement and build upon one another.

We will feature 25 projects this week and 25 more next week for an even 50.

Have fun!

1. Start a Country Living Library

The perfect starting point! Reading broadly is the key to knowledgeable country living, and therefore the key to success. Want to get the most bang for your book-buying buck? Start with a few classics with philosophies that appeal to you—those that provide inspiration and a broad feel of what you are aiming for in your country living adventure, whether that is a slower lifestyle, a farm that pays the bills, or just a source of healthier food. Also pick up a few beginner-friendly how-to books on projects that you intend to pursue in the near future, such as gardening, cooking, or chicken-keeping.

Helpful Resources

Top 10 Books for Beginning Farmers
This list includes titles on gardening, field crops, livestock, food preservation, starting a farm business, and more.

The Homestead Bookshelf
Our steadily growing selection of the best books on country living out there!

2. Learn About Five Alternative Agriculture Concepts, Practices, or Systems

Once you have a library, you’ll be ready to explore the many options available for those looking to farm a little differently. You will likely want to mix and match to adapt to your unique circumstances. However, each of the different systems has much to offer. Topics you might research include:

3. Create a Budget

Living within your means is a huge part of country living. Take some time to plan how you will pay off any and all debt, and then start saving!

4. Start a Vegetable Garden

No matter how little land you have, you almost certainly have enough room for a vegetable garden, even if it consists solely of a few pots on a porch. This is probably the most rewarding country living project you can tackle.

Helpful Resources

Starting a Garden or Orchard
This series walks you through the basics of water, workload, location, logistics, and plant selection.

How to Plan a Garden
A step-by-step guide to mapping out a successful first garden.

5. Plant an Herb Garden

And while you are working on your vegetable garden, be sure to make room for a few herbs! Your herb garden does not have to be a separate feature of your property. Many herbs can protect your vegetables from insect pests if grown as companion plants.

6. Plant an Apple Tree

A dwarf apple tree is fairly easy to care for compared to other fruits, and it will reward you for years to come.

Helpful Resource

Planning Your Fruit Garden
Just the basics from K-State.

7. Build a Small Shed, Coop, or Other Shelter for Livestock

Livestock require shelter, and many country handymen enjoy building their own. What you build will obviously depend on what you intend to raise. Just keep in mind that simple is often best.

Helpful Resources

HomeMadeHomeMade
Includes many basic projects that will come in handy on your new homestead! Read our full review.

Free LSU Building Plans
These structures tend to be larger and more involved, but there is still plenty of useful material here.

8. Start a Flock of Laying Hens

What homestead would be complete without laying hens? This rewarding project is truly a must—homegrown eggs are infinitely superior to commercial in appearance and peace of mind, not to mention nutritional value.

Helpful Resources

Choosing a Breed of Chicken
Tried-and-true tips for selecting breeds that will meet your needs.

How to Welcome Your Mail-Order Chicks
A step-by-step procedure for getting your baby chicks off to a good start.

Storey's Guide to Raising ChickensStorey’s Guide to Raising Chickens
An essential book for the beginning chicken-keeper! Read our full review.

9. Build a Birdhouse

A backyard full of birds is a place of beauty. Furthermore, these delightful creatures will do their part in keeping insect pests under control. Have a little extra time on your hands? Make a few more birdhouses than you need and give them away as Christmas gifts to those nature lovers on your list!

Helpful Resource

The Complete Book of Birdhouse ConstructionComplete Book of Birdhouse Construction
Very concise illustrated guide with detailed plans for homes for house finches, great crested flycatchers, purple martins, phoebes, downy woodpeckers, wood ducks, and bluebirds, as well as specifications for many more. Read our full review.

10. Use Native Plants for Landscaping

Native plants have a tremendous advantage when it comes to landscaping—they are exceptionally well adapted to your area! When setting about beautifying your place in the country, consider some of the hardy plants that are native to your soil and climate.

11. Make Compost

Composting is not as difficult or mysterious as many books would lead you to believe. While there are many advantages to a precisely controlled hot compost pile, cold composting is a forgiving method that can have you looking like a pro in no time!

Helpful Resource

The Complete Compost Gardening GuideThe Complete Compost Gardening Guide
This friendly book makes composting easy! Read our full review.

12. Raise Earthworms

Earthworms are a gardener’s best friend! If you just want to introduce the children to these fun and fascinating animals, keep it simple and house some worms from your backyard in a clear jar with some garden soil and kitchen scraps for a while. Serious about raising earthworms? Try vermicomposting!

13. Identify the Plants in Your Pasture

What’s the best pasture grass to start with? Often it’s whatever is already occupying the place! Learn what plants, useful and toxic, are on your land, and use that information to find out how to manage your native pastures to advantage.

Helpful Resource

Grasses of Kansas
Our own guide to Kansas grasses, their characteristics, life cycles, ecology, uses, and hazards.

Kansas Wildflowers and Grasses
A very useful website with concise information and photos galore!

14. Press Flowers

While you’re in the pasture, collect some plants to press and store in a nature journal. Not only is this a fun craft, it will help you master plant identification over time.

15. Dry Herbs

Many gardeners believe that the flavor of homegrown herbs dried in small batches and stored for short periods of time is far superior to that of dried herbs that have sat on the grocery store shelf for a while. Fortunately, the skill of drying herbs is not a difficult one to acquire, and these days there are many methods, ranging from hanging up bundles of herbs in an airy place to using sophisticated solar dehydrators.

16. Save Heirloom Seeds

The practice of saving seeds to plant and to share is a time-honored one. Some old vegetable varieties are only around today because one dedicated gardener thought they were worth preserving. Make sure your favorite heirloom plants are still around for future generations by saving the seeds!

Helpful Resource

Vegetables
Our guide to growing vegetables includes step-by-step instructions for saving seeds.

Basic Principles of Breeding Heirloom Vegetables
Information on ensuring a healthy gene pool when saving heirloom plants, for the truly dedicated seed-saver.

17. Start an Indoor Container Garden

Even if you have space for a large outdoor garden, there are still advantages to growing a few plants in pots indoors. Herbs are often more convenient when placed within arm’s reach of the cook. Indoor container gardening can be a simple way to extend the growing season. Also, container gardening makes growing some plants, such as citrus trees, possible regardless of your climate.

18. Make Your Own Mulch

There are many types of mulch that can easily be made at home. Shredding discarded newspapers and collecting lawn clippings are two options within reach of nearly every homesteader. With the right equipment, you may also be able to cut your own straw or chip your own wood mulch.

Helpful Resource

A Brief Guide to 13 Common Garden Mulches
Learn about the pros, cons, and best applications of over a dozen mulches, some of which are easy to make yourself.

19. Build a Cold Frame

There’s a reason homesteaders love cold frames—they are easy to build and highly effective at extending the growing season. Don’t neglect this valuable addition to your country lifestyle!

Helpful Resource

HomeMade
Includes plans for a cold frame. Read our full review.

20. Put Up a Bird Feeder

Bring some cheer to your place during those cold winter months (and enjoy the satisfaction of doing a good deed while you’re at it!). Bird feeders can be surprisingly easy to make.

Helpful Resource

The Backyard Bird Feeder's BibleThe Backyard Bird Feeder’s Bible
This fun and friendly book includes numerous do-it-yourself bird feeder projects, and it will even tell you what your favorite birds prefer to eat! Read our full review.

21. Cut and Use Firewood from Your Own Property

Many find cutting firewood to be a very satisfying way to heat their own homes. Keep in mind that not all firewoods are created equal. Hardwoods are much more efficient than softwoods, and seasoned wood is highly recommended for a nice, clean burn.

22. Mend a Garment

Clothing mishaps are inevitable on a small farm, so it’s best to be prepared. Learning these simple skills can extend the life of your clothes considerably:

  • Sewing on a button.
  • Stitching a tear in fabric.
  • Patching blue jeans.
  • Darning socks.

23. Make a Piece of Furniture

Here’s a winter project that can quickly make you very popular with your relatives! Furthermore, making your own furniture can provide you with the satisfaction of owning one-of-a-kind pieces that fit perfectly into your home.

24. Learn to Tie Basic Knots

Knot-tying is a very useful skill for those who spend time working outdoors. Even if gardening is your only country living project, you would be amazed at how useful a good knot can be.

25. Prune Cane Fruits

To maximize the health and productivity of your cane fruits, such as blackberries and raspberries, regular pruning is recommended. Fortunately, it is also quite an easy skill to learn.

Helpful Resource

How to Prune Blackberries
Step-by-step instructions for both winter and post-harvest pruning.

USDA Releases 2017 Ag Census Results

The average American farmer is still getting older, and his net farm income is still declining.

But the number of young farmers is increasing, the value of their production is above average, and the number of farms consisting of nine acres or less is on the rise.

Here are the highlights from the 2017 USDA Census of Agriculture.

National

2 million farms, 900 million acres, and 3.4 million producers. That’s a snapshot of the current American agricultural scene.

It is important to note that in the 2017 census, the USDA changed the way some of the questions were asked. The most noteworthy change was redefining producer to refer to anyone involved in making farm decisions.

Key facts from the latest Census of Agriculture include:

  • The number of farms in the U.S. dropped 3.2% to about 2.04 million in 2017.
  • Of America’s 900 million acres in farmland, about 401 million are permanent pasture, 396 million are cropland, 73 million are woodland, and 30 million are used for other purposes.
  • The number of farms consisting of 9 acres or less rose to 273 thousand in 2017 from 224 thousand in 2012, the only acreage category that increased in numbers other than farms consisting of 2,000 or more acres.
  • The average producer is now 57.5 years old, compared to 56.3 in 2012 (partially reflective of terminology changes in the census).
  • The number of female producers has increased by 26.6% since 2012 (primarily reflective of terminology changes in the census).
  • 58% of all farmers have their primary occupation outside of farming.
  • 75% of all farms across the nation have Internet access.
  • In 2017, U.S. farms produced $388.5 billion in agricultural products, down from $394.6 billion in 2012.
  • The largest farms ranked by sales (those selling $5 million or more in agricultural products) accounted for less than 1% of all farms, but over 35% of all sales.
  • Producers under 35 years old had a total value of production of $273,522, compared to $190,245 for all producers.
  • Total U.S. production expenses have decreased 1% since 2012.
  • Total U.S. net farm income has decreased 5% since 2012, despite an 11% increase in government payments.
  • The average net income per farm has decreased 2% to $43,053.

The top 10 states attracting beginning farmers (those with 10 or fewer years of experience) were:

  1. Alaska (46% of total number of producers statewide).
  2. Georgia (33%).
  3. Maine (33%).
  4. Hawaii (32%).
  5. Florida (31%).
  6. Rhode Island (31%).
  7. West Virginia (31%).
  8. New Hampshire (31%).
  9. Colorado (31%).
  10. Vermont (30%).

The top 10 agricultural states by sales were:

  1. California ($45.2 billion).
  2. Iowa ($29.0 billion).
  3. Texas ($24.9 billion).
  4. Nebraska ($22.0 billion).
  5. Kansas ($18.8 billion).
  6. Minnesota ($18.4 billion).
  7. Illinois ($17.0 billion).
  8. North Carolina ($12.9 billion).
  9. Wisconsin ($11.4 billion).
  10. Indiana ($11.1 billion).

The top seven agricultural counties by sales nationwide were all located in California.

The top five commodities nationwide, ranked by sales, were as follows:

  1. Cattle and calves ($77.2 billion; the leading state was Texas).
  2. Corn ($51.2 billion; the leading state was Iowa).
  3. Poultry and eggs ($49.2 billion; the leading state was Georgia).
  4. Soybeans ($40.3 billion; the leading state was Illinois).
  5. Milk ($36.7 billion; the leading state was California).

Kansas

On the Kansas scene, key facts from the census include:

  • The number of farms fell to 58,569 in 2017 from 61,773 in 2012 owning to a decline in numbers of medium-sized farms.
  • Farms of 1 to 9 acres increased to 2,665 in 2017 compared to 1,975 in 2012.
  • Farms of 10 to 49 acres also increased to 10,101 in 2017 from 9,776 in 2012.
  • The average farm increased in size to 781 acres in 2017 from 747 acres in 2012.
  • The estimated market value of land and buildings climbed to an average of about $1.4 million per farm in 2017 from $1.2 million in 2012.

The top five agricultural products in Kansas in 2017, ranked by market value, were:

  1. Cattle and calves (58.1% of total sales).
  2. Grains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas (32.3%).
  3. Hogs and pigs (3.8%).
  4. Milk from cows (3.1%).
  5. Other crops and hay (1.4%).

More documents related to the ag census will continue to be released over the next few months and years.

The next census of agriculture will be in 2022.

Helpful Resource

List of Reports and Publications
All the data currently available for the 2017 census, plus release dates for upcoming publications.

Pros and Cons of No-Dig Gardening

Pros and Cons of No-Dig GardeningAre you looking for new ways to improve your garden soil faster? Have you thought about ditching the rototiller?

No-dig gardening, no-till farming’s little brother, offers an exciting way to improve soil with less labor of the back-breaking variety. It also presents a far more natural way to garden—after all, Nature doesn’t own too many rototillers.

Are there pitfalls? The answer is yes. Even so, no-dig gardening may be right for your garden.

Let’s look at the pros and cons to determine the situations where no-dig gardening will be most effective.

Pros

  • Easier on the back. Digging and tilling are hard work. Eliminating those two steps is a great choice for gardeners who are elderly, have back problems, or are a little bit lazy. Add a raised bed or planter to bring the plants up to knee or waist level for even more comfortable gardening.
  • No damage done to soil life. Rototillers tend to disrupt the lives of beneficial bacteria, fungi, and earthworms as they work. While these soil communities will recover before the season ends in organic gardens, the traumatic event is a setback to their work. No-dig gardening fosters life in the soil without interruption.
  • Reduced soil compaction. This one may come as a surprise to you. After all, tillage is supposed to be the way to loosen up the soil in the spring. However, at the farthest depth that the blades can reach, they actually stop turning the soil and start packing it down. If tilling continues at the same depth every year, the soil immediately below the tillage zone turns into hardpan. No-dig gardens will not suffer from compaction as long as the soil health is properly attended to and clearly defined footpaths are provided to avoid trampling the soil.
  • Soil aeration. No-dig gardening is precisely how plants thrive in nature. No wide-scale tillage and subsequent exposure of bare dirt occurs. Organic matter such as fallen leaves and dead grass lies on top of the soil and decomposes over time. Why is having the organic material on the surface important? Because it encourages earthworms to come up from beneath to reach the material, and worm tunnels promote soil aeration.
  • Better use of rainfall. Tillage leaves large areas of bare soil exposed to the sun, wind, and driving rain. The combined action of the baking, the evaporation, and the pounding results in soil with a hard crust on top. This crust in turn prevents rainfall from readily soaking down to the roots. Soil that has not been tilled stays friable, and the layer of mulch on top further aids in the capture of moisture.
  • Fewer weeds. Tillage brings weed seeds up to the surface of the ground to germinate. This can be used to advantage by tilling repeatedly during the same season, allowing several weed crops to germinate only to meet their demise at the hands of the rotating blades. Unfortunately, a lapse in the tillage routine can create a disaster. No-dig gardening keeps piling layers of soil and mulch on top of the weed seed bank, preventing it from ever sprouting and smothering the few weeds persistent enough to attempt germination. Unless you are introducing new seeds from an outside source, you will end up with fewer and fewer weeds the longer you no-dig.
  • Fewer pests. Another counterintuitive effect of no-dig gardening. Tillage is often recommended to expose insect eggs and larvae to the elements (and any helpful chickens that happen to be around). But many gardeners feel that, when done with an eye toward soil health, no-dig gardening seems to attract fewer of the bad bugs, probably because the plants are far healthier overall and have more stable connections with soil lifeforms that offer protection from attack. (The only exception is slugs, as we will see in a moment.)

Cons

  • Scale limitations. No-dig gardening implies the use of mulch and compost. Unless you have the ability to produce industrial quantities of these two ingredients, no-dig gardening will be nearly impossible in a large garden. Going no-dig works best in combination with intensive gardening methods such as square foot gardening.
  • Difficulties with starting in seriously compacted soil. For example, former driveways. Ideally, you will choose a different site for your garden and avoid this problem altogether. If this is not an option, you will probably need to till at least once, likely more than once. The good news is that in this case you will not disrupt the soil community since the odds are pretty high that there isn’t one. (Do not be fooled by naturally clay soils that have not been abused; these are still often quite suitable for no-dig gardening with some care.)
  • Need for designated pathways. No-dig gardening makes it doubly important that people and animals do not traipse through the beds. This can be hard to prevent in some garden plots. If this is your problem, consider a raised bed.
  • The need for plenty of mulch. With no-dig gardening, mulch is absolutely essential to keep the soil healthy and the weeds in check. (The good news is that mulch is strongly recommended for any style of gardening anyway.)
  • Slower soil improvement process. Tilling in soil amendments can create perfect soil instantly. Building the soil layer by layer takes longer at first, although it promotes healthier soil structure in the long run.
  • Slugs. If you live in a wet climate, you will want to be careful with the types of mulch you use, as a stable layer of decomposing straw or grass will invite slugs to move in. This should not be an issue in dry climates.

Conclusion

Yes, no-dig gardening is a very natural way of building good soil. However, it requires an investment.

These two tips may make the transition easier for you:

  • Keep your garden small. Except for those who engage in serious canning, most gardeners can grow all the produce they need in a remarkably limited space provided they use it efficiently. Consider Mel Bartholomew’s advice from All New Square Foot Gardening—plan on 48 square feet for every adult and 27 square feet for every child in the family, the space to be evenly divided between salad vegetables, dinner vegetables, and vegetables for preserving, giving away, or trying out for the first time. A large no-dig garden is hopelessly unmanageable for most gardeners.
  • Consider using straw as your primary source of mulch. High-carbon mulches like wood chips and cardboard have to absorb a great deal of nitrogen from the soil to decompose, leaving less available for your plants and increasing the risk of insect pests, not to mention reducing your harvest. Straw breaks down much quicker, keeping nutrients available in the soil where they belong.

Read Joel Salatin For Free With Kindle Unlimited

You Can FarmIf you enjoy reading Joel Salatin, this is an excellent opportunity to enjoy most of his titles for free on Kindle Unlimited. This includes his newer titles and a few old classics.

Three we heartily recommend picking up, if you haven’t read them already, are:

You Can FarmYou Can Farm. A beginning agripreneur’s guide to innovation, covering a wide range of topics from selecting an enterprise to grass-based farming to direct marketing. (Read our full review.)

 

Pastured Poultry ProfitsPastured Poultry Profits. A practical look at how to establish a pastured broiler business. (Read our full review.)

 

Salad Bar BeefSalad Bar Beef. A guide to setting up a grassfed beef business. (Read our full review.)

 

Don’t miss this opportunity!

Toggenburg

ToggenburgThe Toggenburg is yet another ancient Swiss dairy goat that has enjoyed success wherever it has traveled. This breed took its name from the Toggenburg region in the eastern part of its native country and has been known there for centuries. It has been registered and recorded since the 1600s, but definitely traces back considerably further.

The Togg, as the breed is commonly known, began to spread across the world in the late 1800s, reaching England in the first half of the 1880s. The American population is descended from the Toggenburgs of England, the first four goats having arrived in Ohio from the latter country in 1893.

More importations to the United States followed. By 1921, there was a solid foundation and registration of the breed began, giving the Togg the distinction of being the first goat breed registered in our country. Its dairy qualities and its regular appearance at state fairs gained it further notoriety, which it has enjoyed in America ever since.

The modern Toggenburg has been bred for greater size. However, for those who prefer a smaller goat, the Miniature Toggenburg has been created through the introduction of Nigerian Dwarf blood.

Uses

The Togg is strictly a dairy breed best suited to fluid milk production. Its milk has low butterfat levels, so it is less desirable than other breeds for making value-added dairy products such as butter and cheese. However, when placed in a herd of goats of other breeds, it will contribute to cheese production by adding a strong but sweet flavor to the finished product.

The Miniature Toggenburg may be slightly more versatile due to the higher butterfat and protein content of its milk.

ToggenburgTemperament

The Toggenburg is not lacking in personality. While perfectly friendly and affectionate, it is a free spirit with a cantankerous streak. It is not above domineering people and other goats, and has been known to tackle a coyote and win. It is always on the lookout for something exciting to do and seems to spend a good part of its day finding new ways to escape.

Health

Overall, the Togg is built to last. It is constitutionally hardy, structurally sound, and dispositionally tough. Be aware, however, that it is best adapted to cooler climates and may suffer somewhat in the heat.

Pat Coleby’s experience suggests that the Toggenburg may have higher copper requirements than other breeds. A copper deficiency will initially present itself by a bleached coat.

Finally, a note on breeding Mini Toggs: Because this version of the breed is very scarce, some goat-keepers like to raise their own by crossbreeding a standard Toggenburg with a Nigerian Dwarf. Keep in mind that the dwarf goat used to produced this cross needs to be a buck—breeding a full-sized Toggenburg buck to a diminutive Nigerian Dwarf doe is a recipe for disaster.

ToggenburgPros

  • Suitability for cool climates.
  • Some level of resistance to predators (always play it safe with good fencing, however).
  • Natural foraging instinct.
  • Low feed requirements.
  • Hardiness.
  • Easy kidding.
  • Strong mothering instincts.
  • Long lactations, lasting from 18 to 20 months.
  • High milk production.
  • Sweet milk flavor when not allowed to consume aromatic weeds.

ToggenburgCons

  • Scarcity of Miniature Toggs.
  • Difficult temperament for beginners to handle.
  • Considerable ability as an escape artist.
  • Reduced heat tolerance.
  • Low butterfat levels (higher in the miniature version).
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Tennessee Fainting Goat

Tennessee Fainting GoatThe Tennessee Fainting Goat goes by many names—Myotonic Goat, Nervous Goat, Wooden Leg—and receives its claim to fame from its strange habit of falling down stiff when startled. As befits its status as a strange curiosity among goat breeds, it traces back to a small herd owned by a man who was a strange curiosity himself. This man was John Tinsley.

Tinsley was an older man when he showed up in central Tennessee in the early 1880s. No one knew for sure where he got his peculiar accent, but he was believed to have traveled in from Nova Scotia. Besides the hallmark beret he wore, Tinsley brought with him a “sacred cow” (probably some sort of a zebu) and four goats with a tendency to collapse when alarmed. The fame of these goats soon traveled throughout the area, and a Dr. H.H. Mayberry offered to purchase them. Tinsley refused at first, but finally acquiesced and took $36 in exchange for the four. He and his zebu disappeared without a trace soon afterwards.

Mayberry bred the goats (one buck and three does) as novelties for a while and quickly discovered that their habit of fainting was hereditary. The Fainting Goats also proved their abilities as low-maintenance meat animals—they had abundant muscling, they were too stiff to escape confinement readily, and they could reproduce at an impressive rate. Mayberry had no difficulty selling his goats across Tennessee and Kentucky. By the mid-1900s, the breed had spread as far as Texas.

Unfortunately, not all of the Tennessee Fainting Goats were bred pure, as crossbreeding was considered the technique of choice for breeding meat goats. No sooner had the breed spread across the South than it began to dwindle in numbers.

In the late 1980s, the Tennessee Fainting Goat’s potential both as a meat breed and as a novelty brought it back to the attention of goat breeders. Although still quite rare, it is enjoying a slow increase in numbers and geographical distribution, albeit in two forms. The Tennessee version is bred primarily for conformation and extreme stiffness, while a Texas variety has been selected strictly for production traits, such as fast growth, heavy muscling, and high fertility. These two types are already considered separate breeds by some, and it seems quite possible that the breed will eventually split.

 

Uses

Fainting Goats are mainly kept for two purposes: meat production and the novelty factor. While either the Tennessee type or the Texas type can be kept for either role, the former excels as a unique pet and the latter as a meat animal. Note, however, that due to the current scarcity of the breed, purebred Fainting Goats are typically not slaughtered. Instead, the bucks are crossed with Boer does to produce meat goats.

On a small homestead, the Fainting Goat can find other roles, as well. It can produce milk in small quantities, and a few can produce cashmere fiber (note that a long-haired goat is needed for this purpose).

Fainting Goats are also used to study myotonia congenita. This disease causes muscle stiffening in humans as well as goats.

 

Temperament

Tennessee Fainting Goats have winning personalities, being smart and spirited, but at the same time sweet and gentle. Their calm, affectionate nature makes them safe family goats.

Because their stiff muscles prevent them from climbing or jumping to any significant height, these goats are very easy to contain.

The mothering instinct is strong in the Fainting Goat breed. Does can be trusted to bond with their kids without assistance. In fact, despite the fact that newborn kids of this breed are active right from the start, they may be difficult to find, as the does prefer to hide them for a few days.

 

Health

The Fainting Goat is known for hereditary myotonia congenita, a condition in which the skeletal muscles lack adequate chloride channels, important for bringing muscles back to their resting positions. So while the goat’s muscles can readily contract, they are slow to relax after a quick movement. When this contraction occurs in the legs, they become stiff and the goat may be caught off balance and fall over. “Fainting” is a misnomer, as the goat remains completely conscious during the spell of stiffness. While myotonia may make the goat more vulnerable to predators, the frequent muscle contractions result in very strong bones and muscles, and do not appear to cause pain or a shortened lifespan.

Note that Tennessee Fainting does mature slowly and should not be bred until they are physically up to the task (at least 16 months of age). Also, be aware of their small size and do not breed them to bucks larger than themselves. When crossbreeding to the hefty Boer for meat goats, use a Tennessee Fainting buck and Boer does to avoid difficult births.

 

Pros

  • Size suited to small acreages.
  • Ease of containment.
  • Adaptability to most environments.
  • Resistance to internal parasites.
  • Foraging ability.
  • Feed efficiency.
  • Long breeding season.
  • Easy kidding when mated to a buck of a comparable size.
  • Prolific tendencies; usually has twins or triplets.
  • Excellent mothering instincts.
  • High meat yield.
  • Tender meat.
  • Mild flavor.

 

Cons

  • Scarcity.
  • High prices.
  • Vulnerability to predators.
  • Slow growth.

 

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Pygmy

PygmyThe Pygmy goat shares much of its early heritage in common with the Nigerian Dwarf breed. It originated as a landrace in Africa centuries ago, arrived in Great Britain during the days of imperial expansion, and quickly became popular in Europe as a zoo exhibit.

Miniature goats were noted to have varying types in those days. After surplus goats from zoos were dispersed to private owners, selection began to fix and enhance preferred characteristics. One version had dairy potential and proportions similar to those of standard breeds; this went on to become the Nigerian Dwarf. The other version was absurdly stocky for its size, with large bones and heavy muscling. This goat became the basis of the Pygmy breed.

At first, Pygmy goat prices were ridiculously high as the breed became something of a fad among owners of exotic pets. However, this very popularity ensured that in short order the supply would exceed the demand. Prices fell accordingly.

The Pygmy goat is still popular around the world, however, with pet owners and homesteaders alike.

 

Uses

Many Pygmy goats today are primarily kept as companion animals, either for people or for lonely horses. Likewise, they are a common choice as children’s show goats and as petting zoo exhibits.

With the rise in popularity of homesteading, it was quickly found that Pygmy goats were versatile working animals, as well. Their muscular physique makes them suitable for home meat production, and they also excel in the weed-eating department. While they are efficient milkers for their size and can make good homestead dairy animals, milking a Pygmy goat is a task that requires some patience due to their tiny udders.

 

Temperament

Pygmy

The Pygmy goat fairly bursts at the seams with personality. It is always busy, playful, and eager to jump and climb. It will try to scale anything that its little legs are equal to. Some type of goat playground equipment is a must for this breed, or it will quickly grow bored.

But its intelligence, combined with its docility and desire to please, make the Pygmy goat easy to train. With plenty of positive reinforcement, it will readily pick up most standard dog tricks, such as stay, shake hands, walk on a leash, and jump through a hoop. Just one word of warning—if you feed your Pygmy goat treats, be prepared to have a perpetual (and vocal) shadow on your heels!

Since you will not be able to stay outdoors and provide for all of your Pygmy goat’s extensive social needs, give it a companion. This does not have to be another goat. Most Pygmies are quite content around sheep and horses.

Remember that Pygmy bucks are still bucks. They will fight with other bucks for dominance, although they rarely hurt each other. They typically do not attack people, but it is always best to be alert around Pygmy bucks, just in case, as their horns can inflict painful injuries.

 

PygmyHealth

The Pygmy is an exceptionally healthy, hardy breed. In its native home, it was naturally immune to the tse-tse fly. While that is not something most American homesteaders will have to worry about, we can readily appreciate the sound health behind that immunity. In our country, it translates into resistance to mange and mastitis, two common problems in dairy goats.

However, please be aware that your Pygmy goat will thrive best when provided with a simple shelter so that it can escape the rain. Make this structure even better by providing benches inside so that the goats can sleep out of the mud.

Note that Pygmy does are capable of conceiving as early as two months of age, before their bodies are ready for the strain of pregnancy and delivery. To avoid injuries and difficult births, wait until your doe is about eight months old—perhaps older depending on her size and physical condition. Always wean doe and buck kids separately to avoid accidents.

 

PygmyPros

  • Affordability.
  • Suitability for small acreages.
  • Ease of handling and transportation.
  • Adaptability to most climates.
  • Minimal feed requirements.
  • Willingness to eat weeds and other undesirable plants.
  • Disease resistance.
  • Early maturity.
  • Longevity.
  • Ability to breed year-round.
  • Tendency to have three to four kids at a time.
  • High milk production relative to size (about half a gallon a day).
  • Very high butterfat content.
  • Milk exceptionally high in a variety of minerals, including calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and iron.
  • Long shelf life of milk.

 

Cons

  • Vocal tendencies.
  • Tendency to grow bored without something to play with.
  • Ability as an escape artist.
  • Short lactations (four to six months).
  • Small, hard-to-milk teats.

 

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