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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Sheet Mulch Shenanigans

by Michael
I work in the financial industry and I interact with a lot of people that are active stock traders. Many of them are successful traders. The most interesting thing is that they use many different methods to get them to their goal of making money. I have a lot of people that are starting out in trading ask me what strategies or indicators are the best. I smile because there really isn’t a best. There are a lot of ways to get to the same place.
Gardening is the same. There are a lot of different methods used in gardens and a lot of them work. In recent articles we have discussed row gardening, square foot gardening, and wide row gardening. I really believe that there isn’t one best method, it depends on the person, the area, the plants you are growing, and other factors. The gardening method in the spotlight today has many names but we will call sheet mulching. Many of you might know this method as lasagna gardening.
Sheet mulching is a process of layering levels of compost to make a nice, rich soil for your garden and plants. In order to sheet mulch a person 1) determines the area where they want to garden. 2) Remove all of the existing vegetation by mowing or cutting as low as possible. 3) Covers the area with 4 to 6 layers of newspaper or cardboard. This will kill the vegetation that is below the cardboard. 4) Adds a 2 to 3 inch layer of brown compost which can include dry leaves, manure, worm castings, straw, and wood chips. 5) Add a 2 to 3 inch layer of green compost like grass clippings, vegetable peelings, and plants and plant cuttings. 6) Continue layering until it is 18 inches to 3 feet deep.
It is best to start this process in the fall as it can take some time for the materials to break down and be ready for your garden. The easiest way to know your bed is ready is to check it. If the materials have broken down to the point that they are unrecognizable, you are ready to plant. Layers are added to the soil as compost becomes available.
Oregon State University has a great pdf on sheet mulching here.
Here is another from Washington State’s extension.
Advantages of Sheet Mulching
Since the soil is made by composting, it will be rich and full of nutrients.
Initial barrier helps inhibit weed growth.
There is no need for tilling so soil will remain undisturbed.
Soil is able to retain water efficiently so less water is needed.
Disadvantages to Sheet Mulching
Once the mulch is layered, a gardener has to wait a while (up to 6 months) before it is ready for planting.
Slug populations may increase during the initial composting.
Weeds and plant pathogens in the compost materials are not destroyed in the mulching process.

Have you ever used the Sheet mulching or Lasagna Gardening? Share a comment about your experiences.


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Compost Tea

Compost tea is really simple to make and simple to use. You can make it on a large scale or on a small scale. 

Today I made an itty bitty batch for a few of my plants growing in the window. (It also photographs better than a big ugly bucket)  I wrapped some compost in cheese cloth (you could also use piece of fabric) and stuck it in a mason jar and filled it with water. After a day or two, I just take out the cheese cloth/compost and am left with some compost tea which I will use to water my plants. Then the old compost goes right back into the compost bin.

Normally I make it in a 5 gallon bucket by just scooping a few handfuls of compost in the bucket, then filling it with water.

You can get in depth and complicated using molasses and pumps, but I prefer to go the simple route.

Why use compost tea? 
  • It gets nutrients to your plants quickly
  • It increases plant growth
  • Replaces toxic garden chemicals

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Thanks Again Friends!

Thank you for putting my mind at ease regarding my chickens! In my heart I knew I was right, but there was a piece of me that was wondering if I was wrong and had been mislead all this time. I appreciate all of your comments! I got some great laughs yesterday.

I just want to say that Indiana Jones really is a great neighbor. In fact, he helped us move our chicken coop onto our property.  I'm sure he just got some bad information or misunderstood what he was told. If someone who grew up on an egg farm told me something about chickens, I would probably believe them over a new to the neighborhood backyard farmer as well.

Indiana Jones, I hope there aren't any hard feelings! But just for the record....I was right! 


Monday, March 28, 2011

Am I Completely Wrong?!?!

I need some help....again.
 I have a neighbor that has me second guessing myself, we will call him "Indiana Jones". 

When I first bought my baby chicks 2 months ago Indiana Jones told me that I wouldn't get eggs without a rooster. I explained to him that I have had chickens in the past which laid eggs quite nicely, and I have never owned a rooster. Yesterday he brought up the issue again that I wouldn't get eggs without a rooster. I told him again that I, along with many other urban farmers have city chickens that have NEVER EVEN SEEN A ROOSTER. 

 (In the hallway at church), I told him that I would give him a lesson on the birds and the bees: Just as a woman ovulates monthly releasing an egg, without the help of a male, chickens ovulate daily and release an egg without the help of a rooster.  If a man fertilizes the egg of a woman, you get a baby, and if a rooster fertilizes a chicken egg, you get a chick. But, the male is not necessary for the ovulation.

So, here is what he told me, I've searched online to see if this is true, but can't find the answer.

He told me that the reason my chickens will lay eggs without a rooster is because there is steroid in my feed.  He claims he knows this is true because his friend that grew up on a commercial egg hatchery told him this. 

It made me feel like a little ignorant backyard farmer.

I have asked my feed provider on many occasions, if the feed I was purchasing was medicated. They have always assured me that it wasn't.  I have always assumed that a steroid would classify as a medication.  

Am I completely wrong?!?!?


Sunday, March 27, 2011

Button Button, Who's Got Our Button?

Now you can show that you are a backyard farmer on your blog as well.

(if you are technilogically challenged, like me, here are instructions on what you do with this)
  Highlight the mumble jumble code in the text box on the right sidebar (this is under where it says "grap our button and under the button), then copy it. You are going to add an HTML gadget on your sidebar in your blog and paste the code in the gadget window. Save, and it should appear.

Still have questions? Email me.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

A Look at a Coop

Sarah, a Backyard Farming reader has sent us pictures of her newly built chicken coop. Her and her husband used these plans, and they did a fantastic job! Their property backs up to the woods which is full of all sorts of predators and wildlife, so they have installed chicken wire on the bottom to help deter the predators.

Way to go Sarah, enjoy your girls!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Are You a Backyard Farmer?

I am.
And I'm proud of it.
So I had my friend Megan design these great stickers.

I had them printed here, and I'm so pleased with how well they turned out. Just look how cute it is on my car!

You could put one on your guitar.

Or on your laptop.

Be one of the first 10 comments and I will send you a free Backyard Farmer sticker.
Just leave a comment. Then email me at backyardfarmingblog@gmail.com with your name and address.

Not one of the first 10 comments, but still want a sticker? Don't worry, you can get one for just $5! That includes free shipping.
Click on the "add to cart" button on the left side of the page.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

First Eggs!

By Uncle Dale

This afternoon I was working in the garden. My son Nathan went into the chicken coop to feed the chickens. He yelled out to me “First eggs!!”  It is always exciting to get your first eggs from a new flock of layers.  There were two off white eggs and a bluish green egg, all the same size, all lying in the same nesting box. I think they came from our three Aracuna hens.  The other varieties – Leghorn, Delaware, Buff Orpington, and Black Australorp will soon follow.

We have been buying eggs since we culled our last layer flock a couple of months ago. I will celebrate our freedom from store bought eggs tonight with an egg omelet made from these fresh eggs.

By Uncle Dale

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Wide Row a Go Go

by Michael

In my previous articles I talked about the Row Gardening and Square Foot gardening methods. In this article I will discuss another method which seems to be a mixture of the two called Wide Row Gardening. This is a method we haven't used before so the information I will give you is from research and not from experience. I think we are going to do some row gardening and wide row gardening in our garden this year.

Wide Row gardening is similar to traditional row gardening in that you use rows, however the rows are wider than traditional rows. Instead of one row you might add 3 rows together to make a wider row that is 2 to 4 feet wide. The picture to the right from the Colorado State University Extension website is a good example of what wide rows looks like. The rows are about 2 to 4 feet wide and they are raised and filled with beautiful composted soil. Seeds are then scattered throughout the row and then thinned once they start growing.

Advantages of Wide Row Gardening
  • Wide row gardening has less unused space than traditional rows because of the so it has better yields than row planting.
  • Harvesting is easier as you can collect more produce from a single point.
  • You never have to walk on the soil so it damages soil and it's consistency less than other methods.
  • Plants are planted closer together so they shade the ground and it retains moisture better.
  • Since plants are closer, it is harder for weeds to grow so less weeding is needed.
  • Wide rows are usually raised which allows gardeners to control what is in the soil better. This allows people with soil that doesn't drain, or drains to much to change it's composition easier.
Disadvantages of Wide Row Planting
  • Because plants are closer together than in traditional rows, they will yield less per plant.
  • Since there are more plants in a smaller space, the plants use up more nutrients and it is a little harder on your soil.
  • The rows are wider so it can be harder to work compost into your soil at it is harder to reach the middle of the row.
  • Some gardeners argue that wide row planting requires more watering. This can be negated by adding compost over the years and using a drip system in the bed.
Now it's your turn to share. Have you used the wide row planting in your garden? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this method? What other thoughts do you have about this article?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Home for the Girls

First off, I just want to say I LOVE YOU GUYS! Thank you for your kind words and advice yesterday. It really did help! 

Saturday was a great day, a day that was long overdue. You see, our adorable little chicks became quite large very quickly. They were living in our basement and needed a permanent home outside. We purchased a used coop from the neighbors and were going to move it over to our house a week ago, but it didn't work out. I was distraught, as much as I love the chickens, I didn't want them in the house any longer. Saturday, we made it happen, we moved the coop.

This is what the coop currently looks like and what I'm hoping for it to look like when I'm done. 

I can tell the girls just love their new home.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Cold Feet

Veronica, Amber, Marisa, Nora
 A few years ago some friends and I decided to do a triathlon. We trained together for months, swimming, running, and biking. It was a blast! A few weeks before the actual race, we decided to try swimming in the lake where the race would be held, instead of the swimming pool. I had swam lap after lap in the pool. I knew I could swim the distance because I had swam much further as part of my training. Yet, as I approached the lake, this enormous terrifying fear swept over me. What if I couldn't swim that distance once I was in a lake? What if I wasn't as prepared as I thought I was? What if I start to sink and nobody could see me?  What if....what if....what if??? I had to push past those fears and just dive right in.

Right now I'm having those same fears with my backyard farm. On our little .11 acre backyard farm (swimming pool) in the suburbs we had our chickens, we had our berry bushes, and we had our small yet productive garden. Now here we are on an acre (the lake) and I feel like we are going to drown. What if we put all this time and money into our backyard farm, and we fail? So many of our neighbors have told us that they can't get anything to grow on their property. What if I can't keep up with it all? What if I have been dreaming of this for years, and I don't enjoy doing it on a larger scale? What if...what if....what if??? I know that I just need to push past those fears and dive right in. 

Sorry to be such a downer, maybe I just need a pep talk. 


Saturday, March 19, 2011

Bearded Baby

 We've had a few days of Spring weather and we have all been enjoying the time outdoors.

Check out this great story about a goat delivery

We were so excited to be included in this list

If you use cloth diapers, you may want to check out this pattern for big butt pants

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Reader Question - Chicken Violence

 I have 11 chickens, 5 Reds and 6 black bantams. They have begun to pick feathers out of each other. I saw one doing it, and some are really bad around the tail area and on the upper back. I have tried everything. They have access to an outer run and have a 12x10 coop. I don't know what to do. 

 If you have any advice for this reader, leave a comment! 

Hip To Be Square

By Michael

In my previous article I discussed single row gardening and discussed the pros and cons of the method. This article will do the same for square foot gardening.

We have talked about square foot gardening in past articles by Jennifer and Megan. Marisa and I used the square foot gardening method for part of our garden on our last property. We liked it a lot and had a lot of success with it.

It seems to me that square foot gardening is the cool kid of the gardening methods. If he and single row gardening were in the lunchroom together, you would see him in a leather jacket with sunglasses surrounded by cheerleaders while single row sat in the corner doing his science homework. Right now, square foot gardening is just sexy.

Square foot gardening was made popular by Mel Bartholomew. A square foot garden is a raised bed method in which a small square area is used for a garden. The square is broken into a grid with plants planted in each grid. It is recommended that you plant different plants within each grid so you get a variety of produce in one plot.

Advantages of Square Foot Gardening

  • Square foot gardening will normally give you a better yield for the area you are using. This makes it better for those with limited space.
  • Weeds are easier to control since plants are compact and close together. Weeds get crowded out.
  • Raised bed method means it is easier to access plants for those that have problems bending over or kneeling down.
  • Compact areas with lots of plants tend to keep moisture in the soil better so water is used efficiently.
Disadvantages of Square Foot Gardening

  • The recommended soil mix that is suggested is very expensive. We did 3 4x4 boxes last year and it cost about $100 to fill them with Mel Bartholomew's recommended mix.
  • If you live in a windy area, large plants like corn and tomatoes will blow over easily even when staked (based on our personal experience). Megan had the same problem as us.
  • Since plants are so close together, there can be less air circulation which can cause issues with mildew or disease that you might not have from other planting methods.
If you are interested in this method you can check out Mel Bartholomew's book All New Square Foot Gardening. You can probably get it at most libraries.

What are some of the pros and cons that I missed about square foot gardening? Share them with us in the comments to educate us on your experiences.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Row Row Row......Your Garden

By Michael

Many of you might know that we recently purchased our property and so we are beginning the process of starting a new garden in our backyard. We wanted to share the process of starting a garden with all of you. Our hope is that it might help some of you that don't have a lot of experience with gardening. Our other hope is that those of you that are experts can give us some tips and guidance.

We have already chosen and ordered our seeds. If you have not it isn't too late to order online, or even go to your local nursery to get seeds. If you are starting a new garden like us, the next step after ordering seeds is to determine what type of garden you want to do. Over the next few days we will discuss some of the more popular gardening methods.

Traditional Row Gardening

This is the type of gardening I grew up on. My dad was a potato farmer so gardening in rows made a lot of sense . Row gardening is still very popular. In row gardening you make a row or small hill in your garden and you plant your vegetables in a line. You can walk down the areas between the rows to access your gardens. This method is more popular for those gardeners that have larger plots of land. This is one of the reasons it worked better for my dad because we had a lot of land to use. I have seen and had a lot of success using row gardens.

Advantages of Row Gardening

  • Row gardens are good for those that can flood irrigate. As you flood, water will be taken naturally down the lower areas between the rows and water you whole garden well.
  • Row gardens look neat and nice. I think they are very visually appealing. Maybe that is because I grew up looking at rows and rows of potatoes.
  • Row gardening makes it easier to weed in some cases as plants are spaced in a uniform manner. The weeds are also easy to reach or hoe since you can hoe around each plant.
  • Row planting does not require purchasing extra materials for building boxes or barriers like other methods.
Disadvantages of row gardening

  • Row gardening takes up a lot of space and thus it is usually less efficient than other methods that we will discuss. Many backyard farmers don't have space to row garden.
  • Row gardening does not use water as efficiently as other methods because the plants are spread out more and moisture can escape the soil easier.
Plants that do well in rows include potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, beets, radishes, and plants that have sprawling vines like melons, cucumbers, and squash.

If you have gardened using single rows, share with us what you liked or didn't like about it.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Moving the Coop

We finally purchased a chicken coop and run.  We had been searching the online classifieds daily to see if any inexpensive coops were being sold. There were plenty that were big enough for 3-4 chickens, but it was rare to find one that would hold 12-15.  One night I looked at the classifieds and there was a large coop for sale in my city. I pulled up the pictures and it looked like they were right in my neighborhood. (I could tell by the hills behind them). I called and sure enough they live up the street from us. 
 I know it doesn't look that great, but I've got some plans for a coop makeover. 
Your ideas are ALWAYS welcomed! 
Since it was just up the street, we detached the run, flipped it onto our trailer and drove it right into our backyard.
Where we flipped it into place in our yard. Later this week we will be moving the coop.


CSN Giveaway Winner

Congrats to our winner 
Daisy who said:

I'm already a follower. In fact, I'm hooked!

The chick pic is priceless!

Just email me so I can get you hooked up.


Saturday, March 12, 2011


Michael and I acquired a ham during the Christmas season, it got tucked away in the freezer until this week when I needed the extra freezer space. It is very rare for us to eat ham, and I was pleasantly surprised with all the meals we were able to come up with to use the ham. 

Ham and eggs for breakfast
Ham sandwiches for lunch
Ham and potatoes for dinner

When all the ham was gone, I was able to make a soup with the ham bone.

I covered the ham bone with 3 quarts water
and boiled it for 30 minutes.

While it was boiling, I chopped some carrots, 1 onion, and a few stalks of celery,

I threw the veggies in the pot along with 2 bouillon cubes, 3 bay leaves, salt, pepper,  and 1 large can of chopped tomatoes (including the juice)

I let that simmer for 2 hours and the last 10 minutes I threw in a handful of macaroni. 
I removed the ham bone and cut any remaining meat from it and put it in the soup.

It was delicious!
I think I may need to get some little piggies.

What do you do with a ham?


Friday, March 11, 2011

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Can you see him? 

Maybe if I zoom in, it would help.

 The problem is....
My chickens are supposed to go, here.

We really want a name for our homestead.
Fantastic Mr. Fox has been coming around a lot lately,
we are thinking about naming our place,
Red Fox Farms.
What do you think?


Thursday, March 10, 2011


I bought a container of strawberries and as I went to throw the container in the recycle, I stopped myself. I knew that the container could come in handy when it was time to start my seeds. 

And I was right.

I had a package of older seeds. I wasn't quite sure what percentage of them were going to work out. It turns out, quite a few were bad. I had to keep sticking more seeds in the soil because so few were germinating.

But, some did pop up.
And it was time to separate these guys.
 I found a spoon would do the trick of digging them out while preserving the roots.

Before placing in the pots, I filled them with more seed starting mix. 

Then, I popped them into the pots, just like so.

I had saved this container that some spinach we bought came in. I knew it would be perfect to hold my plants. It also makes it nice because I can bottom water.
To water these guys, I just pour in about a cup of water,  the pot and the soil sucks up the water from the bottom, and there is no damage to the plant. It is great!