So you have a bit of space and you have decided that you want to be a bit more healthy. Protein is important. There are many sources of protein in the veggie world. You could eat only vegetables and get enough protein if you select properly. In our American diet though meat or meat products is how we get our over abundance of protein be it from Milk, Eggs, Beef, Chicken, etc etc. Since we have some space and the costs are not insurmountable for chicken and you have options with chicken that is where we are heading first.
You need to decide if you want meat or eggs. There are some varieties of chicken that produce meat and eggs decently but once you slaughter no more eggs so keep that in mind. Older birds are also tougher and generally are cooked differently then younger. If you go to the store and buy chicken for meat most times those are young birds. Eggs are a longer term investment in both care and infrastructure. You need to recognize that those birds can produce for 1-3 years on average and do not start until around 16 to 20 weeks old. Meat birds can be slaughtered between 6-16 weeks old depending on variety.
Are you going to keep them in a chicken coop? Are you going to use a chicken tractor? Are you going to let them free range? In our area we have a large number or predators from coyote to barn cats to eagles and owls. So our birds need to be secure. We are using a variation of Joel Salatin style tractor. You can see what his look like here. We will have a blog post when ours is finished as well as a chick brooder. Since they will be ready to slaughter in less than 16 weeks we elected to make a cheaper tractor for our first go at it.
Now you need to select the kind of birds you want. I would suggest a local hatchery. We are in Iowa and there is one just a couple of hours away that has a pretty good reputation. We could also get birds at a variety farm stores, tractor supply, country living etc etc. We elected to order from Murray MacMurray Hatchery. They have a guide to help selecting a variety you will like. We went with Jumbo Cornish Cross Rock which is most common found in grocery stores from my understanding. Since Natalie is not a huge meat eater we wanted to keep it somewhat familiar. They do have a plethora of choices that you can choose from.
When I was in ST. Louis I worked in a research lab. Every week in the summer we had a farmers market downstairs. I LOVED doing my grocery shopping downstairs. I had a CSA I was a member of. There was a guy who sold the best Yogurt. FYI the best yogurt is windcrest dairy out of Trenton Illinois. Yea I am biased because it is soooooo good. Great people as well. Anyway. I would get enough yogurt for a week and my csa and had no need to really go to the grocery store. I would go to Soulard or my own small garden on occasion if I needed something more but most of my needs were covered.
Then we moved to Iowa. The land of farms with no food to eat. It was amazing how spoiled I had become. You never even think about it. Just go to the grocery store and pick up something which is trucked in from elsewhere. We did not have space to start with but the town we lived in had Community Garden space. You could really rent a plot for the season and it was cheap like $35 for a 20×50 plot. Now think about how much you could grow on something that size? You do not have that space or a community plot near? While we never used this service I did come close two seasons but one we were traveling a lot that summer and the second I was just to “busy”. In reality I did not want to bother with it cause I was still pouting about not having my CSA and Soulard and home garden.
Aerogardens are a good alternative. We bought one for our apt. We could produce about 2 salads a week using all the pods. That was not so bad and to have super fresh salads was awesome. I am not a huge iceburg lettuce fan so the aerogarden was a pretty good option. The down side was the lights were on for 17 hrs and while LED so little energy used it was bit of a light pollution issue in our kitchen at 3 am and bright as day in there.
So we bought our 5 acres. You can see the plot on a previous post. So we started a small 50×100 garden our first year. The sweet corn was pancaked by winds. We did get some but it was all laying down. Our squash did awesome. We had butternut, spaghetti, pie pumpkins, zucchini, summer squash. Our tomatoes did well enough to enjoy and even can some sauce.
The second season our squash did well again but trying a new technique we had significantly reduced yields. Our tomato produced okay but the green house gravel issue reduced those yields and pests got all of our corn. We did get black beans, garlic, potato, and wheat. We have expanded each year with the hopes to eventually provide our own food and sell at market the overage. We have also begun looking at the legal aspect of farm production for sale. Including training on FSMA (Food Saftey Modernization Act). Slowly we are meeting fellow producers and learning the market streams and how it all works. We have attended several conferences that I will post about in the future.
Wheat is often demonized in our current culture because it contains gluten. This protein interacts in numerous ways and causes some people some serious illness. Some people think they are allergic but not really and some think that removing it helps you to loose weight. Current culture is built upon the need for grain. We use it such things has beer, bread, flour, cereal, chemicals, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals the list goes on and on and on. We have it as a part of our national anthem. What did you think amber waves of grain referred to? This post will be about none of that. Okay maybe a bit about the waving grain. This is about growing and processing wheat. We have grown winter wheat 2 seasons now. The first was a lot of work and a lot of fun. The second is ongoing and is looking fine. We will see when it starts to grow in the spring.
So what is winter wheat? Simply put it is wheat that is planted in the fall allowed to grow (establish roots) then is dies back in the winter. There is a window of planting and if your winter is too cold it will be winter killed. If it is too dry it will die and if there are too many birds you will not get any thing out. To combat this last one many farmers use what is called a seed drill to plant their wheat. We broadcast seed it by hand. Cause it is fun and drills are expensive and well we are a bit frugal at Sifs Harvest. Did I mention it is fun?
Now the winter wheat is planted. You wait. you can irrigate of course but why worry about it. It is a grass and unless it is really dry ( we have averaged about .25 to.5 inches of rain per week and the ground is thawing now and is significantly water logged no need to worry about lack of moisture. If all goes well you get something like this below.
In the spring right before it turns brown and ripe you can imagine how that would appeal to someone writing about the greatness of our country right? I mean corn and beans are chumps when it comes to waving in the wind. Yea take that corn and beans.
ANYWAY….. Where was I? Right, WHEAT! It is kind of mesmerizing. The above is not even close to how gorgeous it will become. Sort of like that person you meet is kind of attractive but the more you get to know them they get more and more attractive. That is wheat.
So your wheat is turning straw colored and you have checked for dryness and have decided that it is time to harvest it.You have options oh yes you do. You can DIY a hedge trimmer and cut your stalks and bundle them. You can get a Scythe and cut your stalks and bundle them. You can pull them out by hand and bundle them. You can even use machines to do all the work but on small scale it might not be worth it. I use a Scythe. I will be putting another blog together on the scythe in the future so stay tuned.
So you have the wheat cut and shocks made (bundles of cut wheat are called shocks). What now? well you have options again. You could take the shocks and smack them on the inside of a clean bucket. You could also put them in a pillow case and smack them on the ground. You can cut off the berries and use a DIY thresher.
If you have small enough scale and if you have time you can do the DIY thresher and it will work pretty good. Just remember to winnow it well. (blow chaff away from seed). You can also use food processors and the like. However if you have more wheat then time and you can cut it and store it relatively easy. You can keep it whole and use a small scale threshing machine. Remember to save your wheat stalks for straw. We use ours for fire starting and for mulching the garlic. Which will be coming as well.
This makes threshing so much easier. You can order similar from over seas but with import tax and with shipping and timing you will spend about the same and this is foot powered. It can be modified if you have the know how to run with a motor but for what we paid I can honestly say this cut the work significantly.
So now you have threshed wheat berries. You simply pass them through an air current a fan of wind outside. The chaff and debris is lighter then the seed and they blow away the seed drops down and you have purified your mix. You may need to do it a couple of time.
What now? well you can use that wheat to make your own wheat sprouts. You can grind them in flour. You can even use them whole in soups and what not. We grind ours into flour using the kitchen aide. If we were doing any larger amounts I would get a grain mill.
Now you have flour and you can rule the world! At the very least make tasty bread. Winter wheat has a higher gluten content you can grow spring wheat varieties and then mill it finely for a more pastry flour type.
Now something cute that happened in our wheat field last year. It really is amazing on the uses for wheat. I never suspected that it was a resource for birds to nest in. Just as a reminder food is food and if you can eat it so can they or make their home in your food.
We have decided we can use a green house. We also have looked at various types and thought about what works best for our area, our budget and our experince level. The end result is a small greenhouse that we can build relatively cheap. We can use it to produce some t hings for market but also the more important is that we can use it to learn how to work in a green house and what sorts of things are important. Eventually we will be looking at a very large greenhouse for year round production of various types so we need to understand the systems in a way that can only be done by working with them.
There are many things that we liked about this green house. You can see that it has sturdy wood construction. We knew we could build it with a couple of people in a weekend. We also knew that it was low cost and that we can adapt it to suit our needs. One of the changes that we did was install anchors, a second door, removed the metal skirt and replaced with clear plastic, added two vents and insulated the gaps.
We decided that we absolutely had to make sure this was adequately anchored. We built anchors that were inexpensive and durable. We made them with J bolts, concrete and cinder blocks.
As you can see this created a block that was weighed down and secured with concrete but also attachable to the sill plate for the structure. This would also actually raise the structure off the ground and reduce the need for pressure treated or cedar lumber thus reducing costs again.
These blocks were then placed into pre dug holes. There are many lessons learned. If you have tough soil use a auger to drill the holes with a shovel to finalize it. It really did make a huge amount of difference in our ability to dig the holes we needed.
The anchoring of the structure is crucial but also leveling at this point. We wanted to make sure that we were square and level to help long term with the building process. We also decided to use some assembly line ideas and mass produce sections when we could.
Now the basic structure is coming together and the ribs are assembled.
Once you have the items assembled it goes together relatively quick. As with most construction projects when you place the plastic panels on the structure it really starts to have a rigidity to it. One of the changes we made was auto vents that were boxed out between the ribs and a automatic vent opener was attached. We also added store bought screen doors that made installing doors much easier.
The above image is of the completed greenhouse with plastic wrapped compost ready for planting. The second image is after we realized that we had a hard gravel pack 2-3 inches below the surface I manually removed the dirt screened it and placed the rocks around the perimeter. We also have learned the the vent needs something to keep it from being ripped open during a wind event.
The finished product. We grew a tomato and peppers last season in it. The gravel caused so many problems that is why I dug it up and removed them. We also had some pest issues which placing the gravel around the outside perimeter should fix. We did not have issues with lack of pollination but were prepared to pollinate by hand.
Green houses/ hoop houses are becoming more and more common. You can even qualify for grants to help purchase a hoop house from the government. You have to check with your local NRCS contact EQUIP program and your local extension. I am going to focus on why we chose to build one. Why we chose to build it the way we did and some of the issues we have discovered. In the first year.
To begin with we looked at where we live (south eastern Iowa) so we can have pretty cold and windy conditions. On average we are around a 4 with gusts in the 6/7 range. This would preclude us from being interested in anything that was not anchored well. This would also cause us to consider not having a large vertical face.
As you can see below we have a .25 mile lane and lots of open spaces around our little oasis. The openness allows for a great unobstructed growing day. However the lack of wind protection is a concern not only for the green house but for growing and living spaces in general. Being surrounded by mono culture crop land we thought may actually increase pest pressure in a PORT affect. Whereby our space can provide habitat for pests that is not available in the surrounding area which could affect our plants both in and outside of the green house.
Do you need a green house to grow veggies and other produce in our area? The answer is a resounding NO! But, you can grow more longer and higher yields with a protected environment. Elliot Coleman has shown that with appropriate planning you can grow 4 seasons in Maine. Which is further north then we are. As a matter of fact you should take a moment and look at your latitude. We are at 41.3 degrees which is at the same level as Spain, turkey, Greece, Italy (Sardinia) to name a couple. Wiki 41st Parallel Which all have a history of long growing seasons. So without adding lights we can count on being able to produce year round. The concern becomes temperature. We can expect significant more cold then Sardinia for example. However that can be negated with both heated and unheated green houses without additional lighting.
Knowing that we are cold enough to have concerns for year round growing and knowing that we need to be concerned about the materials and shape of any growing structure we utilize. So what are the options for green houses?
The first is a very commonly found at your big box stores. It is made of thin plastic or metal. The panels are thin and prone to breaking. It is not anchored to the ground. Nor will it hold up to any sort of long term usage you will have minor damage after the first year of regular use in our environment.
The second is a basic hoop house. It most likely has dirt floors and this version does not look to have roll up sides or direct ventilation. Dirt floors are useful for growing a larger variety of produce. Concrete floors allow you to manage weeds and pests easier. It allows for a cleaner work area and with the addition of tables may make for a more ergonomic growing. The main downside to concrete floors is increased costs and increased reliance on artificial media to grow in. NRCS does not allow (as far as I have found) concrete floors in our area you must grow in or on the bare ground. The roof is rounded which helps with shedding rain water but could be problematic in a heavy snow event.
The third is a commercial hoop house. This has roll up sides that allow for more ventilation. A Cathedral roof allows for more snow shedding then a more rounded shape. The floors may or may not be dirt and the structure can be heated or not. This size would allow 4 seasons of production on a market scale.
The forth is a fully commercial greenhouse and as you can see is actually multiple smaller structures joined together. It is most certainly heated and is more certainly concrete floors. The cost of the structure would require it to be built and utilized year round producing high value products that can be grown in various media and technologies think Hydroponic tomato or lettuce.
The fifth is a geodesic dome. Most commercial and hobbyist stay away from it for a variety of reasons. The most obvious is the wasted space. There is a lot of vertical space that cannot be used unless you are growing something like trees. The roundness also prohibits you from “stacking” the structures as you can see in number 4. They are efficient in energy usage and resource allocation.
The sixth is a walpini which is what I consider the artisan greenhouse. These are site specific as if you are not careful you can shade your growing area out for most of the year if you are to far north. They have a high thermal mass being most buried and therefore are extremely energy efficient. They are not for the hobbyist as they are labor intensive to construct.
I added the last two so you can see that there are many options to choose from when you picking what you need. So we know that we need something that can be anchored. We want to grow in ground of the cost savings and the ease of technologies for dirt working. We also want it to be structurally robust so no film we want clearn panels. So we decided to take a modify a design similar to the 1st one.
The next blog will show you what we did and describe why we did some of the things we did. Till then…
Dreams, everyone has them. We are no different. When you think about the future and you see being able to attain your dreams not just by your hard work but also with the cosmic alignment that enables you to succeed. This blog will contain information about our dreams. Our decisions on how to attain those dreams, our failures and maybe even a bit on successes. It is our intention that these blogs help to define who we are but also enable us to connect and relate to the world. We choose the written word for the ease of dissemination, the ability to be deliberate with our thoughts and the ability to cut costs and time.
To understand us you need to understand the context in which we currently exist. We are a married couple. Doug is a scientist who has spent a significant portion of his work history working in research and advancing knowledge. The other part is in industry. Natalie is an engineer, designer, organizer, Architect. No literally she builds schools and such. We have been married for 3 years and have been in Iowa for 4 years. We purchased this property in 2016 and it includes 5 acres, two barns, a shed and a large garage oh and the house was built in 1905.
Doug and Natalie have always had an environmental savvy and conservationist viewpoint. Doug comes from a family that until the previous generation to his was mostly farmers in Iowa. His childhood involved numerous trips to Iowa (as the son of a service member Iowa was home) and the farm that his father grew up on. His mother even lived on a farm for many years. Natalie spent a large amount of her youth living in New Hampshire in a heavily forested area with mountain lakes.
As we both grew up and proceeded in our careers we discovered that there are many things that could be changed in our world that would benefit all people regardless of their economic background. We noticed the lack of access to locally sourced, sustainably raised and thoughtfully priced products. Now if you have ever been to Iowa there are a large number of farms but little food is really grown. Raw materials are grown in large monocrops with added chemicals and fertilizers. Which works well for large farms. While Doug would love 500 acres he just would not want it to be of corn or soy beans. The idea of growing our own food was born. The dream is to be able to provide our own produce for daily consumption all year. Subsequently also hope to be able to provide an income via selling our excess farm products to our friends and neighbors to help them enjoy local farm products as well.
As often happens in order for these dreams to come to fruition there are other things that need to happen. We intend to use this blog to explain further some ideas, How we are doing things, Why we chose to go that route. We are not experts by any means. We are two people looking for a way to provide for ourselves as our ancestors have done in the past. We invite you on our journey with us. Hopefully you enjoy what we have to share.