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Archive for the ‘Farming’ Category

HOMEGROWN Life: What the Fodder?! The Latest in Cheap and Easy Livestock Feed

Tuesday, March 15th, 2016

 

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Have you seen the latest big craze in animal feed? Livestock fodder from grain seed takes only about a week to grow and increases your feed by up to six times in weight. (So far, I’ve seen five but I hear six is possible.) It’s highly nutritious and provides 20 percent protein by dry weight. You can feed it to poultry, rabbits, ruminants, horses—just about any grass-loving livestock around.

When my friend Brande first told me about it, I wasn’t so sure. I had heard great things about it but had only seen these huge, incredibly expensive setups for large livestock operations. I hadn’t even thought it was possible to do fodder without one of those setups.

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Gathering round.

What in the hell was I thinking? Nowadays everything can be done DIY, so why not fodder? It would just require a bit more labor on my part.

There are really only three things you absolutely have to have: seed, water, and planting trays with drainage holes. There’s no need for soil or fertilizer. Because we have a mild climate, I’m just growing mine outside on a table. The best seed to use is barley, as it has the highest nutrition and protein of all the grain seeds. I can get an 80-pound bag of barley for just over $18. You can try to find hulled barley, but unhulled seems to work fine. When watering, I recapture the drainage water to reuse.

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Cleaned barley with hulls intact (unhulled).

Before you start making your fodder, you need to soak the barley for six to eight hours in water. This degrades germination inhibitors in the seeds (also why you should soak peas and legumes before planting). You only want to put about half an inch of barley in your tray. It really does swell up, and I found that, with 3 pounds of barley, the tray was busting at the walls. You want to cover the barley with enough water so that it remains covered when it expands.

Soaking barley in a bucket.

Soaking barley in a bucket.

Once your barley is done soaking, pour the seed and water into your tray and rinse the seed. To help encourage germination, cover your tray so that it remains dark. I just use a burlap sack. The photo above shows the barley one day after soaking. Small root tips are beginning to show up at the ends of the seed.

Day 1: Just starting to germinate.

Day 1: Just starting to germinate.

Water your seed two to three times a day. You want to keep it from drying out too much. By the second day after soaking, you’ll start to see more of the roots.

Day 2: At this point, you’ll begin to see the seeds expand in size.

Day 2: At this point, you’ll begin to see the seeds expand in size.

The third day after soaking, small bits of green will poke their heads out of the layer of seeds and roots. This green stuff will soon be growing so fast you can almost see it lengthen. At this point, you’ll want to uncover your fodder to help the grass blades develop chlorophyll and energy.

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Day 3: Time to uncover the seed so that it gets light.

On the fourth day after soaking, you’ll see the beginning of a nice little green carpet. It’s not much yet, but the following day you’ll be amazed.

Day 4: A nice green layer is beginning to form.

Day 4: A nice green layer is beginning to form.

Day 5, and it’s starting to look like turf. Keep watering at least twice a day.

Day 5: Day 5, and it’s starting to look like turf. Keep watering at least twice a day.

Day 5: Once it reaches this point, it grows quickly.

By day 6, you’re almost ready to feed it. Supposedly this is when the grass’s nutrition begins to peak.

Day 6: From day 6 to day 7, the fodder is at its most nutritious.

Day 6: From day 6 to day 7, the fodder is at its most nutritious.

On day 7, it’s time to feed your animals. You can see the awesome layers of roots, seed, and grass in the photo below. Poultry and ruminants will consume all of these parts. Rabbits generally only like the greens.

Roots, seed, and leaf in one tidy package.

Roots, seed, and leaf in one tidy package.

I started with 3 pounds of seed and produced nearly 15 pounds of fodder. It took my hens a couple of days to eat one tray’s worth. If you start a new tray every day or every couple of days, you’ll have a constant supply of fodder to feed your brood.

HOMEGROWN Life blog: Rachel, of Dog Island Farm

My friends in college used to call me a Renaissance woman. I was always doing something crafty, creative, or utilitarian. I still am. My focus these days, instead of arts and crafts, has been farming as much of my urban quarter-acre as humanly possible. Along with my husband, I run Dog Island Farm, in the SF Bay Area. We raise chickens, goats, rabbits, dogs, cats, and a kid. We’re always keeping busy. If I’m not out in the yard, I’m in the kitchen making something from scratch. Homemade always tastes better!

ALL PHOTOS: COURTESY OF RACHEL

HOMEGROWN Life: Deciding Which Vegetable Varieties to Grow

Tuesday, January 12th, 2016

 

HOMEGROWN-LIFE-LT-GREENAnother year has come to an end. The seed catalogs are rolling in, and as I sit here drooling over them, I keep coming across new, exciting vegetable varieties that I just have to try.

There’s a part of my brain that’s screaming at the rest of it: “Don’t fix what isn’t broken!” Year after year, I post about what I’ve learned, and one of the recurring themes is to stick with the things I know work for our area—not to risk losing productivity because I’m feeling adventurous. But really, what fun is that?

Vegetable VarietiesThere are some things I’m set on keeping the same. The Orangeglo watermelon and Bidwell Casaba have been very kind to me, unlike most other watermelon and melon varieties, so those are here to stay for the long haul. Catskill Brussels Sprouts will also probably stick around. There seem to be so few varieties of heirloom sprouts, and these do the best.

I always say not to mess around with our corn selection. We grow Bloody Butcher corn, which has served us well. It gets HUGE and gives us multiple relatively long ears on each stalk. The corn can be used fresh, or you can let it mature into a dent corn. After a failed attempt at saving seed from it and coming to the realization that we just don’t have enough space to save corn seed and avoid inbreeding depression, I’ve decided to expand my corn-growing horizons to include a flour corn, a sweet corn, and a popcorn.

Unfortunately, there’s no fast way to determine which varieties you should grow for all vegetables. Your best bet is to find varieties that were developed in areas that have a similar climate to where you live. For instance, Italian varieties will probably do best in coastal California, where we have the same basic climate. Russian varieties might serve you well if you live in colder areas. If you have a short season, choose varieties that mature quickly. This, of course, can take some research to figure out. For cool season crops, you’ll want to make sure they have enough time to develop before warm weather hits. For warm season crops, you want to give them time before the frosts come. Seed packets and catalogs include a number, usually next to the name or after the description, denoting that variety’s average number of days to maturity.

When it comes to latitude, rather than season length, onions are much more specific than most other vegetables about where they can grow. Varieties will either be long day, short day, or intermediate. If you live north of 35 degrees latitude (draw a line from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. to approximate), you’ll want to grow long-day onions. South of that, grow short-day onions. If you’re just on either side of that latitude, you can grow intermediate onions. I’ve also had good luck with long-day onions here on the 35th parallel.

Besides climate, you’ll also want to look at the size, yield, and disease resistance. If late blight is a problem in your area, choose vegetable varieties that have some resistance. If you have a small garden, choose compact or high-yielding varieties to make the most of your space.

Or you can do what I like to do and just pick a bunch of varieties to try and see which ones do best. Good luck!

MORE HOMEGROWN SEED ASSISTANCE

Rachel on Vegetable VarietiesRachel’s friends in college used to call her a Renaissance woman. She was always doing something crafty, creative, or utilitarian. She still is. Instead of crafts, her focus these days has been farming as much of her urban quarter-acre as humanly possible. Along with her husband, she runs Dog Island Farm, in the San Francisco Bay Area. They raise chickens, goats, rabbits, dogs, cats, and a kid. They’re always keeping busy. If Rachel isn’t out in the yard, she’s in the kitchen making something from scratch. Homemade always tastes better!

PHOTOS: RACHEL

HOMEGROWN Life: A Farmer’s Advice for Dealing with Climate Change and the Urgent Sense of Impending Doom

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015

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Living an agricultural life provides a great deal of solitary time to wrestle with your thoughts. Sometimes that’s pleasant; other times it can be a mess. My own internal dialogue cranks through a steady stream of issues.

Today’s list has so far included:

  • Weather-related worries, including present and future climate concerns.
  • My increasing love for soccer (as a fan, soccer parent, and volunteer coach).
  • Interesting opportunities for farmers, such as whether or not it makes sense to harvest and shell pecans or just leave them for the squirrels. And, heck, can we tap those trees for pecan syrup while we’re at it?
  • Worries about when my next paycheck is going to hit the mailbox.
  • Continuous noise about the sorry state of affairs related to politics and American democracy, especially when it comes to the giant gap between the wealthiest Americans and the middle-to-working-to-poorest classes where most of us land.
  • Meandering nervousness about how the rest of us can step up to raise fresh vegetables, fruit, and nuts when California actually runs out of water.

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I suppose this is mostly normal behavior. At least that’s what I tell myself. But if you’re like me, hovering on the edge of day-to-day issues combined with a giant precipice of social and environmental depression, take some time and read a very thoughtful and intriguing piece by Jonathan Franzen in the New Yorker.

Franzen has some important things to say about the duality of dealing with the scientific knowledge of impending doom because of carbon emissions and climate change while trying to stay sane and address everyday challenges. Franzen also nails it when it comes to concerns for the poorest humans, who did very little to increase carbon emissions themselves but are going to bear the brunt of the damage as the climate continues its inevitable rise in temperature and unpredictability.

Mostly, though, I like Franzen’s thoughts related to the prospect that it might be a mistake to focus on climate change as an issue while neglecting “conservation” as a crucial social and cultural value to moderate the impacts of human greed, development, expansion, exploitation, etc.

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As a farmer and member of a rural community, I agree strongly that local concerns for how resources are developed, used, and conserved are the issues the ring true to most folks. I know many a conservative-gun-rights-anti-Obama local who equally hates the trend toward bulldozing hedgerows and woodlots to make more room for very marginal farmland here in West Missouri. Maybe that’s because of a populist sentiment for watching as the handful of big row croppers gets bigger; maybe it’s because they’ve seen wildlife like whitetail deer and blue herons and songbirds recover as a conservation ethic has taken increasing hold over the past century or so.

The only real supplement I’d add to Franzen’s article has to do with the concept that we all live in a working landscape. Perhaps it appears more direct to those of us that work daily with the animals around us, the soil we walk on, the water that falls and runs through the low spots as the seasons push and pull. Still, the fact is we are all made up of the prairies and orchards we eat. We borrow and impact the water with our drinking and cleaning and flushing. No matter how thoroughly our minds try to separate us from the nonhuman world, we all live in a real place where we serve the role of collective ecosystem engineers. We’re the apex predator; the social megafauna who determines nutrient and resource flows. We produce abundance and scarcity at the same time, depending on whether you’re a plant, animal, or member of the fungi community.

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Realizing this impact and role can be both scary and incredibly empowering. Sure, we can squander the chance to make things better over time. But we can also make progress, even if that’s a strange human concept to the rest of the creatures we live around. We can take action to restore the bald eagle to some degree of thriving. Heck, I didn’t grow up seeing bald eagles soar over the pastures and ponds of Western Missouri farm country. Now every December through February I see them regularly.

Taking collective action to leave some room for (and to stop poisoning) eagles might be a more trivial accomplishment than trying to minimize global climate change by cutting carbon pollution. That said, we can see our efforts in person or through photos or video paying off with conservation. We can watch as our actions either create better or worse conditions for the living things around us.

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I suppose I’m going down this line of reasoning since it reflects a bit of personal therapy. I have been dealing with some serious situational depression, and like many people, am trying to focus on the things in my life that I can actually have some degree of control over versus just accepting the things outside of my realm of influence. Coming to terms with the difference between those two poles is a difficult thing, but it’s something we humans need to mind carefully as a society and culture and global community.

Do we have the courage, strength, and self-awareness it takes to create livelihoods that take into account clear boundaries, minding conservation and impacts on local ecosystems? Do we have the honesty to say so when we take too much and create a problematic future? Do we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear that it’s completely possible to share the world with other people, other animals and other plants?

Clearly, we are going to be living the questions. I’ll be there with you, asking away the day.

MORE FROM BRYCE:

HOMEGROWN-bryce-oates-150x150Bryce Oates is a farmer, a father, a writer, and a conservationist in western Missouri. He lives and works on his family’s multi-generational farm, tending cattle, sheep, goats, and organic vegetables. His goals in life are simple: wake up before the sun, catch a couple of fish, turn the compost pile, dig potatoes, and sit by the fire in the evening, watching the fireflies mimic the stars.

PHOTOS: (HIGH TUNNEL RASPBERRIES) RICHARD MAXWELL; (FIELD) RICHARD MAXWELL; (BATTERED BUTTERFLY) TERRESSA ZOOK; (GOATS) ERIC MARSHALL