What the Books Won’t Say

There is a saying among fishermen, “lures are designed to catch fishermen; not fish.” fishing wormsIndeed, I’ve caught more and bigger fish on a cane pole with dough balls or earthworms than any fancy and glittering store bought doodads or expensive fishing rigs. This theory can be applied to most anything; for instance, take self-sufficiency. I’ve read innumerable books and articles and watched thousands of hours of videos on the subject only to find most of these are designed to just sell books and videos.  While I have Champaign tastes on a beer budget, my lifetime moderate income has kept me within restrained animal husbandry and gardening ventures and often forced me into the old New England adage of make do; or do without.  I’m also fortunate to have inherited some Yankee ingenuity from my Great Depression era parents, who knew how to turn the mundane into the extraordinary. So much of what I’ve read and seen has been adapted to my unique situation. Having less than an acre of land to experiment with has necessitated very restricted modifications of book and video inspired grandiose ideas to a very, often very small scale. This is most often for the good, but has on occasion proved detrimental to success.

At any rate, my autodidact agrarian education has allowed me some measure of expertise in both husbandry and gardening. The most important thing learned is that nothing substitutes for experience. Books and videos are theoretical knowledge at best, and that’s with the assumption that the author or presenter has some expertise. Today anyone with a camera or a word processor can become a self-qualified “expert” in virtually any subject; so it is a case of buyer beware. Even the best qualified and most experienced husbandry man or agrarian doesn’t always include all that is needed to be successful. The subject is most often presented in the best light in order not to discourage the neophyte. So the following paragraphs will detail some of my experiences in pursuing a self-sufficient lifestyle sans the sugar coating.

GIGO (Garbage In Garbage Out)

The media, (books, magazines, videos) present the self-sufficient lifestyle as relatively effortless. Just blithely scatter seeds on the soil and like Jack’s Beanstalk, a veritable a cornucopia will magically appear on the Thanksgiving table feast. Rarely are the trials and tribulations of agriculture presented; and when it is, it is trivialized. This year, 2018, for example, was one of the wettest in memory; weeds abounded to the point I could not sufficiently keep up. So the garden failed because of weed competition, as well as, saturated soil. As regards husbandry, the media advises that rabbit and quail are among the most efficient meat producers for the small scale and backyard gardener. That is, they are the most efficient protein producers available. What is not stated is that in order to get high quality protein, you must provide high quality protein in the form of feeds. Insufficient protein percentages will not only result in little meat and egg production but over time be detrimental to rabbit and quail health and longevity. My experience proves to me that rabbits need a 17% protein feed; quail require a whopping 28% protein feed. Such feed currently sells for $19.99 to $20.99 for 50# bags. Keep in mind this is not a medicated or organic feed, which could cost upwards of 35 -50% more. Yikes!

Let’s now consider the honeybees! The cost of a 3# package of honeybees is now going for $135.00. While the cost of equipment can last a long time, the cost of supplemental feeding, organic treatments, replacement queens, when needed all add to the costs. These aspects of beekeeping are usually trivialized and glossed over. The same for sales of the honey produced. When I started beekeeping all those many years ago, the vision of $$$ made at local farmer’s markets were dancing around in my head. The truth is that most, if not all of these farmer’s markets, at least here in New England, require you to have liability insurance, without which you cannot enter. The cost of this insurance for a backyard small-holder is prohibitive so the best market available is your local parish church.

Another subject often neglected is the aspect of dispatching and butchering. In fact, this is the most distasteful aspect of raising animals for meat. That is why, it must be stressed, most especially to children, that these are not pets no matter how cute and cuddly they may be. For more reasoning and older children it can be a good life lesson. Incredibly many city and suburban raised kids today think that meat comes from the grocers and have little to no concept as to the real nature of meat production, whether said production is commercial or small scale. It used to be when I was a boy that a rabbit’s foot or a rabbit fur hand muff for girls was ubiquitous. Today it is regarded as barbaric yet very few would give up their steaks and chicken, or consider it barbaric… but once again I’m off on a tangent.

A great aspect of small scale and backyard production is the fact that unless you have acreage, you will be able to do little more than supplement the lauder. The fact is that to actually feed your family and complete their nutrition you would need approximately 2 acres for each member of the family. This is to say nothing of storage, which would need to fairly extensive and vermin-proof. This I’ve never seen in a back-to-land, small-holder, backyard farmer books, articles or videos. I came by this through thorough research in Ag University websites and technical papers.

Finally, a subject which seemingly everyone can agree on is compost! That is, unless you’ve made and utilized a compost pile. For the most part, compost making is quite simple, theoretically speaking, however, compost can and does often get out of balance and can result in either a stinking mess, but is more likely a compost pile too high in nitrogen. The stink factor is overcome by judicious blending of varied materials to maintain a balance of brown and green input items. The problem of excess nitrogen is a harder nut to crack because blending of brown and green substances is easier said than done. To lessen the proportion of nitrogen in a pile you must supplement with other soil nutrients like potassium and potash, preferably in the form of organic supplements. Wood chips can also be added as they require nitrogen in order to decompose thus taking our some excess nitrogen. All of this, however, requires constant monitoring of the pile for its chemical components… a job that requires sample to be sent to the State University Ag Lab. Generally this is a free service of the State; however, it is time consuming.

Big Rock Candy Mountain Collage.jpgThe intention of this article is not to burst the bubble of so many of you agrarian novices, but to give you a realistic vision of self-sufficiency.  So in summary, I think it is clearly worthwhile to maintain a self-sufficient garden, if, however, you expect to have the results often claimed in the media you will be sadly, sometimes brutally disappointed. Remember, there was a reason why in the 1930’s and 1940’s folks left the farms in favor of city life and work. At the time, it was more rewarding to do so. Now in view of the de-industrialization of the West and the exporting of industrial and manufacturing jobs, self-sufficiency will prove necessary for the contemporary family but not for those with sugar plum visions of a Big Rock Candy Mountain type of illusion.

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Richard of Danbury, D.S.G

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Primavera at Hunny-Bunny

Primavera at Hunny-Bunny

Recovering from a three week bout of illness I lost much time during the busy season of spring garden preparation. However, being on the mend I’m quickly catching up with chores that need to be done. Fortunately, March, 2018 was more like April and vice versa, so the head start I had only meant that all is still on schedule.

Arguably spring is my favorite time of the year, although in autumn I feel it is my favorite time. Nevertheless, spring is in full swing now and the snows of winter are a distant memory. It seems this spring many of the flowers are overlapping in their blooming and forsythias are now blooming with the fruit orchard. The pastels of spring abound… along with wafting and alternating sweet scents of apricot, peach, hyacinths, and many other seasonal and sensual sights, sounds and fragrances that delight the eyes, nose and ears. My honeybees are buzzing about me collecting the pollen and nectar to make it into summer and expand their colonies. I will inspect them during the upcoming week to determine their status.

Meantime, beyond the weekly cleaning and dumping, I’ve still to perform a grand spring cleaning of the rabbitry and aviary this week and replace rusted parts and cages, as well as implement a thorough cleaning and disinfecting of the shed. This is an undertaking in itself and will require several days. Though the plastic shed for the rabbitry / aviary was an excellent concept the main drawback is that the steel cages are more prone to rusting then in a wooden shed or barn. It seem that the constant humidity given off by the animal’s respiration, in all seasons, builds up rapidly and has a detrimental effect on the cages. Ah! Well there are advantages and disadvantages to all things.

In the main garden there is still much time for preparation since the last frost date is May 31, for this Western New England area. This coming week I will turn the garden and plant some of the cooler crops such as spinach, broccoli, etc. these will join the already planted peas which have broken ground and are beginning their climb up the fencing. To these I will add the potatoes and the garlic which, being root crops will not be affected by any light frost still to come. Once these plants are added I can then apply the compost that was begun last spring of 2017. It is ready now for application and I’ve already started a new compost to be applied in 2019.

Speaking of compost, my compost bins which are going on 8 years old are a little worse for wear and need replacing. The long time readers of Catholic Rural Solutions may recall these compost bins consist of used pallets available everywhere for free. I set up three bins in succession and starting in spring I load the first with trimmings, cutting, leaves and droppings from the critters. These droppings are high nitrogen and are considered the green matter necessary for making good and fast compost. The brown material such as leaves are the second half of the formula and in combination provide everything needed for good compost. As the season progresses I flip the first bin into the empty second bin and start the process over in the first: finally in late summer I once again flip the piles into the successive bins completing the cycle. Generally, I combine all the piles together into the 3rd and final bin in late September or October and let it sit for winter in anticipation of the upcoming garden season. This has been my method for many decades and works well with the addition of some other nutrients and micro nutrients also spread on the garden in spring. These are things such as greensand, lime, and other essential nutrients. My garden is generally a bounty of production and the only problem is finding time for harvesting and processing.

In the herb garden, I’ve time to give it a good weeding before setting out the more tender herb plants in June. That said, however, the weeds are growing, well… like weeds and will soon take over the herb beds, but this is a later priority at the moment. All things in their own time.

One final item to discuss is while I try to be as organic as possible in everything I do from critter feeds to garden components there are things that prevent this. Therefore, to my mind this is an ideal and not an absolute. For instance, organic feeds are very expensive and can double costs at times and this is prohibitive. In addition, since organic feeds are so-called natural they are subject to things that other feeds are not. As an example I recently came across a sale on organic layer feed for my hens. I started to feed it to them but they refused to eat it. I thought it was because they were used to the ordinary feed, but this was not the problem. It seems this organic product had no preservatives so the chickens could sense that the feed was fermenting long before I could. Eventually, as a wine and beer maker I began to smell the familiar odor of fermentation within the organic feed container and realized it was no longer fit for feed. I ended by adding this now wasted feed to my compost where it immediately heated the pile to 130º F. So I’m back to my usual layer pellets and the hens are happily munching away. Sometimes practicality comes before organics and that is simply the way it is. In hindsight, I could have used the organic feed in order to make sour mash but that would entail distilling which, of course, is illegal. Be that as it may, I used the organic feed to the best available use considering the circumstances.

So there you have it, folks. Another week at Hunny-Bunny Farm.

Richard of Danbury, D.S.G.


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Peas on St. Patrick’s Day…?

Peas on St. Patrick’s Day…?

As most long-time readers know I’m famous for planting peas in the garden on St. saint-patrickPatrick’s Day. Peas, of course, are a cool weather crop. They are also the first veggie to be planted directly in the garden. While St. Patrick’s Day, that is, March 17th can still be miserably wintry here in New England, peas can be planted when the soil is workable in late winter early spring. With the 70ºF weather in late February the soil thawed out nicely and I thought that St. Patrick peas would be no problem for 2018. However, with the regular series of Nor’easters in March to date the ground here at Hunny-Bunny is covered by an 8 inch layer of snow. I say 8 inches of snow but it has been as much as 25 to 26 inches directly after each storm. The subsequent above freezing days and below freezing nights melts and packs the snow daily so I’d be more correct to call this snow-cover 8 inches of ice-cover.

However, while Ol’ Man Winter toys with us, the soil beneath this polar layer ranges in temperature between 40 to 45 degrees, if a total southern exposure it may be higher still. So feasibly it is possible to plant peas on St. Patrick’s but any new growth would be doomed in the ice-pack above. So here I sit chomping at the bit to officially plant my 2018 garden anxiously awaiting melt off. I do not sit idle, mind you, but have taken advantage of February and March weather to get a jump on my homestead chores.

During the warm weather, I was able to lime and turn the chicken yard, which after a fall and winter’s worth of droppings was getting pretty rank. Now the soil is sweet-smelling, fluffy and smooth allowing, when the snow clears, the hens to dust themselves and form small divots in which to  bask in the afternoon sun. I also put a new layer of pine shavings in the hen house, as well as, fresh hay from the feed store.

Back at the greenhouse, I’ve purchased the ingredients for seed starting and have actually started my herbs from seed. Next week I will start my vegetable seedlings. FYI, the ingredients for seed starter consist of: vermiculite, peat moss, shredded coconut bark and play sand. Many “experts” recommend mixing this together and setting in the oven at low temps for one hour to kill any bacteria and other little nasties, but in my experience this is quite unnecessary, especially considering all the chores that need to be done at this season.

In addition, to the above plantings I’ve also taken cuttings of my blueberries to start new plants for the spring. I’ll reveal a little known secret here about rooting plant cuttings. Weeping willow trees have copious amounts of salicylic acid, (yes, Aspirin) which is the main component of many commercial rooting mixtures. You can make your own rooting compound by soaking twigs and stems from a weeping willow in warm water for two days, while soaking your other cuttings, in my case, blueberries, in the same container. This will allow them to form root hairs which can then be planted directly in the ground. Another FYI, all rooting compounds are not the same. In reading the containers you will note that many are not meant for edible crops. The weeping willow method is the safest, easiest and cheapest way to go.

I’ve also replaced my fluorescent shop lights with LED’s. This allows the closer contact of the lights to the newly emerging seedlings and should cut down on spindly and leggie growth. All seems well as the first green tops are penetrating the soil as I write this.

Working With the Weather…

There is a saying: make hay when the sun shines, this is meant to say for a gardener or even a farmer you have to work with the weather. Since much of the homestead chores have a small window of opportunity to accomplish it is important to follow this axiom. To this end I keep a daily Things to Do List which I review every morning and evening. I work according to the expected weather. Part of my winter weather To Do is making beer and this winter is no exception. wine_siphonThis past week I brewed a nice Scottish Ale which will be ready for our summer entertaining. It is my habit to make wine in late spring and early summer with beer brewing in winter. The reason is that in winter there are generally snowbanks just outside the door which allows me to bury the wort, (that is unfermented beer) in the snow for rapid cooling in order to pitch the yeast. This allow little chance of air-borne yeasts to settle in the brew and keep the flavor true to the beer variety. So during Tuesday’s Nor’easter I brewed the ale on the coal stove in the living room and when the time was complete I swept up the brew pot and buried it in the 25 inches of snow just out the front door burying it at about 32 inches. Within a half-hour it was just the right temperature for pitching the yeast. It is now sealed in the primary fermenter, bubbling away in the cozy and comfy heat of the living room on its way to a great tasting beer.

… and so ends another week here at Hunny-Bunny Farm. All is well and God is in His heaven as I look out at the winter wonderland from my back door. Continue the Rosary of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary and add in the Prayer of the Publican, or the Jesus Prayer; it is a great ejaculation of penance and reparation most especially in this time of Lent. It is: Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner! Also ask Saint Patrick to bless my peas!

Richard of Danbury, D.S.G.

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Itching to Work the Soil

Itching to Work the Soil

With Easter early this year of 2018, that means the Ember Days are similarly early. Ember Days are four separate sets of three days within the same week — specifically, the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday — roughly equidistant in the circuit of the year, set aside for prayer, fasting and abstinence. The Ember Days are known in Latin as the quattuor anni tempora (the four seasons of the year), or formerly as the jejunia quattuor temporum (fasts of the four seasons). The four quarterly periods during which the Ember Days fall are called the Embertides.

vinyard toilIt never ceases to amaze me how the Liturgical Calendar revolves around the agrarian cycle. Clearly, this was by God’s design as the time when Christ walked among us was determined by Him to be the ideal time in human history to reveal the Messiah; and this was recognized throughout human history. Thus we formerly saw the word anon used in literature, generally interpreted as presently, but traditionally it meant in God’s good time or as God intended. Christ life on earth was deliberately an agrarian time when people, animals and the world moved to the rhythm and cycles of nature. Additionally, Christ’s parables always involved agricultural settings that ordinary folks could easily relate to.  Oddly, nothing has changed with the exception that most people are so far removed from nature that they cannot appreciate the depth of the Liturgical Calendar at its fullest. Undoubtedly, this tells us to return to the land and the cycles of nature, after all. it is God’s handiwork and the way He interacts with man and the world in general.

Though the secular seasonal calendar does not correspond exactly with Embertides, to my smallholder’s mind, Ember Days are the harbingers of the Four Seasons of spring, summer, autumn and winter. So while we may have another month before the arrival of Robins to Western New England the current mild weather would tell a different story. Indeed, with Cabin Fever strongly settin’ in I’m chomping at the bit to begin garden preparations.

However, this being only the second half of February, Mother Nature still can pack a wallop. In recent memory I’ve seen Nor’easters and blizzard in March and even around Eastertide. So to start planting or even start seedlings indoors is a bit premature here in New England.

Now to alleviate the Cabin Fever I have some suggestions. While it may be too early for starting vegetable seedlings it is not too early to begin herb seedlings. Tarragon, cilantro, basil, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, as the song goes, can easily be started now in individual clay pots to begin sprouting in a sunny window. I recommend clay pots so they can be transplanted, pot and all, directly in the herb garden when the summer season comes on. They not only can be used within a few weeks for culinary clippings but with the clay pots they can be lifted from the garden and replaced back in the window in autumn; though at that point they may require considerable trimming. Kept misted both now and in the fall they can be used nearly as any ornamental houseplant.

Another remedy for the late winter doldrums is to grow sprouts in your kitchen. These sprouts are packed with natural nutrients to get seedlings off to a good and healthy start; and the best news is that these nutrients are transferable to people. They require minimal preparation and equipment and the only caveat is not to use seeds from the racks at your garden centers as sometimes these contain foreign substance like artificial fertilizers, anti-fungals, etc.

Finally, last but by far not least, you can grow mushrooms in your basement or some other dark and dank area. Modestly priced packages are readily available from various seed catalogs and online. These packages can produce a variety of mushrooms species over anywhere from 4 to 12 weeks, that is, well into the outdoor gardening season.

Richard of Danbury, D.S.G.

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Vanishing Resources for the Small-holder and Homesteader

Vanishing Resources for the Small-holder and Homesteader

I first became interested in small-holding and small-stock raising back in 1975 when I purchased a book by John Vivian titled, Homesteading. It was an inspiration for me that was something to strive for and achieve. I’ve heard various unfounded stories of how Mr. and Mrs. Vivian and family finally fared, but all are unfounded and largely rumor. Oddly enough there is little on the Internet about them, only occasionally the used book being offered for sale. Be that as it may, it seemed a viable alternative to the corporate treadmill and its largely unsatisfactory results.

Admittedly, times were simpler then, or more correctly, most folks could be satisfied with one landline phone or one over-the-airwaves TV; or were more than willing to forego these and other  luxuries in favor of a simpler and more spiritually rewarding lifestyle. Since then we’ve become jaded with just getting by so now we crave new, better, and the latest giffengood… Heck, today, we want everything we own to reflect status even if we personally don’t need or even want the latest gadget, video game or large plasma TV. It’s all about perceived social position, status, and wealth, in short, approval.

However, I’m off on a tangent once again. The thrust of this article is that back when I was getting my feet wet in backyard small-holding by gardening, small scale husbandry, and trial and error experimenting there were many, many resources available to research and that was way before the Internet put researching at our fingertips.

hankkimballIndeed, in addition to books and grassroots magazines, time was when your friendly County Agent was not only there to help but more than willing. He offered advice, but also, would send off samples to the State Agricultural Agencies. This service operated under the County Extension System, which worked with their respective State Agricultural Colleges to provide information, advice, and testing services which were generally free or nominal at best. These aids provided needed experience for future agriculturist at the colleges so, in fact, it was a mutual win-win situation.

Such helpful advice was not limited to the State and County agencies but the Federal government had many programs to aid the small-scale agrarian, new homesteader, and even the backyard gardener. They had a division of the Federal Agricultural Department, the Office for Small-Scale Agriculture; this agency not only could be accessed via phone and snail-mail but regularly published small pamphlets on various aspects of husbandry, gardening, and a myriad of connected subjects. These agencies also offered grants to those clever entrepreneurs to research and develop new techniques and businesses that could spawn economic growth.

Furthermore, there were private groups, organization, and corporations who also played roles as key providers of articles, but also hands on experience through seminars, conferences, and experimentation which were open to the public: clearly despite not having the advantages of the Internet resources for the small-holder abounded.

So what happened to these treasure houses of information for the “little guy”? While a simplistic answer would be hippy homesteaders of the 1960’s, 70’s and early ‘80’s grew up, stopped living off Daddy’s dole, took responsibilities and got corporate jobs …in short, they became yuppies. The real answer is far more complex, however!

Events and time conspired to undermine the naïve and altruistic values of the day. The hippies, largely but not exclusively children of privilege, saw that homesteading was not the Garden of Eden they envisioned, where one had only to reach up and grab a fruit from the apple tree, then continue to weave market-demanded baskets and smoke a Doobie.  Small-scale agriculture required work; good hard labor in the dirt and filth. It also required intellect… There were diseases, pests, predators for which one must be ever alert and vigilant. Then there were the competitive market demands for products which, these hippies thought the clients would beat a path to their door. Slowly by slowly, these folks, spoiled by instant gratification, became disillusioned by the slow, hard, methodical input needed.

Still there was a remnant who still wished to persevere in the good earth and wrest a living from the soil. They plodded along seeking solace in the soil and the rhythms of nature. They not only renewed their spirit but lived in the spirit by knowing that the hand of God is in His creation of nature. This is not to say that I worship nature far from it; I see in it the world God wished for us, all of us, to enjoy but for the fall of Adam. In the natural world which, we experience we are seeing but a fraction of Paradise for which man is intended.

So with the disillusionment of the mass of the old homesteaders the demands for services and resources lessened. The agencies, organizations and resources began to re-make themselves conforming to the new market trends, that of the “green” and sustainability movements. No longer was practical advice dispensed, rather, politically correct propaganda, social services and social justice became the norm. The colleges no longer conducted services for the small-holder but more and more catered to Big-Ag, who largely funded their agendas. The same situation happened at the government level, with Department of Agriculture disbanding the Office of Small-Scale Agriculture in the mid 1990’s. I’ve found also that the local county agents now largely serve the social services and when they do serve small-scale Ag, it is usually inconsistent and incompetent through employing volunteers to handle these functions. This is especially true in States transitioning from agriculture to the service, information and technical economies.

The grassroots magazines formerly printed on newsprint paper are now glossy, chic and mainstream magazines featuring all the same materialistic adverts and so-called “crunchy-con” sustainability nonsense of the general issue magazines.

With all the above stated, we must bear in mind that when God closes one door He opens another. The advent of the decline in the golden age of small-holders coincided with the introduction and growth of the Internet. This now facilitates direct research available to all who seek it. Of course, this puts the onus on the individual researcher to find not only what he needs but means he must learn to separate truth from fiction when it comes to small-scale agriculture, or anything else on the Internet.

So in the end, resources are still available, but require the reader to work harder and dog deeper for veracity in the results. Hard work, however, is no stranger to the small-scale holder as outlined above. Prudence, as in all things, is warranted!

Multiplier of WheatRemember, continue the Rosary to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, but also in keeping with the gist of Catholic Rural Solutions blog, pray the ejaculation: Mary, the Multiplier of Wheat, keep us from want, most especially in these dark, uncertain and increasingly perilous times.

Richard of Danbury, D.S.G.

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Down Home Digest January 26, 2018

Down Home Digest January 26, 2018

It’s been sometime since I gave an update on what’s happening here at Hunny-Bunny Farm. Well, the winter of 2017-18 has come on like gang-busters. Here in New England we had a white Christmas and very frigid temperatures followed on its heels. We had no letup until the second week in January when temps soared to 48 º F. for about 36 hours. Then back in the deep freeze. It reminded me of winters when I was a boy.

Subsequently, we had an additional reprieve from Ol’ Man Winter’s freezer and reached the mid-fifties Fahrenheit mark. This was the proverbial January thaw.

Meantime, the unseasonably cold weather has put a strain on propane supplies and I found myself heading off for refills about every 4 – 5 days. A little known fact about propane is that in addition to the usual byproduct of carbon dioxide it also produces water. This creates its own problems among them is that water can build up in the heater causing automatic shutdown, which is what happened to me. In the greenhouse and the aviary / rabbitry the heaters have been shutting down at the most critical times. In fact, the first shutdown occurred on a -12ºF overnight. Yikes, both thermometers in the greenhouse showed below freezing but neither the fish tank nor the plants with one or two exceptions showed any signs of long term damage. Obviously, the thermometers are not calibrated, therefore, they are inaccurate concerning freezing; however, the temps were likely below the 40ºF. mark, and just above freezing.

The effect in the aviary / rabbitry is a little different. The livestock’s water froze solid so this necessitated twice daily watering. While the rabbits are not affected by cold, even in the most frigid temps, all the published data indicates that quail should not go below 40ºF lest they die. So when I entered the aviary / rabbitry on that negative temp morning I expected the quail to be dead. To my astonishment not only were they quite happy, though all fluffed-out, they had lain several eggs which were now frozen.

[Aside: I’ve always thought there was a dearth of factual information on quail published …and this experience proves it. So bad is the available info on quail they I’ve consolidated my notes based on my experience of the past 10 years into a booklet. However, publishing it is quite expensive.]

Meantime, I’ve replaced the Mr. Heater units with spares units and have once again cleaned and refurbished these as needed. Hopefully this will get us through the remaining… ugh… 9 more weeks of winter. Hey, anybody want to contribute to a fund to pay off Punxatawny Phil to predict a short winter? Suffering under Ol’ Man Winter is the pits, ain’t it?

As it turns out after cleaning and servicing the heaters the fault was not in the heaters but in the propane tank valve. The prolonged below 0ºF temps froze the valves and this carried forward until the January thaw of last week. Finally, heaters and tanks are operating as expected.

In the Aviary…

Meantime, in late November, 2017 I received a new incubator and decided to give it a shot to hatch some quail. I knew it was risky going into winter, but I was spoiled by a relatively mild winter of 2017 so I took a chance. Of the 15 eggs incubated I had 9 peeps, as the grand-kids call them. That’s a hatch rate of 60% not bad for a new device. One of the chicks had a deformity as he was hatched 3 days after the main group and the needed humidity was low. It takes 17 – 19 days to hatch quail and I was surprised by the hatch rate; so I had 8 chicks, (growing by the minute in a twenty gallon fish tank). Initially, the tank was great for them, but when they reached a month old the tank was wall-to-wall quail. In fact, their growth rate was so fast that even now at 5 weeks I can distinguish males from females. Needless to say, this past week they were relocated into the aviary / rabbitry to increase my flock. I will leave the heater on until February 1  since they are fully feathered I don’t anticipate a problem in turning down the heater at that time and using a simple 60W light bulb to keep them comfortable. With all the quail bodies plus eleven rabbits they will all be as snug as a bug in a rug.

In the Henhouse…

Things are moving right along and the hen that went broody in early September, 2017 had 2 chicks one was a rooster …so is no longer with us, but the remaining chick / hen is nearing 6 months and should start laying just in time for spring. Speaking of egg laying our hens ceased laying in October, 2017 due to the waning light. Conversely, with the winter solstice they have resumed laying, it’s uncanny really because they recommenced laying the day after the solstice and have been laying since. Clearly the hand of God is seen in nature and the more one works with nature, as in a homestead, the more one can see it. Perhaps the reason so many folks are atheist or agnostics is because our society has removed itself from contact with the land, animals and nature. Rural and agrarian life can rekindle belief in God if one is observant and willing to plunge their hands within God’s good earth. Such renewal of spirit is reason enough to abandon the cities and move to the country.

In the Rabbitry…

Because of the water by-product of the propane heaters and the nature of the plastic shed the moisture build-up has caused premature rusting of the cages and other equipment. Now that I’ve determined that the quail don’t need supplemental heating as the predominant literature advises, I will repair or replace all cages, feeders, etc. as needed. Meantime, I will plan on a major cleanup and disinfecting of the aviary / rabbitry shed in March, 2018. Meantime, next month is the beginning of the productive season so the mating schedule will begin. This will assure that young will be available in March, with first harvest in May. It is imperative to have a viable mating / kindling / harvesting schedule to assure meat throughout the upcoming year’s larder. Between the rabbits and the quail we can be sure of not only adequate home produced protein, but also, meat variety.

In the Apiary…

That is the bee yard; it has just been too frigid to open the hives even for a brief check. In October I checked the two remaining Langstroth hives and found that one was definitely defunct; while the other seemed weakened which was surprising since they went into late summer and fall with adequate stores and I also gave them supplements of fondant and pollen. The late January thaw manifested the top-bar hive had not only survived but prospered with a large number of bees clearing themselves of fecal matter and hive debris. That said, however, historically, at least in my case, the end of February / early March is the critical period when my hives fail. I will start feeding both fondant and pollen continuously beginning February 1, 2018 as weather permits. Meantime, I’ve ordered three more 3# packages of bees. They are a newly developed strain called, Saskatraz. They were developed by a consortium of beekeepers, geneticists, and other scientists to make them resistant to varroa and tracheal mites, as well as, the viruses they bring. Additionally, they are Northern bred and raised and therefore more likely to survive Northern winters. Finally, they are docile and good honey producers. This upcoming year will be the trial for this newcomer bee strain.

In the Orchard…

The last chance to trim and prune the fruit trees for summer growth is late January / very early February, so I will begin to do just that starting next week. BTW, a useful by-product of these trimmings are the twigs gleaned being given to the rabbits. it is a treat the rabbits find delightful but it is also needed to help trim their ever-growing teeth. Such tidbits will last well into spring when other fresh delights from the new growths of meadow, field and garden will be available.

In the Greenhouse…

The time is ripe to start preparing the greenhouse for my garden seedlings in March, 2018. This entails picking through the plants within and finding those that didn’t survive and tossing them. It also means cleaning and disinfecting the many seed trays and getting some new potting soil. Here in New England the optimal time for starting seeds is late March of each year. This ensures that seedlings will be at the proper stage for garden planting in late May after the final frost.

Other Projects…

This year’s wines are now in the processing stage. The Spanish Tempranillo and the Pink Pinot Gris were started in early January, 2018 and the Cabernet Sauvignon was started just yesterday. In addition, I will start Chardonnay in February, 2018, as well as, my brewed Scottish Ale …when the next snowfall comes. I like to brew my beers on the coal / wood stove during a winter storm so that I can bury my brewed must in a snowbank for rapid cooling in order to pitch the yeast with little fear of strange yeast from the atmosphere entering in.

So as you can see, while most people without in-depth gardening experience think that January is a time of sitting back with seed catalogs and engaging in verdant pipe-dreams, to those in the know it is a time of intense preparation. As the adage states: the early bird that catches the worm and it is aptly applied to a small-holding homestead. Key to this is planning and judicious implementing of said plans. This will go a long way in supplementing the food needs for the family for the upcoming year.

Richard of Danbury, D. S. G.


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The Definition of Stupidity…

It has been said that the definition of stupidity is repeating the same action over and over again expecting different results. Our economic system over the last few decades has been the epitome of just such stupidity. From the 1990’s “dot-com” debacle to the beginning of the Great Recession in 2007 we have witnessed our economic and political leaders promoting the same tired and useless, if not exacerbating, so-called solutions to each economic crises as they have arisen… that is, by throwing more fiat money at it.

These contemporary leaders have been brought up in a post WWII economic boom and have an entitlement view of things. They’ve lost sight of the fact that government is not the Great Economic Teat from which all citizen, even non-citizen, may suckle.

Time was however, when everyone from the housewife putting together a household budget, to the banker, and yes, even the politician in government understood that ultimate responsibility was on oneself for one’s well-being: today conversely, everyone lines up for handouts from the Nanny-State, as if it is the Wizard of Oz dispensing virtues, talents and other gifts. Clearly no one sees, or more likely chooses not to see, that there is no such thing as a free lunch. We have long since danced to the tune since the revolutionary 1960’s and payment to the piper is coming due.

That said, there was until just a few years ago, a voice of reason of a different generation who understood economics and government and did not pander to political and social special interests, nor to Political Correctness. His was a voice of one crying in the wilderness which went unheeded. This voice of reason was, of course, Ron Paul. Though his congressional career is over he still acts as the economic conscience of Common Sense.

Below is a web citation to his recent YouTube audio concerning our current times and just how close we are to an unprecedented economic and social crisis which has the potential for disastrous political turmoil. It is a good listen for a car trip or while preparing a family meal and I urge the readership to listen to this short 32 minutes of common sense.

Here is the web citation:


All the above just adds emphasis to the need for the daily Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as well as, taking the necessary preparations needed to mitigate any impact of a crises from our family and lives.

Richard of Danbury, D.S. G.

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