Sunday, November 27, 2011

What there is to work with.

On to business currently I live on a piece of property that is surrounded on all sides by people. But the nice part is that the lot I live on is about .28 acres. Most all my research suggest that with only a quarter acre you can run a very successful urban farm.

Next I already have in place outdoor rabbit cages. The issue is that they are seasonal cages. So I will be getting a late start on mating the rabbits and I will have to slaughter them come winter. Some planning will have to come into play as to whether it is more worth my while to upgrade the cages or just come to terms with the fact that each year I need to start off with new stock.

I have two apple trees planted. But they are a minimum of 3 years away from producing fruit. If nothing else gets planted this summer I will at the very least put more apple trees in. The other soft fruit I planted this last summer was blueberries. I only planted one bush so this summer I will try and plant some more.

I already have a chicken tractor/coop just waiting for more chickens. But I have an opportunity this year to upgrade the chicken's living habitate. We had to buy a dog run this summer for the turkeys we had. But it looks like we don't want to deal with turkeys again so we are planning on using it for the chickens. The question now is how far will this up grade go, will we finally bridge the gap and make it so we can keep the chickens all year round?

Finally the garden. I tried hanging veggies and really liked it. So I'm going to expand that operation(I have already bought more buckets and the hooks to hang them). I have marked off plots for raspberries, rhubarb, TBD soft fruit, and a bathtub herb garden. I want to start putting in some raised garden plots but my wife has in years past fought me on this one. Of course I also have a compost bin and of course it just isn't cutting it so I will mostly have to get at least one more at the rate I'm going.

I have a good start already for next summer but as I like it there is plenty of room to grow and as long as I have the time I will be busy.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Self-Sufficient or Self-Productive?

This is the debate that anyone who gets into farming has to answer. Should your farm be Self-Sufficient or Self-Productive? What's the difference? Time, Money, Space, Effert, and Output.

In the true defination of Self-Sufficient you farm and it's land should be able to produce everything your family and livestock needs to survive. It involves establishing a constent cycle. You must always be harvesting something, if the garden isn't producing, than the chickens need to be laying eats, if the chickens are molting than the rabbits need to be harvest. Understand this first cycle is key to immediat survival. But understanding the nitrigen cycle is what will keep you living on the farm forever. This cycle involves understanding that you need to compost and you need to put back into the land what ever you take out (water, trees, animals, ect). Easy cycles to understand but hard to practise. But Master them and Self-Sufficient is the ultimite living like a king on a dime. It is one of the Amarican dreams, the ability to leave the rat race and crowds behind. This dream is possible but it takes a lot of land, quite a bit of start up cash, lots of time to get the cycle rolling and a solid plan.

Now Self-Productive is the "easier" way of life. Self-Productive means you produce what you need, mostly it refers to what your family needs in the way of calories. Instead of growing wheat, corn, soy, and other grains to feed to your livestock you just swing over to the nearest farm supply store and buy a bag of cow, pig, rabbit or chicken food. Instead of working a nitrogen cycle you buy fertilizer and bags of soil. The method of Self-Productive takes very little land one account I was reading talks about how on average they product 1400 eggs, 50 pounds of wheat, 60 pounds of fruit, 2000 pounds of vegetables, 280 pounds of meat all from a quarter acre of land (source: The Backyard Homestead edited by Carleen Madigan). It takes less cast to start up (but continues cash to keep rolling) but production levels will be higher to start than when compare to Self-Sufficient. The huge down side is that you will be adding a bunch of by-products to your food that some people veiw as dangerous. Also if your a tree hugger this method is veiwed as distructive to mother earth.

I want to hit some where in the middle with my Urban farm. I would love to have a true Self-Sufficient farm but i know I don't have the land needed and living in a place that has a longer growing season wouldn't hurt either. I'm going to be forced to buy the feed for my animals. But I'm hoping to set up a system of soil recycling or on-plot composting (more later). I'm also going to try not to by any outside top soil and just use what I have onsite (this will make the next few years outputs low but if my plan works my whole yard will benifit in the long run).

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

More proof I'm in a bad spot to be a farmer!

So I was walking around doing some Christmas shopping when a magazine caught my eye. It was "Chickens" from "Hobby Farms" it was the January/February 2012 addition. One of the cover stories is "Cooping with Cold Conditions" and they have a pic of a chicken with socks and a hat on. I bought it while thinking I wish they would have had this article sooner. The article goes on to say that the author doesn't have a problem with cold conditions so she went some where that does have cold conditions...Lyons, Colo. Now let me quot her description of this "winter" farming conditions, "...where wintertime temperatures average 40 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and 20 degrees at night, with an average of 85 inches of snow!"

Yep that made me laugh. November our average is about 41 high and 26 low and by far it is one of the warmer months that are in the winter season. Next month our average high is 30 and our average low is 15 and that still isn't the coldest month! (for anyone that is interested Feb. is the coldest month) and snow fall is around 150 inches.

Now I'm not saying the article was bad I actually really enjoyed it and found some interesting tricks I may try. (Hay bales maybe in my future) All I do have to say is no matter what I try it needs to be stronger, better build, and more planning than what someone in Lyons, Colo. will have in their back yard.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Closing out summer holdings

I have run out of time the weather is going to get colder and colder from here on out. I have already harvested most of my livestock but, the rabbits still remain. I have 3 adults and to bunnies. I was hoping that the bunnies would get a little bigger before I had to harvest them but I have no time left. If I don't harvest them soon I run the risk of the getting sick or freezing to death. So by Monday at the latest I will have no more animals on my Urban farm and I will again this year be right back to nothing when spring comes in 7 months. Oh well that is the point  all the prep I'm going to do this winter. So here is to a new start and fresh rabbit meat.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Building up slowly

I've been learning how to farm for sometime. When I was growing up I lived on a farm that had times of being very productive and time when the land when unused. Sadly I was very young when the farm was at the peak of its production. During this time most of the work was done by my sister who were older. So I didn't learn much about the finer parts of the running of a farm. But I learned the most importent lesson of all. I learned that animals need to serve a purpose. Dogs were for protection, horses were for heavy work, cows, chickens, pigs were food. I learned that if you wanted to you could pride for yourself and maybe it was a blessing that I wasn't more of an inteces part of the farming because I learned that it was fun. But when it was my turn to start doing more my sisters started to leave town to go off to college. That marked the end for the family farm. Not that I blame them, it is just fact we quickly stopped gardening and then we stopped raising animals. The final nail in the coffine of the family farm was my parents getting devoriced. Farming was the skill my dad had to teach but he left the farm before he taught me much.

But enough of the past. I moved on, I tried to do what I could at a scale that I was able to do (not much). But I kept trying to learn as much as I could I read a lot of books and talked to a lot of people (my job helped while an ambulance you always need something to strick up a conversion). After I graduated from college I decided to try and start up the farming again. Only problem was here I was stuck in the middle of an urban area. But that was going to stop me...but my wife would.

She didn't want me dig up our back yard to put in a garden. Luckly the ambulance company I work for had a plot they dug up but never used. So I took it over. I have been working it now for 6 years but than something CRAZY happened. Two years ago my wife looked at me and said "Lets go get some ducks"

I was blown away but I know the anwser "Lets go!!" Sadly the local Tractor Supply ran out of ducks. So we decided to get some chickens. It went great. We had 4 chickens that we grew into meat. This last summer my wife went really crazy. Four ducks, six chickens, four turkeys and 3 rabbits for breading. I think I have a woken something in my wife. This summer was awesome I learned a lot and enjoyed it even more. This summer was what lead me to want to go bigger for next summer. I also believe my kids will also be ready to do more with the Urban farm. The last six years has been a slow building process but now it's time to speed thing up.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

So where to go from here?

Well I"m all for having fun but first we have some work that needs to get done. In the U.P. of Michigan we have a very challanaging weather pattern our first hard frost come normally in Sept. and the last hard frost comes in late April so that is about 8 months give or take that it is near impossible to grow anything outside. Currently we have about 2 inches of snow on the ground and most people are happy that the snow took so long to come and stick. The only good part of the long winters up here is that it gives me plenty of time to plan and prepare for spring. Here is the list of everything that needs to get done before the snow melts.

First raise the funds needed to buy all the supplies. Currently I have figured out exactly how much that will be. I'm guessing somewhere in the range of $200-300. But seeing as I'm not sure what all I will need that number will go up.

So along with that I need to decide what all I want to have on my Urban farm next spring. I also have to make the tough call as to whether I should buy new, buy used, or just improvise (sometimes this last one is the most fun)

Next I have this little problem with local ordinases. It turns out that Uraban farming is no quit legal, in NO way is it illegal. It's just the ordinases are very out-dated and need updating. This will be a fight but it's one I'm willing to fight for other community member like me.

Next I have made it my goal I have to get indoor starts to work this year. For about 3 years in a row I have had all my indoor starts die or get infected with something. As a result I have had to run down to the local green house and spend more that I should to get starts from them.

I'm also hoping to get back to winemaking this winter. Along with that I want to try and make cheese. Crazy I know but you never know until you try right.

The finall thing (so far) is to get all the structures build and in place before the seasons start. This will take a bit of timing but I think I have it worked out.

So far that is the plan I'm going to fallow no dought it will change here soon like it always does.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Big Question..."Why"

Welcome! Currently this blog is going to used to fallow the life of a Yooper farmer. This is hard enough already (explained later) but what makes things even worst is that I'm one of the few Urban Yooper Farmers. That's right in a land filled with vacant land everywhere I'm stuck in one of the few concentrated towns. I very much want to move to a place with more space but this is what I got. I live in a place where if I throw I baseball I break a window, I get a package delivered the guy down the street knows before I do. Yes this is the last place you would expect to find a farmer. But here I am and will most likely be for years to come. So now for the big question WHY?

Urban farming is nothing new. It's last big hay day was in the 70s when we as Americans were in hard times. Many books came out on being more efficient. CF light-bulbs were the big thing in every thing from businesses to privet homes.The end of the world was coming...but it didn't. (Thank God)

Well we are back to those times. Life is rough, money is short, and people are looking for good ideas (not easier ones) to save money and to spend less. So here comes the old concepts  of the 1970s. But saving money and being more efficient isn't way I do Urban farming. Although if done right Urban farming can allow you to do this.

So next you must assume that I practice Urban farming because I believe the End of the World as We Know it is coming. Well I do think we are headed for some interesting times (Chinese Curse) That is not why I do Urban farming.

Next you would assume that I'm an organic freak that doesn't even trust the food you buy from organic food stores. Again you would be wrong. Although growing and raising your own food is a good why to know what you're getting, that isn't why I Urban Farm.

Finally you have to assume that I'm just weird or freak someone that is a little too friendly with plants and animals. Thank GOD your wrong there too.

So why the hell would I put myself through all this hard work, expense, pain, legal trouble (more on that later) and heart ache? Because I fully enjoy doing it!

I love growing my own food. There is nothing better that to have one tomato that grew from a whole row of plants and be able to hold it high and say "I grew this." I love looking into a freezer filled with meat and say because of my hard work I put this there. It would matter if I had 1,000 acres of land or just a window sill I would try and farm it. No matter why you think you need to be a farmer or an Urban Farmer the under lying reason you do any thing must be because you LOVE IT!!