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A few years ago, it seemed a little bizarre that someone would keep chickens in their backyard. These days, no one bats an eye at this inexpensive and rewarding way to feed the family.
There are a few reasons why people raise chickens:
- Obviously, for the fresh eggs
- Natural removal of weeds and bugs
- Save money
- It’s pretty easy, once you get started
Of course, always check local laws about raising chickens in your yard and ensure you’re in compliance before you start. You can purchase chickens from a variety of suppliers. You can actually hatch eggs or raise chicks, but they are more work than a grown chicken. Keep your climate in mind, the egg size you want and whether or not the chicken will be raised strictly for eggs. You can use the handy tool here to select a breed.
One chicken will lay about 4-6 eggs per week, but they generally lay less in colder months, so keep this in mind when planning their space.
To raise chickens, you can have them running free, but a coop provides protection from the elements and predators, so make a plan to build one. A coop should provide about 2-3 square feet per hen and for the outside area; each hen should have about 5 square feet of space. In a coop they can peck each other without enough space, so never try to cram them in.
As you build, keep seasonal temperatures in mind. Make sure air can get through in summer and keep it from going through in winter. You can even use a tarp to keep air from blowing through and remove it, as needed. Use a slanted roof to let rain roll off, if you live in a rainy area.
Inside the coop, use pine shavings for the flooring. This makes it comfortable for the chickens and easy for clean up as you scoop out and replace the shavings. Provide plenty of roosting space. They will also need nesting space. Wooden boxes work well for this.
You can feed chicken store-bought feed pellets. They also love vegetables scraps, bread and bugs. Give them fresh water regularly, keep their area clean and you’ll have happy chickens. Check on them daily and collect their eggs each day as well. Eggs can go bad quickly in warm weather and in cold weather; they can freeze, expand and crack.
If you have young children, always supervise them with the chickens. Chickens will peck to defend themselves and although it won’t take a child too long to learn this, you need to be there to ensure proper handling of the chickens. In addition, live poultry can carry salmonella. Everyone should wash their hands thoroughly and immediately after handling the chickens or being in your chicken’s area.
Overall, having chickens can be a very rewarding experience and many people come to see chickens as part of their family. It is a long term commitment because chickens can live for 12 years or more. Just care for them, protect them and they will serve you well.
Whether you’re on a budget, aren’t sure of the authenticity of local organics or both, the surest and cheapest way to get good organic food is by growing your own. And growing your own can be as simple or as involved as you want.
If you’re a first-time gardener, the trick is not to overwhelm yourself. Keep your garden relatively small, but leave room for expansion when you’re ready. A family of 4 can start with about 200 square feet (approximately 50 square feet per person) and have a great supply of produce. But if you don’t want to start that big, don’t. Do what you’d like and what you can.
If you don’t have a lot of space, containers work well. Root vegetables may not be possible but some people report great success in growing potatoes in compost bags. Other traditional container fare includes tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, carrots, peppers, strawberries, blueberries and herbs.
If you are growing in the ground, there are a couple of things to consider. First, is the amount of sunlight. The second is soil quality.
For sunlight, you should find a space that gets what’s full sun. That’s about 8 hours of sun each day. Some items may need a little less sun, but 8 hours will help you grow a large variety.
For soil quality, you are looking for a pH of about 5.8 – 6.8 and you can buy an inexpensive testing kit at a garden store. You can increase pH, or correct acidity, by adding limestone. To decrease pH, or to correct alkalinity, use elemental limestone. Also, ensure that you have plenty of organic material in your soil and add leaves and compost to help.
If your soil isn’t quite right, you can make raised beds and surround them with bricks or stone to contain the nutrient rich and balanced soil.
When you’re ready to start planting, consider planting some plant starts, instead of seeds. They may be a little more difficult to find organically, but for first time growers, they’re much easier to work with.
Make sure to water your plants regularly. Seeds should be watered daily. New plants should be watered every 2-3 days. On particularly hot days, you may need to do more. You can even collect rain water for your plants by using rain barrels or creating your own from garbage pails.
Organic herbicides don’t work that well. Instead, take the time to pull weeds, ensuring you grab the weeds fully by their roots or they will continue to grow. Weeding regularly will keep them from maturing and becoming problematic…plus it makes your whole job quicker and easier.
As you go through your gardening journey, keep a record. Write down dates things are planted, how they are treated and progress. Take weather and other conditions into consideration. It will allow you figure out what worked well and help you improve your gardening techniques, year after year.
You may not feel like a green thumb now, but keep at it. It’s so worth it.
When people think of composting, they often think of it occurring on a large farm or in a rural area, but you can compost whether you live in a small home or an apartment. Here are your top 5 composting tips for success.
1. Be mindful of what you put in: When considering what times of food items to put in your compost, think natural. If the food is pretty close to its natural state, it is likely that it is a good choice. Think about things such as fruit and vegetable peelings, egg shells, tea bags and coffee grinds. You can also put in such unlikely food items like rice and bread. Any type of paper is an ideal ingredient for your compost, such as newspaper that has been shredded or even your old bills that have been shredded.
2. Avoid these items, if possible: It is important to stay away from most types of animal products. This includes any type of meat or bones from animals, as well as butter. These types of food items can draw animals and bugs to the composting site. They can also increase the smell.
3. Maintain a good balance: Ideally, you want a good balance of ingredients to go in your compost. In addition to the food items, you can also add grass clippings, pet hair, and almost any type of paper products from brown paper bags to tissues. This mixture of different items will help to balance each other out and you will have better success with your composting efforts.
4. Add water: You could wait for the rain to add needed moisture to your compost. However, if you want quicker results, consider watering your compost pile on a regular basis. You do not need to soak the pile but you do need to ensure that it is damp.
5. Make sure you turn it: In order for the pile to compost in a timely manner, you need to turn it regularly as well. It is a good idea to get into the habit of turning your compost pile before you water it. If you compost indoors, you can purchase a special composting bin that turns itself or you can simply use a dedicated utensil to turn the compost over.
Organic gardening is the healthiest way to grow flowers, fruits and vegetables. When you consume your homegrown fruits and vegetables, you ingest whole foods clear of pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers. Additionally, organic gardening is environmentally sound and keeps those toxins out of the soil and water supply. Here are a few organic gardening tips to get started.
#1 Rotate your garden. Different vegetables and fruits absorb different nutrients from the soil. If you plant tomatoes for example, in the same spot every year, eventually they’ll deplete the soil of the nutrients they need. However, if you rotate your garden, planting flowers where you plant veggies and veggies where you plant flowers or simply rotating where you plant your veggies then you’ll have healthier and tastier produce. Additionally rotation also helps prevent attack by disease and pests.
#2 Use friendly insects as natural pesticides. Ladybugs are a great tool to eliminate aphids from your garden. You can buy wiggly bags of them at your local nursery or even order them online. Place them in your garden and prevent infestation.
#3 Organic insecticides can be used to prevent things like beetles and worms.
#4 Use specific plants to attract or repel insects. For example, Sage repels cabbage moths and black flea beetles and marigolds repel a variety of insects.
#5 If you’re sowing your own seeds, then you’ll want to sow them from organic fruits and vegetables. If you’re buying plants to start with, you’ll want to make sure they’re organic.
#6 Plant vegetables in a rich soil. Compost is a wonderfully sustainable and nutrient rich way of providing everything your plants need to grow and survive.
#7 If you’re sowing seeds, sow several times more than you think you’ll need. For example if you’re only going to plant one tomato plant in your garden, sow 3 or 4 seeds. Seeds don’t always grow well and you can then choose the strongest looking to plant in your garden.
# 8 Read the information on the back of the seed packet or the tag. This information will tell you how much sun and water the plant needs. This is all good information.
#9 Label your plants. Use the tag attached to the plant when you bought it or make your own. Mid season, it can be easy to forget what plant is what.
#10 Prevent fungus and disease. The biggest killer of most vegetable gardens is fungus and mold. Keep your plants pruned and keep the soil damp but not soaked. Additionally, make sure there isn’t too much of an accumulation of mulch around the plants which can retain water and foster mold growth.
Organic gardening is a fun and easy way to bring fresh produce into your home. You can grow flowers, herbs, vegetables and even fruits organically.
As people begin to be more environmentally and economically conscious, composting is becoming more and more popular. However, for many it’s still a new concept. If you’re interested in learning more about this green practice, here are a few composting basics to get you started.
What is Composting?
Composting is essentially decomposing. The leaves that collect in the corner of your yard decompose. If you facilitate the process, then it’s called composting. Composting involves mixing your yard and household organic waste, like food scraps, in a container and providing conditions that encourage or facilitate decomposition.
Composting is a very environmentally friendly practice. It reduces the amount of garbage we toss into landfills by 20-30% and as we get closer and closer to running out of space, composting becomes more and more important.
In addition to making space in the landfills, composting provides you with a source of chemical free fertilizer, which you can use for gardening and soil conditioner.
Materials to Get Started
To begin composting you’ll need a few things to get started. You can find many of these items at your local hardware or gardening store. You can also buy home composting kits only. These kits come with everything you need and provide a relatively stink free composting experience.
You’ll need a compost bin. The materials will be decomposing here so if you’re keeping the compost in your home, you’ll want a lid as well.
You’ll also need a pitchfork to turn and mix the compost daily.
Finally, you’ll need to find the right place to put your compost. You can create a pile outside in a well-drained area or you can place it in a warm, dark location inside your home.
But what about the actual compost? Can you toss anything in there? Are there right and wrong ingredients? The answer is yes, the ideal compost recipe includes:
* 1 Part Greens – include grass clippings, kitchen scraps including eggshells and coffee grounds. (Avoid using any meat, fat, grease, oils, dairy products, bones, or animal droppings in your compost.)
* 25 Parts Browns – include dried leaves, straw, wood chips, paper bags and drier lint.
* Water – Keep the pile moist but not soaking
* And time
Turn the ingredients every day for about two weeks. In two weeks time you should have a powerful pile of compost to place in your garden, household plants or flowerbeds. Happy composting!
One of the secrets to successful organic gardening is something called companion planting. When chemical herbicides and pesticides aren’t allowed, as they wouldn’t be if you’re gardening organically, then companion planting is an excellent solution.
What is Companion Planting?
Some plants give off scents or chemicals that repel insects, insects like worms and beetles that can destroy your garden. Other plants help prevent disease or attract insects, which are beneficial to plants. And some plants are exceptional at breaking down the soil and helping other plants absorb vital nutrients. Essentially companion planting is used to help your core plants thrive without chemicals.
Examples of Companion Planting and How it Works
Marigolds are widely known to have a very strong fragrance. Many people consider it unpleasant despite the gorgeous flowers. However, many insects also find marigolds quite distasteful including nematodes (roundworms), whiteflies, beetles, and aphids. To use marigolds as a companion plant, plant them at the perimeter of your garden. If your garden is large you may want to plant them throughout. Take care to not plant them too closely to your vegetables because they do attract spider mites and slugs.
Alfalfa actually helps the soil absorb nitrogen, iron, magnesium, phosphorous and potassium which makes the soil ideal for growing vegetables. Because alfalfa has very long and sturdy roots, it breaks up hard clay soil. It’s a great plant to help keep your soil rich in nutrients.
Geranium another flower with a strong aroma repels cabbage worms and Japanese beetles, and leafhoppers. Gardening experts recommend planting them around grapes, corn, tomatoes, peppers and cabbage.
Deciding What to Plant and Where
Before you begin planting your organic garden, do a bit of research to find the best placements for your chosen vegetables. For example, tomatoes do well with a number of other vegetables including garlic, chives, cucumber and mint however not all veggies get along with tomatoes. Tomatoes can stunt the growth of carrots and dill and kohlrabi slow tomato growth.
Make a quick map of your garden before planting and chart where you want to plant each vegetable. A quick trip to an organic gardening or companion gardening site will help you make sure each vegetable’s neighbor is a helpful one.
Companion planting is a very sustainable way to affect the health of your garden. Not only do you help your garden stay pest and disease free, you receive the added benefit of a diverse and healthy garden.
Slugs can be a big problem when it comes to plants and vegetables. Many gardeners have been reduced to near tears after seeing the fruits of their labor eaten by slugs. If you’re gardening organically this makes the task of getting rid of slugs that much harder. But don’t despair because there are some things you can do to naturally get rid of slugs from your garden.
#1 – Build a barrier – If your vegetables and fruit are planted in raised beds this is quite easy. Simply attach a barrier that the slugs won’t cross and get into the border. The best material to use is a strip of copper all around the sides of your borders. Slugs don’t like copper and so it will be difficult for them to enter.
#2 – Make it bumpy – Slugs don’t like bumpy or rough texture as it is difficult for them to crawl on it. Add crushed egg shells or spiky pieces of pebbles around your vegetables to make this task difficult. Grit used for feeding chickens is also a great alternative. Mulch is not good as slugs are attracted to rotten decomposing material. But cocoa shells are a good alternative which slugs don’t seem to like. Be aware, however, that cocoa shells are toxic to dogs.
#3 – Build a trap – You can purchase pre-made traps at the garden center or cheaply and simply make your own. Place small plastic tubs (a bottom of a cut plastic cup will do) in your vegetable patch. Fill these traps with beer. As the slugs crawl up the traps they will fall in the beer and drown.
#4 – Use your hands – This is by far the most time consuming way of removing slugs but if all else fails it’s good to catch them at dusk (this is when they tend to be out) and remove them one by one from your plants.
#5 – Keep It natural – Another great way to get rid of slugs is by increasing the wildlife in your garden. Wild birds love to eat slugs. Put up birdfeeders and food around the garden to attract wild birds which will in turn keep the slug population low.
Building your own compost heap has many rewards. Not only will you be helping the planet by recycling and putting waste back into the “earth” but you can also make one of the most nutrient-rich soils for your garden plants and vegetables – a win/win situation for all.
Here’s how to do it:
#1 – Prepare the area/container – you can go out and buy a fancy compost bin (there are many to choose from at garden centers) or you can simply make a “heap” which is far more economical and will work just as well.
To make a heap you simply need 4 sides and a covering. You can use 4 similar sized pieces of wood, nailed together or you can use breeze blocks to make an enclosure for your waste. You’ll need to leave a detachable area in the front so that you can easily scoop out the compost.
If using bricks simply leave a small gap. If using wood, you can do the same or leave the whole front side loose so that you can easily remove the whole plank of wood to access your compost once ready.
Tip: Wood tends to be the ideal material as it is completely eco-friendly, economical and far easier to put together than a brick-sided heap.
#2 – Add your drainage material – Once you have your “container” ready then line the bottom with biodegradable material that will help absorb the compost faster. You can use straw, twigs or newspaper.
#3 – Heat things up – In order for your waste to turn into compost, you need heat. You can do this by adding a thin layer of already mature soil (which you buy at the garden center or from another area of the garden) on top of the first layers of waste. This will help trap the heat in and your waste will compost faster.
#4 – Cover and Turn – Another way to keep the temperature high in your heap is by covering it up. You can use old potato sacks, a sheet of plastic, or a thick blanket. Your compost will take approximately 3 or so months to degrade. You can help things along by turning the heap once or twice a month. Simply uncover and using a large, thick stick or shovel simply “turn” the compost to distribute the heat.
#5 – Things you can compost – Shredded newspaper, uncooked vegetables and peelings, grass/lawn, old plants, hedge clippings, animal waste (chickens, dogs, cats), weeds, rotten fruit or fruit remains.
Wildlife in the garden helps our eco-structure and certain insects, birds, butterflies, bees and bugs are all beneficial to our garden plants as well as garden life cycle.
Here’s how to attract wildlife into the garden:
#1 – Feed the birds – Use apples, peanuts, seeds, and fat balls and watch the number of wild birds in your garden increase. Feeding the wild birds is even more important in the winter when food supplies are scarce. And don’t forget fresh water as birds do have a need to drink as well.
#2 – Make a habitat – Make or put up habitats for your nature friends. This includes birdhouses and shelters for birds as well as hedgehogs, butterflies, bees and other insects. You can find plenty of choices at the garden center or simply make your own with a little wood and a few other materials.
#3 – Plant wild flowers – Meadow or wild flowers look lovely and natural in the garden but also serve to attract a large number of friendly insects from butterflies to ladybugs to bees and birds, wildflowers will really help the abundance of wildlife in your garden.
You can order simple seed packets online or purchase them at your garden center. These are very easy to grow as they are used to growing under the most natural conditions. This also means that you won’t have to worry about watering a certain patch of your garden, which in turn helps the environment.
#4 – Build a wildlife pond – This doesn’t have to be fancy or a big task. A simple standard size plant pot will do. Choose one without a hole in the bottom. Make a hole in the ground roughly the size of the pot and insert the pot into the ground so only one inch or so of the pot is sticking out of the ground. Insert a few large rocks in the bottom of the pot (this will help frogs and other water animals have a place to support themselves on). Fill with water.
Then plant several water plants in the pot – Mentha cervina and Nasturtium aquaticum are good choices but your local garden center staff can easily help you choose appropriate ones too. Sit back and observe the aquatic wildlife flourish. Remember to always use precautions if young children will be using the garden.
# 5 – Don’t be a manicurist – The best way to attract and keep wildlife into your garden is to leave it a bit “natural.” Let certain corners of the garden become a little woodsy or overgrown – wildlife thrives in these conditions. When your trees lose their leaves don’t pick them all up. Piles of leaves are great habitats for hedgehogs and other nature creatures.
Your garden can easily become an enchanting place for wildlife. If in doubt of where to begin, simply take a leaf out of nature and let your garden reflect that as much as possible.