Category Archives: Farming

Seed Starting Without a Greenhouse

Seed starting

Even though it is cold outside it is time to start thinking about this year’s garden.  Whoo, Hoo!!!  To me there is something so rewarding about growing your own food.  I love watching the seeds come to life when they first sprout and then harvesting the fruit.  In all my years of gardening it still amazes me that something as small as a seed can produce something so wonderful.

Now is the time to get some seeds started indoors so that you will have plants that are ready to plant in the garden in the spring.  Starting seed yourself can save you lots of money and allows you the opportunity to grow more varieties since you will not be limited to the types offered at your local nursery.  Starting seeds seems to intimidate lots of people, but it is really quit simple.  You just need to get a few supplies.

Seeds need dirt, moisture, and in many cases, heat to germinate.  I highly recommend that you purchase a heat mat designed for starting seed.  I would not use a heating pad that you get at your local drug store.  You are going to be adding water to seed trays and you want a mat that is designed to withstand moisture.  You can normally get a small one for around $20.  If you don’t want to purchase a heat mat I have heard of people having great success with putting their seed trays on top of their refrigerator.

This is the heat mat that I use.

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You will also need…

Seed starting trays, potting mix made for germination,water, seeds and plastic wrap.

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We use a germinating mix made by Fafard.  I do not recommend using regular potting soil.  In order for seeds to germinate they  need constant contact with loose soil.  There is a local nursery near me that uses Fafard products and they sell me the bags I need.

Now you need to choose a location in your home that gets lots of sunlight.  If you don’t have a sunny location don’t fret.  Even though we have a rather sunny spot in our dining room I still use a fluorescent light to help the plants grow properly.  You do not need the sunlight to get the seeds to germinate, but once they sprout they need lots of light.  I normally set up a shelf that can hold the heat mat, a few seed trays, and a fluorescent light.

Here is what my current greenhouse set-up looks like.

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Make sure that your shelves are wire, not solid, so that the light can get to the plants.  If you are planning a small garden then obviously you will not need all the shelf space that I have.  Since we plant hundreds of plants I have to start lots of seeds.

Here is another look at the shelves with some seed trays.

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The light is just a cheap, metal fluorescent light that you can pick up from your local hardware store like Lowe’s or Home Depot.  I just lay it across the top and let the pull chain that turns it off and on hang through one of the square openings in the top shelf.

Sowing the seeds is very easy.

First, fill your trays full of dirt.

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Next, make a hole that is no deeper than two times the size of the seed.  I normally use a sharpened pencil to make the holes.  Drop the seed in the hole and cover with soil.  I normally sow two seeds per hole.  You will have to thin the plants if both sprout, but this way you can almost guarantee you will have a plant in each cell.  Of course you can wait and see if they all sprout and if they don’t put another seed in the cell that didn’t.  I don’t like to do this because I end up with plants of different ages in the same flat.  This can be a pain when it comes time for planting.

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Water well but do not soak the soil.  You want the soil to be damp but not soaked, so that the seeds do not rot.

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Cover the tray with plastic wrap and place on your heat mat for twenty-four hours.

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The plastic wrap and heat mat are going to create greenhouse conditions.  After twenty-four hours, take the tray off of the heat mat, but leave the plastic wrap on the tray.  Once the seedlings sprout, remove the plastic wrap completely.  You can start multiple trays at once even if you only have a heat mat that will only hold one tray.  What I do is sow all the seed that needs to be sown on that day, and every twenty-four hours place a new tray on the mat.  Some people like to leave the trays on heat mats until they sprout.  I haven’t found this to be necessary.  A day on the heat mat normally warms the soil enough to activate germination.

One question that I am asked frequently is, “When do I sow the seeds?”  The first thing you need to do is find out what the last anticipated frost date is for your area. We are in Zone 7, and our last anticipated frost date is April 17.  You can find out this date by contacting your local agricultural extension office.  This date is very important because there are many plants (tomatoes, peppers, eggplants) that cannot live through a frost.  Once you know this date then you need to look at the seed you are going to plant and you need to know how many days it will take to mature. Most packets list a “Days to Maturity” on the packet.  This is how many days it will take from the time the seed is first sown to the time it will have fruit ready to harvest.  Do not get this confused with the “Days to Germination”.   Once you know how many days it will take to mature then you can determine when you can sow your seeds.  A general rule for starting seed indoors is to sow them six to eight weeks before the last frost.  For my area this is during February and March.  I start early season vegetables like broccoli and cabbage the last week of January.  I sow all of my tomatoes and peppers around February 8, making sure that I have all of them started by Valentine’s Day.

There are some seeds that are sown directly into the garden like carrots, radishes, corn, green beans, pumpkins, etc.  This is where your days to germination are important because you don’t want to sow green beans and have them sprout when it frosts.  There are some plants that can tolerate frost, like spinach and cabbage, but not many.  A great catalog and gardening guide that I recommend is the one from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.  They also have some great growing information online.

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We order most of our seeds from them and their catalog is full of very helpful information.  I highly recommend requesting one.

In the next few days I will be sharing what to do with your seedlings once they sprout.  Between now and then, get out there and get some seeds planted.  You will be glad you did.

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The Life of a Broiler-The Last Week

We processed our last batch of chickens this past weekend.  Our broilers were exactly eight weeks and four days old on processing day.  We started early; around 5:00am we filled the scalder with water and got it going so that the water would be hot enough by 7:00am.  While the water was heating we had breakfast, drank coffee, set up the rest of the equipment and greeted friends as they arrived to lend us some much appreciated helping hands.

As soon as it was day light, the boys started filling crates with chickens and we were ready to begin.

Here is a picture of my husband holding one of the birds before it went into a kill cone.

Broiler chicken getting ready to go into the kill cone.

Broiler chicken getting ready to go into the kill cone.

All of our equipment is from The Featherman company.  I will show you our set-up.

I have left out the pictures of the actual processing, but I do feel that is important for everyone to know where their food comes from.

First, the chickens go head first into the kill cones.

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Next, the chickens go into the scalder.

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The chickens are then placed in the plucker.  I tell everyone that wants to raise and process their own chickens that if there is one piece of equipment that you must have; this is it!  This machine will have the feathers off of four chickens within thirty seconds.

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When they come out of the plucker they go onto the evisceration table.

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Once the chickens are eviscerated they go into tubs that hold what we call “pink water” (this is their first soak in water) and then they go into our large chill tank and stay there until we pack them with ice in coolers to “rest” before packaging.

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On this day we processed 151 chickens and 10 turkeys.  We started at 7:00am and finished at 1:00pm.  We had wonderful friends that came out to help us.

If you have any questions about the processing, please ask.  And if you are interested in raising and processing your own chickens be sure and visit the Featherman Company’s website.  It is a small business right here in the USA!

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Life of a Broiler-Week 7

The broilers have reached seven weeks of age.  Technically, they are 7 1/2 weeks old if you are going by the day that I am writing this post.  We have been so busy around here this week that I couldn’t get the post written earlier.

Next Saturday we will be processing the chickens and our pasture-raised turkeys.  I have a post coming up next week about our turkeys.

Here is a picture of the chickens.

Seven week-old Cornish Cross Broiler chicken

 

As usual, we move them every morning to fresh pasture.  Now that we are in the last week before processing (butchering)  we will move them twice a day.  Their feed consumption goes up and what goes in must come out.  We never want our chickens spending lengthy amounts of time in their waste and we want to make sure they have ample amount of grazing time.  I love to watch them scratch around in the ground and eat bugs.  Chickens were never designed to be confined indoors.

Here they are around the waterer.

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It is a lot of work to raise happy, healthy, vaccine and antibiotic free chickens but so worth it.

 

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Life of a Broiler-Week5

The broilers are now five weeks old.

Five week-old Cornish Cross broiler chicken.

 

This chicken decided to get up on one of the beams of the coop and hitch a ride while we moved the coop.

Moving our coops is easy with the dolly.  We place the dolly on one end, lift up and slide it under the pen.

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We then go to the opposite side of the pen and pull.

Handles are on the front and back of the pens for easy moving.

Handles are on the front and back of the pens for easy moving.

 

We currently have 150 chickens on pasture.  We have these chickens divided among three pens to allow for ample amount of feeder and grazing space.

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We have a Bell waterer on two pens and a homemade bucket waterer in one pen.  Both work well.  The pens are moving towards the woods.  If you look close, you can see that I was standing where the pens had been a few days before.  Our chickens are on green grass, out in the sunshine and fresh air and fertilizing our pastures all at once.  It is a lot of work to move pens every morning but so worth it.

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Life of a Broiler-Week 4

The chickens are growing.  Here is what they look like this week.

Four-week old broiler chick.

Four-week old broiler chick.

They love being moved to fresh grass each day.

This is a picture of them inside the pen.

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The fresh grass, sunshine and fresh air keeps our chickens happy and healthy.

Sorry for the short post, but we have been extremely busy around the farm.  I will be sharing some of our projects.

Hope everyone has a great week!

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The Life of a Broiler – Week 3

I am technically three days late on this post, so please forgive me.  We have been very busy.  We started back to school this week, built a new turkey roost ( I will have a post about this soon) and began work on a coop for our new batch of laying hens.  Busy, busy, busy!  But we are happy, happy, happy.  Don’t you just love Si?

Anyway…back to my post.

Here is what one of our broiler chicks looks like now.

Three week old Cornish Cross chick.

Three week old Cornish Cross chick.

They are starting to get more feathers and less fuzz.

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In case you have forgotten what they looked like three weeks ago…

Day old Cornish Cross chick.

Day old Cornish Cross chick.

They are growing like weeds and eating like little pigs.

They have been weaned off of the heat lamps and are out on pasture.  We move the pens every morning to give the chicks access to fresh grass.  We did have to put three of the smallest chicks back into the brooder so that they would not be trampled to death.  When you raise chickens, a brooder makes a great hospital.

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We let these little guys out when we are outside so that we can keep an eye on them.  Once they get a little bigger we will integrate them back into the flock.

Here are the others enjoying the grass.

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I love seeing and hearing happy little chicks.

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7 Tips for Shopping at Your Local Farmer’s Market

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Shopping at your local farmer’s market is fun but can take time to get used to.  Americans have grown accustomed to having whatever they want, food wise, at their finger tips regardless of season.  As a grower, I want to share some tips that I feel will help the seasoned farmer’s market shopper as well as the newbie.

1. Seek out a producer only market.

The beauty of shopping at a local farmer’s market is being able to talk and buy directly from the person that has produced the food.  I am not a fan of markets that allow people to set up mini grocery stores and sell produce from hundreds of miles away.  I understand that everyone has to make a living, but in my opinion a farmer’s market should be just what it is called; a market belonging to the farmers.  These small, local markets are essential to the survival of small family farms.  Large farms that sell wholesale have large corporate grocery chains that buy from them.  There are many certifications with hefty fees that are required to sell to large grocery store chains that many small farms cannot afford to pay.

We also ask our customers if there is something that they would like for us to grow.  How cool is that!?  A lot of farmers will try different crops if there seems to be an interest.  I have seen more variety available at the farmer’s markets than what is available at the grocery store.

The most important thing about a producer only market is that you can find out exactly how your food was produced and get to know the farmer.  You can find out if any chemicals were used, fertilizers etc. We have an open door policy at our farm which allows our customers to come out and visit.  Transparency is crucial when it comes to being an informed consumer.  You also know exactly where your dollar is going.  There is no middle man when you buy straight from the farmer.

2. Learn to Eat with the Seasons

I am sure you have heard this before but it needs to be repeated.  Farmers can only grow what the weather will support.  Call your local agricultural extension office and get a copy of a seasonal produce chart.  Most of this information is available online as well.  This information lets you know what to expect currently and what to anticipate will be available in the future.  This will also come in handy when talking to farmers about what they are planning to grow for the next season.  If you aren’t sure how to prepare a particular crop, ask farmers if they have any recipes and search out recipes.  The market where we sell has a chef come and do food demonstrations.  The chef calls all of us farmers early in the week to find out what we will have available and then plans his menu accordingly.

Remember that the seasons not only control produce but they can also control pasture-raised meat availability.  Since our chickens are raised on pasture they can only be raised during certain months of the year.  We can’t put them on pasture when it is too cold and we don’t put them on pasture when it is terribly hot.  Summer in North Carolina, where I live,  can be very different in the mountains than the piedmont.  We have a lot of customers that stock up on chickens when we process in June because they know that they may not be available in the middle of August and they will have to wait until October when we process our next batch.

Matt cooking at the market.

Matt Huggett, the chef that cooks some delicious food at our market.

3. Get There Early

This is pretty easy to understand.  If you want the best selection be there when the market opens.

4. Plan Your Meals After Your Trip to the Market

I know this seems a little backwards, but remember this goes along with purchasing food that is regulated by nature.  This is where having cookbooks that feature whole foods come in handy.  You can check out my post on my favorite whole food cookbooks for some ideas.

5.  Bring Something to Carry Your Goodies

Having something to carry all of your purchases in is important.  Some farmers offer bags, but some don’t.  Some of our customers that live within walking distance pull a wagon and load it up with their goodies.  Baskets with handles work great as well.  If you are buy meats and eggs I would highly recommend bringing a cooler.

6.  Bring Cash 

Many farmers like us are now able to take payment with credit/debit cards.  Many only accept cash.  I recommend bringing  cash in a variety of 1′s, 5′s and 10′s.  Twenty dollar bills are harder for making change.

7.  Treat Each Farmer as an Individual Store

I tell people to think of a farmer’s market in the same way they think of a mall.  You don’t expect the stores at the mall to have the same practices, so don’t assume that each farm will either.  Don’t barter like you would at a yard sale.  Some farmer’s don’t mind this but some do.  You would not go to Wal-Mart and when your total comes to $10.59 ask the cashier if they will take $10.50 for your purchase.  If a farmer cut their price by $.09 for 100 people they would loose $9.00 that day.  While that may not seem like a lot, multiply this amount by twelve weeks (the average length of seasonal markets) and that total is $108.00.  Farmers have many expenses and every penny counts.

Shopping at farmer’s markets can be fun, rewarding and healthy.  You get out in the fresh air, meet great people and eat some of the freshest food you will ever put in your mouth.

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