Published in Urban Homesteading

The text and illustrations of this article are from
Organic Gardening and Farming October, 1973

Philip Mahan demonstrates how a fish is transferred from the fry tank to the barrel.

A biological food chain in the back yard produces fresh fish for the table and compost for the garden.

By Philip and Joyce Mahan

After some study and experimentation, we have set up a productive food chain-- table scraps to earthworms to catfish--in our back yard. The project is satisfactory in many respects, utilizing waste materials to produce fresh fish for food and at the same time yielding ample compost for a small garden. The material cost is minimal. The whole operation can be set up for less that $15.00. The equipment occupies only about 12 square feet of space, and the entire assembly can be easily moved if necessary.

The materials can be very simple: Two 55-gallon steel drums, three panes of glass 24 inches square, and a medium-sized aquarium air pump. One of the drums will serve as a tank for the fish, oxygen being supplied by the air pump; and the second drum should be cut in half to provide two bins for the worms. The panes of glass are used as covers for the worm bins and fish tank, and for ease and safety in handling can be framed with scrap lumber.

Published in Vegetable Gardening

Onions in heavy mulchWith springtime just around the corner we are in full preperation mode here at the Yardstead.  We have a few veggies in the garden already with plans for many more.  Kathleen has a stack a seed packets ready to go but I havent looked yet to see whats on the menu.  She does all the garden planning and I just provide the labor.  She helps with that too of course.  Anyway, since Im the head of the yardstead labor department I am always looking for ways to minimize tedious labor intensive tasks.  Number one on my list of tedious labor intesive tasks is pulling weeds.  I have always hated pulling weeds since the first time I can remember doing it.  When I was a kid my father always kept a garden going in our back yard.  I always wanted to help with whatever my dad was doing in the garden, especially if my big brother was helping too.  I remember seeing my brother on his hands and knees "playing" in the garden along a row of eggplants.  I asked if I could help and he gave a quick lesson on how to pull weeds without bothering the vegetables.  The weeds were easy to identify because the eggplants were well established so ther was no danger of me accidentally pulling up veggies and   I soon started working down my own row.  I don't think I made it past even three plants before I promoted myself to watering.  I was still just a little tyke so it was a few more years before I actually got assigned weeding as a chore.  I have been trying to get out of it ever since.
There are many ways to control weeds in the garden and I have tried several over the years and have yet to find a labor free technique.  Its not that im anti-labor, after all, gardening and yard work constitute my entire exercise routine.  I do hate weeding though, and there are many occasions when work or other resposibilities keep me out of the garden for days on end.  In our part of the country with the abundant sunshine and frequent rains, thats plenty of time for a small band of weeds to stage a coup, and  whole sections of the garden can be taken over.  So we've tried many ways to prevent weeds in the garden without having to constantly vigilant. 
The first weed blocking technique......

Zuchinni Transplanted to GardenHere at The Yardstead we like to get a jump start on our spring garden.  We are in north Florida so we have spring like weather  as early as February and Kathleen and I get very excited about the spring garden.   We like to get our veggies in the ground as early as possible, but we have to be careful.  Although there are many warm sunny days here in February, we still have some cold days and night as well.  We had a couple of hard freezes in February this year.  In order to get our plants started as early as possible and protect them from the weather.  We start many of our plants in peat pots, peat pellets, or seed flats.  This allows us to leave the plants out on sunny days and bring them inside when it gets to cold. 
There are several other advantages to starting your vegetables in containers and transplanting them to the garden.  Starting the seed......

 For the last 4 or 5 years we have at least one powdery mildew infection in our vegetable garden every season.  Last year we lost all of our zucchini and squash plants to powdery mildew, and the year before that we lost all of our pumpkins to powdery mildew.  The powdery mildew usually sets in after our plants are well established and fruiting.  We have successfully treated vegetable plants in the past that made a full recovery, and we have also lost many plants when we failed to treat them quick enough.  I expect this year will be no different, but I plan to be prepared to react at the first signs of the white powdery spots.  We may also try some preventive measures this year and of course we will be sharing our results with you. 
It is easy to recognize powdery mildew in your garden.  It usually affects the leaves and shows up as white powdery spots on top of the leaves.  If left untreated it will quickly spread to the surrounding vegetables.  Although the powdery mildew does not usually attack the fruit itself, it can kill the plant or otherwise weaken and diminish fruit production.  We have found in the past that fruit from plants that have recently become infected can be harvested with no problems, but once the powdery mildew is established new fruit production stops and the infected plant soon wilts and dies.   
In my research into methods to prevent and treat powdery mildew, I have found several suggestions for powdery mildew prevention.  The most common suggestions ..........

USDA Southeast Hardiness Zones

The USDA has a ton of good information that can be very useful for planning your garden.  One of the first things you need to know for garden planning is what plants will do well in your particular climate.  The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map provides  quick and easy access to this information. 
Each zone on the map is represented by a different color.  The key associated with the map gives the zone number for each colored area as well as the average annual minimum temperature for each zone.   There are 10 zones on the map that each represent a different level of winter hardiness.  The zones are subdivided into 'a' and 'b'  sections that represent about a 5 degree F difference in minimum temperature. 
This information is critical when planning your garden, if you want to make sure your plants will survive the cold weather.  The areas encompased by the map zones also have similar all around climate characteristics.  This makes the map very useful for planning plants that will not only survive a frost in your area, but also thrive in your climate conditons.  
So now that you know what hardiness zone your garden lies within, how do know what plants will do well in your zone?   Well you could .......

During World War I and World War II, it was very common for people to grow a Victory Garden. These gardens were grown to relieve some of the pressure on the public food supply that was brought on by the war effort.   But also these gardens provided a morale booster for those on the home front.  A way for those at home to contribute to the war effort and provide themselves with food.

Here at the yardstead we have unfortunately seen several of our friends layed off during the current economic crisis.  We have been thinking about how we could help our friends and our communtiy on limited resources during this time.  We were thinking of an inexpensive way to contribute to our own as well as others self sufficiency during hard times.  A victory garden seems to be one of the best ways we can help ourselves and our community.  The produce we grow will provide food for ourselves and any extra can be given to our friends or donated to the local food bank.

For those urban or yardsteaders that have very little land, we challenge you to take a long hard look at your flower beds and small flower containers.  These small areas in front and on the sides of a home can be converted to vegetable production with ease.  We are not advocating digging up all your ornamentals.  We just want you to take a look at any extra space between your rose bushes for other vegetables.  There are many companies such as Johnny's selected seeds and Seeds of change that print seed catalogs with beautiful pictures of vegetables.  Many of the these vegetables would look great growing in flower beds.  There are also many varieties sold now that grow great in small containers with limited space (such as an apartment patio).

For those yardsteaders that have half an acre or a quarter of an acre, you have plenty of room for a small rectangular or square vegetable garden.  As we all cut back in order to save money and make ends meet through the difficult economic situation we must be more creative to help ourselves.



Published in Vegetable Gardening

 When February rolls around, we always get excited here at The Yardstead.  No, not because of Valentines Day, but because it means Spring garden time is about to arrive.  We are extra excited this year since our garden has been almost completely bare since the end of the summer.  We usually have a full winter garden with lots of collards, mustard, turnips and other greens as well as snow peas and cabbage varieties (bak choi is one of my favorites).  This year our work schedules kept us out of the garden for the most part all winter.  Kathleen did mange to get some snow peas in the ground a couple of weeks ago, but it may get to hot for them before they really produce much.  We arent to worried about the snow peas though, if they dont produce much we will eat what they do produce right off the vines while we work in the garden.  The fresh pods make a tasty snack!  Anyway, one of the first veggies that we usually get in the ground for Spring are potatoes.  Our old farmers almanac says Valentines day is the best time to plant potatoes in our area. 
Potatoes grow best in cool, but not freezing weather.  If you live somewhere with a hot climate, like our yardstead (which is in Florida) you should plant the potatoes as early as possible so they will have time to produce before the weather gets too hot.  Many varieties of potatoes will wilt and die when the temperature reaches the 90s.   A freeze will also kill potato plants, so you need to plant them after your last freeze.  Since it takes about 2 or three weeks after being planted for the potatoe plants to emerge from the ground it is usually safe to plant them a couple of weeks prior to your latest expected freeze date where the temperature drops down below 28 degrees.  Well, since no one gets a schedule with all the temperatures listed in advance we have to rely on past weather statistics to forecast planting times.  NOAA maintains the National Climate Data Center with all kinds of useful weather and climate statistics, that can be accessed from their website.  Here is a link to the freeze/frost probability tables.  Just select your state from the list and scroll down the table to and find the nearest town listed.  You will see the 28 degree column and can find the latest date it is likely to fall below 28F in your area.  For our area itis Feb. 8 so valentines is a safe bet for us.

There are many varieties of potatoes to choose from.  You can.......

Published in Yardstead Blog

Well according to the groundhog we will have 6 more weeks of winter.  We can't express our disappointment enough.  Here at the yardstead, we have spring fever and really want to get some vegetables planted.  We know there are still lots of vegetables we can plant...but we (mostly Kathleen) can't wait to get the tomatos, squash, corn, zuchinni, and gourds in the ground!  I did get sugar snap peas (about a 25 foot row) planted this weekend.  Here in North Florida we put our potatoes in the ground around Valentine's day.  So these little things will have to hold us over for a few more weeks.  I will just have to settle for starting some seeds indoors and patiently waiting for the last frost.  We are trying two new gourds (new for us) this year.  Apple gourds and large Speckled Swans.  The North Florida Research and Education Center in Quincy had a very large field of gourds planted last year.  We were lucky enough to get one apple and one speckled swan to take home and admire.  Of course, we now have to try these at home on the fence row.  We will also be trying our new winter melon seeds.  These will also be planted on the fence row as soon as it warms up.

Like the rest of the country we have seen colder than normal temps this winter.  We've had several hard freezes.  Our bamboo plants have suffered a bit.  We are really looking forward to the spring to see how quickly they recover.

Our ducks are sitting on a heaping nest of eggs.  We really hope this turns into a heaping pile of ducklings.  If so, we will post lots of pictures.  The chickens have weathered the winter well enough.  A few still managed to lay eggs through the colder periods and we have not had to buy any eggs this winter.  We have two new roosters given to us by friends.  Really pretty roosters and I will get some pictures of those in the gallery soon.  I need to compare there pictures online to other roosters and try to figure out what breed they are.  If anyone sees the pictures and recognizes them...please feel free to post the name in the forum!

More updates and pictures to come as the weather warms.

 We have been raising turkeys here at the Yardstead since about the middle of May.  They are just over 6 months old now and fully grown.  We got them as 3 day old poults and raised them in with our chickens.  This is the first time we have kept turkeys and it's been really easy and a lot of fun.
We bought three baby turkeys called poults from our local feed store.  We kept them inside in a box for a couple of weeks.  The poults looked very similar to baby chickens but were slightly larger.  After a couple of weeks we moved the poults out to our chicken pen and put them in a small holding pen to protect them from the hens.   Turkey do well on chicken feed and we fed the baby turkeys layer crumbles. 
We have been raising chickens for years and the baby chicks always did a fair job of looking out for their selves.  Our baby chicks have a small shelter they instinctively use when the weather is bad.  We expected that the turkeys would do the same.  One night after the poults had been living outside for a couple of weeks, we had a hard rain.  It stopped raining a little after dark and I went outside to the chicken pen to check on the birds.  I shined the light on the holding pen and all three turkey were laying on the ground soaking wet.  I rushed them inside and Kathleen.....

Published in Yardstead Blog

We had a really nice Thanksgiving at the Yardstead.  We killed and prepared one of the turkeys we have been raising and it was delicious.  We have been rasing turkeys since May.  We purchased the poults (baby turkeys) at three days old from our local feed store.  We chose a hen for Thanksgiving and she weighed 20lbs live.  After being dressed out the turkey weighed 15lbs.  We killed and dressed the turkey on Thursday morning.  It took about an hour to have the turkey ready for cooking.  We cooked the turkey in a deep fryer and it turned out great.  We have another turkey we plan to cook for Christmas. 
I think we will definitely plan on getting more poults next year.  We only got three poults this year, since we had never raised turkeys before, but we may get a few more next year.  Overall the raising of the turkeys was fairly simple.  They were raised in our chicken pen along side the chickens and were fed with the chickens also.  They did well on the chicken feed and grew fast.