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Chicken Breed Selection

Chicken breed selection can be a confusing prospect for the modern small farm laying flock. Sex-link birds will give you a great many light brown-shelled eggs of fair size right now, but they won’t build a sustainable and enduring flock.

Locate the purest possible sources of a breed’s genetics. The longer a particular flock’s history is, the better.

Small producers often need to do a better job of presenting their eggs for sale. Even if a flock is made up of all heirloom breeds, a badly mixed-up flock will not produce uniform eggs for sale, produce predictable replacements or foster a positive image. A friend says such flocks look like “grandma’s chicken yard.”

An egg is an egg once the shell is removed and no one will prosper by fostering and spreading old wives’ tales and misinformation. The white-shelled egg deserves the small-scale producer’s consideration every bit as much as the brown-shelled variety.

A good laying flock with a purebred basis is a long-term pursuit. Don’t take up heirloom birds on a whim and then neglect or let them go after a season or two. Such birds seldom make it to another set of caring hands with any sort  of commitment to their preservation as  a breed.

Heirloom breed producers can and should function in a number of different roles. Yet, even with a single focus, be it meat, eggs or seedstock, each flock and producer will have its own unique nature. A part of the task is to know your breed or breeds fully and even more so the birds that make up the actual flocks. A White Wyandotte and Rosecomb White Leghorn have a great many similarities, but all must admit that they were bred and refined for two rather different tasks in life. If you have a good market for light brown eggs in fair numbers and some demand for broilers or roasters, then the White Wyandotte should be your choice of the two breeds. While Leghorn cockerels were my grandmother’s favorite choice of young birds to fry in her day, the Leghorn must be your breed of choice for eggs in greater numbers.

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Mushrooms May Save Bees

A decade ago, honeybee populations around the world began declining at an alarming rate. In the early years of this trend, beekeepers lost 60 percent or more of their hives to a mysterious phenomenon that came to be known as colony collapse disorder (CCD). In each of these cases, worker bees simply disappeared, and it doesn’t take long for a colony to collapse without workers to provide food and to care for the young. Although this trend seems to have leveled off somewhat in recent years, the current average rate of 30 percent annual mortality is still nearly double the average rate reported prior to 2006.

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Soil pH: Making Adjustments to Boost Fertility

Raising soil pH is relatively inexpensive. Lime is the product of choice but there are two basic types of lime: high-calcium and dolomitic.

Soil pH adjustment may seem like a pretty straightforward operation, but there are many things to consider before undertaking such a bold step with soil chemistry. The first step is determine the direction you need to go and the products to use to achieve your goal.

I cannot stress enough the importance of getting a good soil test. I’ve heard people say that based on the type of weeds or the fact that moss is growing means the soil pH needs adjusting. Assuming those statements were true, which direction and how much adjustment should be made? Without a good soil test it is pure and simple guesswork.

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Tractor Time Podcast 4: Susan Sink and the American Farmland Trust

Susan Sink, vice president of development and external relations at American Farmland Trust.

Susan Sink, vice president of development and external relations at American Farmland Trust.

In our Tractor Time podcast this week, we were lucky enough to have Susan Sink, vice president of development and external relations with American Farmland Trust, stop by our office in Austin, Texas, to chat about the future of farming, and what is currently happening in Washington D.C. that all farmers should know about.

Susan and the team are based in Washington D.C., and work with policymakers as well to craft major legislation like The Farm Bill, which affects almost every farmer in the country. They travel around and talk with farmers, both conventional and organic, and see how different environments — both political and geographic — affect the agriculture industry across the country.

Susan is also a farmer who has diversified her cattle farm in hopes of finding a way to keep her farm going in a very challenging environment for cattle farmers. She speaks to her own experience, and provides words of wisdom and hope that every farmer out there can hear and appreciate.

Hosted by Ryan Slabaugh.

You can learn more about the American Farmland Trust at www.farmland.org.

You can find all of our podcasts on our Tractor Time Podcast page at www.ecofarmingdaily.com, or in the Apple store.

Wood Ash: How to Make Your Own Fertilizer

Straight wood ash on the right and wood ash mixed with ground up charcoal on the left. Both will benefit most soils.

Straight wood ash on the right and wood ash mixed with ground up charcoal on the left. Both will benefit most soils.

Wood ash, as Jon Frank shares, can be a resource for making your own super fertilizer: You’ve heard of super foods — foods especially endowed with nutrition that merit special attention. I would like to suggest a simple, effective fertilizer you can make yourself. Often overlooked and many times deprecated because it was over-applied — it is time to give wood ash its due. If you burn wood for home heating you already have a ready supply. If not, all it takes is a bonfire and you are in business. I like to incorporate plenty of charcoal in combination with the wood ashes. This approach is more closely aligned with the creation of Terra Preta. To cut the dust, I like to mix wood ashes with moist leaf mold. You may want to en­hance your fertilizer by mixing 1 pound of kelp meal and 1 pound of sugar for every 20 pounds of ashes. If phosphorus is low in your soil, add bones to the bonfire and crush them with the charcoal.

I suggest using anywhere from 5 to 50 pounds per 1,000 square feet. Avoid using on soils with a pH above 7.8. The use of wood ash does not replace soil test and fertility recommendations; rather it supplements it and reduces the overall need to purchase costly off-site inputs. The beauty of using wood ash is that the spectrum and ratio of minerals present in the ash have already been preselected by plants. Its fine dust is very fast-act­ing in soil. Wood ashes are very rich in trace and secondary minerals, without adding nitrogen.

Beyond Wood Ash

To create an optimum growing environment in your garden take these actions:

  • Keep the mineral levels in your soil well supplied;
  • keep soil-applied nitrogen very low;
  • keep the soil consistently moist, and
  • make your own super fertilizer.

And now for the word of caution. Externally applied nitrogen is a safety net. Its use should not be discontinued in the following situations:

  • Indoor growing — Greenhouses and high tunnels are very intensive and require more production to remain profitable.
  • Commercial grain production — Don’t even think about it.
  • Soils heavily sprayed with herbicides and pesticides — The microbial system struggles in this environment and requires applied nitrogen.

by Jon Frank

For more information about fertilizer, subscribe to Acres USA.

 

Healthy Pollination: Horizontal Hives Support Natural Beekeeping

A bee pollinates a flower.

A bee pollinates a flower.

Healthy pollination is the goal almost every beekeeper starts with, but it is often easier said than done.

If you have ever dreamed of keep­ing bees but found the process com­plicated, expensive, or the potential for losing your investment to disease and pests all too real, then you have never met Dr. Leo Sharashkin. He is a prominent wild bee enthusiast, edu­cator and apiarist who practices an ancient method of catching and keep­ing wild bees in specially designed horizontal hives.

If you have had the good fortune to meet Sharashkin or to hear him speak to a room full of enthusiastic beekeep­ers or the crowd that inevitably gath­ers around his Horizontal Hive booth at growers’ conferences across the country, you already know that his knowledge of bees is boundless and the methods he uses to keep them, truly inspiring. Whether you are a budding beekeeper or an experienced apiarist, you can keep happy and productive bees with less work and money than you ever imagined pos­sible and do so in a sustainable way.

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