Archive for the 'Agricultural Age' category

Siberian Husky Shedding (Blowing) Her Coat

Siberian Husky Coat Harvest

As you know from previous posts, our Siberian Husky Roxy is the family sheep.  We harvest her undercoat and use it to spin yarn and weave hats and scarves.  In case you haven’t seen what it is like when a Husky blows their coat, the video below will give you a taste of the experience.

 

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Siberian Husky Shedding (Blowing) Her Coat

Siberian Husky Coat Harvest

As you know from previous posts, our Siberian Husky Roxy is the family sheep.  We harvest her undercoat and use it to spin yarn and weave hats and scarves.  In case you haven’t seen what it is like when a Husky blows their coat, the video below will give you a taste of the experience.

 

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Edible Landscaping – Winter Garden Update

Winter Garden Happenings

Spring is coming, here is a quick edible landscaping update on our winter garden!

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(VIDEO) Spinning with the Babe’s Pinkie Spinning Wheel

Spinning is Old School

Spinning WheelSpinning with a spinning wheel originally dates back to around the 11th century.  Here at Suburban Stone Age, it dates back to last month.  After 120 agonizing days spinning with a drop spindle in 2010, I swore the next time I’d make yarn I’d be doing it with a spinning wheel.  Four years later, that has finally come true.  Meet my first spinning wheel; the Babe’s Pinkie Double Treadle wheel.

Fossil Fuel Free Fiber

Part about what I love so much about this wheel is that, aside from what it took to manufacture and ship it to me, it will never use fossil fuels again for make wondrous, homespun fiber.  This machine runs on butt fat, of which I have plenty, and I’m not afraid to get a workout to produce yarn for garments and gifts.

Dog? Sheep? Yes.

The true reason I got this wheel is because our Siberian Husky, Roxy, is our family sheep.  Every year, she explodes with fur as she sheds her winter undercoat.  This coat is a magical, mysterious thing of beauty and usefulness.  After a washing and carding, it becomes a marvelous yarn that make the most unique hats of all time. For me that closes the circle.  Girl feeds dog, dogs make clothes, girls wears clothes, and girl happily feeds the dog again.

Take It For A Spin

not it’s time to show you the Babe’s Pinkie Spinning Wheel itself, fresh out of the box and working away.  I hope you enjoy this old school piece of technology finding it’s way into our modern lives!

 

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(VIDEO) Edible Landscaping Tour at Suburban Stone Age

You asked for it, and here it is! Come along for a personal, first-time-ever video tour of Suburban Stone Age!

Apparently, I’m a talker, because this vid is almost 30 mins long. But if you have the attention span, I’ll share with you (in detail!) the edible landscaping as SSA and why we planted the way we did.

Enjoy!

 

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(VIDEO) Going Tropical in the Greenhouse

Let’s face it… a greenhouse in Southern California isn’t *really* necessary.

True, it’s great for starting seeds in the spring. But in summer it gets as hot as the surface of the sun, and in winter it stays only a few degrees above freezing. Because I don’t do a lot of container gardening, the greenhouse has been standing idle most of the year because the temperature extremes make it unlivable.

Today, I fixed that. Hating that valuable space was being wasted, I made some adjustments and rededicated the greenhouse to going tropical. I added shade cloth to cut down on the blasting heat, and brought electricity into the greenhouse so I could run an aquarium and a fan. The aquarium is for heat and humidity (I repurposed my son’s unused 12 gallon tank), and the fan is to keep the air circulating. By the end of the day, things were running smoothly and I must say it was quite nice in there.

My tropicals that have been overwintering inside will like it a lot, I feel. And now I have a new microclimate to explore, which opens up a whole new world of plants to play with. As the greenhouse evolves, I’ll keep you posted, but so far, it’s a winner!  
 

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Urban Beekeeping When You Can’t Keep Honey Bees

Mar 25 2014 Published by under Agricultural Age, The Ages

Urban Beekeeping For The Rest of Us

Urban beekeeping honey beehiveUrban beekeeping is a rising trend among many who are interested in producing their own source of honey and interacting with honey bees.  Unfortunately, there may be several reasons why a would-be backyard beekeeper is unable to start and maintain a honey beehive of their own.   Challenges such city ordinances, pets and small children, liability issues, and unenthusiastic neighbors can all pull the plug on dreams of being a honey beekeeper.

Beekeeping By Supporting Bees

Honey bees need more than a hive to be successful.  The good news is that you can be involved in some very important aspects of beekeeping, even if you can’t have the actual beehive on your property.  Here are some alternative ideas for “keeping” bees, by supporting bees:

  • urban beekeeping bee friendly plants peach blossomGrow bee friendly plants – Having an abundant food supply is important to a healthy, productive bee hive.  By planting bee friendly plants that bloom throughout the seasons, you’ll be giving bees a delicious, long lasting buffet.  Excellent bee plants include cilantro, lavender, rosemary, borage, lamb’s ear, echium, bee balm, echinacea, and many others.
  • Let the lawn grow - Caroline from London’s Buzzing recommends, “for those who prefer lawns to gardens… instead of cutting the lawn every so often, leave the grass to grow for one week longer or so – this will give clover the chance to flower and bees can get some much needed nectar”.
  • Don’t use insecticides – Insecticide use can have unintended consequences for bees.  To keep bees safe and healthy, use alternative organic methods to control garden pests.
  • honey bee drinking basinSupply clean water – A shallow basin of clean water can supply bees with much needed moisture, especially in hot weather or in a dry climate.  Fill a basin with pebbles or stones to give the bees a safe place to land and sip without drowning.
  • Involve the community – Caroline also suggests, “For the keen golfers among us, talk to management and ask that they use ‘bee-friendly’ products to keep their courses in pristine condition”.
  •  Get involved – Join a local beekeeping group and learn about urban beekeeping from the experts.  Even if you can’t have your own hive, beekeeping groups are a great way to interact and build a relationship with bees and people.  Depending on the group, you may able to participate in swarm rescues, harvest honey, or work with public education, among other activities.  Every group is different, but getting involved is a great place to start.
  • Other resources: Friends of the Earth has a great pamphlet on other ideas for supporting bees.  Find it here.

Native and Solitary Bees

leafcutter bee suburban stone ageHoney bees often get the spotlight, but there are actually thousands of species of bees. Even if you can’t keep a honey beehive, you can host native and solitary bees, such as mason bees and leafcutter bees.  Setting up a bee house  is an alternative way to keep bees without the disadvantages of having a traditional beehive.  You may not get honey, but you can still reap all the benefits of  enhanced pollination and the interest of a garden buzzing with activity.

Take Action!

There are many ways to support urban beekeeping, but the most important step is to take action.  By trying one of the steps above, you can start your journey towards keeping bees by supporting bees.

Sharing is Caring!

If you enjoyed this article and found it useful, please share!  I’d love to hear comments, questions, and feedback on your urban beekeeping experiences. Thanks!

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Cover Crops For The Home Garden

cover crop  home garden cloverWhat Are Cover Crops?

Cover crops are plants that are grown not for the food they produce, but for other beneficial work they do.  Also know as  “living mulches” or “green manure”, a cover crop is an essential part of sustainable agriculture.  Cover crops help bridge the gap between removing matter from the field in the form of the harvest, and returning or conserving  matter in the field by returning biomass, nutrients, and offering protection for existing topsoils.

Ancient History

Cover crops have been used for thousands of years to ensure the long term health and productivity of the land.  Some 2,000 years ago, the ancient Roman poet Virgil writes in his book Georgics of sowing spelt following  a cover crop of vetch and lupine.    F. H. King documents, in Farmers of Forty Centuries,  the ancient tradition of Chinese farmers who were “turning under Chinese clover to ferment as green manure, preparatory for the rice transplanting”.  Use of cover crops is ancient agricultural wisdom that can still be applied today to the home garden.

Why Bother?

The benefits of a cover crop to a home gardener are many.  The questions isn’t why grow them, it is why would you not grow them.  There are too many advantages a cover crop provides to pass up.  A few examples include:

  • Cover crops are used to enrich the soil. Green manures that fix nitrogen, such as fava beans and clover, work to take atmospheric nitrogen and fix it in the soil where the next crop can use it for food.   
  • A vigorous cover crop can be planted for weed control, smothering young weeds and starving them for sunlight before they can become established.
  • Cover Crops create habitat for beneficial insects, who become allies in other areas in the garden by providing pollination and pest control.
  • Living mulches protects topsoil from erosion. By breaking up and diffusing heavy rain, the cover crop prevents soil from washing away.  A cover crop can also diffuse wind that can blow away precious topsoil.  By breaking up air currents at the soil surface and keeping topsoil anchored with roots, a living mulch can protect a field or bed from ravaging winds.
  • Cover Crops conserve soil moisture through reduced evaporation.  By keeping the beating sun off naked soils when used as a mulch, cover crops form a protective layer that helps underlying soils retain moisture.
  •  Cover crops act as a buffer for soils, moderating swings in soil temperatures.  Baking sun and exposed nights are moderated by the layer of living mulch.
  • Cover crops can improve tilth and soil structure, in addition to breaking up compacted soils.

By planting cover crops, you can add a multitude of benefits to your growing system, all in a sustainable and environmentally friendly way.

Types of Cover Crops

There are many types of  plants that can act as cover crops.  To simplify, most can be sorted into three categories, legumes, grasses and grains, and other.  Which you use and when will depend on your garden’s needs.

fava bean cover crop home gardenLegumes

Legumes are plants belonging to the family Fabaceae.  Vetch, fava beans, peas, and clover are examples of legumes.  Legumes are prized for their ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen through a symbiotic partnership with bacteria.  This process happens in nodules attached to their root system.  When the plant dies, the nitrogen that was fixed in the nodules returns to the soil and becomes available to future crops.  In addition to this wondrous ability, legumes can act as living mulches and as animal forage.

Grasses and Grains

Grasses and grains and grains such as sorghum-sudangrass, annual rye, and winter wheat are used to add biomass to the soil.  These crops are killed before they go to seed, leaving roots and stubble to add organic material and improve soil tilth.  Some grasses have extensive root systems that can penetrate deep into the soil, bringing nutrients to the surface that are left behind when the crop is killed.  These roots also improve soil structure by aggregating soil particles and breaking up clumpy, compacted soils.

Grasses, with their tremendously extensive root systems, may relieve compacted surface soil layers. Sorghum-sudangrass can be managed to powerfully fracture subsoil. - Marianne Sarrantonio

Other

Buckwheat, mustard, turnips, and oilseed radish are examples of cover crops that aren’t legumes or grains and grasses.  They can be planted to attract beneficial insects, deter pests, or shade out competing weeds.  However, some have challenges all their own.  According to Charlie Nardozzi with Edible Landscaping, oilseed radish “kills nematodes when tilled into soil, but may harbor brassica-family diseases”.  Choose your cover crops wisely according to your garden’s needs, and you can make this group of crops work hard for you.

Cover Crop Strategies

There are several strategies to using cover crops.  The Minnesota Department of Agriculture shares:

  • winter cover crop is planted in late summer or fall to provide soil cover over winter.
  • catch crop is a cover crop planted after harvesting the main crop, primarily to reduce nutrient leaching.
  • smother crop is a cover crop planted primarily to out compete weeds.
  • green manure is a cover crop incorporated into the soil while still green, to improve soil fertility.
  • Cover crops can serve as short-rotation forage crops when used for grazing or harvested as immature forage (green chop).

Timing is Everything

Cover crops can be planted from spring through late fall.  The type of cover crop and it’s purpose will determine the best times to plant.  For example, fava beans – grown for their nitrogen fixing abilities – can be planted in the fall.  They take a long time to mature and can handle the cooler temperatures in a mild winter climate.  By spring, as they begin to flower, fava beans can be turned under and the soil conditioned for the spring crop.

Rye, however, can be planted at different times of the year.  According to the University of Connecticut, “Rye is superior at capturing nutrients in fall and winter and provides a more persistent weed suppressive mulch in summer.” Planting rye at different times will encourage different results, enabling you to fine tune your home garden and soil management strategy.

By getting to know what types of cover crops serve what purposes, you will be able to insert them into your crop rotation for maximum efficiency.  Click on the image below for a handy fact sheet on when to plant cover crops.

Cover Crops for the Home Garden

Table By: R.L. Rackham and R. McNeilan

Born To Die

Part of the job of many green manures is being returned to the soil, adding nutrients and biomass and building fertility.  This is all accomplished by killing the crop before it reaches maturity.  In other words, cover crops are born to die.

When the time comes to recycle a cover crop, some can be cut and mulched in place, such as buckwheat or hairy vetch.  This involves cutting down the crowns of the crop as it begins to flower, and leaving the tops in place as a mulch.  The roots die, adding organic material to the soil and making passage through the soil easier for future crop roots and beneficial soil organisms.  Other crops, such as rye, can be mowed and then tilled into the soil.  For cover crops of this type, it is best to give the soil about four weeks to condition before planting the next crop.

Each crop requires a different strategy, know your crop and what work it will take to re-incorporate it for the maximum benefits.

Seed Sources

The seeds of many cover crops are easy to find.  A local garden sector should carry common seeds, such as clovers.  Amazon.com has a wide selection of seeds as well.  You can also try a local seed and feed store that carries agricultural supplies – they may be able to get seeds in bulk quantities and competitive prices.

Give Cover Crops A Try in Your Home Garden!

Don’t let a season go by without leveraging the advantages of a cover crop.  Now is the perfect time to start planting to enrich your home garden’s health.  Make cover crops an important part of your home gardening plans.

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Monarch Butterfly: How To Help

The Iconic Monarch Butterfly

The monarch butterfly is one of the most beloved and widely recognized butterflies in the world.  Its vivid orange and black wings make it easy to recognize.  The monarch butterfly and its beauty have come to represent butterflies and conservation issues everywhere.

monarch butterfly

What Makes Monarch Butterflies Unique?

Monarch butterflies migrate over 2,500 miles in search of warmer climates to over-winter.  However, not every single monarch butterfly does this.  Only the last generation of monarchs born in a year will be the ones to make the round trip migration.  This is multi-generational migration is a unique occurrence among the insect world.

The Monarch Butterfly Is In Danger

Human activities have had a dramatic and negative impact on the monarch butterfly.  Populations are under pressure.  Activities such as logging at wintering sites, destruction of milkweed habitat, and use of herbicides and pesticides are threatening monarch butterflies.  However, there is hope.  Here are some things citizens can do to give the monarch butterflies a helping hand.

What Can We Do To Help?

  • Plant Milkweed Host Plants: The caterpillar of the monarch butterfly only eats milkweed.  Milkweed is often considered a pest plant by humans and is destroyed.  When the milkweed is gone, there is no food for the next generation of monarchs.  By planing milkweed for monarch caterpillars in a small corner of the yard, you can help the monarch butterfly lifecycle stay intact.  Milkweed seeds can be ordered here and here.
  • Grow Herbicide and Pesticide Free Gardens: Herbicides and pesticides can have a dramatic and negative impact on monarchs and their host plants.  By adopting gardening practices that avoid the use of herbicides and pesticides, you’ll give monarch butterflies a safe haven to feed and reproduce.

Take Action, Help Monarchs!

monarch butterfly sunflower nectar suburban stone ageIn addition to taking action in your garden, you can help monarchs by spreading the word about the challenges they face.  Tell your family and friends the interesting facts you have learned about the monarch, and what you are doing to help.  In addition, there are many great monarch butterfly conservation groups, such as MonarchWatch.org and Learner.org,  you can become involved in that will help support the monarch at the community level.  We hope you will join the effort to help this beautiful and iconic butterfly survive for many generations to come!

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(VIDEO) How To Compost at Suburban Stone Age

How To Compost

Learning how to compost is an essential skill for an organic, sustainable garden.  In this video post, I discuss how to compost by using materials from our garden at Suburban Stone Age.  I’ll take you step by step through the process, beginning with preparation of the materials, to mixing a batch, and on to the finished product.

Video Summary

1) Discussing the Compost Bin

The bin is made from straw bales.  It is lined on the bottom with cardboard.  Materials from the yard are stored in the bin until they are ready to compost.

 2) Preparing the Materials

Prepare for composting by grinding woody materials with a grinder.  Shred chunky greens with hedge trimmers.

3) Mix and Moisten the Pile

Layer on the materials, mix them, and moisten the pile to the consistency of a wet sponge.

4) Achieve a Balanced Mix

Seasonal differences can create different types of mixtures.  Blend the materials from throughout the year to achieved a balanced compost mix.

5) Hot Composting is Reached

The temperature rises quickly, a good sign that the compost is active.  Temperatures quickly reach 15o°F.

6) The Finished Product

Finished compost, otherwise known as “black gold” goes back into the garden to add organic matter and complete the cycle.

How to make compost

If You Enjoyed, Please Share!

If you enjoyed this video on how to compost, please feel free to share.  Thanks for watching, and try composting today!

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