Categories
Animals Beekeeping Farm & Garden

Consider These Several Types Of Beehives

From the type of honeybees you choose to the number of beehives you manage—and how you choose to manage them—there is seemingly endless variability in beekeeping. For new and expanding beekeepers, deciding which kind of beehive to use is yet another variable in play.

Your beekeeping goals, local climate and budget are a few factors to consider as you weigh your options. Your equipment’s interchangeability is paramount, too.

Michael Bush, author of The Practical Beekeeper book series, primarily uses modified Langstroth beehives. “I run all eight-frame, medium Langstroth boxes,” he says. “Full of honey, they don’t weigh over 50 pounds, and I use them for everything.”

Well, nearly everything. Bush also keeps bees in some top bar hives, Slovenian hives, Flow hives and a Huber observation hive. But he doesn’t necessarily recommend mixing and matching your own beehives to such a degree. 

“If you’ve got five different kinds of hives, what are you going to do when this one is queenless and you need a frame of brood?” he asks. “With five different kinds of hives, you don’t have any interchangeable parts—unless you went out of your way to make sure they were all interchangeable.”

The Langstroth Hive

Interchangeability—and the ability to easily expand colony size as needed—are just part of the appeal of Langstroth beehives for David T. Peck. Peck holds a Ph.D. from Cornell University’s department of neurobiology and behavior and serves as director of research and education at Betterbee. 

“All of my bees are in vertical, Langstroth hives,” he says. “Bees have been living in vertical, hollow trees for millions of years. So they’re pretty well-adapted to that configuration.”

Filled with individual, moveable frames, Lorenzo Langstroth’s series of stacked supers has become ubiquitous in North America. “The standardization in the U.S. is something that makes our beekeeping market hard to change, because there’s only the one style and almost everyone uses it,” Peck says.

In fact, accessories such as the Hogg Halfcomb and Ross Round comb-honey systems only work in Langstroth beehives. “With both of those, you have a section—a cavity—that the bees will walk right up into, will naturally build comb into and will fill with honey,” Peck says. “Then, once the [comb-honey frames] are full, you can take them out, put them either into a round or square container, label it and bring it to your farmers market.”

What’s more, formic acid and certain varroa mite treatments were designed specifically for use in Langstroth equipment. “That’s where they’ve proven that the rate at which the medicine is released from the pad is going to come out and then be ventilated by the bees and vented out of the open entrance at the right rates so that the bees survive and the mites die,” Peck says. “Those tests have not been run and validated on top bar hives or on horizontal hives or on different designs.”

That’s not to say such medications can’t be used in other beehives. But, he adds, “That’s not the labeled and intended use for those products.”


Read more: Ready to purchase new bees? Here’s where to start.


The Top Bar Hive

Plenty of beekeepers, looking to skip chemical pesticides and artificial foundation, have gravitated to top bar beehives. Unlike its vertical Langstroth counterpart, the top bar hive is a long, horizontal box with individual foundation bars suspended across its top. Bees attach natural comb beneath the bars. Beekeepers pull individual frames—rather than heavy Langstroth supers—to inspect one at a time.

beehives beehive
Jonas Sjoblom/Shutterstock

“The modern top bar hive—called the Kenyan top bar hive—was actually invented in Canada as part of a Canadian government and university international development grant,” Peck says. “They designed that so they could go to sub-Saharan Africa or to Latin America where they were trying to encourage people to keep bees in order to boost their economic productivity or pollinate their crops. “In those climates, the bees tend to do pretty well.”

What about Minnesota or upstate New York?

“The top bar hive has a tendency to get the bees working off in one direction and then move them too far away from their honey,” he says. “Instead of the heat of the cluster slowly rising and warming that next layer of honey upwards, the heat from the cluster rises, but the honey is on the other side of that top bar trough. Now the bees have to march through very cold temperatures to try to get there and get more fuel.”

Still, Bush sees at least one clear advantage: “If you’re handy with materials and have access to scrap wood, you could probably build a top bar hive for free … [but]  you can get natural comb by doing foundationless [frames] in any kind of box…. And you can build a long hive and put Langstroth frames in it and not have to lift boxes.

“So, you can get that without doing a top bar hive.”

The Flow Hive

For its part, the Flow hive is a variation on the Langstroth hive. “Except the Flow hive has a super that you can harvest without having to take it off,” Bush says. He was sent early versions of the Flow hive to try before they hit the market and a few more since they’ve become commercially available.

beehives beehive
courtesy beeinventiveptyltd

Developed by Stuart and Cedar Anderson, the Flow hive features specially designed plastic frames paired with a crank mechanism to facilitate the honey harvest. “Basically, it’s made up of a whole bunch of strips of plastic that have half of a cell on the right and a half of a cell on the left,” Bush says. “And there’s just two kinds of those, and they’re all put together to make this long frame.

“One of the kinds of cells stays put and the other one moves up and down. So, you stick the crank in underneath and you turn it. It pops half of [the cells] up, which makes a zigzag channel, so the honey can run out and air can come in at the top.”

Bush allows the honey to run through tubes that drain into a 5-gallon bucket. Finding brood mixed in with the honey harvest hasn’t been an issue.

“The honey cells are extra thick, so that the queen won’t want to lay in them,” Bush says. “The cells are also purposely an odd shape or an odd size, so the queen won’t want to lay in them, because it’s not quite right for a drone and it’s not quite right for a worker.”

Because honey cell cappings remain intact even during harvest, the flowing honey doesn’t make a mess inside the colony. Although Bush appreciates the design, he can’t justify its expense. “If I had very many [non-Flow hive colonies], I could buy an extractor for less than I could buy two or three of these Flow hives,” he says.

But for beekeepers with just a couple of beehives—rather than a couple hundred—the Flow hive could be worth the price.


Read more: Microapiaries are a passion project at Sassy Bee Honey.


Slovenian Hives

If money’s no object, you could build a bee house complete with Slovenian beehives. Also known as AZ hives—named after their creator, Anton Žnideršič—Slovenian hives are made to fit neatly within a larger, often climate-controlled structure.

The hive entrances face outside the bee house. The backs of the beehives are contained inside the bee house, which is roomy enough for the beekeeper to comfortably work. 

beehives beehive
Jure Ahtik, Tamara Elbl/ Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

“An AZ hive opens from the back, and the frames pull straight out,” Bush says. “[The beekeeper] can sit in an air-conditioned bee house where his extractor is. He can go over to the hive, pull the frames out, uncap them, put them in the extractor, extract and put them back in.

“All in his 70-degree, air-conditioned honey house. And he’s never even gone outside.”

Because individual frames are removed, rather than entire supers, there’s no heavy lifting. Also, the ability to heat the bee house even by a little could make all the difference for beekeepers with harsh winters.

Even so, Slovenian hives aren’t for everyone. “Here’s the problem with the Slovenian hive,” Bush says. “The frames are an odd size, because that’s what they use in Slovenia. So, they won’t fit in a typical [Langstroth frame] extractor. Another problem is that the typical foundation that’s available here won’t fit in the frames.”

Fortunately, a Georgia-based beekeeper eventually did modify the Slovenian design so that it could accommodate Langstroth-sized frames. Nevertheless, Bush’s Slovenian hives aren’t tucked inside a fancy bee house.

“It doesn’t work very well for me, mostly because I need to have them up off the ground more,” he says. “I open the door and I’m kneeling behind it trying to reach in and pull out frames. It just kills my back and knees.”

Better to find that out on a small scale. “Even if you tried one [kind of hive] and it seemed to work, I wouldn’t go out and build 1,000 of them,” Bush says. “Start small, make sure you like it and then grow it organically.”

This article appeared in Hobby Farm Home, a 2023 specialty publication produced by the editors and writers of Hobby Farms magazine. In addition to this piece, Hobby Farm Home includes recipes, crafting projects, preservation tips and more. You can purchase this volume, Hobby Farms back issues as well as special editions such as Healing Herbs and  Goats 101 by following this link.

 

Categories
Crops & Gardening Farm & Garden Food Recipes

Recipe: Make Some Dehydrated Apple Slices!

It’s apple season! There are so many delicious ways to preserve apples but one of our favorite ways is to make dehydrated apple slices. They smell heavenly while dehydrating and make a wonderful quick snack on the go.

I don’t bother pretreating my apples for discoloration, it doesn’t bother me one bit and has no impact on the flavor. We tend to dry whatever variety we have available to us, and we’ve enjoyed all we’ve ever made.

My preferred method for drying fruit is to dry it in my food dehydrator, but you can also dry fruit in your home oven. Dry time varies depending on the humidity where you are located and the size and thickness of your slices, but here is a general guide to making dehydrated apple slices.

Yield: as much as you’d like

Supplies

  • Apples
  • Ground cinnamon (optional)
  • Cutting board
  • Knife
  • Food dehydrator or oven (ideally with convection setting)
  • Baking sheets and parchment paper (for oven only)
  • Jar with lid for storage

Recipe: When it comes to preservation, don’t forget the dehydrator!


Directions

Wash apples and slice them into 1/4-inch slices (or thinner if you want a crunchier apple slice). I do not bother coring the apples. When sliced right through the core as pictured, they are perfectly tender to eat—plus, they are pretty dried this way.

Do remove the seeds.

Lay fruit on dehydrator tray in a single layer (or a parchment paper-lined baking sheet if using oven). Leave space between each slice so that they are not touching. I always sprinkle some ground cinnamon over the apple slices before dehydrating, but this step is optional.

Dry at 135 degrees F if using a food dehydrator and at 175 to 200 degrees F (depending on how low your oven will go) if using an oven. A food dehydrator will take six to 10 hours to dry, maybe longer if it’s humid in your home. An oven will take two to four hours.

It is recommended to check on the slices periodically and to even turn them occasionally though the drying process to help them along. We prefer our dried apples to be chewy but not moist.

Cook longer if you want more of a “chip” style apple.

Allow the apples to cool completely before storing. Store in an airtight, dry place. I keep mine in a clamp jar in the pantry. Enjoy within six months.

Side Notes

Don’t dehydrate any bruised fruit.

Thinner slices will yield a crunchier apple slice, more like a “chip”.

If the apple slices are not fully dehydrated once cooled, return them to the dehydrator to complete the process.

If you prefer not to risk oxidation, you can brush the apple slices with lemon juice before drying.

Categories
Animals Beginning Farmers Chicken Coops & Housing Poultry

Get Your Hands Dirty With Quarter Acre Farm

“I literally woke up one day and got chickens!” says Kallie Sizemore of Quarter Acre Farm when asked how she originally became interested in hobby farming. “But deep down I know there’s more to it.”

Since Sizemore’s breakthrough chicken moment, she’s gone on to build up Quarter Acre Farm. Along with chasing rainbow egg dreams, the venture also acts as a form of growing backyard therapy—a situation that came about out of necessity when Sizemore was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.

Taking a moment out from farm duties, we spoke to Sizemore about getting acquainted with chickens and the appeal of her Silkies. We also dug into the idea of hobby farming as a beneficial form of therapy.

Focus on the Chicks

 

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Recapping the poultry-focused nature of her farm, Sizemore says she originally “bought four chickens and three were roosters. I had no clue what I was doing.”

Undeterred, Sizemore embarked on a quest for poultry knowledge.

“I dove in and learned, researched, joined groups, visited farms and of course [there’s] Instagram,” she says.

Gotta Collect ‘Em All

 

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“After seeing how many breeds there were out there, I was hooked,” recalls Sizemore. “I soon had to have every chicken on the planet, which was impossible with my quarter acre.

“So I just try to make the most with what I can have here.”


Read more: Showbiz chickens? Here’s how to get your birds into the spotlight.


Spotlight on Silkies

 

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Silkies have become the star of Quarter Acre Farm. Sizemore says that she just finds the breed fascinating. “They appear dumb and silly but I think they are truly very smart. But they’re easily spooked, to sum it up.”

Farming as Therapy

 

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The bio to Sizemore’s Instagram account includes the line “growing backyard therapy.” It’s a development that came about when she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.

“I felt like my body was failing me, [and I] also lost my dad,” she recalls. “But for some reason my backyard became my sanctuary, my heaven, my therapy. It gave me purpose again.”

“It’s not 100 percent the way I’d like it,” she adds. “It’s been a work in progress, and to some it might appear a hot mess. But to me it’s perfect.”


Read more: Therapy chickens bring calm to the coop!


Keep Your Hands in the Dirt

 

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“To some it’s just a strange hobby, but to me it’s my whole world,” says Sizemore, reflecting on what her farming journey has meant to her so far. “It’s hard at times, and there are days I’ve wanted to quit. But the challenge of it keeps me going”

Sizemore adds that her latest passion is growing dahlias. “They are truly unique,” she explains. “I was once told it’s hard to be mad when your hands are in the dirt. Grandma Lucy said it. I never met her but she’s right. It’s therapy.”

Follow Quarter Acre Farm at Instagram.

Categories
Farm & Garden Homesteading News Permaculture Projects

You Can Help Timber Tracking Researchers Protect Eastern White Oak Trees

If you own private woodlands or you farm near public forest, you just might be able to do the eastern white oak tree a solid. Due to supply chain problems and soaring lumber prices, conditions have been just right for timber theft. And, since it’s used in the manufacture of whiskey barrels, white oak is particularly in demand.

This, in turn, has made white oak trees extra attractive targets for poachers.

Enter Timber Tracking

Fortunately, Adventure Scientists, a Montana-based citizen science organization, is running a long-term Timber Tracking project that may be able to help. From October 1 through December 31, 2022, the project is accepting DNA samples collected from eastern white oak trees growing in 34 states in the U.S.

The goal? Create an online chemical and genetic reference library with countless potential uses—including prosecuting timber thieves.

“It’s open source, so anyone could access that for various reasons, whether it’s research questions or litigation,” says Michelle Toshack. Toshack serves as associate director of project management for Adventure Scientists. “[The DNA information is] living in perpetuity in this online repository,” she continues.

The Timber Tracking initiative hopes to add new volunteers who are based in Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Michigan, Kentucky and Louisiana. But there are also DNA collection opportunities in parts of Indiana, southern Illinois, Ohio and beyond.

(Here’s a current map of Timber Tracking-approved eastern white oak DNA collection areas.)


Read more: Check out these tips for starting & maintaining a tree nursery.


Big Benefits

Until recently, tracking stolen trees was very difficult—especially once the lumber is milled and distributed. But the genetic analysis of tree samples is changing that.

According to an August 2022 Science Findings Journal article, “Genetic testing confirms that random matches between DNA profiles in trees is less than one in a trillion. With DNA profiling, it is possible to match logs, boards and sawdust to their tree of origin.”

Furthermore, the authors report, “Through genetic testing, the geographic source of wood can be determined to within six to 60 miles (10 to 100 kilometers) from the true source.”

That means the Timber Tracking program’s growing DNA database could potentially help to protect threatened species in other parts of the world.

“If you look at oaks as a group, this [wood] is commonly bought and sold for all sorts of purposes around the world,” Toshack says. “And there are some oaks that are threatened or protected. There’s one that’s called the Mongolian white oak that provides habitat for Siberian tigers. So, we’re talking about critically important species that could be taken and then sold—mislabeled—as white oak….

“This reference library can indeed say, ‘Is this a white oak? Is this a Mongolian white oak?’ and help regulate [world trade.]”

Getting Started

You may have submitted a pet’s DNA to learn more about Fluffy or Fido’s origins. You may even have sent off your own DNA to learn about your family history, potential health concerns and more.

Collecting and submitting tree DNA isn’t much different.

Before Timber Tracking volunteers gather leaves, twigs, acorn caps or tree cores, they must complete an online application and training. The online training covers timber theft, identifying eastern white oaks and the scientific protocols for collecting different sample types.

After training, volunteers receive a special field guide and sample collection equipment—on loan for the duration of the project. “People have about six weeks to collect up to 10 samples,” Toshack says.


Read more: What trees are safe to have in your livestock pasture?


Next Steps

Just what happens to the samples volunteers mail in? “Here in Montana, we go through data quality checks,” Toshack says. “We check for [tree] identification. We check for sample quality—like if there’s any fungal growth or anything that would influence the samples.

“And then we send them on to our partner lab in Oregon. That’s the Pacific Northwest Research Station managed by the Forest Service.”

At that lab, the samples undergo careful analyses. “Some samples are used for genetic analysis and other types are used for the chemical analysis,” Toshack explains. “And then they can build these reference libraries after they’ve gone through the tedious process of analyzing all of them.”

Looking Ahead

The eastern white oak tree isn’t the first tree type the Timber Tracking program has cataloged. (It likely won’t be the last either.)

“We started this work in 2018,” Toshack says. “Big leaf maple was the first species that we worked on. Since then, eastern white oak is our sixth species.”

She adds, “We aren’t certain of what species is next, but we are very excited to continue this work. We will wrap up by the end of the year and we’re very interested to keep going.”

To learn more about Adventure Scientists, visit AdventureScientists.org. And for additional Timber Tracking program details, check out these FAQs.

Categories
Farm & Garden Homesteading

The Ingalls Homestead Is Living Homesteading History

The modern homesteader employs many practices to keep their property a productive and sustainable one: growing vegetables, composting, collecting rainwater, and much more. Keeping livestock often goes hand in hand with homesteading. Goats or cows are kept for milk, while chickens are raised for eggs and meat. 

Keeping animals was also a popular practice with the original homesteaders, those who headed West in the 1860s to claim their share of surveyed government land. The Homestead Act of 1862 granted adult heads of families 160 acres for free, minus a minimal registration fee.

There were only a few requirements of claimants:

  • must never have borne arms against the United States government
  • had to live on the homestead
  • had to “improve” the land by cultivating at least 10 acres of crops

After five years, the land was theirs, minus the filing fee (approximately 10 cents per acre). Flyers promoting the Homestead Act were dispersed in Germany, Sweden, Norway and other European nations. The goal: drawing settlers to tame the American West. One of the best-known homesteaders, however, was a New Yorker named Charles Phillip Ingalls. 

Yes, That Ingalls

Best known as Pa in the Little House books written by his daughter, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Ingalls was one of the founders of the town of De Smet, South Dakota (known as Dakota Territory then). He filed his homestead claim in February 1880, then set out to make good on that claim.

Ingalls cultivated more than 50 acres of corn, wheat and oats, manually planting the entire acreage by digging each hole with his planting stick. He dropped in seed from his sack, then covered the seed with dirt pushed in by his boot.

Ingalls built a small shanty on the homestead, in which his family resided to meet the residency requirements for his claim. Eventually Ingalls built a house and a barn, increasing the total estimated value of his homestead to $1,000.

In May 1886, Ingalls filed his homestead proof. The claim—almost 160 acres—was his for a mere $16 fee.

Having moved  his family from Wisconsin to Kansas, Iowa and Minnesota, Ingalls set out to make his homestead a true home for his wife, Caroline, and his daughters. He dug a well that provided plenty of cool, clear water. He also replaced the shanty with a properly framed house to please the long-suffering Caroline.

Ingalls Homestead

Ingalls brought home a kitten to replace Black Susan, the cat they left behind in Wisconsin. It is believed that Ingalls arranged with his friend and neighbor, Robert Boast, for a clutch of baby chicks, which Mrs. Boast brought over as a surprise for Caroline. 

The Homestead as Living History

Today, the Ingalls Homestead stands as a living testament to settler life on the prairie. The homestead, run by Ann Lesch and her family, provides visitors with many hands-on opportunities to experience life the way Ingalls and his family did in the late 1800s.

Guests can wash clothes like Caroline did: using a  washboard and lye soap made on the homestead,  a hand-cranked ringer and a clothesline with wooden clothespins. They can hand-grind seed wheat and learn to twist hay into fuel sticks to burn. They can make rope from bailing twine, strip kernels from cobs using a corn sheller, and drive a pony cart.

Those who wish for the full prairie experience can arrange to camp at the homestead overnight, using a tent, RV or one of the homestead’s covered wagons. 


Read more: Love chickens? Check out these poultry-named places!


Walk Back in Time

The Ingalls Homestead’s biggest draw—especially for fans of the Little House books—is the collection of historic buildings on the property. A self-guided tour leads visitors to 20 different sites, including:

  • a dugout like the one in which the Ingalls family lived in Minnesota
  • an 1878 homestead claim shanty
  • a turn-of-the-century schoolhouse
  • the cottonwood trees Ingalls planted for his family
  • a replica of the house Ingalls built for Caroline, constructed to the specifications listed on his homestead proof
  • a replica of Ingalls’ barn, complete with the type of animals the Ingalls family kept (a calf, barn kittens and a flock of chickens)

Ingalls Homestead

The Ingalls Homestead even grows acres of corn, wheat and oats, just as Ingalls did more than 100 years ago, albeit planted in a more modern fashion. Anyone interested in traditional homesteading, in the history of Laura Ingalls’ living prairie or in a memorable day or overnight trip full of old-time activities (and chickens, kittens and ponies) should consider a visit to the Ingalls Homestead.

Categories
Crops & Gardening Farm & Garden Food

Spice Things Up With A Selection Of Culinary Spices!

It’s easy to fall into that predictable culinary routine of relying on salt and pepper to season everything—branching out, maybe, into garlic powder or oregano if we’re feeling especially adventurous. But there’s a lot more to spices than just salt and pepper, and a well-stocked spice rack is an essential component of any pantry. 

An Array of Herbs & Spices

So, what goes in your spice rack? Here’s my list in “Spice Selections.”

In addition to those individual spices, consider adding the following spice mixtures to your pantry for ease and convenience.

These combinations of multiple spices in time-proven mixtures are great to have on hand. They make it easy to deftly season your dishes so the flavors are perfectly proportioned.

  • apple pie spice
  • Chinese five spice
  • garam masala
  • herbes de provence
  • Italian seasoning
  • jerk seasoning
  • Old Bay Seasoning
  • poultry seasoning 
  • pumpkin pie spice
  • seafood seasoning

Read more: Grow culinary herbs for the kitchen and your chickens!


Choosing Spices

A beautiful, well-stocked spice rack is a wonderful goal. But how do you get there practically and affordably?

Let’s face it: Spices aren’t inexpensive. And you’re looking at somewhat of an investment if you want to keep a full assortment on hand. Some points to consider when deciding which ones to keep on hand:

Choose What You’ll Use

If you hate garlic, don’t waste space on your spice rack with garlic powder that you know will just gather dust. And while it’s definitely a good idea to experiment with new spices, be realistic about your likelihood to experiment with dozens of unfamiliar spices.

Start Small

You probably don’t need the ginormous, economy-size jar of smoked paprika if you’ve never used it before. Purchase a small amount, try it out, see if you like it. There’ll be time to invest in the economy size later on.

Don’t Open Spices Until You Need Them

Spices stay fresher longer when they’re unopened, so avoid opening them just for the fun of it. Instead, wait until you have a purpose and a recipe ready to go. Then open the jar and start experimenting!

Mark the Date

When you do open a new jar of spice, jot down the date on the lid, in a notebook, on a chart … wherever is easiest to reference later. Then when you’re sorting your spice rack sometime, you’ll know for sure whether the turmeric was opened two months ago or back in 2015. 

spice culinary spices

Remember…

Not all spices are created equal! You’ll find spices of higher and lower quality on the market. You may want to experiment with a variety of brands to find your preferred balance of quality vs. cost. 

Spice-Keeping 101

Storing spices sounds so easy! A spice rack on the kitchen counter, right? Ah, but there’s more to it than you might think at first glance. For best results, spices should be stored in a cool, dry place, away from heat and sunlight.

Air and moisture are enemies of spices, which is why we store spices in jars or other containers with lids. But storing those jars near the stove? Not a good idea.

Keeping them in the fridge isn’t a good option either. You’ll want to store them in your pantry or in a cabinet where they’ll be out of direct sunlight and protected from heat and moisture. 

But how about organizing spices in the pantry? You could easily have 30 or more in your spice rack. What’s the best way to organize them? Consider the following.

Accessibility

Keep commonly used herbs and spices in the most easily accessible location for speed and efficiency. Cinnamon in the front of the cupboard, dill weed in the back.

Alphabetically

This one’s tried and true. When your spice rack is alphabetized, you’ll never have trouble locating the cumin in its rightful place between the cream of tartar and the curry powder. But if your favorite (and most-used) spice is rosemary, it means you have a lot of spices to get through on your way to rosemary’s spot.

Aesthetics

Let’s be honest: Spices are beautiful! It’s natural to want to see and admire your spices, even when they’re stored in the pantry. So if you have a large and unattractive container of sea salt, perhaps consider keeping that one in an out-of-the-way place when not in use.

On the other hand, if you have a charming collection of tiny glass jars filled with beautifully colored spices such as red pepper flakes and nutmeg, arrange them in  your preferred order and enjoy their beauty every day—even when you’re not cooking with them. 

spice culinary spices

How Long Do Spices Last?

You’ve chosen your spices, you’ve chosen the perfect storage location, you’ve organized them with accessibility and aesthetics in mind, you’re putting them to good use in the kitchen, and all the spices lived happily ever after.

Or do they?

The nice part about spices is that they have a lengthy shelf life. But they don’t last forever. There will be a point (like when you realize you’ve had your jar of curry powder since your senior dog was a puppy) where you’ll want to refresh and replace your stock. 

If you properly store your spices, you can generally figure on a shelf life of one year for ground spices and three to four years for whole spices. For instance, cinnamon sticks have a significantly longer shelf life (up to four years) than ground cinnamon (one year). 

If you’re serious about frugality in your spice rack, choose whole spices that you can ground yourself as needed for daily use. They’ll last longer in storage and save you some money. (If you have questions, research the shelf life of individual spices for specific, tailored information.) 


Read more: Don’t forget the dehydrator when preserving garden-grown kitchen spices!


Home, Sweet Home for Spices

OK, now that we know about the effects of moisture and light on spices, we’ve all agreed not to keep our spices in that handy little row next to the stove anymore, right? We’re going to find a new home for our basil and cumin and thyme, one that’s dry and safe and protected from light.

We could try the following.

Drawer

This wins for ease of use and accessibility. Keeping your spices in a drawer makes it easy to scan all of your seasoning options at once. A spice drawer liner or insert helps to corral spice jars and keep them in their proper places.

Wall-Mounted Rack

Perfect for a wall in your pantry or the back of your pantry door! A multi-tiered rack provides plenty of space for housing and displaying your spice collection. But it also utilizes vertical space, which is a big help if your pantry is small. 

Wall-Mounted Hooks

Another space saver—place assorted hooks on your pantry wall and hang your spice jars by string.

Shelf

Shelves in the pantry! Happy thought, indeed! (Name that paraphrased quote?) Shelves are simple and functional—two definite pros. 

Magnetic Rack

If you use metal jars or jars with metal lids, you can install magnets on your pantry wall or a door and hang the spice containers on the magnetized area.

Wire Pantry Organizers

These are inexpensive and super easy to assemble and hang on the inside of the pantry door. You’ll have room for as many spices as you could possibly want. And you’ll still have room for things like vanilla extract, cinnamon sticks and more. 

Cabinet

A shelf in a cabinet is an unquestionably easy way to store spices. Without utilizing vertical space, you might not be able to see or locate specific spices as easily. But a cabinet undoubtedly makes a satisfactory storage option. 

Storage Bin

Spice containers on the go? Store them in a small storage bin and easily transport your spice collection back and forth from the pantry to the kitchen. 

Delightful as your spice organization project has undoubtedly been, the best part is yet to come: utilizing all of those varied and unique herbs and spices in your menu in the days and weeks to come. Savor the contributions of each spice as you experiment in the kitchen. Bon appetit!


More Information

Spice Containers

There’s no reason why you can’t store your spices in their original containers. After all, the containers are designed with long-term storage and freshness in mind.

But maybe you have spices from lots of different sources and they look a little inconsistent in your spice rack together. Or maybe you don’t care for the design and style of the containers from your preferred manufacturer and would like something more streamlined or prettier. 

So if you’d like to transfer your spices to uniform containers for aesthetic reasons (“They all match!”), then just search “spice container set” online. You’ll be amazed at the possibilities.

You’ll find clear plastic containers, metal cans, Mason jars and all manner of glass spice containers. Sizes and shapes vary and can reflect your aesthetic and suit your available space.

Lids vary greatly as well. You’ll find cork stoppers, bamboo lids, plastic flip-top lids, shaker lids, metal lids and more. 

And don’t forget the labels! For many spice-organizing aficionados, designing or choosing the labels is the highlight of the project. Many spice container sets come with pre-printed or blank labels to affix to each jar. Or you can create your own in your preferred font and design.

This is a simple and fun way to personalize your kitchen and it’s instantly gratifying, too. 

This article appeared in Hobby Farm Home, a 2023 specialty publication produced by the editors and writers of Hobby Farms magazine. In addition to this piece, Hobby Farm Home includes recipes, crafting projects, preservation tips and more. You can purchase this volume, Hobby Farms back issues as well as special editions such as Healing Herbs and  Goats 101 by following this link.

Categories
Equipment Farm & Garden

Start Making Hay Without Mortgaging The Farm

It all started when my girlfriend, Lori, bought a farm. (I have never seen a Hobby Farms article begin this way, and the reason could be that it isn’t nearly as entertaining as I find it. But I felt it had to be done!) The farm we started with three years ago sits barely within the city limits of a small Arkansas college town. 

It’s comprised of 40 acres, 20 of which are unimproved pasture intermittently surrounded by decaying fencing. The other 20 consist largely of structures, lawn, old-growth hardwood groves and Chinese privet hedge thickets, interspersed with impenetrable saw briars, rocks and brambles.

It’s home to approximately 7.23 billion ticks and chiggers, four goats, four farm dogs and 43 chickens (give or take).

Hay Pasture Problems

Lori purchased the farm in April 2019 on the eve of summer. So one of the very first concerns was what to do with the pasture.

A lawn-care professional friend recommended we partner with another farmer to bale the hay in the fields. Although prices may vary by region, there are several different, fairly consistent arrangements for partnering with someone who owns the equipment to bale the fields. 

As the landowner, you may simply sell all your bales to your farming partner. Most farmers raising livestock who bale other people’s land raise cattle and will produce round bales. Round bales can weigh 1,000 to 2,000 pounds each, depending on moisture content and size. They require a tractor to move them.

Here, a farmer will pay around $5 per bale to cut, rake, bale and carry off your hay. Our 20 acres yields around 60 round bales. This option would mean about $300 per cutting, total.

Other options include some form of “on the halves,” wherein the person with the equipment cuts, rakes, bales and hauls off 23 of the bales. They leave the other third laying in the field for the landowner.

This option could be advantageous to landowners with livestock of their own. Even if we had purchased a small herd of livestock, we wouldn’t have had it long enough to enjoy this arrangement due to the poor condition of the fence.

Another option that our particular partner was interested in involved square bales. Each round bale contains roughly the equivalent of 15 square bales of hay. But whereas round bales require a tractor to move and sell for around $30 each, square bales only weigh around 50 pounds each and sell for $5 each.

This means the equivalent sale price of the square bales made from the amount of hay in each $30 round bale is $75. 

Our partner agreed to cut, rake and bale if my girlfriend would store and market the bales, splitting proceeds 50/50. We were able to cut hay twice that first summer and put up around 1,000 bales each time, making our split a ballpark $2,500 each time.

Our haymaking partner owns a grass-fed beef farm, works full-time at a tractor dealership, part-time in military guard and reserves, and about 17 other jobs. So he often needed help in his various haymaking activities in the farmland surrounding our town. I worked for him on an hourly basis and learned to use his tractor and other equipment, making hay on other properties he had arranged to cut.

When I saw how easy, therapeutic and even fun it was to work the fields, I began to explore purchasing my own equipment. The first advisors were friends who worked at tractor dealerships, who assured us $80,000 to $100,000 of equipment was necessary.

hay equipment haying mower
Barry Brown

Do I Need a Tractor to Make Hay?

Some of the most vivid and entertaining discussions my girlfriend and I had were over whether a tractor was a necessity or the biggest waste of money ever hoisted upon small farmers.

She saw rusty hulks littering fields throughout the South as proof positive that the best option (if a tractor was indeed even necessary) was some sort of tractor ownership-sharing plan. I argued, never having encountered anyone else interested in sharing, that the point was a machine you could use whenever you needed it, regardless when some other owner needed it.

I was new enough to haymaking that I felt I should ask someone in the know what exactly I’d need if I was going to take over the hay operation. Our hay partner assured me that if I wanted to make hay, the implements needed would require 60 to 70 horsepower. He used a 90-plus horsepower machine with enclosed cab, air conditioning, radio, etc. worth around $75,000, even though it was 10 years old.

To win the tractor argument, I needed a tractor and implements that would be paid for in about one or two cuttings, so $5,000 to $10,000 altogether. I watched Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, auctions and local mom-and-pop tractor lots in vain.

In the end, I gave up on cutting my own hay. But I did find a reasonably-priced used tractor for sale that I decided I needed for other projects such as moving earth and discing. 


Read more: Loose hay? Here’s 4 things you can do with it.


Square Market

As it turns out, the number of people starting small farms is increasing. Small farms lend themselves to sheep, goats and small cattle herds. These are prime customers for square bales of hay.

Additionally, what we hear from our customers is that haymakers are moving from the labor-intensive square bales to equipment-intensive round bales. This makes square bales more difficult to find.

This opens up a nice niche market for small farms with grass pastures to cut and bale square bales for sale to other small farmers.

Marketing was probably the easiest part of the hay business as far as I was concerned. Why? Well, Lori did it all.

She joined several farm-related Facebook groups and would simply post when we had hay. She often gave a discount if bales were purchased straight from the field, saving us moving them to the barn. This accounted for about 250 bales each cutting.

We always sold out of hay before our next cutting.

New versus Used 

The simplest hay operation requires a tractor, a cutter, a rake and a baler. You’ll find endless information online to compare the various options for each implement, and all kinds of opinions about matching their size with the tractor pulling them so I won’t go into depth here about those details.

I’ll simply share what I did.

I bought 50- to 70-year-old implements for a total of $2,625. Some were sold “as-is” with visible repairs needed. I also got a “pop-up” hay loader not counted in that figure. (I didn’t even know what it was until watching a video on YouTube.) This is likely the greatest invention since Noah parked the ark.

The high end on necessary horsepower estimates for the tractor come from the assumption that the hay will be mowed with a disc mower and baled with a round baler. The disc mower is very heavy and rides far to the right of the tractor, so weight is also a big factor to consider so the mower doesn’t tip the tractor.

I found that tractor size required was far less for an old sickle-bar mower. Imagine a 7-foot long set of barber’s trimmers. I now also know that I like this style of mower better than the new disc mowers for rough areas and uneven terrain.

A sickle-bar mower will slide over things that a disc mower will hit, possibly resulting in damage. This style mower is much lighter, so its effect hanging off the right side of the tractor is minimal.
I bought mine for $500, easily found an original manual online, and replaced and adjusted several parts to bring me from total ignorance to mowing hay in a relatively short time.

The total cost was $720. I have seen them online in various conditions for prices ranging from $200 to $3,000.

The man I bought my mower from recommended a Rolabar-style rake over the more common V-rake. Although any vehicle may pull rakes, a V-rake may require tractor hydraulics to raise and lower the two sides. This isn’t necessary with a Rolabar-style—the user can literally pull it with anything.

Mine was sold as-is and did require some missing parts and new tires. The total cost was $850.

The square baler was the long pole in the proverbial tent. I had seen our partner’s balers break or fall out of adjustment time after time. I was scared of losing several thousand dollars in pursuit of haying capabilities.

I found an ad on Facebook Marketplace by a gentleman in Missouri who has worked on balers for several decades. I drove 8 hours one way to buy a baler so old the bearing system for the plunger consists of four pieces of wood sliding in channels of angle iron. He had welded on a few niceties based on what he knew people found useful on a baler and had the knotter in tip-top shape. 

For my first cutting, I counted close to 30 medium-to-major repairs I had to accomplish on these implements before I finished. Five were serious enough to involve welding. A few were catastrophic enough you would only expect one such failure per season of work.

However, I eventually got the hay baled and put up, and the knotter—the scariest and hardest part of a square baler to get working—worked like a champ.

In sum, although new implements could easily cost $45 to $50,000 and require 60 horsepower or more, I got everything I needed, made necessary repairs and covered my operating expenses for one cutting for about $3,800. And, perhaps more importantly, I was able to use my 48-horsepower tractor.

hay equipment haying baler
Barry Brown

What Were My Results?

There were unexpected positive results to making our own hay. One was number of bales. People in the business of making hay as your partners are on the clock. They often fail to cut thoroughly, fail to rake to all edges and have no profit-incentive to stop and rebale a broken bale for that $2.50, e.g.

We went from less than 600 bales on our first cutting this year using a partner (for which we made less than $2,000), to 1,405 bales on my first solo baling experience. 

Baling our own fields allowed me to optimize when each portion was ideal, when the weather was cooperative, when barn space was available, and when customers and bale-shaggers were ready. I watched my bales closely and reduced the number of “banana” and broken bales. My bales were the tightest and squarest we have ever put up.

Of course, operating costs and time are things each small farmer would have to consider when deciding whether equipment ownership and haymaking are the right answer. In my case, I made considerably more than my capital investment in one cutting.


Read more: When equipment fails, you can always gather hay by hand!


Hay Takeaways

My advice is to start with a partner who will let you do some of the work. You’ll learn the implements, the lay of the land and what it means when haymaking, methods and tips, and whether you enjoy it — all on someone else’s dollar. You can learn about pros and cons of different implement options. For example, when I mowed using our partner’s disc mower, all four drive belts fragged for some reason.

The cost to replace just those belts was nearly as much as my whole sickle-bar mower.

Buy equipment from people who use that exact type of equipment. The guy from whom I bought my cutter still uses a sickle-bar mower. He uses it on about five times the acreage I do. He could tell me exactly the optimal condition of grass to cut and the speed to drive, as well as problems to expect and how to avoid them.

He also drove an hour each way and helped me adjust my mower and learn to use it when I was at my wits’ end. 

I bought the baler from a man who sold and maintained square balers for decades. He gave solutions over the phone for the repairs I needed to make and offered to drive six hours one way to help fix it on at least two occasions.

Old equipment is often easier to maintain and repair than new equipment. With new equipment the manufacturer may have engineered methods to keep the owner from being able to make repairs. Parts may not be available or they may come from a factory in remote parts of Asia.

With old equipment, repairing the old broken part may be a more likely option than finding a new one. 

Many manufacturer-advised adjustments involve a hammer as the precision tool of choice. You can fix almost anything with a welder and a grinder. Don’t worry if you aren’t a very good welder. You soon will be.

It often doesn’t have to be perfect to work. Since the hay season of 2021, I’ve learned a couple of things. Back when the fields needed to be cut and baled, I knew my baler and my rake were missing a few pick-up tine. And I knew those wood-bearing surfaces were deteriorated in the baler. But I just pressed on and hoped for the best.

This winter, I replaced the broken tines and the wood bearings. They should be in tip-top shape to make hay in the summer!

The situation is different for everyone. But in our case, buying old haymaking equipment and making our own hay has been a profitable experience, financially and educationally.

Don’t let implement costs or single-source, biased information keep you from realizing this potential profit source for your small farm. If there’s a will, there’s a way.  

hay equipment haying rake
Barry Brown

More Information

Improving Pastures

As the output of hay for the pastures dropped each cutting, and the desire was to provide better hay, we researched fertilizing the fields. We were intending to maintain a fairly natural, organic market garden on the property, so chemical fertilizers were off the table. Chicken litter was going to cost about $3,000 per application, which is unacceptable for a hay operation bringing us $2,500.

Then I began to learn more about the benefits of rotational grazing. I imagined that if I had extra plots to rotate through, the extras could be cut for hay and including these in the rotation would allow me to gradually improve all the pastureland. Because these would be smaller plots the hay operations would be very small each time. 

I began to look for micro hay equipment. I found out two things: first, micro hay equipment comes with a macro price tag, often worse than traditional hay equipment. Second, the original hay partners had oversold me. My tractor was easily sufficient for running traditional hay implements.

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2022 issue of Hobby Farms magazine.

Categories
Crops & Gardening Farm & Garden Homesteading

Lessons Learned From Two Years Of Growing Corn

Growing corn has been one of my most satisfying gardening projects over the last two years. A single 4-foot by 10-foot corn bed in 2021 proved so productive that I tripled my corn planting to a trio of beds in 2022. I staggered the planting of each bed to spread out the harvest.

Overall, I’m happy with the results. I’ve enjoyed many dinners of fresh corn this summer, with more to come as the final bed reaches harvest time. But along the way, I’ve witnessed firsthand the importance of watering and weeding. You might say I’ve learned some lessons that I’ll carry forward for 2023.

Everyone knows watering regularly and weeding diligently are important steps for raising a healthy and productive garden. But you might not notice all the impacts unless you grow multiple beds with slightly different approaches and compare results.


Read more: Turn heads & increase seed diversity with glass gem corn.


Learning on the Job

Let me give you some examples. In 2021, I was determined to succeed at my first attempt growing corn. To that end, I watered the bed every day, even though it wasn’t close to a convenient water source and I had to haul water in a 35-gallon leg tank.

In 2022, due to a super-packed schedule of work and farm projects, I shifted to watering the corn beds every two or three days. The plants still grew happily, but they didn’t get as tall. Each bed produced about 25 percent less corn than the single bed in 2021.


Read more: Take water with you using a 35-gallon leg tank.


Lessons in Weeds

Now, let’s talk about weeding. In 2022, I weeded the beds thoroughly before planting and again during the summer, once the corn had grown tall enough to shade any other weeds that tried to pop up.

But to be more specific … I only weeded two of the beds. The third bed, I’m afraid, had to fend for itself.

To its credit, the plants in the weedy bed grew just as tall as in the two weeded beds and produced a similar (perhaps slightly lower) volume of corn. But the weedy bed definitely had more pests living among the leaves and nibbling at the ends of the corn. (I should mention that I don’t spray my corn.)

Ultimately, I’ve drawn two conclusions from two years of growing corn:

  • Daily watering helps the plants grow taller and produce more corn.
  • Weeding helps reduce the number of hungry pests.

I know, I know. Two years isn’t exactly a huge sample size for drawing definite conclusions. And my takeaways are more anecdotal than scientific. There was nothing scientifically controlled about my inadvertent experiments. And for all I know other unforeseen factors may have had a greater impact than watering and weeding.

But then again … watering regularly and weeding diligently are rarely bad strategies, right? Maybe I can grow a decent amount of corn by watering every few days and rarely weeding. But for best results, I plan to take the lessons I’ve learned over the past two years and apply them thoroughly in 2023.

And maybe I’ll plant my corn a little closer to a handy water source next time!

Categories
Crops & Gardening Farm & Garden

Orange Is The New Carrot (Excerpt: “The Seed Detective”)

The following excerpt is from Adam Alexander’s book The Seed Detective (Chelsea Green Publishing, Sept 22, 2022: Pre-order here) and is reprinted with permission from the publisher.

seed detective orange carrot
courtesy of Chelsea Green

 It’s All About the Color  

We have the Arabs to thank for introducing today’s carrot to Western Europe. There are two distinct sub-species that led to the domesticated carrot. The sub-species sativus, native to Turkey, was grown by the Arabs and much enjoyed by their invading armies, both animal and human. Over a thousand years ago, at the end of the tenth century, carrots are mentioned in a cookery book complied by Ibn Sayyār al-Warrā, an author from Baghdad. Called Kitab al-T. abīh ̆ (Book of Dishes), I imagine the book being added to the libraries of Europe’s Moorish invaders who had started their own vegetable gardens in the Iberian Peninsula early in the eighth century. The first historical record of carrots as a crop in Spain and southern Europe, however, is found in the work of the great Arab agriculturalist Ibn al-‘Awwām, towards the end of the twelfth century. It seems that by this time there were a number of different but unnamed varieties of carrot being grown.  

Carrots came into cultivation in northern Europe some 200 years later and it would appear that they were valued for their high sugar content—recipes of the time have them being turned into jams, sweet condiments and puddings. Although they came in a variety of colors and shades—red, white and yellow—it was the yellow ones that became the most favored in Europe because they were sweeter and didn’t turn a muddy brown when cooked. Carrot color has been the subject of much scholarly discourse over the years and, whether the orange carrot existed before the attentions of Dutch breeders is explored later, so I use the word ‘yellow’ with some literary license.  

While Moorish invaders were introducing southern Europe to the western sub-species, sativus, its relative atrorubens spread further east from Iran and the Hindu Kush along the Silk Road. Modern genetic sequencing points to the fact that Chinese carrots, which come in red, white, purple and orange, are all derived from atrorubens. Similarly, deep red descendants of this branch of the family remain firmly part of the food culture of Rajasthan, a state in northeast India that was once controlled by the Moguls. The homeland of these Muslim descendants of Genghis Khan was in the heartland of the carrot’s birthplace. Colored varieties are now becoming trendy in Western food culture, having been a staple in the East for centuries.  

On a seed-hunting trip to India in 2019, I was able to enjoy freshly harvested carrots in the same way as if I had been back home in my own garden. The location was a small village, Jaisinghpura, half an hour’s drive southwest of the city of Jaipur in central Rajasthan on the eastern edge of the mighty Thar Desert. I had been hanging out with a bunch of farmers, all making a living from the land growing several desi (local) varieties of vegetables. One of them was Ramgilal. With his toddler son in his arms, he proudly gave me a guided tour of the 30-acre (12-hectare) farm he shares with his two brothers. We were in his carrot patch, and he pulled a long, large, deep red specimen from the sandy soil. I wiped it on the seat of my trousers and bit into the sweet, crunchy flesh. This is a carrot I had seen being sold in markets everywhere on my travels through the state. It’s the one everyone eats, a mainstay of Rajasthan’s indigenous food culture. It looks spectacular, a beacon on any market stall, and eaten freshly pulled, it was something divine.  

The Color Orange  

Columbus’s arrival in the Caribbean in 1492 sparked a transfer of native vegetables in both directions across the Atlantic. Carrots could be stored for long voyages and were planted by the colonizers who followed him. However, it was not until the beginning of the 17th century that the carrot was to undergo a dramatic change of fortune, in more ways than one. As the 16th century drew to a close, Flemish growers started to work on improving the color, yield and appearance of the carrot as well as its eating quality. Yellow, western varieties, being biennial, were not only less likely to bolt than their eastern cousins, but also genetically predisposed to grow a single bulbous root, full of sugars and flavors. The darker the yellow, the more breeders liked them.*  

The word ‘orange’ is relatively new to the English language and first appeared in a reference to clothing belonging to the Scottish Queen, Margaret Tudor, in 1502.1 The orange, which is native to China, arrived in Europe with the Arabs at the beginning of the eighth century and was called the sinaasappel (Chinese apple) in Dutch. The Spanish took the Persian word for the fruit, narang, referring to the bitterness of its skin, and called it naranja, which in Old French translated as ‘orange’. The 2011 edition of the Oxford English Dictionary describes the color orange used in Old English as g.eolurēad (yellow-red). This name for the fruit was probably adopted into Middle English at the same time as the orange first appeared in Britain after the Norman Conquest in 1066, but it was not used to describe the color of a carrot until much later. So, it is not surprising that descriptions of carrots of all shades of yellow and red didn’t describe them as ‘orange’ until the word became a common adjective in 16th-century English. Because of this, earlier descriptions fail to help the researcher achieve clarity as to a variety’s true color.  

Although principally red carrots were being cultivated across Europe from the 11th century, it was thanks primarily to highly selective breeding by the Dutch that 500 years later the orange carrot we recognize today became ubiquitous. As a kid I was told that the orange carrot was a symbol of the Dutch Royal House of Orange. It was used as a propaganda tool when William and Mary took over the British throne after a bloodless coup in 1688 known as the Glorious Revolution. William inherited the title of sovereign Prince of Orange after a feudal principality, complete with orange groves, in Provence, southern France. Sadly, the story that breeders created an orange carrot to honor the Dutch royal family is pure myth, but since when has fact been allowed to interfere with political propaganda? The reality is that the Dutch were growing orange carrots long before William inherited his title and moved to England. But the orange carrot is the national vegetable of the Netherlands and many of its people still cling to the idea that its color was created as a tribute to the House of Orange. As a marketing strategy and way to raise “brand awareness,” it was brilliant, and I think it would be churlish to disabuse them of their belief. Also, now that the genome of the carrot has been unravelled, we know that orange carrots are the direct descendants of yellow varieties and are testament indeed to the genius of Dutch breeders.  


Read more: Check out these tips for growing flavorful carrots.


A Long-Lasting Heritage  

Carrots had become part of a subsistence diet throughout Europe and the Americas by the 17th century, but different varieties were yet to be given names. A seed seller from London, William Lucas, lists red, orange and yellow carrots in his catalogue of 1677 and, although Dutch breeders had named varieties, these were not shared with consumers for another 100 years. At the end of the 18th century, English merchants at last listed a few named varieties. The Curtis seed catalog of 1774 includes three: Early Horn, Short Orange and Long Orange. In 1780, J. Gordon of Fenchurch Street lists just two carrots: Early Horn and the Orange or Sandwich carrot (Sandwich refers to where they were grown). Carrots like to grow in a light soil, and Sandwich in Kent fitted the bill perfectly. Flemish immigrants escaping Catholic persecution in the latter half of the sixteenth century had settled there and grew them, including for their new Protestant queen, Elizabeth I. We also know that Early Horn is one of the oldest named varieties and is related to many of those we enjoy today.  

Not only do we have to thank Dutch breeders for the ubiquity of the orange carrot, but it is also to a Dutchman, O. Banga, writing in the early 1960s, that we should give thanks for a considerable body of work on the history of carrot cultivation and breeding. He identified two Dutch varieties, Scarlet Horn and Long Orange, as being the progenitors of pretty much all of today’s orange carrots.  

Through genetic analysis we now know those purple carrots that originated in Afghanistan mutated into yellow ones. Also, we need to remember that descriptions of carrots as being red actually describes those colored purple—think of red cabbage and red beetroot. Color changes of the earliest cultivated carrots happened through accidental mutation, rather than hybridization. The Western Europeans’ preference for the yellow over the purple carrot was encouragement enough for those 18th-century Dutch breeders to work on ever-deeper yellows until they got a sweet and tasty orange the consumer would buy. By the middle of the 18th century, we had new varieties: Early Half Long Horn, Late Half Long Horn, Early Short Horn and Round Yellow; the last two being the parents of nineteenth-century classics, Paris Market and one of my favorites, Amsterdam Forcing. It is testament indeed to the quality and skills of breeders that these two early varieties continue to be hugely popular after over 250 years in cultivation. Other carrots such as Nantes types—those with cylindrical roots—were the result of a century of breeding from the now extinct cultivars Late Half Long Horn and Early Half Long Horn. The name suggests the French had a hand in developing this type. Early 20th-century breeders, according to Banga, gave us Imperator—a long, tapering type, which is a cross between the Nantes and Chantenay, a red-cored variety (delicious by the way) that had been bred from another 18th-century variety called Oxheart. Imperator types are the basis for most modern cultivars developed for today’s supermarket trade.  

One variety that I grow every year is Autumn King, an open-pollinated stalwart that has been around for a century or more and, thanks to climate change, one that can sit happily in the soil through the winter to be harvested as and when required. The days of clamping—storing carrots in mounds of sand—are well and truly over, for me at least. The prettily named Flakkee, a very good overwintering storage variety, has claims to Italian heritage. It is synonymous with Autumn King, which begs the question: do we have here another example of breeders renaming varieties to suit their own markets and cultural sensibilities? Fortunately, many of these very earliest breeds of carrot are still with us and, regardless of what they are called, they are a culinary delight.  

* The red carrots, which are descended from the Eastern parent I enjoyed in Rajasthan, are annuals. A few prime specimens are left to go to seed after the crop is harvested. Western carrots are biennial, the result of domestic selection, which allowed farmers to lift and store them through the winter. Selected roots would then be re-planted in the spring to be allowed to go to seed. Carrots are not the only biennial grown by gardeners. Many other root crops like beetroot and parsnip are also biennial, as are onions and some brassicas. 

 


 

References: 
  1. 1. Kassia St Clair, The Secret Lives of Colour (London: John Murray, 2016): 88. 
  2. 2. Banga, ‘Origin and Distribution’: 357–70. 
Categories
Animals Farm & Garden Farm Management Homesteading Large Animals

Livestock Guardian Dogs: Live & Let Live Sheep Protection

I’m not sure why this is so, but recently several sheep producers in my online groups have asked about benefits and disadvantages of using livestock guardian dogs (LGD) for their sheep. One possible reason? The reintroduction into the wild of predators that were very low in numbers and probably endangered. 

We chose early on not to use an LGD for our sheep. We live in a fairly populated area, and LGDs usually do a lot of their patrolling (and barking) at night … as they should! Given my druthers, though, I’d rather have one and may yet someday if we move to a property farther away from houses and people. 

Non-Lethal Predator Control

I spoke to Denice Rackley, owner of Clearfield Stockdogs and a sheep producer for 20 years. She has a large farm in southern Indiana and uses several livestock guardian dogs (LGD) to keep her sheep safe.

For her, the LGDs are the best and most workable option. She says they live out with the sheep 24/7 and are gentle with the sheep (or should be if you are going to use them) and ferocious with any intruders that come in or near the field. Like her border collies are her partners when moving the sheep, the LGDs are her partners in protecting them. 

One interesting thing I had not thought about before: Keeping an LGD means you don’t have to kill or trap predators. An article in an Oregon farming newspaper noted that many livestock keepers don’t want to kill predators, preferring a “live and let live” situation. Consider, too, that populations of many predators have stabilized over the years—both good and bad news for sheep farmers.

With a good LGD, though, you won’t have to deal with predators. The worst that usually happens is the dog will chase away any coyotes, cougars, bears or neighborhood dogs. Many have found that bringing in one or two LGDs to a livestock operation can be just as effective as trapping or shooting these unwelcome visitors.

When farmers partner with these dogs, they establish a productive relationship that makes everyone happy.


Read more: Donkeys make great small-farm livestock guardians!


Getting It Right

Over the past years, many smaller farms have popped up, although the use of LGDs doesn’t seem to have skyrocketed. One reason for this? If you want an effective  LGD, you’ll have to buy a good one from proven parents. 

While you won’t need to train these trained animals to guard, you will have to do some training them to work with you as a partner on your farm. But most people who have taken the time to do this right agree that the LGDs are worth their weight in gold. 

One Oregon farmer, Cindy Benson, and her husband bought a 640-acre farm near the border of California and Oregon.  For many years they raised mini-donkeys with no trouble … until there was.  Animals began to disappear on a regular basis until they found tracks they determined were cougars.

At that point, they decided to get an LGD. They never looked back 

“I don’t believe that predators should die,” said Benson. “They are part of the ecosystem. One of us is not more important than the other. But, at the end of the day, I moved into their backyard.”