Sunday, April 29, 2012

Back to the Homestead - History of Homesteading

April 29, 2012

Back to the Homestead - History of Homesteading

This week was pretty productive. We cleared out much of the clutter that has been hanging around the homestead such as old timbers, wheelbarrows and a garden cart with four flat tires.

We also decided to get rid of the ICB totes - the containers in which we were going to do the aquaponics in. I am sad about that. This is something I really want to do and think would be a fantastic way to produce food for the family. I'll talk about the "whys" on a latter post.

Potatoes, spinach, cabbage, carrots and beets are all planted. We'll soon be planting the rest of the garden. However, with temperatures in the 30's and 40's as a low, the risk of frost is still here. We'll wait just a bit longer and then get the rest of the seeds in the ground.

Homesteading - A Short History

Concerned that free land would lower property values and reduce the cheap labor supply; Northern businessmen opposed the nearly free distribution of federal lands. Pre Civil War Southerners feared settlers of federal lands would add their voices to the call for abolition of slavery. With Southerners having their hands full in 1862, the legislation finally passed.

On May 20, 1862, Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act. This act gave adults 21 years or older farmland called a "homestead.” This was typically 160 acres of undeveloped federal land west of the Mississippi River.. The homesteader was required to build a 12x14 dwelling and farm the land or plant trees. Some folks took advantage of a legislative loophole caused when those drafting the law's language failed to specify whether the 12-by-14 dwelling was to be built in feet or inches.

Many homesteaders did not last the required five years due to all kinds of challenges such as blizzards, drought, grasshoppers, disease, and social isolation on the open prairies.

January 1, 1863, the day the Homestead Act went into effect, the fellow named Daniel Freeman. As the story goes, he was supposedly a scouter for the Union Army and told someone that he was leaving for St. Louis the morning of January 1, 1863, for military duty. Freeman convinced someone to open the land office just after midnight so he could be the first person to file his claim.

When the homesteader had fulfilled his requirements of living on the land for five years and show that improvements had been done, he then had to have two or three witnesses sign a document called "Proof Required under Homestead Acts May 20, 1862." Daniel Freeman had his neighbors, Joseph Graff and Samuel Kilpatrick, sign this first document.

Anyone including freed slaves, who had never taken up arms against the U.S. government, could file an application to claim a federal land grant. The occupant had to be 21 or older or the head of a family, live on the land for five years and show evidence of having made improvements.

Only about 40 percent of the applicants who started the process were able to complete it and obtain title to their homestead land. Eventually 1.6 million homesteads were granted and 270,000,000 acres (420,000 sq mi) of federal land were privatized between 1862 and 1934, a total of 10% of all lands in the United States. Homesteading was discontinued in 1976, except in Alaska, where it continued until 1986.

That was a shame too. I was in the 10th grade in 1985 and was taking American History. I learned about the act and my teacher, Mr. Warner had encouraged me to write a letter and inquire about the application process. I remember pulling out an old type write. You know, the one with the big spinning ball with all the letters on it. And I wrote my letter.

I got my answer weeks later. I was not 21 yet and was told I could reapply later. By the time I turned 21, it was too late. I wish I still had that letter. But at 15 years old, I found the rejection to be worthless and did not see the value in keeping the letter.


The series referenced to in this week's video:

Here's the eBay seller I get my seeds from. This is my second year doing business with these guys:

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Back to the Homestead - Homestead Journal Show Notes

Back to the Homestead

Keeping a Garden Journal

 Keeping records is not something that I enjoy much. I just want to get things done and not worry about all the logistics. Maybe it's because I am a nurse and a huge part of nursing is documenting and keeping records; it seems like half of the duties in nursing is writing something down that we just did. However, keeping records ensures we medical folks don't repeat something that didn't work and we can repeat which worked well the last time. Keeping a garden journal...or better yet...keeping a homesteading journal could end up saving time and money (as if these two things are separate entities). A homestead journal may very well keep you from making the same old mistake year after year after year.

If you are anything like me, when to plant is a guessing game. If we plant too soon, the frost gets us. If we plant too late, our harvest comes in late. If we keep simple garden records, we'll be better equipped based on the mistakes from years past. It's the same way with harvesting. What if we planted 100' of purple hull peas, grew them, picked them, hulled them and preserved them and by New Years, we had eaten all that we grew? A garden journal could remind us next year to increase our planting and subsequently our harvest.
Keeping a homestead journal is as important as keeping a canning cookbook or maintenance record on an automobile. With a project as extensive as homesteading, a journal is vital.

Now, we here on the Walker Homestead aren't sitting around writing notes in our homestead journal. We've been busy! The chickens are pinned up and they told me exactly what they think of the new arrangement (in chicken talk). We got some rows pulled and some potatoes planted. We "woke up" the yard, cut back the raspberries, sifting compost, fixing water lines, weeding, refreshing, fertilizing and getting a red neck to boot!
I have put together a garden journal that you can use. They are in both word and PDF format. You can do what ever you like with them. Add stuff. Take stuff out. Modify stuff. The sky's the limit. You may it your own.

Here's the PDF format:

I hope this journal is helpful. Let me know what you think.

I often get a book or two on homesteading, gardening and other how-to's from time to time. However, the other day, I picked up a book called The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. It's about a young boy from Malawi, a country in Africa, who put together a device he called "electric wind." In his language, there is no word for "windmill." This fellow named William Kamkwamba and his family pulled themselves through a period of famine that we all hope we never have to go through. During this period of time, he would sneak into school (notice I said "into school"). When he got caught and expelled, he would dig around the dump yards and learn from the devices other would just throw away. If you are looking for a motivational read while you rest between chores, this is the book for your summer.

Here's what Amazon says:

With nothing more than a fistful of cornmeal in his stomach, a small pile of once-forgotten science textbooks, and an armory of curiosity and determination, he embarked on a daring plan to bring his family a set of luxuries that only two percent of Malawians could afford and what the West considers a necessity—electricity and running water. Using scrap metal, tractor parts, and bicycle halves, William forged a crude yet operable windmill, an unlikely contraption and small miracle that eventually powered four lights, complete with homemade switches and a circuit breaker made from nails and wire. A second machine turned a water pump that could battle the drought and famine that loomed with every season.

Keep on growing and remember: Don't worry too much about it. Just do all you can do and let the rough end drag.


Saturday, April 14, 2012

Soil pH, Compost and Fertilizer

April 14, 2012

The homestead is coming along nicely. We have the garden soil turned over and have checked our pH and nutrient levels to learn what we need to add to the soil before planting. I know that many in the country have planted already. We here in Idaho are still in preparation; there’s still a risk of frost.

There’s still so much to do. I had planned to get the rows made this week but am down in my back. Those dog-on raspberries! Pulling and fixing them up was a chore. It didn’t seem like much until the next morning. OUCH!

The video for soil pH and compost is a two-part series with a third “informational” video on pH and fertilizers. Enjoy!

Back to the Homestead - Soil pH and Fertilizer Part 1 of 2

Back to the Homestead - Soil pH and Fertilizer Part 2 of 2

Soil pH and Compost

If you think about it, we are made of dirt. Well, there’s not much thinking that we’d have to do. The bible tells us from dust we came, right? The soil has the nutrients, the plants take the nutrients in as they grow and deliver the nutrients to us when we consume the plant’s fruits and vegetables. Doesn’t it make sense that we should inspect our soil once in a while to make sure it is in tip top shape so we ourselves can stay in tip top shape? After all, there are an abundance (as of the writing of this article) of nutrient-starved vegetables and fruits on the store shelves; why would we want to produce what we can get for cheap (well, cheaper than we can grow ourselves)?

Soil pH is a measure of the acidity or basicity of our homestead’s soil. The optimum pH range for most plants is between 6 and 7.5, however many plants can thrive quite well at pH values outside this range. Though the rage of pH is 1-14 with 1 being most acid and 14 being most alkaline, you will find that soil will range between 4 and 9 as extremes with an average of 5-8 (though soil pH values could be found outside these mid-ranges.


pH 4.5-5.0 Blueberry, Cranberry

pH 5.0 - 5.5 Parsley, Potato, Sweet Potato, Radish

pH 5.5 - 6.0 Bean, Brussels Sprouts, Carrot, Peanuts, Rhubarb, Soybean

pH 6.0 - 6.5 Broccoli, Cabbage, Cannabis, Cauliflower, Cucumber, Pea, Sweet Corn, Pumpkin, Squash, Tomato, Turnip

pH 6.5 - 7.0 Asparagus, Beet, Celery, Lettuce, Melons, Onion, Parsnip, Spinach, Sweet

Macronutrients that are necessary for adequate plant growth are nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and are found in most commercial fertilizers. However, calcium, magnesium and sulfur are also considered macronutrients and are seldom found in commercial N-P-K fertilizers. N-P-K values are the nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K) values. Many bags of fertilizers will have three numbers posted on the packaging; the three numbers refer to the percent of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K).

Addition to nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, plants need larger amounts of calcium, magnesium and sulfur for healthy growth.

Necessary micronutrients including iron, manganese, zinc, copper, cobalt, molybdenum and boron are necessary for not only healthy plant growth but our health as well. It’s these micronutrients that many of the store-bought vegetables and fruits are missing.

Plants can grow nice and appear healthy with sufficient nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium and some (though deficient) micronutrients. However, we are made up of so much more than these three elements. The only way to get both the macronutrients and micronutrients into “us” is to have a sufficient supply in the soil in which we plant our seeds and seedlings.

The trick is to balance our soil’s pH so the plants can utilize the available nutrients. As a matter of fact, some of the nutrients themselves can change the soil’s pH. For example, sulfur can lower the soil’s pH while calcium can raise the soil’s pH.

Back to the Homestead - Soil pH and Fertilizer Basics of the Basics


Monday, April 9, 2012

Back to the Homestead - The Walker Homestead

It's a new season and we are getting ready for some growing and other Homesteading activities. We have the garden cleaned, tilled and ready for making our rows and planting. Our approach is going to be as intensive as last year yet a bit more focused on foods we eat and the ease at which they store.

Season 2

Episode 1 - In the Beginning

This is the (pseudo) launch of the website, “Back to the Homestead.” It was learned that there is another site called, “The Walker Homestead” and wanted to maintain our uniqueness and avoid future rights issues that may arise.

This is the second year we are producing these homesteading videos and we are still trying to get our bearings. Our homestead is run by me, my wife and my 4-soon-to-be-5-year-old son. Our homestead sits on a half acre near Boise, Idaho. Sure, we don’t have much of a spot, but there are many that I have met during this journey that have even less and are making a go of homesteading (and doing a dog-on good job at it). It's not only about becoming self-sufficient but helping others become self-sufficient as well. We learn how not because we have to; we learn how so we're ready when we need to.

Let me reiterate that statement: “It's not only about becoming self-sufficient but helping others become self-sufficient as well. We learn how not because we have to; we learn how so we're ready when we need to.”

Many of you all who have the capabilities of watching these shows have the capabilities of earning resources and buying life’s needs and wants without a homestead. We could get up every day and work (for someone else), take the resources that we earn (from someone else) and buy our needs and wants (from someone else). So, the question is: Why do we Homestead? For me, the answer is simple: To reduce the dependency on “someone else.” For me, it’s not about preparing for the end of civilization as we know it; it’s about preparing for a time when gas is $9.78 a gallon, milk is $14.49 a gallon and when $100 at the checkout will provide a family of 4 a day or two of food. It’s not a matter of converting over to alternative power now; it’s a matter of knowing how when power from the grid is priced as a luxury rather than a perceived right.

Self-sufficiency is not only about growing vegetables and keeping a few chickens, there is so much more to consider. Notice above I said that I would like to “reduce” the dependency on someone else. Elimination of social dependency can be reduced but probably never completely eliminated. Consider the need for antibiotics if you become sick. The need for PVC to run irrigation to the “back 40,” and even supplemental foods if we ever have a crop failure along with other necessities is always part of homesteading. Maintaining social relationships (including a job) is important; what we are protecting ourselves from may never come (this is a good thing). Self-sufficiency may could considered growing our own food, using and reusing what others throw away and maybe even finding an occupation where we are recession-proof.

What is Sulae Arts? If you have asked that question, I’ll clarify it now. Sulae Arts was created back in 2007 as a DBA (do business as) for a photography business that I had started. We wrote a book and later determined that I could do much, much better in my current profession rather than taking portraits. I knew no one would pay me for photographing my passion: Wildlife and Nature. Eventually, we decided to shut down the portrait section of the business and focus on what we enjoy most. Sulae Arts still exists though not as a business (per se) but more of a hobby project (no tax write-off with a hobby).

From here on out, we will have show notes to accompany each show we produce. Rather than just showing video of the garden’s progress, we’ll be doing much, much more how to. Sure, watching someone’s garden grow through the season is motivating and we’ll continue to show updates. However, we’ll be showing other folks how to do what we have been learning how to do. You see, if everyone else knows “how to fish” we won’t have to worry about others taking or “fish” if times every got tough.

It’s going to be an interesting growing season. I’ll be maintaining a homestead, gardening, full-time job and going back to school in order to advance in my degree and increase my income potential. Ha, it’s going to be easy! As easy as herding chickens, right?

Well, you all keep on keeping on. Keep watching and send some feedback. Let me know what you are interested in and what you’d like to see more of.

Season 2

Episode 2 - Cleaning Up!