Archive for February 20, 2012

An Early Start

I have learned over the course of the last three years, that there is a vast difference between having a casual hobby garden, and growing food to help your family become self-sufficient and produce income for the farm. All through my childhood, when the weather started warming up, my dad would start looking at seed catalogs; we tilled the garden, and got everything ready for warm weather.  When the weather finally warmed up and stayed warm, that’s when we started planting and weeding.  It was time to “play” in the garden.

It’s a little different when you are growing to feed your family and others.  At least it is for me, anyway.  I find myself thinking about the spring plants when most people are shutting down their gardens for the winter.  With the usually mild winters here in South Carolina, we can grow three gardens a year, spring/summer, fall, and winter.  It means a constant rotation of planting, seed starting, and the like.

Here on the farm, we started the seeds for many of our herbs and vegetables during the first week of January.  I know that you are thinking that it is way too early to start plants, even in South Carolina!  But I have learned a few things along the way.  Last year we started using low tunnels to cover crops that we planted, and actually had good success with it.  This year, we finally got to add our first greenhouse to the operation.

It was made of simple construction with ¾” PVC, 6 mil plastic, and a wooden frame.  The treated wood frame was secured to the ground with posts set 3 foot deep. We gave the hoop frame more strength by placing a 10 foot piece of ½ metal conduit piping inside the top piece of the pvc assembly.

The hoops were attached to the wooden frame with metal conduit brackets  The end hoops were attached to the base with treated 2x4s and conduit brackets.  It took two of us to install the hoops to the frame, and it went nice and quick.

I placed two sheets of plastic over the hoops for the cover to make an air cushion to help insulate the air inside.

For the door, we re-purposed a broken storm door, by cutting it to size for the doorway.   The greenhouse measures 12 by 14 feet with a height of about 7 feet in the center.   We have had our cool-spring plants inside since the beginning of February, and they are growing great.  In fact, I walked inside the greenhouse the other day and it felt like an 80 degree day.  Outside the greenhouse it was 40 degrees.  We have been able to duplicate the temperature conditions of Florida in our simple greenhouse.

This week, we are re-potting about 250 tomato seedlings into bigger trays.  Then they will be heading out to the greenhouse, to make room for more seed starts.

We are so excited about our greenhouse and how it’s performed so far.  In fact, I am already looking at building 3 more just like this one, so we can grow year round here.  If you like the idea of eating fresh vegetables during the winter and early spring, consider building your own green house.  They don’t have to be expensive to build or very big, but they are well worth the effort.

DIY Chick Brooder

Hatching season is here and I’ve been looking for something better than a cardboard box to brood chicks in while the weather out at the barns is still unstable. It just so happens that, with our youngest nearly potty-trained and turning into a big girl, my wife asked my help in rearranging the nursery and removing some baby furniture. Being a farmer that loves to recycle and re-purpose as much material as I can, it was practically a given that I would find a new use for our old changing table. Re-fitting it as a brooder for new chicks looked like a perfect fit.

Re-purposing the changing table into a small brooder turned out to be a very inexpensive and easy project. All of the materials that I used for this were already here on the farm, from the extra poultry fencing from the last yard expansion to an old strip lighting fixture that was laying in the barn and a broken chick feeder that I just never got around to throwing away.

To make the brooder:
Drill a small hole through the top to mount the light.
Wrap the chicken wire completely around the bottom tables of the changing table and attached it with small wire staples.
Then, cut out the opening for both the feeder and access panel. The feeder is held in place with some scrap 1×1 that was laying around.  The feeder brace is attached to both the wire and the frame.

We lined the bottom of the brood chamber with a sheet o heavy duty plastic, and then put a layer of newspaper on top to help absorb moisture from the chick dropping.  Topping it off with a nice layer of wood chips.

We are planning on cleaning the brooder weekly since it has a solid bottom.  Our plan is to remove the feeder and waterer, and then slide the plastic lined bedding out through the access door.  We’ll update this and let you know if this works, and any modification we make to the brooder.

The bottom shelf will serve as a second brooder for us, just as soon as I add the light and feeder.  The top shelf is home to our incubator, and our hatching and brooding supplies.

We are excited about this little brooder and look forward to raising many happy flocks of chicks in it.