Sunday, April 28, 2013

Flea and Tick Season has Begun

For most of the country Spring has finally sprung. With the temperatures rising the fleas and ticks have started coming out. These little blood suckers are out and trying to take a bite out of everything, including me. A couple of weeks ago, I was helping a friend on his farm. We were walking through the edge of the woods planning a fence line. That night I found a tick that was attached to my rear end. My wife pulled it off for me. I of course thought everything was fine, but after a couple of days, the spot started itching like mad and turning red and swelling. Yep, that little bite was infected. My wife finally talked me into going to the doctor and I am now on antibio ticks, ha ha.

Several of the sites that I looked at for tips on avoiding ticks talked about things like getting rid of leaves, keeping lawns cut very short, limiting the amount of shrubs around your yard, and things like that. If you are like me most of these suggestions are not an option. I rake leaves up and put them in either the compost pile or on the garden spot as mulch. I am trying to have as little grass as possible in my yard, but the grass is being replaced by surprise, surprise, other plants like blackberry, blueberry, and fruit trees. These are the very type things that according to the experts should be avoided to keep away ticks. As a result of my choice to try to be more food sovereign  I must turn to a repellent.

Tick Repellent for People

There are several products available for purchase to repel biting insects. The most well known is Deep Woods Off. This can be very effective against mosquitoes, but does only a fair job of protecting against ticks. The active ingredient of Off is DEET (Diethyl-meta-toluamide). Research has shown that DEET can cause seizures, insomnia, radical mood swings, and impaired cognitive function. Seizure likely hood is quite rare.

The second most common commercially available insect repellent is permethrin based. Permethrin is a compound naturally found in chrysanthemums. Studies have shown that permethrin is far superior at repelling ticks than DEET. One huge problem is there is only one company that manufactures a product for human use. The human permethrin product costs about twice as much as the DEET products per ounce. There are several premethrin based veterinary products that are designed for horses that are considerably less expensive. Some people have used the horse products for themselves and their pets. I however do not suggest this practice.

What if you want a more natural way of protecting yourself? There are several essential oils that are purported to repel ticks and fleas. The most common suggestion is to add 10 drops of eucalyptus oil to sunscreen and apply to all exposed areas.  Other recipes for homemade tick repellent include things like lavender oil, geranium oil, lemon balm, citronella, peppermint and pennyroyal.

There are ready to use products available that can be purchased like Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent Pump Spray or Botanical Solutions Tick Guard 4 Oz. Both of these products reviews are pretty good and both are rated for human use. The Botanical Solutions has been used on pets, but according to one of the reviews the scent is so strong that their dog sneezes constantly.

Tick Repellent for Dogs

The most common two insect repellents for pets is Frontline and Advantix .The links I provided are to the product for the big boys, like I have, the 89 to 132 lbs doggies. Frontline and Advantix are very effective against ticks, but around here only works for about 2 1/2 to 3 weeks for fleas. According to a doggie dermatologist, the fleas in this area are developing an immunity to the chemicals in most of the topical treatments. The problem is many of the things made for dogs will only control either fleas or ticks. For example Comfortis can be purchased at your Veterinarian's office and is incredible at controlling fleas, I have found nothing that even comes close, but it only protects against fleas.

Several sites I have searched actually say to use the same homemade flea and tick repellents as with people only to not mix it as strong with the essential oils. One person said that they use one drop of rose geranium essential on their dog's collar once a week. There are also ready to use products designed for pets such as  Vet's Best Natural Flea and Tick Spray, 8-Ounce. Again with this product the reviews are really quite good.

We will always use something to control the fleas on my dog and my families cats and we are going to try some of these essential oil treatments. If you do end up having a tick bite, even if you get the head out, you may have to go to the doctor. I am glad I finally let my wife talk me into going.

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Friday, April 19, 2013

My experiments with Hugelkultur and No Till

The weather here has been cooler and wetter than normal. I have finally gotten a lot of our garden in and I am excited about a several of my experiments for this year. So here we go with two of my experiments.

Things I am trying this year for the first time; I am going to try a modified Hugelkultur bed. Hugelkultur (hoogle culture) can be defined as the ultimate raised bed. The term Hugelkultur was first coined in Austria and is built by starting with a wood core and piling dirt on the tree trunks or stumps. This has been practiced since ancient times. Once completed the bed would be about six feet high and would be at a very sharp angle. The sides would then be cultivated with food bearing plants. Please see the image below.

Even in extremely dry areas irrigation is reduced to a bare minimum. The general consensus is that the wood core becomes spongy and retains water that is slowly released into the soil. Others believe that the wood core promotes a fungal network that works with the plant to harvest and utilize available water much more efficiently than other methods.

I have modified this type of agriculture. I did not mound the dirt. I dug a trench and buried the wood, then planted on top of where the wood is buried. I believe that this will produce excellent results. I have a couple of plants that are a control group. They are just planted in the ground the way I always have. I have 12 tomato plants in the ground. Six are planted above woody beds (I am not going to call them hugel beds because they are not). I also have six planted in the ground like normal. One is planted straight into the area where my last compost pile was and two are planted in the spot where my chicken tractor was. The remaining three have had no special preparation. I am also going to make my first attempt with no till. I am trying the no till only with the tomatoes as well. I mowed the area really good prior to planting. After I planted the tomatoes I surrounded them with cardboard as a weed barrier. I like cardboard better than landscape fabric because the cardboard breaks down much faster and actually helps improve the soil. (A thick layer of newspaper can be used in the same way.) On top of the cardboard I am mulching with wheat straw. The cardboard should stop grass and weeds from coming up around my plants. The wheat straw should help retain moisture and assist the cardboard in retarding grass and weed growth. Both of these resources will slowly breakdown and improve the soil quality.

Later I will mix compost into the wheat straw. This will allow nutrients from the compost to leach out and into the ground every time it rains and will speed up the break down of the straw. If this works like I think it will, I shouldn't have to weed very much at all and in the future I will only till when I am working new ground and even then I will not have to till the ground as hard. I will keep you all informed as to the progress of this experiment. Below are some additional resources if you would like to learn more about hugelkultur.
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Sunday, April 14, 2013

Helping a Friend and Teaching My Sons

I thought I would be writing about the purchase of our new homestead, but someone had more money than we did. Our offer was rejected. Life goes on.

My best friend has just purchased a 40 acre homestead and has asked me to design his farm. It is a great honor.

I took my two youngest sons to help plant his orchard.  They helped me assemble the auger and we planted 16 trees. The design that we made will have blueberries in between each tree and eventually have muscadines. We are creating a food forest environment. It was great experience and my boys worked with me all day.

My youngest drove the tractor most of the afternoon. I am very proud of my boys and they can say that they had a hand in the creation of Grace Farms of Alabama, which will become an organic and sustainable farm based on permaculuture principle.

One thing that I have never understood is how our society has decided that we as a people are too good for manual labor. I cannot tell you the times I have heard parents tell their children that they do not want to do this or that because they deserve something better. Some of the best money I made as a young teen was hauling hay. Very tough work, but when you are done you know you have put in an honest days work for an honest days pay. I wish everyone would learn this lesson. I am proud of my boys, my best friend for embracing organics, and the opportunity to be a part of something that will last for generations.

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Friday, April 5, 2013

An Ode to Dreams, Paperwork, and a Fannie Mae Foreclosure

If there were modern day minstrels traveling the landscape singing songs of the average man's struggles for a better life, I am sure this would be in his line up. If I had time I would make it rhyme just for dramatic effect.

Here is the back story. My wife and I live on a half acre in a house that could be called a fixer upper, but honestly we would have to tear it down and rebuild just to make it big enough for our family.

There are lots of bad memories here for my wife. We need a place of our own and I need more room.
I owned my own business prior to the April 27th 2011 tornadoes. Funny thing about insurance, you don't realize you don't have enough until it is too late. Most of the bills were paid off, but not all. Bills and no income mean credit problems.

I am thankful for what we have, but we really need a little more. I had always drempt of 10 to 20 acres.  But my loving wife pointed out that we could not truly work that much land. Any more land than 5 acres would either be wooded or pasture. Nothing wrong with that, but that would not be full utilization. I love you honey.

We have tried all of the normal ways to obtain a better place with no success. We have been turned down for every loan. We were about to give up when we found a house that might be owner finance. My wife fell in love with the place. It had enough land but the land was grown up in privet and honey suckle. We walked around it, prayed about it, and talked to the realtor.

The people who owned the house had plenty of money and did not want to owner finance. During this time a family member who knew what was going on offered us a sizable loan (you know who you are and thank you from the bottom of my heart).

Well, no go on this house. A little bummed. We thought this was our last option. That night I did a search on the Internet for properties and one showed up that with the family loan we could pay cash for, hoorhaaa. We talked to the agent and walked the house. We are ready to buy. Guess what? This house is owned by Fannie Mae a governmental corporation.

I did a little research and decided to make an offer. We made an appointment with the agent to make an offer. Our nerves were out of control. We did find out that someone had already made an offer. We honestly thought we were out of luck. We decided we would make an offer anyway.

The night before we made the offer I drempt I was fighting a dragon made of paperwork. I had no idea how right that dream was. We had to fill out 20 pages of paperwork just to make an offer. As soon as we submitted Fannie Mae sent back that multiple offers had been received. We had to make our best offer, which we did. We made this offer on Thursday. Fannie May said they would close the property for offers at 11:39 am on Friday.

The offers are now closed and we have to wait to see if we are the ones who get the place. All of us want this to be our new homestead. If you are a praying person we would appreciate your prayers. If you are not a praying person we would appreciate you positive energy. In this way you can help us to...

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