Agricultural Affairs presents: Gardening for Lone Rangers

If you have precisely two hands and one spine to assist in your gardening endeavors, life can get interesting. If the body attached to said hands and spine is not particularly large or buff, then it’s really time to recruit the good ol’ brain for the horticultural efforts.

This farticle (fart·i·cle: /färdək(ə)l/ noun A piece of writing included with others on a blog of precisely zero consequence.) addresses the problem of breaking up the sod in a new garden patch when you are:

a) living alone

b) small or in less than ideal physical condition

c) too piss poor to afford a rototiller

d) lacking any friends or neighbors who might lend you a hand (or a rototiller)

e) lousy at planning ahead

or

f) all of the above.

Lone Ranger had Tonto, but the newly-married pioneer farmer’s wife, like you and I, had nobody to help her. (If anything, she had a toddler or two winding about her feet. Yeah, there was a husband, but he was off building a house or plowing a field for wheat, or what have you. I’m not sexist, but history was. Whatcha gonna do?) So I take a page from her book, when it comes to planting the year’s subsistence garden.

Warning: This is not the most efficient way to do things. One person does not equal efficiency in the world of homesteading, so I suggest you either make peace with that here and now, or get yourself a wife/husband/partner/child/friend/grandfather/volunteer/horse.

The relevant sequence is as follows:

  1. Now, assume it’s spring (or whenever your local planting season is), and your garden bed is just not large enough for your liking. You need more space, but you didn’t have a chance to prepare a new bed last fall because you were too busy stacking and splitting firewood, which is REALLY not a job for a single person of your size/build/health/age/attention span.
    Determine the area that’s to be the new planting bed. (Don’t make it too crazy big- there’s only one of you to feed, unless you’re growing fodder for livestock.)
  2. Get a trowel and make a bunch of holes in the sod, best as you can. Don’t put too much time or effort into it. Save your energy for the remaining zillion other chores that need to be done around planting season.
  3. Plant potatoes in holes.
  4. If you have any livestock bedding, rotted leaves or compost, spread this stuff over the potatoes as evenly as you can.
  5. Let the potatoes grow. You won’t be able to hill the potatoes like you would in normal soil, so you’ll end up with more green potatoes than you would otherwise. (See above warning note regarding efficiency- or the lack thereof.)
  6. In late summer (or whenever your local harvest season is), pick the potatoes. Your soil will be nicely broken up as a result.
  7. For additional goodness, spread more compost, mulch or bedding over the empty potato patch and let that stuff rot over the winter. Next spring, you’ll have a perfectly good garden patch there, ready for planting.
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You can plan your garden a year ahead, or you can improvise- either way, there’ll always be potatoes. How’s that for a nice thought?

Other alternatives to potatoes are turnips, beets and pumpkins (which need to be planted in little hills of compost heaped over the sod), as per other accounts I read or heard. I prefer potatoes, because I’m unfortunately not a fan of beets (anything that pink should taste like berries, and therefore should not be in my stew) and turnips require a hacksaw to cut up for cooking. Besides, if you plant a good storage variety, you really can’t have too many potatoes. (My favorites for the Maritime climate are Kennebec and Yukon Gold, though I hear Russet also works fine. The photo above shows Fingerlings, best eaten fresh.)

The end math is as follows:

  • Work: minimum
  • Backache: minimum
  • Headache: as usual- still need a place to cure the potatoes for storage, etc.
  • Yield: moderate, though even the crappiest soil (ie. anything short of concrete) will give you enough potatoes to make it worth your while, especially given how little time and effort it takes to grow them.

Moral of the story:

Homesteading is best practiced as a team sport, but if it’s just you and your lone arse out in the sticks, you can still feed yourself.

 

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Agricultural Affairs presents: Raising Quail for Eggs, Meat and Drama

The ultimate easy livestock for any homesteader, regardless of their environment, is the Japanese or Coturnix quail. I have successfully kept a trio of them back when I was living in a basement apartment, and they took up as much space as a pair of guinea pigs and were vastly cleaner and quieter than, say, budgies. I only ate the eggs at the time and didn’t breed them (and therefore didn’t end up with a multitude of extra cock quail dubbed Soup or Stew) but it was still a remarkably simple and satisfying way to have fresh eggs while living in the city.

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Stock photo, depicting a potential victim of mariticide

Now Douchebaggery Ranch has chickens, who conveniently recycle grass, bugs, kitchen scraps and some things I don’t want to know about (caught the rooster eating a dog turd from the neighbor’s yard the other day) into eggs. So why keep quail?

Three reasons:

  • My chicken coop doesn’t have a light. I let the ladies take a rest during the winter, because producing something the size of your head out of your ass every day can’t possibly be fun and they deserve a vacation. During that time, I bring a trio of quail into the house in a large rabbit cage, hook up a desk lamp over the cage and let the quail take over the egg duty for a couple of months. Sure, it’s a colossal nuisance to have to break 29 eggs to make a quiche, but Mother Nature never intended for the winter to be a time of convenience.

 

  • Soup and Stew. Now that I have an incubator, I hatch the quail eggs when the chickens are on egg duty. I raise every other clutch, keep or sell the new hens and give the extra boys a glamorous afterlife in the freezer, where they will be used for just about every recipe that calls for chicken. Quail tastes slightly different from chicken, but if I didn’t tell you, you wouldn’t know. There’s also the added convenience that for a single-person household, quail come in perfect portions. One bird makes one pot of soup, or one side serving to go with rice. (Yes, butchering is nasty, gross, messy and a whole chain of other adjectives I could spew off here, but that’s the topic of a different entry.)

 

  • Quail are still rare enough among the homesteading circles in most places that there’s a half decent market for live birds. It’s not a get-rich-quick scheme by any stretch, but it did help the incubator pay for itself.

 

Quail, however, have a Dark Secret that would make horror movie fans shiver with delight. There’s something insidious about these cutesy little birds that no quail book or website every tells you about.

Female quail are all homicidal maniacs.

Regardless of who is in the flock, how much space is available, what their diet is or how many toys they have in their enclosure, quail hens occasionally flip and start attacking anyone within beak reach. The most common victim is the husband, and death due to domestic violence is an unfortunate fact of quail social life. (This, I feel would make a fascinating phD thesis for any aspiring animal behaviorists who can’t think of anything better to do with their brain cells.)

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Stock photo- your friendly neighborhood psychopath

My twice-daily checks on the quail, who currently live in a large barn stall, are generally accompanied by the creepy crescendoing background music stuck in my mind and the thought of “Anyone dead? Anyone bleeding?” as I survey the flock to make sure nobody’s head has been pecked open. On more than a dozen unfortunate occasion, I’ve had to dispatch a (usually male) quail who was pecked halfway to death at a time of day when I was still busy waking up or all ready to go to bed, and I have enough nasty variations of this story to fill the front pages of several cheap tabloids.

No amount of research, dietary changes and supplementations and environmental enrichment has done anything to alleviate the problem of the werequail, who goes from sweet little hen to bloody-minded psychopath over the course of a few hours. For the longest time, I thought maybe my birds were inbred and had the quail equivalent of schizophrenia or some such in their bloodlines, but recently I met a couple of other homesteaders who quietly admitted to having the same problem with their quail.

Moral of the story: quail are douchebags. They are cute, they are pretty, they are the easiest livestock in the world to keep, but they are not for the faint of heart.