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Amy Grisak
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The warm months are busy times on the farm or small homestead. Gardening tasks take center stage with weeds and pests causing a multitude of headaches if you don’t stay ahead of the game. The smaller animals, like bees and chickens, also benefit from attention to keep them healthy. Be sure to spend some time in nature during these halcyon days of the season looking for antlers or simply enjoying the beauty all around you. These homestead hacks might make life a little easier.

Better Soil By Buckwheat

For a fast-growing soil amendment that doubles as a nectar source for beneficial insects and weed suppressor, grow buckwheat as a cover crop in your garden beds. Plant after a spring crop is finished or in unused beds, when the danger of frost is past until the end of July. Sow it in the area and lightly rake it into the soil, allowing it to grow and go to flower for up to 20 days, but do not let it go to seed. Before that happens, chop it down with a hand scythe or mower and turn it into the soil. The plant breaks down in the soil, adding much needed organic matter for the following season.

Get DE Drop On Pests

If soft-bodied cabbage loopers or annoying earwigs are munching on your veggies, food grade-diatomaceous earth (DE) will effectively thwart their presence. Safe enough to eat, it will not cause any harm if some is accidentally consumed on a leaf, piece of broccoli, etc. (Of course, always wash your produce thoroughly after harvesting it.) Made up of the fossilized remains of ancient sea animals, DE is exceedingly sharp on a microscopic level, damaging the soft tissue of many insects. Even before you see problematic insects, such as caterpillars, dust seedlings frequently to keep them away. The one caveat when using DE is to avoid breathing in the dust when you’re sprinkling it by wearing a dust mask, if necessary. Reapply DE anytime you water overhead or it rains to keep the edges sharp for the unwanted insects.

Trimming Chicken Wings

Chickens aren’t exceptional flyers, but they can cover some ground or fly over a fence, if the mood inspires them. If you don’t want your chickens fluttering their way out of their enclosure, clip their wings to keep them home.

After capturing your bird, hold her gently, but securely, on the ground, since a struggle when you are holding a pair of scissors can be hazardous for you both. Fan out one of her wings, and use a clean, sharp pair of scissors to cut off roughly 3 inches of the first ten primary feathers. This is enough to keep her grounded while not hurting her or causing a risk of infection. Keep in mind that the feathers will grow back after a while and you will need to repeat the process once she discovers she can fly again.

Black Plastic Magic

One way to reduce weed pressure is not to let them emerge in the first place by covering the ground with plastic. The easiest way to do this is to create mounded rows with drip irrigation pipe or tubing running the length of them. Using 1-2 mm black plastic, pull it over the raised row and irrigation pipe, securing it with rocks, soil, or landscape pins. When it’s time to plant your seedlings, cut small ‘X’ shaped slits in the plastic and plant in each one. By planting this way, the plastic warms the soil, which is beneficial for heat-loving plants, particularly in colder climates, and doesn’t allow the weeds to take over.

Dig And Cure Garlic

Your garlic is ready to dig when the stalks begin to die. Once the first several leaves are brown, take the time to harvest it, since if you allow garlic to linger in the soil, it results in soft, weak bulbs that won’t store well. To dig garlic, use a garden fork to loosen the soil gently and lift the bulbs, pulling them from the ground. Knock or brush off excess soil, being careful not to damage the protective wrapper around the bulbs, nor to bruise them.

To cure them, trim the roots and tie them in bunches and hang them, or spread them out on a bench or rack in a well-ventilated area out of direct sunlight. The bulbs need to cure for a couple of weeks before you can store them for the winter. Once cured, trim off the stalks and keep them in a place having low humidity and temperatures around 32-35 degrees F. for long-term storage. or at room temperature if you use the garlic frequently. Never put garlic in the refrigerator or it can become soft due to the humidity and temperature that promotes growth.

Checking Egg Freshness

When you have chickens, sometimes there are so many eggs it’s hard to know which ones are old. To tell if an egg is past its prime, place the egg in a bowl of water. If the egg floats, toss it because it is too old. When it sinks to the bottom and sits on its side, it is fresh. If it sinks to the bottom, yet stands upright, it’s still okay to eat, but it should be eaten soon.

Go Antler Shed Hunting

Antlers are a hot commodity for people who make furniture or crafts from them, so some people turn a walk through the woods into extra money in the spring by picking up shed antlers. Be sure you are picking them up with permission on private property or where it’s allowable on public land. There are some places, such as wildlife game ranges, that are closed during the winter to give animals protection during the harsh season, and are off limits to everyone.

When an antler naturally falls off depends on the species. Moose shed early in most areas, ranging from December to January; whitetails and mule deer often begin as the days grow longer in January; and elk usually drop this ponderous weight from their heads in March and April. While an antler can drop off at any time, and can be there for years, look for areas where they might be bumped by low hanging branches or jostled while jumping over a fence line or stream.

Spotting an antler results in a surprising adrenalin rush. When you see a tine or two poking up through the dried grass, it’s hard not to be excited.

Capture a Bee Swarm

No one really knows what inspires bees to create a new queen, take half the hive and vamoose, but swarming is a behavior every beekeeper watches for throughout the spring and summer. Providing plenty of space in the hive by adding supers when necessary and maintaining the health of the colony help reduce the risk of swarming, but sometimes it happens despite the best efforts.

When a swarm occurs, whether to apprehend their own hive or rescue another, beekeepers are happy to capture it. For the most part, swarms are docile since they are not protecting a hive, and if they congregate in a tree or on a branch, they can be simple to secure. To be ready to capture a swarm at any time, have an extra hive on hand because you will need a home for your new colony.

Locate the cluster of bees, which may be within easy reach or in an area where you need a cherry picker to be close to them, and if possible, carefully clip the branch. Moving smoothly and slowly, hold it over your empty and open bee box, and shake it gently so the bees falls into their new home, making sure the queen is with them. While she can be difficult to spot in the mass of bees, there will most likely be a group staying close to her. As soon as you know you have the queen, put a lid on the hive and head home.

Try Edible Landscaping

Having traditional fruit trees is a wonderful addition to your landscape, but adding shrubs and small trees that produce edible fruits creates a veritable food forest in your backyard. Plant Nanking cherries, elderberries, native plums, honeyberry, chokecherries, mulberries, and sea buckthorn for a low-fuss fruit harvest.

Simple Raised-Bed Solutions

Regardless of your soil type, growing your vegetables in raised beds allows you to control your conditions. Raised beds are simple to make, easy to plant, and a breeze to weed.

A raised bed is as simple as mounded soil or as complex as a bed elevated to a point where you don’t even have to bend over to weed. For short beds directly on the ground, use stone, bricks, or untreated 2 x 6s (at the minimum, you can stack them to create a 12-inch deep bed) to create the sides. In the area where you’re creating the garden, place cardboard or 6 to 8 sheets of newspaper in the area to smother out the weeds or grass. Set the wood structure in place, or build it using rocks or bricks, and fill with soil.

For good soil use a balance of natural loam, compost, and peat moss. This can often be found in bags at the local garden center, or by bulk in some locations. If you are purchasing soil materials in bulk, talk to the seller to be sure it originates from a weed free source or you could be introducing weeds into an otherwise, practically weed-free garden.

This article is from the summer 2018 issue of The New Pioneer Magazine. Grab your copy at OutdoorGroupStore.com.

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