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5 Steps to a Mosquito Free Backyard

enjoy a mosquito free backyardIf I took a straw poll with just this one question, I bet I could predict the outcome: “What bug do you want out of your life forever?”

For city-folk, it’s probably the dreaded bed bug. For my New England friends, it’s Lyme disease carrying ticks. But for most of the world, South Carolina included, it’s definitely the mosquito.

Mosquitoes are the deadliest animal family in the world. They spread disease and discomfort wherever they go, and there is a multi-billion dollar industry that’s flourishing on the world’s justified fear and loathing of this tiny creature. So let’s discuss 5 easy ways to utterly and completely rid your backyard homestead of this vampiric scourge. I’m serious – zero mosquitos.

A bat-friendly backyard is a mosquito free backyard.

The Little Brown Bat is, in short, your new best friend. A single brown bat can eat up to 600 mosquitoes per hour. Hosting a colony of these unique and fascinating hunters is perhaps the quickest and easiest way to ensure a mosquito free backyard. Best of all, brown bats are fairly easy to attract. All you need is a quality bat house and some planning. Brown bats are particular about where they roost, so going out of your way to cater to their likes and dislikes will definitely speed up the colony attracting process. We will write more about bats in the future, but bookmark these links to get started:

Don’t let water stand in your yard.

Mosquitoes lay their eggs in stagnant water, and something as innocuous as a bucket left out in the rain can become a major source of mosquitoes in your yard. Make it a habit to keep a tidy homestead, and always keep anything that might retain water out of the rain (or turned upside down).

Another good idea is to tour your property after a big rain and search for places where water collects – large puddles, buckets, clogged gutters, etc. – and take steps to correct any drainage issues.

Protect your rain barrels, troughs, and other water storage units

Sometimes, however, we need to collect water, but that doesn’t mean we also need to give mosquitoes an ideal breeding ground. Here are three excellent ways to keep your water storage and still have a mosquito free backyard:

  • Install mosquito netting over rain barrels.
  • Add 1 tablespoon of unfiltered apple cider vinegar for every gallon of water to your rain barrels, water troughs, and other water storage units. As a bonus, this will also help prevent the growth of algae and green slime!
  • Add a few tablespoons of regular cooking oil to any rain barrel or water storage unit to create a mosquito-proof barrier on the water’s surface.

Plant mosquito repelling plants

There are many plants that do a great job of repelling mosquitoes. Here are five excellent choices for any garden or landscape:

  • Citronella Grass
  • Catnip
  • Rosemary
  • Basil
  • Lavender

Use safe and natural bug sprays and repellents.

When all else fails, it’s nice to have a natural bug repellent with you. Rather than spraying yourself down with the chemicals found in most commercial bug sprays, look for sprays and repellents that advertise “DEET FREE” or “CHEMICAL FREE”. The best natural bug sprays will take advantage of the repellent nature of plants rather than chemicals – lavender, mint, cedar, citrus, geranium, and lemongrass. These sprays can be extremely effective at keeping the bugs away without causing you worry over the ingredients you’re rubbing into your skin.

We hope this gives you some ideas about how to eradicate the awful mosquito from your homestead. Any one of these five suggestions on its own might be enough to significantly decrease the mosquito population in your yard, but all of them taken together can ensure a completely mosquito free backyard for you and your family.

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By Sam
June 12, 2016

The Amazing, Spectacular Sprouting Seeds

sproutsIf you’re like I was not too long ago, you probably have no idea about the wonderful world of sprouting seeds. The closest you’ve come to enjoying sprouts is ordering authentic pad thai and having a taste of the bean sprouts that usually tag along. Sprouting seeds might seem a little earthy, or even “weird”, but when you recognize the potential of this incredibly simple and cheap practice, you might never look back.

There is really no mystery to this concept, which makes it all the more shocking that more people aren’t already doing it. Put a couple of spoonfuls of seeds and some water in a mason jar with a screened lid, turn them and rinse them a few times, and in a few days have several cups of delicious, nutritious, organic sprouts to add to just about anything you already eat – salads, stir-fries, sandwiches, etc. This process can take place at any time of year and requires almost no effort. Best of all, it’s incredibly cheap. The only equipment you need is a jar, a screened lid, and the seeds. For less than $10 you can be sprouting seeds in your kitchen right now!

The Many Benefits of Sprouting Seeds

If you want to know the cheapest and easiest way to provide fresh, healthy, delicious food for your family year-round, look no further. I give you. . . sprouting seeds!

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By Sam
June 01, 2016

If you chase a lucid butterfly. . .

flowers-purple-flower-bokeh“If you chase a lucid butterfly, it will keep on flying. If you stop, it’ll turn and land on your shoulder.”  

Do you have a lucid butterfly in your life? I recently discovered that mine has been homesteading. Throughout my teen years, I longed to be a farmer. I wanted to wear the overalls, own a cow, and rise each day with my sprouting stalks of corn. I hated our computer, scoffed at our dishwasher, and scoured my friend’s Lehman’s catalog with questionable zeal. The closest I came to fulfilling my dream was joining 4-H and raising a few sheep for a couple of years.

My family thought I was crazy. I would be a writer, they said. I would raise a family. I didn’t have the gumption to take on any form of farming. Seriously, I couldn’t even keep a potted plant alive, let alone grow an entire garden.

I knew they were right and eventually quit dreaming, absorbed myself in the world of office supplies, and relinquished all hope of marrying someone who shared this silly little passion of mine. I stopped chasing my butterfly.

Then I met Sam. At first, he didn’t let on just how much he enjoyed homesteading. He owned a flourishing garden and a few quirky hens, but I never thought his farming roots ran so deep until one day, he said he wanted to open this store, and I knew he would.

As I realized that my old dream was finally blossoming into reality, I became giddy inside. Finally! I shall be a homesteader’s wife! My butterfly had lighted on my shoulder at last.

Then it dawned on me: if I’m going to be the homesteading wife of the Backyard Homestead Supply Co. guy, I’m going to need to learn how to homestead. For real.

And so, the journey begins!

Although I’d love to be perfect at EVERYTHING right off the bat, raising a five year old and an infant has taught me that lessons are best learned in baby steps. So, I’ve begun a mission. I will master one new skill each month (or as many months as it takes!) and let you all in on my progress.

This is big for me. I’d love to pretend I’m already an expert at this homesteading business, that I am the quintessential homesteader’s wife. But if I put up that facade, I’ll be back to chasing my butterfly, never making any progress.

And that’s not what homesteading is about. It’s about being real, rolling up your sleeves and digging in. It’s about learning to live in new ways and loving the process as much as the product. It’s about stopping and letting that butterfly land on your shoulder. My chasing days are over. Are yours?  

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May 24, 2016

Homestead Animals: Eventually You’ll Have to Kill Something

Author’s Note: The following post contains information about killing homestead animals that some may find graphic or offensive. Read with discretion.

The first time I chose to kill something on the homestead came more than two years after I started keeping animals. Up to that point, I found ways around it. I gave away chickens that were past their prime. I ignored predators, or practiced “catch and release.” I actively avoided pulling the trigger. But if you are going to raise animals on your homestead, sooner or later you’ll have to kill something. My first kill was a chicken-eating possum.

slaughtering homestead animalsI’ve killed many more animals since that first possum. In some ways it gets easier, in other ways I still feel weird about it. Killing an animal is an act that should never be taken lightly, so let me offer these considerations before anyone adds animals to his homestead:

When you have animals, eventually death will come.

Remember that first possum? He got six of my hens before I got him. Of those six, he only bothered to eat three. The others he left for me to find without heads or feet. I didn’t ask for that. I was raising pretty hens for eggs. They were well fenced and well cared for. Before I ever had to make a choice about how my animals should die – whether by my hand, someone else’s, or natural causes – Mr. Possum came along and left a bloodbath in his wake. Before you add one animal to your homestead, consider how that animal should die and be prepared for matters to be taken out of your hands.

Homestead animals aren’t pets.

It’s a nice idea – having a lot of different pets around the house and yard – but homesteading is about meat and eggs and milk and wool. Homesteading with animals is meant to provide you with more than just companionship (though non-meat animals do make good pets!). Chickens past their prime can’t earn their keep with eggs. It’s never a good idea to keep aggressive rabbits or quail. Animals that take more than they give need to be culled. How prepared are you to cull an animal that can’t earn its feed?

Even in death, be prepared to show care and respect.

I’ve killed predators and I’ve culled my own homestead animals, but in every case I follow the same two rules:

  1. Weigh the good with the bad. No animal should die just because it lives (Sorry, arachnophobes!). Have a good reason for killing, and consider the impact you’re having on the rest of your homestead. For example, rat snakes are excellent at controlling mice and rats. Perhaps you could simply relocate the egg-eater?
  2. Every animal deserves a quick, clean death. There is never a good reason to allow an animal to suffer once you’ve decided to kill it. And if you don’t know how to give an animal a quick death, look it up before you try. A quick Google search turned up this excellent article on slaughtering backyard chickens.

 

So what about your homestead? Are you ready for chickens or rabbits? When you do decide it’s time for animals, be sure you’ve thought through the entire process. And if you need any help knowing how to get started, feel free to drop us a line!

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By Sam
April 28, 2016

Our Pledge to You, Greenville

My wife and I were out on Saturday with our baby girl in tow, spending some time together and happily wasting a morning on nothing in particular, and one of the stops we made was at a well-known country store in the area. There was an air of nostalgia as we shopped, reminding me of my father’s garden and beehives when I was a small boy. I was impressed with their selection, and doubly impressed with their commitment to community. The store was filled to the brim with locally produced goods – from seeds to soaps to milk and eggs.

But while our experience was pleasant and enjoyable (we even came away with a purchase), I felt disappointment that even this well-curated gem of a store was missing what Greenville so desperately wants and needs. It was as plain as a literal sign on the wall: “POISON. Our seeds are treated. Please do not allow your children to handle or eat the seeds.” As I absorbed this sign, I continued to look around and see product after product that I would never want near my garden or my animals, much less my children. And I know I’m not alone. What Greenville, SC so desperately wants and needs is a farm and garden supply store that is willing to commit itself wholly to a natural and organic approach to the homestead and to educate others in that approach. Greenville needs a place where folks can be introduced to proper alternatives to popular thinking.

And so, Greenville, this is our pledge to our community:

At Backyard Homestead, you’ll never see a “do not handle” warning on our products:

  • You can trust us to deliver only the best natural, organic, non-GMO seeds and amendments for your garden.
  • You can trust that we will never sell a chemical fertilizer or pesticide.
  • You can trust that we will never advocate for treating animals with unnecessary drugs and topical medications.
  • In short, you can trust that anything you find in our store is going to be safe for every single member of your family and every single animal in your backyard.
  • And just in case you don’t share our sentiment, and hot pink corn seed is perfectly fine in your book, you can trust that you won’t here a word from us about it. We’re glad you’re a part of our homesteading community just the same!

Happy Homesteading,
Sam & Kelsey

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By Sam
April 18, 2016

A Free Lifetime Supply of Organic Fertilizer in Your Backyard

free-fertilizerYou heard right! We’re offering everyone the opportunity to fertilize their garden with the best organic fertilizer for free, for life.

Too good to be true? Hardly. If you want your garden to grow bigger, greener, and healthier this year, we have one word for you: Rainwater.

It’s all about that nitrogen.

The University of Hawaii writes, “Of all the essential nutrients, nitrogen is required by plants in the largest quantity and is most frequently the limiting factor in crop productivity. . . Proper management of nitrogen is important because it is often the most limiting nutrient in crop production and easily lost from the soil system.”

Nitrogen is what makes plants look green and vibrant. Have you ever noticed how your garden perks up after a good summer thunderstorm – even when you’ve been watering with the garden hose every day? It’s not the water your plants were craving – it’s the nitrogen!

As rain forms in clouds and falls through our atmosphere, it picks up nitrogen compounds (nitrates) and other trace nutrients from the air. When that rainwater hits your garden, those nutrients are quickly picked up by your plants’ roots. Rainwater from a thunderstorm is particularly good for your plants because lightning converts nitrogen gas in the air into a usable nitrate. That city water is keeping your plants alive, but with rainwater they can thrive.

Rainwater collection is easy!

BHSC Rain BarrelOnce you’re ready to give your plants a constant diet of the best organic fertilizer, it’s time to set things up – but don’t worry about expensive irrigation systems or tools. All you need is a downspout and a rain barrel. Installation is as easy as diverting your downspout into the barrel! If you’re curious about exactly how much rainwater we’re talking about, the formula goes something like this:

For every 1000 sq. ft. of catchment area (that’s your roof), one inch of rain equals 600 gallons of water!

To give an example, we collect rainwater for our garden in a 250 gallon plastic tote (one of those white cubes with the metal cage). The roof of our garage serves as the catchment area – approximately 600 sq. How much rain needs to fall for us to collect 250 gallons of water? The answer is ¾ of an inch. That’s enough water to feed my garden for two weeks from a single afternoon shower!

The number of barrels you need and the size of your catchment area will depend on your watering needs and the average rainfall in your area. In Greenville, we can depend on a fair amount of rain throughout the spring and summer, and in our garden we use clay pot irrigation to further reduce the volume of water we use. Chances are, if you live in an area like ours, one rain barrel may very well be all you need.

Ready to get your free organic fertilizer?

Planting time is just around the corner. If you think you could benefit from free organic fertilizer for life in the form of nutrient-rich rainwater, contact us today and we’ll help you get started however we can. And don’t forget, we offer high-quality 60-gallon rain barrels as well as clay pot irrigation to give you the best irrigation plan for you and your plants!

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By Sam
March 18, 2016

Hey Greenville, we don’t have an address! Here’s why. . .

online-shopWe get it, it’s really confusing. A Greenville-based retail store without an address! While we would love to have that brick-and-mortar for you to visit and see all our amazing and unique products, the reality is that we are a brand new family business and we just aren’t there yet. But we have a plan. . .

Step 1: Sell online and build a customer base.

We have a great website. You really should explore it. Every product you see on the website is carried in inventory at our home in Greenville, SC. We don’t drop-ship our products, and we don’t backorder anything. Best of all, if you live in the Greenville area, you don’t have to wait on the postal service or pay high shipping costs. We will personally deliver your order (whether it’s a single packet of seeds or enough rain barrels for your entire neighborhood) for free! (more…)

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By Sam
March 02, 2016

5 Considerations for Backyard Chickens

04-chickensAfter the garden, the most practical addition to your backyard homestead is a flock of backyard chickens. Not only do hens provide fresh eggs every morning, but they also make great low-maintenance pets. Our personal flock varies in size (currently 22) and breed (currently Rhode Island Red, Buff Orpington, and Production Red) but has always been an integral part of our own backyard homestead.

First, a word of encouragement: Raising hens is actually very easy. They are hearty creatures who only require food and water to live. No need to arrange for a pet-sitter if you’re leaving town for the weekend – they’ll be there when you get back. But before you run off and buy a coop, there are several factors you will want to consider:

Space

As in, how much do you have? Do you plan on keeping your hens cooped up or letting them range? There is a lot to think about here. Ranging hens are far healthier, but they will tear up your yard in a hurry (even a big yard). If you don’t have a space to range your hens, consider a smaller flock of 3-4.

Predators

Safeguarding backyard chickens against predators is actually tricky, and it can be frustrating when you think you’ve done everything necessary only to find a dead hen the next morning. In our area of South Carolina, you’ll need to consider attacks from all sides: Possums, foxes, dogs, hawks, snakes, skunks, and even vandals. You’ll even have to protect one of your birds from the rest on occasion. (more…)

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By Sam
December 04, 2015

Preventing Garden Diseases: Burn Old Plants

backyard-fireWhether or not you plan on planting a fall garden this year, it is important to clean out your garden beds as soon as you are finished harvesting. There is no sense in allowing plants that aren’t producing fruit to continue soaking up those valuable nutrients from the soil! Besides this, old plants attract disease, and the sooner you can remove them, the better.

A popular topic among gardeners is whether or not you should compost your old plants and root systems once you’ve finished digging them up. My answer will always be N-O. The reality is that disease-free plants are perfectly fine for a compost heap, and even diseased plants would be acceptable if you could guarantee the heaps temperature at 140 degrees for a number of days, but most people cannot guarantee either of these factors. Considering the risk and reward, it is much better to play it safe – burn those old plants and be done with it! (more…)

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By Sam
August 15, 2015

Basil Pesto & Dried Basil

pestoClearing out the herb bed for fall, we found ourselves inundated with basil, which can be a problem if you aren’t prepared. Fresh basil doesn’t keep very well and will typically start to turn gray after only a day or two in the fridge.

Drying is the easiest way to preserve your harvest, but it isn’t enough to hang it like you would do with most fresh herbs – you’ll need the help of an oven. To dry basil, spread the washed and dried basil leaves in a single layer on a parchment-paper-covered cookie sheet and put them in the oven for two hours @ 170 degrees. The leaves should crumble in your hands when they are done. We store our dried basil in large tea-tins in a cool, dry place. (more…)

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By Sam
August 11, 2015