Hey Friends It’s time to bring this blog back to life!
If you’re looking for a little free publicity for your agricultural business, (who isn’t, especially this year, right???) look no further! We’re looking for businesses to write articles about on our blog. Again, there is no cost to you to participate.
To get an idea of what an article about your enterprise would look like, check out some of our recent posts like these:
To all my dairy loving, hardworking farm gals out there…are you working on a health and fitness goal or two this year? Or maybe you were, and then a certain global crisis struck and threw you off? (Stress eating anyone??? Ugh, guilty! ;/ 😉 It’s no secret that the web is teeming with diet plans, exercise programs, recipe ideas, and much more. Social media channels are crowded with fitness “influencers,” which many of us look to for ideas and motivation to keep moving towards our goals.
I’m not going to lie; you could call me a typical 25-year-old in this regard. I’ll admit to doing my share of scrolling and YouTube watching for content in this department. Keep in mind that I do generally take what people say with a grain of salt, as many of these content creators have limited education or credentials in the health and nutrition field, to begin with.
But either way, as someone involved in animal agriculture and the dairy industry specifically, I found the amount of dairy bashing and misinformation out there to be disheartening. I couldn’t relate to these individuals and their way of life much at all. I thought to myself, “There have to be people out there promoting healthy, balanced lifestyles that include dairy products, right?” So I did some more digging and got a little more specific with my keywords.
I wasn’t disappointed, as one day, I came across Emily Shaw and her Dairy Girl Fitness Facebook group. Today I have the privilege of introducing her here to all of you!
Emily Shaw of Bell, Florida, is a NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine) certified online personal trainer. In addition, she also earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Agribusiness Management with a specialization in Dairy Science from Penn State University. Dairy cattle have been an intrinsic part of her life from a young age.
“We grew up raising dairy show heifers (Holsteins) at our house, and were heavily involved in 4-H, FFA, and Junior Holstein Association,” Shaw says. “We were involved with showing, judging, dairy bowl, dairy jeopardy, you name it!”
When not in the barn or out showing, she remained very active and dedicated much of her time to sports. Softball, basketball, and dance were just a few of the athletic activities that Shaw loved to participate in as a youth.
“I’ve always had a high interest in dairy promotion and marketing,” Shaw explains. “But after graduating from college in 2017, I wasn’t able to find a job within that field. SO the idea of creating an Instagram page that allowed me to promote the dairy industry and products popped into my head.”
This Instagram account would be special, though, as Shaw specifically wanted to meld the things she is most passionate about- the advocacy for dairy consumption with fitness and health. She also lamented the amount of negative press that dairy gets across social media, especially from many of those who currently represent the fitness industry.
So she put herself out there as a fearless AGvocate, bringing Dairy Girl Fitness to life! As a fitness coach, Shaw is all about aiding women in the achievement of their goals to promote and sustain good health.
“I want to help women feel strong, confident, and healthy, and let them know that they deserve to feel that way,” Shaw states. “My goal is to show women it is not selfish to prioritize your health, and you don’t have to do it in a restrictive, unsustainable way.”
Utilizing technology, such as phone apps, Shaw works individually with each of her Dairy Girl Fitness clients. She helps them navigate through custom nutrition plans and exercise routines, as well as cultivating the right mindset for success.
On the Instagram page, Shaw is always posting awesome content. You’ll find photos (yes, plenty of them also feature cows :), workouts to try, mouth-watering recipes that include dairy products, general inspiration, dairy farming facts, and more. In the Facebook group, you can mingle with like-minded girls, and share your inspirations, victories, and struggles. It’s a very uplifting and relatable community to join.
Like every other figure on social media that tackles the task of standing up for dairy and animal agriculture, Shaw has experienced negative feedback from those who have different viewpoints. But interestingly enough, Shaw actually welcomes these interactions. Why? Because every comment made on Instagram- good or bad- helps increase the reach of what she posted. In turn, more people have the opportunity to learn about the goodness of dairy from her content as it becomes more popular.
Shaw also knows who her target audience is. “Those people that take the time to comment nasty things on a post of a stranger are not our target audience,” she explains. “Our target audience is people who want to make healthy choices for themselves, their families, and the environment, but maybe feel unsure with all of the information out there. We have to realize that most people just want to learn and understand the truth, and we have to continue showing up to allow them to see that.”
Does Emily Shaw of Dairy Girl Fitness sound like the personal trainer you’ve been looking for? If you’d like to explore the options of working one on one with her, you’re welcome to touch base with her directly via her Instagram, the Facebook group, or simply shoot her an email!
Maybe you’re not in the market to work with a coach, but you do want to improve your fitness level and feel your best. Perhaps the demands of farm and family life make you feel like you’ll never be able to get there. Well, …you’re in luck. Shaw still has some valuable advice to give you.
“Everyone is busy! You may not always have time, but you have to make time for what’s important to you,” Shaw says. “And this doesn’t mean it has to be 5-6 workouts a week, and everything looks perfect and spot-on right away! You have to start with small, realistic goals that you know you can achieve without feeling overwhelmed.”
She emphasizes that any little positive change you can make, will accumulate over time and give you a strong base to build on. If, say, two quick workouts per week and adding a few more nutrient-dense foods to your shopping list are what you can handle as you get started (or re-started), that’s great! It gets the ball rolling in the right direction, and you can always keep growing with baby steps and sustainable new measures.
Shaw also makes another crucial point, one that I think all busy women in agriculture especially need to hear.
“YOU CAN NOT POUR FROM AN EMPTY CUP! It is not selfish to take care of your health and happiness,” she stresses. “When you feel healthy, confident, and energized, you can then show up as your best self for others in your life.”
So go do something today that benefits your physical and mental health. And the good news, ladies? It ought to be fairly clear by this point…but you don’t have to sacrifice all your favorite dairy delights to succeed! Shaw certainly doesn’t. After accomplishing a tough workout, she can often be found enjoying some REAL chocolate milk to help restore and refuel!
“Never feel like you have to fit a mold to be successful,” Shaw adds. “AND just because you may not be at the end destination of your health and fitness journey, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t appreciate and be proud of your body. The journey is what will teach you how to love your body and treat it the way it deserves.”
Take care of yourselves, folks! Especially in the trying times that we currently find ourselves, don’t forget to take the practical steps needed to show yourself love and grace. Let’s raise a glass of our favorite REAL milk to our dairy farmers, and a healthy, stronger tomorrow for everyone.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably inadvertently found yourself up here. Wide awake, 3 hours past your bedtime, thanks to watching video after video on YouTube. It’s just so easy to do, right? One can search up and watch videos about anything on the planet. You can go from episodes of old TV shows from 30 years ago, to people filming themselves trying weird food combinations, and on to documentaries about the most pressing issues of today. It’s impressive when you really stop to think about it—the influence and potential to influence borders on infinite.
Let me ask you this. With all the options out there, do you have any agricultural channels on your subscription list? If not, you should. Today I’m excited to say that I have the great honor of introducing you to my favorite agricultural YouTube creator, Jan Kielstra, AKA SaskDutch Kid!
The Kielstra family has been dairy farming in Saskatchewan, Canada, since 1996. Kielstra Holsteins had humble beginnings, with Jan’s parents starting by milking just 42 cows. Over the years and as Jan grew up, their operation has enjoyed steady expansion. Most recently, in 2018, the family began a major overhaul of the whole farm, which included a brand new free-stall barn with 256 stalls and a bedded-pack barn. Not only that, but they also installed a luxurious double 12 milking parlor (Allows for 24 cows to be milked at a time), and a calf barn fit for royalty.
This prime example of how advanced dairy farming has become today provides a stellar backdrop for Jan’s videos. In the same way that the farm has evolved with time, so has his SaskDutch Kid channel.
“I had started the YouTube channel back in 2015 when I saw a local guy’s Youtube called SaskDairy, “Jan explains. “The videos I made back then didn’t have any narration, only cool drone shots, and music.”
But Jan always wanted to make vlog-style (where the person filming is also talking to the camera) videos about his farm. More and more folks in the agricultural world have been delving into making these types of online videos recently, many of which Jan speaks highly of, and credits with helping drive him to open up his farm to the world.
“MN Millennial Farmer, 10 Generation Dairyman, and Welker Farms are some of the channels that I was watching before I started the vlogs,” he says. “I always loved watching their videos and always wanted to make them as well.”
Late last summer, August 31, 2019, to be exact, was the day he finally took the plunge- his first narrated video was uploaded and live! He walked and talked viewers through the process of feeding the cows, complete with visual enhancements using the drone, go-pro footage, and even cinematography.
There was no turning back for Jan after this point. He has added numerous high-quality educational vlogs since then, with his top video now at 1.4 million views, and his audience growing to 50,000 + subscribers!
It can be time-consuming to make videos, but Jan finds it worth the commitment. Since he already works fulltime on the farm, filming will typically add on an extra hour and a half of work to his day. It doesn’t end there though, the raw footage then needs to be edited. The timing of the process varies from video to video, but editing will usually keep him occupied for up to 3 hours.
“I really enjoy everything, hitting the upload button on a finished video,” Jan says. “I am always reading the first comments that come in. Seeing the positive reactions people have to our farm always makes it worthwhile.”
Like it or not, web-based platforms such as YouTube and a myriad of social media apps are here. Their use is widespread and has much influence on how people think and make choices in life. All of us who are involved in farming and the world of food production ought to be putting ourselves out there and sharing the truth, along with our processes, passion, triumphs, and tragedies. If you have a farm story to share, please consider doing it!
“We as farmers have an incredible opportunity with social media to now be able to directly educate the consumer on how their food is made,” Jan states. “That’s the main reason I started with social media. If we don’t show how we do things on a farm, someone will.”
Jan is exactly right, and that “someone” isn’t necessarily going to portray things accurately. Whether it be out of pure ignorance and misunderstanding, or by blatantly twisting and falsifying information to promote an agenda- the public image of modern agriculture often gets tainted thanks to those trying to tell someone else’s story without a complete understanding.
If you want to get online and advocate for agriculture, but feel overwhelmed, start small and simple! If you ask Jan, he’ll tell you, “…just pick up your phone and start taking pictures and videos of what you do around the farm!”
You don’t need to go out and spend a fortune on fancy equipment or software to get going. If making videos is what you’re aiming for, there are many free and easy to use programs out there for editing. So whether you raise beef cattle or dairy goats, grow field crops or apples, …or anything else on a large scale or the micro side- consumers want to see it. Many are even willing to learn and understand the whys of what we do too, if just given a chance.
Since Jan has started making videos, he has received negative comments from viewers who either don’t agree with or don’t understand dairy farming and animal agriculture in general. But at the end of the day, he doesn’t let it ruffle his feathers too much.
“It’s most likely just some bored person sitting around in their apartment with literally nothing better to do with their time,” he states.
Jan’s time and energy are of course valuable, so he must pick and choose which comments to reply to, and which ones to just disregard. If someone is asking an honest question, he’ll do his best to answer them. But then there are some angry “keyboard warriors” who just can’t be reasoned and are not willing to be educated- these are the comments that he simply ignores so he can carry on with the day.
This type of thing goes with the territory of putting your life online. It’s important to realize this and be prepared for some degree of less than positive reactions to the content you post on social media. Not everyone is going to agree, and that is their rightful choice. All we can do is show what we do and why- and not respond to hate comments with more hate.
As for Jan, he plans on keeping on doing exactly what he’s been doing…and more. He’d love to reach 100,000 YouTube subscribers this year. If you’d like to help him hit and surpass that goal, I think you know what to do 😉 On the farm, he is working towards increasing milk production once again in their new facilities. The first and foremost priority, though? Making sure the cows remain healthy and content, of course. Well, from what I can tell, I’d say Jan and family are doing a spectacular job. Go and visit SaskDutch Kid today on YouTube and Instagram and see for yourself.
Have you ever heard of or been part of a Piglet Social? What about a yoga class…among goats? At Aussakita Acres Farm in Manchester, Connecticut, you can experience both of these unique activities, and so much more!
For the past 12 years, farm owner and Professional Dog Obedience Trainer, Tracy Longoria has been pouring her passion for connecting people and animals into Aussakita Acres. Her business enjoyed much growth and success in that period. It continues to flourish now and hopefully well into the future. The farm features a colorful variety of different animals, including goats, pigs, alpacas, ponies, and waterfowl…to name a few.
“When we bought our property back in 2007 we knew we wanted to reclaim this old farm and add some animals to it but we never thought it would be the amazing farm it is today,” Tracy remarked in a recent interview with us.
The majority of children today are growing up further removed from farming, animals, and the natural world than their parents and grandparents did. As wild as it may sound to those of us who have grown up on farms, many kids and young adults in our communities have never even touched animals such as pigs and goats.
Tracy experienced this scenario first hand during the early years of running her farm, which in turn helped solidify the future direction and focus of Aussakita Acres.
“One day a friend stopped by with his young daughter. They were from a very rural town and we thought she would have loved the animals but she was actually afraid,” she explained. “Little by little her courage grew and within an hour or so she was holding baby goats and petting ponies.”
“This made me think of all the children who never get to meet farm animals and how they must be afraid of them too. So that is how the true meaning of our farm was born. We want to share our animals with others and educate people about them.”
The farm opens for the season in April of each year. What’s the main attraction at that time, you ask? Irresistible, bouncing baby goats, of course! During a Baby Goat Social at Aussakita Acres, participants are welcome to come out and take a break from the demands of their busy lives and sit amongst the goat kids and their moms. Guests can pet and snuggle the babies, or just enjoy the wonder of watching little goats be little goats.
Just like the Baby Goat Socials, a little later in the season when the piglets are born, Piglet Socials are another popular offering at the farm. If you’ve ever wanted to give a piglet a belly rub, this is your chance! Or you can simply relax and observe or play with the babies.
You may have read about it or heard of it on the news, but recently, Goat Yoga classes have been exploding with popularity. It’s safe to say that Aussakita Acres knows how to offer a fantastic Goat Yoga experience.
“We have been the premier Goat Yoga destination in CT for four years now,” Tracy said.
For the past three years, they have also enjoyed running Goat Yoga events for the local baseball team, the Hartford Yard Goats! Would it be appropriate to say that they’ve hit a home run in this department? 🙂 If this sounds like it might be your cup of tea, grab your yoga gear and check it out.
The list of hands-on opportunities with farm animals at Aussakita Acres goes on. You can attend a Goat Gathering with the whole herd, as well as tour the entire farm and even try your hand at livestock care. Animal husbandry clinics are even offered for those who’d like to dive deeper. It’s all interactive! Interacting with animals can have fantastic therapeutic benefits for people, regardless of age.
Individuals living with mental and physical challenges, as well as people fighting through addiction, may find socializing with animals particularly helpful. Because of this, the farm has formed unique partnerships with organizations that aid people with special needs and offers tours tailored specifically for them. What a wonderful way to provide a breath of fresh air to those who need it most.
If you’re having a birthday party or shower, you can have it at Aussakita Acres. Guests can now book the shiny, recently constructed 38’ x 40’ building on the farm to have events on this little patch of down-home heaven. On another very exciting note, the farm will be offering something new for the 2020 season.
“Coming this spring, we will also have the option for people to do a farm stay experience in our new Airbnb,” Tracy told us.
That’s right, an overnight vacation on the farm! How neat is that? Don’t take our word for it though, check it out for yourself if you can. There truly is something for everyone.
We asked Tracy what her favorite farm animal experience that she offers was.
“It has to be Piglet Socials,” she remarked. “Because people have no idea just how social and loving pigs really are until they take the time and sit with them!”
Another thing that she loves about her farm is that each of the animals raised there has a specific and predetermined purpose. “…every animal on our farm is raised for education or to become a pet, a companion or a therapy animal,” she emphasized. “No animals are raised here for consumption!”
A lot of love, hard and messy work goes into running a farm. Tracy’s operation is no different, and she speaks candidly about the realities of raising these animals. “It is a dirty, expensive lifestyle that is done out of pure passion and not profit.”
If you are interested in supporting this passionate small business that is doing so much good in their local community, you are invited to visit their website and connect with them on Facebook and Instagram! There you will find all the information needed to book your farm experience and stay up to date with everything going on.
Oh, and when you do visit the farm, don’t forget to pick up some luxurious Alpaca fiber products (made with fiber from their own Alpacas, of course) before you leave!
*Please note that Aussakita Acres is OPEN BY APPOINTMENT ONLY. Guests are required to make advance reservations, so adequate preparations can be made for your visit. Please also be advised that for the health and safety of your family, the farm prefers that any children coming to visit be at least five years old. Also, some activities may have different age restrictions as per USDA guidelines. Please consult Aussakita Acres for more information. 🙂 *
For many farming folks, the most wonderful time of the year is here. Well, the most wonderful…and stressful…springtime kidding/calving/lambing season. Babies are everywhere! Goat kidding season has started back on my family’s farm. My social media feeds are also jammed with newborn livestock of all types. Although I’m currently not working directly with newborn calves or laboring does, I can vividly imagine the sounds, smells, and sights of this exciting season.
If you are a homesteader raising dairy goats, cattle, or sheep and you are not yet awash in excess milk, you will be soon, right? Then the fun of figuring out how to put the extra milk that the babies aren’t drinking to good use in your kitchen begins. Cheeses, fudge, ice cream, pudding, butter…insert your favorite homemade dairy treats here! With being able to oversee the entire process- from feeding and housing your lactating animals to harvesting and processing the milk- you have the blessing of being able to consume products of the highest quality, which you know will meet your standards firsthand.
When producing milk for home use, what can you do to help ensure that you and your family are consuming a safe and high-quality product? No, you don’t need facilities that would pass a “Grade A” inspection just to have good milk. That would be an extreme, unattainable expense for the average homesteading family, and simply (in my opinion) not necessary.
Here are some tips to help you obtain high milk quality- in your regular old backyard, barn, and kitchen. If you’re new to having dairy animals, I hope this post helps simplify things and gives you peace of mind. If you’re seasoned at this stuff, please continue to read anyway. Everyone can use a little reminder from time to time (myself included), right?
Nail that pre-milking routine!
Your pre-milking routine is an essential step in producing quality milk! It’s so simple, yet it can sure be tempting to rush through on those busy mornings. If you start clean, you are much more likely to end clean. Plus, if you are choosing to consume raw milk, this is even more crucial.
Check your animals over the first thing when you bring them into your milking area. Are they acting normal? Any signs of sickness can quickly be investigated further and treated if need be while you have them confined.
A “pre-dip” is a solution that is applied to the teats before milking. It kills bacteria and helps loosen up any caked-on manure. There are many options on the market. Please use something that is labeled and proven as effective as a pre-dip. Iodine based dips are a popular option and widely available. At the commercial dairy where I work, we use an iodine-free concentrate. All you need to do is mix the solution with water and bleach. This product is available from a company called Chosen Acres. Some pre-dip solutions can also be used post milking to help prevent new mastitis infections from starting.
You’ll need towels to clean and dry the teats after dipping, either disposable paper towels or reusable cloth rags work well. If using washable towels, make sure that they are thoroughly machine washed and dried between uses. Take care that the whole teat is squeaky clean, especially at the bottom end, where debris can be easier to miss.
Avoid using excess water to clean udders. If you do need to do extra washing of a very dirty udder, make sure the udder is dry before milking to keep bacteria laced water from trickling down the sides of the udder and into your milking pail! (1)
Before attaching the milking machine or grabbing your milk pail, strip out the first few streams of milk into a separate container or towel. This way, you can check for any signs of abnormal milk, which might mean your “girl” has mastitis. A good pre-milking program of dipping, wiping, and fore-stripping all help with the oxytocin release that leads to milk let down. A good let down means a better, more complete milk out, which can help prevent mastitis infections and keep the bacteria count in your milk lower. (1)
Get some gloves
Glove up, guys and gals! Get a box of disposable vinyl or nitrile gloves from the drug store or dairy supply. Gloves are worn in foodservice establishments for a reason. You are producing food for your family when you milk your cows, goats, sheep, etc. So why not wear them? A gloved hand can be better sanitized between animals during the process, protecting you, your animals, and the milk. Plus, long term exposure to teat dip on your skin can leave your hands dry, irritated, and stained.
Get it cold
Ok, so the morning or evening milking is done. You’ve got milk in your pail or machine bucket. Now what? For the best quality milk, you need to get that milk chilled down to below 40 degrees Fahrenheit as quickly as possible! Quick cooling slows the multiplication of microorganisms that can impact the quality, flavor, safety, and shelf life of your milk.
In many modern commercial milking setups, milk is pumped through something called a plate cooler, which flash cools the milk before it even reaches the bulk tank. On our hobby farms, we want to do our best to achieve the same effect, with less sophisticated equipment of course.
Whatever you do, don’t let warm fresh milk sit out for long periods. Filtering the milk right after milking into smaller containers that are immersed in ice water is a handy way to speed up cooling. Agitate the containers every once in a while too. If you don’t have ice, even a cold water bath is better than just placing a warm jar of milk into the fridge.
Keep it cold
I hope this is common sense to most, but once it’s cold, you want to keep it that way! If you find that your milk, either pasteurized or raw, is going bad too quickly, first check the temperature controls of your fridge and make sure it is below 40 degrees F. Rotate your milk each time you bring fresh in, so that you’ll always be using the older stuff first. Avoid storing milk on the door of the refrigerator if you can.
Cleanliness wins the game
If there is one thing I’ve learned from working in milking parlors and a dairy processing plant…it’s that the cleaning never ends! Whether you milk one cow, ten goats, or 100 of each…cleaning and sanitation protocols are essential for safe, clean milk. Here are some specific things to pay attention to:
Cleanliness in your barns/yards
Do your animals have clean, dry bedding? Well maintained stalls and barns will keep udders cleaner and healthier…and you know what else that leads to!
Are your walkways to and holding pens outside the milking area relatively tidy and well-drained? This one can be hard, especially during inclement weather. But try to keep excess manure scrapped out or think about ways drainage can be improved in these areas.
Cleanliness in your milking parlor
Do you wash down or sweep out the milking area after each milking? Among other things, this keeps odors down, which can impact milk flavor, and helps with fly control.
If you have a machine milking set up, how are your milk hoses and inflations? Even with careful cleaning, these parts wear out and should be swapped out periodically. If inflation liners are cracking or if milk hoses fall off the bucket or claw constantly or are extremely discolored…it’s time to look into changing them.
Are vermin under control? What about flies? It’s best not to store feed and grain in your milking area, but if you have to, use rodent-proof containers. If your buildings are overrun with rats or other nuisance wildlife, consider contacting your local exterminator. They can take care of these problems in a safe, legal manner. There are many diseases that these animals can carry, and they should certainly not be running rampant in a place where you are handling milk.
Do a good deep cleaning every once in a while. You don’t need to do this after every milking, but every few weeks, give everything in the milking parlor a good scrub down.
Cleanliness of your milk handling equipment
Do you rinse milk residue off your pails and strainers ASAP after milking? It’s tempting to set that aside and do other things for a while! If you don’t rinse right away with lukewarm water, you run the risk of having more issues with a yucky biofilm thanks to milk proteins, minerals, and bacteria (“milk stone”) building up on your equipment. (4)
Do you have the proper chemicals on hand for washing and sanitizing your equipment? It’s highly recommended that you use chemicals made and approved for milk handling equipment. These solutions are designed to be mixed to a specific concentration to be effective in getting your equipment nice and clean every time. You’ll want an alkaline based detergent for daily use, and an acid based compound that you can use to help prevent and break down milk stone deposits. NEVER, EVER mix acid-based chemicals with alkaline chemicals!!! Keep containers well marked and away from children! To keep bacteria counts as low as possible, always air dry your equipment. You can also dip or spray your milk contact surfaces with a dilute bleach solution right before milking or processing.
If in doubt…take a sample
Grade A licensed dairies and processors are legally obligated to have many lab samples taken for screening. Milk is sampled for multiple types of bacteria, antibiotics, somatic cell count, and more. Maybe you have concerns about your milk safety, zoonotic disease risk in your herd, or you’d just like to know how you’re doing when it comes to the quality of your homestead milk.
Check with your local DHIA (Dairy Herd Improvement Association) and see what kinds of lab testing they have available. Some available options may include mastitis screenings and other bacteria plate counts. You might also be able to get help from your state department of agriculture or your veterinarian.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this article and found it helpful. While there is undoubtedly a lot that goes into it, nothing beats enjoying a nice fresh glass of milk or other dairy product that you’ve produced at home. Good luck on all your spring births and happy milking!
Do you have any other tips for producing the best milk possible on your homestead? Let me know in the comments!
Well, we find ourselves at the end of January 2020 already. Do you know what that means? If you live in a location where the air gets cold this time of year, it means it’s time to beat the dreary days of winter by planning your garden for the coming growing season!
But maybe you’re saying to yourself, “aww, a garden sounds nice- but I live in an apartment.” Or, “man, I wish my yard had more space so I could have a garden.”
Please don’t despair. You can actually do a lot in a small space when it comes to gardening! While I live in an apartment in town, I will be once again planning my vegetable garden for this summer. I’m fortunate to have a little patio area and patch of soil outside my door that can is put to good use for growing some fresh food.
Check out my set up from previous years!
It’s crucial to start with a good plan to get the biggest bang for your buck with gardening in a small space. Let’s talk about some things that will help you out!
Evaluate the space you have
This goes without saying, but first, you need to consider the space you have at your disposal. Do you have a small yard with an area that can be transformed into a vegetable bed? Or do you live on the 10th floor of a high-rise building with just a small outdoor balcony? These factors will undoubtedly affect what you can grow, and what methods and supplies you will need to use.
One of the big things I overlooked the first year I had my garden was the sunlight the area would receive. Due to the northern exposure and the shadow of an adjacent apartment building, I learned that more than half of my available growing area would be shaded for a good part of the day. Knowing that fact, I opted to plant my sun-loving plants such as tomatoes in containers and place them in the sunniest part of the patio area to help them obtain maximum growth.
If you do have an area of natural soil, how is the quality? For best results, get your soil tested, so you’ll know what kind of amendments will need to be added to boost quality. (1) If you have concerns about harmful levels of heavy metals and other pollutants in your soil, it might be wise to have a test run for those as well before getting started. For more on heavy metals and gardening, click here. (2)
Once you are acquainted with your space, you can make a list of things you’ll need to get in order to grow food successfully. This may include items such as:
Lumber, hardware, and other necessary supplies for constructing a simple raised bed garden (3)
Topsoil, peat moss, composted manures, old leaves, and other materials required for concocting the perfect soil mix in raised beds or container gardens (3)
Containers to grow plants in if you are going the container route (Recycle and save $$)
Soil testing supplies
Shovels, rake, hand cultivator, etc…you know, the essential gardening tools.
Fencing to deter critters from feasting on your produce
A map detailing the sunny and shaded areas of your garden area for you to reference as you proceed in your planning
____________Fill in the blank as needed!
Decide what you’d like to grow
Remember, you don’t have a lot of space to fool around with, so be intentional when you choose your plants. Are cucumbers and tomatoes the favorites of the family that you can never seem to keep in stock? Prioritize space to grow those plants, rather than producing a ton of arugula (sorry to my arugula lovers 😉 that you know is only going to languish in the back of the fridge! Once you’ve decided on your “high priority” plants, then you can use the remaining space to grow something fun, or try something new on your family.
With a basic idea of what you’d like to grow, now comes the exciting part! Time to browse through the seed catalogs or scroll through seed company websites to pick your plant varieties. There are so many options available to home gardeners today. It can admittedly be a bit overwhelming. Pay special attention to these attributes when picking seeds and plants:
Plant hardiness- The United States is divided up into zones based on climate. Pick plant species and varieties that are labeled as being suitable for growing in your geographic zone for best results. Don’t know your zone? Check out the Park Seed Company’s zone map here. All you need to do is put in your zip code!
Plant and row spacing requirements- This is important when space is your limiting factor! Choose plants that do well being planted closer together. Consider “dwarf” variations of standard plant options, as they can save you space.
Growing habit- Are you looking at vining type plants that spread out all over- like summer squash and peas? Or do they grow in an upright fashion, such as peppers, broccoli? You don’t have to nix vining type plants from your garden plans altogether, but investing in some kinds of trellises and/or poles is a good idea. You can then “train” your vining plants to grow up along the trellis instead of all over your space and out under the neighbor’s fence.
Soil depth requirements- This is especially important if you will be growing in containers. For plants like lettuce, basil, and radishes- you only need about four or five inches of soil for good growth. Save your deep containers for things like squash, broccoli, and beets, though, as they need about a foot of soil for optimal root and plant health. (4)
Once you’ve planned out what you’d like to grow, you’ll need to think about buying your seeds and plants. If you’d like the added fun of starting transplants (tomatoes, broccoli, peppers, etc) yourself, you can be starting seeds now or within the next few weeks depending on where you live. Check out this great guide if you are interested in learning more about starting plants from seed. If you plan to buy your transplants, wait until it is almost time to plant them in their final place.
It is also a good idea to check in with your local garden center to get an inside scoop into the best times to plant, specific to your location. They will surely be glad to help you with any other specific questions you have related to anything gardening.
Well, with your plan of attack, supplies, and plants ready to roll, you know what that means…
Go out there and plant your garden!
You can’t have the pleasure of harvesting your own fresh produce if you never try, so just go out there and get your hands dirty! (Well, do it when the weather is suitable, but I think you get my point.) Embrace the space you have, the unique challenges that come with it, and don’t forget to have fun! Your first year will be a learning experience, but it’s a good one. With your own garden, no matter how small, you can enjoy a little bit of nature wherever you call home.
How do you garden in a small space? I’d love to learn about your setup 🙂
It’s the middle of December once again, and the countdown to Christmas is on! The sugar cookies are in the oven, carols are being sung, and memories are in the making. What about the tree? Do you have a festive evergreen adorning your living room yet? This time of the year wouldn’t be the same for many without a tree decked out with lights, tinsel, and other ornaments. Some of those decorations surely have special meaning to you, and your children, or maybe are even heirlooms, have been passed down through multiple generations of your family.
The tree is always a special part of the celebration. If you got a real Christmas tree this year, do you know where it was grown or how it got to you?
According to the National Christmas Tree Association, somewhere between 25 and 30 million Christmas trees are sold in the United States each holiday season! (1) That’s a lot of trees, grown on vast acres of land across North America, which are nurtured and harvested by many farmers.
In Lunenburg County of Nova Scotia, Canada, Balsam fir trees decorate the natural landscape all year long. After all, that’s precisely what one would expect of a place known as the “Christmas Tree Capital of the World.”
This past week, I had the pleasure of talking to Mike Harlow, Christmas tree farmer and vice chairman of the All Nova Scotia Greens Christmas Tree Co-Op Ltd. Based out of New Germany, Nova Scotia, with 21 grower members, this cooperative specializes in selling wholesale Christmas trees to retailers both domestically and internationally.
The All Nova Scotia Greens Christmas Tree Co-op came into existence out of hardship. From 1992 until around 2007, many Christmas tree growers in Nova Scotia left the industry and sold their farms due to economic issues.
“In March of 2008 at the Lunenburg County Christmas Tree Producers Associations (LCCTPA) spring meeting, the subject was presented, and a motion passed [instructing] the LCCTPA to investigate ways for growers to organize to sell their trees,” Mike explained. “As a result of the motion, the LCCTPA were obligated to take the lead role in advertising and hosting the first couple of meetings.”
As those next few meetings commenced, it became evident that any cooperative formed would have to be an entirely separate entity from the LCCTPA, due to the groups existing by-laws regarding marketing activities.
When choosing the board of directors, an emphasis was placed on having a representative from each region of the province that had growers involved. Since 2008, the All Nova Scotia Greens Christmas Tree Co-op has stayed in operation, experienced growth, and continues to seek opportunities for expansion.
Co-op members grow and sell Balsam fir trees exclusively. Nova Scotia offers ideal growing conditions for this variety of tree. (2) Balsam firs boast many classic Christmas tree characteristics, including a lasting aroma, needles that are less likely to drop prematurely, and that lovely deep green color. It takes about ten years of growing time for a Balsam fir to reach a height of 6 or 7 feet. (3) Talk about having to plan well and have patience!
Because they are a wholesale supplier, many of the trees must travel long distances and be harvested and shipped well in advance of Christmas to meet customer demand. For example, if a retailer in the United States needs trees by Thanksgiving, those plants could have been harvested back in late October. To help ensure the best “shelf life” and a tree that still looks presentable on December 25th, specific protective measures are taken post-harvest.
“Trees need to be protected from the sun especially on warmer days earlier in the season,” Mike said. “Protection from the sun is key to keep the tree fresh.”
Within a few days of being cut down, usually between 2-4 days, trees begin their journey to their respective buyers. The co-op ships trees both over the road and by sea, depending on where they need to go.
But before the trees leave, they are first sorted out and graded. There are three grading categories into which a Christmas tree can fall into- #1, #2, or #3. The higher the quality of the tree, taking into consideration things like shape and branch density, the better the grade.
A #1 tree commands the highest price and must be shaped well all around and have at least 80% density. A #2 tree has a minimum of 60% density and often has a hole or is less desirable in shape on one side. A #3 graded tree is of the lowest quality, which has only 40-60% density, and up to one side of the tree can be considered poor in shape. For more on tree grading and graphic examples of each grade, click here.
This grading system sounds simple. Still, interestingly enough in Mike’s experience, it contributes to some of what he says are some of the biggest challenges in the wholesale Christmas tree industry.
“One of the challenges as a producer selling into the wholesale market is consistency of the grade,” He stated. “Grading a tree can be very subjective. Not every tree is a #1 tree, within the grade there can be a tree that represents the grade very good, but not strong enough to be moved up to the next grade. ”
This might be an issue for marketing purposes, but if you’re a fan of real Christmas trees, don’t you think that the uniqueness of each tree adds something extra special to the whole deal? I think so, and it’s terrific to appreciate natural beauty! I am also thankful for the years of hard work and dedication that Christmas tree farmers put in to bring us these beloved icons of the holiday season.
As for the All Nova Scotia Greens Christmas Tree Co-op, they are hopeful for many more Christmas seasons to come, supplying trees to happy customers around the world. They are open new having new growers join them, and are also currently looking at tapping into new markets globally, such as possibilities in Asia.
If you are would like more information about the co-op or have business inquiries/questions, please reach out to them here.
Merry Christmas, everyone! In spite of the hustle and bustle of this season, I hope you can take time and slow down, reflect, and really enjoy this time of the year. See you in 2020 for more Sweetpea’s Evening Ag News!
What side do you fall on? As you’re seated at the
Thanksgiving table, Do you say, “Yes, please!” to the cranberry sauce as it
comes around? Or are you a member of team, “Uh, thanks… but no thanks!” as you
happily pass the jiggly red stuff along to your cousin?
Of course, there isn’t just one kind of cranberry sauce. You’ve got the stuff in the can, and then you have unique family recipe cranberry sauces that are passed down through the generations. Either way, it seems to be one of those things- you either like it, or you don’t. At the very least, it’s an acquired taste. I didn’t care for anything made with the fruit as a child, but I’m happy to say my taste has evolved since then.
Having grown up in Massachusetts, one of the top cranberry
producing states in the US, I’m a bit ashamed to say that I knew next to
nothing about how cranberries are produced. So, in honor of one of the most
iconic staples of the Thanksgiving feast, I decided to do a little research on
cranberry production. Curious? Okay, read on!
The cranberry, or Vaccinium macrocarpon, has a long history of use in North America. (7) Native Americans living in regions where the berries grew in the wild, used them for medicinal and culinary applications long before the arrival of European settlers. Captain Henry Hall is credited with being the first to have success with the farming of cranberries in the year of 1816 in Massachusetts. (2)
He discovered that if the wind blew sand into the bogs where the cranberries were, their growth was enhanced. Thanks to him experimenting with moving vines around and intentionally adding sand to the growing area, the culture of cranberries as a commercial crop eventually began to interest people. At the beginning of the 20th century, commercial cranberry acreage in Barnstable and Plymouth Counties (MA) had increased three-fold from what it was just about 15 years earlier. (2)
Here now in modern times, Wisconsin is the number one cranberry producer in the United States and worldwide! Massachusetts is the next largest cranberry growing state. Other states that also produce a notable amount of these berries are Michigan, Minnesota, Washington, Oregon, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Jersey. (7)
So how do cranberries grow? Cranberry plants are somewhat like strawberry plants, in the sense that they grow on similar type vines that spread out along the ground. They are a perennial wetland plant and require particular growing conditions. (1)
Naturally occurring cranberry bogs are the result of deposits left by glaciers, which feature elements of clay, peat, gravel, and sand. The bogs used in commercial cranberry farming utilize things to mimic the natural growing environment, such as wetlands, human-made water channels, and ponds. (1)
While it may seem like it from most of the pictures of cranberry bogs you’re likely familiar with, cranberry plants are not underwater all year long! Growers flood their bogs at certain times of the year for specific purposes. One of the times flooding is done is during the winter months. This practice helps to guard the plant and vulnerable buds from damage that could result from harsh winter conditions. (3)
As the warmth of spring is welcomed back into the region, the flood water is drained. This action prompts the plants to wake up and begin growing again. If temperatures happen to dip back down into the danger zone where new buds can be harmed, sprinklers can be used to wet and protect the plants. (4)
Another management task that keep farmers busy in the spring is weed control in the bog. Depending on the operation, this can include herbicide application, mechanical pulling of weeds, or even re-flooding the whole bog. Ditches also need to be maintained and kept free of debris for drainage purposes. Although cranberries typically don’t need extensive fertilization, any prescribed nutrients are usually spread during the late spring and summer. (4)
Cranberries are a perennial plant and can grow for decades, but sometimes growers will need to plant new vines to replace old ones. Extensive repairs and upgrades on bogs and production equipment may also need to be made, to keep the operation in tip-top shape and growing the best berries. (4)
While cranberries may not grow underwater, they do require quite a bit of water during the summer. About 1 inch of water each week is considered adequate. So like most other crops when natural rainfall is not enough, irrigation is necessary. Another vital aspect of cranberry culture during June and July is making sure pollination happens. Beehives are used to accomplish this. (5)
Cranberries have pests like anything else, so control is crucial for plant health and crop quality. Intergraded Pest Management (IPM) practices are implemented in bogs, with a focus on reducing the amount of chemical pest control applications used. You will often see crop scouts out checking to see what bugs are causing problems and if control measures are working. (5)
Autumn is cranberry harvest time! Growers are hard at work bringing in the fruits of their labor during September, October, and part of November. Cranberries are harvested using two possible methods. They are either wet harvested or dry harvested. (6)(8)
The vast majority of cranberries are wet harvested. The bog is flooded, and the water is stirred up by a machine. The ripe berries will become detached from the vine and float on top of the water. They can then be collected and removed from the water with special equipment. Then processing can begin. Any processed cranberry product you may have had- such as sauces, juice, or as part of another food- was harvested using this method. (6)(8)
If you bought fresh cranberries this year, you’ve most likely bought cranberries that were dry harvested. Operators use a particular machine that will gently comb the fruit into a bag. The bagged berries are then taken to be graded for sale. One of the ways by which fresh berries are sorted is based on whether or not the fruit will bounce. (6)
I certainly think Cranberries are an interesting crop to
learn about. To our cranberry farmers, I will definitely take a serving of
cranberry sauce this year with extra appreciation to you and your hard work. To
everyone else, I hope you will too…or at least give it a try!
Today’s consumers want the truth- especially when it comes to agriculture and the dairy industry. Unfortunately, the truth can be hard to find at times, and it seems to get lost in the vast sea of information available at our fingertips. To help make the truth about milk and dairy farms more accessible to people, a group of Pennsylvania dairy farmers has taken matters into their own hands by forming a new advocacy group- 97 Milk LLC.
“97 Milk was created to be a voice for our local dairy
farmers.” Says Jackie Behr, a volunteer board member in charge of the group’s
marketing. “This is a place where people can get nutritious information on
dairy products, it’s a place where farmers can tell their story, a place where
our community can get information on how to support local dairy farms.”
The organization gets its name from an important attribute
of whole milk that has mostly been swept under the rug in recent years- the
fact that whole milk is 97% fat-free! If you live in certain parts of
Pennsylvania or New York, you may have seen this message painted on wrapped hay
bales in farm fields. These eye-catching advertisements are only one of the
ways that 97 Milk is working to spread the word about hardworking dairy farmers
and the wonderful products they produce.
“97 Milk tells the story of the many farms that love and
care for their cows,” Jackie adds, “the passion that many dairy farmers have,
the many proven research-based facts on milk nutrition. This is our side that
our community deserves to hear.”
It’s only right that the farmer’s side of the story gets
broadcast. So often, it seems that all the other voices threaten to drown them
out. Whether it be animal rights advocates, celebrities who think they know
best, people who preach outdated health and nutrition information, and other
individuals and groups. The time has come for dairy producers to stand up for
who they are and what they do- and 97 Milk is an excellent platform.
“There are so many cool, fun facts on how milk is such a
powerhouse drink,” Jackie says, “we just need people to start sharing it!”
If you’re a dairy farmer and would like to get on board, head on over to 97MILK.COM for lots of resources to help you promote at community events such as fairs. Having a good relationship with, and educating your friends and neighbors is a crucial component to helping clear up the many misconceptions that exist today.
Do you believe in the goodness of milk, but aren’t directly involved in the agriculture or dairy industry? You can still join the fun! Follow 97 Milk on Facebook and Instagram and share their content with your friends! Want to take it to the next level and make a financial gift to help support 97 Milk as they expand their reach? Donations may to be sent to 97 Milk LLC PO BOX 87, Bird in Hand, PA 17505.
Even though it’s been pretty gloomy in the dairy industry these past few years, Jackie does report positive things happening with 97 Milk. Traffic to the website has been steady, and even though their Facebook page has only been live for just under a year, they already have 8.4K followers!
Jackie and everyone else involved with 97 Milk hope you’ll
partner with them in whatever way suits you best. Let’s all work together to
bring flavor-filled, whole milk back! Let’s bring dairy back into public favor!
Today is the day to make a difference.