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Hydroponics: A Step Away From Babylon

Lawnmower Bear shares the basics of hydroponics.

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Like many men and women of Beartaria, I took the stead pill early, while I was still living in Babylon. I was inspired to start building a homestead and growing my own food, but for the time being, I was stuck in a small apartment in the middle of the city. I was still determined to apply our community’s values and start growing my own food in my little homestead. There are many options available to apartment dwellers, such as container gardening, but the way I chose to start was growing salad greens in a hydroponic system.

Hydroponics is the method of growing plants in a container of water in a nutrient solution, instead of in the soil. The plant’s roots grow down into the water, and the plant grows upwards. 

The benefit of growing plants hydroponically is that food can be grown indoors efficiently, reliably, and quickly, in a controlled environment. You can start several kale plants from seed, germinate them, plant them in a nutrient solution under a grow light in a temperature- and humidity-controlled room, and start harvesting kale leaves within several weeks. The plants don’t need to compete for water or nutrients, so you can grow them very densely in a small space with low risk of disease or pests.

A basic hydroponic system consists of a container filled with a nutrient solution and a medium to hold the plant at the top of the container. It can be as simple as an old mason jar in a window with a drilled Solo cup holding a lettuce plant in the rim, or as complex as a series of plastic totes growing a variety of plants in net cups set into the totes’ lids, piped together with float valves to maintain a consistent water level, under timed grow lights, air pumps, fans, and humidifiers. Part of the fun is taking the basic building blocks and building the system that works for you.

A complex hydroponics system set up in an apartment closet

The simplest type of system to start with is a Kratky system, which does not need an air pump to oxygenate the water. You just fill up a bucket with water and nutrient solution, put a sprout in a cup in the lid, and watch it grow. The plant drinks the water down as it grows, and develops two sets of roots: long thick roots to drink water from the bottom of the container, and thin fuzzy roots near the top, to breathe the air at the top of the container.

A basic Kratky hydroponics system
A basic kratky hydroponics system

Hydroponics are ideal for nutritious leafy greens and lettuces. You can grow fruiting vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers hydroponically, but they require more specialized lighting, pH control, and nutrient combinations. The plants that I’ve reliably had the best luck with have been kale, swiss chard, arugula, lettuce, bok choy, and herbs.

So, what does a Beartarian trapped in an apartment in the city, need in order to get started?

Seeds

– A Container such as a 5-gallon bucket, 20-gallon tote, mason jar, or an old milk jug

Water (at a neutral pH)

Nutrients from either a liquid hydroponic solution from a garden store, or a dry mix of Masterblend Tomato, Calcium Nitrate, and Magnesium Sulfate/Epsom Salts (2 tsp of each for 5 gallons of water)

– A Cup in the container’s lid, such as a 2″ plastic net cup, or Solo cup, filled with a Grow Media like clay pebbles, rockwool, perlite, or soil cubes, to hold the plant in the cup as it grows

– A reliable Light Source, whether it’s a sunny window or an LED grow light

Once you build a simple 5-gallon bucket system and grow your first kale plant, you can build and experiment and invent whatever system works best for you. Hydroponics isn’t a perfect indoor gardening solution, and it is very limited compared to gardening in the living soil on your own land, but it offers a way for apartment-bound Beartarians to easily produce nutritious salad greens for their families, independently of Babylon.

By: Lawnmower Bear @lawnmowerbear on Instagram

Farming

Why We Prepare

So it’s 9pm, I have a sick cow, and all the stores are closed at that point.

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About a week ago my Jersey cow Maple finally birthed her calf. A beautiful little brown heifer calf. I could see that she was laboring so I stuck her in the milk barn by herself. By evening it was clear she was working hard. The calves feet had been poking thru for the last hour but no progress had been made. So I helped pull the calf out and within 10 minutes all was good. A strong healthy baby and a happy mother. Usually that’s the end of it. But as the evening went on it was clear that Maple had a mild form of milk fever.

When a cow has her calf and starts producing milk, there is a heavy demand for calcium. Sometimes a cow has trouble mobilizing enough calcium from her body and she starts to go down.

The cow will get weak, her ears will get icy cold, and eventually she will die if not treated. The good thing is that milk fever is super easy to identify and treat. Subcutaneous injections of calcium gluconate usually fix the problem and the cow will be back to normal in no time.

The problem I had was that I didn’t have any calcium on hand. I knew that milk fever could be a problem, I know how to treat it, but I wasn’t prepared for it by being stocked up with some extra supplies. With everything else happening on the farm I just hadn’t thought about it.

So it’s 9pm, I have a sick cow, and all the stores are closed at that point. Maple was doing ok so I opted to wait till morning. I had to head to work at 4 am but I could call a vet then and get her treated.

At 4 am she was still ok, just a little weak. By the time my wife checked on her a little later Maple was starting to go down and a problem I was running into was I couldn’t get a vet out. Because I rarely ever need a vet, none of them wanted to deal with me.  My cow was dying for lack of a $5 bottle of calcium and I couldn’t get one vet to stop by the farm and I was hours away at that point ( I drive truck).

Thankfully my neighbor is a semiretired dairy farmer with plenty of old time wisdom and experience.

He gladly came over, dosed Maple up with a full bottle of calcium and offered to help out again if needed. By late afternoon Maple was back up on her feet and doing well. All was good.

It’s funny how nothing ever happens to the people who “prep”. They look ahead and prepare for all kinds of catastrophe but then nothing ever happens. The fact is, if I had “prepped” by having a couple bottles of calcium on hand, I wouldn’t be writing this article. I would simply have dosed Maple up and not given it a second thought. Instead of my cow nearly dying, there never would have been an emergency to begin with.

And that is why it is important to look ahead and prepare. Imagine if everyone in Texas had a months supply of food, an alternative heat source and knew to run their faucets to keep the pipes from freezing. There would have been way less pain and suffering.

We are seeing our civilization being stress tested. I don’t think it is intentionally being done to us. Rather, it’s the natural consequence of people choosing a life of ease over responsibility. Why would a civilization be strong and antifragile when the people who live in it are weak, reliant, and unprepared?

Start thinking about the weak links in you life. Do you have backup heat, running water, some basic medical supplies, and even a few weeks of extra food? That will go a long ways. Also, build your community, know your neighbors. You are never going to be prepared for everything. It’s impossible to anticipate every problem. But just like my neighbor was able to come thru and save my cow, your neighbors may be prepared in ways you didn’t account for. Prepping and community. That’s the future.

Mohawk Farmer Bear

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Farming

Beartaria Seed Savers is Born

Beartaria Seed Savers was established for bear-centered seed saving and distribution. The operation works at this time with a “freely as ye have received, freely give” mentality.

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I sit on my front porch with the hot sun setting, a quart jar of ice water melting quickly, and silver bowls of carrot seed heads, nesting critters who found a suitable home in them, piled high. These are the days that I sit and meditate on words at the forefront of my mind, from things Big Bear brought up in the stream, to philosophical or spiritual discussions from Bear Island chats. This moment of contemplation was “be fruitful and multiply”.

The action of seed-saving gives physical meaning to the Bible verse we hear with every Big Bear stream.

God blessed this realm with this blessing of growing in love and number. That fruitfulness speaks in all living things according to His good nature and is evident in the multiplication of seeds. 

I planted those tiny carrot seeds in the Spring of 2019 and waited anxiously in 2020 for their floral heads to turn. From around 12-15 carrots I left to seed, I got thousands of schizocarps. It is incredible to think that around 66 seeds in 2019 multiplied into a bounty in 2020.

I have been passionate about gardening and food preservation for a long time. The hobbies go hand-in-hand. This became unmistakable in 2020. God was doing a beautiful thing to awaken the population that years of me shouting at people to homestead or garden could not do. In my area, families were building and expanding gardens. No amount of breath from my mouth could move a population in this direction. It is only the gentle grace of God who can and was doing this right before my very eyes. My former despair-ridden prepper heart leapt for joy at His magnificence. I could see God was at work.

However, with so much work to be done, I could not remain in awe. I busily added to my garden as well and was ready to plant. I went to purchase seeds from my favorite supplier only to see “out-of-stock” on seeds I hoped to purchase for my garden. The new gardeners had burdened the supply with increasing demand.

My awareness of the supply chain fragility is how Beartaria Seed Savers was born. Seeing the numerous new gardeners, I knew that my dream of saving seeds could help our cherished community of like-minded people. I worked for many years with procurement and logistics. To me, it was even more apparent the fragile nature of the system and the situation we will be facing. I liken this to Joseph after he was sold as a slave to Egypt. God gifted him with dream interpretation. He interpreted Pharaoh’s dream warning as seven years of plenty and seven years of famine and was promoted to a top administrator by Pharaoh to preserve food in the years of plenty. We still have it relatively easy at the moment and preparation is learning skills like seed-saving to be ready for anything.

Beartaria Seed Savers was established for bear-centered seed saving and distribution. The operation works at this time with a “freely as ye have received, freely give” mentality. Using barter and charity as a means to continue to grow. The vision is bears taking seeds and practicing saving them to get acquainted with the process or to plant them and share with their neighbors seeds or starts to build social wealth in their local community. The seed inventory, that at this time is freely available to those who want to plant these varieties in their gardens or have run into the “out-of-stock” issues like I had last year. The inventory includes seeds I have saved and seeds from bears who have seeds to distribute to other bears freely as well. I welcome all bears to send in their saved excess seeds (heirloom varieties preferred) with notes of what they liked about the plant and history if they have it. These are updated as bear seed donations come in on my IG (@copperbearette) and on the Beartaria Times app (@Copperbear).

The Beartaria Seed Ambassador program was designed for bears who are experienced with seed saving and have some garden area they are willing to use to grow and collect seeds. These seeds are issued from my personal seed inventory for the ambassador to start one (or more) plants from the variety they chose. My only request from this is that the seeds are saved and returned for further distribution to other bears for following years. 

Faebear designed the beautiful logo which will don the seed packets and merchandise going forward. The goals in 2021 are to build a larger seed library and a website. Beartaria Seed Savers also has a merch store featuring hoodies, T-shirts, and accessories at https://teespring.com/stores/beartaria-seed-savers. To contact Beartaria Seed Savers, please email copperbearette@gmail.com for requests, donations, or other ways you can help. 

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Farming

A series on soil creation and natural farming from FuBear: Natural Farming,  an Overview

The fundamental basis of all of these techniques is to use what is naturally available.

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Currently, when you hear the term “natural Farming” it is referring to one of two Asian traditions.  The japanese farmer Masanobu Fukuoka, whose 1975 book “One straw revolution” had a big impact on the “back to the land” movement back in the late 60’s and early 70’s.  

     Or, more recently, it refers to Korean Natural Farming, which was promoted and popularized by Dr. Cho Han Kyu (referred to as Master Cho most often) since the 1960’s.  Master Cho’s mission was to avoid buying off farm inputs to maintain fertility and production on the farm.  He did not want poor Korean farmers trapped in a cycle of buying chemicals and poisons from corporations, and thus losing profitability.  Instead he wanted to use old farming techniques mainly from Japan and Korea, some of which have been utilized across Asia for thousands of years, based on fermenting of naturally growing plants locally and tinctures of those plants and the crops to pull out minerals and nutrients as well.

    Additionally, an offshoot of Korean Natural Farming, is JADAM, which is a system developed by Master Cho’s son, Youngsang Cho. JADAM’s mission is the same as Korean Natural Farming, and there is a lot of overlap, but using his chemistry and horticulture degrees to update and extend how to create some of the inputs, and researched more mixtures for specific pests.

   The fundamental basis of all of these techniques is to use what is naturally available. What plants want to, and can easily grow on your farm or nearby your farm, to improve your soils, and to control yours and your animal wastes, to promote more fertility in your soils. This is done by promoting and encouraging your soil food web, and using the “manures” and interactions of the microbiology with the plant, just as you would use livestock above ground.

   This is a broad topic, as it covers soil biology, plant biology, fungi, chemistry, and even some physics in the more advanced explanations. To simplify the discussion,  I will focus on the techniques used in JADAM, as it seems to bridge the old world techniques, and the new more scientific adaptations while still focusing on keeping everything as simple and cheap as possible.

      Even while using these concepts, it is still very easy to spend a lot of money, if you let yourself.  There are people selling composts, microbial innoculants, and prepared mixtures. So while I may mention or link to a product for purchase, just remember, all of this can be done without purchasing expensive inputs, at least in the small scale of 1/4 to 1 to 5 acres.  As you scale up, you have to buy equipment (or employees) to create and distribute the inputs over large areas, but that is the same with any farming operation.  The savings is in spending $5 to $50 dollars per acre to increase soil health, which determines productivity, vs spending hundreds of dollars per acre for chemicals which reduce soil health, and productivity over time.

Finally, additional resources that promote and advance these techniques, and discuss actual commercial farms using them, are Future Cannabis Project youtube channel(usually they are tagged with “living soil”) and John Kempf’s channel, Advancing Eco Agriculture, in which he promotes his business of consulting and supplying inputs at the commercial level. The information shared on these channels are gold, and I will reference them at times, or use them as a basis for an article.

 (additional links to above referenced groups)

“one straw revolution” documentary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rj7nrOjhMtk

Korean Natural Farming website: https://naturalfarminghawaii.net/

another KNF website: https://www.naturalfarming.co/ 

     and his youtube in which he shows the process of making some of the inputs:  https://www.youtube.com/c/ChrisTrumpSoilSteward/videos

JADAM website and youtube channel:  https://en.jadam.kr/news/articleList.html?sc_sub_section_code=S2N1&view_type=sm

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCpLIq2dhpu34qkIyyaeEGxw

Advancing Eco Agriculture site: https://www.advancingecoag.com/

The soil food web:  https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detailfull/soils/health/biology/?cid=nrcs142p2_053868

By: FuBear

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