How to give a Gift to the Earth during the Holiday Season.

By Alastair Ong | Jan 3, 2017 | 2 Comments

I remember the first tree that I had with wifey in our loft in New York City.  It was a branch from a Christmas tree trimming that I found being discarded.  I mounted it on a piece of 2’x4′ and it totally channeled a Charlie Brown Christmas tree.  As the years went by, I started buying small potted pine trees which I would plant at my mom’s house each year.

Being a new homeowner brings decisions that apartment owners rarely have to make.  Artificial tree or cut tree?  I weighed the pros and cons of each – including looks, size, convenience, fire retardentness (is that a word?) of a plastic tree vs. a dying cut one.  Ultimately, having a fair amount of land, I decided on buying a LIVE tree.  I put live in allcaps because this is to distinguish it from a live cut tree.  I wanted to buy a tree along with the roots in a root ball, much like you would buy a landscape tree.  This way, after the holiday season, I would plant it on my property.  Only this was not as easy as you would think

The town I live in has 8,000 residents, and about a dozen Christmas tree farms.  In fact, it is impossible to drive through my town without encountering at least one tree farm – sort of trying to walk two city blocks without running into a Starbucks.  With as many tree farms and landscaping nurseries as their are in my area, it was nearly impossible to find a farm that sold Christmas trees with a rootball that I could plant.  Most of the tree farms get their trees either imported (from the mid-west or Canada) or locally on tree farms.  It is easy to cut a tree, and difficult to dig out the roots, and therefore, these farms figure that best bang for your buck is a cut tree.

Downsides to a Live Tree vs. a Cut Tree

  • Finding a live tree is not as easy as I would have thought.  Your best bet is to contact a nursery in September to pre-order one.  This has a lot of advantages including that you give the nursery enough time and you have a tree with your name on it.  No selection, but no worries that you will not have a tree.  If you are lucky, the nursery will deliver it to you (but probably at another cost).
  • Cost.  Expect to pay up 50% more for a live tree vs. a cut tree.  A 6′ cut tree costs about $80 bucks.  A live tree costs about $120.
  • Live trees are shorter than live trees – that is, the root ball is about 2′ in height.  So if you are buying a 6′ cut tree vs a 6′ live tree, the cut tree will be older and bigger.  A 6′ live tree is only 4′ of tree.
  • Weight.  An 8′ cut tree weighs 50 lbs at the most.  A 8′ live tree with root ball weighs ~300 lbs.  This means that you will need a vehicle to transport it.
  • Moving a cut tree to different locations is relatively easy.  Mind you, I know this is not common practice after stringing the lights and placing the ornaments.  Because of the weight of the live tree, you will only want to place it once.
  • Time.  A cut tree can last a long time.  Once you cut a tree, it is in the process of dying.  I remember living in NYC, seeing trees in the trash bin as late as March!  I am always surprised at how the trees look.  I mean the tree is dead, and needles fall off easily, but it is still green, which is why I guess the owners never saw to it to take it down immediately after the holidays.  A live tree can only stay in a warm environment for 10 days at the max.  Experts differ on how long a tree can stay indoors.  One nursery told me 48 hours max, and others told me up to ten days.  In fact many of the nurseries in my area stopped selling trees for this reason. – most homeowners would take home a live tree, and leave it in their home for too long, and when they planted it, it eventually died.  That is a ton of work and money to have a dead tree at the conclusion.  I decided to keep the tree indoors for one week.  This meant keeping the tree outdoors until very close to Christmas, and then moving the tree back outside immediately after New Years.
  • Work.  Moving and disposing of a live tree is fairly easy.  In addition to the amount of work moving a live tree, it also requires a pre-dug hole and the tree needs to be planted.

Upsides of a Live Tree vs. a Cut Tree

  • Since the tree is still alive, when moving a live tree, no needles will fall off.
  • Live trees always look healthy.
  • More environmentally sustainable.  Although the exact calculation depends on where both trees are being grown and shipped from, it does seem better to plant a tree that you use rather than simply discarding it.  Although most of the nurseries around me claim that for every tree sold, they plant more as replacements.  It just seems like a waste of resources to grow to discard.
  • You get a tree to plant in your yard.  Boom!!! [dropping the mic].

There being so many downsides to upsides, you would think that I would go with a cut tree (or an artificial tree).  You would be wrong.  The idea that sold wifey on a live tree, was if we did this every year, we would have a tree for every Christmas that we were in this house.  This reminded me of advice that a mentor gave to me – when in doubt, argue the romantic reasons if you want to win an argument with a woman.

Tree being placed on my diesel wagon. It took five guys and a forklift to get it on my car.

Tree placed in our house.

Tree decorated by wifey. She made all of the ornaments with felting wool.

The final result with wifey and Oliver.

So if you want to give a gift to the world during the holiday season, buy a live tree.  I understand that there are some business models out there where they deliver a live tree to you and remove it at the end of the season.  However, this business is an extremely local one because delivery is involved.  If you want to buy a live tree and have no place to plant it, let me know, and I’ll plant it for you here.

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Chicken Update: Two Less Hens

By Alastair Ong | Nov 30, 2016 | 2 Comments

As most of the loyal readers know, I ordered 15 hens this past summer.  There is that expression, “don’t count your chickens before they hatch.”  I would change that to, don’t count your hens before they fully grow up.  As the chickens grew up, one of four Barred Rock hens was much bigger than all of the other chickens.  It was so big, in fact, that I thought that maybe I accidentally got a different breed of chicken.  The black and white markings were distinctive of a Barred Rock, so I chalked it up to the fact that maybe it liked the food better and ate more.

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Here is the handsome fella that you can win! Just add a comment as to why you want a rooster, and I’ll select the winner with the best answer.

After five months, I have come to realize that this behemoth Barred Rock was so big because it was not a hen, but rather a rooster.  The telltale comb (above the head) and wattle (below the beak) have come out.  Most importantly, this cockerel is just learning how to crow.  Rather than a full cock-a-doodle-do, he does more of a cock-a doo.

I wanted hens as egg layers, and had no aspirations of fertilizing and incubating eggs to hatch chicklets.  So what to do with a rooster?  Dreams of coq-a-vin immediately came to mind and being five months old would be perfect.  However, wifey’s “no-kill” policy trumped my culinary aspirations.  My sister-in-law wants to separate the rooster with a hen and allow the hen to incubate her own eggs so that we get a new generation of chickens.  However, this is messy (i.e. I’ll need another coop and pen for the rooster and chicken), not to mention that while incubating the eggs, I lose an egg-layer.

Win a Free Rooster

So here’s what I am going to do – I am going to give the rooster away.  If anyone wants the rooster, please comment below, tell me why you want it, and I’ll select the winner.  Pick-up only – I would have no idea how to ship a live rooster safely.  Winner will be welcome to stay with us overnight.  Fun fact: if raised from a baby chick, have been handled regularly, roosters tend to be very affectionate and intelligent and make good pets.  Our chickens recognize wifey and me and run to greet us each morning and afternoon.

Bird of Prey Takes Down a Hen

I also wrote an early post about all the wonderful wildlife that live by me that would love to eat my dogs as snacks.  Since installing the coop, I have watched a bird of prey (a falcon, I think) perch on top of a tree that sits on the edge of our property.  It eagerly watches our hens, but until today, has dared not

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Here’s the dead little gal. So sad.

interact with the chickens.  Today, however, it swooped down and attacked a chicken.  At the time, I was inside our house, but knew that something was happening because the guinea hens started squawking like mad.  When I went outside, I saw the bird on top of one of my hens.  I startled the falcon, who flapped away like nothing had happened.  Sadly, the falcon was able to use a talon to penetrate the head of the hen and killed it.  I went back inside our house to find a bag to place the chicken in, and came back outside to more crazy guinea hen squawking.  The falcon had returned to dine on his kill!  I penned the hens and locked the door.

Upon closer inspection, the downed hen was a New Hampshire Red.  It is a brown egg layer.  Including this gal, I had 6 brown egg layers, 3 white egg layers and 3 green/blue egg layers.  So if I was to choose one to lose, it would probably be a brown egg layer.  Unfortunately, the New Hampshire Reds are the friendliest of all of our hens.  They will peck at my pants when I am near and want me to pick them up.

Winner Winner, Chicken Dinner

Wifey has implemented a “no-kill” policy on the farm.  Seeing that I did no killing, but I have a perfectly good chicken meat sitting in front of me, I am thinking of roast chicken for dinner. I wonder what the PETA folks would say – we have a humane no-kill farm, but will eat animals that are attacked and killed by wild birds of prey.

img_20161129_211826The little girl weighed in at just under 3.5 lbs. after defeathering and cleaning.  Really not bad for an organic, no pesticide, no antibiotic fed 5 month year old hen.  I’ve got some good photos of us defeathering and cleaning the hen, but unsure whether anyone wants to see this.  Let me know in the comments if you do.

So I am now down 13% of my hens.  One because of a sexing mistake and another because of a predator.  If the hens survive the winter, I still hope to produce over 60 eggs per week.  Of course, I am up one pretty fantastic rotisserie chicken.

 

 

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Using Grass Carp to Remove Watermeal/Duckweed – Part 3 of FISH

By Alastair Ong | Nov 10, 2016 | 0 Comments

After sending photos of my fish grate which you can read about here, Mindy from the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) sent me an approval for getting my grass carp!  Simultaneously, she sent it to a fish hatchery, RowledgePond Aquaculture, that I put on my application where I would buy my grass carp.

Todd Bobowick (the third-generation owner) was an extremely nice guy.  I decided to use Rowledge, because prior to filing the application, I was hunting around for grass carp hatcheries to confirm the green plant growing on my lake.  I took detailed photos and sent them to half a dozen hatcheries.  Todd at RowledgePond Aquaculture, was the only one to respond – and his response was very detailed.  Wheras I thought I had a growth of duckweed, Todd corrected me and told me that I had watermeal.  He went on to detail the reproduction cycle of watermeal (invasive) and then detailed the three methods of removing them (mechanical, i.e. filtration; chemical, i.e. herbacide; or biological, i.e. grass carp).  I later learned that Rowledge is the oldest private hatchery in the state of Connecticut

Reproduction of watermeal is truly amazing.  Watermeal reproduces asexually, and produce one daughter bud per day.  So in about two weeks you can go from a single bud (which is 1/8 the size of an eye of a needle) to a 1/2 acre lake completely covered!  I swear that last spring when we bought the lake, it was clear and then overnight, bamm, the entire lake was covered.

IDENTIFICATION OF YOUR GROWTH

There is a good article here about the differences between Duckweed and Watermeal.  If your growth has three leaves and has a root that hangs from the leaves, chances are you have duckweed.  If your growth are tiny leaves without any root, then you have watermeal.

Differences between Duckweed and Watermeal

In this photo you can see duckweed vs. watermeal. Watermeal is much smaller than duckweed and are approximately 1/16″ wide and do not have roots that duckweed do

watermeal migration

This is how the term “duckweed” was coined. Here on the breast of this duck, you can see watermeal stuck to the feathers. When the duck migrates to another lake, that lake will soon be infested with it.

 

MECHANICAL METHODS OF REMOVING WATERMEAL

Todd detailed that watermeal has an interesting biological mechanism whereby if it has completely covered your lake, reproduction will slow down.  The moment it detects that there is room to grow, reproduction will kick start.

So by using a mechanical filter, it will be expensive losing game. The more you take out of your lake, the faster it will grow.  I had done some searches to see different mechanical filters that I could use/buy, but Todd seemed right, I would have to place these filters in my lake and run them 24/7 during the warm months, and there was no guarantee that it would work.  By expensive, I mean first you have to buy a pump and hose and then you must use electricity to power it all spring, summer and fall.

CHEMICAL METHODS OF REMOVING WATERMEAL

As far as I know, there are at least half a dozen or so different companies that produce chemical herbicides to remove watermeal.  The cost range from anywhear around $150 to $700 per quart.  The primary difference in these chemicals is the amount of application.  The cheaper ones usually require frequent applications while the more expensive ones less so because they have stronger chemicals.  As most of you know from this post, I have stocked my lake with bass and catfish.  Although the labels on these chemicals say safe for fish I did not think that the chemicals would be good for them either.  Plus I did not relish in the thought of funding chemical companies with frequent purchases of herbacide.  I note that my area has a lot of lakes, ponds and rivers.  Many of the owners of these use herbicides.  You can tell if a lake owner is using herbicides by looking at the grass that grows along the edge of a waterbody.  If it is yellow or dead, then they are using herbicide.

GRASS CARP

Grass carp is the best and most natural solution.  Come this spring, when watermeal or duckweed begins to grow, the grass carp should consume them prior to them being able to reproduce.  These fish are pretty amazing. Todd told me that they can grow up to 4 feet in length!  Of course the older they get, the less they tend to eat, so I plan on buying more around 2020.  Grass carp need to be restocked every 5-7 years (when they get larger than 30″, their consumption goes down).

Mindy from the DEEP granted me 20 grass carp, although I thought that she and Todd both agreed that a dozen would probably be sufficient.  I later learned that the number of carp for the pond is  function to the weed type and density.  There is a mathematical formula for calculating the number of grass carp that we ( and the state) use.  The math holds up well until you have a pond with about 50% coverage with duckweed or watermeal, then the math sort of falls apart….meaning you have to increase the number to get effective control.  That is why my initial stocking was for 20 fish.  Any future stocking will likely be for less fish (closer to 12 fish).  Grass carp is the most economical solution to control your watermeal/duckweed problem but still they are not cheap.  Each grass carp costs about $18 for a fingerling about 10″-12″ long. Rowledge Pond Aquaculture only delivers, unlike the bass and catfish, where I got to pick them up thereby saving the transportation costs.  All in all, $500 for 20 grass carp delivered.  I like that there are no further maintenance costs.

Below are photos of Todd and him stocking my  lake with grass carp.

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Rowledge Pond Aquaculture delivery truck. Inside the white box were hundreds of jumping grass carp

Rowledge

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Here’s a closeup of a fingerling grass carp. Each one measures around 10″ – 12″.

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Here is Todd stocking my lake with grass carp. No acclimatization necessary. Just toss them in and I’m good to go.

Only time will tell if the Grass Carp are able to control the watermeal in my lake.  Stay tuned next spring/summer and I will let you know if it works.

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Victorinox Warehouse Sale

By Alastair Ong | Nov 3, 2016 | 1 Comment

One of the benefits of living in Connecticut is that in a small town called Monroe, about 10 minutes away from me lies the Victorinox  Headquarters and Warehouse. Yes, the Victorinox famous for the Swiss Army family of products.  While on a drive to my local chicken feed store, I stopped and popped in for a long overdue visit.

I learned that EVERY Victorinox product that sells in the U.S. comes through this warehouse.  It is the U.S. headquarters and all products to be sold comes from Switzerland through this warehouse and sent to their final U.S. retail destination. Although everyone knows the Swiss Army knife, Victorinox also sells other products such as cutlery, watches, travel gear and luggage, apparel and even fragrances.  You can check out what they sell by clicking this link.

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Postcard announcing the secret Victorinox Warehouse Sale – sorry I stuck it in my pocket and it got all crumpled.

As I was browsing for a new moneyclip-cum-pocketknife, I spied the below postcard.  It is for Victorinox’ annual secret Warehouse Sale. It runs three days Friday November 11 – Sunday November 13, 2016.  I call it secret, because Victorinox does not advertise this sale.  As far as I know it is the only way to get discounted items on authentic Victorinox products.

I asked the women handling the counter what kinds of discounts there were.  She indicated to me that Victorinox uses this sale to clear their warehouse.  Some of the items will be discontinued, but most of the items are current and can be up to 25%-50% off.  Basically, buyers at this sale would be getting the products at cost.  She also indicated to me that on the days of the warehouse sales, folks came from around the country and the lines can be 4-5 hours long.

As a benefit for reading and subscribing to my blog, I have decided that if I’m going anyway to the warehouse sale, that I might as well buy as much stuff as I can, and also order for you.  These items make great Christmas gifts and there are appropriate for men, women and children.  Although it is bad luck in Chinese tradition to gift knives, I think my brother and father are getting Swiss Army knives for Christmas.

How to Score an Unbelievable Deal on Victorinox Items

Here’s the deal:  Go to this link and search for products you want.  Please note that the website is not the complete listing of products that they sell.  Each category has a catalog that you should brose through.  The catalog does not have prices listed in them, but a google search of the product name and number should get you a few retailers listing prices.  Then go to this form to let me know the product name, and item number and price you want to pay.  At the sale I will go and look for it and if it is under your maximum price, I will pre-buy it for you.  If it is above your max price, I will email you and let you know how much it costs.  If I am able to buy the product, I will sell it to you at the same price.  This is a free service and I will not be making any money on these transactions.  I will also search for the cheapest shipping to you.  Accordingly, I expect to be reimbursed via PayPal, cash, check or credit card before I send it to you.

So I can manage my shopping list, I will close the form two days before the sale.  This means that you have to fill out the form by Wednesday November 9, 2016.

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Dates of the additional 15% off. The workers at the store told me that this sale is on top of the warehouse sale discount, but that in the past there are few items left to buy.

On the back of the postcard was this note.  On the discounted price of the item, there will be another 15% off.  I think that the pickings will be pretty slim at this time, but if you would prefer to wait to see if we can score the item at the cheapest price possible, then let me know on the form.

So go ahead and load up on all things Victorinox for Christmas gifts.  When I think of Victorinox, I think of Quality. Functionality. Innovation. Iconic Design.  I am about all of these adjectives. And so should you.

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Five Steps to Getting Your Property Taxed as Farmland

By Alastair Ong | Oct 25, 2016 | 1 Comment

So this is the post of all the posts that I was procrastinating on the most.  In examining the reasons for procrastination, it was for the following reasons:

  • I felt I lacked all of the information;
  • It required so many steps for me to complete;
  • It required visits to my local town hall; and
  • I was fearful of the result.

After doing my research, I found that I had all of the information within a simple internet search, there were not too many steps, and my local town hall is a friendly place and is near my home.  Being fearful is not really a reason for doing something or not doing something and is generally unfounded, so let’s dig in.

My town sits has three or four commercial stores in it.  Think Mayberry but smaller.  There’s a pretty good article in the New York Times about my town here. As that article states, the fact that there are no commercial businesses in the town is a mixed blessing.  On the one hand, there is little traffic.  I cannot tell you the relief I get after exiting the highway and turn onto the highway through my town.  There is never any traffic.  And by no traffic, I mean no cars. None.  Zilch.  Nada. Zero.  On the other hand, there being no businesses, the town is entirely supported by the residents (read: land taxes).  Real esate taxes in Connecticut are cheaper than New York, but nevertheless a big expense.  Particularly in a residential community, taxes are a necessary evil. Yes, necessary, but also evil.

img_20161026_153940My town is zoned at 3 acres residential, which means that any home must sit on and accordingly be taxed on 3 acres.  Since I have just over 5 acres, this meas that I have 2+ acres that I believed were taxed as residential that I could get reassessed as farmland to reduce my tax liability.  Those that know me, know that I take a great deal of pleasure looking for and finding ways to take advantage of the system.  Ever since buying this house, I thought that one of my first steps would be to reduce my biggest cost of this home, which is the land tax.

In preparation of my farm I began to review the easiest form of farming – most bang for my buck in terms of labor.  I searched for things that were not time-consuming and easy that yielded a high value product.  I reviewed all of the different products I could grow including wasabi root and ginger, to flowers and fruit.  After speaking with a number of folks in the agricultural space and much consideration, I settled on honey.  All I needed was a small investment in beehouses and hives, and essentially the bees do all of the work for me.  The first thing I did was buy three beehouses.  I will save my honey exploits for a later post, but stay tuned in the early spring, as I’ll have some good videos on relocating hives to my beehives (hopefully without getting stung – although if I do get stung, it will make for even better video).

The second thing I did was build a raised bed garden which you can read about by clicking here.  I thought, no farm would be complete without a vegetable garden.  The third thing I did was build a chicken coop and get chickens which you can read about here.  Now part of my procrastination was my inner belief system taking ahold of me and answered the question, “do three beehouses an apiary make?”  Deep inside, I suspected that the answer was no.  More on that later.

Residential Land Tax vs Farmland Land Tax

Residential acres are taxed at approximately $5,000 per acre.  Farmland assessed taxes depend on the grade of tillability (is that even a word?) or whether it is a pasture.  In Connecticut, like most states, the more tillable the land, the higher the taxes, but is still no more than $1,500 per acre.  This is a 70% reduction of annual tax expenses.  Let me repeat that.  Converting to farmland can save you 70% or more of your land tax and is a worthwhile exercise for anyone with land to engage in.

Amount of Land Needed to Qualify As a Farm

In New York, there is a state requirement of having at least seven contiguous acres to qualify as a farm.  If you have less than seven acres, you can still qualify as a farm by having gross revenues of $50,000.  Thankfully, I live in Connecticut, where there are no state requirements to having a farm – you could have 1/4 acre and could call it a farm.  I credit the Connecticut legislature with being “greener” than New York.  Essentially in Connecticut, farmland only requires the initial assessment.  Once assessed as farmland, there is no need for an assessor to revisit the farm.  Connecticut considers this a major savings in not having to send out a physical person to reassess your property.  Since this is essentially free for the tax assessor’s office, they pass their savings onto the farmers.  That being said, towns in Connecticut may use the state law as a guide and may make requirements more stringent.  My town of Easton, Connecticut has adopted a law that requires farms to be 5 contiguous acres. In speaking with experienced land use attorneys in my area, I could theoretically get the land my house sits on as residential and get the remainder of my property taxed as farmland.

Disadvantages of land taxed as farmland

There are at least two disadvantages of owning farmland.  The first one is discussed here.  The second one will be discussed below.

One of the confusing things of land being taxed as farmland in Connecticut is if you sell your farm within ten years of getting assessed as farmland.  This would relevant in the example that say three years from now I wanted to sell my home.  Obviously, I would have received a tax benefit in not paying land tax for the last three years.  The way that Connecticut claws back these monies is by applying a conveyance tax onto your property upon sale.  In year 1 the tax is 10%; year 2, 9%; year 3, 8% and so forth and so on until the tax disappears.  This means that in my example if I were to sell off my farm in year 3, I would be subject to a 7% conveyance tax on the total sale price of my home.  Interesting to note, you are subject to this tax even if you buy a farm and decide to sell before year 10 of ownership.

Visit to the local tax assessor’s office

The town hall in my town is less than two miles from my home.  The personnel in the town hall are extremely friendly and helpful.  My first visit was to the land construction office to get a copy of my surveyed property.  For $3 bucks, they will get you a copy of your surveyed property, although since their mimeo machine was broken, they copied it onto two large legal sheets which you can see in the photo above.

My second visit was down the hall to the my town’s tax assessor.  The appointed tax assessor is a amenable woman by the name of Teresa Rainieri and her helpful assistant Rachel Maciulewski.  I told them what I planned and started picking their brains as to the best way for me to go about getting my land reassessed.  If this office was making the decision, I thought it a good idea to prepare them for my application.  Teresa gave me a copy of the application (you cannot download it online) and mentioned in passing that 15 chickens would not qualify as a farm. Her explanation, “because everyone in town has chickens.”  According to PA490, the state guidelines for farm taxing land, she was wrong, but I held my tongue. I wanted to download as much information first and then reassess my options.   Also in passing Teresa mentioned that although 15 chickens a farm would not make, she did suggest raising and killing turkeys as a potential farm idea,  Huh?  Both Turkeys and chickens are both poultry, why the double standard?   Since wifey has implemented a no-kill policy on the farm, this was irrelevant.

Teresa suggested a good use would be Christmas tree farms.  My town has 8,000 people living in it.  There are several dozen farms in my town, and four Christmas tree farms.  I could not believe that she would suggest such a saturated market for me to begin.  Then I began to understand why.  Since being appointed, Teresa probably does not get applications for that many farms.  The ones she has approved were likely Christmas tree farms, so in speaking from experience, she knew that Christmas tree farms would pass muster.  Someone in the town must also have recently applied for and gotten approval for a turkey farm, hence her suggestion.  Christmas trees are an interesting farming element. Plant seedlings, and wait 4-7 years and harvest.  Aside from bees, I cannot think of an easier farming business model.

Teresea searched my property and told me, “You have three acres assessed as residential and the remainder assessed as wetlands.”  Huh?  What’s that?  Come again? Wetwha?  She explained that since I have a lake and a creek feeding that lake that the assessor has assessed these acres as wetlands.  Wetlands are taxed at one of the lowest rates on the Connecticut assessment schedule.  I think I am paying around $400 per acre per year for wetlands.  I could reassess the wetlands as farmland, but doing so would be going from a lower tax to a higher one.  The previous owner definitely knew what he was doing, paying so little for wetland-assessed property with no burden of having to farm.

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The image here is the 2010 tax assessment schedule for farmland in Connecticut.

In support of dissuading me from pursuing this, she suggested that I speak to a local apiary in town.  The town actually sells honey from this apiary, but the land where his bees and flowers sit is NOT taxed as farmland.  At first I did not get it.  Why pay residential rates on 10 acres of land where your 1,000 plus beehives sit?  Answer: because being assessed as farmland comes with other responsibilities and requirements.  To continue getting farmland rates, you must supply a Profit and Loss statement with the assessor’s office.  This is the second disadvantage of owning a farm.  Your local municipality may require you to fill out other documents and applications and in the case of my town, show your Profit and Loss to continue your assessment.

I suddenly got the ah-ha moment.  The apiary that sells the honey to the town hall is probably not filing tax or paying tax for the income that he makes on the honey.  10 acres times $5,000 per acre is $50,000 in annual land tax, which sounds like a lot until you do the math on the total tax savings.  Each beehive can generate on average 30 lbs of honey.  At $10 per pound, that’s $300 per hive. Multiply this by 1,000 hives is $300,000 in tax free income, which is at least a $50,000 savings vs paying the reduced farm land tax.

Conclusion:  To be a farm, your land does not need to be assessed as farmland.

 5 Steps to get your land assessed as farmland

  1. Research your state and local laws.  In Connecticut the relevant legislation is Connecticut’s Land Use Value Assessment Law Public Act 490 aka PA490.  You can find almost all of this information online;
  2. Speak to a good land use attorney.  You can find good land use attorneys by asking your local tax assessors office for those they have worked with in the past and are competent.  It is not in their best interest to recommend someone that is ineffective and abrasive.  It is at this stage that you and your attorney should calculate your savings and determine the burdens of owning a farm;
  3. Plan your farm according to the regulations researched in Step 1.  In Connecticut you can hand draw your farm modifications directly onto the survey.  Also, there are usually application dates and deadlines.  In Connecticut, the application deadline is October 31, 2016.  The assessment, even if approved is does not go into effect until two years later.
  4. Have a business plan (or an executive summary ready) complete with pro forma financial statements – these may be needed by the assessor’s office;
  5. Submit application, start farming and wait for tax assessor’s visit.

By the way, my fish grate passed inspection, and I should be getting my grass carp this weekend!

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Keeping Fish in Your Lake – PART 2 of FISH

By Alastair Ong | Oct 12, 2016 | 66 Comments

For those of you who read 3 Steps To Stock Your Connecticut Water Body on July 16, 2016 may have remembered that I ordered Grass Carp, but since it was a foreign species that has a voracious appetite for vegetation, that I needed an on-site inspection from a Connecticut State inspector.

Mindy came to inspect my lake without my knowledge. I believe that her sole job is to inspect water bodies for Connecticut, and I think she’s the only person that is tasked with this role.  Needless to say she is extremely busy, particularly in the more seasonal months of the fall, spring and summer.  She left me a voicemail about my culvert needing covering to prevent the grass carp from leaving my lake.

culvertA culvert is a huge pipe.  In the event of extremely heavy rainfall or melting snowfall, my lake flows through the culvert under a road onto my neighbors river.  While they vary in diameter, mine was 29″ in diameter.  I began my research into the solution to my problem.  Mindy was nice enough to send me some sample culvert blockers that I could fabricate myself.  All of these had one thing in common – the space between the barriers are 1 1/2 inches wide.  This has been determined as the perfect amount of space to keep the fish in and allow water and debris out.  A simple plug to the culvert is not a good idea unless you want a flood on your property. No bueno.

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An image that the Connecticut inspector sent to me. Not particularly attractive, but at least it works.

The ideas that Mindy sent me ranged from simple and ugly to nice and expensive.  Those of you who know me know that I wanted something that was simple and cheap with an emphasis on the later.  I decided to buy the materials and make one myself.  This idea abruptly ended when I watched YouTube video and websites that discusses the proper way of bending PVC pipe.  You either have to pack the pipe with sand and heat it gently or alternatively you can buy a PVC pipe bending kit for $300.  My dreams were dashed by dozen of unusable PVC pipes with kinks on them.  No bueno.

I then tried contacting the manufacturer of the PVC pipe bending kit to see if they had any clients who were large PVC fabricators.  My thought was that I could contract out to them my item, and have them make it.  I also called around to different PVC and plastic fabricators to see if anyone could make one.  I could not believe that I was the first person with this problem.  However, outside manufacturers were of little use.  Most fabricators wanted to be able to make something on a large scale.  Just the tooling would cost several thousand dollars not including the materials for my item.  My most hopeful find was a fabricator out of Pennsylvania who offered to make a very beautiful one for around $300 including shipping.  No bueno.

This is a good time to describe what my goals were.  I wanted an elegant and a simple culvert blocker that cost less than $50 bucks.  It had to be durable, maintenance free and not leech noxious materials into my lake (read: metal). I re-evaluated thoughts that I could build one and I took a trip to Home Depot to see what I could make.  I’ve never gone to Home Depot without a shopping list.  Unlike Felix, I do not unwind by going to a superstore (excluding Costco or BJs or course).  I went to Home Depot with an open mind to see what I could mesh together.  The first HD employee I ran into told me flat out to go to Bass Pro shops. I told him that if I wanted to buy a fishing pole or reel, that that would be the place to go, but for this, I was not so sure.  He simply replied, those guys know fish, and have probably encountered this before.  No bueno.

I settled on a pieces of 1/2″ PVC pipe. The difference between this and the PVC that I grew up with was this stuff was flexible.  Think hula hoop.  I get that this problem is not one that 99% of you will face, but in the off chance that it helps a single person, I’d be glad.  The shopping list is below and cost $45 bucks!  BUENO!

Whenever I go to HD, I think of what I need and create a shopping list.  Inevitably, something comes up or you overlooked something. This was true of adding wheels to my chicken coop and while on our second trip to the hardware superstore, Felix and I told stories of how many times we visited HD on a single task.   This was the first time that I did not need to return to the hardware store.  Makes me think that creating a shopping list is unnecessary.  This does NOT apply to groceries particularly if you have a wife that just gave birth to a child and has a serious addition problem with Hagen Daz ice cream.

Rather than describe the assembly in words, I will post photos of the assembly.  Entire assembly took about two hours, and although I could have done it faster, I do not think I could have built it better.

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My materials. Note, I did not buy and really did not use the tape measure in the middle. A splurge and highly recommended is the plastic pipe cutter. $12 to save a ton of grief not to mention PVC filings from the hacksaw I was going to use.

 

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These 1/2″ pipe fittings made it easy to join and make my “hula hoop”

 

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My completed fish grate. Note the spaces in between the pipes are 1.5 inches. BUENO!

 

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Side view of my fish grate. In retrospect, I am unsure why I thought I needed two hula hoops. One would have been sufficient (and I could have bought shorter bolts) which would have been cheaper.

My thoughts on the process on making this fish grate were pretty haphazard.  From going into the hardware superstore without a plan, to actual building.  To begin the process, for example, I knew the diameter of my culvert was 29″ This meant that I needed to figure out the circumference.  Remembering from high school geometry that Circumference – 2(Pi)(radius) I calculated that the circumference would be about 91″.  I cut this section of the pipe, added the adapter connectors and marched out to the culvert, confident about my math skills.  Too big.  I went back to my drawings and calculations and no matter what I did I could not figure out why my hoop was too big.  Eventually, I gave up and cut about six inches off the end and reconnected it and voila, it fit perfectly.  I thought this was a sign from the gods, and in the rest of the assembly, I never used a ruler (except to measure 1.5″ between the grates.  I would eyeball where the red pipe and the white PVC pipe would go, and drill away with a hand drill.  Not a single hole or bolt is misplaced!  Bueno!

img_20161011_134403My next post about FISH will be after I get approval and buy the Grass Carp and place them in the lake.  Or if that is uneventful, the next one will be about fishing bass and catfish out of the lake.  I’m also considering stocking the lake with brown trout, but have to do research on compatibility with bass, catfish and grass carp.

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Five Reasons to get Guinea Fowl

By Alastair Ong | Sep 16, 2016 | 52 Comments

OI drove two hours to upstate New York to pick up my three guinea fowl.  That’s four hours including the return.  I bought the guineas from a wonderful home-farmer named Jessica.  In addition to the guineas, she had goats (two Nigerians – which I want also), a variety of egg laying chickens and meat birds (Cornish hens).  Here a two short videos of our guinea fowl:

Jessica sold her guineas to me because her neighbor complained about the noise the guineas were making. Guineas’ noise making are one of the four reasons that I want guinea fowl.  So why get guinea fowl?

FIVE REASONS FOR HAVING GUINEA FOWL

  1. Looks.  Guinea fowl are really pretty.  Guinea fowl are originally from East Africa, and they come in a variety of colors, including: purple, lavender, and pearl just to name a few off the top of my head.  To see the variety of different colors, click here.  The ones I got are called Pearl Grey.  They grow up to be a dark background color with pearly white dots all over.  Like chickens, guinea fowl are so cute and fluffy as chicks.  I love the striped head color of the chicks which you can see clearly in the second video above.  As they grow older, the head colors and shape will turn vulture-like, but the body should become much more beautiful.  Here are some pictures of a fully grown Pearl Grey guineathe-purple-helmeted-guinea-fowl-n1-beaufort-westguinea-pearl_grey
  2. Eggs.  Guinea hens lay eggs that are slightly smaller than chicken eggs.  Three guinea eggs are about the same volume as two chicken eggs.  The taste is the same, but the shell is much harder. Apparently, it takes a bit of practice to be able to crack the hard shell with enough force to break the shell, but not too much force that you break the yolk.
  3. Voracious tick eaters.  I live in Connecticut and part of my property is a wetland and a wooded area.  Each of our dogs have come home with multiple ticks.  Guineas have a voracious appetite for ticks, spiders, mites and other bothersome insects.  I understand that guineas do not like bees, which is good because I have three beehives (bees arrive next year).
  4. Predator Alert.  As mentioned in the last paragraph, guinea fowl are pretty loud.  They fly and roost in treetops.  Whenever they see a predator or danger, they make a distinctive sound which chickens recognize and will cause the chickens to run back to the coop and hide.  Jessica tells me that for years of having chickens, she’s had wolves, coyotes, raccoons, bears and other predators attack her chickens.  After getting guineas, she never lost a chicken to a predator.  I have heard similar stories from other guinea owners.  The loudness of guinea fowl make them ideal guardians, but not ideal for city residents, which is why a resident may be able to sneak a chicken into an apartment, but will almost never get away with sneaking in a guinea fowl.
  5. Meat.  A fifth reason, but not relevant to our farm (due to wifey’s NO KILL POLICY), is that guinea meat is supposed to be quite tasty.  They call guinea meat a “poor man’s pheasant.”  There are restaurants of Asia and Europe that server guinea meat as a delicacy.

Still have your doubts about getting guide fowl?  Read this humorous account from this homesteader.

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My guinea fowl are slightly younger than my chickens, but today, I placed them in the coop, and everyone is playing nice for the time being.  I wanted hens, but I believe that Jessica sold me three straight-run guinea fowl.  By “straight run,” I mean that I am getting whatever hatched – a mixture of male and females.  I am hoping for at least two females, and hopefully three, but we’ll have to see as they grow up, as sexing guinea fowl is tricky business.

To the right is a photo of the guinea fowl in a cage, being “guarded” by Bella. . .  and by “guarded” I mean watched because they look tasty – look at Bella licking her lips!

 

 

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Chicken Coop Part 2 – Wheels

By Alastair Ong | Sep 7, 2016 | 2 Comments

Chicks are six weeks old and are in the coop – I’m training them to be able to call them back to the coop, so right now, they are snuggled in pretty tight.  I’ve been handling them pretty often to get them accustomed to humans, so not to be skittery.  I’ve not read anything about trying to make chickens less scared of humans, and came up with my own methodology – try to hold each chick for as long and as often as I can!

My chicken coop has a 12 foot run where the chickens can be safe behind a poultry fence, and easily access their food, water and shelter.  The problem that I foresaw was that my coop was so big and bulky, that I did not think that I would ever move it (certainly requires two people).  I foresaw that after a few months of the chickens picking at the ground, it would soon turn the grass into dust, which would look as attractive as bald patches on Donald Trumps head.  I needed to add wheels to the bottom of my coop so I could push it when I wanted to.  The problem with adding wheels to a coop is that if the coop is off the ground, then predators, such as raccoons, foxes and wolves can easily get inside the coop.  Good for wild animals, chickens, not so much.

Last week or so, “Everybody Needs a Felix” showed up at the house.  We had planned a Peruvian Pachamanca party (which will probably be the subject of my next post), and I have to say, that I was perhaps the worst host in history.  I delegated the wood gathering and the firepit master roles to various guests for the Pachamanca, while Felix and I discussed and worked on putting wheels on the coop.

After much discussion on how we were going to achieve this, I described my goals – I wanted something similar to a paramedic gurney.  That is, I wanted to be able to lift the coop, and wheels would pop up to be able to be rolled.  I think the way a paramedic gurney works is that when you lift the bed, legs that have been folded accordion style fall to the ground and lock it in the perfect height to be able to push the bed into an ambulance.

After much searching, we found a YouTube video that demonstrated an easy-to-make system that works fairly well and was very inexpensive.  Because a picture is worth a thousand words and a video ten thousand, I’ll include a video of the working system here.  The video is less than 20 seconds and I encourage you all to see it so that you understand exactly what we built.

You can see from the video that the wheels and axle should drop by themselves.  I have to use my foot to push the axle because I added a poultry floor to my coop to prevent critters (read: foxes, raccons and wolves) from digging into the coop and this floor is creating friction between the wheels and the side of the coop.

Some additional photos here:

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Wheels disengaged – you can see how the coop is still resting on the ground.

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Top view of wheels disengaged.

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Wheels engaged. The coop rests on the wheel axle and is off the ground.

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Bottom view of coop with wheels engaged. Here you can clearly see that the coop is off the ground.

MATERIALS NEEDED and COSTS for two sets of wheels:

MATERIAL NUMBER COST
1″ PVC pipe Two 2′ sections $4
1/2″ galvanized steel pipe Two 3′ sections $18
5/8″ bolt Four 8″ bolts $12
9″ diameter wheels with 5/8″ axle Four $24
5″ x 1/4″ bolts Four $1
1/4″ nuts Four $1
TOTAL $58

Assembly instructions are here.  All-in-all, I’m very pleased with the wheel system.  Its very easy to push the coop with a single hand when both sides are up on wheels.  Actually, if you are on an extreme budget, you could halve the budget and only get half the number of items and put only a single wheel axel on one side of your coop and when you wanted to move it, you could pick up the side without wheels and push it a-la-wheelbarrow.

If you enjoyed this post, please subscribe by adding your email and clicking subscribe to the top right of this page.  If you did not enjoy it, send me a note and tell me what topics you want to read about and what I can do better.

 

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5 Tips on Raising Chicks

By Alastair Ong | Aug 12, 2016 | 0 Comments

I used to raise chickens as a child.  In actuality, my best friend and neighbor, Anthony used to raise chickens and I helped him.  I have a few great stories about chickens growing up.  Finally having the land, one of the first things that I wanted to do was to raise chickens for their eggs and their meat.  Wifey vetoed me on the meat aspect of raising chickens – she said that if we are going to have animals, then we are going to have a no-kill policy.  What are we going to do with the older 2+ year old chickens when their egg laying production slows/stops?  I had already planned on raising three or four different colors of chickens and culling them by color when their egg production began to slow.  I guess I will try to sell older chickens as pets.

SELECTING CHICKENS

My chickens had to have the following two criteria:

  1. They had to be winter hardy (it gets cold and snowy here in Connecticut); and
  2. I wanted varieties laid colored eggs: white, brown, blue and green;

I did a survey of different chicken hatcheries where I could buy chickens.  I opted for day old chicks rather than pullets (adolescent chickens)  as they are so cute when they are young.  The best hatchery with the best selection of chickens was either Backyard Chickens or McMurray Hatchery.  I opted for McMurray for their deeper selection of currently available chickens.  An additional benefit was that McMurray also sells other types of waterfowl.  Although ducks sounded like a good option and from a previous post , you know that I have a lake, I understand that ducks are really messy (read: wet poopers) and makes it more difficult to keep your coop clean.  I have always wanted guinea hens because they look like large quail and are voracious tick eaters.  Our puppies, Iggy in particular always comes home with a tick or two after running around our yard.  The only problem with ordering guinea hens from McMurray is that there is a minimum order of 15 guinea hens. The coop that I was planning to build could house a maximum of 15 chickens and I could not see where I was going to put 15 guinea hens.  I wanted two or three max and even then it was going to be a squeeze.  So I found a guy on Craigslist who wants to trade guineas for chickens, which could be perfect.  Only his guineas are already mature, so I’ll wait a few weeks until my chicks have matured a bit to make it a more even trade.

FIVE THINGS TO DO PRIOR TO RECEIVING CHICKS

PREPARE YOUR BROODER:

  1. Get a large box (refrigerator or furniture box with 24″ tall sides;
  2. Line the bottom of the box with pine wood shavings or bamboo coir as bedding;
  3. Get a 250 watt red flood lamp and hang it about a foot from floor of the box.  Ideally, it will be a cheap lamp with a hood and socket (with no stand);
  4. Order chick starter feed and chick grit.
  5. Order a chick feeder and a chick waterer

From my previous experience, 15 chickens eat about 5 lbs of chick starter feed per week.  You will need to brood your chickens until they are fully feathered or at about 4-6 weeks.  At 5 lbs of feed per week, that means that you will need a minimum of 20 lbs of chick starter feed.  Even though I provided a link to buy this online, your best bet is to buy your feed from a local Agway or feed store, as the shipping from an online retailer will not be competitive.  Chick grit are tiny pebbles or oyster shells.  Chickens need this to aid in the breaking down of the food since they do not have teeth.  I treat grit as if it were salt and I was salting a steak.

This is my order and cost of 15 chicks:

RIRP RHODE ISLAND RED Females 3 Std $3.37 $10.11
PEAP PEARL-WHITE LEGHORN Females 3 Std $3.42 $10.26
ARAP ARAUCANA Females 3 Std $4.17 $12.51
BARP BARRED ROCK Females 3 Std $3.37 $10.11
NEHP NEW HAMPSHIRE RED Females 3 Std $3.37 $10.11
COVC Coccidiosis Vaccination 15 Std $0.20 $3.00
GEL Gro-Gel Plus 1 Std $3.90 $3.90
VACC Vaccinate for Marek’s Disease 15 Std $0.20 $3.00
QCC Quick Chick – is under pad 1 Std $3.95 $3.95
FRCS FREE RARE EXOTIC CHICK Straight Run 1 Std $0.00 $0.00
Product Subtotal $66.95
Iowa Sales Tax $0.00
Shipping & Handling $21.08
Total $88.03

I did not remember vaccinations when we ordered chicks some 25 years ago, but it being an option, and only costing $0.40 cents for Mareks and Coccidiosis, I opted to get it.  Gro-Gel is a blue gel you add to the feed that helps the chicks grow and Quick Chick are vitamins that you mix with water.  The chicks LOVE the gel and do not seem to mind the vitamins in the water.

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Shipping Box 15 Chicks Came In

We received our chickens via USPS. If you are receiving livestock, the postal office will call you the moment they receive it so you can pick up the animals rather than it sitting on a postal vehicle all day.  I later learned that the USPS also notifies the state and our local municipality that we had livestock.  About a week after receiving the chicks, I got a letter that stated that they were aware that I had received chickens, but I did not have a valid chicken permit on file.  Damn legislation!  I do not think it is a problem getting a permit.  I believe that having a permit allows the county to know who has what livestock and this way if there is a major outbreak of some rare virus that affects livestock, they know who to contact (or to blame).

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Chicks in Their Shipping Box

Upon opening up the package, the fluffy packages of cuteness emerged.  Unfortunately one of the Araucana did not make the journey and upon contacting McMurray, they credited me for the one bird and its vaccinations to be used on my next order.  I sent a photo of the dead little guy, but it did not seem necessary. There is something really amazing about the peeping of day-old chicks.  McMurray has a policy of sending one mystery bird for each 15 that you order, so we ended up with 15 chicks.  By the way, I have no idea what the mystery chicken is, but I can tell you that as a chick, it is the most gorgeous grey coloring.

BUILDING YOUR COOP

I realized that I was somewhere between 4-6 weeks from allowing these chickens to graze outside, and I did not have a coop.  A few clicks later, and I decided to order a 144″ Pawhut Chicken Coop.  I opted on this one as it is one of the largest kits that you can buy.  There are six nesting boxes and 12 feet of enclosed chicken run.

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Everybody Needs A Felix in Their Lives!

FELIX THE ATTORNEY-CARPENTER

Everybody needs a Felix in their lives.  Felix is a close friend who is an extremely capable attorney. However, mention putting together furniture or fixing a house and Felix starts to salivate.  Mention power tools to this guy, and his eyes light up. I think he de-stresses from a hard day of litigating in court by walking the aisles of Home Depot! Felix is my go-to guy when it comes to assembling large Ikea furniture and he was my go-to guy when it came to assembling my chicken coop.  When he visits, he brings his tool bag, along with the coolest tool gadgets.  One of my favorite is his magnetic wrist band that holds screws – brilliant!

Unfortunately from 0:26 seconds into the video above, you can see that the kit came without instructions and without any bolts or hardware – just the wooden walls roof and run walls.  I did an internet search for instructions and found a video of assembling a different Pawhut coop where the author captured a pathetic instruction page.  I printed an enlarged screenshot and we used this as a rough guide.  Thankfully Felix was with me.  If I had been alone, I would have quit upon finding out that there were no screws, bolts or instructions.  With Felix, we took a ride to a local super hardware store and bought everything we thought we needed.

The Amazon reviews of this chicken coop are mediocre at best.  In addition to folks having problems with missing/broken parts, the major complaint is that it is poorly constructed and would barely last one year.  Felix thought about this and suggested that I buy additional strengthening brackets to better secure the coop.  I’ve never built a coop from a kit before, but this one seems exactly what I was looking for.  It was relatively easy to put together (even without instructions) and for the money (<$300) I cannot imagine getting anything better.  The only major addition that I will make is adding tractor wheels to the coop so I can move it around my yard.

Only time will tell whether this coop will be able to survive the harsh Connecticut winter snows.  I can already see some of the roof slats coming apart which I’ll have to reinforce with some longer nails. . .  or I’ll call Felix to “help” me do this.

Stay tuned, subscribe by entering your email to the top right of this page and you will be notified when our first eggs are laid (I’m expecting 3-4 months, but the impending winter may mean next spring.  Oh, and write a comment below to tell me what you like about my blog, what is missing and what you would like me to cover in future posts.  Don’t be shy!

 

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Build a Raised Bed Garden In Four Steps for Less Than $50 (No Screws Required)

By Alastair Ong | Aug 2, 2016 | 0 Comments

I thought it would be pathetic if we lived on a farm and did not grow anything.  Although I wanted to till the land and had dreams of harvesting by tractor, I decided on farming on a raised bed garden.  The benefits of raised bed gardens, sometimes called garden boxes, are:

  • They keep pathway weeds from your garden soil;
  • Prevents soil compaction;
  • Provide good drainage;
  • Serve as a barrier to pests such as slugs and snails; and
  • Makes it easier to harvest.

It was primarily the last reason that I wanted a raised bed garden.  Growing up, my mother had a small garden, and I remember the backbreaking work it was to weed and to harvest the vegetables.  Not backbreaking in terms of heavy lifting, but bending over so many times.  A raised bed garden is higher than the ground, and therefore easier to reach the vegetables.  No longer being a spring chicken, and not having the Chinese talent of being able to squat for hours on end, I opted for a raised garden.

I did a cost analysis of materials that we could use as the sides of the garden.  Most sites tell you to use wood, specifically treated cedar because it will weather the elements best.  Ceder planks are expensive though at over $2 per square foot and 12″ wide was the tallest we could make the garden.  As I left all of my tools in my last apartment, and did not have a drill and a screw gun (rectified later by buddy Felix’ thoughtful gift of a tool set), I did not want to go out and buy a drill just to build a garden.

The cheapest material I could find to build a raised bed garden was cinder blocks at $1.31 per 18 long” x 6 wide” x 8″ tall block.  Cinder blocks come in different sizes.  When buying them I opted for the thinnest ones (to make the walls as thin as possible.  These are also cheaper than thicker blocks.  To build the tallest raised bed garden, we decided to stack two layers of cinder blocks which made our raised bed garden 16″ tall.  Wifey did not like the idea of cinder blocks until I told her that we could paint it any color she wished.

MATERIALS & COST

The following is for building a simple raised bed garden.  It will measure just under 4 feet x 4 feet, and is perfect for maintaining vegetables for a single household and you should be able to build it in a couple of hours.  The one I decided to build was ambitious.  I decided to make mine 23 feet by 4 feet, and I made 3 of them side-by-side.  That meant ordering three pallets of cinder blocks (250 total) and ordering 15 cubic yards of compost and topsoil.  Each cinder block weighs in at about 25 pounds, so moving and laying 250 of them was a bit of work as you can see on the video.  15 cubic yards of compost and topsoil took a space of about 25 feet by 25 feet and was a pile six feet tall.  Moving that much growing material to the raised bed garden was a lot of backbreaking work.

Material Cost
Paint stirring sticks – get these from big box home improvement store or paint store Free
Gloves – You will need these to handle the cinder blocks.  I had a pair lying around. Free
Shovel – If you do not have a shovel, borrow one or steal one; Free
Cinder blocks – for a single level raised bed garden, you will need 8 cinder blocks.  For a double level, you will need 16 cinder blocks. I’ll assume you will double yours. $10.48
Compost/topsoil – for a single level, you will need just under 1/2 cubic yard of growing material.  For a double level, you will need about 3/4 cubic yard of growing material. Cost for me is $27 per cubic yard. $27
TOTAL $37.48

FOUR STEPS TO BUILDING A RAISED BED GARDEN

1. Plot your garden.  I used paint sticks because they were free.  I cut a line from one corner of the paint stick to the edge about four inches away.  Then I snapped off the resulting triangle. These will be used as stakes.  Stick them into the ground where the corners of your garden will be.

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Sandra using a tilling machine. You can see the paint stick stakes that are the boundaries of the garden.

2.  Till the land you will be placing your garden on.  We were placing our garden on grass, and some of our vegetables would have deep roots.  I did not want the roots to be stopped by the hard barrier of grass and compacted soil so tilling the grass was necessary.  As you can see, we used a tilling machine, but for a 4’x4′ raised bed garden, you can use your shovel.

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Double height cinder block walls.

 

 

3. Lay the sides of the raised bed garden.

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4. Fill your raised bed garden with compost and topsoil.  I could find no guidelines for the ideal mix of topsoil to compost, and many people on the web have used 100% compost successfully, but I opted for a ratio of 70% compost and 30% topsoil.

Our raised bed garden was ambitious because of the size.  We have close to 300 square feet of garden now planted.  It took a full weekend of hard labor to put it together.  To make ours, we needed 250 cinder blocks (3 pallets) and 15 cubic yards of compost/topsoil.  We had a 25 foot x 25 foot tarp and the growing medium took up the entire tarp about six feet tall.  I am glad that it is done and it is one of those things that you only need to do once.

 

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Here is a photo of my completed raised bed gardens.  The inner dimensions of each garden measures 23 feet in length and 4 feet in width for a total of  276 square feet of garden. You can see that we also filled the holes in the cinder blocks and can grow flowers or small plants in them.  In terms of overall spend, this is how much I spent:

MATERIALS COST
Rent Tiller for 4 hours $50
259 Cinder blocks plus delivery $327
10 cubic yards of compost & 5 cubic yards of topsoil plus delivery ($150) $555
Day Laborers to shovel growing medium to garden $200
TOTAL $1,132

TIPS & SUGGESTIONS

  • You should sow your seeds a couple of weeks before putting together your garden.
  • Plot your garden in a convenient spot.  Think about how you will irrigate your veggies.  Also think about placement in terms of convenience of cutting the lawn around it.
  • Have all of your materials ready or easy to get.  Avoid running full speed to a stop sign.  Nothing is a worse momentum stopper than getting the paint sticks and cinder blocks, plotting and laying out the sides of your garden only to wait a week to get compost.
  • Consider the growing season.  Do this in the early spring.  We completed ours in early July, and while my mother was already harvesting vegetables, we had only just planted our seedlings. We are hopeful in getting some crop, but not nearly the bounty we would have gotten if we had put together our garden a month or two prior.  Next year we’re going to kill it.

Raised bed gardens of the style thahoophouse-greenhouse-67t I’ve put together are also ideal for green housing.  I plan on placing PVC pipes directly in the cinder blocks and creating a frame where I can attach plastic – then while my mom will be relegated to Whole Foods, I’ll be harvesting veggies year round.  You will have to wait for another blog post this winter for that build.

 

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