Ask Mr. and Mrs. Homegrown

The yodeling around here is non-stop. Photo by Elon Shoenholz

Hey Kids!

We thought it would be fun to find out what’s on your mind.

If you’ve got a question you’d like some advice on, this the place to ask. We’re best at answering questions about things like chickens, gardening, pickling and fixing bicycles. We’re not so great with questions regarding physics, Sanskrit translations or intellectual property law, but you’re welcome to ask nonetheless. If you have questions about us, our house, our garden, etc., we’d be happy to answer those, too.

Mr. Homegrown likes the widgets, so he’s putting one below that allows you to leave a voice message on the blog instead of a comment. I’m not really sure what the point of that is, but if you do it, you’ll make his day.

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14 Comments

  1. A question came in on the phone widget thingy. Erik is gone, and I don’t know how to display this question, so I’m just going to cover it this way:

    The question was “What do we feed our chickens?” The caller is feeding his chickens commercial food but wondering about homemade food.

    This is an excellent question, one worthy of an entire future post. The short answer is that we also give ours commercial layer feed, as well as lots of greens and veg scraps from the kitchen.

    As in so much of this DIY business, deciding what to do in this case is a matter of trade-offs, time, money, and general inclination.

    Commercial feed has a lot of soy in it, which, to my mind, isn’t the best protein source, and which is usually a genetically modified crop. I’m not a soy fan in general, unless its fermented. So it takes a little purposeful blindness to feed the ladies the commercial feed.

    So yes, I like the idea of making my own feed. I like it theoretically, but have not yet had the time to do the research necessary to make it happen. I’d also want to do a cost breakdown on that project. Especially since the ladies are on winter strike and are complete freeloaders.

    You do have to be very careful with homemade food. We know of at least one flock of hens who were made sick due to nutritional deficiencies when their owners decided to make their own food. One of the hens ended up going to the vet to get a thin shelled egg picked out of her…is the upper vent called the oviduct? Whatever. It was a mess.

    On the other hand, we know a couple who have a beautiful flock which is fed a primo organic whole grain diet, supplemented with calcium, lots of greens, and fresh meal worms, bred for them in the garage. (Yay! Yet more livestock to tend!) Gary and Craig seem to have a good system down, so we’ll interview them and report back in a dedicated post.

    But all in all, I’d say do what you can do, and never feel guilty if you can’t do it all.

  2. Adam Bomb: Another good question! I bet Erik would want a crack at this one, but he’s still out. If he disagrees with me, he’ll have to post his own reply.

    Personally I believe plants need soil. I notice the AeroGarden advertises itself as being “Dirt-free.” That’s pretty funny. And culturally significant. But I digress. Trying to separate plants from the dirt is like trying to separate us from our blood.

    Soil is not dirt, it’s a complex web of life that supports plants, and plants draw more from it than water. I think its impossible for us to reproduce this reciprocal network with a chemical cocktail. Sure, we can get results. Plants grow, but I doubt that they are as nutritious. I’ve read that fruits and veg we grow today in the industrial system are less nutritious than those our parents and grandparents ate, because we’re growing with chemical cocktails on depleted soil. Soil-less growing systems would have the same problem.

    Aquaponics is a little different, because at least there are some symbiotic organic systems there. Who knows what interesting relationships might grow out of an old, big system? But I’m no expert, really.

    If I lived in an apartment still, I’d grow plants in windows, in pots, with grow lights as necessary. Some plants do pretty well in pots indoors. All herbs and lettuces, particularly. You can supplement your soil with worm castings that you can also produce in your apartment.

    But also, you’ve got the AeroGarden, so don’t waste it–try it out and see how it does. Or hack it into something more interesting. If you like it, and like what it produces for you, then you should definitely enjoy it, despite my soil prejudices.

  3. I bought an Aerogarden for my wife because it was on sale. This is on top of the other various methods of growing herbs that I have. So far, I’ve been happy with it. I can’t keep the two basil plants that I have in there pruned enough.

    My question is:

    As a container gardener, what can i do to “refresh” the soil that I’ve used this year for next? Particularly, a couple of my cherry tomato plants’ soil looks to have contracted a fungus that damaged their roots, over the summer here in Ohio. I don’t have a problem just tossing this soil, as it’s a small amount. But I was wondering if there was anything I could do to save it and/or ready all my other soil for a fresh start in March.

    Thank you!

  4. In a question related to Ben’s, is there a way to treat soil that has been heavily fertilized or depleted of it’s natural nutrients? Should I just get over the chemical fertilizers and start sowing in compost in the hope that the chemicals will slowly be processed out?

  5. Mr. Homegrown Here. On hydroponics–in general I’m not a fan and agree with Mrs. Homegrown on this. Aquaponics, as Mrs. notes, looks more promising. I am willing to keep an open mind. Perhaps, in some circumstances, it would be better to eat fresh hydroponically grown veggies than soil grown veggies shipped thousands of miles. But hydroponics are energy intensive and expensive. Aquaponic systems are also difficult to maintain. I’m interested in, though haven’t evaluated, this open source hydroponic system which you can see at http://www.windowfarms.org/.

    Container soil: I wouldn’t try to save soil that had a problem. I compost spent container soil. Our compost pile gets hot enough to kill pathogens.

    Xak: first send your soil to be tested if you haven’t already. UMass has a cheap one. The test will tell you what needs to be added, if anything. Nitrogen moves through soil rapidly–you can try to leach it out by flooding if the test shows an excess. Potassium and phosphorus, stick around much longer. Compost will improve soil texture–your soil test will tell you if you need to add compost. I can’t overemphasize the importance of a soil test before adding any fertilizers. Most people tend to add way too much potassium and phosphorus which can run out of our yards when it rains and pollute the environment. The soil tests I’ve done on our yard show that, for growing vegetables, all I need to add is a modest amount of nitrogen.

  6. What form of nitrogen do you usually add? Do the hens supply all or at least some of that? Sure, you may not be getting eggs but as you’re still feeding them they must be contributing something.

  7. Hey Ginny,

    Mostly alfalfa meal. Used to use blood meal, which has a higher nitrogen ratio, but got grossed out thinking about where it comes from. And, yeah, hens provide nitrogen for the compost pile.

  8. Hey Teresa,

    You broadcast cover crops. Groworganic.com has a bunch of different ones depending on what you’re trying to do–i.e. add organic matter, get rid of nematodes, feed chickens or break up heavy soil. So what do you want to do?

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