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When it comes to gardening or even small-scale farming, it’s hard to imagine that we can actually grow more by doing less. But, when we work in alignment with the principles of Mother Nature, she gladly rewards our dedicated efforts. And, that’s what no-till practices are all about!

“No-Till” describes an age-old agricultural practice that leaves the tractor behind. Conventional farming methods often rely on a plow-based approach to prepare beds for planting, disturbing the beneficial microorganisms deep within the soil and leaving the topsoil susceptible to erosion, threatening the sustainability of our lands. On the other hand, no-till farms count on a few basic, minimally-invasive hand tools, and the natural processes of decomposition to provide long-lasting benefits to the land (and, your pockets!) for decades to come. So, how exactly does no-till work and why should you integrate this practice into your own garden or farm?

Better Soil, Better Everything!

All good farmers know that the basis for a bountiful harvest rests in healthy soil, high in organic matter and nutrients. Using plow-based methods to turn over beds aerates, or oxygenates, the soil, leading to the overproduction of certain bacteria in the soil microbiota, disrupting the natural balance of the soil ecosystem. This disruption leads to heightened destruction of organic matter and the release of carbon in the soil overtime. Through the no-till process, crop residue following a harvest remains on the surface of the soil, providing a necessary food source for worms, fungi, and other beneficial insects to properly restore organic material to the soil. Thus, the higher the organic matter, the higher the crop yields with fewer soil amendments! Who can deny more nutritious vegetables for you, your family, and your community?!

While You’re At It, Save the Planet

As farmers rebuild the soil with no-till, today’s farmers are also thinking ahead. A result of no-till is the accumulation of crop residue protecting topsoil from the leading cause of agricultural degradation and desertification today, wind and water erosion. No-till also acts as method for water conservation as the increased organic matter holds moisture in the soil for longer periods, preventing water evaporation and reducing your time (and, money!) spent watering.

Need Even More Convincing?

No-till farming practices are becoming increasingly popular amongst small, organic market gardeners not just for its sustainability but also for its ability to drive market profits and lessen labor costs. Of course nutrient-dense soil allows for intensive crop spacing and high-yields, maximizing what you bring to the market. But, what about the endless hours spent weeding your freshly planted beds? Once no-till is in place, most farmers see a dramatic decrease in time spent in weed removal (time that most farmers just don’t have!) as weed seed is no longer resurfacing with plowing methods.

So, although no-till may seem too good to be true, what have you got to lose? Give no-till a try in your own garden or farm, and start saving your soil, your time, and your planet, too!

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The “Fresh Start” Spring Cleaning Checklist

With spring right around the corner, life is about to get busy for most homesteaders. There’s the garden to plan, seeds to start, and possibly even the arrival of some new baby animals to get ready for. On our homestead, we like to do our spring cleaning before all the craziness starts. It’s just really nice to head into this busy time of year with a clean slate.

Throughout history, every culture has celebrated the arrival of springtime with some sort of cleansing. Today, spring cleaning offers the same rewards. It provides the perfect chance to deep clean all those forgotten corners and repair or replace things that may have been put off over the winter. There’s something incredibly rewarding and renewing about the sight of a freshly cleaned homestead.

Spring Cleaning the Chicken Coop

No matter what bedding method you use, the chicken coop is always ready for a thorough, deep cleaning by the time spring rolls around. That means completely removing all of the bedding and giving the entire interior of the coop a good scrubbing.

1. Start by locking your ladies (and their fella) out of the coop. I also recommend putting on a dust mask to keep the dust out of your lungs and a pair of rubber gloves, for obvious reasons. If your nest boxes are removable, pull them out, empty them, and let them sit in the sun while you work on the rest of the coop. You should also pull out their feed and water bowls and perches, too.

2. To clean the coop, start by shoveling out all the old bedding and manure. Scrape up anything that’s stuck to the floor and give the entire coop a good sweeping.

3. Now that you have all the loose debris out of the coop, hose down the walls and floors. Scrape out any last bits of gunk, and then use your hose to rinse any remaining debris out the door.

4. We use white vinegar to disinfect your coop. Just spray the vinegar liberally all over the walls and floor. Let it sit for about an hour and then hose it out one more time.

5. Let the coop dry entirely and then add fresh bedding. While the coop is drying, you can clean the nest boxes, bowls, waterers, and perches.

6. Now is also an excellent time to do a thorough check of fencing, locks, and hinges to see if any repairs are needed. Then, you can let your girls go back into their fresh, clean house.

Spring Cleaning the Barn

Even with an excellent daily cleaning routine, the barn always seems to need a deep cleaning by the time spring arrives. One of the most important things you can do to keep your animals healthy is to provide them with a clean living environment. And, a clean barn will make things much more pleasant for you, too.

1. Once again, you need to start by removing all of the old bedding material.

2. Use a broom to get rid of any dust and spider webs hanging from the ceiling and walls, and then give the floor a good sweeping to remove the rest of the loose debris.

3. Now, use your power washer or hose to clean the walls and floors until they’re sparkling. We use vinegar on the floors in the barn, too. Simply spray everything down, let it sit for an hour or two, then give a good rinse.

4. Sweep all the excess water out of the barn and let it dry completely before adding fresh bedding. Clean all water buckets and food bowls while you’re waiting.

5. Don’t forget to check for needed equipment repairs.

Spring Cleaning in the House

There’s something especially lovely about having a fresh, clean house at the beginning of the busy season. Once the weather warms up, you’ll want to be outside as much as possible, so don’t be tempted to put off your housework until the last minute.

1. I like to work my way through one room at a time, going in a circle. Make a pile of things to keep, things that are trash, and things that can be passed on to someone else. Don’t forget to check underneath the furniture.

2. Now, empty out any drawers or cabinets in the room and repeat the sorting process. Wipe the drawers out before you replace items.

3. Empty out the closet and sort again. Use a broom or vacuum to remove cobwebs from the ceiling and shelves. Wipe down the shelves and clean the floor before you put everything away.

4. Now, remove the cobwebs from the ceilings in the central part of the room and clean the ceiling fan and light fixtures.

5. When you get to the kitchen, you’ll want to empty out the fridge and freezer and toss any expired items. It’s a good time to go through your pantry and food storage, too. Once they’re all emptied out, give them a good scrubbing before you put food back in.

6. Spot clean the walls as needed, wash the windows, and then clean the window sills and baseboards. While you’re at it, clean any mirrors in the room and wipe down any picture frames or knick knacks.

7. Sweep and mop the floors or vacuum and shampoo the carpets as needed. Make sure to get underneath the furniture and in the corners, too.

8. Put everything back where it goes and move on to the next room, repeating the steps until you’ve worked your way through the whole house. You may also want to clean your porches and other outdoor living areas, too.

Of course, every homestead is different, so you’ll need to adjust this routine to suit your needs. One thing’s for sure, there’s nothing better than a fresh, clean smelling homestead!

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