From the Ground Up

Fall Garden Cleanup Checklist

James WhiteWith cooler weather approaching, most of us are done with our blood-sweat-and-tears gardening for the year, but that doesn’t mean we put away our tools just yet. A little fall prepping will get you off to a great start in spring.

Disease Cleanup

Had a bout of late blight this season? Removing all traces of infected plants is crucial to a healthy garden next year.

  • Remove all plant parts and leafy material, pieces of tomatoes or undug potatoes.
  • Unless you know you can assure a temperature of 130-140 degrees through composting, double bag the debris and toss it in the trash – your compost won’t get hot enough to destroy the disease.
  • Rotate crops to reduce chance of this problem again next year.
  • Disinfect any tools used during this process so disease isn’t spread to other plants or areas of the garden.
  • Weed and clean up foliage around plants and flowers that may carry disease.

cleaning out the garden | Fotolia/alisonhancock

Photo: Fotolia/alisonhancock

Soil Test

The end of the season can be the perfect time to get a soil test and see how your soil is faring, what it needs and how you can get it ready for spring planting.

  • While a pH test is a good idea, there’s also several soil tests you can do at home without any test kits, such as checking for organisms in the soil, assessing the soil structure and tilth and soil compaction.


  • Tilling in the fall not only destroys a lot of pesky bugs that would normally overwinter there, but also gives your soil a good head start on breaking down nutrients to feed your spring crops.
  • Add a layer of compost if you feel like it.

If you know your soil needs nutrients or is imbalanced, take this time to add whatever it needs so it’s ready for planting in the spring.


  • Not only can this choke out weeds that already exist, but a good thick layer of mulch is also the perfect way to prevent new weed seeds from germinating in the first place.
  • The mulch you want to use in your garden will depend on your needs, but for those of us who opt for solarized hay, you’ll need to use a forklift to bust out the bales. As your garden grows over the years, so do your needs and eventually moving everything by hand just doesn’t cut it.
  • Newspaper covered with another layer of mulch is another great choice, and this option encourages earthworms in your soil. The earthworms will aerate the soil and fertilize the area with castings.

Clean and Store Tools

Your tools are an investment; taking care of them means you get more out of that investment.

  • Disinfect all tools that may have come in contact with diseased plants, including pruning shears and trowels. Soak in a mixture of cleaning liquid, or bleach and water. Then rinse and dry, leaving no moisture on the tools.
  • Lightly oil the tools so they don’t rust in cool weather and store in a safe, dry location.
  • Drain and store garden hoses
  • Drain the fuel tanks on your lawn mower and any other large equipment; check owners’ manuals for other winter care instructions.

garden tools | Fotolia/Melinda Fawver

Photo: Fotolia/Melinda Fawver

A little extra work in the fall will get your spring season off with a bang and have your garden growing tall and green in no time at all. While this is by no means a comprehensive list, it’s a great place to start toward a happier and healthier spring garden. Fall doesn’t mean gardening season is over by any means – it’s just the cycle starting all over again.

22 Natural Remedies for Everyday Ailments

James WhiteYou don’t have to pop a pill for everything. Some people aren’t big fans of taking conventional medicine, and there’s no reason to for minor issues. If you’re looking for some home remedies, check out these ideas for common complaints you can cure naturally.

1. Use Eucalyptus to Clear a Stuffy Nose

A few drops of eucalyptus oil in a humidifier will help clear a stuffy nose. The minty essential oil helps loosen up mucus and reduce swelling.

2. Honey for a Sore Throat

A spoonful of raw honey will instantly help ease a sore throat. As an added bonus, it will also help quell coughing fits. Mix a tablespoon of honey with a squeeze of lemon in a warm cup of water for a soothing drink.

3. Basil for Bug Bites

A bit of crushed basil on a mosquito bite will help relive the itchiness. Plus, it smells much better than anything from a bottle.

4. Coconut Oil Aftershave

If you have sensitive skin, using coconut oil as an aftershave lotion can help immensely. Dull hair can also be revived with an oil soak. Mix coconut oil with any essential oil of your choice and smooth it through your hair. Let it sit for a least half an hour, then wash it out thoroughly. This is best for fine hair, although it can be used on all hair types. Just make sure to investigate the best way to use oil for your hair!

5. Apple Cider Vinegar for Bloating, Diabetes, and Heartburn

Organic apple cider vinegar has a host of benefits, from relieving bloating to preventing diabetes to helping those with heartburn. Learn more about the benefits of apple cider vinegar here.

6. Calm Nausea With Ginger

An upset stomach can be helped with ginger. Ginger can also help with sea-sickness. You can buy an all-natural tea with ginger, or keep a piece of fresh ginger in your fridge (or freezer to make it last longer), and then just shave off a few pieces to add to hot water. Steep for 5 to 15 minutes before drinking.

7. Lesson Heartburn With Baking Soda

A touch of baking soda in a glass of water will clear late-night heartburn up in no time. Just be sure not to use too much, or you’ll be up burping instead!

8. Keep Bugs Away With Peppermint

You don’t have to pile on a chemical bug spray to keep annoying pests away. Place a few drops of peppermint essential oil into witch hazel or water and spray when needed. Just make sure to avoid your eyes!

9. Chamomile for Sleeplessness

Chamomile is great for promoting relaxation and preparing you for sleep. A cup of chamomile tea is a great way to get ready for bed.

10. Baking Soda for Bee Stings

If you or a child is stung by a bee, make a paste with baking soda and water, and rub it on the sting. The pain will stop instantly!

11. Peppermint for Headaches

In either tea or as an essential oil, peppermint is a great way to relive a tension headache. The cooling effect can be very effective at giving you a bit of stress relief, too.

12. Lavender for Restless Leg Syndrome

Do your legs and feet start to bug you at night? Rub a few drops of lavender essential oil on the areas of your legs that hurt (such as the ankle). Lavender is also known to help relieve anxiety, so it’s a great way to get your mind ready for a calm, restful sleep.

13. Marshmallow Root for Irritation and Sore Throats

Marshmallow root has been used for more than 2,000 years to calm irritation and help with sore throats. It helps moisten and reduce swelling in mucus membranes throughout the body, and reduces irritation as a result.

14. Witch Hazel for Your Face

Witch hazel is best known as a natural astringent. It’s a wonderful agent to help balance your skin after washing and helps shrink pores. If that’s what you’re after, then this is what you need in your skin care routine.

15. Green Tea for the Jitters

Green tea is known to help relive anxiety and lower blood sugar, especially when drunk regularly. However, it does have caffeine in it, so try drinking it before noon.

16. CoQ10 and Magnesium for Heart Palpitations

For many people, heart palpitations are caused by anxiety. A great way to keep your cortisol levels in check and stop palpitations is by taking CoQ10 and magnesium on a daily basis. (Consult with your doctor to make sure you don’t have any other serious heart issues.)

17. Use Witch Hazel for Hemorrhoids

The astringent properties of witch hazel can help with hemorrhoids. The alcohol causes the blood vessels to contract, reducing swelling and tenderness.

18. Honey for Minor Scratches

Honey is a natural antibiotic. Applying it to minor wounds can help prevent infection and help a wound heal faster.

19. Reduce a Fever with Linden Flower Tea

A cup of tea can help calm a low-grade fever and give everyone the rest they need. Be sure to go to your doctor if the fever gets too high!

20. Tea Tree Oil for Minor Infections

For minor skin infections, try combining one drop tea tree essential oil (often called Melaleuca) into five drops of coconut oil. Rub together and apply to infected spot twice a day. Most skin infections will clear up, but if the infection gets worse, go see a doctor.

21. Thyme for Snoring

While thyme has many antibacterial health benefits, a drop mixed with a few drops of coconut oil can be a quick remedy for someone who snores. Lightly rub some of the mixed oil to the bottom of your big toe before you go to bed. Or you can diffuse thyme in your bedroom a half-hour before you go to sleep.

22. Turmeric, Willow Bark, or Cat’s Claw for Arthritis

Turmeric, willow bark, and cat’s claw are known for helping calm inflammation. Instead of taking aspirin, use one of these natural remedies to help arthiritis.

As with all natural remedies, it’s important to consult your doctor before using. Also if you’re not sure if you are allergic to the new herb, try it in a small dose to see if you have a negative reaction before using it regularly.

This is hardly an exhaustive list of natural remedies for common ailments. Any issue you might have has a potential cure out there. It can’t hurt to look around!

Photo from GraphicStock

What You Should Know Before Planting Fruit Trees

James White

Growing your own food is a fulfilling and delicious process. Having fruit trees means that you have the opportunity to enjoy fresh, sweet fruit during harvest time and then throughout the year, assuming you can or jelly your fruits for later.

Planting fruit trees can be a relatively simple process as long as you are informed and educated about the trees that grow best in your area. Below are a few things to know before planting fruit trees so that you can successfully grow and harvest fruit.

1. Decide What Types of Fruit You Want to Plant

One of the best things about deciding to plant fruit trees is that you get to choose what types of fruit you want to grow. Make a list of your favorites, then ask your family what their favorites are. Once you have a list, figure out which trees you can plant in your area.

2. Pick the Right Trees for Your Area

Different fruit trees thrive in different areas, so picking the right type of fruit tree will ensure a bountiful harvest. The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map gives you the information you’ll need to pick the right trees for your area.

apple tree orchard

3. Decide Where to Plant Your Orchard

After you’ve decided what fruit trees you’re going to plant, then it’s time to decide where you’re going to plant them. Fruit trees require a minimum amount space, usually an area that is 25 feet by 25 feet, so make sure you have enough room for your tree. If you’re planning on planting more than one tree, make sure you have enough space for each tree you need to plant. When deciding how many trees to plant, keep in mind how much fruit each tree yields.

If you decide to plant dwarf fruit trees, you won’t need as much space for your orchard, but you will need a spot with the right type of soil and plenty of sunshine. Talking to a local extension office, a greenhouse, or other farmers in your area can help you determine if your soil is fit for fruit trees.

4. Your Fruit Trees and Pollination

Certain fruit trees won’t bear fruit unless they are near another compatible tree for pollination. Ask your nursery or extension office which trees work the best side by side to bear fruit. You’ll also need to keep this in mind when planning your orchard so that you have enough room for your trees.

5. Know When to Plant Your Orchard

Depending on where you live and what types of trees you are planting, when you plant is important. If you’re unsure about the optimum time to plant your tree, talk to a greenhouse, the extension office, or other farmers in your area.

6. Know How to Plant Your Orchard

Are you growing a tree from seed or getting a bare-root fruit tree? Both require different care and nurturing, so be prepared and informed so you can take care of your tree. A bare-root tree will probably bear fruit sooner than a tree grown from seed, and knowing how to plant bare root-fruit trees will ensure your success.

7. Watering Your Trees

Make sure your new orchard is getting all the water it needs by digging a trough around the tree. This will help water get to the roots where it is needed most. If you live in a rainy area, you can leave it to Mother Nature to water your fruit trees. If your climate is a little dryer, make sure your tree is soaked once a week to ensure it stays hydrated.

Growing fruit trees can be an incredibly bountiful and gratifying experience. Most of the time, growing an orchard isn’t difficult, but to ensure your success, make sure you select trees that bear fruit you enjoy and that thrive in your area.  

Top 7 Tools for a Growing Homestead

James WhiteBy now you've bought the farm or a little plot of land to call your own and you’re digging into the soil. That also means you've begun a list of equipment you didn't realize was essential. You didn't wait to buy a tractor, did you?

While you're taking stock of your homestead equipment, consider the following top tools for growing your homestead.

Rear-Tined Rotary Tiller

While you have an option of hitching a plow to a tractor or maybe even a plow horse, a rear-tined tiller is easy to work on and gets the job done. Organic gardening isn't difficult, but it is different, and a strong tiller will make your work easier.

Look for a tiller meant for small-plot farmers, made with cast-iron parts. The advantage with heavier machines like this is they'll break apart sod more easily and will also help to mix your compost into the soil.

Just keep in mind that you'll have to make sure the machine doesn't get clogged with cornstalks or wrapped in vines. If you allow the engine to get bogged down, it'll end up overheating.


All tractors are not created equal, but all tractors are meant for multiple tasks. The most important tool in your repertoire, an engine-powered machine like a commercial-grade tractor is the modern replacement for work horses. In fairness, I'd prefer the horses, but the maintenance costs for a team of horses — not to mention the purchase of said horses — goes outside the bounds of a standard homestead startup.

Your tractor will be one of your largest purchases, but remember you'll be using it as everything from a backhoe or plow to a forklift.

If you absolutely can't afford to buy a modern tractor, look into an antique with a solid track record. They're not quite as reliable, but they're easier to work on yourself.

Come-Along and Wire Fence Mandrel

Fencing sounds simple — keep the good in and the bad out. But rabbits, foxes and other creatures have a habit of going exactly where they aren't supposed to be regardless of a fence. Of course, that means you'll be repairing fences more often than you'd like. That's where the come-along and wire fence mandrel come in handy.

A come-along is a handheld winch and ratchet tool used to pull cables taught between fence posts. Repairing fencing without one is a waste of time. The mandrel is used to keep the loop of cable from the fencepost in place.


When you first start gardening, a hand-harvesting tool is probably all you'll need, but as your homestead begins to grow you'll need to consider the purchase of a harvester, also known as combines. These machines will reap, thresh and winnow your spreading crops and speed up your harvesting time.


Yes, this is your standard, ideal spade. You want a shovel with a thick, flat blade. Also, it will be useful to learn how to sharpen the edge. Make sure you purchase a spade with a flat edge where the handle meets the spade itself, so you have a place to step down on to increase the force of the blade.

Mechanic's Hand Tools

No homestead can survive without a set of hand tools. You'll need a set with pliers, screwdrivers wrenches, ratchet handles and extensions in all shapes and sizes, with a few extras of your most used sizes.

Don't be tempted by sale signs or discount tools. Unlike hand tools for an apartment owner, these will be used every single day on demanding projects. I promise, you don't want to break a wrench when you need to fix your tractor.


My grandfather always told me you were only as good as your pocketknife. As a homesteader, that couldn't be more true, but you'll need more than a pocketknife to run your farm.

A complete knife collection is an essential. Besides the on-the-go use of a pocketknife, you'll have animals to butcher for yourself and for selling. A butcher knife without a razor sharp edge will cost you time and money.

Remember, a kitchen is the heart of any home. A streamlined kitchen will have sharp knives. You just have to make the decision on what type of knife is best for you, and there is no perfect knife. You'll always have to sharpen them and occasionally something will break.

There isn't a way to make homesteading easy, but we can help you make it easier. Practice routine care and maintenance on all of your equipment, and your tools will help your homestead achieve a bountiful season.

working at sunset | Fotolia/zannal

Working at sunset. Photo: Fotolia/zannal

What Type of Home Loan Is Best for Farms and Homesteads?

James White


A few years ago we bought a house in the rolling farmlands of Pennsylvania. After some initial research, I thought the USDA loan that's specific for buying rural land especially for agriculture was going to be best. But after I started comparing all loans, I realized just a local credit union's conventional loan would save me more money over the long run.

Of course, every person is going to have a different situation. However, before you decide what type of home loan is best for your needs, please make sure you ask around and get all the details on fees, interest rates, etc. before deciding.

Below you'll find some of my research on the different types of mortgages and when they might come into play.

USDA Loans

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Farm Service Agency (FSA) offer loans for farms and homesteads. A USDA/FSA loan to purchase a farm is called Farm Ownership — Direct. There are also USDA/FSA guaranteed loans, which are insured.

USDA/FSA loans require either no or a low down payment. They are intended for low- to moderate-income people, so part of the application will require that you don’t exceed the income limit.

Currently, the interest rate for a USDA/FSA farm ownership loan is 3.875 percent. Bear in mind, though, that interest rates can vary each day and depending on your credit score. The interest rate is not firm until you receive the mortgage loan from your lender, and the rate can go up or down from the current rate. A higher interest rate means you will be paying more in interest. A lower one means you will be paying less in interest. 

The USDA loan also requires a fee that is added to your loan amount. You'll also have to pay mortgage insurance if you can't pay 20 percent of the farm upfront.

FHA Loans

The United States Federal Housing Administration (FHA) also has loans available for first-time home buyers. The FHA does not itself make loans, but guarantees loans that are made through regular lenders such as banks. Participating lenders display signs or other information indicating they participate in FHA loans.

FHA loans require less of a down payment than so conventional mortgages for a home. FHA loans, depending on the lender, can be 5 percent or less.

Even though that might be great news upfront, over the long haul you'll pay more since the interest rates are higher than conventional loans and you will have mortgage insurance, which is an extra $100+ per month tacked onto your bill for the life of the loan.

Conventional Loans

It's a common misunderstanding that conventional loans are only for those who can pay a 20 percent down payment. Not true. We actually only paid 10 percent and we could have gone done to 5 percent even! Keep in mind, how much down payment you can afford will determine your interest rate on the loan. So a 5 percent down payment may come with a 4.24 percent interest rate but with a 10 percent down payment you could secure a 3.75 percent interest rate.

If you do pay less than 20 percent down payment, you'll have to pay private mortgage insurance, but unlike USDA and FHA the mortgage insurance is not for the life of the loan. It's only until you can get 20 percent equity in your land. 

Loans and Grants

When you own a farm, equipment and other buildings are crucial and they are often very expensive. The USDA also offers a number of smaller loans for buildings and equipment.

They also offer grants. Grants are monies given for improvements, but the monies, unlike loans, never need to be paid back.


Choosing what type of loan is best for you is only the beginning. There are several other things to think about when applying for a mortgage that can affect your finances for years to come.

• Down Payment and Interest Rates: The amount of the loan you take out and the interest rate will determine how much you pay each month. It’s a good idea to use a mortgage calculator to compare rates and amounts. Only you can figure out if it makes more sense to pay more in your down payment so you carry less debt to be paid off.
• PMI: In exchange for a low down payment, you may be required to pay a private mortgage insurance (PMI) cost every month. The PMI is required because, proportionally, USDA and FHA loan holders begin by owning no or little of their property. The insurance is to cover the lender in case of a default. In most cases, once you have made enough payments to own a certain percentage of the property, the PMI is removed from the monthly payment.
• Loan Term: Besides your down payment, how long your loan term is also impacts your interest rate and monthly payment. You definitely don't want to agree to a monthly payment you can't afford or stretches you to the limit. A 30 year term is pretty typical. 

There are several options for farm and homestead home loans that require no or low down payments. There are also smaller loans and grants available for improvements and equipment. Folks considering these loans should carefully compare available loans and rates.

Low-Stress Cattle Handling Secrets

James White

low stress livestock handling tips
Photo by Fotolia/davidhewison

I’ve recently been reading through Humane Livestock Handling by Temple Grandin to better understand and move my growing herd of cattle. I’m learning how low-stress cattle handling is the key to better profits and less risk around my herd as my staff and I get older and a little slower!

It has become a topic of discussion within my community.

Here are a few highlights I’ve learned and wanted to share with you:

• The position of a cattle's front hooves will indicate the direction they are most likely to go. For example, if their right front hoof is back then the cow is most likely wanting to go back that way. So you can change their direction by how you position their front feet. This also drives home the point that it’s important to keep your eye on the cattle and they will tell you where you need to be to move them.

• Before trying to get close to a cow, you want to make sure the cow calms down. Each cow feels differently about how comfortable it is with your proximity. You can get your cow to move and react based on your position to the cow. See this video.

• Cows are a natural prey, so make sure you don’t act like a predator by being aggressive around them. Respect them, and they will soon become OK with your presence. Then you can better handle the cow without stress on the cattle or more work for you.

• When driving the cattle from the rear, use a zigzag technique as outlined by Bud Williams here.

• Use white, translucent skylights and quieter equipment to keep cattle calm. Remember that a cow’s first time in a squeeze chute needs to be low stress or else they will hate the squeeze chute in the future.

Since we’re on the topic of low-stress livestock handling, particularly when the cow is in a squeeze chute, I wanted to share some insider knowledge on a new squeeze chute being tested.

I currently have a manual squeeze chute that I bought used several years ago. While it’s a good squeeze chute, I do sometimes have issues getting access to the cow’s neck. I heard this was a common issue among squeeze chutes. Some catches are too narrow, some are positioned in an awkward way, and others don’t exist at all, forcing us to use side access gates to get here. Not really healthy for me or the cattle.

I was on the phone with a buddy last week who is a rancher in Alberta, and I asked if he had any ideas of how to make neck access easier. Turns out he has been testing a new cattle squeeze chute that solves my problem. I asked him where he got it, but all he could tell me is it’s built by Arrowquip.

He wasn’t able to give me many details since it hasn’t been released yet ... but he did send me some photos.


The squeeze chute I have now allows for about a 6.5” branding area. Looking at the image, I bet that the size is easily double on the new one.

From what I could prod out of him, it’s also fully removeable, allowing us to remove a bar at the top or make the area completely open by removing the entire bottom panel. He didn’t say how it all works, but it sure looks like an upgrade.

Here are a few other photos of the new cattle squeeze chute he sent over.

New Rubber Flooring being tested in Alberta canada




He mentioned he was testing a new rubber floor that doesn’t buckle, an overhaul of the head holder, and an anti-swing latch on their vet cage, too. For those interested in quiet operation, he said it was by far the quietest squeeze chute he’s used in the last 20 years.

Many of these improvements will help lower our livestock’s stress levels and make it easier for ranchers to handle cattle in squeeze chutes.

Has anyone else heard anything about Arrowquip’s new squeeze chute?

For more about Arrowquip and their cattle equipment, see:

Build a Garden Fence to Keep Animals Out

James WhiteConstructing your own garden is both relaxing and rewarding. Whether your goal is to plant award-winning roses or succulent vegetables, a DIY fence will protect your coveted creations from unwanted guests. All you need is a free day and a few common tools to build your own garden fence, with the total cost coming to approximately $800.

Tools Needed:

• Hammer
• Leveler
• Shovel OR Hole Digger
• Wood Saw
• Wire Cutter

Supplies Needed:

• 4 boxes of nails
• 39 1" x 4" x 16' boards
• 9 4" x 4" x 6' boards
Field fence
Gate latch & handle

Plotting Hole Placement & Digging

Begin by scoping out a flat, 30' x 30' piece of land to place the garden. Next, dig nine holes for the fence posts, creating a square. Each hole should be 12 inches wide by two feet deep. You should separate the holes by 14.5 feet on each side. On the side where you'll want the entrance to the garden, dig one additional hole halfway between one of the 14.5-foot lengths. Place one 4" x 4" x 6' boards in each hole and pack dirt to fill it.

Cutting the Wood & Fence

Next, cut 32 of the 1" x 4" x 16' boards to measure 14.5 feet in length. Cut the remaining seven boards to four feet minus two board lengths, or about eight inches (using board length for this will save time measuring). Then, cut two of the sixteen, 14.5-foot boards in half and trim an additional two inches off of each piece. To finish, cut the field fence using a wire cutter. Make eight 14.5-foot sections, and then cut one of those eight sections in half.

Creating the Fencing

Build a side of fencing by nailing two, 14.5-foot 1x4s to two of the smaller-cut 1x4s to create a rectangle. Repeat this process until you have seven sides of fencing total. The long sides will overlay the two smaller sides.

Next, nail a 14.5-foot section of field fence to one side of each rectangle. Finally, place a respective 1x4 over each side, covering the edge, and nail it in.

Repeat this entire process with the two smaller sections for the garden entrance. Now you’re ready to put everything together!

Constructing the Fence

Flush each fence side onto a fence post (4x4) and nail it into the top and bottom of each side. Use a level and mark each post to ensure accuracy before nailing it in. If possible, get the help of some friends or family, as the overall construction process may be daunting for a single individual.

Finishing Touches

For your garden entrance, leave one side of the fence unattached to the fence post. Pick an attractive, partial overlay hinge to complement your garden aesthetic. Install the hinge and latch where the handle feels most natural. You can add additional touches like paint to take your garden fence to the next level, or simply enjoy the beauty from your garden.

Now that you’re done, give yourself a pat on the back. This garden fence will help keep your garden intact by preventing animals from invading the space and sabotaging weeks of growth. Best of all, you built it yourself!


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