Saturday, January 31, 2015

DIY Seed Starter Shelves

Two years ago I began starting my vegetable plants by seed. This has significantly cut my gardening costs even while increasing the number of plants each year, so there is no going back to buying seedlings from the home and garden center.

This first year I kept the seed trays outside. I kept them on the shelves of some old rolling TV carts (the ones they used in public schools when I was little) and I rolled them into the sun each morning and back under the carport each night. We live in Louisiana and we had an unusually mild winter, so most of the seedlings did okay. 

Last year I decided to keep them all inside as it was an unusually cold winter. It was an impromptu set up to say the least. I put a vinyl tablecloth over the dining room table and covered the whole thing with six packs in flood trays to catch the water. Then I positioned every lamp in the house between the flood trays to get as much light to them as possible. After not using the dining room or any lamps for two months, we had a little better success with the seedlings, but still not phenomenal. 

This year I decided to bite the bullet and invest the money in actually build a seed starting system that gives the seeds everything they need for the strongest start possible. I look forward to seeing how this new set up affects the yields once the vegetables start coming in. 

All things considered it wasn't a very expensive endeavor. I used some plastic stackable shelves that I had in the greenhouse, so the frame was already there. If you don't have shelves already and don't want to buy a new set, you can always create a custom frame out of 2x4's. Since this is going in the spare room that has carpet, I put down a vinyl tablecloth for easy clean up in case there are any leaks.

I then bought three hanging fluorescent work light fixtures for $12 a piece and six daylight fluorescent bulbs for $5 a piece. The fixtures already came with chains, but I had to add S hooks. Instead of running back to the hardware store, I just made my own out of a metal clothes hanger. I hung the lights as low as they will go to start off with and plugged them all in to a power strip so that I can turn them all on and off at the same time. Now all I need are the plants!

I bought these barbeque trays from the dollar store last year to use as flood trays, and they work great, especially for the price! I can fit 5 six packs on each one, and this allows me to water the plants from the bottom rather than the top.

I used seed starting mix to put in the six packs. The Jiffy Organic is awesome and not very expensive (about $5 per bag). For the six packs, I used some old ones that I had kept from last year and disinfected them.

Lower the lights all the way so that they are close to the plants! And I'm not sure if you can see in the picture, but I label each six pack with a plastic knife and a Sharpie. For some reason I always have the knives left in those mixed boxes of plastic utensils and they work perfect for this!

This set up has worked so amazingly, I just have to share the progress! I will show you the progress of just one of the six packs to give you an idea- I planted the Roma tomato seeds on Jan. 10, and the first ones sprouted after only 6 days. Here is the growth over the first few weeks.

Jan. 18

Jan. 19

Jan. 21

Jan. 28

By Jan. 31 I had to transplant them into 4 inch pots after only 3 weeks! At this point, I am hoping the weather warms up soon or I'm afraid I'll have a full container garden inside my house! 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Common Ways Backyard Chickens Die and How to Avoid Them

When I first got backyard chickens I was told by many sources to get more chicks than we planned on having because not all of the chicks would live to be laying hens. While I took them seriously, I had no idea just how many chicken deaths I would have to deal with in the first year. In all honesty, chickens are really dumb. I mean really, really dumb. Our chickens free range, which means that they have a lot of room to be creative and unique in their stupidity. Even if you do everything right, they will still find a way to die, but here are some of the most common ways that backyard chickens meet their maker and how to avoid them if possible.

1. Dogs
We have lost countless chickens to dogs. Literally, countless. I don't care how nice your neighbor's dog is, even if they coexist happily with the chickens while separated by a fence, the moment that barrier is gone, they will snap the neck of every chicken in your flock and fling feathers across the whole yard. We have had our chickens fly yards with dogs, and we have had dogs dig into our yard, but the outcome is always the same. Feathers everywhere and dead chickens. Sometimes there is no good solution. For us, we couldn't rest easy until one neighbor moved away! If you want to have backyard chickens, it's just a risk you have to take.

2. Chicken Hawks
Chicken hawks are mean. They are large birds that will circle over your yard, studying your beautiful hens, and then nose dive down and snatch them right from in front of you! I have read a lot of diy ways to keep away chicken hawks (from plastic owls to shiny metallic things hanging all over) and tried most of them. The only way to really stop them is to make sure your chickens have a place to hide where they can relax- a coop, some bushes, tree cover, etc. The smart chickens will learn to take cover when the hawks are around, but like I said, smart chickens are few and far between. Once chickens get full-grown, especially if you have the heavier dual purpose breeds, they will be too big for the chicken hawks. If you have chicks or bantams, I would suggest keeping them in a coop or run that has an enclosed top until they are big enough to hold their own.

3. Eggs
Chickens can become egg bound, which means that an egg that they should be laying instead gets stuck inside of them. It cannot stay there long without the chicken dying. If you notice a chicken trying to lay but unable to, give it a warm bath as soon as possible. I know it sounds funny, but it will almost always relax the muscles enough for the egg to dislodge. If that doesn't work, you may have to go in there after it, but that gets tricky because you don't want the egg to break inside of the hen in the process.

4. Raccoons
Raccoons will be attracted by the chicken food, but will then go after the chickens. Even chickens inside of a coop will not be safe from these destructive beasts. Raccoons will reach their tiny hands through the holes in the cage and literally tear your flock limb from limb. Chickens are VERY heavy sleepers, and probably won't even wake up through this process, believe it or not! To keep the raccoons from getting to the chickens, make sure they sleep in an enclosed area that has solid walls. If your chickens like to sleep on a roosting stick next to the chicken wire, put a board over that part of the wall so that the raccoons can't reach in.

5. Worms
Chickens can get worms, and particularly gape worms, which could kill a chicken if left unchecked. Learn the signs and treatments HERE to avoid losing a chicken due to this very treatable problem.

6. Water
You probably think I'm talking about dehydration, which would kill a chicken, but that isn't actually what I meant. When you have small chicks, they will often fall into their water bowl and drown, even if it is only an inch deep. Make sure to fill the water bowl with rocks so that they can sip the water from between them without falling in.

7. Gender
Even if you specifically order all hens, every now and then you may end up with a rooster or two...or eight, like we did. Roosters don't generally mix well with suburban neighbors, so this means they will not make it to adulthood. Instead of waiting until our neighbor to murder it for sanity's sake at 3 in the morning, we decided to take the initiative and turn the roosters into gumbo. If you end up with some males, it will change the number of chickens in your flock.

8. Crossing the Road
No I'm just kidding, although if my chickens got out of the back yard, they probably would cross the road and get hit by a car. However, there are many, many other random things that can kill a chicken. For example, if a chicken looks up when it rains, it will drown. Also, they tend to try to eat things that are too big for them to swallow and choke to death. Or if one chicken is injured, the other chickens will try to peck at the wound until the chicken dies. Why, chickens? Why?

To sum it up, plan on starting with more chicks that you would like to have chickens, and don't get discouraged if you have to start all over at some point. Eventually, the smarter chickens will survive and the majority of dumb ones will find creative ways to move on. If you never lose a chicken in your flock, you should get an award! A really shiny one!

Vegetable Gardening Tips for the Deep South

Alright, this is a post for all of my vegetable gardeners in the south! If you have ever read the back of a seed packet that says "direct sow as soon as the ground can be worked in the spring" and thought to yourself "what does that mean?" then this post is for you! There is a beautiful area of the United States where the temperatures rarely drop below 30 degrees F, where January can feel like a mid-spring day, where the soil never freezes, and most importantly, vegetables can truly be grown year-round without much extra effort. But seed packets and gardening books are not generally made with the deep south in mind, so here are a few changes to make when planning your vegetable garden for zones 8-10 :)

1. Don't plant cool weather crops in the spring.
There are many early spring crops that just don't have a long enough growing period before the hot weather sets in if they are planted in the fall. My suggestion is to put out cool weather plants such as broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, cabbage, brussel sprouts, lettuce, etc. into the vegetable garden in September so that they can mature and be harvested in early winter (December- January). There is just no way that you will be able to keep these plants from bolting of wilting before harvesting in June if you garden in the deep south. Besides, now that you can plant all of these vegetables in the fall, think of all of the garden space that frees up in the spring!

2. Plant fruit trees and perennial garden plants in the fall.
Most garden books will tell you to plant new fruit trees or perennial fruit, vegetable, and herb plants in the spring so that they can be well established before their first cold winter. In the deep south we have a bigger threat to new plants- the summer heat! Plant citrus trees, blackberry and blueberry bushes, asparagus, rosemary, etc. in the fall so that they have all winter to establish before the blistering summer comes.

3. Make adjustments to shade recommendations.
Many plants will be marked as needing full sun, but full sun really means 8 hours of sunlight. Even your full sun plants will find it difficult to hold their leaves up if you have them in direct summer sun for 12 hours. Move plants into areas where they will get part shade if you live in a hot climate, and plants requiring part shade can easily get away with almost full shade. Most leafy greens will thank you for the shady spot in the garden and will be slower to bolt. Also, cool season herbs can be treated as perennials if given shade in the summer.
Make good use of that shady corner of the garden!

4. Get creative with watering solutions.
Plants in hot climates need more to drink. Thankfully in Louisiana we also have a tropical climate with a lot of rain and humidity. Humid climate areas should water their plants in the morning so that the water evaporates off of the leaves and keeps diseases from spreading as easily. Hot and dry climates, on the other hand, should be watered in the evening so that less of the water evaporates during the sunlight throughout the day. Watering can be kept to a minimum if you use  drip irrigation systems connected to rain barrels (or the cheaper version, 2 liter bottles flipped upside down in the dirt with a small hole in the top). Whatever the method, make sure your plants stay well hydrated to make it through the heat wave.

5. Plan your winter break in July and August.
In the same way that many climates are too cold to plant in the most extreme part of the season, the same is true with heat in the south. Some plants thrive in the long, hot summer days, such as eggplant, peppers, okra, and some tomatoes, but most plants just can't handle the heat. Some plants, such as beans, will actually become infertile past 90 degrees F and no longer produce fruit. My lowest garden production isn't in January of February, but in July and August. Plan to take a break during these months and plan for you fall garden, starting seeds inside in the same way that gardeners up north would do in the winter. Besides, if it's too hot for the plants, it's too hot for me...

Pepper plants love the long hot days of southern summers.

6. Start your spring garden seeds super early!
While other areas are waiting for their soil to be "workable", ours plants haven't even stopped growing. I have found that the perfect time to start my new seeds indoors is new year's day. This sounds crazy early for most places, but in the deep south, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and more can be started in January, followed by watermelon, cantaloupe, and others in February. One year I was able to start all of my seeds outside in January with no problems, but you will get much better germination results if you start your plants indoors under lights for the first 6 weeks or so.

My tomato plants on January 15.

7. Direct sow more plants than usual.
Plants will grow stronger, healthier, and more hardy if they are direct seeded than if they are started indoors. Many places with short growing seasons don't have the luxury of direct seeding, though. However, since the soil temperature is what determines success in germination, there are a lot plants that will start just fine and develop better when direct seeded in southern vegetable gardens. Some of these plants include peas, beans, cucumbers, squash, zucchini, lettuce, kale, mustard greens, collards, and many more. Do a few tests starting some seeds indoors and then direct seeding more seed at the same time that you put your transplants into the ground. You will be surprised how fast the new seeds catch up to and even surpass your pre-started plants.

Lettuce mix

8. Plant long season crops in the fall.
There are many crops that will take up to 6 months or more to fully develop. Some of these include garlic, onions, and potatoes. These will have a much longer period to develop before the heat takes them out if they are planted in the fall instead of the traditional spring timeline. Don't worry, they will overwinter just fine! Besides, it leaves more room in your spring garden for other plants!

9. Treat some annuals as perennials.
There are many plants that are considered annuals in many areas that will act as perennials in the deep south. Some of these include green onions, collards, kale, and many varieties of herbs such as oregano, sage, and parsley. Other plants, while not perennials in the sense that you plant them once and they grow forevermore, will still grow year round. Some plants that you can plant at almost any time of year (except the extreme summer) include lettuce, carrots, arugula, mustard, beets, turnips, radishes, spinach, and many types of beans. I am continually surprised when I have some extra seeds and an open spot in the garden and decide to give it a shot even though it doesn't match the seed packet timing at all, and it turns out to be a wonderful harvest! You won't know unless you try :)

My parsley plant thriving in the middle of winter.

10. Be prepared for bugs.
The longer the growing season is and the more mild the winters, the more things survive- "things" being both plants and their pests. Bugs will abound in the southern garden, and the farther into the growing season you are, the worse it gets. This is another reason why you should plant as many of your vegetables as possible in September for a fall garden as the cooler weather will cut down on the pests. Each garden pest brings its own set of challenges, but a southern gardener must be determined and vigilant to stay on top of the many bugs that will come to visit.

Squash vine borers- PURE EVIL!

11. Plant your favorites twice.
We have such a long growing season in the south that many vegetables can be planted twice if you plan it right. You can start any of the following in both spring and fall: tomatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, beans, summer squash, zucchini, kale, lettuce, carrots, beets, turnips, radishes, arugula, cabbage, and much more. I wouldn't recommend planting everything twice, as they will really complicate your crop rotation plans and limit your space. However, if there is a certain vegetable that you just love (for me, bush beans!), then go ahead- plant it twice!

These are just a few things that come to mind, but I'm sure there are many more. 
What else would you add to the list?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Garden Vegetable Cheese Soup

I love vegetable gardening in south Louisiana! Here it is, the end of January, and while the rest of the country is snowed inside, I am harvesting the last of my cauliflower, broccoli, and carrots. (Sorry, I don't mean to brag...) And since the temperatures are beginning to drop, it is a great time for a warm, hearty garden vegetable cheese soup! So if you aren't sure what to do with the last little broccoli side shoots, those stubby end of the season carrots, or that tiny cauliflower head that you thought would eventually get bigger (but didn't), then this is a great recipe to use up the last of your cool season crops!

What you need:
- 2 stalks celery
- 1 medium onion
- 3 garlic cloves
- 4 cups chopped carrots, cauliflower, and broccoli (the proportions of each are up to you or depend on what is left in the garden, and sometimes I add more than 4 cups- you can't have too many veggies!)
- 1/2 cup butter, melted
- 1/2 cup flour
- 3 cups chicken broth
- 1 tbsp. worcheshire sauce
- 1/2 tsp. pepper
- 2 cups milk
- 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Put all of the veggies through the food processor to the size that you want. 

Saute the first 4 ingredients in the butter in a 3 qt. pot. 

Add the flour, stir for 1 minute until smooth. Gradually add chicken broth, stirring as you go. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes. 

Add the worcheshire sauce, milk, cheese, and pepper and cook on low for 10 more minutes. 

 All done! Serve with a fresh green garden salad :) Enjoy!

Garden Vegetable Cheese Soup
- 2 stalks celery
- 1 medium onion
- 3 garlic cloves
- 4 cups chopped carrots, cauliflower, and broccoli (the proportions of each are up to you or depend on what is left in the garden, and sometimes I add more than 4 cups- you can't have too many veggies!)
- 1/2 cup butter, melted
- 1/2 cup flour
- 3 cups chicken broth
- 1 tbsp. worcheshire sauce
- 1/2 tsp. pepper
- 2 cups milk
- 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Put all of the veggies through the food processor to the size that you want. Saute the first 4 ingredients in the butter in a 3 qt. pot. Add the flour, stir for 1 minute until smooth. Gradually add chicken broth, stirring as you go. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the worcheshire sauce, milk, cheese, and pepper and cook on low for 10 more minutes.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Backyard Chickens, Part 1: The Basics

Backyard chickens are gaining popularity, and for lots of good reasons- fresh eggs daily! Are you interested in backyard chickens but not sure where to start? Perfect! Let's chat about chickens :)

Getting Started- What you Need
Before you get chickens, you need to have the stuff. Part 1 of chickens basics will cover all of the necessary gear to have a happy, healthy chicken flock.

You will want to get a chicken feeder. The most common is a stand up feeder. These work well, but sometimes the chickens knock them over, in which case you may want to look into a hanging feeder. There are even fancy PVC pipe feeders if want to go all DIY on the project.


Once again, there is the basic waterer that sits on the ground, but water can get easily contaminated when chickens kick dirt or hay in there. Also, get a large waterer because chickens drink more than you think. What we ended up using was a 5 gallon dog waterer, and our chickens love it!


When chicks are little, which is 6 weeks old or less, they eat starter feed, which is small granules. Once they are over six weeks old, chicks can eat regular pellet feed. And then around 5 months old, you want to start giving them laying feed, which has added protein for healthy egg production.


Chicken Coop
The coop can look like anything, I mean anything! You can buy one prefabricated that you assemble, build one yourself, or even contract it out. Your coop will depend on what you plan on doing with your chickens. If you are keeping your chickens enclosed, you will need about 4 square feet of coop space per chicken, plus 10 square feet of run space. The coop is the covered part of the chicken home, while the run is the area exposed to fresh air and sunlight but still fenced in. The one below is fully enclosed and would hold two full-sized chickens.

If you plan on free ranging the chickens, then the coop can be much smaller. Free ranging means that the chickens are free to roam your yard. If the back yard is fenced in, then you can have a coop that they enter and exit freely and roam the yard as they please. This is the set up that we have, and we love it. For a free range coop, you only need to make sure that you have one foot of roosting space per chicken. A roosting stick is a wooden stick (like a broom handle) for the chickens to sit on while they sleep.

Another option is a chicken tractor. With a chicken tractor, you keep a few chickens in a movable coop/run that you move from place to place in your yard each day so that the chickens can eat grass and bugs without having free range of the yard. Lots of options to think about!

Roosting Stick
We already discussed this, but you need one foot of roosting space per chicken in the coop. Any stick can be used, but wood is best for the chickens to be able to hold onto. Make sure you have a roosting stick low enough for the young chickens to reach as well as a few higher ones for when they get older. Different chickens will prefer different heights. They like to perch and sleep on these.

Other needs depend on how young you get your chickens. You can begin with laying hens, in which case you would need nesting boxes. If you start with eggs, you would need an incubator. If you begin with day old chicks, you will need a box with a heat lamp until they grow their feathers.

I almost forgot! You will also need chickens! There are lots of different kinds of chickens, but that is a post for another day. There are different breeds for different things- good layers, dual purpose that can also be used for meat, cold hardy, heat hardy, different colors (chickens and eggs), loud, friendly, flighty, etc. Do some research to find the breed that is right for you.

That's the basics of what you need for chickens- it's pretty basic! But really, the best way to get started and learn is to just get some chickens and go for it!

Monday, January 19, 2015

How to Build and Maintain Rich Garden Soil Naturally

As a gardener, I get really excited about dirt. I love playing in the dirt, and I really love seeing rich dirt, full of little composted pieces of nutrient filled particles. There is just nothing as wonderful as tilling up loose rich soil to plant in the spring. I have always heard stories of people who started growing vegetables on land with terrible soil and were able to slowly build it up over time to become very rich, well composted soil. I always wondered, how is that possible? Wouldn't growing vegetables further deplete the soil of nutrients? Is it really possible to build bad soil back up to awesome, rich soil without just pumping it full of synthetic fertilizers? 

After doing a lot of experimenting with self-sustaining backyard homesteading, I have discovered how simple it is to build up the soil and keep a highly productive garden while not stripping the soil of necessary nutrients in a natural way. Here's how it works!

Think of your yard like a bank account. Everything that you do either counts as a deposit or a withdrawal in terms of nutrients. In nature, all of the deposits and withdrawals balance at the end. A tree grows leaves in spring using the nutrients in the soil, then drops its leaves in the fall which decompose back into the soil, replacing the nutrients that then go back into growing new leaves. God created a beautiful system! In your yard and garden, there is a lot of human intervention which can sway the balance to your advantage or disadvantage, depending on how you interact with the nutrients you have.

Let's look at some withdrawals that we make on our yards and think of ways to limit those withdrawals or not make them at all.

Nutrient Withdrawals
1. Mowing the grass
Grass grows using the nutrients in the soil. If you have a lawnmower that spits the grass back out, then those nutrients go back into the soil and you're fine. If you have a mower that bags the grass and then you leave it at the street to be picked up, you are gathering up your nutrients and throwing them away! Bagging the grass is still fine (we bag our grass) but don't let it go to waste! Use it as mulch around garden plants or put it in your compost pile to be used in the garden later.

2.  Bagging leaves
This is the same idea as the last one. When you rake up leaves, don't bag them and leave them at the street- use them as mulch around plants or compost them. If you don't care what your yard looks like, you could always leave them on the ground and let them decompose right where they are. Consider mowing the leaves to mulch them into little pieces so that they decompose even faster.

3. Growing vegetables
When you grow vegetables in the garden and then eat them, you are making a withdrawal. Since this particular withdrawal is the reason we even care about nutrients in the first place, it is the most necessary one we make. By all means, eat all the vegetables! There are other nutrient-consuming parts of growing vegetables that we don't eat, though. What about all of the plants that you pull up at the end of each season?

4. Prunings, Branches, and Sticks
At the end of each season when cutting back bushes, trees, and perennials, chop up all of that stuff and put it in your compost rather than putting it out at the street. If you trim trees or end up with a lot of sticks and branches, the easiest way to keep some of the nutrients is to have a bonfire and add the ashes to your compost. If you want to keep even more of the organic matter in your yard, buy a mulcher and run all of your branches through it (leaves and all!) to add to your compost pile. The mulcher we bought on craigslist gets a surprising amount of use at our house.

Basically anything that grows in your yard and then goes somewhere else is a withdrawal, including the fruits and vegetables that you eat. Now let's look at ways to make deposits back into the yard.

Nutrient Deposits
1. Composting
Instead of throwing away organic matter, keep a small compost pail by the trash can to collect your kitchen waste- fruit peelings, vegetable ends, and egg shells- and put them into your compost pile. There are nutrients all around you that other people are throwing away that can be yours, too! When your neighbor puts out their grass clippings or leaves, drag it to your compost pile and dump it in there! My neighbor, after seeing us do this several times, now puts his bags over the fence into our back yard instead of at the street. After we have dumped them in the compost, we put the empty bags back over the fence until next time. If my neighbor wants to make a withdrawal from his yard and put a deposit into mine, I won't stop him :) You can also get compostable material from stores. Most coffee shops collect and save their coffee grinds for individuals to pick up for free. Some grocery stores throw away old produce, but will keep some aside if you ask them. All of this is great to toss into your compost pile. Check around your area- you will be surprised how much organic matter is thrown away that can be yours!

2.  Mulch
Many places have free mulch available through the city. The city picks up all of the branches, leaves, and grass clippings, mulches them into huge compost mountains, and then offer free truckloads of mulch to anyone living within the city limits. We have gotten LOTS of free mulch over the last few years to build up our soil. So if you got excited about taking your neighbor's leaves, you should be thrilled to know that you can now have a helping of the whole city's leftovers!

3. Store bought dirt
I rarely buy bags of dirt. If you compost a lot then it may not ever be necessary, but every now and then the garden expands faster than the compost pile can support and we have to buy a few bags of dirt. Store bought dirt doesn't have a high content of organic matter in it, but adding it is still better than nothing.

4. Manure
Animal poop is great for the garden! Why? Think about it- they eat up all the organic matter and then spit it back out into a compact form of nutrients that are already broken down! If you have a friend with a horse, cow, goats, etc. see if they will give you their manure. Most people with large animals have more than they know what to do with, and will give it to you free if you offer to get it yourself. Just remember to compost new manure for around six months before using it in the garden. This natural fertilizer is so hot it will burn your plants!

5. Fertilizer
I try to avoid this at all costs! As long as you know and understand the deposit/withdrawal cycle and make good use of what's around you, you may avoid this altogether. If the soil is so depleted that you must bring in fertilizers to give it a jump start on the road to recovery while your compost matures, look into organic fertilizers. I like my dirt as natural as possible.

Creating a Self-Sufficient and 
Highly Productive Nutrient System

Now that you know which things are withdrawals and deposits, let's look at creating a cycle that can repurpose as many nutrients as possible to get the most out of them and wasting as little as possible. There are ways to introduce other components into your yard that will create systems of nutrient self-sufficiency!

1. Chickens
A great way to give nutrients back to your lawn naturally is to free range chickens. Chickens will eat the weeds and some of the grass, as well as bugs and insects, and in turn deposit those nutrients (in the form of poop) all over your yard. While free range chickens eat a lot less feed, it is still important to buy some high protein laying feed for eggs or regular feed for meat chickens. The feed you buy and add into the system counts as the deposit that will balance out the withdrawal of you eating the eggs or meat. You will also buy some hay to put in the bottom of the coop, and when you clean that out it all goes in the compost for another deposit. Chickens play a role in transferring matter efficiently while also producing more food for you!

Withdrawals- eating grass, eating bugs, laying eggs for you to eat, becoming meat for you to eat
Deposits-  feed that you buy for them, poop in the yard, hay bought to put in the coop

2. Rabbits
Rabbits are amazing little composting machines! And an added bonus is that rabbits are one of the few animals whose manure you can put into the garden immediately- no composting or waiting necessary. While you can put your green plants in the compost to break down, a much faster way is to feed it to a rabbit. When I pull up old plants in the garden (broccoli, tomatoes, beans, you name it!) I feed it to my rabbits. Then I scoop out that manure from under the cage the next day and till it back into the garden where I pulled up the plants. That's a one day turnaround of green plant to nutrients in the soil for the next season of planting! On top of that you will buy rabbit feed as another deposit into the system. We grow our rabbits for meat (an added level of productivity), but if you don't want to go that far rabbits make great pets and will do the same job.

Withdrawals- Meat that you eat, eating garden greens
Deposits- Best poop for gardens, rabbit feed

3. Aquaponics
I won't go into all the details of aquaponics here, but aquaponics is a system of using container raised fish (more specifically their poop) to fertilize plants growing in water rather than dirt. The plants clean the water which cycles back to the fish in a completely self-sustaining system that grows fish and vegetables with the only input of fish food! If you have never heard of it, do a little research- it's awesome!

Withdrawal- Fish to eat, vegetables
Deposits- fish food

4. Bees
Bees are sneaky little nutrient ninjas! They fly around and take all of your neighbor's pollen (I don't think they will miss it- besides, they do them a favor by pollinating everything) and then bring all of the bounty back to your house where they turn it into honey and beeswax. This system creates a lot of output for a little input while increasing the productivity of all of your plants by pollinating them.

Withdrawal- honey, beeswax
Deposit- your neighbor's pollen

5. Goats
Backyard dairy goats can also play a role in nutrient making. They will be a fats composter for leaves and tree branches in the same way that rabbits are for all things green. The food you buy is a deposit for the manure they create as well as the milk and/or meat that you will get out of the system.

Withdrawals- Making milk, meat, eating leaves
Deposits- Feed, poop

Each time you add a new animal or system to your yard, the cycle becomes more complex, but also more complete. You will be amazed how adding just one animal to your yard will transform the way to use and recycle the organic matter to create even more output for the input while keeping your nutrient balance stable.

Do you have any other ideas to add to the list of deposits and withdrawals? What creative ways do you use to build up your soil?