what it takes to be self-sufficient in food production

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mespe
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what it takes to be self-sufficient in food production

I wanted to start a thread about what is involved in becoming self-sufficient in food production. Now I'm not talking steaks and lobster, but just enough to survive i.e. the essentials and here is what I've come up with.

Chickens and grains.

Raise a few chickens and grow enough grains to both feed them and my family. So the immediate question is how much grain does an individual consume on an annual basis, and how much land is needed to support a family?

Rye, wheat, oats, barley are easy to grow (grows like grass) but the question is how much do I need? From the few chickens that I have, i've noticed that spilled grain sprouts and grows quickly. Where I've throw scratch (chicken feed) and the chickens no longer visit the area, the feed sprouted and produced more grain, and I didn't even try! So it's gotta be easy enough to grow enough to feed a few birds and make enough bread,

So, in essence, growing can grain yield both bread and eggs. Two important foods to sustain. Two foods that can be easily grown. so how much land does it take? Anyone know a source that can be used as a guide?

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Mike7.62
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self sufficient food

Figure you'll get 50# of wheat per bushel, and 25 bushels per acre. Approximately 1200 loaves of bread per acre of ground. Give or take. Also figure a hell of a lot of work unless you have the machinery /tractors/ horses to harvest the wheat. Ever use a scythe? Very labor intensive. Ever separate the chaff from the wheat berries without machinery? Also very labor intensive. 

You could probably get by on 5-10 acres of arable land if you had sufficient water, a long growing season, and sufficient labor. It's not something for which you should strive. The life of a subsistence farmer is hard, brutish, and short.  Better to have division of labor and trade for the necessities rather than produce them yourself. Store/stockpile grains for emergencies and hope that you can trade for them and other necessities with value added labor/finished goods in the future, rather than try and produce them yourself. Farming is hard work, and it gets harder the older you get. My 2700 sq ft garden is a back breaker for me every season, and I sometimes wonder why I do it. I can't imagine the labor and time involved in producing grains for subsistence without proper machinery.

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A different view

Mike, I believe that you're thinking of traditional farming. with fertilizers and fuel. Those may be expensive and/or not available.

If one just wants to get by, take a look on youtube for the Biointensive farming videos, by Jon Jeavons (sp?). There's one where they even grow wheat. A 100 square foot plot ends up yielding enough for 2 one-pound loaves of bread. The scythe is about the most amount of work. They have a pretty simple method of getting the wheat berries that's absurdly simple.

The Biointensive approach is the greatest yielding approach there is, without fertilizers. I believe the yields are enough to support about 10 people per acre. But that's ideally. Also, chickens can do without a purely grain diet.

I'm told one person can do about 1 acre by themselves. Perhaps two if they really push it.

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wheat? why?

unless you really like white bread, why raise wheat?  corn is much better suited to small scale, non-mechanized production.  rotated with a nitrogen-fixing legume crop such as peanuts or soybeans, fertilizer needs are minimized.  corn, beans, and peanuts all store well if kept dry.  corn and beans were the base of most of the native american cultures that practiced agriculture.  they didn't have tractors.  they didn't even have wheels.

potatoes are easier to raise than wheat, and store fairly well.  fruit and nut trees, once established are very low-labor food sources.  nuts store well, and many fruits can be dried with a solar powered drier (a shallow, glass topped box with vent holes tilted to face the sun).

in this climate, chayotes (google it, wiki has a good write-up) do well.  greens through the summer, squash-like fruit in october 'till the first frost.  plant them on a fenceline, mulch them well in the fall,and they come back in the spring.

sugar cane's another crop that once established, comes back year after year with little tending.

collard greens (a non-heading cousin of cabbage) supply greens through the winter. plant a row  of them,  pick a couple leaves off each plant, and you can do it again in a couple days.  once the plants get a little size, mulch heavily and you won't have to weed it any more.  flavor improves with a little frost.  goes to seed in midsummer of the second year.  once it starts to go to seed, the flavor gets funky. 

plant way more than you think you'll ever need.  feed all the extras to the chickens or the pigs.  also any storage that gets stale or funky.  the list of things pigs and chickens won't eat is very short.

wheat?  waaay too much trouble for me.

for a good guide to small scale farming, check out "grow it!" by richard langer.  out of print, but available used online.

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Mike7.62
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@ Eternal Student

ES,

Yes, those are the figures from a traditional farming method using machinery. If using a horse yield would be somewhat less. Using your yield figures it comes to approximately 871 loaves per acre. I still maintain that  using the traditional scythe method of harvest is very labor intensive when you get into acreage vice square footage being harvested. Having used one as a younger man, I wouldn't want to have to do so unless it was a last resort. I would hope that you have 10 people to harvest your acreage, as you will likely need them for any efficiency in production. 10 young people.

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@Mike, I don't dispute that

@Mike,

I don't dispute that using a scythe is labor intensive. My point was that you can grow enough other crops to sustain yourself, and chickens, with less effort than just relying on wheat.

Of course, folks from 100+ years ago would be telling us to "suck it up, princess". But then look where they are. They're all dead. :)

As far as requiring 10 people, from my understanding of the Biointensive method, they would dispute that. They're all about energy efficiency, including the effort. It's still hard work. Nor will anything replace the yields from the current fossil fuel based methods. But if the goal is self sufficiency, then it's something to consider.

Note that I'm just passing on what I've learned from studying the method. This year I'm going to be trying it out myself, although on less than an acre. They say to start small, get that right, and then expand as you learn. I've got a lot of learning left.

For another data point, there's a family near Los Angeles which has a farm that they claim is self sufficient on less than an acre. Basically one of the older houses with a big back yard. Right near a freeway, of all things. It's rather amazing. A Google search should turn it up, if one is interested.

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I've been

I've been reading Sylvia Bernstien's Aquaponic Gardening book and believe that the method holds a lot of potential.  I plan to start experimenting with a small scale set up to see how feasible it is.  Check this out:

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1 ac self sufficiency

ES,

I don't doubt that one could become self sufficient on one acre, especially if that acre was solely dedicated to food production. One acre is ~43,500 sq ft, which makes for a lot of garden. It only looks small when row cropping for profit. I only have 2700 sq ft dedicated to my vegetables and berries, and we pull enough out of there to last us the year, and that includes eating out of it in the summer/fall. Throw a beehive or two in the back and add some free range chickens and it is more than possible to provide enough for the basics.

One of my grandfather's was a farmer, and I used to help him summers on his place which is where I gained my experience. I have kept a garden and bees for quite a few years, and I can tell you that the older you get, the harder it is, especially if using manual methods. If you're just learning all of this and are younger, and really desire to be self sufficient, learn how to work ground with horses or mules. They are totally self sufficient, and will save you much labor. Again, my .02, take it FWIW, as there is no offense meant.

Eternal Student
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@Mike

No offense taken, whatsover, Mike. In fact, I find your experience and view valuable. Thanks for sharing it.

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survival diet synergy

there was a book published thirty or forty years ago titled "diet for a small planet."

in it, the author discussed the various ways to get enough protein without meat.  don't get me wrong, i like meat.  i'm an omnivore, but a meat intensive diet is inefficient in terms of land usage.

the deal is, the human body needs protein in the diet, and this is found in the form of amino acids in foods.  amino acids are the building blocks that our (and other animals') bodies use to form protein.  humans need only a small number of kinds of amino acids.  i don't remember the number, but let's say it's eight.

beans and other legumes are a good source of protein, but it's incomplete.  they only have seven of the amino acids we need.  cereal grains in general, and corn (maize) in particular don't have much protein.  they only have one of the ones we need.  guess which one?  bingo! it's the one beans are missing.  beans and corn eaten together have complete protein.  they were the basis of the diet in virtually all the pre-contact american civilizations, and still feature prominently in mexican cuisine.

but wait, there's more synergy!  raising corn is hard on the soil.  it depletes the nitrogen content.  beans (and other legumes) take nitrogen from the atmosphere and (with the help of certain root - dwelling bacteria) raise the nitrogen content of the soil.  rotate?

there are many varieties of both beans and corn.  some of them are certain to do well in your garden unless you settled in the bonneville salt flats.

******************************************************************

bubbacita's redneck southern refried beans:

soak 4 cups pintos and 2 cups lentils in water overnight.

in the morning, in a large pot, bring to a boil, reduce heat to a slow simmer, add your favorite spices (enough garlic to startle an adult vampire, salt, red pepper etc. - suit your own tastes),  plenty of water to be sure it won't scorch and put a cover on the pot.  come back in 4 hours, after you've done the chores.

run the whole thing through a blender (after the grid goes down, we'll have to mash it through a colander like grand ma had to).  if you used just the right amount of water in the last step, it'll come out a consistency like thick gravy.  if not, don't worry.

put it back in the big pot, (check the spices and add a little if you need to) and add 3 cups water and a pound of velveeta (unless you're a vegan).  stirring constantly, (this mixture will stick to the bottom fast and burn if you let it), bring it up to a boil.  reduce back to a simmer, and continue stirring while you slowly add 1 cup hominy grits (the cherokees taught us how to make grits from corn).  yankees can substitute corn meal, it's almost good enough.  continue stirring for ten minutes, turn off the heat.  when it quits bubbling, you can let up on the stirring, and cover.   the grits will continue to soak up water and thicken the mix as it slowly cools for about an hour.   if you got the consistency right, it'll be just a little wetter than good mashed potatoes.  put it in freezer containers  or it can be canned in mason jars.

buenos tacos, y'all

bubbacita

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horses and climate

Horses and mules might be self-sufficient in warmer climate but here in south dakota not quite so much.  I've got 4 horses and in the summer they do fine in the pasture but they still need to be wormed 4 times a yr, and for the colder months I use about 500 small square bales of hay @ 2.50-3.50 per bale.  Also supplement with a scoop of sweet feed in the evening.  They could probably get by eating snow in the pasture but since they are penned I need to have a heated water source for them, maybe 5.00-10.00/ mo. If you would like to get to know your local chiropractor better decide to trim their feet yourself.  Much like me they do not care to lay on the cold hard ground so now we need bedding or straw.  Did I mention that good fencing is a necessity?  Just a guess but I would say 5 acres of pasture is probably close to minimum per horse. My old man raced horses all the time I was growing up so they are just part of who I am but as a hobby they are just a hole in your pasture that you throw money into!  If teotwawki showed up I imagine I'd eat at least two of em.

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lessons learned along the way

Both of my parents grew up on farms during the Depression, my Mother in Dust Bowl Kansas, my Dad in rural Eastern WA, prior to Grand Coulee Dam and its welcome irrigation waters. Both left home at eighteen and moved to the city. Life on the farms during the Depression was HELL. The primary problem for both was lack of water. One can not farm without sufficient water. That is why I stress having sufficient water on the Buying Rural Land thread.

Farming is in our DNA. It goes back generations and generations. Both sides of the family were farmers in their native countries before immigrating here for political/religious freedom.

I am presently on 20 acres of rural land. We are using less than five of it, and the majority of that is pasture for my goats.

We have concluded that being self sufficient food wise in our climate is impossible. Our winters are too cold and too long, our soil too poor (glacial till), and we are too old (in our early sixties) to garden as we would like to.

This Fall we tried to plant wheat using a new technique my Sister read about in the book THE ONE STRAW REVOLUTION by Masanobu Fukuoka. It does not include plowing the soil. My sister researched the best wheat for our arid area, bought the seeds and had them shipped to us. She followed Fukuoka's instructions as best she could, planting the seed in the rows between the orchard trees, in a safe, protected deer fenced environment. 

The next morning we noticed three coveys of quail (about twelve quail per covey) racing along the ground towards the orchard. We grinned, as they were sooooo cute. Well, the grinning became horror as we learned that the quail "knew" that wonderful wheat seed had been planted, and a feast awaited them. By the end of three days, the seed was entirely gone - $80.00 down the beaks of the darling quail.

Farming is a battle between people and the animals/insects. We have never had a crop of cherries. The birds always beat us to them. The squirrels always get the nuts before they are ready to harvest. This last year the gophers got the potatoes and the young roots of the fruit trees. Leaf miners love the green leafy veggies. Worms get into the root crops. It goes on and on. And, yes, my sis knows gardening. She graduated Cum Laude in Pomology (Fruit Tree Science). She is very, very good at gardening.

We have spent thousands of dollars on cloth row cover to protect our crops from bugs and frosts. We have two 12 x 24 ft. greenhouses. We try to be smart and educated about what works and what doesn't work. And we have concluded that in our climate food self sufficiency is impossible for us.

This next year we will be purchasing wheat and barley from neighboring farmers who allow folks to drive their pick-ups along side their harvesters when harvesting. We will be growing Painted Mountain Corn as our food source www.seedweneed.com . We have discovered that it grinds nicely when dried, is high in protein, and the goats love it.

I have Nubian goats for one reason - food. With the goat milk I get fantastic tasting milk and a delicious supply of cheese. They supply a huge part of our diet.

We have learned that Bronze Breasted Turkeys are the way to go for meat. In just six short months a male will provide 45+ pounds of  sweet, moist meat. But do not allow males to live together. The bigger male turkey will kill the other males.

We have never been able to grow enough dry beans for our needs, and the labor involved with their production make the beans about $50.00 a pound by the time you have prepared the ground, planted the seed, watered and fertilized the seed, harvested, shucked and dried the seed.

Bottom line, purchase beans, wheat, barley, etc and store them properly. Life will be much easier for you going foreword. 

My Sis also wants me to caution folks about my goats. They are very time consuming (you can not get away as they need milking every day), very expensive to feed if you want good tasting milk, and escape artists. What she tends to forget are the fits she and the family throws when I announce that the milking room is too cold, the goats are pregnant, and the milking is done for the next three months. Everyone gets real testy when we have to rely on store bought whole milk.

smiley

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quail

katie rose wrote:

"...The next morning we noticed three coveys of quail (about twelve quail per covey) racing along the ground towards the orchard. We grinned, as they were sooooo cute. Well, the grinning became horror as we learned that the quail "knew" that wonderful wheat seed had been planted, and a feast awaited them. By the end of three days, the seed was entirely gone - $80.00 down the beaks of the darling quail."

years ago, my grandmother's kitchen door overlooked a stretch of lawn with a couple hundred acres of citrus grove beyond it.  there were several coveys (covens?) of quail that lived in the citrus grove.  my grandmother was in the habit of throwing kitchen leftovers in a particular area under a jacaranda tree, and the quail soon become accustomed to it.  every once in a while, my grandmother would soak some leftover rice, or whatever was handy in grain alcohol and toss it out under the jacaranda.  the quail loved it.  party time!  before long, there were several dozen quail-lushes passed  out on the ground.  my grandmother would go out and pick up as many as she wanted.  the ones she left would wake up with a hangover.  the ones she picked up would wake up (not) in the oven.

this practice would probably be illegal today.   shhhhhh!!!!!!!

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@Katie Rose

I feel your pain. My garden is 2700 sq ft with a 6 1/2 ft fence around it, and the top 18" is 4 strand electrified at 5000 volts. It keeps the deer and four legged pests out, but not the avian ones. Crows got ALL of my corn and blackberries last year, and a good portion of my strawberries. They started in on my tomatoes and sweet peppers. I had to place bird netting around the tomatoes and peppers which cut down, but did not eliminate, the problem. What has helped immensely is shooting the crows. I've shot two so far and tacked their wings on the corner posts of my garden as discouragement to others. I continue to shoot the crows. Since they're smarter than most dogs, they will eventually learn to keep away, or get shot for their trouble.

I'm also looking at permanently mounting poultry wire over my berry patch. It will allow the pollinators in but keep the birds out.

The bottom line for all who wish to garden or produce food on a larger scale, is that you are providing a source of food for others, and in order to have enough for yourself you will have to protect it somehow. Whether that protection is a fence, rifle, or shotgun for larger pests, or some type of deterrence such as mild pesticides/biocides for the insect/disease pests, you will have to stay vigilant and be fairly aggressive to have any return on your labor.

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gardening tip

gardening tip for young trees that may be at risk to frost.  in the last few weeks, i've  planted some avocados that i got at the nursery, five different cultivars.  this area is marginal for avocados, but the nursery says that well established adult trees can make it in our conditions.  the key words are adult and well established - which mine are NOT.  they are supposed to be good down to 15 deg. f.  when they are grown.  presently they are just youngsters and we have 27 f. forecast for tomorrow morning.  here's the trick, being young, they're also short.  i'm going to cover them with plastic trash barrels at sundown, and uncover them mid - morning tomorrow when the temp is above 32 f.  i learned this one from my grandmother.  thanks grannie!

28 is forecast for monday morning.  i may have to repeat.

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treefrog
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multicultural beans

just made a batch of bubbacita's redneck southern refried beans but i used great northern beans.  tastes pretty good, but it can't be authentic  southern with great northerns.   problems... problems.

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19th century farming

In my other thread I link to a BBC documentary. In that documentary we see mechanized -non petrol- based wheat harvesting. The horses pulled a contraption that bound the wheat up with string and spat it out the back.

Likewize youtube (no link sorry) has a video of a person who made a thresher out of some old bike parts and timber, that was operated by treddle(sp? Like the old foot powered sewing machines). I'm sure a bicycle based one would eb even better with two people.

Otherwise, look to permiculture. Jackie French in 'Backyard self suficiency' also has some interesting idea's on low effort farming (basically try to get everything self seeding and growing wild in 'patches' so you just go and take what you need. No tilling involved in this).

I also support the person who said to concentrate on fruit\nut trees. These produce consistent yields annually, without effort. 

I second chickens. Meaties and Eggies. Use them as the compost heap. Rotate them over each garden bed, so you don't have to spread the manure. 

Consider what you will grow\make for trade as well. For this I strongly suggest something tree based if you have time. I suggest this as nobody will be able to compete with you as it'll take them years to turn on production(barrier to entry). If you grow vege's or eggs every man and his dog will be in the game. I'm going with Pinot Nior and Hazelnuts as Australia imports 94% of the hazelnuts it consumes. I'm sure to have a local monopoly. Plus these two have a high value to weight ratio. So if cartage is a problem I won't have as many problems moving it. Compare 500kg of nuts to 15ton of potatoes!. (Not sure about bottles, but if they had plenty of bottles in the 19th century I'm sure we can manage that. )

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heirloom seeds

http://www.sandhillpreservation.com/index.html

good source of non-gmo, non hybrid seeds. also root stock, and poultry.

this is not a regular commercial business operation.  rather, devoted amateurs.  they have hard to find stuff.

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Hard lessons from a backyard vege gardener

First, use raised beds in the backyard garden. Get cheap boards/planks from craigslist (2"x8"x10' or so) and plant those veges (greens, peppers, beans) that do NOT have fuzzy leaves (and are susceptible to fungus problems) in close proximity in wide groups; don't plant rows, which waste space. The fuzzy leaved stuff (tomatoes, squash) grows better in rows, in my experience. If your soil is sandy (like in Florida), add peat moss and store-bought garden soil to the raised bed; check the pH and strive to maintain 5.5 to 6.5 pH for most veges. Yes, it makes a huge difference! if the pH is wrong, the plant cannot absorb nitrogen and growth will be stunted. 

Second, fuzzy leaved veges (squash, tomatoes, cucumbers) tend to grow fungus on the leaves if you let the leaves get wet when you water them. So, water those types of veges at ground level (use a drip hose or be very careful to water only the ground level), or you'll be sabotaging your crop to fungus disease (blight).  Yes, when it rains the leaves get wet; but you can spray a diluted copper solution (anti fungal) on leaves prior to anticipated rainy seasons. (Having lost crops to blight, I really just encourage you to be vigilant about fungus on leaves. It spreads, and it is devastating.)

Third, COMPOST your vegetable kitchen waste, newspapers, toilet paper/paper towel rolls, lawn clippings, etc. and top dress your raised beds. Great as mulch and adds nutrients back to your soil. If you notice worms (including black soldier fly larvae) in your compost, you may even be able to add ALL table scraps (including meat!) to your compost.

Fourth, grow stuff you will actually eat, that produces well given your garden's surface area. In my family of four, we are producing more collard greens than we can eat with only 20 plants, and that includes the off-season. (I fill the dehydrator periodically with blanched greens that are lightly salted and preserve in a vacuum sealed bag.) With 16 hardy tomato plants, we produce enough for an entire year (including canning and dehydrating "sundried" extras for off-season.) Plant looseleaf lettuce fairly close together in containers (I sprinkle seeds and transplant 6" apart after the seedlings sprout and are 2-3" tall), and then harvest a few leaves from each plant every time you harvest -- the more you harvest, the fuller the plant seems to grow...lettuce doesn't store well, so you are limited to your growing season. Green peppers are easy and 16 plants produce at least a year's worth of peppers (including the dehydrated and frozen bags of chopped peppers for off-season).

Potatoes take a long time to produce in quantity and really if we're talking prepping you might as well go out and buy a dozen 5 pound bags of your favorite potatoes (a year's worth?), slice them and dehydrate them and store them in vacuum-sealed storage bags; because potatoes take a lot of garden space for the number of potatoes yielded (we eat a lot of potatoes, in various forms). I've tried growing them vertically, and I still have paltry results here in FL. Much cheaper and easier just to buy them on sale and dehydrate them for soups, stews, casseroles, etc.

Herbs are always great producers (parsley, rosemary, thyme, oregano = plenty of yield in one cared-for plant for a year or more of use, easily dehydrated and stored; watch out for mint, grow it in a pot or it will take over your garden).

I love cucumbers, the more exotic the better, but I like them fresh rather than pickled so I try to stagger plantings every month in Florida and I don't always get a great yield (grown in rectangular containers on a trellis that can be moved indoors under a fluorescent light when necessary due to cold) but lately I have some kind of fresh cucumber for snacks or salad; they use more water than anything in the garden, by the way. Cucumbers love to climb up the screen of the inside of my lanai; an easy trellis (year-round, but I have to cover them Dec-Mar for freezes), and the screened lanai protects them from many bugs.

I admit I've spent probably $300 in packaged garden soil/potting soil/garden supplies, but with homemade compost to supplement my containers/raised beds, I think I've finally got a formula for decent vegetable yield on a small plot of land, with greens/tomatoes/beans/squash/peppers/herbs the backbone of the whole prepping project.

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Potatoes, compost and chickens

@Ratatouille;

That's some good advice. I'd like to add a couple of comments.

First, about potatoes. I'd also look at planting outside of a garden. Just let them grow wild. You don't have to harvest them; use them as a backup plan in case something happens to your garden.

Someone else pointed out (here on this blog?) that soldiers in wartime would raid the gardens. But they'd never dig below ground to look for potatoes.

That particular thought has put a whole spin on one scene in the movie "Gone with the Wind" for me. Remember the scene where Scarlet O'Hare says "As God as my witness, I will never go hungry again!"? She was digging up potatoes. That's all the food that was left from their farm, after the Union soldiers went through.

Another thing is about newspapers in compost. I would never, ever use modern newspapers. Nowadays, these are just too filled with toxic crap that I wouldn't want getting into my food.

Finally, to address the original topic, about chickens. Screw the grains.  You might want to look at just letting the suckers run wild on your land, and keep the eggs. Chickens know how to forage, and were doing it long before humans came around. If you have the land, and the garden space, they'll do fine. And it will make your work much easier.
 

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Hot beds for cold climates

Used by the Romans in Britain, and still used by veg gardeners in the North of England's cold, grey,  wet climate. (Sorry to those who thought this post was saucy - and I think hot bedding is  a different thing altogether).

images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQnxVLc8JsAprGPQrBcGwR

The system uses fresh manure to provide the heat. The guy I saw is harvesting new potatoes now, while most people are just planting and his salad crops are in abundance. 

It's all there online, but any if you have any questions I'll be happy to pass on his wisdom.

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