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Sustainable Living

Native Birds Need Our Help!

Biodiversity is the key to stable ecosystems.

Only stable ecosystems can provide ecosystem services. Ecosystem services are those things that your local ecosystem provides to organisms who live in them and the people who live there. Commonly enjoyed ecosystem services include clean water provided by plant roots which hold soil, pollination of crops by native insects, and removal of pest insects by birds and bats.

Without ecosystem services humans would not have the quality of life we currently enjoy and would have an incredibly hard time feeding our populations. Unfortunately, human actions over the past 2 decades have removed over 50% of the world’s wildlife. This is unsustainable and will result in the loss of critical ecosystem services for us. 

Many people want to know what they can do to help prevent this problem. There are so many simple actions that people can take that will make a huge difference to slow or even stop this problem.

One of the biggest things that we can all do is to support plant diversity which is the foundation of ecosystem diversity. If native animals have native plants, then they have food sources that they depend upon. Once native plants disappear from an area then food sources for bugs and birds disappear and those small pockets of native plants are not adequate to support insects who pollinate our crops or birds which eat mosquitos. 

Birds are hit hard due to the lack of native plants and our efforts to interrupt natural cycles in the insect world. Birds are dependent on larval insects to feed their babies. These larval insects are most often caterpillars which eat the leaves of native plants. Without native plants which are allowed to support a healthy insect population, our local birds do not have the resources to feed their young.

Often the babies do not survive when a mother bird cannot find adequate food. Predators can easily take advantage of a parent bird who has to work too hard to find food and cannot provide protection for her young.

Many species of songbirds are now in trouble because their reproductive rates have slowed dramatically over the past several decades. Earlier spring weather complicates this problem as larval insects become active earlier than the migrating birds return and much of their food source has matured beyond the stages critical for feeding their young by the time they return from winter grounds to the south.   

Most of us enjoy spring birds singing and seeing parent birds flit from branch to branch to gather insects for their young.

Children marvel at watching baby birds grow up and learn to fly. Fat little robins and chickadees clumsily landing and taking off in our yards can enthrall people from 1 to 100 years old.

I could argue that we need birds for so many reasons. They provide us joy, but more importantly they eat insect pests as adults and are amazing agents of seed dispersal for our forest plants. Watching a single Eastern Phoebe on a telephone wire for 20 minutes can amaze me as they eat hundreds of insects from my farm. Without their services I would have substantial crop damage and a lot more mosquito bites. 

Birds simply need native plants. Plants which will support native insect populations and plants which are allowed to support native insect populations. An oak tree can support 100’s of insect species and is incredibly valuable for native bird species far beyond a nesting site.

Using native shrubs to landscape around your home instead of non-natives will allow birds to utilize your space to acquire food for their families. Allowing plants to support insects is also critical. We must restrict the use of insecticides to situations when insect damage is threatening the health of the plant.

Plants can endure insect damage, and will often shed leaves damaged by insects and regrow new ones fairly rapidly. We must find beauty in a leaf that has been chewed by a caterpillar, and find beauty in the mother birds which come and take that caterpillar to build a new generation of birds to do the same.

As more and more people move into the mountains we must focus on using natives in our landscape to insure we protect biodiversity. Without this biodiversity the true beauty of our mountain home may be lost and local sustainable agriculture will be far more difficult. 

Native plants for landscaping which support biodiversity: 

  • Oak
    • Any species will support up to 500 species of insects, as opposed to a non-native Ginkgo tree which supports only 4. 
  • Native hollies
    • Ilex species have lovely berries and fall colors and intoxicating perfume from their flowers in the spring. 
  • Serviceberry
    • Amelanchier arborescence supports insect populations in spring and provides critical berries for fattening up birds for fall migrations. 
  • Dogwoods, spicebush, even poison ivy
    • Provides food for native birds (I don’t recommend planting that one).

Check out a local native nursery today and see what goodies you can incorporate into your landscape to help our feathered neighbors. 

Categories
Sustainable Living

Pest Management: A Pesky Problem for Predators

Pest problems are something that plague people from city dwellers to homesteaders. How do we fix a broken system that leads to an increase in pest organisms? That is a tough question without a single answer.

We all experience problems with pests in our homes, gardens, and even wild places around our homes. Pests range from rodents and insects to invasive plants and diseases.

In order to control these organisms we must often take a step back and determine why they are there in the first place. Often their presence is due to a broken ecological system that has allowed their number to increase to a point where they are invading our spaces.

The answer to solving the problem with this pest is often reestablishing the functioning ecosystem. Working with natural controls to decrease their population and lowering the amount of damage those organisms can cause, will provide more consistent and long lasting relief from those problems. 

Loss of predators can increase pest populations because they are no longer controlled. Humans tend to reduce the population of predators in their immediate environment due to their tendency to prey on our pets and livestock.

We also have a natural fear of predators, which can be rightly justified as most predators can be aggressive if threatened and could harm us if provoked. Despite this fact, most predators simply want to live their life and hunt their prey without having any interaction with humans.

If we give them appropriate space and healthy habitat, many predators can exist in quite close proximity to us without us even knowing they are there.

Restoring the predators of our pests can often be the most reliable way to get pest populations back under control. 

Restoring predator populations can be as easy as creating a bit of habitat in your yard to give them shelter and safety. Restoring native plant populations and ecological components will allow natural processes to monitor populations of organisms that we see out of balance due to our activity.

We must be comfortable with these predators being in our space. This may be more difficult for some people than others. Many people don’t want garter snakes and raccoons in their yards.

We must decide what we have more of a dislike for; problematic, and possibly disease carrying pests, or their predators. 

If restoring natural ecosystems is not an option we have other things we can do to help decrease pest populations responsibly. Responsibly is the main part of this task. We must make sure to control pest populations in a way that does not hurt their predators or hurt ourselves.

The most powerful thing to do is to make the space inhospitable to pests. Closing off areas that allow them to access our spaces can reduce pests getting into our homes. Keeping food in containers that cannot be accessed by pests is another important step to keep pests out.

If there is no food outside, but unlimited food in your house, a pest will literally risk its life to get that food. If there is no food inside that is available to the pest and it has natural or native food sources outside, it will not try so hard to get into your space.

This does not only apply to people food, but to pet foods. Filled and unsupervised bowls of dog and cat food are the favorite food source of pest rodents in homes and on farms. Chicken feeders that are not accessible by rodents will quickly save enough food that they pay for themselves. 

Some natural deterrents can be used to keep pests away.

Planting mint around structures can discourage mice as they dislike the smell of it. Other herbs such as pennyroyal can be used to keep away insect pests as well. Traps and pheromone lures can help round up insects in the home or around the home. Garlic and hot peppers can also deter insects and small mammals from chewing on things you don’t want them to.

We dry and grind hot peppers left over after the farmers market and mix it with our chicken food to deter mice from eating it. The chickens could care less. It also keeps the dogs from eating the chicken food too. 

Often easy solutions such as poisons are a temptation. However any kind of pesticide will have effects on non-target organisms, possibly humans, as a result of their toxicity.

Birds of prey are particularly susceptible to rodenticides and it is one of the most common causes of injury to these beautiful animals. Their death actually compounds your problems, removing your partner in the fight against the rodents.

Pesticides are toxic to our pets and children, both of which can easily gain access to poisons through direct ingestion of the poison or by ingesting the poisoned pest. It is not worth the risk to our families and environment to use poisons as a first response to a pest problem, they should only be a last resort solution.

Snap traps and live traps are a far better solution as they only kill the organism that they interact with. 

We hope that you will take all of these ideas into consideration when thinking about how to handle the little furry critters coming into your home this fall. No one wants a mouse in their kitchen, but most people do not want a dying great horned owl or red-tailed hawk on their front porch either.

If we strive to keep systems in balance we can keep nature where we want her, and appreciate her for all of her beauty and interconnected systems that keep life in balance. 

Categories
Classes & Workshops Sustainable Living

Mothering Your Kombucha

Kombucha is a healthful traditional beverage made from fermenting black sweet tea. It is fermented by a colony of pro-biotic organisms called a mother.

In order to make kombucha you will need a starter that contains a mother or a dehydrated mother often ordered online and mailed to you. A live mother in culture is much better than a dehydrated one and will provide more predictable results far more quickly.  

You will need: 

  • One gallon container, preferably glass, non reactive material 
  • 8-10 tea bags depending on brand and type. 1/2, if not all, should be black tea 
  • 1 cup of white sugar (I recommend organic)
  • Kombucha starter with mother 
  • Cheesecloth and string or rubber band 

Directions:

  1. Heat water and fill the gallon container when hot enough to make tea.
  2. Add tea bags and sugar then stir.
  3. Let cool to room temperature.
  4. Add the starter with your new mother to the cooled sweet tea.
  5. Place the jar at room temperature with a cheesecloth covering the opening so it can breathe.
  6. Let sit for 1 1/2 to 3 weeks.
  7. When it reaches the desired strength then pull out the mother and a reserve of liquid. Place the kombucha in the fridge or use for a secondary fermentation. It is now ready to drink. 

Make a new batch of tea in your gallon container. When cooled, place the mother into the new sweet tea and put her back on the shelf to make a new batch of kombucha.

Enjoy your kombucha straight or with juice and flavorings.

Secondary fermentations come from adding fruits and placing it at a cool temperature. This allows the live culture in the finished kombucha to work on the fruit sugars which generates carbonation and unique flavors. 

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About Sustainabillies Sustainable Living

Eating with the Season

Winter. This is the time of year for resting, learning, and eating.

There is a ton of good food that needs to be consumed. We are burning a lot more calories when we do work around the farm keeping warm. Having jars of home canned food in the can room is one of the most joyous things that a person can experience in winter. We just walk downstairs and open a door to our own private organic grocery store.

Cans of beans, tomatoes, pickles, sauces, jellies, syrups, chilies, salsas, soups, ciders, and more grace the walls in our basement. Freezers full of meat from a 2 year old Scottish Highland cow we saw grow up and a hog named Ruby that was grown for us by our friends in KY. 

Winter is the time for building brains and spirits.

Getting fat is not just about jeans getting a little tighter. The scale reflecting 10 pounds of pure joy that have crossed your lips over the holiday season. It is not just about getting to read and watch movies, cuddling and fire hovering the woodstove while you slow cook a roast in a Dutch oven.

Knowing that spring and summer are on the way, with greens fresh from the garden and grazing all day on fruit gives you the resolve to follow the rhythms of natural food consumption.

We eat how our bodies tell us to, and stay strong and healthy by staying active on the farm all year. 

Cooking with the season means that you really do eat very different foods at different times of the year. It is an adjustment to not eat fresh strawberries in January and apples in May. We do eat frozen berries all year in our smoothies, pies, and other baked goods. Anytime we get the craving for sunshine in a jar, apple sauce and canned cider are sure to please.

In winter you eat a lot of meat, winter squash, eggs, canned foods and frozen foods. We still cook diverse and delicious meals.

The tomatoes are in a jar and the peppers are frozen. The sauces are homemade and the beef is lean, local, and flavorful. If it has been warm we get a sweet treat of shiitakes that can flush all winter. They bring something fresh to the table.

Many meals incorporate greens of some kind. Kale, mustards, and chard will persevere through winter in the garden. 

Cooking with the season also means that you get to take advantage of fire. We cook foods in Dutch ovens and pots directly on top of our big woodstove downstairs. We slow cook stuff all day when it is a small fire and can quickly boil a pot when it is super cold outside.

You do need to determine what to cook based on how hot your fire is, which correlates to how cold it is outside. Chilies and thick soups are better for low temps and thin soups and roasts in liquid are better for hotter fires.

We also have a wood fired cook stove in the kitchen that heats the house and cooks dinner at the same time. We try to only use the electric stove if it is too warm to burn a fire. 

Winter is also the time for planning.

Looking at what we grew last year and determining what seeds to order and in what quantity. We are starting the adventure of hosting a CSA on our property, and hope to grow enough food for 4-5 boxes of produce each week. This will require us to plan much more intensively for the next growing season.

We are also gearing up in the shop. Making tools, art, and things we need for the farm. Cleaning, straightening, and sharpening tools and our minds until the weather gets warmer again. 

Here is to wishing you a good eating season and sweet dreams of sprouting plants and spring wildflowers.   

Categories
About Sustainabillies Sustainable Living

I Am Not A Blogger…

I am a teacher, a grower, a maker, and an outdoors woman, I am definitely not a blogger.

Starting a homestead and holding down a full time job so you can pay the bills doesn’t afford you much time to write about what you are doing. Add starting a business and having a kid to the equation and we were lucky if we had time to sleep.

As it seems that we are emerging from the other side of this tunnel, I am finding that sharing what we do and know is becoming more important. In these times were uncertainty is the only certain thing, learning how to do things yourself is becoming more and more valuable.

The Story of Sustainabillies

Our journey started because of our love of the earth. Wanting to live in a way where we did no harm to others or the future of the planet, we decided to grow and make most of our own food. We wanted to control how our food was grown and what was in it.

Living Off the Land

The property we bought was not a farm. It was a steep property with a small valley bottom that had been mismanaged and poorly maintained for almost a generation.

To grow our own food we would have to create a network of terraces and build soil that would support healthy plant growth. Later we realized the need to cut down a lot of trees to let in more sunlight.

Crafting Quality and Functional Art

Our hobby of blacksmithing turned into a business with the addition of welding. Necessitating a shop, which then had to transform into a bigger shop, and eventually get remodeled so it would be efficient and safe.

We are producing hand tools and knives as well as other homesteading tools.

I am making my art again in new ways, functional ways that incorporated recycled metals. I actually recently set up the first display of my artwork in nearly 15 years.

Growing Food for Others

Our hobby greenhouse has turned into a permaculture installation. It has given birth to an addition for bonsai trees and a greenhouse for our ever growing organic garden starts operation.

We have gone from starting a few extra plants for some friends and family, to starting thousands of plants and selling at the farmer’s market, local festivals, and a local brewery.

Our gardens have gone from providing some of our food into a full-fledged farm. We now grow 60-70% of our own fruits and veggies and sell extra produce. We are growing and selling garlic bulbs by the hundreds now. We planted 1,600 cloves this fall.

Teaching Others to Live Lightly

Now we have decided to enter a new realm. Teaching others what we know about living on an evolving, modern homestead.

Balancing living lightly, having fun, having a kid, and one of us working a full time job to pay the mortgage and insurances, trying to do as much for ourselves as we can.

I will try to share how we do what we do and let people see a how our lives can lend some insight to their own journeys. We hope the discussion of our mission, trials, failures, and successes will aid others and make their transition to a more sustainable life easier.

Join us on our journey!

Sara and Dustin Sustainabillies pink daisy and lily garden