General Question

Anatelostaxus's avatar

How can I be a better farmer?

Asked by Anatelostaxus (1428points) October 25th, 2011

Everyday I’m tending diligently and lovingly to the compost, livestock/pets (at present comprised of 3 hens, 1 cock, 6 ducks, 2 rabbits, 2 cats), the firewood, the garden, etc. As of now the main issue is preparing for the oncoming subzero winter.
I’m 25 years old and am facing my first real experience in managing and growing my own farm, along with my fiance and her mother.
We are planning plenty innovations, in infrastructure, livestock, crops and so on.
Any precious suggestions from others knowledgeable in the “field”? ;-)

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20 Answers

whitetigress's avatar

I mean when I think of a modern farm I see all crops having a roof that can protect against the subzero, but also retractable to let the sun in. Also I think should go with some fruit trees. Animals may seem important. But having the basic vegetables down is way more important in my opinion.

Anatelostaxus's avatar

I actually probably should give you a detailed list of what I’m doing, so you could suggest more directly what not to, or what else to do.
@whitetigress Yes, indeed. I do intend to construct some protection for some portion of the garden. But the main thing that must be considered is that we don’t have an ingent budget and I build everthing on my own.
Yes, I agree on the importance of greens.
Our animals are being raised not for (solely) meat but for long term resources; i.e. eggs, droppings for compost. I’m not fond of the idea of slaughtering and eating those beings that I’m raising. Not just yet at least.

Yanaba's avatar

I don’t know much about this, but I have friends your age who just bought a property and are doing the same thing—they’re engaged, her dad is there too (but probably only lightly involved in the farming side because he’s ill), and they’re just starting out. There are probably groups online for people in your situation, young farmers?

How about this. Tell us your “ideal vision” for this farm—what would you like to see, how much land you have, how regular of an income you’d like, etc. and what kind of hours you’d ideally like to put in. Then hopefully some people here who know more about it can tell you what’s realistic and how you’d get there over several years.

Brian1946's avatar


“As of now the main issue is preparing for the oncoming subzero winter.”

Do you mean “subzero” in Celsius or Fahrenheit?

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Anatelostaxus's avatar

@Brian1946 Celsius. Sorry I took that for granted.
@Yanaba Yeah, it did occur that thess type of details would be useful.
As of now I’m working all day. But soon this will change with the winter’s arrival. About the land, well we have approx 30(ish) square meters available. We’re planning a glasshouse/greenhouse and a veranda on the side of the house adjacent the front porch.
We live at 800m altitude. (Not in the U.S. but Europe). winters can reach -25 c (as I’ve mentioned in some other question of mine as well). We’re attempting organic farming just for our own consumption. At least for now.

Yanaba's avatar

Ah, ok! I mistook you to mean you were looking at starting an industrial farm and were right at the beginning. Ok then. So you would want to feed you family but also sell things you grow, correct? Would you want to barter things with other growers at a farmer’s market sometimes, or anything like that? If yes, it might be worth checking your local farmers’ markets and seeing what other people are growing—you know, to find a niche where there aren’t as many competitors. That way you won’t have to compete for customers as much and maybe you can trade for what you don’t have. Depending on where you live, what about doing something like selling eggs and flowers at the front of the property? It may be that florists and customers locally would buy from you. It all depends on what you could get the best price for, I suppose.

Regarding small-scale farming, obviously the most important things are first to plan what you want, and second to look at all the tasks that take your time and try to automate them one by one. Irrigation is a great example of this. What else takes a lot of time that you do now by hand? Is there a way to automate it? Are there other people doing this in your area with whom you could team up sometimes, so for example you spend two or three days a month on their property helping them build structures in a group of people, and they spend a few days on your property helping you build? How can you reduce the time things take without spending huge amounts of money? Cooperation is one way.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Best advice: Become a student of nature. Mama Nature is your best teacher. I wish -25C was the worst I have to face. I’ve seen -35F.

Kayak8's avatar

You always need about 10 times more wood cut than you think you do if you use it for heating.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Here’s a resource you might want to check out: Rodale Institute.

YoBob's avatar

I am not “in the field”, but I am from a farming family and have been gardening pretty much my entire life. I have recently become interested in a couple of technologies aimed at ultra high density production while minimizing water consumption.

The first of these techniques is known as “Aquaponics”, which is a marriage between aquaculture and hydroponics. In short, one sets up a symbiotic relationship between a fish tank and a hydroponic plant bed. The fish fertilize the plants and the plants clean the water for the fish. You get the high crop densities and low maintenance of a hydroponic system, it is 100% organic, and as a side benefit you can also harvest fish as well. Additionally it uses only 10% of the water than does conventional farming because the water is recirculated in a closed loop so the only loss is from evaporation and transpiration.

The second technique is “wicking beds”. These are arranged such that there is a water reservoir under the bed itself along with an integrated worm composer that puts nutrients in the water. Because of the bed arrangement the water is all utilized by the plants rather than running off or soaking down below the where the plants can make use of it.

Use your favorite search engine to find more info on either of these sustainable techniques.

As for cold, can’t really offer any advice. Here in Texas in mid-October my plants were actually showing signs of heat stress last weekend as temperatures climbed into the 90’s.

Coloma's avatar

I agree with @Kayak8 after living with wood heat for many years.
Also, have plenty of kindling chopped as well for ease of fire starting.

Make sure your animals have adequate shelter and plenty of deep, warm bedding material such as pine shavings.

Feed them up on energy and heat producing grains before bedding them down for the night.
Feed your rabbits raw oats and your ducks and chickens scratch grains.

Depending on what veggies/fruits you may grow next season you may also be able to eventually can and out up certain goods for winter such as stewed tomatoes, fruits, string beans.

Brian1946's avatar

@Kayak8 @Coloma Would dead, dying, or naturally fallen trees provide enough wood for heating, so that healthy trees could go on living?

Coloma's avatar


Sure, if the wood is not green or so rotten it will just be a mess to burn it.

Any downed wood is going to be dry and seasoned by this time of year if it has spent the entire season drying out, unless it is really green Oak.

I’d collect all downed wood now and chop and stack, test it for burnability. Is that a word? lol

YoBob's avatar

The problem with dead wood is that it has already lost most of it’s moisture content so is quite a bit harder to split/chop. The best way is to be literally a year ahead on your wood supply. Trim your trees in the fall and cut, split, and stack it to season for the following year while you burn the well seasoned supply you put away last year.

Kayak8's avatar

@YoBob Is dead-on. Seasoned wood is a bear to split. You want to split green wood, let it season while it is stacked with plenty of space for air to get around the logs to help dry them. You don’t want to cut down healthy trees. If you have enough woodland space, there will likely be enough dead-fall each season to get you through the winter.

Another wood trick (that many people surprisingly overlook) is that you need to measure the firebox of your fireplace or woodstove so that the logs you have will fit the space in which you intend to burn it. My stove takes 16” long logs, so I make sure that I have a large enough supply of logs that will actually fit. I only burn hardwoods (no pine or other sappy trees that will increase the creosote build up in my chimney).

Coloma's avatar

Honestly, I don’t miss the firewood chores after 20 years in the hills. It was really novel the first few years, after that, I’m into flicking the switch on the thermostat. lol

Coloma's avatar


Yeah, I had a stove that took 16 inch wood too, nothing worse than trying to jam in a log that’s too big and the disaster that follows. Smoldering log, ashes poofing in your face, running to toss the smoking too big log out the door. Bah! haha

Sunny2's avatar

Look for websites that offer the sharing of ideas among farmers. Today’s farmer, like yourself, are also internet savvy. I admire your spirit!

Jillybean's avatar

As you are adding your livestock remember that any animal you put in a barn will generate heat (except horses) and the barn can become hot. If you have chickens in the barn, their manure will produce ammonia and it is very hard on the animals lungs and your lungs, just working about in the barn I think you need to re-ask your question but in bits & pieces so you can get specific answers, I could write you a book on just some of the things you need to know. p.s. don’t forget to plant fruit trees & bushes (ie. blueberry & raspberry) they are so good when the snow is blowing around the corner and it’s -25 out!!

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