Monthly Archives: June 2013

Why paying a consultant may be worth it.

Some may call me cheap, frugal, a tightwad even, but with today’s financial issues spending money on a consultant may make some people shake their head but that is exactly what I plan on doing.  Let me try to explain.

Consultants typically have a specialized field and have gained their knowledge through both education and experience. Often consultants are the rogues from corporate world who either weren’t challenged enough or we not able to execute their ides because of corporate bureaucracy and red tape.  They often get frustrated and consult rather than be suppressed. Let their creativity and nontraditional role be an asset for your needs.

Consultants may have connections you don’t. Often consultants have been in their field for years and have made great connections that you either don’t know about or cannot gain access to. For example, in permaculture earthworks knowing a skilled person with a 30 ton excavator can be the different of a 4 hr job and a 2 week job. This difference could save you hundreds if not thousands and time and energy. If you want to build a new addition to your building, who can you get into a room to review permits, look at designs, and get it all started in one day if you have never added onto a building before?

Connections usually come with references. Most good consultants will give references or testimony from past clients. Contact these past clients and find out about the person. Will they be the right match for you and your needs?  Brick and mortar companies are there to make money. They have overheads they need to cover. Consultants typically don’t and are looking for that referrals and testimonials to get the next client. They want to do the very best for you and get your repeat business.

Consultants have typically been there done that. Either from past experiences from prior positions held or from experience with other clients, consultants have usually seen a wide range of situations and topics. This both variability and repetition allows them to address a wider range of issues and adapt if necessary better than a specific business. For instance, it you are wanting to put in fencing for animals. Did you want traditional farming, paddock shift, mob grazing, free range? A properly trained consultant can give you the options and what works best for your individual situation if you have never raised livestock before. Fencing can be expensive, but the loss of livestock due to inadequate fencing could be a disaster.

Consultants are fixed duration. As opposed to hiring a full time or even part time employee for a project or situation, a consultant can come and go as you need them. If you need work for a project 3-4 times a year, but in-between there is not enough work, consider the consultant. They can come in help, and return with the knowledge when needed again.

Consultants have resources you may not. This could be in the form of knowledge, but also software, tools, documentation, or access to documentation. It could be a 3D printer, CAD software, access to a government database of information, or maps and charts. The consultant needs this information regularly, and your need may be a onetime event. This resource could be too costly to invest in the particular resource or resources and the project doesn’t move forward.

Consultants can save you money. Having the knowledge from a good consultant can sometimes save you double or more if you didn’t hire them. Between the knowledge, connections, and resources a consultant may be worth the time and money investing in.

Recently I evaluated the costs of hiring a consultant vs. doing the project on my own. While I have researched and understand what I want to accomplish, I wanted the opinion and advice of someone who has done this before, and done it for a living. They had made connections I didn’t even begin to know where to start, They knew the ins and outs about regulations that would have taken me hours to try and go through. They had firsthand knowledge of what product NOT to buy because of failure rates. While I could have discovered all this on my own, there is a cost associated with my own time. If I considered my own hourly rate the consultant will have saved me 5-6 times what I will spend.


8 foods eaten in the U.S. that are banned in other countries

Here is yet more reasons to grow and make your own foods. Or at least know where your foods come from.

Lessons learned in aquaponics

I don’t believe in failure. What others call a failure I call them lessons on what didn’t work, opportunities for improvement, and in some cases, the “failure” was an improvement. In each “failure” I learned something new or proved my hypothesis was wrong, and I needed to analyze what happened and why. Make it better then next time around.

I learned that you MUST make sure your system and all components are clean despite what people tell you. When I first started, I used 55 gal drums that previously contained vinegar. I bought them, and because the seller said they were cleaned, I started cycling my system. Well there was some residual in the containers and my pH was way off. Thus killing my first batch of fish and lesson two at the same time.

You must cycle your system for a while, and it depends on the size before adding plants and fish. I researched some and my first attempt was just to see if I could do it. Then learning from my mistakes I began to research more and understand the underlying fundamentals. There are three main components to aquaponics and each must work together effectively. If one of the three are out of balance then the other two get out of whack as well. Fish, plants, and bacteria. The bacteria break down the waste products of the fish, so the plants can take up the waste of the bacteria. The plants clean the water and grow off the bacteria waste, and then can feed the fish. At least in my case the duckweed feed the fish.

I say that your cycle time is dependant on the size because not two systems are alike and not one solution fits the situation. You could be using a 30 gallon indoor system, or a 55 gal outdoor system and the cycle time is different for each, as well as how you flow the system, and the media you use, the amount of light, what type of water you use. How you start your ammonia for the bacteria to begin digestion etc. All can vary your system requirements.

You can learn a lot more from doing than theory and reading. From my research several sites, and books said you should only grow leafy plants such as lettuce, herbs etc. and you couldn’t grow fruiting plants. Last year I grew melons, cucumbers tomatoes, beans, peas, chives and water chestnut. I try something and if it works great, if not, I note it, and try it again a few more times to confirm the results. My 1st few attempt at growing peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes and beans failed. I was attempting to start them from seeds in the system. I learned you need to get the plants started in some sort of media then transfer. I used coconut coir. I am attempting strawberries in addition to celery, marshmallow root, leaks, and some of my other past accomplishments.


Start with “disposable” fish. In my area tilapia are about $2 a fish for fingerlings. Catfish $1 for each 4 inch fish. When stocking a 2000 gallon system that is a big investment to have all of them die off. I used feeder goldfish from my local pet store. 100 for $12.49. My 1 inch fish I started with are not about 1-2lbs each. Goldfish are pretty hardy, they will survive through winter water temps below 40 degrees, they eat just about anything, and produce a lot of waste. Can you eat goldfish? Yup, it is of the carp family. But I doubt I would ever eat them. Because of their high waste output a larger bio filter is needed, but means a higher plant food source. We have added bluegill, read ear, and catfish as we catch them while fishing. Some fish are too small to eat, but they are great to add to the aquaponics and allow to grow to a bigger size.

Don’t believe you have to have a commercial system or parts. I wouldn’t ever but the thousand plus dollar kits they sell online. You can make an aquaponic system with just about anything. If it will hold water you can have a system. Rubbermaid plastic totes, 55 gal plastic drums, aquariums, in ground ponds. You also don’t need a commercial biofilter. I made mine out of plastic cat litter containers I found at my recycle center, landscaping lava rock, and seeded it with bacteria from a local pond. All free.


I attempted to use pipe as my grow area. This would work if you harvested the entire plant. I wanted to be able to pick a few things, and let the plants continue to produce. The roots end up clogging the system. So now I have adopted grow beds.



There are so many other things I know now that I would have done differently if I had to do it all over. I could have learned much of this from following someone else step and what they did. I could have bought a kit and paid for tech help and support. But I don’t think I would have learned as much about my own system. When something breaks I know how to fix it. I have learned to adapt other materials for my purpose, cat litter boxes, landscaping lava rocks etc. It would have definitely cost mre more. Experiment, learn what works for you and your system.

Want to start your own system? Let me help. I can discuss pitfalls and lessons learned. Help with sourcing materials that won’t break the bank. If you are in the Indianapolis area or are located in Indiana I can provide onsite help and consulting. Check out the consulting and contact us pages.

How we kicked cable to the curb

Several months ago the wife and I were looking at ways to save more, get out of debt faster, and put a big chunk down on a farm. We started looking at our bills. One that came up was cable. We both had our shows we liked to watch, we had a DVR, we had internet, we would rent movies online occasionally, it was a convenience. The DVR was really nice that we were not tied to a certain time to watch our shows, and we could cut out the commercials. We were also paying almost $180/mo for an hour or two a day, and maybe a few hours on the weekend. It was so expensive because we had various TV’s to be connected, since we had no digital TV’s in the house it was the only way to get a signal. We couldn’t justify buying new TV’s when the current ones worked.

I heard on a few podcasts I listened to about Roku, digital TV, streaming TV and the like. We were Amazon Prime members. You get free shipping and many items, and I like to watch for their daily deals. They had a special on a Roku, and we decided to give it a try before cutting cable. 30 days. We didn’t last 30 days. After one weekend cable was gone. How does it all work?

We are able to watch digital signals on our analog TV with the aid of a digital antenna and a digital converter. The converters are about $50. The antenna can go from $10-hundreds and you can select indoor or out. We bought a powered digital indoor antenna for about $30. Most of the programs we watched were on local channels. Here in Indianapolis we were able to get 30 or so channels free after buying the hardware. Total investment, $80.

Now the Roku. We had to keep cable internet due to work requirements, and Roku uses your WIFI connection to get on to the internet. With our Amazon Prime $75/yr we had access to something like 500,000 movies and TV shows for free, then a ton more that were a pay per view. While not all of the shows we were currently watching were on Amazon Prime we discovered a bunch more that we really liked, and never watched when they were on. In addition to Amazon Prime there are literally hundreds of other ways to get movies, TV shows and music. The kids will stream Pandora stations while doing chores or reading. Because the Roku is portable we can take it to whatever room we are in. We do not need a separate connection for each TV.

Out littlest one is learning Spanish by watching Dora. One of the older girls likes to tune into congressional channel and see what is going on that day/time in Washington. There is the chef Keith Snow from Harvest eating teaching you how to eat seasonally and prepare meals from things you grow in your garden. There is a Smithsonian channel, old westerns channel, sci-fi channel. Granted some of the shows are not the latest and greatest. But some of the older shows are great. And better free.

So the Roku only costs $50 for the basic model. And after that no subscription. You do not need an Amazon account but it is a bonus if you already have one. You can also use Netflix, or Hulu. Both have monthly subscriptions.
We went from a $180/mo bill to $30. In two months of savings we paid for the hardware, and had money left over to cover the occasional $3.99 movie rental. Granted we already had some of the hardware (WIFI and a cable modem) but those two you can get for under $100.

Granted this post isn’t about farming, organic food production, but with the savings in both time (not watching as much TV) and money we are able to do more things to our property, and get a bigger patch of land. Making the dollar stretch is something many people are being faced with. Rising food prices, rising fuel costs, shrinking wages and income, becoming more self sufficient is becoming more mainstream.

Frugal moment turns to family fun

Some say frugal is a bad word. Some also use the term cheap, tightwad, penny pincher, miser etc. You get the idea. I wasn’t always this way. When I was single I could buy and do as I pleased. I made more money than I knew what to do with.

Fast forward, four kids, a mortgage, bills etc. Money dries up pretty fast.
Not too long ago we stopped going out to the movies when they did away with the matinee. It just became too expensive to go to a move, and get snacks. My wife and I went a while back (several years actually) and at $9.75/ticket $8 lg popcorn, and $5 each for large drinks and we were out almost $40.
Today as a treat I wanted to take the kiddos out to a movie. No way we would ever set foot in the regular cinema. We went to the second run or the $1 movie. Tuesdays in our area are family specials, and not only are movies only $1 families of 3 or more get discounted, and there is a food discount for kids. They have been working hard and doing chores to help out, and it was a reward.
We get to the theater and the booth tells us that there is a delay due to a mechanical problem and they may be able to sell ticket if the projector gets working. OK, no big deal, I always get to the movies 30 min early to make sure I get snakes, and seated where I want way before the movie.
While we were waiting, I took out my smart phone and looked at the movies through Amazon Prime. We kicked cable to the curb a while ago. Will blog on that later. Funny thing, some of the movies that were at the second run were already on Amazon Prime. We could watch the same move for $3.99 in the comfort of our home. We can pause it if someone has to have a potty break, if the kids fall asleep we get the movie for 24-48 hours and they can watch it in the morning. Of if they choose watch it several times over. If we missed what someone said, we can rewind it. Two or three years ago my wife got me an air pop popcorn maker, and we buy the same salt and seasonings from the bulk restaurant store. We have left over candy from, name your holiday, Easter, valentine’s day, Halloween etc.
So sitting in the lobby of the movies looking at the snack board at a price of $5 per kids pack, $5 for tickets, and then a large popcorn for me $9 and a large drink $7.50 I ask the kids. How about we go home and have family movie night. We watch on big screen, you all can get bean bag chairs, and you can pick the candy or snack, then whatever flavor popcorn you want. All of them were in total favor of that. Here is the bonus, they found a FREE movie from Amazon prime they all wanted to watch.
What I originally thought of a treat going out and spending money for entertainment, it was more of a treat to have microwave smores, kettle corn air popped popcorn, a cold drink, and all the kids to enjoy a movie in their PJ’s on our own couch. A reward doesn’t have to be the money you spend, but the quality of the time you spend together.
If the wife ever lets me (I doubt that will EVER happen) I will have to post the video of all of us playing music videos on YouTube until late into the night. Kids heard “classics” they have never heard of, the adults acted like kids. Something that started off as showing the kids a song we used to listen to, became one of the best nights of our summer. If you can imagine the scene from Practical magic where the whole family was singing “Lime in the Coconut” that was all of us latterly, like 5 times over the night. From the oldest to the baby. We all took turns on selecting the next song. The 11 year old girls thought it was hilarious, and learned a few dance moves such as The Running man, The lawnmower, the sprinkler (although the boy thought you needed to use water in the mouth for accuracy), the worm and the list goes on. Yes we could go to an amusement park, we could go watch a movie but that was a great night and I will cherish it and it was FREE. We may have to have another one soon.

I guess in the end, how you value something really doesn’t need to have a price tag on it. Some things, the best things, are free. You just have to look for those moments.

Outdoor aquaponic and garden pond

I was jealous of my neighbors “water feature” and wanted one. I couldn’t justify the cost of putting one in and it not be productive. Then while cleaning out my MIL junk barn, we found a small plastic pond. I dug a hole, and with a spare pump from my greenhouse aquaponics I had a water feature. No extra cost. But how to make it productive? Fast forward a year. I decided I wanted a bigger pond and stock with fish. So again I dug the hole by hand. It kept getting bigger and bigger as I thought of all the things I could add.

Here is a picture of the hole. it is 4 1/2 feed at the deepest 15 feet long and 8 feet wide.


Next we added a roofing liner. I chose EDPM, 60 mil thick. I got a change through my professional work history to meet an engineer who works at firestone. Who make both roofing liners and pond liners. The material is identical. The only difference is the anti caking agent they use when rolling it or folding it. But here’s the catch, the pond liner is quite a bit more expensive. I just bought the roofing liner, and washed it several times, then with soap, and rinsed a few more. I cycled my system for several weeks before adding fish or plants.

Here are some photos of the system when we just got started.


Here is the same angle today.



The overflow from my rain catchment system goes into the pond. After a few spots in the yard heal from chicken devastation, I will swale and fence in the area to remove the pipe. It is only there to keep the water from eroding the surface soil.


The overflow of the pond goes into my garden.

When stocking with fish I use pet store feeder fish. Here locally I can get 100 different colored and patterned goldfish for $12.79. They are pretty hardy to get the system started, and add some color. The fish I started 18 months ago were around 1” and now are 9”+ and 1-2 lbs each. I feed duckweed and a handful or organic fish pellets. Duckweed will duplicate every 24 hrs in summer, and has more protein than soy and the feed I give them. I bought my first duckweed from a pond store, and it just keeps going. I have given duckweed to people on tours when asked and now sell if anyone wanted to start their own for their systems.

For the production piece. I added drip irrigation to recycled plastic containers which I hung from my deck railing. I took 2L bottles and cut off the bottom. Then drilled holes in the lids. The top bottle drills to the second, and then to the third, which drains back into the pond. In each bottle I used coconut coir as media. We planted cucumber, 3 kinds of melons, 5 varieties of lettuce, strawberries, peppers, and cilantro. The liner is pulled up so high to catch the drip irrigation and to keep chickens and the dog from the back side of the pond.



For the biofilter I again built my own. Recycled plastic feed containers, and PVC pipe. Inside there are river rock, lava rock, pea gravel and more coconut coir. The top container flows to the second which has a diverter and the drip irrigation. Again all recycled parts. Most of the plants I started from seed. The only things that cost me anything were the pump, bought off season for 75% off, and the liner. Since I bought roofing liner, rather than pond liner it saved me a few hundred dollars. The fish, but now we restock it ourselves when we go fishing. Any minnows that don’t get used, or fish that are too small to eat go to the pond to grow, and keep down mosquito population. The rocks were picked up from fields that get plowed. the 55 gallon drum serves no purpose than giving additional height. I am working on another system of hanging baskets from the pergola to give more growing area.


Here are some additional photos and description of our outdoor aquaponic system.  I have experimented with different growing systems. From drip irrigation to floating rafts.



Do you want to turn your “water feature” into a production space? Contact us and we can help. Want your own aquaponic system, again we can help.

Q: What do you do in winter? All the plants and the drip irrigation go away, mainly to compost. I disconnect the biofilter, and run a fountain to keep the water from freezing and oxygenate the water. The water plants move to the greenhouse, and a stash of duckweed goes into the greenhouse, and in the indoor system, to be returned next spring.

Q: What kind of fish can you use? Any kind of fish that will be winter hardy. You can use koi, goldfish, catfish, bluegill, carp, sunfish etc. You may be able to use tilapia but the water needs to maintain 50 or above and for optimal conditions 70-80 degree water is needed. This year we didn’t get the system cycled in time to optimize the growing season for tilapia. Next year we may put them in once the water maintains above 50 overnight, and then harvest before the water drops below 50. MAYBE 9 moths or less. for now bluegill, sunfish, and catfish are stocked along with goldfish for color.


Group tour July 6th

If you are local to the Indianapolis area we are hosting a group tour to see in person and ask questions some of the things we have used on our micro farm in the city. See the three aquaponic systems in action, back yard chickens, medicinal herbs, water harvesting, edible landscapes just to name a few. Ask questions, tips, techniques and see some of the items we have for sale. Because we have a small yard, and to make sure question and answer time is available, we are limiting to 20 people. This will be scheduled through Meetup Alternative Gardening group. If you are not already a member of Meetup there is a link below. We are having it on Saturday July 6th 9am.


Group Tour info

Herb Blurb – Aloe Vera, a wonder plant.

Aloe has many uses beyond the treatment of sunburn. Aloe is loaded with vitamins and minerals. Some people are not aware that you can eat aloe and use it’s juices. Aloe is also loaded with between 18-20 amino acids and contains sterols such as HCL cholesterol which lowers fats in the blood. Aloe Vera is a well-known adaptogen. An adaptogen is something that boosts the body’s natural ability to adapt to external changes and resist illness. Aloe is known to soothe and cleanse the digestive tract and help improve digestion. Because it is a gelatinous plant, it can help remove wastes from the body as it moves through the digestion tract. It is a known vulnerary, (meaning it helps heal wounds) and is great for applying topically to burns, abrasions, psoriasis and even to bug bites. Aloe acts as an analgesic, acting to help relieve pain of wounds. Aloe is a Disinfectant, Anti-biotic, Anti-microbial, Germicidal, Anti-bacterial, Anti-septic, Anti-fungal & Anti-viral. Aloe Vera contains 12 substances, including B-sisterole, which can help to slow down or inhibit inflammation. Improving your digestion, and detoxifying your will have a secondary effect in promoting weight loss.

We now have several plants available for sale. $5 per plant. Use the contact us page for details.


Permaculture, What is it anyway?

Permaculture in my opinion is landscaping and designing property or a homestead, working with the environment, with system that already exist, for an optimal sustainable output.

There is no way I could explain permaculture in one blog post or a combination of posts. There are so much better teachers and information already out there. Instead I can tell you how discovered permaculture, then my take on each of the sources, and how I apply some of the teachings.
First I googeled the term when I first heard it. Here is the wiki link for permaculture.

I was turned on to permaculture idea about a year ago from listening to Jack Spirko from The Survival Podcast (TSP). Here are the tagged episodes and blog posts from his site. Jack spoke of Geoff Lawton and had him on several episodes. Recently Geoff offered an online version of his course, and being a Member Support Brigade (discount program through TSP)

Currently I am taking Geoff Lawton’s Permaculture who took over for Bill Molison one of the founders of the permaculture education. Bill’s book Permaculture Design manual is a massive source of information and while taking the course I got the book at a discount. While at Geoff’s site be sure to check out the micro gardening. You have to register each time you go to the site. He does not, will not, sell e-mail address. The only thing I have ever gotten from Geoff is an announcement when a new video is out. No spam increase at all.

Through Jack and the TSP I found Paul Wheaton from Permies and Rich Soil. Paul is a little out there at times, but I take what I want from his podcast and forums. I get good nuggets of information here and there.

From Paul I got turned onto Sepp Holzer and his books. Sepp doesn’t speak English so watching his videos are difficult if there are any. His book has quite a bit of information.
Also through Jack I found Joel Salatin from Polyface Farms. Joel manages a variety of animals without hormones, antibiotics, and rotates his animals in a fashion that is sustainable and more productive than currently used practices. Joel has more than one book, so here is the selection.

While I am on a suburban lot of only 0.2 acres the information I got from Joel was good for consulting purposes and my future homestead when we are able to get more land.

Again through Jack I found Darby Simpson who is local and is literally the next town over. I have gotten to speak to Darby several times, and met in person at our local farmers markets. He runs a consulting business and has a family farm managed in the style of Joel Salatin. Joel is big time, and chance of my asking him a question is slim. Darby is local, same climate and environment, and knows the area and markets. This information has been key for me. He has enlightened me to the ins and outs, rules, regulations of local farming, farmers markets, and networking.

I have blended bits and pieces from all of these sources. I own several of the books, videos, visit the blogs, forums, and online videos often. I wish I had discovered some of these sources before we started designing our suburban lot, but we are constantly evolving it as we learn more and what works and what doesn’t. The principals were the key factor. We rarely have to water our gardens thanks to what Geoff, and Paul have taught us. We free range our chickens so we learned that anything we want to grow, from medicinal herbs to veggies have to be protected from the ravenous hoard. They eat EVERYTHING. If they don’t eat it they scratch around it killing the plant. We tried keeping the birds in a run, but they were just unhappy. With a six foot privacy fence we have never had one want to escape. In the last two years I feel I have learned more than I had in the previous 20 about gardening, the environment, land management, homesteading, self sufficiency, and the value of producing your own food. I can help on your own piece of land whether it be an apartment to acreage. Information is available on the consulting tab or use the contact us page.

Buy now and save

Quick post. Indiana area Home Depot stores have blueberry, raspberry, grape vines and select fruit trees 50% off. Wall mart also has 50% off fruit trees. With a little care and watching them in the summer heat you am plant now and save or leave them in buckets and plant in fall. Be sure to keep them watered.