Black soldier fly bin

Black soldier fly bin

Recently we decided to take on a new project and build a black soldier fly bin. The black soldier fly larvae is a fantastic composter and will eat about any organic matter.  The larvae are terrific food for the chickens.  They have a high fat and protein content and chickens absolutely love them.  They will be fed scraps and spent barley we can get for free from a nearby brewery.  After the initial cost of the materials to build the bin and the BSF larvae starter pack, we will be getting free chicken food.

Why black soldier fly instead of worms?

We looked into other composters like mealworms and just your standard worm.  Here in NW Missouri, we can see 100 degree weather and periods of drought during our summers.  Those two things are hard on regular worms.  The BSF likes the heat.

Ultimately the deciding factor for us was when we learned we didn’t need to dig or sort out larvae to feed to the chickens.  When they are ready to pupate from larvae to a fly they “self-harvest”.  That is, they will leave the compost area to seek the soil to begin the transformation to a fly.  With a correctly designed bin the larvae are going to be in a container after self-harvesting and ready to be fed to the chickens.  We won’t have to touch them.

Black soldier fly bin
Black soldier fly larvae eating on a piece of cucumber

Picking a black soldier bin

We spent a fair bit of time watching different YouTube videos of the different bins available for the black soldier fly.  There are commercially available bins made from plastic and home built models from plastic and wood.

Some of the plastic bins had a small hole for the larvae to drop through when self-harvesting.  In several of the videos, I noticed the hole became partially blocked.  Larvae were finding alternate routes from the bin and didn’t make it into the collection container.  The ramp for the mature larvae to crawl was more complex than the simple wooden version we saw.

The wooden bins were larger and would easily accommodate more BSF larvae.  I liked the simple collection system on them.  Ultimately we elected to go with a wooden bin and to build our own.  We bought some black soldier fly bin instructions through a website that also sells larvae.  This bin was in one of his many BSF videos and the design was simple and looked easy to build. You can see the one we liked in this video.

Assemble and paint the black soldier fly bin

We pre-cut all the pieces for the bin on the table saw and assembled the bin near the chicken pen where it will ultimately be placed.  The assembly was pretty easy and straightforward.  The ramp for self-harvest did give me the business, but we got it done.  We used a little caulk to seal up any small gaps to keep the larvae in the bin.

In this picture, you can see the bin and the ramp for self-harvest of the mature larvae.  They will crawl up the ramp and be directed to the hole.

Black soldier fly bin
This ramp is where the BSF will climb and fall through the hole into a collection bin

The BSF larvae will fall through this hole and into the bin below.  We used some cheap plastic food storage bins from Walmart.  You can see the food storage bin in this photo.

Black soldier fly bin
Here you can see the compartment where the self-harvested larvae will be collected.

After applying several coats of an exterior white latex paint to the bin we added about three inches of sawdust to the bin.  This will keep the larvae off the bottom of the box to prevent them from going through the drain holes.

Some pieces of cucumber were added to provide the larvae that arrived in the mail from NW redworms.  Here you can see the prepared bin with food and larvae.

Black soldier fly bin

Paint to protect the black soldier fly bin

Because the black soldier fly bin is made with plywood it would not last long if left unprotected from the elements.  We want to make this ban last more than a couple of years, therefor we decided to paint it.  We went with a cheap can of exterior latex from Walmart and applied several coats.  It will seal that plywood and help it last several years before needing replacement.  Here is what the completed black soldier fly bin looked like after applying paint.

 

Black soldier fly bin
Black soldier fly bin

Greenhouse build progress

Greenhouse build progress

We have been working outside this week and thought we would provide an update on the greenhouse build progress.  This greenhouse is being built over our 95 ton heat sink and is part of our geothermal heat sink greenhouse project.  We are still a long ways off from having the the heat sink operational.  You can see what we have accomplished in this picture.

Greenhouse build progress
Greenhouse build progress – hip board installation

 

Arch supports installed

Near the peak of the arches you can see a horizontal support.  They are on all the arches except the two on the end,  These supports will provide rigidity for the arches under heavy winds and snow loads.  We don’t get lots of snow here in NW Missouri but we do generally see some every year.  If we received lots of snow it would have been necessary to go with a different style of arch to support a heavy snow load.  They’re held in place with a self tapping screw to keep them from moving.

Installing greenhouse hip boards

Both sides of our greenhouse will get a hip board and baseboard installed.  You can see the partially installed hip board on one side of our greenhouse in the picture above.

In this picture you can see how we are securing the hip board to our arches.  Notice the Tapcon screw installed through the top bracket.  One bracket at each arch will get a Tapcon to prevent the hip board from moving.  Each arch, with the exception of the two end arches, will have the hip board secured in this fashion.  The two end arches will have a 3/8 inch hole drilled through the board and arch.  A carriage bolt will be used to secure the hip board at each end.

We used a 3/8 impact adapter with a socket and our impact driver to insert the lag bolts.

Greenhouse build progress - installing hip board
Hip board installation on our Zimmerman high tunnel

What comes next

After both sets hip boards are up we will install the base boards.  Once those are on we will need to do a little back filling with dirt to help keep critters from getting inside.

After the base board work is complete the ends will need to be closed up and the door and door frames built.  We will be framing in both ends with treated lumber that was reclaimed from our in the garden greenhouse.  We are still sorting out the details of the end walls.

After the end walls are complete the grow boxes will be built and installed.  They will be filled with sawdust and sand, mixed at 75 percent sawdust.  We likely transplant seedlings into the grow boxes before pulling plastic.

The double layer of greenhouse plastic will be installed this fall once the temperature drops to around 60 degrees.

Making tomato sauce

Making tomato sauce

We picked thirty pounds of Roma and Better Boy tomatoes this week.  We will be taking the Roma tomatoes and making tomato sauce with them.  The Better Boy tomatoes will get cut into pieces and freeze dried in our Harvest Right home freeze dryer.  We love the Roma for making  spaghetti sauce.

Making tomato sauce
Making tomato sauce from roma tomatoes picked thus week

Juicing the Roma tomatoes

We use a juicer attachment for our meat grinder to juice our tomatoes.  The skin and seeds come out seperately from the juice and is collect in a bowl.  It is still pretty wet and lots of juice left in it.  It will be run back through the juicer several times until all the juice has been removed.  The skin and seeds are then taken out for the chickens to enjoy.

All the juice is collected in a large pot that will go on the stove to reduce.  Simmering it over the course of several hours causes the water to be reduced through evaporation.  This cause the juice to become thicker, making it into a sauce.  You can see in the picture below how far the level has dropped.

Hand operated juicers

If you don’t have a juicer setup like ours but want to start making tomato saucee you can get a hand operated juicer for far less money.

Water bath canning of our tomato sauce

After reducing our sauce down to the desired thickness it was time to begin the water bath canning process. We use the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving for all our canning. It is an inexpensive yet comprehensive canning book  for less than $8.

Making tomato sauce
3 and a half quarts of tomato sauce in the hot water bath canner

This batch is all straight sauce, no additional flavoring was added.  We will flavor it to taste when we cook with it.

After it cooled we labeled the lid and moved them to the pantry.

Making smoker wood chips

Making smoker wood chips

Recently we used the free Craftsman wood chipper we repaired to start making smoker wood chips  We had removed several mulberry trees for our greenhouse build and had a little apple and hickory wood that could be chipped.  We use a smoker often and go through more than a few bags of wood chips that we had to buy.  Now we can make our own and won’t have to buy any for awhile.

Making smoker wood chips
We will use this chipper to make wood chips for our smoker

Running the chipper and making chips

The process was fairly simple, we used the pruners to cut off branches from a limb downed during a recent high wind event.  Those branches were cut down more to make a straight branch that would feed easily into the chipper.

I found that with this particular unit it was best to keep the length of what we chipping to no more than a couple feet.  When we had a piece that was too long it would begin to bog down the Briggs and run the risk of killing the machine.  If you do then there will be wood inside the unit when you go to restart it.  When there is too much  material inside you won’t be able to pull start it.  We had to tear the unit apart once to unplug it. It wasn’t horrible, but it did take 20 minutes to clear and reassemble.  Lesson learned.  Limit the length of the material getting chipped to prevent this from happening again,

The finished product

This is our first chipper/shredder and we’ve never run one, therefor we weren’t certain how large of chips it would make.  The chips it made are smaller than I expected.  They’re smaller pieces than what comes in the bags we buy at the store. see the picture below.

Making smoker wood chips
wood chips from a mulberry tree that will be used in a smoker.

We have used them to smoke a chicken.  The smaller chips burn up faster than the larger store bought wood chips. Making smoker wood chips is pretty fast and we have an abundance of fruit trees. Burning more chips doesn’t concern me.  So far we have filled 2 feed sacks with usable wood chips.

Making smoker wood chips
Mulberry tree wood chips that will be used to flavor meat in our smoker

Repairing Craftsman 5 hp chipper

Repairing Craftsman 5 hp chipper

Recently we picked up a free older chipper shredder that was in need of a little tender loving care.  It was free and could be used to make our own wood chips for the smoker.  We got it home and started the job of repairing Craftsman 5 HP chipper.

Repairing Craftsman 5 hp chipper
Craftsman 247.797853 chipper repaired and ready for service

Finding manuals for the chipper and engine

With a grease rag and flashlight I was able to find model numbers for the Briggs and Stratton as well as the Craftsman model number for the entire unit.  It is a Craftsman 247.797853, 5 HP chipper/shredder.

Before I could begin Repairing Craftsman 5 hp chipper the model numbers were needed to see if replacement parts were even available. I was able to quickly find a free PDF version of the owners manual online.  With the model number for the Briggs we were able to find repair parts numbers for most everything we needed.

Engine repairs made

The little 5 HP Briggs actually ran when we got it, but it didn’t sound quite right.  Upon inspecting the gasoline in the tank it had the slightly sour taste of old gasoline.  It would need a tank flushing, and at a minimum, the carburetor bowl cleaned.  While taking off the air cleaner assembly it was clear the air cleaner needed replaced.   I was able to find an air cleaner and spark plug kit for $6.50.  The plug was ok, but was replaced along with the air filter.

After removing the gas tank and carburetor it was easy to tear into the carb.  The bowl had varnish buildup from our ethanol gasoline and needed cleaned.  The needle looked rough, so I elected to just purchase a carburetor rebuild kit.  It was around $10 from Amazon.

The carburetor kit made a world of difference in how this old chipper ran after flushing out the tank and adding fresh ethanol free gasoline.

Chipper shredder blades

To inspect the chipper and shredder blades on this unit I had to tear into it a bit.  With a few basic hand tools I was able to inspect our blades.  They were beat up but would be fine with a sharpening.  If you’re taking on this same job  you can still buy replacement blades.After installing my sharp blades I buttoned the unit back up.

Repairing Craftsman 5 hp chipper
These blades were rough and need sharpening on this old Craftsman chipper/shredder

Chipper shredder bag

The bag for this chipper shredder was long gone but I had hoped I could catch the chips in a bucket or something similar. Unfortunately   I discovered the bag was going to be required, it generates too much wind and the chips were blown out of my bucket,  A serviceable replacement bag is available for around $46.  If you are good with a sewing machine it would be easy to make one of these with the dimensions listed through my link.

Repairing Craftsman 5 hp chipper
New bag installed on Craftsman 5 HP chipper/shredder and ready to be put to work.

The first chipping job after repairs

The first task for the old chipper was to make some wood chips from a mulberry tree for our smoker.  We ended up chipping some hickory and apple wood as well.

Chicken butchering tools

Chicken butchering tools

Our Freedom Ranger meat birds are near butcher weight and we thought it would be a good time to discuss chicken butchering tools.  We have been raising and butchering our own meat chickens for years.  As a child I learned from my parents as we butchered around 100 a year for our own consumption.  As an adult I use many of the same tools as my parents but have added some luxury time saving items like a scalder and a mechanical chicken plucker.

Chicken butchering tools - chicken plucker
Home built chicken plucker

A few basic tools can get the job done, many of which most folks have already.  Our list will include a set of the basic and inexpensive tools as well of some of those luxury items that make the process easier and faster.

Basic chicken butchering tools

A good set of knives is on my essential list of chicken butchering tools.  A good thin blade for cutting into the cavity of the chicken and a second knife with serrations for cutting through the neck and tail bones.  You can use the same blade for everything but cutting into or nicking the bones is hard on a blade and will cause it to go dull quickly.

Knifes and related cutting tools

For the thin blade I like a boning knife, like this UltraSource boning knife. It has a decent blade and the grip is easy to maintain control with wet, or bloody, hands.  The edge is easy to renew with a decent sharpening steel between chickens.

For my serrated blade I like an inexpensive hunting knife like this Gerber folding knife with serrated blade.  Half the blade on ours is serrated and the rest a normal blade.  If you you were wanting to work on a budget this single knife would work by itself.  Just keep in mind that a thin blade is easier to control inside the chest cavity of a chicken.

I consider our sharpening steel is a essential if we are butchering more than a few chickens at a time.  Being able to dress the edge of a knife between chickens makes the process much easier.  An inexpensive steel works.  We have been using our oval diamond sharpening rod for a decade and love it.

Tools for bleeding out a chicken

A couple different size kill cones are a valuable tool to have on the homestead where you are butchering your own chickens,  You can buy commercially made kill cones that are made from materials like stainless which are easy to clean.  In the link above is a XL model.  It is my preferred cone for large roosters from a bird bird breed,  For meat bird hens and smaller breeds we like the large size of cones.  Here at our homestead we run two cones and move them to some baling twine, which is discussed below,

An budget minded alternative to cones is simple baling twine.  We secure one end to something like a tree or fence post and tie a loop in the other end.  By simply pulling the line through the loop you create a hoop.

Scalder for plucking

Scalding a chicken makes the process of removing feathers much easier.  A large pot filled with water can be easily brought to temperature for plucking on a propane cooker.  A turkey fire kit that includes the burner, a big pot and a thermometer can be cheaper than buying individual components.  It goes without saying, you’ll need propane too.

After scalding the feathers will be removed by hand and simply pulling the feathers from the skin, or with the aid of a plucker.  You can make your own or buy one commercial made,  It is expensive, so it will be discussed in the “luxury item” section near the end of this blog entry.

If you’re not opposed to having skinless chicken you can remove the feathers without a scalder setup by skinning the chicken, the feathers are removed by by pulling of the skin and the feathers.

A cooler and ice

After butchering it is important to cool down the carcass.  We use a cooler and add ice and water to drop the carcass temperatures.  If you have a little extra cooler space and some plastic bottles you can save money by filling the bottles with water and prefreezing them.  You can reuse the bottles of ice in the place of ice from the store.

Chicken butchering tools - a cooler of ice water
ice water used to cool carcasses after butchering

Clean water

Clean water is an absolute necessity.  You need it to clean the chicken, yourself and the random accidental messes that occur.  A few buckets of water will work, but a hose with a nozzle of some sort is recommended.  We use a garden hose and the watering wand from our garden.

Luxury chicken butchering tools

The top two luxury chicken butchering tools would have to be a chicken plucker and a scalder. For the plucker to work properly you need a scalder capable of bringing your water temperature to 145 degrees.  If you don’t dip the chicken in that hot water the plucker won’t remove any fethers.

Chicken Plucker

A plucking machine is a massive time and labor saver. But they can also be expensive.  We built our first one off a set of plans, you can see it running and doing its job in the video below.  There are lots of DIY plans and even build videos on YouTube if you want to build your own.  For those who don’t want the hassle of building your own, there are a few companies that make a decent plucker that is made from stainless steel.  Coops n More carry a few different models.

Scalder

A comercially manufactured scalder is another luxury item but is such a time saver.  We are better able accurately maintain a constant temperature in this unit over the turkey fryer setup we originally used.   The turkey fryer was always tempermental and more difficult to keep at a constant temperature.  We saw fluctations in the temperatures which would delay the entire butchering process.  Water temperatures that were too high, or too low, make plucking far more diffucult. A good scaldeer that maintains a constant temperature streamlines the entire process.

 

Chicken butchering tools - 220 volt scalder
220 volt scalder from coops n more being powered by an electric generator

Shrink wrap freezer bags

A more inexpensive luxury item is the chicken shrink wrap freezer bag.  As you can see in the picture

chicken butchering tools - shrink wrap bags
Chickens packaged in shrink wrap bags and ready for the freezer

 

 

Pruning cabbage leaves

Pruning cabbage leaves

This week we are pruning cabbage leaves in our garden.  They had been neglected and had become over grown making it difficult to water, fertilize and inspect for insects.  This task should have been completed a few weeks ago and things were really getting out of hand. Fortunately they’re

Why should you be pruning cabbage leaves

There are a few reasons your cabbage leaves should be pruned regularly, three of those reasons were mentioned above.  When the cabbage gets lots of leaves on it the plant takes up a lot of room.  This can make the task of watering and applying the Mittleider weekly feed challenging.  Inspection for insects can be nearly impossible when not properly pruned.

Pruning cabbage leaves encourages the plant to start new growth and put more energy into new growth and growing the head of cabbage.  Pruning a couple leaves each week provides you with some nutritious leaves to eat or use in a smoothie,

What leaves should you prune

Any leaves that are touching the soil in a Mittleider garden are the first ones that get trimmed.  Leaves that have turned yellow, are broken at the stem or just particularly damaged by insects are also trimmed. Leaves that overlap other plants can also be pruned to make it easier to apply weekly feed and water.

What tools are needed

There aren’t any special tools needed for pruning cabbage leaves besides your favorite pruners.  For this task I prefer the same pruners that get used to prune our tomatoes.   The short thin blades on the Fiskars micro tip pruning snip are sharp and allow for precise pruning.  This pruning task can be completed with bypass pruners or even a good pair of scissors.

Pruning cabbage leaves
cabbage after pruning leaves

Watch our cabbage pruning video on YouTube

Other pruning topics

How to prune zucchini 

How to prune tomatoes 

meat chickens – Freedom Ranger update

Meat chickens at 8 weeks

Our Freedom Rangers meat chickens are now 8 weeks old and growing well and we thought we would do an update.  They spent almost two weeks in the brooder and then went out onto grass inside our chicken tractor.  It will be another 4 weeks before this straight run batch of 26 chickens get to butcher weight.

meat chickens
Freedom Rangers meat chickens at 8 weeks

Observations about our Freedom Ranger meat chickens

Without question, these Freedom Ranger meat chickens forage more than the Cornish Cross we have raised in the past.  We have watched as they tear up clover, grass and scratched for insects.  I’ve thrown a few bugs in the tractor and watched as they ate them.

Although they do forage for additional things to eat, I don’t think they take in very much of their daily calories this way.  They still spend the majority of their day at the feeder eating the chick grower.  Considering these chickens are fed for an additional 4 weeks as compared to the Cornish cross, I am not convinced they will require less feed to get to butcher weight.  We are documenting how much feed we use to feed them to butcher weight.

This fall, after the heat of summer has passed, we hope to bring some Cornish cross to butcher weight as a comparison.  We will record how much feed we give them and compare it to our results from the Freedom Rangers.

Freedom ranger meat chickens
Freedom ranger rooster at 8 weeks

Our second batch of Freedom Rangers

At the 6 week mark of our first batch of these Freedom Ranger meat chicks we ordered another 25 chicks from Freedom Ranger Hatchery.  For this order we elected to get all cockerels for the same price as straight run.  We received 27 chicks with our second order and lost a single chick on their second day in the brooder.  The remaining  26 are healthy and growing well.  They will be moved to a second John Suscovich style stress-free chicken tractor next week.

John Suscovich chicken tractor

John Suscovich chicken tractor

Recently we built a modified version of the John Suscovich chicken tractor for our Freedom Ranger meat chickens.  We bought his book, Stress-Free Chicken Tractor Plans, with the plans and built a modified version of it.

A chicken tractor for a tall person

After watching several videos on YouTube I noticed folks having to duck their heads to get in or out of the chicken tractor.  As a tall guy who is forever bashing my forehead into things, I decided I’d build it a little taller.  We went and looked what widths the wire we needed that was available in our area.  After looking in 4 different stores we found it was available in 24 and 36 inch widths.  Ultimately, we decided to built our chicken tractor 1 foot taller.

From the parts list in John’s book, parts A, B, I and K were cut 1 foot longer.  Parts A and B are what give the sides their height.  In the picture below, parts  A are the 2 vertical boards in the middle below the tarp.  Parts B are the two, one on each end.

John Suscovich chicken tractor
John Suscovich chicken tractor

Other slight modifications to the Chicken Tractor

Roosting bar

Because we are raising Freedom Rangers, we decided to add a roosting bar to our John Suscovich chicken tractor.  A 2×4 was used to provide them a place to roost.  You can see it, and one of the two addition pieces of lumber we used in this photo.

John Suscovich chicken tractor
Roosting bar added to our John Suscovich chicken tractor

Closet shelf and rod bracket

In the picture above you can see our yellow bucket automatic waterer hanging from a closet shelf and rod bracket.  We use it, and 18 inch length of chain to suspend our bucket waterer.  It uses the automatic water nipples to provide clean water to our chickens.  You will notice in the picture below that the chain links fit over the rod hook.  Raising the bucket height a link at a time is easy.

John Suscovich chicken tractor
Closet shelf and rod bracket

Adding a door closure

The first week our John Suscovich chicken tractor was in use there was a small incident when the front of the tractor was pointed downhill.  while inside to top off the feeder several chicks escaped out the door that swung open with the aid of gravity.  By adding a simple door closure spring no more chicks escape while we are inside the tractor.

John Suscovich chicken tractor
door closure spring used to keep the door closed while inside our John Suscovich chicken tractor

A long tarp to cut down on the wind

Our first batch of meat chickens were going to be in the tractor while it was still pretty cool and windy at night.  Because of the wind, we elected to get a tarp that would go all the way to the ground on both sides.  During the summer we will roll the sides up to give them plenty of breeze. (See picture at the top of this entry)  We went with a 12 with the extra length used to partially cover the back end of the tractor.

 

Mittleider grow box maintenance

Mittleider grow box maintenance

Mittleider grow box maintenance needs to be completed once or twice a year.  Grow boxes in a Mittleider garden are filled with sand and sawdust.  As the gardening season progresses the sawdust will decompose.  As it decomposes the growing medium in the grow box drops.  The lost material will need to be replaced.

Mittleider grow box maintenance
Mittleider grow box being topped off with sawdust

How often to add more sawdust

Here on our little homestead we will do Mittleider grow box maintenance at before each gardening season right before planting.  In grow boxes where we rotate in a new crop for our fall gardens the grow box will get topped off a second time.   There are a couple things to consider when deciding how often to add more sawdust.

What to consider when deciding when top off a grow box

Performing mid season Mittleider grow box maintenance on crops like kale or tomatoes would be a problem because the fruit and growing tip wouldn’t get buried with the added sawdust.  To try and top off a bed with crops such as cabbage or spinach you would end up partially burying your crop.

A common side effect of adding fresh sawdust is a drop in available nitrogen.  Watch for nitrogen deficiencies if topping of the grow box during the growing season.  If you see symptoms of a lack of nitrogen you will need to correct for nitrogen deficiencyUrea is a common nitrogen source that is widely available.

What sawdust will work

A common question I see asked is what type of sawdust is correct to use and what size it should be.  The type is easy, anything but walnut sawdust will work.  Walnut contains tannin that will kill seedlings and severally stunt the growth of established plants.  Avoid any sawdust that could possibly contain walnut.

The size of the sawdust is important.  Anything too large, or too small, can cause serious problems in your Mittleider grow box.  See my blog entry on identifying the correct sawdust size.  Another acceptable source of sawdust that can be bought is from equine pellets. Equine pellets cost around $6 per 40 pound bag and will roughly triple in volume once wet,

Mittleider grow box maintenance in our potato box

In this video you will see our potato and sweet potato grow box.  Because of the length of the sweet potato growing season this box is only filled once a year.  It gets topped off right before we transplant the sweet potatoes.

Our quest to be self reliant and grow a healthy garden