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We often take for granted all the things that are happening in the dirt. We get the idea that we can simply take a seed or a potted vegetable plant from the store, plop it in the ground and pooooof! Bean stalks to the heavens and an abundant harvest. While in some cases luck allows this happen, it actually is a little more complicated. There are billions of bacteria in a handful of dirt. It's a web of micro life that does all the work. in order for dirt to become soil, it needs to be alive with these microorganisms. Good soil is a mix of sand, clay and silt. There's a lot going on in there. It is a constant life and death cycle. Living organisms grow and die, other organisms consume them and turn them from organic material into humus (electrically charged chains of carbon that attract nutrients). The clay has a charge and it attracts nutrients. All of it has surface area that is great for bacteria to colonize. The plants actually secrete different types of sugars to feed the bacteria. Fungi send out long strands and weave throughout the soil. Bacteria is cultivated by the plant, they also eat organic material, protozoa eat the bacteria, worms eat roots, fungus, bacteria, protozoa, then insects and small animals eat the worms. It's an amazing process. This cycle provides what the plants need...and its not Brondo! Of course nothing is ever perfect so we have issues that interfere with this process. It could be as simple as a lack of water or as complicated as water that is too acidic. Some plants have adapted to certain conditions. A cactus in Arizona survives just fine without much water but Kentucky Bluegrass will never grow naturally in that environment. So, sometimes we have to make adjustments in order to put the soil to work for us. For example, here in Western Kentucky, the soil is usually too acidic. This interferes with the electrical charges within the soil particles and prevents the uptake of nutrients by the plants. We add pulverized calcium carbonate (lime) to adjust the Ph while it also adds calcium (cell structure) and magnesium (chlorophyll). This allows for improved uptake of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in acid soil. Out west, some soils are alkaline. The weathering of organic materials, high in calcium carbonate, in arid environments increases the Ph level in the soil. This limits the uptake of other nutrients like iron, copper, zinc and manganese. Sulfur, sulfuric acid, aluminum and iron compounds will help adjust the Ph. Peat and ammonium sulfate fertilizers as well as the addition of organic material can help as well. BTTL header By far, the best things you can do to help improve your soil is to mulch, cover crop and compost. By applying a cover of  organic mulch (as opposed to plastic), you keep moisture in the soil, which is good for the bacteria. It creates humus, draws beneficial creatures like earthworms that will till the soil and provide aeration and increased surface area for more microorganisms. It is basically composting on top of the soil with the side effect of keeping weeds from growing around your plants. Cover crops are plants that will cover the soil to prevent weed growth, prevent erosion with their extensive root systems while also pulling nutrients from deep within the soil, and when tilled in, provide organic material to feed the soil. The addition of this organic material helps break up the soil, especially the clay aggregate, into small, well mixed particles. This increased tilth, provides for better aeration, water infiltration and drainage. For those of you that live in an apartment or subdivision, all this information still holds true. You can cheat by putting soil in containers or by purchasing potting soil, peat moss, composted manure and vermiculite in equal amounts and making your own soil. It is surprising how much food one can grow in a 4ft x 4ft raised bed filled with this mixture. While I don't think this method suited to large scale production. I have emulated it in my garden. I was overwhelmed with joy while driving through the Israeli countryside and I saw the same technique being used on a grand scale. [caption id="attachment_2431" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Chickpeas Wide raised rows of garbanzo beans.[/caption] A soil test kit is a good investment. After a while, you will get to know your soil and your plants. They will tell you what they need. There are maladies that can be seen on the leaves and on the fruit.....but that's another lesson. AL Firearms, Tactical & Defense Training
Recently I wrote an article about the innards of a beehive. I touched on some of the types of hives besides the Langstroth hives that I use. (see article here to catch up http://cagmain.com/2015/07/15/inside-a-beehive/ ). Recently I made my way back home to eastern Ky and visited a cousin. His "bee gums" reminded me that you don't have to have a $300 store bought hive to get the wonderful liquid gold we know as honey. On occasion, I forget my hillbilly roots that inspire me to make everything myself and get carried way with the modern more efficient ways of doing things. Sometimes, any way is better than no way. A bee gum is nothing more than a section of a hollow tree that bees were living in. You find the bees and cut down a the section with the most honey, comb and the queen in it. You take it home and set it up on a stand of some sort and cover the top. As time allows, you can build a box to put atop the gum that acts as a super. It can be a Langstroth style super or a homemade top bar super.[wpvideo 6g5Uge79]

A top bar hive is a container, usually a trapezoidal box with small 1/2x1 inch boards spanning the top. it can be that simple or you can get fancy and attach a piece of triangular stock to the board or cut them triangular to begin with. The point of the triangle will hang down and act as an edge for the bees to hang their comb. You may also use a 55 gallon drum cut longitudinally. You can also use hollowed out logs with top bars placed inside.

top bar

Obtaining the bees is a different story. You can buy them during the spring and summer. A 3lb package (about 10K) of bees and a mated queen will set you back about $150 with shipping, to your local post office. You can put an add in a local paper or Craigslist offering to remove hives and swarms for free or you can try to bait them in with lemongrass oil and other techniques. This year I harvested a nice swarm from a neighbors peach tree. Don't be afraid, when bees are swarming, they are very docile and don't usually attack. In the video you will see me sweeping the bees off the tree with a light bristled brush into one of my hive bodies. [wpvideo 7oWhMDpQ] I hope you find this useful. Stay tuned for more articles and videos on beekeeping and other readiness topics. Don't forget to jump over to CAG NET where Green Berets and other subject matter experts (SME's) hang out. Ask questions and get involved in the conversation. AL


Recently I wrote about the different cole crops. It just so happens that we harvested all our cabbage a few weeks ago and since we don't yet have a root cellar, we decided to turn it into kraut and can most of it. I know, most of you are thinking, eww gross, sauerkraut is nasty. I would agree if you are talking about the soured mushy cabbage substance that comes in a can from the store. But, real homemade, fermented kraut is totally different and its full of beneficial microbes we so hiply call probiotics.Recently I wrote about the different cole crops. It just so happens that we harvested all our cabbage a few weeks ago and since we don't yet have a root cellar, we decided to turn it into kraut and can most of it. I know, most of you are thinking, eww gross, sauerkraut is nasty. I would agree if you are talking about the soured mushy cabbage substance that comes in a can from the store. But, real homemade, fermented kraut is totally different and its full of beneficial microbes we so hiply call probiotics. Growing up in Appalachia, kraut was a part of the "coal miners dinner". Soup (pinto) beans, cornbread, kilt lettuce n onions, sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, a pork chop if you were lucky, and of course, kraut. Eventually I just considered it poor people food and occasionally ate the crap from a can with my nostalgic hillbilly dinner. Then we started growing a garden and eventually canning our own food. So naturally we ended up making kraut as a way to prolong our cabbage harvest and add to our goal of becoming self-sufficient. And boy is it good.

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Fermented foods have been around forever. When our European ancestors came to These United States, the brought with them foods and techniques that were time tested for survival. The process of fermenting foods adds beneficial enzymes, vitamins B and C not to mention the microbes that keep our intestinal health it top shape. The bacteria themselves help provide vitamins while living inside your intestinal tract. Think about it, opening a jar of kraut in the dead of winter is the perfect immune system booster. [gallery size="medium" ids="2063,2064,2066"] Making kraut is ridiculously easy. You will need some cabbage obviously and something to ferment it in. We use an old 4 gallon crock that we bought at the antique store for $25. We have also used the one gallon sized glass pickle jars. Some people simply ferment it in the quart or pint jar they plan to keep it in. That's how my wife did her half of this years cabbage. Everyone in my family likes plain ol' kraut, I like to spice it up a bit with some jalapeños, garlic, caraway seed, etc. In this batch I made a few quarts of different types.  Garlic and smoked paprika, mmm. Anyway, you will also need some salt. [caption id="attachment_2065" align="alignright" width="300"]20150717_173135 You can also ferment in the smaller jars. Keep them in a shallow pan to collect any dripping that may occur during fermentation.[/caption] Simply shred the cabbage to your desired consistency. We just run it through the food processor. Then spread it out in an LEM food grade tote. Sprinkle just a little salt, then add another 1-2 inch layer and sprinkle a little more salt. Keep doing this 'till you run out of cabbage. Then, let it sit for about 10-15 minutes as the salt draws the juice out of it. Next, cram it in whatever container you are using. Again, I use a crock or glass jars and I avoid plastic and most certainly metals. Any reactions or leaching will give the kraut off flavors or worse ruin it. When I say cram, I mean cram. I use my fists to compress the cabbage as tightly as possible into the crock. My wife uses a tamper made from a piece of Delrin cutting board attached to a dowel to compress it into the jars. If you have done it right, all the cabbage is tightly compacted and there will be enough juice to provide a half inch over the cabbage. If not, no worries. Just add 2 tablespoons of non iodized salt (pickling, Kosher, sea salt) to one quart of distilled water. We use distilled water so the chlorination of our tap water doesn't kill the natural bacteria need for fermentation. Add enough of the brine to cover the cabbage and compress it again. This type of fermentation is anaerobic so we want to get out any air bubbles.

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You will need to keep the cabbage completely submerged in the brine juice, this prevents it from making contact with the air. I use a dinner plate that is nearly the same diameter as the inside of my crock. I then place a 1 gallon pickle jar filled with water, about ten lbs total, on top of it to keep the cabbage pushed down below the liquid. I then cover it with a plastic bag or cheese cloth and let it sit for about a week. Then I will begin to skim any funk off the top. This is completely normal and harmless. If during the course of the next few weeks the liquid level gets too low, I add more brine solution. Let it sit another week and taste test it. Keep skimming of the krud of needed. When it is to your liking you can either put it in the cellar or fridge, or can it in jars. I do both. Some for now and some for later. If I had a cellar I wouldn't bother with canning it and I don't have enough room in my fridge to keep the 6 gallons we made, so in the jars it goes. Just keep in mind that canning it kills the probiotics. To can it, warm it up in a skillet if you want to do a hot pack, cram it into the jars with enough juice to cover it and leave 1/2 inch of space to the top. For cold pack, forego the skillet and just pack the jars the same way. Put on the lids and process in a water bath for 10 minutes for pints, 15 minutes for quarts. Add ten minutes for Cold (raw) pack. You don't have to be a farmer or homesteader to do this. pick up a couple heads of cabbage from your local farmers market and give it a whirl. These are skills that should be learned now, not when you need them to survive. If you are an apartment dweller or live in a subdivision but just don't want the responsibility of a garden, this is a great way to make yourself more appealing to someone you may want to bug out to. Learning these types of skills will make you a valuable asset. Farm Header/Logo
Since I posted on Facebook about the 33lbs of honey we recently harvested from one of our hives a few weeks ago, I have had a lot of inquiries about beekeeping. This will be a familiarization of all the parts, cost and assembly of a basic Langstroth style hive.[caption id="attachment_1925" align="aligncenter" width="660"]The basic setup with a medium super. The basic setup with a medium super.[/caption] Since I posted on Facebook about the 33lbs of honey we recently harvested from one of our hives a few weeks ago, I have had a lot of inquiries about beekeeping. This will be a familiarization of all the parts, cost and assembly of a basic Langstroth style hive. I chose Langstroth type hives for a couple of reasons. It's a proven design (patented in 1852) that allows me to remove frames of honey, extract it without destroying the honeycomb and replace it for the bees to refill. This saves them precious time and energy because they don't have to make more wax and rebuild the comb. The moveable frames also allow me to steal a frame of brood with freshly laid eggs, a few shakes of bees and start a new hive. I can also move a frame of brood to a small hive to help beef it up. Another advantage is that the bees don't tend to build comb just willy nilly, the frames keep everything fairly neat and organized. Bees make a substance called propolis which is like their version of mortar. The use it to fill cracks. They also make what is known as "burr comb" which is comb in between frame and anywhere they feel has enough space to build. The frame system in the Langstroth hive has the perfect spacing to aid in preventing propolis and burr comb from being built everywhere. Typical "bee space" is about 3/8ths of an inch. Any more and they try to build comb, any less and they try to cement it shut with propolis. Lastly, it is the most popular type of hive and parts are reasonable and plentiful. I get all my parts from the local Co-Op a little at a time and then put them all together when I have all the parts. There are other types of hives, Warre, Top Bar, Long Box and many others but for simplicity, I wont discuss those in this article. To help confuse the beginner beekeeper, there are different sizes of Langstroth hives. There are deep hive bodies that are 9 9/16ths inches tall. These are typically used as a brood chamber. This is where the queen will lay all her eggs and the bees will rear them. If it were filled with honey it would be too heavy to lift for harvesting. This is why there are different "depths" of supers. The super is the box that sits on top of the hive body. I use medium supers because I can easily lift them off when they are full of honey. The last one I harvested yielded 33lbs of honey, that does not include the weight of the super, frames or wax. If you are older or have a disability, it may make more sense to use a shallow or comb super. They will weigh much less when full. To add even more to the confusion, there are 8 and 10 frame hives. Ten frame hives are standard but, by making the box narrower by 2 frames it weighs less. I prefer 10 frame hives and I always leave one out so I have room to pry the frames apart (remember propolis is like gooey cement) and shift them over one space when doing an inspection.

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Within the hive are the frames. There are also several designs. I prefer Walter T. Kelly's "N" frame style. They are slotted on the top, sides and bottom. This allows me to simply drop foundation into the frame. Foundation is a thin layer of wax that has been ran through a device that imprints a honeycomb pattern into it. It may or may not contain vertical wires imbedded into the foundation for added strength. The bees simply follow the pattern and draw out the comb. Other designs are more complicated and require more effort, so I stick to the N type frames. [caption id="attachment_1922" align="alignright" width="300"]Components of an Components of an "N Type" frame for a deep hive body. Top, left and right end bars, bottom bar and wired foundation.[/caption] The base of the hive is called the bottom board. I have one that I made but I prefer the screened bottom boards from Kelly's Bees. It has a slot for the screen which prevents critters from getting inside and a slot for a debris board so I can look for varroa mites and small hive beetles. On a new hive, I recommend an entrance reducer. It is a small piece of wood with a 3 inch cutout that reduces the entrance to the hive so the guard bees can effectively fight off robbers (thieving bees from another hive) and other threats. I also recommend feeding them sugar syrup and pollen patties to get them off to a good start. Now, to assembly of the hive. You will need some wood glue, a hammer, a knife and all the parts. All my parts come from Kelly Beekeeping in Clarkson, Ky and they do a fine job predrilling the holes and cutting the box joints for the hive bodies and supers. The N type frames all fit snugly together as well. 1. Pre-assemble everything to ensure all parts fit together properly and nothing is missing. If needed, trim up any pieces that are slightly oversized with the knife. You should have the following items. From the bottom up.
  • Screened bottom board (with screen, debris board, entrance reducer $28)
  • Deep hive body with nails and frame rests-$19
  • Ten "N" type frames with foundation-$35
  • Inner cover-$10
  • Outer (top) cover with metal covering-$22

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This is the minimum required to get started for $114 or you can order a kit and foundation for $102. You will eventually need a super with frames and foundation. A Medium super with frames and foundation will run you about $55. The total for everything in the photo, including the smoker, hive tool and bee feeder is about $185. My first package of bees were $140. At current honey prices ($6.50 per lb) the 33 pounds I have harvested from one hive was worth $214. I harvested 35 lbs last year. They have paid for themselves and I was able to split a hive and catch a swarm to create 2 additional hives. With 4 hives, I should harvest about 120 lbs or nearly $800 worth of honey next year. What's better is knowing I have a sustainable source of sweetness.  Now, back to hive assembly. 2. Once you are happy all the pieces are there and fit together, put a thin layer of wood glue on the hive body joints and put them together with the 2 1/8th inch 14 gauge nails through the pre drilled holes. 3. Install the L-shaped frame rests along the rabbeted edge of the hive body with 11/16ths brads. These are optional but over time scraping propolis from the wood will wear out the hive body. 4. Put a thin layer of wood glue on all mating surfaces of the N type frame and fit the together. There are four parts, the slotted top bar,  2 grooved end bars and the grooved bottom bar. Place a 1 inch nail through the thick part of the bottom bar into the grooved end bars. Next place a 1 1/8 inch nail through the grooved end bars and into the top bar. Insert the foundation and secure through the predrilled holes with a support pin. (bobby pins will also work) 5. Place all the frames inside the hive body. 6. Follow the same procedure to assemble the supers and place the frames inside. 7. Place the screened bottom board on a sturdy base about a foot off the ground. I use small pallets with bricks underneath them. 8. Place the hive body on top of the bottom board and align the edges. Place the super on top of the hive body. 9. Place the inner cover on top of the super and the top (outer) cover on top of that. 10. Order 3lbs of bees and a mated queen and install into the hive or catch a swarm and install it. [gallery size="medium" ids="1924,1926,1923"] Now that you have a better understanding of the basic parts of a beehive, it should take some of the anxiety out of getting your first beehive. I don't have a fancy bee suit. When I go to raid the bees, I wear an old Army flight suit (that I also wore on raids overseas), latex exam gloves and a mosquito headnet. The only specialty item I have is the smoker. Half the time I don't use any of it, it just depends on how moody the girls are. [gallery columns="2" size="large" ids="1928,1927"]


Stay tuned to CAG Main for more articles and videos on beekeeping. Don't forget to check out our Forum and ask questions. [caption id="attachment_981" align="aligncenter" width="640"]Firearms, Tactical & Defense Training Firearms, Tactical & Defense Training[/caption]
Ever wonder where the term “Cole Slaw” comes from? Turns out it is made from one of the “Cole” crops which are plants from the mustard family. Those include: mustard, cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, collards, kale, turnips, cauliflower and watercress.Ever wonder where the term “Cole Slaw” comes from? Turns out it is made from one of the “Cole” crops which are plants from the mustard family. Those include: mustard, cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, collards, kale, turnips, cauliflower and watercress. These are all cool season crops that can be planted in fall and harvested in early spring or planted in early spring and harvested in early summer. Some are more sensitive to heat or cold than others. Lets take a look at each.

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Cabbage-Everyone is familiar with cabbage. There are early producing varieties and late varieties. Smooth head varieties and Savoyed varieties. Most varieties can withstand temperatures in the teens. Harvest when the tight outer leaves of the main head begin to curl back on themselves. Cabbage can be stored in the same hole it was dug from by placing it “head” first into the ground with the roots sticking up during the cold moths. Just dig it out when needed. Obviously it can be stored in the crisper in the bottom of the fridge. You can also make it into kraut and can it. If you want to save seed, either plant an early maturing variety in early spring and when you harvest the head, cut an “x” into the stalk and it will send up shoots and they will flower. Technically it is a biennial and means it takes two seasons to make seed. I have left heads on and allowed them to go to seed the next year. You can also harvest in late fall, remove the roots and store them in damp sawdust. Replant the roots in spring and allow to send up shoots that will flower and set seed. Broccoli- There are varieties that set one nice spear and sprouting varieties grow that multiple florets that can be cut continuously. Even varieties that have one big spear will send up shoots and create several more smaller spears. Broccoli fairs well in 60 degree weather but can tolerate frost if it hasn't created a spear. Often cold weather makes them sweeter. If the spears get frost on them, they will likely rot. Harvest the spears while the little buds are all tightly together. It doesn't take long before they spread out and grow stems with pretty yellow flowers all over them. Store at 32 degrees for up to 2 weeks or blanch and freeze it. Make sure you soak it it cold water to encourage the caterpillars to come out of hiding. There's nothing like some surprise protein in your broccoli and cheese.

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Save seed by allowing the flowers to grow and set seed after you have harvested the main spear. Cauliflower- There are several varieties, some yellow, white, some that are crossed with broccoli and create mesmerizing patterns (Veronica). Timing is crucial with cauliflower, heads, aka curds, will not form in hot dry weather. Harvest when curds are tight. You may need to tie up the larger outer leaves around the curds to blanch them. Store at 32 degrees for up to 2 weeks or add them to relish recipes and can them. Allow spring plants to flower and set seed. Collards/Kale- I am particularly fond of Siberian Red Kale. I like to add it to fresh from the garden salads. Bold are cold hardy but choose collards for warmer temperatures. Kale is frost tolerant and can withstand a little drought. Both can usually overwinter. Harvest when leaves get big as desired. Store in the fridge. I like to cut it up and run it through the salad spinner and place in plastic bags for up to a week or more. You can make it last longer in the fall if you cut out the heart with the plant and store in a plastic bag. To save seed, allow the plant to mature, grow flowers and set seed. Kohlrabi- This is an interesting plant. You can eat the leaves (as with all the cole crops, yes, broccoli leaves are good) as well as the swollen stem of the plant. It kinda looks like an above ground turnip with cabbage like leaves. There are white, red and purple varieties. It prefers cooler temperatures. Harvest the leaves and/or the bulbous stem when it is 3-5 inches in diameter. Don't let it get too big or it will get a woody texture. Store in the fridge for a couple weeks. Allow it to grow flowers and set seeds to harvest seeds for the next year. Turnips/Mustard/Rutabagas- There are leaf producing turnips (7 Top) and root producing turnips (Purple Top). Leaves can be eaten from either. Mustard is is a leaf crop (unless you harvest the seed for ground mustard). Rutabagas look a lot like turnips but taste more sweet with a yellow flesh and store well. Harvest after a couple hard frosts. Store in the fridge for a couple weeks. Brussels Sprouts- Last but not least, every kids favorite, baby cabbage heads. Grow just like fall crop cabbage. Plant in summer and as the tiny cabbages take shape, cut the leaf stalks away. The tiny cabbages will start out at the base and make their way up. To encourage more uniform size of each sprout, cut of the top of the plant. Allow them to get hit with a frost for an even more flavorful treat. Harvest a few at a time or wait for them all. Like the others, store in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. Let them overwinter (they probably wont make it in northern climates) and they will produce seed the next year. You may can all of these crops but there's nothing like the fresh version. They can also be frozen with differing results. The number one pest for most of the brassicas is the cabbage looper. Moths lay their eggs and the caterpillars will devastate your crop before you know it. I recommend spraying with Bacillus Thuringiensis, aka BT. It is a bacteria that kills the caterpillars. Your climate may be different so adjust accordingly. If you plan to save seeds it is imperative that you don't use hybrid varieties and that you separate them by a half mile or take other common measures to prevent cross-pollination. If you live next to a canola field, good luck, rape is in the same family. The seeds are in slender pods a few inches long and look like, yep, you guessed it, mustard seed. Some are black, brown, yellow and variations in between. Don't take all these different varieties of crops for granted. They are easy to grow and are high in vitamin C and other nutrients. They are also an excellent way to use your garden over the winter instead of letting it sit fallow. Now, go grow some cole crops. [caption id="attachment_474" align="aligncenter" width="800"]Farm Header/Logo Food so real its righteous![/caption]