Grit Blogs >

The One-Acre Farm

The One Acre Farm is Back

Jim BakerThe one acre farm is back — sort of —

Well, readers that wondered if I was ever coming back — here I am. This thing from this time forward will be a journal about my life trying to do all the things I talked about in my previous posts, with one major addition. November 24, 2015 I was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. Surprisingly, or not so surprisingly since I never do things the ‘right’ way and although I did indeed smoke most of my life, the one I have is generally found in non-smoking patients. Go figure. The cancer I have is treatable and I am in chemo.

So from here out all my notes, rants, vents, chuckles and observations will revolve around, to a degree, dealing with the cancer while still maintaining a work ethic that gets things done. Much of what I deal with is just a lack of energy, yet even then, I can still get up and get things done for a few hours every day. I will even be getting back into more wood splitting, stacking said wood and building Hugelkultur beds. I am using pine logs for the perimeters of those beds and have a ready supply of free horse manure to add to it all as well.  And of course I have my seed catalogs coming in and like most I want to grow everything.

An interesting aside, when I had my last chemo my nurse has just come back from Kenya where she has been for a few years off and on as a missionary nurse. And we got to talking about lack of power, no running water, limited Wi-Fi, limited cable, etc. as well as no indoor plumbing. Yet we also talked about what crops were raised. Lots of tomatoes apparently (those not eaten fresh were dried), all sorts of squash and melons and she said every kind of bean you can imagine, as well as the staple worldwide, corn. Follow that list and you see most of those things can be dried for long term storage without any refrigeration. As long as they are kept dry, away from pests, and not let out in the weather, they store for a very long time indeed. And they also provide the seed crop for the following year.

I am also a fan of a couple of the survivor shows that are on regular TV that I no longer get, in particular was ‘Dual Survivor.’ And no, I am no doomsday, build a bunker and stockpile a mini arsenal type of thinker. Yet at the same time, and YouTube has become my friend on Roku (which I now have), I have been watching some things from Dave Canterbury and Cody Lundin and they both maintain basically the same philosophy regarding being self sufficient. And with both, the basics apply. Know how to grow your own food, know how to hunt, fish, trap and clean those animals you use as a food source. KISS applies across the board. Keep It Simple Stupid. All of that leads to one thing we all have to work through. And I am as guilty or more guilty possibly that others and that involves a freezer, in my case two. I have a huge upright freezer as well as a chest freezer. There will be a separate blog regarding those appliances as well.

Canning, drying, curing or smoking meat, vegetables, fruit or whatever makes a lot more sense. Initial costs will be higher just to get set up to do all of that. Yet even that can be made more acceptable with the use of solar dehydrators and ovens, smoke houses, learning to salt cure meats and just consider: sun dried tomatoes have that name for a reason.

Am I in full bore, live off the grid totally and cook my food in a tin can mode? No, although there will be a solar clothes dryer going up in warmer weather (known as a clothes line back in the day!), there will be (hopefully) a brick oven being built outside and there will be a greater diversity of storable crops grown this coming year. And that will be defined first if they can be dried (easier to do and takes less space), canned (of course) or smoked or cured in some way. And without saying, a workable root cellar as well.

Now, about me, my cancer and all that. I have it; I am fighting it as best I and my oncology team can manage. And I am very positive about this outcome, so no pity party, no ‘everything will be all right’ type stuff and no ‘who is he kidding’ type thinking. I am sharing this about my battle here with support and encouragement from some friends of mine. Those know who they are and they suggested I let everyone know what I am dealing with simply because there may be others dealing with the same thing or worse. It will slow me down, make no mistake. It will not stop me from planning, working and moving forward with all my projects. I hope you come along for the ride!

Write if you want. All will be answered.



Photo by Fotolia/franzdell

Labels, Information and Knowledge

Jim BakerHello, again, my huge fan base of readers. (I am aware of four for sure.) The dinosaur that is me is once more going to go where I have gone before with others, just not here quite yet.

I recently watched a documentary on foods, particularly processed foods, and the young woman in the one clip said she wouldn't buy anything at the grocery store where the label listed more than five ingredients. Two percent milk from my grocery store lists three. That sugar-coated frosted cornflakes cereal we all love and grew up with, 17 ingredients. A small can of peas from the store, four, a small can of pinto beans, five. Pick up any box, bag, can, jar, bottle or sleeve of any product in any grocery store in this country and you will be hard pressed to find things with five ingredients or less.

Then we get into the huge plethora of 'all natural,' 'organic,' low fat, low sodium, healthy, etc., etc., etc. I was reading a label on a 'breakfast biscuit' thing. First ingredient – 'whole grain wheat flour.' Second ingredient – 'enriched flour,' and it then lists all the added vitamins, minerals, preservatives, salt, soy, oats, sugar, etc., etc., they have added to make it 'enriched.' All told, roughly 30 more things were added to the 'enrichment process.' And one of those happens to be whole grain rye flour.

Which makes this old man ask two questions, how do they cut all those grains in half for making flour when they don't use the 'whole grain'? And then that begs the question – why? Then one more question – what do they do with the part they don't make into flour? Flour, wheat flour, unadorned, is, from what I have learned throughout my life, made from wheat. The wheat grain – in its whole, whether it is in one piece or not – when it goes into the mill is what wheat flour is made out of. The same holds true for rye flour I would have to believe.

I find it hard to believe that at some potato flour facility someplace they are cutting potatoes in half so half can be used for making flour and the other half for making potato chips or something else entirely. I think they would find it more cost effective and advantageous to just use the whole potato, wouldn't you agree?

Organic or non organic. When the term first hit the shelves, I had to smile to myself, because as dense as I am, my high-school science class clearly defined 'organic' as having the carbon atom. Inorganic did not. Think of the very first Star Trek movie and humans were referred to as 'carbon based life forms.' Then looking into 'organic' farming, certain chemical based pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers are approved by the USDA and the FDA for use in an 'organic' farm operation.

All natural; all natural this and that and everything else. I look at all this as so many marketing words. And yes, I do apologize to everyone in these industries at the end of this head-scratching think-a-long. Consider gasoline, concrete, asphalt, steel, even plastic, it is all derived from a natural product. The chemicals we use every day, even when made in a manufacturing plant someplace started off as a 'natural' product.

Consider paper, that scratch pad you write on – once it was a tree. Gasoline began as crude oil, which was plant matter or living dinosaurs once upon a time The same holds true for coal. So theoretically, gasoline is an 'all natural' product.

Not long ago some candy bar maker was hit by the Feds when it started pushing its candy bar as having 'reduced calories.' It also became smaller by about 15 percent. Nothing else had changed except the size of the bar. Yet by doing that, they were able to label it as having 'reduced calories' over the old bar.

Now for the apology. I know there are serious, conscientious farmers out there, growing beef, pork, chickens and vegetables. Yet I also know there are operations out there that those people have no control over once their particular product gets off the field, farm or ranch. I heard a cattle rancher recently talking about antibiotics and steroids and all that. He doesn't add steroids, and the only time he uses antibiotics is to treat a sick or injured cow. Yet once his cattle are picked up, taken to a commercial feed operation (as most are), he immediately loses all control on what that animal is feed, injected with, or even how they are housed or treated.

This little ditty is not about what is right, wrong, good or bad. It is simply one man's observation about reading labels, reading between the lines in marketing, and understanding there is no such thing as 1/2 or 1/4 grain wheat flour. At least not that I have ever heard of!

Comments and counterpoints are all welcome, just please take this in the manner in which it was written. If I have offended or upset anyone, I sincerely apologize.


ingredients list on a food label | Fotolia/Diane Webb

Photo: Fotolia/Diane Webb

How Much Does Free Cost?

Jim BakerTo those of you who read my little rambling posts, this one is meant to make you smile and maybe rethink our society's definition, especially with the younger generation, of the word 'free.' We all see it everywhere; buy one get one FREE. I belong to a couple of sportsman groups, as many of you do I am sure. You have seen these: subscribe now and get a FREE backback or tote. Buy a new car and get 'FREE' oil changes for as long as you own the car. Or the car shows or other events you go to and you sign up for a 'FREE' something or other and get hounded by phone calls and junk mail and you still don't 'win' the 'FREE' thing!

So, since my old brain works differently than most do, or at least on a slightly skewed plane compared to most, I thought I would pose some math facts to all you reading this. I hope you can smile, nod in agreement or even laugh out loud at my mathematical cyphering (to paraphrase Jethro Bodine from "The Beverly Hillbillies") here. For you younger readers, if you Google (I have been told, I do not know from first hand experience) "Beverly Hillbillies," you will see who I am talking about.

buy two get one free | Fotolia/s_lena

Photo: Fotolia/s_lena

Let's take this for-instance – I see something I want on Craig's List, it is 'free,' so I call and it is still available. The 'giver' will even be so kind as to hold said freebie for me (not often done by the way). Here begins the math thing. And everything will be based on minimum wage and not take into consideration stuff that doesn't get done that I promised myself would get done around here ... today.

Locating where the place is and determining it is close enough to 'make it worthwhile' for me usually takes about 15 minutes. I drive a 15-year-old pickup that gets, maybe on a good day, 20 miles to the gallon highway and it ain't had a good day for a few years if you catch my meaning. I find out this place I am going is 30 minutes away, maybe 20 miles for argument sake and to make the math easier (always a good thing). Gas where I live right now is in the $2.40 something range per gallon.

So I have 15 minutes to do the computer stuff, with 30 minutes each way there and back. Another 30 minutes when I get there to load, talk and visit a little and get on my way, and say 15 minutes to get unloaded when I get home. Right now, with nothing else in the equation, I have 'cost' myself two hours or $15. Throw in the gas, another $4.50 (for ease of the math) and for all the accountants out there, wear and tear on the truck, insurance, depreciation and other things I don't even know about, toss in another $5. Now, we will go under the assumption I didn't have a flat tire, blow an engine or have a transmission go out on me. We also won't count the stop I made to grab a soda and some crackers.

free stuff | Fotolia/Marek

Photo: Fotolia/Marek

So right now, my 'FREE' has cost me approximately $25. And that is being very conservative. So let's say for argument's sake, I found someone with a free rooster that I decide I want. And I go get that 'free' rooster, which I will have paid, in time and coin of the realm, $25 for when all is said and done. And to make things even worse, I am happy about the deal because after all, it was 'FREE'!

Now I have to run along. I just found a free stack of old lumber that is only 45 miles from here, no photographs about what I am getting yet the person said it was 'pretty decent stuff' and I have to pull all the nails and 'be careful of the poison ivy and the snakes.' It is a first-come-first-serve, can't afford to miss this deal, it's 'FREE'!

Love to hear from all of you!

Gas, Electric or Manual, Part 2

Jim BakerNow about burning pine, as I mentioned in Gas, Electric or Manual, Part 1. Yes there is, long term, a creosote issue, yet in doing some research, that risk is all but eliminated by two things. A damper in the stove pipe to control oxygen flow to get a total burn, and the creosote burn logs that are on the market. Of course, a regular check will keep you ahead of any build-up to begin with.

Most people in the South, at one time or another, are almost forced to burn pine just because of availability. According to one BTU chart I researched, 'pitch pine,' which I will take is Southern Yellow pine, has a rating of 17.1 BTUs per cord. Red and white oak come in at 24 BTUs for that same cord. That makes pine 71 percent as efficient as red or white oak for home heating. Where I live it is also about 10 times more available, is almost always free and can be had year around. In some rare instances, someone may even pay you to take it away. Even people who do not heat with wood, if they lose a huge oak or hickory tree on their property, in most cases around here, it is for sale, not for free.

What cooking I will be doing will be on the flat top of a wood-burning stove. My beef stew really isn't all that concerned about what makes the stove hot, and since it isn't an open campfire, no wood flavoring will be imparted by whatever I shove into the maw of my stove.

I have a $35 splitting maul, six wedges that get the job done that cost me less than $12 each, a older single bit axe I had and a 8-pound sledge I already had. And to make it even better, they have no moving parts, will never (at least in my lifetime) wear out, they do not use gas, oil or anything else that costs me money. I managed to get really smart and break the handle on my maul and found an $8 replacement mattock handle that worked just fine with a little shaving and fitting.

Now, not everyone knows how to split wood manually. Well understood. There are tons of videos and things on (ugh) YouTube that can walk you through the process. Physically challenging to be sure, yet if you are physically able, or your son or grandson is physically able, do yourself a favor and just look into doing it all the really old-fashioned way.

Consider this little tidbit: Before I started splitting wood and doing this homestead thing, I had a fairly sedentary job. Once I fully retired and really started getting into the physical side of wood splitting, several things happened. My blood sugar, once at a level at which my doctor was calling me borderline Type 2 diabetic, came down to an excellent level. Not good, excellent. And yes, I was eating differently yet I personally feel even with the change in diet, my blood sugar would not have come down like it did. I have more stamina, feel better overall and can now wear my skinny jeans from a few years back. And for the younger generation out there looking at this, you can drop your gym membership when you start doing this.

My one heavy expense was an expensive chainsaw, and believe me, not slamming the big box stores, I shop there all the time, yet chainsaws are best bought from a reputable dealer than can also offer repairs when needed - and they will be needed. Also check out your personal need for a power chain sharpener. Or are you also willing to check out doing that little chore by hand? Not hard to do once you get the hang of it, just time consuming. You can also check out getting the place where you get your saw to sharpen your chains if they offer that service. Mine does and for $6, I used to get my chain sharpened when it was needed. I also have two chains for my saw so I am not stopped if I hit dirt or the blade gets dull in the middle of a long cut session.

My saw (a Stihl MC251C) has a factory 18-inch bar and it is the only saw I own. I have watched some videos where some people own five or six or even more chainsaws, and they are not professional arborists, nor are they cutting wood for a living. And I am not fanatical about the lengths I cut my wood. If is is all straight grain and fairly free of knots, it will average 16 to 18 inches in length. If it is gnarly and full of knots (like a lot off pine can be), I cut to where it is splittable by hand.

Would this make a case for a powered splitter? Maybe, yet once more we get into economics versus need. Would it be nice to have a mechanical splitter? Sure it would. Do I manage without one? Absolutely.

Fortunately for me, I live in the South, so I spend a great deal more time collecting and splitting wood than I do burning wood. I am also looking long term as best I can. I am hoping that I can split and stack for enough years that once I reach a point where I am unable to, all my wood will be already finished. Perhaps anyone reading this can enlighten me on the storage capabilities of wood. If I split more than I burn over the next few years, how long can I reasonably expect split wood to store, if covered and protected from most of the weather? I can even accept a certain level of loss to rot as this process continues.

Then I can grow mushrooms! Thank you all for reading, hope my little novella here gave some of you ideas of your own. If any of you have any suggestions or comments about any of my endeavors here, feel free to comment below or email me at

part of my woodyard, along with my helper 

Gas, Electric or Manual, Part 1

Jim BakerOnce more I am delving into an area that will have detractors and supporters of all of the above. I recently returned from the Mother Earth News Fair with a head full of ideas and thoughts. The thoughts don't cost anything, the ideas are also quite free. The implementation gets pricey right out of the chute.

Let's just talk straight talk for a bit here. With no supplemental income from my one acre here, I will be living on less than $19,000 a year. I do have a house payment, modest as it may be compared to some, and my truck, although 15 years old, it is paid for free and clear. One credit card, a small bank loan and monthly living expenses pretty much fill out my financial obligations. I am sharing that information to look at the next bit of information.

For me, living simply means living inexpensively where possible. I heat with wood, or will be this upcoming year. And my wood, for the most part is 'free,' meaning I go get it from wherever it is, bring it home, split and stack it. Oh, and yes, I am now stacking, but I will go into that in a later post.

The subject I am getting into here is a log splitter. And there are all sorts out there to be sure. I have seen small videos where a 5-ton electric splits huge pieces of oak. I have seen redneck homemade flywheel contraptions that look like you are literally taking your life in your hands to even start the thing up. I am aware of a couple of companies that have come out with very safe and reliable centrifugal type splitters as well. Then there are the tow-behind multi-ton hydraulic versions that are fantastic. There are even hand-operated hydraulic units that use a hydraulic bottle jack and two hand-operated levers or a foot pedal to make the split happen.

All nice, all work, all cost money. Except for the hand- and foot-operated units, they all cost money to operate as well. Electricity costs money if you have an electric splitter, gas as well as oil costs for the larger units, and all of them use hydraulic oil. All are also subject to maintenance needs and breakdowns, usually at the most inopportune moments.

Pricing new splitters, from the hand operated through electric through hydraulic and centrifugal types, in my area will cost a few hundred for a new foot or hand operated hydraulic unit to more than $5,000 for a top-of-the-line hydraulic or centrifugal unit with all the bells and whistles attached. Even used units or homemade hydraulic ram units in my area go for anywhere from $500 to $1,000, or more.

Simply stated, I cannot afford that luxury, and it is a luxury indeed, and as time goes on, it makes less and less sense to have one. The follow-up thinking on the gas-powered hydraulic ram types is cycle time. I am in average shape, and on a good day, when the hands work right, I can manage a steady four or five hours of splitting wood with a maul and wedges when needed. And I split anything that burns that isn't poisonous to me or the environment. In other words, no pressure treated anything.

my wood splitter 

I can split straight-grained seasoned oak logs roughly 18 inches long and upwards of 20 inches or more in diameter roughly four or five times faster that a hydraulic ram machine, simply due to cycle times. Can I go 24/7? No, yet I am splitting for my home (roughly 1,200 square feet) with an occasional pickup load sold throughout the season.

I am not yet sure of my total usage since I just started heating this way this year. And I split all year, since free wood is available all year, and yes, for the purists out there, I burn pine, a lot of it.

The Chicks Are Coming

Jim BakerWhen I told one of the high school seniors that I mentor that I had a bunch of chicks coming to my house, his first question was how old are they and will you introduce me to any of them. Such is the disparity of understanding each other these days! My chicks arrived safe and sound. The young woman at the post office was all smiles when she passed them over, I think more for a good-riddance sigh of relief than aren't-you-just-the-nices-guy-around sort of thing.

Ordered from a very reputable hatchery, something I never remember doing when I was very young. My grandfather told me the hens had come from flocks from neighboring farms at one time or another, as our chicks, when they were old enough, were passed on to those same farms. I do remember seeing on one of the older supplement Sears catalogs that you could order chickens, guineas, peacocks, ducks and even swans (black or white) from that company even until I was in my late 20s or early 30s.

the chicks are here 

There were some good things about the good old days. Back then, with few exceptions, every family raised white leghorns (of Foghorn Leghorn fame). A few families had the occasional Rhode Island Red or Barred Rock. Mine will include some of these, and quite bluntly I won't know which is which until they get past the chick fuzz stage for sure! This list is long, just know I am just repeating what I have been told here: Black Australorps; Light Brahmas; Dark Cornish; Black and White Giants; Buff and White Orpingtons; New Hampshire; Rhode Island Reds; Barred, White, Partridge, Buff Rocks; Delaware; Sussex; Turkens; White, Silver Laced and Columbian Wyandottes, Red Star and Black Star. I doubt very seriously if I have more than four or five different varieties of these listed.

they are little 

Now is time to play catch up around my one-acre slice of heaven here in central North Carolina. A fenced area needs to be established within the next three to four weeks, of course. The 'coop' is already in place and set up. Roosting poles are ready to be installed and nesting boxes have to be made. My order was for 25 brown egg laying hens, which had a bonus of offering one free Exotic (already deemed a pet by others here), and I did order one rooster, a Speckeled Sussex by recommendation, and it will also become a 'pet.'

Now it comes down to a netting over the run or not, I have been informed that as big as I am making my penned area (roughly 50 feet by whatever, with the whatever a very open ended number right now) that I may not need to cover the run except for protection from birds of prey.

Then it comes to 'candling.' Do I need to or not? If all the eggs are immediately going into cartons and into the fridge, do I need to candle? And if I need to candle do I need to let the people buying them know that I am indeed 'candling'? Will they even know what candling is? Is the 'size' an issue, will my eggs be large, extra large or somewhere in between?

Then is just the issue of caring for 25-plus hens plus the one lucky rooster. Early rising is a norm for me, so that much isn't an issue. My single biggest issue is predation. I have skunks, possums, racoons, foxes, the occasional coyote as well as various and sundry hawks and crows. Bobcats have been seen around here in the past, yet they may have moved on with all the road construction within a few miles of me. And even though I hunt, there are still the legalities involved in shooting some critter out of season, if there is a season. And does that mean I go around my never-big-enough-yet-too-big acre of land 'packing' all the time? Not that it would bother me all that much, although the neighbors within eyesight may have a different view of all that!

Fortunately, I just found out the state I live in is very 'roadside stand' friendly. Time will tell all and you will be with me for every bump and smooth part of the trip. More and more photographs are coming, I promise. The issue right now is my lack of computer expertise, mainly how to make the photos on my older flip phone appear magically on my computer. So far no amount of cussin' has made that happen!

Anyone who wants to write with suggestions or questions, please feel free. I am always eager to see new emails and all will be answered, I promise.

Happy chickening!

Space Time Continuous

Jim BakerOne acre of land, 43,560 square feet. And yet there isn't enough room. I am a huge sci-fi fan, hence the title of this little ditty. There is not enough space, there is never enough time, and it is always continuous. So, how to create more 'space' within said space?

I have several huge maple trees that will be coming down. This will do several things all at once. I will suddenly have full sun on all my open property except for very late in the afternoon. I also will have more firewood than I can split and stack in one season, for sure. And it will open the entire area into useable space. It may take a couple of years to get all the roots rotted down and the stumps burned down enough that I can do something over them, yet it will be a lot more manageable with those trees down. Then I will start looking up. Vertical farming, and spaces made of whatever I can find will fit that bill. I need to do more research to be sure, yet I am thinking that cardboard Sonitubes, such as those they use for pouring concrete columns, with holes cut in them to make a tall vertical 'strawberry jar' type arrangement, would work great. Yet they cost money.

garden plots |


So now it comes to some inexpensive options. I will be building some 'vertical boxes' from sawmill slabs, the predominate species being pine. Bark side in probably, a footprint of maybe an much as 4 feet square. It won't be too high, since I wish to work the whole thing from the ground. So, 4 feet wide by 5 feet high, 20 square feet. Four side, 80 square feet. Two rows of holes in each side, a hole every foot staggered, and I should have a minimum of 40 planting holes. And although I will have to pick and choose what is workable, the math says in 16 square feet my planting density just multiplied by at least four in that footprint.

My concern right now will be the stability of those towers once they are up. Time will tell. The biggest issues for my smaller space is volume per square foot. and how to increase it, whatever it is, until it reaches a level of being as good as it can get. This will also take into consideration such things as crop rotation and natural fertilizers (manure, compost, leaf mold, worm casting). I will also be looking at trial-and-error learning regarding open-space gardening, cold frames, row covers, row tunnels and, of course, high tunnels.

row cover | Eastland

Photo: Eastland

So that touches on the space thing. Time is my friend and my enemy. There is never enough of it, and what I have usually has too many things to get done within that allotted time. And I generally never allow enough time to get done what I want. It is still amazing to me that what used to take me an hour to do now takes three. Or more. And as often as that happens, I still cannot grasp the thought that it does take me longer when I am planning my next day the evening before. Do I bust my rear end for 10 or 12 hours a day? No, I do not. I am getting there, yet right now if I get in a groove, four or five hours is about the max I can manage without totaling doing myself in before taking a longer-than-I-like break and then going at it again..

And as farmers, homesteaders, living-off-the-land-type people know, the work is continuous. I can remember as a young man all my friends would 'go off on vacation' during the summer months when we were out of school. We never did. Yes, my grandfather managed to squeeze in some fishing with me at the local creek, with cane poles and night crawlers, yet even then all the chores had to be done early for that to happen.

I lived that life 60 years ago because it was the life I was born into and I didn't know anything else. Fast forward 60 years, and I am trying to do it again, by choice and not by chance. Perhaps there is a fold in the space-time continuum that has caught me in its grasp. I hope so. Recently the world lost a very fine man, and one of my favorites on the old "Star Trek" series.

So let me close with the same words he had in his last tweet, "Live Long and Prosper."

Live The Good Life with GRIT!

Grit JulAug 2016At GRIT, we have a tradition of respecting the land that sustains rural America. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing to GRIT through our automatic renewal savings plan. By paying now with a credit card, you save an additional $6 and get 6 issues of GRIT for only $16.95 (USA only).

Or, Bill Me Later and send me one year of GRIT for just $22.95!

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters