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From Baby Boomers to Generation Next – Episode 019

logoIf you’ve ever wanted to know about survival gardens and raising chickens on a small plot, you’ll want to join us today when we have as our guest, Gary Underwood. Gary Underwood is a researcher, survival gardener, and a second-generation small-farm chicken operator. You’ll learn some down-home approaches not only to poultry, but gardening as well.


Off The Grid Radio
Released: October 29, 2010

Welcome to off the Grid Radio, better ideas to bust you and your family out of today’s global control grid. Now here is today’s show.

Bill: And welcome indeed everybody, it is Bill Heid coming from beautiful sunny Thompson, Illinois and I’ve got a guest today that I have known for a long, long time, actually he was my biology teacher in high school. He’s a researcher, he knows how to plant a garden, he’s been doing survival gardening before those two words were put together, he’s been raising chickens for as long as I have known him and I thought it would be great to have him on the show and talk a little bit about sort of down-home approaches to raising poultry and then maybe we will cover some gardening tips as well. So Gary Underwood, thank you so much for being on the show.

Gary: My pleasure Bill always fun to talk with you.

Bill: Well, it’s been a while, I think we had chatted before I went to China and then I just got back a little messed up from jet lag or whatever but happy to be talking to you. You know I mentioned sort of introducing you one of the first things that you and I ever did together as I remember is we went to a chicken show. I don’t love you remember that when I was a sophomore in high school we went down, that was in the quad cities.

Gary: Quad city area, I don’t remember which one of the towns, I think it might have been at the Rock Island fairgrounds. It was long, long ago.

Bill: Yeah, long ago but it was fun then being introduced to you know your love of raising chickens and poultry and I think the world’s changed, you and I often when we talk one of the things that you’ve said to me over and over that resonates well with me and I’ve repeated it is this isn’t the America that I grew up in.

Gary: Oh, that’s absolutely right time changes but the thing that remains constant is people. People will remain constant, the time is change, the situations change the people’s needs are still the same.

Bill: People need to eat don’t they?

Gary: You need the basics of life, yeah. You know certain things are constant.

Bill: What do you think let’s dig into the poultry thing a little bit. What you think one of the main reasons, you and I have joked around about maybe doing a video, a series on survival chickens and maybe creating somehow to, to raise chickens in a small environment. What are some reasons why people would want to raise chickens? I mean this is Off the Grid Radio we are always talking about getting off the grid as I mentioned you’ve been doing this, you’ve been off the grid before was a phrase so…

Gary: Years ago maybe even before my time; it wasn’t uncommon at all to see chickens in everybody’s backyard. Everybody had a flock of chickens I mean its part of Americana if you want to raise chickens. George Washington raise chickens but even before the grid existed if you want to use that phrase, grid. Everybody had a few chickens in the backyard. This was you know horse and buggy days maybe turn-of-the-century, you know 1900s. And then when the cars along things got more accessible as technology advanced they cut a hole in the end of the chicken house and got rid of the chickens and put the car in there. People gradually got away from it and it finally became commercialized but the chickens were always a way of life in rural America and even in small towns.

Bill: Yeah, and I think wasn’t even the Truman’s in the White House may have even had a cow and some chickens as well so it wasn’t so long ago that there were chickens at the White House certainly livestock so it is a part of our culture and I think it’s starting on some level starting to reappear again in areas that aren’t zoned against chickens as it were it’s starting to reappear again.

Gary: Well the thing about raising your own chickens is you have total control of the diet. The commercially produced birds are fed various types of chemicals that induce them to eat more and grow faster whereas if you’re growing them at home they have access to a natural diet if you want to call it that. They get outside and they eat some grass and some bugs and get some sunshine and they’re probably a healthier bird and they provide a better source of food and eggs.

Bill: Yeah, there’s nothing better than fresh eggs in the morning and I know anyone that’s had any and if you’ve eaten nothing but eggs from a grocery store your whole life you don’t know what a fresh egg is and you can tell instantly a fresh egg from an egg that’s purchase for a grocery store and you can tell by looking at it and you can tell by taste instantly. A fresh egg really you know that’s a slice of Americana. You go out to the chicken house and you grab some eggs and this is literally you know, we don’t have chickens at this point – I know you want to make me a chicken house and I’ll take you up on that probably in the not so distant future. But when we lived in Stockton we had chickens and we literally would just go out and grab some eggs and come in and cook the eggs up for the kids and you know you had a nice meal without too much effort so chickens are like a factory would you say? It’s kind of like automatic.

Gary: Yeah it is and they are – I got into them, all of my life my dad was involved in development of one of the American breeds of Rhode Island Red. He started with those back in 1914 so I didn’t know any better, I thought everybody raise chickens. I just thought it was a way of life so I kind of grew up with it and I had a lot of experience. My degree is in biology specializing in genetics so I kind of got into the show end of it you know we’re looking at developing certain characteristics as far as type and coloration and so on.

Bill: And for how fast in speed of growth, is that something that you’ve been developing recently or have you been developing show chickens or chickens for meat and egg productions or…

Gary: Well, I’ve got I guess because of my interest in genetics I always have one more project going that I can handle.

Bill: It never ends does it?

Gary: No, I always want more and there’s constantly new information. Right now the newest thing in genetics is what they call epigenetics, which shows the great impact environment might really have on genes. Genes are kind of like a lot switch, you turn them on and you turn off. An individual human being, a plant or an animal inherits a certain complement of genes but every gene does not have an impact unless he gets turned on or turned off and epi meaning above beyond the genetic enhancement there’s environmental factors that switch these genes off and on and that can be a whole mother program but…

Bill: I was going to say that with respect to cancer research that’s probably a whole other program because that’s a very fascinating subject.

Gary: Yeah, we could talk about that sometime – I guess we wanted to talk more about chickens but I got off on that because the influence I used by genetic background and new information on genetics that I gather through research. And I have some, I do look at rate of growth and conversion rate, converting feed into the body weight and how the layability of the bird, how soon they reach maturity and things like that.

Bill: So tell me with chickens you know I used to – well lived in Stockton I don’t know if you remember where we lived in Stockton and where my dad lives now.

Gary: Yeah.

Bill: I used to have quail and coturnix quail, do you remember coturnix quail?

Gary: Yes, I remember it.

Bill: Yeah, and did I ever show you my quail when I had them? You know one of the most amazing things about that bird is you have eggs in 16 days, you have eggs hatch in 16 days and then you have birds starting to lay at six weeks so but what’s the good if we’re going to give advice to somebody for breeds they should look for you know like survival chickens or backyard chickens or whatever it is that we’d call our video series if we ever decided to do that? We’ve got about a minute left. What are some good breeds that give you kind of the best of both worlds where you get you know pretty fast gestation and you start laying at a pretty good age?

Gary: You can’t really give a blanket answer to that. There is a great variety within breeds. Some breeds it just depends on who strain or what variety it is, whose develop them but most of the American breeds would be the typical thing for survival people. They don’t have feathers on their legs; they have combs that don’t freeze in the winter if you’re in cooler climates like Rhode Island Red, Leghorn, and Plymouth Rock. Those kinds of birds would produce eggs and could also be useful for meat.

Bill: Okay, let’s take a quick break here and for Off the Grid Radio, will be right back with my guest Gary Underwood.

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Welcome back to Off the Grid Radio, better ideas for off the grid living.

Bill: And we are back, it’s Bill Heid with guest Gary Underwood who is a biologist and we are talking about growing and raising chickens and why a backyard survival program ought to have chickens and we were just talking about the genetics of chickens that going into a little bit about breeds. Maybe you’d like to touch on feeds. One of the things that, the reasons that you touched on before Gary is that we really don’t want to buy, if we can avoid eating chicken and eggs from the be commercial facilities, I think anybody that has ever worked in a big commercial egg facility and I have right across the lake from where you live – we won’t mention the name of organization, it’s kind of nasty sometimes.

Gary: We don’t need to you know bash those people because they kind of get forced into, I don’t think they’re in any kind of conspiracy to destroy our food but they give forced into that because the volume. In order to maintain that type of volume any time you have a plant or animal that’s living in a singulized environment, you know one species you have all kinds of problems. And when they have to raise that kind of volume at that kind of speed they are forced into doing some of these things that just inadvertently makes the product not as healthy as if you could grow to home.

Bill: Yeah, and you’ve got a lot of you know, I remember you would have to feed a lot of anti- you would get a lot of diseases so you would constantly have antibiotics, it would just be part of the watering system frankly.

Gary: Right because they’ve got so much invested in that, they can’t afford for a disease to come in and go through and wipeout a percentage of their flock, it’s going to bankrupt them. Whereas the chickens I raise, I don’t vaccinate any chickens, I don’t feed them any medications of any kind and I lose a few every once in a while but you know I don’t breed from those.

Bill: It kind of takes care of itself doesn’t it?

Gary: But what you are doing is in the process of letting them eliminate themselves is the ones that are more susceptible to disease, they have some genetic weakness maybe or the ones they can be in the same building with the ones that are affected by disease and don’t get it have some type of natural immunity or resistance characteristic that I want to incorporate into my flock. I’ve sold baby chicks to people and they write back to me and say – there’s various chicken diseases, got this disease and everything died except the ones I got from you, none of them even got sick. And I say well it’s probably because of years of natural selection if you want to call it that, if you build in their natural resistance they’re good for a lot of other reasons. You want to talk about seeds, before we get to the seeds, we might talk about something that some your listeners might not know that chicken manure is probably the best fertilizer for your garden because chickens don’t urinate so all of the nitrogen is incorporated into the solid waste so you get a very high nitrogen content. I use, I have dirt floors in my buildings and bacteria in the soil helps to break it down. I clean out the chicken houses, I have a natural mulch. I add sand and sawdust to that dirt floor when you claim that out. You know you typically think a chicken house stinks, mine don’t smell that bad because we’ve got the bacteria in the soil that breaks down the manure and the nitrogen is incorporated into the mulch that we put on the garden so if nothing else if you just want to have some high-quality manure, you could raise the chickens.

Bill: Yeah, we’ll come into seeds and raising somehow we are growing vegetables in the next section you know but I think let’s finish out. We’ve got a few minutes here to talk about chickens. A lot of people are, do you graze your chickens or do you keep them inside and what is the preferred methodology? And I see these little poleon; these little mini sheds people put in their yard you know and poleon, what are your thoughts about those?

Gary: Oh, I think the more free range they have, the more outdoors they are like I alluded to earlier, if they can get some sunshine and grass and bugs, they get minerals out of the soil when they scratch around.

Bill: So a family, let’s say a family of four and you just want to have some eggs every day. Giving the laying cycles, giving what you have in terms of you know what you’re likely to lose for one here or there may be in the winter, what should a beginning program of you know backyard chickens, how many chickens should you get? Should you get chicks, pullets, what’s good advice for somebody because you’ve got to remember people listening to this are in many cases – don’t know all this stuff you know about, they’re just getting started, they kind of want to get off the grid and chickens are such a good way to produce meat and eggs that we want to encourage people to sort of just have their own food production and have a source of food production that doesn’t have a lot of antibiotics and stuff in it so what…

Gary: The typical way is to start out with baby chicks, day-old chicks. You start out with like 20 or 25 baby chicks, you raise those up, it’ll take 22 to 23 weeks for them to be sexually mature and start laying eggs. And if you get what they call straight run you get some male and some females so you’ve got by the time a couple of months, two or three months have gone by you’ve got some fryers if you want to get rid of the males and you keep the females, you’ll have a dozen or so females which will be plenty. They don’t lay every day that a good laying strain female will lay about five eggs a week.

Bill: Okay.

Gary: So you’re going to get an egg two or three days in a row and then they go through cycles where they will lay for a while and they have what they call the pause cycle because chickens, you know it’s not natural they were developed from the wild jungle fowl and they only late in the spring and hatched young but through selective breeding we’ve developed a birds that will lay pretty much continuously year-round but they still go through an area that they call a pause. They have a lay cycle which will last for 2 to 4 weeks and then they will have a pause where they don’t lay for maybe a week but they won’t be all at the same time. You know, one bird will be in pause, the other one will be in – so you would be getting eggs all of the time. And if you have 10 or 12 pullets you’re going to get six eggs, seven eggs a day.

Bill: Which is about what you would want for a family of four. Yeah, so that would work out great and you say get rid of all of the roosters?

Gary: Well unless you want to raise some more, you may want to raise your own, hatch your own chicks, save a little money that way too if you don’t want to buy them or if you don’t want to go through that – there are all kinds of ways you can go it just depends on how involved you want to get. If you’ve got, especially if you’ve got a family of four, that means you’ve probably got two or three kids or grandma are somebody, it’s a great way to take responsibility. The kids have to take care of the birds, they collect the eggs, and they could even get involved with incubation. A lot of times the birds will hatch their own chicks, you don’t need artificial incubation.

Bill: So it’s a great science lesson. I mean a lot of people listening to this are homeschoolers so don’t miss out on the ability to take your children through a valuable biological lesson too right?

Gary: Yeah, it could work for that. It just depends on every individual situation is different; everybody has got their own situation they deal with. You may want to go through the whole process, lifecycle, you may just want to buy birds every spring, baby chicks, start over because they don’t – the laying cycle too each year that elapses they are going to lay fewer and fewer. By the time a bird is three years old they don’t lay very well.

Bill: Okay, we’re going to take a short break here we’ve got just a few seconds left. I’m going to ask you a crazy question you don’t want me to ask before the break. Do you have any chicks for sale?

Gary: We’re going to answer that after the break.

Bill: We can answer that after because you’ve got – we’ll finish out as we go to break by saying you really grown some hearty stock through years of great engineering so we’ll talk about that and we’ll see if Gary Underwood biologist and chicken rancher extraordinaire has chickens when we come right back.

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And now back to Off the Grid Radio.

Bill: We are back with biologist Gary Underwood and Gary a question do you have any chicks for sale? I know you don’t have a lot and let’s, before we answer that, talk about commercial because we want to give people good advice about buying chicks. When they go to a commercial hatchery and I know you don’t like to put anybody down to say this is good or this is bad necessarily get anybody fired up one way or the other but what happens when you buy chicks at a commercial hatchery?

Gary: There are a lot of commercial hatcheries and people get on the Internet, you know Google baby chicks and you will find all of the hatcheries. And there are a lot of them that supply chicks. The problem – I would never buy from a commercial hatchery because of introducing a new genetic gene pool or whatever into my flock but if all you are going to do is raise some in the backyard there are all kind of commercial hatcheries that will so you chicks. The problem with it is they probably don’t have the built-in disease resistance that mine do, they are nine times out of 10 they are going to be vaccinated before they ever ship them out, things of that nature but there is nothing wrong with them. You could start out with those and you’d be fine.

Bill: If somebody wanted to get a few of your Rhode Island Reds which are extremely hardy and these are great chickens, you’ve raised them, you’ve been specializing in this pariah before years and years and years and I know you’re not in a position – you came on the show as a – not as a way to sale chicks, chickens are eggs or anything, I sprung that only last-minute but if you had a few extra chicks that people wanted to buy, how could they – what’s your e-mail address so that they can contact you?

Gary: Well, I hate to disappoint anybody, I really don’t do this commercially, I do it for myself it’s more like a hobby I guess you could say or it’s just…

Bill: A way of life.

Gary: Yeah, it’s a way of life. I use the manure to fertilize my garden, I save all my own seeds then I genetically modify. I mean like you said I’ve just been a if you want to use the term off the grid all my life, it’s just a way of life so I don’t – people could contact me if I didn’t have chicks I could at least get some information.

Bill: That would be great, give us your info.

Gary: You could e-mail me at, it’s real simple [email protected].

Bill: [email protected].

Gary: The jisp is easy to remember my service provider is Jedi Internet service so jisp.

Bill: Jedi as in Jedi Knight?

Gary: Yeah.

Bill: Like as in Yoda and that world.

Gary: Yeah, that’s the one.

Bill: Awesome, that’s awesome.

Gary: On some galaxy far, far away though the freedom was kept alive.

Bill: So these could be freedom chickens to in a way, survival chickens, freedom chickens. Okay Luke let’s – I really as I say, you’re giving that information I thank you for giving that information out. And I know you’re not giving it out trying to sell chicks because that’s not what you do, you’re a retired schoolteacher and you do this stuff because you love to do it.

Gary: I’ve been doing it all of my life. I don’t know any better.

Bill: And you’ve been doing it all my life as far as I’m concerned, as long as I’ve known you and I started to go to shows with you at 16 years old you’ve been raising chickens and you’ve been breeding those chickens with purpose so if you’re looking for some chicks and you don’t want a vaccinated chick, I invite you to shoot Gary an e-mail and see what he’s got and then you might be disappointed you know a lot of people get this podcast so there might not be any left maybe next spring or whatever but you could get on his list.

Gary: That almost sounds like a commercial.

Bill: Yeah, well it wasn’t supposed to be was it? We didn’t have this planned at all but you are doing our listeners a favor if you could hand out some information and maybe provide a few chicks.

Gary: At least I will answer their e-mails and maybe steer them in a direction, I have a lot of contacts in the poultry world and maybe some other people to that could help them out.

Bill: Yeah, this is an off the grid chicken connection you might say in a land far, far away. So let’s talk about manure, I know that’s one of your favorite subjects and it’s a subject that you and I talk about a lot when we’re not talking on the radio. We talk about manure because both of us have gardens and you’d mentioned before the previous segment that you just use your chicken manure and you use the word that you made a lot of microorganisms in that chicken manure, just biological activity it’s mixed with a lot of nitrogen so is that kind of the backbone of your fertilization program or…?

Gary: Oh yeah, that’s all I do. It’s kind of like you use what’s available and we have the chickens and as it turned out that he is the best animal manure you could use for your garden. It has a high as I mentioned earlier it has a high nitrogen content. The nitrogen is what puts the protein into your plants. A lot of your people who are also vegetarian or stay away from animal products, you can get proteins out of plants but the plants have to have access to nitrogen. Nitrogen is one of the elements that build the protein molecules so if you’re growing a garden and you don’t have enough nitrogen in the soil those products from your garden aren’t going to have the protein that you need.

Bill: Yeah, you’re not going to maximize the utility value of the variety whatever it is it’s going to under produce whatever its potential is and that’s why you want to try to create the most dynamic soil available but let me ask – let’s go back to chickens for a second as they relate to gardening. When you take this chicken manure out do you clean your chicken house once a year and then take that and maybe put it all in the winter and till it in or how do you get the chicken manure…

Gary: I do it twice a year.

Bill: Twice a year…

Gary: Yeah, and I have a lot of chickens. Like right now as we speak I’ve probably got about 500 chickens.

Bill: That’s a lot of chickens.

Gary: Yeah, that’s a lot of chickens but I’ve got a bigger building. We could talk about housing, we could talk about – and again it has to be adapted to your situation. There are backyard buildings that are reportable, I have some of those, you’ve seen them. You move them around on the lawn, you’ve got the greenest lawn going and you just move them around every day and they eat all of the weed seeds out of the grass.

Bill: All of the bugs.

Gary: Put all of the nitrogen right into the soil and it’s looks like a golf course I don’t – people say you must be a lawn guy, I say no I’m not a lawn guy I’ve just got these chickens and I move them around so I don’t have all the manure in one pile, I just move it around every day and they get outside. It has no floor in the outside run and the backyard is just beautiful. I don’t really enjoy mowing grass but I have no weeds.

Bill: I bet you mowed your grass two or three times a week this year with all of the rain we got and with all the chicken manure you’re putting on I bet it was crazy up there.

Gary: No, I tried not to mow it. I tried to go once a week but sometimes it was like five days.

Bill: Yeah, do you let the chickens sort of saw off a lot of the grass too is that what you…

Gary: No, they have a tendency to eat the weeds and the weed seeds and the grass because of the way it grows 0:35:43.1 the growth point in the grass is down in the bottom so you can cut grass off it doesn’t affect it, it will keep growing. You cut weeds off at the top they die because their growth center is at the peak of the plant.

Bill: So why is it, tell me this again, why is it chickens tend to eat the weeds and not the actual blades of grass?

Gary: I have no idea.

Bill: Yeah, but you just find that empirically at your place that.

Gary: It’s kind of cool.

Bill: That comes, what a nice 0:36:10.8. Another reason to have chickens.

Gary: I guess they like these seeds and you know the eat all of the weed seeds.

Bill: Yeah.

Gary: And they do eat some grass too but it doesn’t hurt the grass because the growth center called the 0:36:26.3 is down towards the base of all grasses. Almost other plans it’s in the terminal bud right up at the tip of the plant so when you’re cutting that off you destroy its growth, it has to start all over and 0:36:39.8 buds but its good for the grass. Well if they’re good for the grass they’re good for the other plants in your garden. We kind of got off track here…

Bill: We did, we’ve got another minute until break but talk for a second and kind of cue us up so when we come back on the other side – talk for about a minute maybe look at your watch and talk about the idea of having that constant supply of microorganisms to the soil. I think that’s an important part about the soil, that’s a part a lot of people miss if they just use commercial fertilizers you don’t get the microorganism addition so what is it that that having chickens brings to that?

Gary: Well I have, I used to have soil in the bottom of my chicken house and we could talk about structure and I built a wood frame foundation to keep predators from building under and getting in the chicken house but soil in the floor and I add some sand like building sand and some wood shavings, sawdust, things of that nature. And if you feed the chickens some scratch grains on the floor they kind of mix this up and then manure gets mixed with the sand which makes for a nice consistency and the wood shavings which break down slowly also with the nitrify, they attract denitrifying bacteria and it makes like a compost. And I just in the spring and in the fall I clean that out and start over and put it on the garden.

Bill: Let’s go to a quick break and we’ll talk about this automatic fertilizer factory that you have in place with your chickens. So this is Off the Grid News Radio, this is Bill Heid, we’ll be right back.

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Off the Grid News because you on a different paradigm.

Bill: We are back again, it’s Bill Heid and I’ve got Gary Underwood here with me and we were talking at the end of the break about how to create more biological activity in your soil. And if you want to pick up on that Gary and were trying to teach people this formula you’ve got in your chicken house that and so being a really kind of interesting fertilizer factory.

Gary: Well, these things were not necessarily the result of research being basically lazy, I wanted to make this is easy as I can. When you have wood floor or concrete floors in your building it limits the bacteria. It takes bacteria to break down the manure, to decompose it. It made it hard to clean out and I just by accident I guess found out that I had to have a building with a dirt floor and that’s the way to do it. When you go in there to clean it out it doesn’t stink, the stuffs already broken down, it’s like – even for everybody I’m sure listening to your program has heard about composting.

Bill: Sure.

Gary: Well, there it is. It’s the core of my chicken business. My chicken building is a compost bin and you’re already adding this high nitrogen fertilizer to it and I’m putting a little wood shavings in there that helps keep the dryer and also sand which adds a little more tilt to the soil. And I decided so that’s the way to do that so I got rid of all of the ones with concrete floors – I just part cars in there and use those as garages or something.

Bill: Yeah, change your oil there.

Gary: Yeah.

Bill: But then you just take a wheel barrow and you mix this in, you till this in then in the spring and in the fall?

Gary: I don’t do anything special; I want to make a simple. You know there’s enough to do in life if you’ve got a family of four, you got four kids, three kids, two kids you know four people to feed so I don’t do anything special. I go in there in the spring after the frost is on the ground, you know early, I just shovel it out and take it down there and put it on the garden. I had the neighbors kids helping me and they said man you’re putting that on their awful thick and I said well I’ve got a lot of it. They said the stuff won’t grow, I said it’ll grow better, the thicker it is the better. I just put it on the garden and run the tiller through it a few times and makes it in and of course you talk about organic all of the time, how long of a been living here? Organic all of that time, idle at anything to it. Number one it costs money to buy all of that other extra fertilizer so I just graded on their and then like right within the next couple of weeks we’re going to do that again before it’s supposed freeze this weekend. It’s kind of hard digging it up once it’s frozen in there so…

Bill: So to make life easier, you’re going to dig it up before it freezes.

Gary: Yeah, and most of the stuff is out of the garden now. You just go down there and in some cases when I don’t get everything out of the garden in time, you can just take it down by the garden and put in a big pile and side dress your plants with it. It’s not going to go away; you’ll lose a little bit of the nutrient value over the winter by leaching that if you get it on there and fill it in your pretty good shape. But you can keep it in a pile and the center of the pile will have a lot of nutrients in it.

Bill: So then you start your season, let’s segway from that off into spring. You approach spring and of course you’ve got, you’re a big believer in heirloom seeds, in open pollinated seeds. I think you keep your, you know you collect your own seeds.

Gary: I’ve been doing that for years too but the problem is with seeds – I’ll have to put in a plug for you, this wasn’t planned either but with the heirloom seeds they are not, they haven’t been genetically modified. Some of the, I won’t mention any names some of the larger corporations are actually genetically engineering seats that we have to buy them from them every year because you can’t save the seed the calls they won’t grow. It’s like they are hybrids to the point like a donkey is sterile, they are producing seeds like that just for financial purposes. You have to buy their seeds. A lot of seeds you by now you couldn’t save the seeds but if you start with your heirloom seeds you can save the seeds. A lot of plants are self pollinating like tomatoes for example you can grow three or four different kinds of tomatoes in the same garden patch and it’s almost impossible for them to cross pollinate so you will get pure – that same variety year after year after year if you save the seeds.

Bill: Sure, sure so yeah it’s one of the reasons why we’ve gone to a large extent we now by seeds directly from farmers, from small farmers and really we look all over the world to try to find good seeds that aren’t genetically modified. And you know we’ve got people who tell us all of the time and maybe you’ve heard differently but we’ve had people tell us all the time that they will plant hybrids and then plan our seeds and they’ll have every bit of vigorous growth from you know a Brandywine tomato that we sale as they do from some of the leading hybrids. So don’t know, what’s your experience?

Gary: Yeah, that’s true. A whole mother program we could do some time own epigenetics. The environment that an organism lives in has a direct impact upon its genes that are activated so a lot of times the hybrid seeds got a reputation of well that’s a hybrid so it’s going to grew faster and have more bigger and have what they call heterosis or hybrid figures to it. Certainly that is true but that’s only true in light of what we know now from research and epigenetics because of what the environment did to that combination of genes so if you understand what environmental factors are necessary the self pollinated seeds that you keep year after year after year will be just as vigorous and produce just as good a crop as a hybrid will.

Bill: So how do you given that fact do you, do you work with the genetic aspects of your plants the same way of your heirloom seeds the same way you do with your chickens to try to increase it bigger?

Gary: Yeah, its most, see at my particular garden is at a certain latitude, has a certain average rainfall, somebody else is a different one so I just use the old method of selective breeding. Whichever plan produce the biggest tomatoes, I keep the seeds from that one. Not that it’s necessarily genetically different but that particular one was able to get the genes activated that I wanted in my environment.

Bill: So they found expression yeah in your world.

Gary: Right, so that anyone can do the same thing if you’re going to be in the same location for several years over the course of time you can without hybridizing, you can develop a variety that will express itself the way you want it to.

Bill: And maybe in a superior way given the set of factors that you have to offer for that plant. Is that what you’re saying?

Gary: Right, I get more moisture than somebody who lives in Kansas. The same genetic individual plant growing at my house in my garden will develop differently in Kansas but you can still take that gene pool and by selective breeding if you want to call it that or just by selective choosing of which ones to get the seeds from you can develop a variety that will be adaptive to your area.

Bill: So it’s almost like a sub variety of the variety. It’s got the same genetic disposition or does it actually, it’s just the expression that changes or does it change genetically given a few years of time?

Gary: No, the expression changes.

Bill: Okay.

Gary: The genetics don’t change – the hybridizing you will change genetic makeup but by just selection you are going to change the expression. There’s environmental factors that will activate some genes and not others.

Bill: But you are maximizing, what you are doing is you are maximizing the genetic expression for your area. I think that’s an amazing skill to be able to do just by watching carefully which plants, is that what you are saying?

Gary: Yeah, just the ones that do what you want them to do, you want big tomatoes, you want canning size tomatoes, you want ones that mature quickly or more slowly. And the interesting thing about epigenetics is a gene that is activated in the parent will tend to be activated more readily and more easily in the offspring and that is true in all plants or animals. Like certain families they play music let’s say for example well they’ve always done that whatever it took for me to be able to play an instrument those genes got activated because I practiced and practiced and practiced so then my son will he learned a lot quicker than I did and for my grandson it will be like falling off a log, it’s easier. Nothing changed genetically but because those genes were switched on and passed on in the act of when they are passed on they were switched on more easily in the next generation. The same thing is true of your garden plants. You look at what you want and you find out that those genes were switched on to make that tomato get bigger, the next year when you save those seeds they will get bigger easily in the same environment.

Bill: Well, that’s invaluable information and we’ve got about 30 seconds left so…

Gary: I got off track I guess…

Bill: No, no, no, I think what we need to do is we need to have you back and talk about gene expression in heirloom garden and let’s just do a whole show on that because that’s fascinating to me. I’m sure it’s going to be fascinating to the listeners and I just want to say thanks so much for being on the show Gary and I would also encourage listeners – here’s another surprise, we’ve had a lot of surprises right but I would also encourage listeners to e-mail Gary and encourage him to do a video series with us, survival chickens or backyard chickens where we just use video and we maybe take it to Gary’s farm and take some cameras up there and just show you exactly how to raise chickens on a small scale. And I’m sure Gary is going to say why did you say that – because I want everybody to encourage you because I really want to do that so we will put your e-mail address up on the webpage and again just thank you so much for spending some time with us, it’s always a pleasure Gary.

Gary: Well, thanks for having me.

Bill: You’re certainly welcome. As always thanks for listening to us here at Off the Grid Radio. Be sure to e-mail us with any questions or comments at [email protected]. You can follow us on twitter by going to or find us on Facebook at Thank you again.

Have you ever wondered if the politicians and the bankers are going to bring the whole thing crashing down? If so, pay close attention because in an economic meltdown, non-hybrid seeds could become more valuable than even silver and gold.  After all, securing a source of food for your family is the single most important thing you can do.  Introducing the survival seed bank, the perfect mix of germination tested non-hybrid seeds.  You get enough seeds to plant a full acre crisis garden that can and will produce an endless supply of nutrient dense food for you and your family and the best part is that these seeds have not been genetically modified in any way.  Visit today, that’s or give them a call 877-327-0365, that’s 877-327-0365.  In a real economic crisis, non-hybrid seeds are the ultimate barter item. Prepare your family today by going to right now, that’s

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