Our Mission

To live a self-sufficient and organic lifestyle for the next half century. With the Grace of God and the power of prayer, we will succeed. Nothing is impossible with His help. It wouldn't be us without laughter and joy at the Cockeyed Homestead.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

We Survived the Storm of the Century

Well, we survived Irma. While watching this huge storm creep up Florida at 15 mph, we were preparing for it even here in the northeast Georgia mountains.Mel saw an Amber Alert on FaceBook for the state of Florida. The whole state was buried under the storm. The winds and outer bands of the storm proceeded to us before it even made landfall near Tampa.

At 6:45 AM, it was on it's way to us, but even bouncing off the coast, it was still a category 1 hurricane. Mel and I both moved away from Orlando and southeast Georgia to these mountains expecting never to have to deal with hurricanes ever again. This storm was too big. It was picking up warm water from the Gulf and the Atlantic.

Having lived for decades threatened each year by these storms, all our preparations were made. I'd been canning like a mad woman all summer long. Food would not be an issue. Loss of power for an extended period of time would be difficult but not an insurmountable issue. We cook with gas and we had a store of charcoal. The major snag would be the freezer stuff, but I could can all the meat products in a pinch so we really wouldn't lose anything. It would just take time to do. The ice would load the coolers in the meantime for milk and cheeses. The eggs weren't washed so they were still covered in their bloom so they would keep for a week or more at 60 degrees without spoiling.

We were as prepared as we could be for the advancing storm of the century. Sort of. The new chicken coop to protect our flock wasn't complete so they still roost on our front porch. They could go underneath the porches or trailer if it got really bad. The weather service was predicting 50 mph winds even though the storm status had been reduced to a tropical storm. We figured down in our hollow we'd get maybe 40 mph winds. We shouldn't have to worry about flooding with the creek 100 feet below the house.

By nightfall, we hunkered down and were watching Netflixs when we heard a loud cracking sound soon followed by the a loud boom and vibration of a large tree falling. Yes, we felt it 1/4 mile away. The lights went out. We were ready with lanterns. We watched the trees bend and sway as the wind tried to whipped them into submission. The chickens on the porch were blown off the porch rails. The hens uttered shocked cries as the wind knocked them onto the porch. Soon they gave up trying to roost on the rails favoring the shelter of the wood pile. By the morning, they were tired, wind blown and alive none the worse given the night's events.

Also by the morning we found that while we survived the tropical storm, we were hit by tornado Flynn. Ah, come on Jo! Tornadoes don't have names. But I tell you honestly, this one did in the form of our 16-week old kitten, Flynn. He had blown through the inside of our home like a tornado during the night. Cat food food dishes were upset and their contents littered the floors. Towels had been unfolded and dragged hither and yon, candles separated from their candle sticks. The guitar case had been used  as a monkey bar. There was nothing on the end tables and two dining room tables that escaped his notice. Everything was a toy to be played with and dropped on the floor.

It took the better part of the day just cleaning up the mess he made! He was so-o-o naughty that when I went to Walmart for extra paper towels, I saw this dog coat and HAD to buy it for him. He still can't figure out how to really walk around in it yet. He'll appreciate it this winter. Flynn definitely had a flashback moment to his feral beginnings. I chock it up to him being bored out of his gourd from being inside for a day and a half because of the rain.

Anyhow, back to my tale of the storm.

We ventured outside to survey the damage. The rain had stopped around 7 AM. Branches were strewn all over the place. Mel grabbed the larger branches and limbs to clear the driveway. I grabbed the smaller one starting a pile for the debris. We made our way up the drive to the main road. We found the cause of our power outage. A large popular tree had fallen during the storm. A power line was visible underneath. Going half a mile down the main road in the other direction, an old oak tree blocked any forward progress downing even more power lines. The impact of these huge trees with the road actually broke the trees into large sections. We headed back home to work on more clean up work and await our electric company to restore power. Power was restored to our section within 19 hours. We are lucky. Over 75% of the county lost power and still 40% is still dark. After three days, we are still picking up the smaller sticks. Volunteers are still clearing trees late into the night. We've got a good start on the kindling pile for winter. This area just isn't used to tropical storms like this blowing through.

The refuse, chipped up trees, have found a new home...our garden. We've volunteered as a dump site for some tree services. Our orchard area and garden will soon be covered a two-foot thick layer of the stuff. It will decompose over winter and be ready for an additional layer of compost (chicken and rabbit manure, straw, and kitchen scraps). It'll be ready to plant in the Spring. For every cloud there is a silver lining. This is ours.

Nothing is impossible.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Killing Off Roos on the Homestead

Back in late March when we bought our chicks, we bought straight runs. We knew we'd get some roosters.. We were actually praying for one of each type. Extra roos would not go to waste. They'd just go to freezer camp or the stock pot for us. We got a fifty/fifty split. I guess this was fair, but we were hoping more for a 60/40 split, hens to roosters. Well, I'm finally getting around to it.

Yeah, I know we're late in butchering. It should have happened three or four months ago. We were busy with other projects like the new coops and runs. We weren't going to use fryers for the freezer, but stew them in a stock pot. There wasn't any rush for the slaughter. We have plenty of young chickens in our freezer already, thanks to a Zaycon order earlier in the year. Next year, the plan is to harvest all our own chickens.

Of the sixteen birds we had (12 new and 4 old flock). We've lost a few over the past month due to free ranging attrition and we are down to ten. Of the ten, six are roosters. In this harvest, I'm working smarter by killing off the rooster two at a time. They are no longer tender young birds so the delay won't hurt them. It's not only the energy it take to catch, slaughter, and butcher the chickens but the processing time. The roosters has to be cooked, deboned, and then canned. The bone broth needs to be chilled, schmaltz removed (chicken fat), and then made into soups, or canned as straight broth. This takes time and space. We only have one small refrigerator. I can't justify the cost and energy use for heavy use of a second one for a few months out of a year. Before my stroke, it was nothing to butcher ten birds a day, but now, two is my limit. I plan on killing two this week and two next week. Even working within the 30 minute killing to chilling time frame for each bird. The rest tales me hours.

Mel, God love her, is tenderhearted. She can't kill our animals. Canning and cooking has never been her thing. That's okay, because it is mine. So it's left for me to handle. We both grew up in privileged, upper middle class, lower high class income households, but what we did during that time that's where the similarities differ.

My family was heavy into family activities. While we had the money for servants and any food we wanted; we camped, hunted, fished, and cooked for ourselves too. My parents wanted us to have a well round childhoods. We foraged in the woods. We preserved items we got from u-pick farms and a host of other things. My dad had two rules. You kill it; you clean it, and you eat what you kill. You don't kill for sport. Of course, it was a fun/sporting activity too. When you harvest fruits and vegetables you are also killing them so the rules still applied. Not that we NEEDED to do all of this to survive like some people, but it taught us life long survival skills. It also taught us to respect life no matter what form it took. It is also where I developed my death is the absence of learning and no education is lost principles.

For Mel, homesteading and self sufficiency was an "it would be nice" thing. But she's willing to learn. For me, I've been practicing it for fifty years thanks to my upbringing. So, butchering rabbits and chickens is a no brainer. I've got my two (21 and 23 qt) canners on the stove for boiling water. As soon as they come up to a boil, I'll set them on simmer until Mel carries them out to the big tub to help loosen the feathers on the birds. After they come to a boil, I'll run up to the store for a bag of ice for the cooler. I've already filled the cooler half way full of water and dissolved a cup of salt in it. This will help draw the blood and any impurities out of the chicken after it's gutted and before I cook them. I usually do this for two hours. It'll give me a chance to set up my cooking station.

I'll knock a rooster in the head, so it'll lay still for me to chop off its head. I'll let it thrash around in a 5-gallon bucket. Then, I'll carry it to the tub of hot water. A minute or two dunking and it's off to the plucking table. This new way of harvesting chickens for me and is a far cry from the cone method I used to use. But that method takes two hands. I have a towel on my work table so the chicken does not slide around. I'll give it whole area a quick rinse with the garden hose before I start gutting the bird. Since I'm only doing two birds a bowls will suffice for keep and discard piles. I'll rough chop the chicken into quarters so they'll fit in my stock pot easier and drop them into the ice bath. Then it's on to the next one.

I wanted to guy one of those turkey frying set ups before I harvested these birds, but all the local stores have been out of stock. My bad luck so it's carrying hot pots of water (not me but Mel). I figure they'll be back in stock for Thanksgiving.  That's okay, I'll have it for the next cycle of chickens next year. Not to mention large quantities of soups/chili/stew and tomatoes for canning.

That's it for this week.

Y'all have a blessed day.

Progress Continues at the Cockeyed Homestead

New back door, stairs, and ramp
I believe it was a month ago or longer that I mentioned that we were putting in ramps off our porches for easier access for me into the house. Well, one of them is done and it is the Taj Mal of ramps. Or at least cost wise it should be. Building materials especially pressure treated lumber ain't cheap.

I should mention that we started on the back ramp because it would give me easier access to the food storage building and the animals. Well let me say that this one ramp cost me more than I allotted for both ramps because of an addition I made to the ramp in back. So I'm stopping with the one. A deck that would allow a wheelchair or my wagon to turn around on. I will say that the finished product was nicer, stronger, and more utilitarian than I could have imagined.
porch L store room R

We held off moving my home canned goods into the storage room until the project was completed. Last night, Mel and I moved 16 cases of goods into the store room. Yes, I've been busy. The garden had a lackluster performance year because of a late cold (freezing temps in May!) followed by a blistering short lived heat wave. But I more than made up for it with local contacts. Not that anybody had a stellar year, but homesteading is a community. I traded off herb for vegetables. I even bought a few cases of produce off local vendors. Next year, I'm hoping not to have to buy anything.
Rabbits and chicken at the bottom

Among the weeds are watermelons, tomatoes, okra, cucumbers, and black eyed peas. But then again, these same weeds like grasses, clover, wild plantain, wild violets, etc offer free food for our rabbits. Nothing goes to waste here. We are stock piling straw, grass clippings, cardboard, and compost for a major revamp of the garden area late fall. We are going to till it and bury the area in about 24" of this extra material. I'm also going to line the area next to the barn drive through with old, molded straw bales and trying for a living fence in the spring.

Broody/Gimpster's new home
In the rabbit hoop barn (pictured top left), our injured hen from last winter has a safe and secure habitat. She's got a cage up with the rabbits at night. During the day she has the entire 12x24 area to roam around. We set water and food down for her during the day. She can see the other hens and roosters through the chicken wire clad pallets enough to be sociable, but isn't jumped on by the roosters and hens. I did notice that the twice daily physical therapist I did with her wasn't a complete waste of time. She bear weight on the leg to help support her after a dust bath and long enough to scratch with her fully functioning leg. It's only for a matter of
seconds, but she has adapted.  I wish all humans living post stroke like I am the same resiliency and adaptability.

Her new digs even has a nest box just for her. She still gives us an egg a day. This was her saving grace. Otherwise, I would have been culled her months ago. She's so tamed now that even one-handed me can pick her up with barely a ruffled feather. Her head and neck still bears the scars of her narrow escape from the figure with the scythe. Her comb on top of her head is a short, mangled mess instead of her once beautiful comb, but she's a keeper. Like a puppy she comes and greets me whenever I enter the rabbitry.Then, she'll hop up to me and clucks askance for treats. For the past couple of weeks, it has been deer apples that were so bad I couldn't make applesauce, apple pie filling, or apple butter with them. Out of the 65 lbs of deer apples I got for $13, there was about a 3-gallon bucket of bad apples. The chickens go nuts for these.

Well that's it for this week.
Y'all have a blessed day!

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Apples Get a Second Life and Even a Third

'Tis almost that favorite time of year for most men...deer season. You can get deer apples for cheap in the farmer's market. I saw an auction ad for them 65 lbs for $13. They may be under ripe, bruised, bug nibbled on, or just plain ugly. They are deemed unsalable to human consumers who only want bright, shiny, and pretty apples.

Not me! I'm looking at these apples and thinking apple pie filling, applesauce, and apple butter. Yummies for my tummy! Our newly planted apple trees here at the Cockeyed Homestead are still a few years from producing. The one ancient apple tree on the property was raided by squirrels again this year. So, I'm still having to search elsewhere for apples.

Bed Bath & Beyond model
At 21 cents a lb for apples, count us in! Sure they might require some extra labor getting them ready for the peeler/corer, but for the price I couldn't ignore it. But before my purchase of these apples, I needed somehow to peel and core them. I used to say, "With a sharp knife, I can do anything." I could shred fifty lbs of cabbage in an hour for sauerkraut. Of course, that was before my strokes left me with one functioning arm. Now, I need extra tools to get the job done. So I searched for one of those peeler/corer thing-a-ma-jigs that my grandmother had. I wanted one that bolted to the table, but short of ordering one, I had to get a suction base one. I was pleasantly surprised by the one I purchased. The suction cup actually held well!

Usually for pie filling, I like nice sized wedges of apple in my pie so I didn't use the slicer. This time was the exception. If the slices got broken, it was okay. Since it's just Mel and I on the homestead, pint jars were fine for apple pie filling. Huge, deep dish pies have been replaced by hand pies or smaller, individual serving type pies. Smaller pies need less or smaller pieces of apples. For applesauce and apple butter the size of the slices didn't matter.

When I picked up my deer apples, I wasn't surprised by the lot. It was just as I suspected. I got busy sorting them. Nothing goes to waste on this homestead. The really bad apples (overripe, too bruised, really wormy, etc) were placed in a bucket to be fed to the chicken and rabbits as treats. For the chickens, it's mainly to get them from underfoot. I ended up with a 3-gallon bucket of these. For every ten tasty, but ugly apples I threw in a couple of under ripened apples as I peeled and cored them to keep my tart to sweet ratio.

After all of them were peeled, sliced and cored, I rinsed the slices with cold water. I ended up with two 5-gallon buckets of the "waste." The reason the word waste is in quotes is because nothing is wasted until it truly is waste. I'll show you what I mean.

One 5-gallon bucket of peels and cores went into the kitchen. This was set aside to make fruit pectin for jams and jellies. The last 5-gallon bucket was set aside for homemade apple cider vinegar.

Spoon test
The bucket of peels and cores destined to become pectin was rinsed and place in a stock pot 2:1 ratio with water to boil. Two gallons of water to 1 gallon of peels/ cores. I did a spoon test to check the pectin. Once the liquid was reduced by half, it was strained through a butter cloth bag. It was allowed to slowly drip (no squeezing) overnight. The liquid was brought up to a boil the next day and hot packed unto jars. I did not process this in my water bath canner, but inverted the jars for ten minutes and then allowed them to cool and seal on their own. The ratio I use when making my jams and jellies is 1/4 cup of pectin to 1 cup of fruit/juice.

Now for the other 5-gallon bucket of peelings and cores destined to become apple cider vinegar was rinsed and divided up into 1 gallon jugs. I placed one cup of sugar to a ratio of 1:3 apples to water in each jugs. If you have an organic, apple cider like Braggs you can super charge your starting apple cider vinegar by adding 1 cup of Braggs to a gallon. I shook it up until the sugar was dissolved. I covered each with several layer of cheesecloth held in place by a rubber band. Each day, I stir it down for two weeks. It will start to ferment. I'll follow this by once a week stirring unless a SCOBI has formed already. If my SCOBI has formed, I'll carefully remove it, strain the liquid, and then replace the SCOBI. Each week, I'll taste the liquid until it reaches the acidity level I want. Usually within two months it's ready.

Use it for your next batch of apple cider vinegar or make kombucha with it.

Now, I'll have to admit there's not much else you can do with the cores and peels after all of this.Wait, have you got pigs? Yummies for their tummies. Shucks, we don't have pigs on our homestead. But it all can do triple duty by adding it to our compost pile.

Let me add all this up. My cost for the apples was $13. Sugar and assorted spices about $6. My results were three cases of pint jars of pie filling, one case of apple butter, two cases of applesauce. *BONUS* Four gallons of apple cider vinegar, and a case of fruit pectin for free. And, don't forget all those "spent" apple peels and core in the compost pile for feeding my next year's garden.

How's that for adding bang to my bucks?

Y'all have a blessed day.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

RIP Dustin

You may remember I blogged about Dustin before. He was our non related self black, English Angora buck with wry neck. He passed away unexpectedly this week.

Mel had built a special enclosure for him in  the rabbitry barn. It was filled with straw and I had bought special feeder and watering trays for him that attached to the shelving wire enclosure. He loved his new digs!

We watched him happily roll around his enclosure. Safe and comfortable. He would venture around it and return to us to check if we were watching, and then take off again. His wry neck didn't seem to bother him. As always, he loved performing his antics to an audience. He was very socialized to us.

What killed him, we don't know. We do know he wasn't attacked. Mel went to feed the rabbits and she found him. Mel's last original angora is no more.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Progress Continues at the Cockeyed Homestead

The rabbit hoop barn is complete. Finally! You can see it finished project on an upcoming video.

Now. it's on to the chicken enclosure.We have lost four hens so far. It greatly reduces our egg production. The decision to not free range our chickens any more was because of the loss. We will also be butchering four roosters this week. Having this many extra roosters means our hens are taking a
beating. When the back hoe pulled out the Spanish Bayonet, we found a clutch of almost three dozen eggs under it. One of the old New Hampshire Reds went broody a few months ago. I heard her under there but didn't have access to it. She later abandoned the nest. We could smell the results as the shovel end came down on the eggs. They were ripe.We still had a New Hampshire Red rooster when she went broody too. It's a shame she abandoned the nest, they are highly productive in eggs. Very friendly birds too, unlike our current chickens.

The handyman came about the ramp and deck to the storage unit. I still haven't heard when he can start this job. The plumber came and we got his estimate, but no work has started yet. We still haven't had any luck in locating an electrician. I've only called four so far.

The cockeyed garden has produced fairly well this year. I've canned three cases of green beans, frozen about two dozen, double servings of zucchini, eggplant, and breaded okra for frying. I'm still canning black eye peas and tomatoes. I've got about two cases of each so far. I've canned a case of peaches to supplement our frozen bags.This week, I found deer apples for $6 a case so I bought two. Not for deer, silly but for us. They aren't huge or pretty, but they are firm enough for apple pie filling and apple butter. The skins and cores go into the barrel for making apple cider vinegar, and then into the compost pile. Everything plays double or triple duty around here. Not a stellar produce year, but better than last year.

I've also put up some pints of cherry pie filling. I blame my need for cherry pie at Thanksgiving on my grandparents. My grandfather planted 14 cherry trees on their property. One for each child born. Two things we could count on every year in Nebraska...cherries and corn. Make that three. Rhubarb. My grandmother loved the stuff and to this day, I can't stand it.

The garden looks like a mess of weeds, but it's planned that way. Among the vegetable plants grow violets, herbs, plantain, lettuce, garlic, grasses the rabbits love, clover, potatoes, and a host of wild greens. All this green will be tilled in late fall. Yet another layer of cardboard, straw, rabbit and chicken manure, and a layer of compost will be added to the whole area to await spring planting. The worms will do their thing over winter leaving us a rich environment for growing. Each year the garden soil grows better and better.

I'm noticeably absent from the YouTube front. I'm doing a cooking video every two weeks rather than every week like I did last year. I'm too busy behind the scenes canning and freezing. I'm also cultivating relationships with other organic farmers in the area. What we don't grow they do and vice versa. We just don't have enough land to produce all of what we need. We are forming communities within communities and bartering to boot. I'm visiting farmers' markets, online forums, and such. I've even joined a homesteading blogging network. The exchange of information is so important. If I can build this blog to the status of my other one, I'll be in hog heaven.

That's it for this week...
Y'all have a blessed day!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

You Know You're Paralyzed, Right?

"Doh!" was my response.
This following question another patient made they made after hearing me tell my physical therapist what I have been doing on the homestead since I last saw him a week ago.

This was followed by the usual comment I hear, "You do more before noon than most people do all day!"

Yes, that's true. I operate a mini farm and homestead. To others homesteaders, I'm barely doing anything. That's true also. I'll call a homesteading friend and they will have done twice the amount of work done that day. I guess it all depends on your point of view. It really doesn't seem that much to me, but when you recite my list of morning chores most "ordinary" folks are exhausted just thinking about it.

From 4AM to 7AM, you'll find me in the kitchen. I'm starting the day's baking. Breads, rolls, breakfast pastries, and desserts for the week are prepped. I'll also eat my breakfast. Usually yogurt, homemade granola cereal, or oatmeal. Occasionally, I'll scramble some eggs and have some toast. I'll hop on the computer to play some wake up my mind games, answer and read emails, check the day's schedule, etc. I'll feed the cats and dogs, giving them plenty of ear ruffles before I head outdoors with them tagging along.

From 7AM to 10 AM, you'll find me with the chickens, rabbits, or harvesting the garden. I'll gather wild plantain, poplar and oak leaves, assorted grasses, clover, and other weeds for the rabbits. While technically their diets is complete with fodder and timothy hay, I figure the rabbits would like different things to munch on too. I sort of rotate how much of each they get per day and change it up. Each will get individual attention...mostly snuggles and nose to nose Eskimo kisses. Dustin is usually ready for his morning physical therapy session. I usually feed him first so he's ready by the time I finish everyone else. I'll gather the eggs before I head inside. I'll also set up Mel's morning cup of tea.

The chickens get the bucket full of caterpillars, beetles, and assorted bugs I find in the garden as well as their ration of fermented grains (wheat. barley, sunflower, and oats) and a commercial organic chicken  food. The chickens will also spend the bulk of their day free ranging in our wooded back acreage. I'm also setting up next rotation the fodder and fermented grains. Broody or Gimpster (as Mel calls her) gets up in the dog crate to be fed and have her alone time away from the roosters who aggravate her unmercifully. The cage door isn't latched and she lets herself out when she is ready to rejoin the flock.

All in all, our animals are pampered if not spoiled rotten.

From 10AM to 3PM, I'm baking whatever I started earlier and washing the day's harvest. Then, I'm processing the harvest. Canning tomatoes, okra, and eggplant (for right now). Black-eyed peas, herbs, or other harvest is set on trays in the oven for the pilot light to dehydrate them.

From 3PM to 5PM, I'm usually doing my off the homestead doctor or therapist visits, feed stores run (including for us), etc. Or, I'm grooming rabbits. Or, I'm helping Mel with this or that project around the homestead. I'm also prepping dinner unless I'm running late and pick something quick before coming home.

6PM to 10PM, I'm cleaning up the day's mess in the kitchen. Not that I'm not doing this during the day too. We are watching our favorite Netflix shows or watching YouTube. But I'm also knitting. Right now, I'm working on a 12" wide scarf for Mel. After that project is done, it'll be socks, baby booties foe crisis pregnancy, and dishcloths.

From 10PM to midnight, I'm usually at my computer. Playing mind building or just for fun games, writing blogs, answering and reading the 50 odd emails that have come in during the day. I'll finally lay down for the night amidst the sounds of crickets, frogs, cat purrs, and an occasional coyote call.

So what do you think? I'm I too busy or just busy enough?

Y'all have a blessed day!