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.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Homestead Year End Summary 2017

What a difference a year makes, but then again not that much has changed over the past year. This year has flown by at record speeds. I've blogged it all since April 2016 with 81 posts here. The Cockeyed Homestead is better organized than when I first came here.
Some major and minor achievements in 2017...

1.  A driveway was installed to replace the washed out one that was here before. An additional 80 feet of new driveway along the side of the garden, house, and down to the chicken and rabbit areas. This has been a godsend and well worth the price.  All together 1/4 mile was sub-surfaced and graveled. My mini van thanks me every time I go out on it. Even though we have a large car park area in front of the barn, we no longer use it. Instead, we now park around back beside...
2.  The new deck and ramps off the back porch. It makes for easier access into the house, rabbitry, and chicken area. Now we have access to the screened porch from both sides. The ramp makes the transport of feed, and canned goods from the storage building much more easier for the both of us. Bringing firewood from the firewood sheds to the house is a breeze via a wagon. We have planted yellow mums under this deck section to prettify the area. We also planted spearmint and peppermint around the base of the storage building to deter rats.

3.  We contracted out the refurbishment of our water delivery from the well to the house. It meant a trencher and dozens of new PVC pipe all buried two-foot down. You may remember our previous "pipe" was flexible hose buried, in places, 6" below the surface and was constantly leaking, breaking, and freezing in winter.

4.  We added extra circuits to our power panel and had the electrician make sense to our two circuit boxes. The workshop/barn now has dedicated circuit breakers, and lights. We were using an extension cord from the house. The storage room also has it's own circuit to run the air conditioner, heater, and lights. A small freezer will be added later for frozen bunny water bottles and maybe a mini refrigerator for egg storage. The house also got some wiring and additions in the way of two new ceiling fans  with overhead lighting for the living and breakfast rooms, and a dedicated circuit to run the larger air conditioner in the living areas. Yippee!

5.  We had an additions to our homestead too! We bought twelve Rhode Island Reds and Buff Orpington chicks in the spring to revamp our chicken flock after predators maimed or killed 3/4 of our New Hampshire Red chickens. As of today, we still have eight after culling out the roosters. We now get seven eggs a day and have plenty of chicken in the freezer and canned.

6.  We lost Bennie to a car incident and Devon Angel, but the Lord blessed us with Flynn. Other than Mel thinking she was a boy, she has been quite the character. She fits right into the Cockeyed Homestead Critter collection. You should see her playing in the rain and snow. Hilarious for a cat to do this. Everything is new and exciting for her and she knows no fear..only adventure and playfulness. At six months old, she still demands her Mama snuggles and follows Mel wherever she goes around the homestead.

7.  We lost three of Mel's original English Angoras, but bought five in the spring. We also changed our rabbitry set up. The storage building we originally had our angoras in is no more. The building was cleaned and converted into a food storage building for our home canned goods, root cellar, and staples storage.

8.  A quarter acre was cleared and terraced in preparation of a fruit and nut orchard. We are still laying cardboard and straw over the area in preparation of our organic orchard. Slated to go in are Muscadine and Catawba grapes, blueberry bushes, raspberry bushes, and blackberry vines in the spring. With apple, pear, cherry, fig, pecan, and black walnut trees to follow.

9.  Our garden has a major revamp. With the addition of the side driveway and the drive through area beside the barn, the garden now has definite borders. The trapezoid shaped area has had two feet of wood chips, cardboard, and straw added to the whole area. The raised beds are gone. Along the driveways will be straw bale garden beds. These areas were previously weeds and hard packed clay. They need intensive conditioning and soil improvements. The whole area will get a thick compost boost over winter for the 2018 growing season.

10.  The rabbitry was moved to the new rabbit barn. Mel built it with a broken wrist if you can believe that. The bucks are now housed in 24x36 cages along one side and the does are all in 30x36 cages along the opposite side. The grooming table is at the other end pictured with all their supplies and compartments for each rabbit's fur. When the grooming is finished the rabbits are allowed to run free within the barn. Two large hurricane type fans were added for their comfort and tarps were added to the ends for increment weather.

11.  The chickens also got their own enclosure. It is wired across the top and all around to make predator access more difficult. I'm not going to say predator proof because predator will find a way in no matter what you do. But they should be considerably safer this winter. The nesting boxes are accessible outside the enclosure which makes harvesting the eggs a simple matter of opening a hatch. We can still free range our birds too. This way they will stay out of our garden. Yeah!

12.  With the pick up of sixty cases of pint jars (free) from North Carolina, we actually have a food storage pantry. See #7. While the garden this year was lack luster in production, we made some new friends in the local produce market for produce to can. Some valuable contacts were also made for when we launch our own chemical free produce and products maybe as soon as next year.  While we are no where near filling all sixty cases, we are comfortable in what we have. Next year, we hope to have even more. It's a start. I can see needing another sixty cases of jars easily to supply our needs for a full year. While we aren't totally self reliant yet, we are on our way.

As I write this blog, I'm amazed about how much we actually got accomplished in 2017. It didn't seem like that much with long periods of hurry-up-and-waits. It's good to jot things down and look at accomplishments. Hindsight is twenty-twenty after all and we have been truly blessed in 2017.

Y'all have a blessed day.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Argh! It's Snowing!! Addendum

An addendum to my last post. I write my blogs early, sometimes the basic blog is written a month in advance. I'll add certain current points of interst before the blog publishes. I do this in part because it takes my stroke addled mind almost a week to write a blog and a few days more to edit it. Often, it will coincide with a publication of a video or draw attention to a video of YouTube except this year. Technical difficulties have kept us from doing videos since spring. Unlike this blog. Please ignore misspellings and grammar erroers. I didn't catch in two quick editing passes before publishing this. I'm still brain damaged.

In our preparing for winter, I forgot a key supply...batteries for our lanterns! But then, we have oil lanterns and oil as back-up for them. As you might have figured out, we lost power. From Friday night, the heaviest snow fall, until Sunday night. We were not alone. Some 20,000 households in our EMC (electric membership co-op) were in the same boat. Some 12,500 households are still without power. The Co-op estimates full power restoration by Tuesday or Wednesday at the latest.

Now, we heat our homestead with a wood stove and cook with gas. We are fortunate. Many other homes depend on electricity to heat and cook wth. A lot of our "quick fix meals" were home canned months ago and in the storeroom. No can opener needed just an old church key. Heat and eat or not. With nighttime temperatures dipping below freezing and daytime temperatures maybe ten degrees warmer, they are really in a tight jam by not only being in the dark but freezing as well. We keep 20 gallons of water in our storage shed, because the well does not run without electricity. We currently use 5 gallon buckets (6 of them) to catch rain water, or in this case snow melt, to flush the toilets with or at least wash our hands.

I found out something interesting about Mel during all this. She can't unplug. She's a dyed in the wool techie. Being ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and suffering SAD (seasonal affective depression). She can't live without power especially in winter. We ended up spending a good part of Saturday and Sunday at the local Mickey D's charging her two computer batteries, her phone, her Kindle and using their WiFi. Unlike getting hit by Irma, the whole county wasn't dark. There were quite a few businesses open. Like Lowe's where I picked up an 8-pk of D cell batteries.

Me, on the other hand, was content reading a gardening book, knitting, and talking with my Heavenly Father by oil lamp. I did find it difficult removing the globe and lighting the lamp in the wee hours of the morning, but nothing I couldn't overcome. Not that I didn't rush to my computer to check my emails once I knew power had truly been restored. I could just unplug.

After calling our EMC's power outrage reporting center multiple times since the blackout, their suggestion not ours. Each time we called, a real person answered every call. The person was apologetic, courteous, and gave us an update... for days now. Not a few times, but every six hours. Now, that's service! After the power was restored, we called the power outage reporting center once again. The customer service representative answered. We gave them Mel's name and address. But instead of complaining that our power was out, we thanked her for our power being restored. The rep was taken aback. She had a smile in her voice, and she thanked us for calling. We made her night.

Even though we were inconvenienced by the power outage by being homesteaders, prepared, self reliant, and proactive, for the most part, we adverted a disaster this could have caused. Now, knowing this new thing about Mel, I think a generator and/or solar panels and batteries might be in our future. At least, we'd have power to run our well or charge whatever Mel needs. I can't do anything about the WiFi unless we plug the modem into the generator for short periods of time to help her out. What do you think?

Y'all have a blessed day and we'll have a better one.

Cockeyed Laziness Stops Now

I've always said that I was fortunate that I didn't have a spouse that could do for me after my stroke for my recovery's sake. My husband was terminal ill and actually 18 months from dying when I had my first and second stroke. I had no choice, I had to recover as much as I could and fast. I relearned how to speak legibly, move, fetch, carry, cook, shop, clean, drive and be a full-time caregiver within six months. I had no choice. Amazing, but that in itself was a blessing. Everything was have to relearn it NOW!

Confession time and fast forward five years. I'm living in an environment with an able bodied roommate. I find myself "lazy." I'm no longer struggling to lift 30-50 lbs of animal feed. If I don't want to, Mel can do it. In fact Mel is doing a lot of things I used to do if I find it's too much of a struggle for me. This is a luxury I never knew when my husband was live.

Am I wrong to take advantage of this luxury? When I think of other stroke survivors out there living post stroke who've had this kind of support all along, I rationalize that I was due. But in truth, I'm just being lazy and not being my proactive self. To me, yes! It's the laziness of two syndrome setting in.
Not really, but this morning...

Take this morning for example. It was cold in the house. It was only 31 degrees for the night's low.The night's fire in the wood stove had burned out. There was nothing but ash in the hearth part. I left it, donned my sweatshirt and turned on my personal electric heater.  Mel has gotten me spoiled by always making sure there was enough wood inside to start a roaring fire until last night. I didn't run out to the front porch for firewood. My fingers were too cold to even sort through my morning medicines. In my rationalizing, self centered mind, it was Mel's fault for not bringing in enough wood to start a fire. It didn't matter that I had overslept. In fact, Mel woke up 30 minutes after I did. That almost never happens. Usually, by the time she wakes up, I'd started a fire, cooked breakfast, made her tea, had the bread or whatever started, and assorted other things.

In reality, I was lazy and full of self pity. I actually can see myself in the role of other stroke survivors out there now with others able to do for them. I did eventually set up Mel's breakfast tray after she started the fire and she was outside feeding the animals. A short year ago, I would have done all these things. The sad thing is that this behavior is becoming the norm for me now. Sure, I'll still sort out and help with the garden, care for the homestead critters, and cook. But now it's with lackluster enthusiasm. It's the laziness of two because there is someone else to do it for me.

I realized my laziness of two is causing more work for us this morning when I thought about how we set up the straw bales in the garden. In part, honestly it was a brain fart moment. When I brought in the last ten bales of wheat straw, I suggested putting cardboard down first under the bales. Mel decided to use weed cloth because it was easier. I didn't argue with her because I was tired and couldn't voice my reason for using the cardboard instead. This morning, it came to me crystal clear why I wanted cardboard under the bales and use the weed cloth in the walkways. It was a "Doh!" moment. Worms can't get through the weed cloth, the plant roots can't grow through it, and it won't decompose for decades. Now, we'll have to redo a whole 40' row. Made worse because the rain we had this week has soaked the bales so now they are twice as heavy. The composted straw bales were to enhance the decomposing wood  chips to build the soil. With the weed cloth down we would have had to remove the good composted bales in two years to add it to the wood chips after removing the barrier. So much for working smarter. But at least I caught my mistake before 40 bales of straw was down.

Another example of sheer laziness of two on my part has to do with the little shopping I do. I don't put the reusable shopping bags back in my car. As a result we get a those plastic bags. But there is a happy result with this laziness, I can spin Plarn (plastic yarn). With the plarn, I can knit or crochet market bags which I can use or sell. But it's more work on me and Mel. I still don't play well with scissors. Then, I have to spin it on my spinning wheel. Yes, I know you don't have to spin it to use it, but I have a stronger more consistent product to work with by spinning it. Part of me is still in the marketing mode that dictates a better product commands a better price point. So now, I'll have tan (grocery bags), blue (walmart bags) and white (pharmacy, Lowes, and Dollar Store bags) to work into plarn this winter as if I didn't have enough angora and sheep's wool to spin already. Oh, and all those little plastic bags filled with product, I only carry half of them inside...Mel gets the rest. It's the laziness of two.

In a way the luxury of the laziness of two has been a blessing. It's less wear and tear on me having someone else share the load. But when I start taking advantage of it, that's just not right. That's one thing I've got to change starting today. I'll be making A HUGE pot of beef, vegetable and barley soup tonight. I'll be canning the excess. Why? Because I can and it's less work later. Mel has to pick up a truckload of wood and cardboard today, so I'll keep her company and help as much as I can. Tomorrow morning I'll be out in the garden and orchard with her, sans two hours for a doctor's appointment. I'll be side by side working with her until weather stops us. The laziness of two stops right now. Together we can accomplish more as it should be.

We had snow this week! So it stopped most of the outdoor work. But the new loom I ordered came in so I'm knitting again.

Y'all have a blessed day.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Homesteading Dreams Versus Reality Two Years Later

Homesteading ain't cheap. Every penny earned is put back into the homestead in one form or another and then some. You are never out of wants or needs on the homestead. A better driveway for access to and around your property to save wear and tear on your vehicles. The well water delivery system to the house is on the fritz. A handyman with a trencher is needed. Digging  a trench with a shovel and pick axe several hundred feet is just too much work for ladies in their 60s. Gluing pieces of PVC pipe together is a no brainer. A tractor would be nice, but until you can afford one, you scrimp and save to buy one. We compromised and bought a used 17HP lawn tractor. Good quality seed (initially), setting up the garden area, gardening hand tools and maybe even a tiller so you can grow more. Clearing ten years of undergrowth and small trees where you want to put an orchard and grow your own rabbit grass/hay? A bobcat and operator is needed. Of course you could buy them outright and only have to worry about learning how to operate it, storing it, and the maintenance for it. It'll only set you back about $35,000 (that's used). Oh, electricity in the workshop/barn is almost a necessity because you can't run everything off an extension cord. Oh with electricity in the workshop/barn, we can actually install lights! That way we can use it any time. A rain catchment system to help with watering the animals and garden needs PVC pipe, gutters, downspouts, and something to hold the water in. Those big 275 gallon totes are cheap enough at $75 each delivered, but when you talk about 10 of them to provide your needs. It ain't cheap. Sigh! All of it only costs money and lots of it. It would be a steady drain on finances in the beginning and just maintenance.

If you get livestock, the housing, feed, and general care also costs money. As far as I know, none of it is free. I'll start with every homestead gateway into livestock... chickens. Whether you dream of producing fresh eggs for your own use or take the challenge of producing eggs for sale, it has a continual cost. Sure you can frequent Craig's List and find someone giving away chickens ...mostly roosters which may be fine for meat but you don't get eggs from roosters. Or, maybe even a chicken coop. You still have to provide them with a safe environment to do their chicken stuff. This mean predator proofing your property or a small portion of it for the chickens. Fencing against predators don't come cheap. We mostly free ranged our half a dozen New Hampshire Reds for two years. They roosted on our front porch at night. Our property is not fenced. We were doing it cheap. Last winter and early spring, predators reduced our flock down to two hens. But it was spring, everybody sold chicks. We repopulated our flock with a dozen Rhode Island Reds and Buff Orpingtons. They were all one big happy family decimating my garden and going where they pleased. Organic feed ain't cheap and we were supplementing their diet with commercial organic feed. We started losing hens after the rooster culling to predators. We are down to seven hens out of twelve, two New Hampshire Reds (Gimpy and the other injured one), three Rhode Island Reds and two Buffs. There went my dream of selling eggs this year. The certification you paid to be able to sell your eggs is wasted for another year. So we built them an enclosure and coop for them. It only cost money, right?

We fell in love with angora rabbits early on. It was hoped that it would bring income into the homestead by way of fur/yarn/babies sales. Adding five new English Angora rabbits to the rabbitry was the first step. The fact that all five were related (mother, father, and three babies) didn't matter because we had others who were related to breed to. That was until our original angoras died before the newly purchased does reached breedable age (for us 1 year old). Now our angoras are related so no babies which are the biggest money maker (on average $400 per litter x 5 does). It would have easily paid our property taxes, electricity and feed bills for a year.

Losing my buck American Chinchilla this past spring, stopped my meat rabbit production. Mel's adversity to butchering rabbits has kept me from purchasing a new breeding trio. She didn't have to butcher them, I did that. But she preferred cuddling all rabbits. She'd even cuddle the wild cottontails if she could catch them. So we are out of the meat raising side of the rabbitry. A shame too! I do love me some rabbit almost as much as I like venison. We've seen deer on our property all year long, but now that it's deer season...not a cute face to be seen. Sigh! At least, there is an abundance of squirrels to feed the dogs with.

Striving to be sustainable and self reliant is a costly proposition on this homestead. The best laid plans versus the reality is a huge difference. We've had our shares of ups and downs over the past two years. While Mel has been out of work for a year, stuff is getting done on the homestead. She does the manual labor and I foot the bill. It seems like an even trade. Meanwhile, we are planning the third year's growth of our Cockeyed Homestead. Plans are being made for a bigger garden, one that will fulfill our needs for a year without having to purchase extra from surrounding farms. The groundwork for the orchard's five-year plan is underway. While it is slow going now, soon we'll see the fruits of our labor.

My original five-year plan is out the window. But our lives have been enriched by the journey so far. We are happier and healthier than ever before. Mel's depression is starting to be offset by faith. I still expect the SAD to be bad this year, but not as bad as last year. I can see God working and so can she. That makes a huge difference. How bad it really gets, I'll just have to wait and see. I just may have to runaway for a couple of months because I'm not going to put up with it again. I hate to do it but I have to love me too.

So that's it for my reality check.

Y'all have a blessed day.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Still Prepping the Orchard *Sigh*

We've had an unseasonably warm November so far. I think we've only lit the wood stove three or four times so far. I know this will change, but for now it's great. Thank goodness! Preparing the organic orchard with cardboard and hay has taken longer than expected. Doesn't all plans versus reality? We started on the lower tiers first so the upper tiers are yet undone as you can see in the picture. It takes two weeks to do one 8' x 75' tier. Ah, if only we were younger and both able bodied. It would all be done by now. Or am I just kidding myself?

The rains has also delayed us. Not that I'm complaining. I don't think I'll ever complain about too much rain again after the drought of 2016. I guess we could continue to work in the rain, but we have heavy clay soil. It's like walking on a oil slick when it gets wet. When you are talking about a sloped access to the lower levels, it's a downhill slide quite literally. We err on the side of safety here. We could easily slide all the way down and off the twenty-foot drop at the bottom tier. No thank you! Besides, being older folk, we ain't ducks, rainy weather with its winds racing down the hollow, is for the insane carrying large pieces of cardboard as sails. And scattering straw, fuggedaboutit.

I've come to the realization that it'll get done when it gets done hopefully before the freezing temperatures set in. If not, then it will have to wait until spring thaw. I'm just not going to worry about it. At my age, things just don't have the immediacy it once did. It's better to enjoy life than killing yourself getting it done.

It truly doesn't help that Mel took another tumble and cracked a bone in her forearm two weeks ago. No, as usual, she didn't go to the doctor. She hates them all. She depended on her common sense and "Dr. Jo" to diagnose her problem. It was fairly obvious over time. No nerve or mobility impairment. Just pain with certain movements and point tenderness. It lasted for days so it wasn't a sprain or deep bruise. Of course, it could still be the last two, but treating it as a hairline fracture is the same treatment.
It's only common sense, right? If it hurts, don't do that. If you are tired, rest.Who needs x-rays and doctors at today's price of several hundred bucks to diagnose it? Why does it seem the younger folk out there seem to have been standing behind the door when God handed it out these days. I noticed it in general observation of my children and grandchildren. They have a lot of "Doh!" moments when shown the sensible way to do something. I mean, I'm older, brain damaged, and have multiple CRAFT (can't remember a freaking thing) moments, but still I'm capable of common sense. Enough of this rant.

I also finally got my new shoes! I'm a lot more stable upright and less chance of a pressure sore developing. My foot brace needs the support of my shoe to work properly. With the new shoes, I'm more active. Yippee! I'd be going like gang busters if it wasn't raining. But rainy days the work of the homestead doesn't stop for me. There's baking to be done, herbs to dry (yes, the warmer weather means they are still growing), clothes to wash, etc. I'm still playing at making hard cheeses. But, it's a lot less attractive, or self-sufficient, or sustainable when you have to purchase the milk to make cheese.

So work continues on the orchard and around the home of the homestead. Until next week...

Y'all have a blessed day.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Trying Something New- Making Hard Cheese

I tried something new this week...making hard cheese. We are cheese fiends in this household. Cheese omelets, grated cheese in dishes, cheese and crackers, or even just slicing it and eating it.

Don't get me wrong. Any self respecting homesteader has made cheese. I'm no different. I've made half a ton of cream cheese, cottage cheese, ricotta cheese, and other herbed spreadable cheese before, but never a cheddar or even a semi hard cheese like Swiss.

My excuse...I didn't have the molds,nor weights, nor a press. Then I figured I didn't need a fancy smancy cheese press or cheese molds the online places sold. I went to my favorite place to learn something new...YouTube. There isn't much that you can't find. I also bought one of those Ricki Carol kits. The one with various cultures and rennet. It also came with cheesecloth, a thermometer, a strainer basket, and instructions. I much prefer my flour sack dish towels than cheesecloth. It's more sustainable.

My friend in North Carolina had sent me home with a gallon and a half of frozen goat milk. Mel was tired of "tripping over" all those
Mel built hers with 16" bolts
quart bags in the freezer when she was trying to find something. She had made herself a book press a while back because she wanted one. I simply repurposed it into a cheese press. I had some leftover 3" PVC pipe from when we made our rabbit poo removal system to use as a mold. I didn't have to pay another penny.

All I needed was to fashion was the follower that moved freely inside the pipe on to the scrap pile. We tried several ready made options, like a wide mouth canning lids, but the all could not stand the pressure. Mel then took a leftover piece of 1x4. She cut the insert and sanded it. We finally had something that would work...sort of. It took several cuttings and sanding attempts before we got it perfect. By using wood as a follower, the wood would get wet and swell. After a while, the follower wouldn't move freely in the PVC. So wood would not be the best option, but it's what we had. We also pulled small blocks from the scrap pile to take up the space between the follower and the top of the book press/cheese press.

The weights were empty, gallon milk jugs filled with water. 1 gal of liquid= 8 1/3 pounds. I figure 1 jug equaled about 10 lbs or at least close enough for just playing around. If I was successful and I liked making hard cheese, a yard sale or Goodwill would have a set of standard weights cheaper than new. First we'd have to buy the dairy goats to supply my cheese making endeavors. Right now, I was playing with options. Who knows, I could hate the process and not want to do it again. No sense in spending my nickles and dimes yet.

Now I was ready to make cheese! I mixed enough cow's milk with calcium chloride with the partially thawed goats milk to make two gallons of liquid. working with full gallons is a lot easier than cutting a rennet tablet into 1/8th or 16ths. Then I placed it in a large, heavy bottomed pot. I gently brought the combined liquid up to temperature. I added the culture and let it bloom in the warm milk. I added the required rennet. It was instant gratification to see curds forming as I stirred it in. I put the pot in a warm water bath to let the curds finish forming.

Now many folk will cut the curds very precisely. I'm a one handed homesteader and don't have a lot of patience. I used a wire whisk to cut my curd. I didn't need perfect cubes. I just needed it cut fairly uniform and the whisk did the job. It was a whole lot simpler.

I cooked off the curds and strained them dry. I poured the curds into the mold. I retained the whey for ricotta cheese later. But that's another process.

I have to say, that I'm actually pleased with the result.  Did you know that cheddar cheese is made by cheddaring the curds? I didn't. I thought this was kind of neat. It seemed a shame to have to break that glossy, smooth cheddared cheese up to add salt, but I did.

I air dried, to set the rind, 1 1/2 pounds of pressed cheddar. The bits and pieces that did not fit into the mold for the first weighted pressing was put in a bowl with cream, garlic and herbs for an overnight aged treat to be eaten with crackers. After all, the cheddar won't be aged for 3 months to a year before it's ready to eat.

As with most homesteads, the Cockeyed Homestead believes in waste not, want not. Everything has a second or third use. The whey was turned into ricotta cheese. Add some day old cream cheese, homemade sour cream, and leftover cottage cheese and we had the start of my infamous baked cheesecake. Just something else to nosh on while we are waiting.  Topped with my Triple Berry Delight jam made this summer as an extra fine treat. Yum!

After all is said and done, I may be investing in some weights. Cheese making is a labor of love and time. I can see myself doing this again. Now, about them goats... :o)

Y'all have a blessed day!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Working in the Orchard and Garden Planning

We've finally seen the last of 80+ degree temperatures for the year, we hope. But still we may don sweatshirts in the morning but are shucking them off by 11. And now, our work begins in the planned orchard. Our homestead is pretty much a hands on type of endeavor. We don't have huge tractors or machinery to do what we need to do. It's all hands on manual labor. Sure we hire out some things, like building the new driveway and the clearing of the orchard area, that's only smart thinking. It can be done quicker and it's less wear and tear on our bodies. We ain't spring chickens anymore going on our 60th year on this planet. I'm well into the fall hen stage and looking forward to my next stage of life. All the rest of the work is up to us. In organic gardening, you get up close and personal with your food. To me, it makes it taste so much better when the love that goes into them returns to boost the flavors and nutrition.

With our wood shed filled and the garden put to bed until spring, we are now able to tackle the orchard. It's slow going when it's only one and a half women working. With the purchase of a lawn tractor, I'm now able to venture down the tiers of the orchard more easily and safely. I've taking quite a few tumbles and falls lately. Mel Jerry-rigged a hitch that would allow us to pull the lawn cart behind it. This helped her finish the chicken coop by allowing her to stack all the necessary items from the barn to the chicken area.

I'm happy to report that the chicken coop and run are finally complete. All but the two extra roosters, we still haven't culled them, are in there. Yes, finally! I can look forward to having a productive garden in the spring. I've only been saying this for two years now. But now, it's finally done. No more gathering eggs from four different locations. No more chickens to eat sprouted seed, seed, nor sunbathing in newly planted areas. No more chickens eating almost ready to harvest produce. Of course that also means, more bugs to deal with, but I can handle that. We ferment non gmo grain for the chickens and supplement their diet with commercial, organic feed. For added calcium for the layers, we'll fine grind dried egg shells and feed it back to them. About a cup of ground egg shells to 12 cups of fermented grain is the ratio we use. The commercial layer pellets are given as a treat during the day. Leftover cooked grains, breads, meat, and vegetables are scattered in the evening. Our chickens feast like kings, but they also feed us.

 We will be laying the cardboard down in a thick layer to suppress any unwanted weeds. It will also encourage the earthworm population. We've broken down all that have come into the house including soda boxes, Mel and I are both heavily addicted to sodas for months now. But this will not be enough for our orchard space. We'll have to go into town several times for box and pail runs at our local grocery stores to cover the area. We pick up empty frosting, pickle, and such to reuse on the homestead. These have multiple uses on the homestead.

We'll be picking up two rolls of wheat straw to spread over the top of the cardboard. Mind you this is also over about a foot of wood chips. It may seem like all of this is over kill, but the results of the fine composted soil in the spring is worth it. The next layer will be composting manured straw from the chickens and rabbits. Although we don't have a year's worth, it may cover half of the area. I will also sprinkle lime, blood and bone meal to it to add the nitrogen booster it all needs to compost. After that, It's up to mother nature to water it all in over the winter.

You may wonder why I'm bothering to travel and pick up wheat straw where there are tons of hay nearer to me. Wheat straw has channels which allow air, water, and nutrients to pass through it. If it's moldy straw, all the better. It will compost fast. If the straw is seedy, the wheat grass or clover that sprouts will be fed to the rabbits and chickens. Those inky, black mushrooms that also sprout up can be harvested for black dye for wool. Nothing goes to waste on this homestead. We just harvest it and use it.

Car park before clearing
I  did the same to our vegetable patch on a much smaller scale. This year I'm also trying something new this spring. Straw bale gardening. The area where the fence (the edge of our garden patch) is in the picture was cleared of Spanish Bayonets and a tree stump by our hero Bobby when the driveway was put in. The fence is now rolled up and put away for the winter thanks to Mel's moveable fence posts. It is a driveway or parking area close to the house. In fact we can almost back up to the front steps.

I was thinking of a way to border the garden area along this short 25' area without using fencing and build up the soil in this new area. This seems to be the way to go. After two years, I'll have a thick layer of composted material in which to plant. I was thinking of planting green peas and green beans in the bales. I'm also thinking of transplanting my rosemary and lavender into a couple of bales along the far side too.  The rosemary and lavender will have years of material to digest as they grow. Especially since the three peach trees, now residing in one corner of my garden, will be moved down into the orchard in the spring.

As vegetables finish their life cycle including making seed for next year, they will be replace with other herbs and vegetables until cooler weather returns to us once more. I can companion plant Diakon radishes, Napa and regular cabbage, carrots, leeks, onions, and such. I usually plant my peppers into between my tomatoes in case you were wondering. I do love my sauerkraut and kim chi for some fabulous probiotic eating. All of these are early spring and fall plantings.

I also plan on setting t-posts or Mel's moveable fence posts and old fence to supports some vegetables while others get recycled pallet A-frame supports.

After all, it's reuse and repurpose first on this Cockeyed Homestead.

Y'all have a blessed day.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Touching Email and Thank You Readers

I received an email from a lady in Tennessee a couple of weeks ago that touched my heart greatly. It touched my heart at a time when I really needed it. You see the middle of October is a very sad time for me. It's my wedding anniversary, and my beloved's anniversary. It's a difficult reminder of what I've lost with his death. Last year, I could work through it with busy work on the homestead. This year, I was off my feet with a pressure sore on my foot and left to muddle in my thoughts. I was pretty down when I received the email.

I have readers that have been with me for a year. Only a few actually comment, but other email me through the contact option. Sometimes, I forget what an impact my blog has on others. I'm just chatting away on things in my life. It's a saga...a never ending story that is my life on the homestead. I hope to inspire, motivate, and bless others with my blogs here and at the Murphey Saga (my living post stroke blog).

I don't always know for sure even with the hit counts in the analysis charts. Many may just scan a bit and find out it's not what they were looking for like I do when researching a subject. The internet is great for that. But to know someone is actually reading and digesting what I've written is great. To know that I've actually succeeded in my goal is awesome. It is a reaffirmation to me that I really am answering a calling by blogging. It's really the only way I know I'm reaching people.

Yes, this blog is new. Yes, I've barely advertised it. Readers would have to search to find it. I know, I know. As a former marketing consultant, I should do better. But I'm busy operating a homestead to FaceBook (Mel does though), Tweeter, Instagram, Pinterest and all that other marketing jazz. In fact, I'm paying for a website that I've done nothing with.

I guess it would be different if I was really marketing a product like I did with my nonfiction and novels. Eventually, we'll probably get there. We're just not there yet. Sure we have angora wool to sell. but honestly, it's sold or used as soon as we harvest it now. Which is fabulous, right? But I digress.

I just wanted the say to my readers...