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, May 28, 2017

Homesteading Know Hows~ My Story

So how do you learn how to homestead anyhow? Read a book? Talk to elders like great grandparents? Search the internet? Trial and error? Attend a seminar or conference?

All of the above. How did I get started, you may be wondering.

I listened to stories at my mother's and grandmother's knee as a child. You see my grandmother was born in the late 1800's. Her family immigrated from Germany to farm the American plains of Missouri, Iowa and finally Nebraska. My mother was teenager during WWII in Japan in both Fukoka (farming island) and Nagasaki (atomic blast site). Both of these elders knew deprivation and creating something from nothing. Even back then, I was a curious child and loved learning. I actually preferred the company of my elders than children my own age. I listened and asked questions. I absorbed all those life stories like a sponge. My grandmother actually wrote all her experiences down in a journal that was self published by my family upon her death. I wish my mother had, but her command of the English language was limited. My father had inherited my great uncle's farm. But that was not to be. He never lost the farming mentality until he was well into his 70s. So as you can see, it was in my genes.

Although being a modern young woman, I never thought I'd actually live that life or use that experience. But I'm a firm believer that knowledge is the one thing no one can take away from you. Learning never stops, thank God! No knowledge is ever wasted. My mother used to say, "there will be an again." My father was also on embassy duty so we traveled world wide including a few third world nations. My  brain soaked it all up. So I squirreled away those tidbits for maybe later use.

I guess this really hit home when I had my own children. Back in the 70s, there were gas shortages and grocery prices went up by a huge amount. I had more responsibilities than just me and my husband. The future generation was at stake. I've always been a health conscious type of gal. My career path was medical. I was well into my nursing studies. I loved the nutrition and science classes the best. While in my anatomy physiology class, I started breaking out in hives. By the process of elimination, I discovered I was allergic to the formaldehyde used to embalm the animals I was dissecting. So I wore latex gloves before universal precautions and AIDS. My earlier initiation (my grandmother's stories) about shortages during the Great Depression came to the forefront.

I started reading labels before it was the in thing to do. Especially after I developed a case of the constant sniffles. I found that formaldehyde was an ingredient in my grocery store purchases. It is used as a preservative just like embalmed people and animals. Not only was I allergic to contract with this chemical, but I was developing a internal or systemic allergies as  well. Unfortunately for me, it meant having to make my own bread. But that was okay. I learned how to do it when younger. See no knowledge is wasted. It also reinforced my mother's "there will be an again" principal. My children didn't need all the chemicals that were in store bought bread either.

As you can see the influence of what I'd learned from my elders had a huge impact on me. They showed me how to survive and make my life better. Although I'd never thought I'd ever use it at the time. I started eliminating all processed foods from our diet. I went to local farmers markets to buy my fresh produce instead of grocery stores. With a growing family, a large amount of food was needed.

Canning jams and jellies are most people's first foray into canning. I was no different. We had several You Pick farms within an hour of the city. I started with strawberry jam because I can't ever get enough of it. Then came grape jelly, my husband's favorite. Soon, I was a canning maniac. Tomatoes, pickles, peaches, apples, blueberries and a host of other things soon followed. I started small because of financial restraints. Every year I bought four cases of jars. Two cases of quart and two cases of pint jars. It wasn't much at the time because I was in college, working, and raising a family. But little by little it adds up. Soon, I was canning six months to a year's worth of fruits and vegetables each year. With a family with three kids and eventually five, every penny counted. We also bought a freezer. Whatever I didn't water bath canned was frozen.

I followed my mother's example. Every year with the tax refund, she bought half a cow, half a pig, and poultry. Meats like turkeys and hams, always go on sale at Thanksgiving or Christmas so an extra one or two would be bought and stuck in the freezer. I ended up buying a small chest freezer just for milk. I'd catch a good sale and stock up. I was well on my way to being self sufficient (sort of) and a prepper before I was twenty-five.

Jump ahead a decade, now I was organically growing most of my own produce, eggs, and rabbit meat. A house fire set off all my histamines. My allergist tested me with two hundred little contact points. Let's just say that I failed that test miserably. It's easier to say what I didn't show a reaction to; corn, strawberries, and pine. Most of the other pinpoints rated 3 out of 4 and too many 4 out of 4s. After two years of shots, I never reached a maintenance dose. Growing my own wasn't a fad thing to do but a necessity even with the allergy pills, nose sprays and eye drops. I also was prescribed an Epi-pen. Yes, my allergies were that severe as to impact my breathing.

A lot of what and how to grow vegetables came from my mother and grandmother. The organic growing techniques were all from my mother. Then came the research part. I found a book called, "Putting Food By." I love this book! It taught me how to cook everything. Pre-packaged and processed foods were history after reading it. I could make my own and eat healthier to boot.

I had a friend that showed me how to water bath can low acid foods.  It's not recommended but it can be done. I did this for about five years before I bought my pressure canner. We never got sick from anything I canned this way, but I still won't recommend canning food this way.

I also started experimenting with herbal remedies. Again, it was my mother and grandmother that showed me the way. I actually bought books and got a degree in herbal studies. While most of the country was pop this or that pill, I was using herbs and weeds. I started making my own soap during this period and aromatherapy. I was well on my way to being self sufficient and a homesteader without realizing it.

Fast forward a couple more decades and here I am. It took two husbands, my children growing up and having families of there own for me to get away from the city, and urban homesteading. Each time I moved along the way, I bought more and more land expanding my knowledge base along the way.

Will we ever be totally self sufficient, I doubt it. We are too small to be. Maybe classify us as a small hobby farm at best, but we are doing our own thing as much as possible. I kind of like throwing a switch and having a light come on. But I can live without air conditioning in the hot Georgia summers so long as the air circulates around me. I keep warm in the winter with wood in our wood stove. I prepare meals with propane. One tank full of propane has lasted us over a year of cooking and canning, and we've only used 50% of the tank. Our electricity bill is about half of our cell phone or internet bill so we aren't doing too bad in energy use.

But even so, push come to shove we can live without these luxuries to...except for maybe the water well pump. If we didn't sit on the side of a granite hill side, a hand pump water source would work. Even so we are experimenting with a rain catchment system to water our garden and livestock. We are even looking to build a ram pump that runs between the creek and homestead. Those two systems are only viable when we aren't in a drought situation like last year. Over 100 days without rain. Even with all the winter and spring rains, and some residual hurricane rain bands, we are still recovering from it. That starts us out at a loss for this year.

Oh at this point, I will mention about homestead communities. They are a rarely tapped resource. When small homesteads band together, all needs can be met. By talking, bartering, and trading, everyone makes a difference. Small homesteads can survive and flourish.

Anyhow, this is how I got started in homesteading. It took listening to my elders, reading books and doing my research, trial and errors, going to seminars, conferences, and even college. But mostly, it took time and willingness to try it. Now, I'll admit, I could have done it faster, but I was too busy living my life.

As always...
Y'all have a blessed day.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

More Deaths on the Homestead and Update

Once again we have two more RIPs to report this week. Mel's beloved special needs cat, Devon Angel has gone to the big litter box in the sky. He has always been a sickly, mentally retarded cat since birth. He would rally and start failing. He did this for seven years. We dosed him repeatedly all winter long with various antibiotics. At times, we fed him bone broth through a syringe and against all odds he survived the winter.

On a beautiful spring day this week, Mel carried him outside to his favorite spot and for hours he scratched a fallen tree limb and enjoyed the sun on his body. We knew it was coming. This was his last rally. For days he had neither drank or eaten. The odor of death bombarded my sinuses when I was near. Isn't it a strange ability to have? Being able to smell death approaching? But it is a sense I've had since childhood. Later that evening, he died.

The second death was Kieran, my meat rabbit buck. This was totally unexpected. You might remember Kieran got out of his cage a couple weeks ago and was sowing his wild oats with the local rabbit population. A sweeter dispositioned rabbit as I could ever ask for. He was a fantastic sire for our meat rabbit needs. I walked into the greenhouse and found him. I was doing my morning chores which included watering the seedlings. It looked like he had suffered a shoulder injury. But he returned home to die. The greenhouse entrance is in front of Colleen's cage. It looks like the local pet store has closed so we are currently out of the meat rabbit mode. I may buy more, but not immediately. I've had Kieran for three years and he was my boy. I usually tend not to be too sentimental about meat stock, but this death stung.

We've had more of our share of death and dying on this homestead in the past three seasons. What with losing the angoras during the summer heat wave. Bennie Dufus getting hit by a car over the Christmas holidays. The predator attacks that wiped out three quarters of our chicken flock over the winter. Even this morning I found one of our Jersey Woolie/Lionhead bucks dead. Hopefully this streak is over. I know. I know. Death is part of homesteading. You do what you can, but it happens. It's the reality of homesteading. But I'm not without feelings. I'm not heartless. Even butchering our animals for our needs, is done in reverence and with respect for the life given. We love all our animals. Death is never easy. Some sting more than others, but we continue to move forward.

This blog started out really morbid. Now onto other things with a more brighter outlook. The chicks, although they've gotten so big that they don't resemble the tiny puff balls they were, are doing well free ranging on their own on the property. They still are scared of us, but I have found that if I sit still they will come within hand reach of me.  All twelve have survived! Yippee! I had expected to loose a few. They are now flying, eating, scratching, fighting, and getting into my garden like regular chickens. We do have two roosters each of Buffs and RIRs.

The new carport rabbitry/chicken house will be delivered on the 25th. Then the building of the run and dual coop begins. The chicks will hate being cooped up. They have taken to roosting on the porch rail at night. So they'll be fairly easy to relocate once it's complete. We've been so busy with dismantling the old coop, spring cleaning, and the garden...we forget to bring the camera along until well into the projects at hand. Bad us. We'll have to do better.

Our four remaining New Hampshire Red hens will continue to free range. They've taken to roosting in different spots at night. Each one in a separate spot instead of as a flock. Without a rooster to corral them, they've taken to doing their own thing. They won't associate with the chicks other than to pick on them. One hen we've named Brat. She picks and mounts all the others. She is copying Cuddles' old habits as lead hen now that Cuddles is gone. Brat is taking on rooster characteristics now too with a larger comb and wattle. I'm expecting to see tail feathers any day now. This isn't as strange as it sounds. It happens in roosterless flocks. The only problem is this hen is not the protector and provider for her flock. She is a greedy bully. She chases everyone away from the food. She attacks the other hens at will. She may be destined for the canner if she continues.

Our injured New Hampshire Red, Broody, is doing well. She still only has use of one leg, but she's laying eggs again. She is now not the low man in the hierarchy the chicks are. So she is hobbling along. She does have some use of her affected leg, but it's not that much. She is friendly and still allows me to pick her up to cuddle/ save her. She follows me around the yard. While she cannot roost high up like the others, she settles down under the porch at night. I always feed her the looses seeds from the fodder system so each morning she hops to the rabbitry. She's happy and healthy other than the bum leg. I'm glad I decided not to cull her this winter.

All the other animals on the homestead are faring well. With the warmer temperatures the bugs have returned in abundance. Several butterflies, moths, and bees are busy pollinating our plants. As soon as the carport/rabbitry/chicken house are done other destruction/construction begins. The new driveway goes in. The electrician rewires/restructures the panel box for the house with dedicated circuits for the barn, rabbitry/carport, and the rabbitry/storage. The plumber comes in to work on the well water pipes. A long list of need to do comes into play.  One step at a time.

Until next week...
Y'all have a blessed day!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Summer Use of Our Cockeyed Greenhouse and Update

Our hoop greenhouse normally is empty during the summer. Why? Because it's too darn hot. With outside temperatures ranging around the 100 degree mark, why would we need it? Plants would wilt. The average humidity is lower here than my previous homestead (80-90% constant at the old place). I never needed a greenhouse. We'd hover around freezing for two weeks each winter. This place is at a higher elevation so the greenhouse comes in handy during late fall and winter.

This year we are stripping the plastic off for summer. The cattle panels, that make up the hoop section, will allow for climbing plants. The plants will also provide a shady area for tender plants that so better in partial shade or need a little bit cooler weather like lettuces. I do love me some rabbit food...Mel not so much, but she'll eat it if I put it on her plate.

It's just as well. Mel used duct tape to join areas of plastic. It didn't last. We'd have to recover it again before next cold season anyhow. I personally love the idea because of all the built in benches makes it easier to care and harvest the plants. No kneeling for this girl. The rabbits we housed in the greenhouse over the winter left us with a deep bedding layer of straw and rabbit poo for the garden almost six inches thick. We've placed it as slow release fertilizer, compost, and mulch on the strawberries and asparagus beds.

The cold snap last week and heavy rains for the last two weeks hadn't deterred us from planting our garden either. We did it between the rain falling. Slowly but surely, we've got it planted. The five-foot fencing is doing a great job of keeping the big hens out. I did a number of posts about the chickens getting into our garden last year. By the end of the season, not much was left for us. Not this year though.

We've rethought our rabbitry over the winter. I went out and bought a single car carport. They should be delivering it in a couple of weeks. We are sort of going back to our original design for the rabbitry. The cages will be hung from roof of the 12x21 structure. This will allow for the larger cages and every bunny will be happier. Each buck will have a 24x30x24 cage and every doe will have a 24x36x24 cage. Each doe's cage will have a drop down nest box for kindling purposes. Except for the meat rabbit does will have 30x36x24 cages. They are big at 10-14 lbs. With babies, they'd run out of room fast as their kits grow before weaning.

We'll be bordering the litter/poo area under the cages with wood so it doesn't go everywhere. This is my chief complaint with the hutches. So much poo is lost and hard to retrieve. We are always tracking it everywhere. Nobunny will be over or under another rabbit. How will we keep it cool for our angoras? Two hurricane fans to keep the air circulating and frozen juice bottles. If they suffer, we can always bring them back into the air conditioned old rabbitry.

So what are our plans for the old rabbitry? We'll scrub it out thoroughly and store our canned, and dry goods in there. With the insulation in the floor, walls and roof, the temperature didn't drop below 50 degrees in it this winter. That's with below freezing temperatures for several weeks. I brought my storage shelves from my old
homestead with me when I came here. So they will have a home at last. The food stuff will have a proper home too instead of stuffed into every available nook and cranny. It will be easily accessed for me via the handicap ramp that will run between the summer enclosed porch and the rabbitry. Although I trust Mel's carpentry skills, I'm hiring a carpenter to build the two ramp (off the front and back porches). It will just be done faster. She's only one woman and the new chicken coop and run still have to be built. Plus about a dozen other things that need doing around the homestead.

The plan for the back ramp will have enough room to push my wagon up and down. I'm still only a single handed person. I am planning for a 6' deck off the storage building that is level with the storage building. A big enough area to turn the wagon around on and not be to tight. Yes, the little tree in front of the building is still alive in spite of our efforts to kill it. This will also make it easier for Mel to bring up wood from the wood shed in winter too.

I'll be calling the contractor who is going to be doing all of our electrical, plumbing, and grading of our driveway this coming week. We had to get Mel's truck fixed first. I figured I could spend a few thousand to get a four wheeled drive truck, or keep my van and put in the driveway. I chose the driveway. The driveway has gotten even worse over my past year here and will only get worse. It needs to be done. I noticed following Mel up it, when we took her truck to the shop, that she had to put it in four wheel drive mode to get up in one spot. Her wheels were just spinning clay and rock. Luckily my van has a shorter wheel base so I missed it and had no trouble this time.

This summer we might just have some air conditioning in the house without circuits overloading. At least that's the plan. We are having a proper water line put in between the house and the well pump. It will be trenched to the proper depth too. No more piece meal fixed of broken water lines. No more waiting to have running water into the house during winter. I had enough this past winter of filling jugs the after the pipes thawed enough to let the trickle of water come through. I've also arranged for 275 gallon water totes to be delivered for our water catchment system. This will water the gardens and provide the animals with a fresh supply of water. Yes, I could have saved money on just picking them up, but we can only fit two at a time in the back of Mel's truck. The gas going back and forth to pick them up more than made up for the delivery charge. Now we just have to set it all up.

They'll be some major changes coming to our homestead this year. Stick around. I'll keep you posted.
As always,
Y'all have a blessed day.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Gardening at the Cockeyed Homestead

Since the Cockeyed Homestead is such a heavily wooded, small parcel of land, we have a rotation planting system to provide what we need for the year. After all only 1/4 acre is actually cleared and that includes the double wide trailer, a 20x24 barn and a 8x12 rabbitry also in the same 1/4 acre. Not much room for a garden, huh? But yet the planned garden will produce enough food for the two of us for 6 months to a year.

We garden in a 25x25 ft trapezoid shaped area in the front yard. That's not a huge space. The longest section borders the barn. There is a 10 ft wide driveway between the garden and the barn. Another driveway borders the front and right side of the garden area. The house is at the southern border (yellow arrow is direction of the sun). We plant double rows. We planted corn, pole beans, and black oil sunflower seeds in the longest bed. Not a whole lot of each, but enough for us to have a year's worth of corn for the freezer, pole beans to eat fresh, and sunflowers to sprout for the rabbits and chickens to supplement their diets.

The second row has tomatoes for fresh eating on one side and Roma tomatoes for canning on the other side. We've planted a single row of onions in the middle. That's about three quarters of this row. Last year, we went through 35 quarts of sauce and diced tomatoes. We also planted zucchini, and a few okra plants at the top of this row. We separated the plantings with old tires planted with red potatoes.

The third row, was dedicated to canning produce in the form of cucumbers and bush green beans. Not all the cucumbers will be pickled, but a good portion will be. The two crops is separated by an elevated raised bed (1'x3') of spearmint and lemon balm. These are terribly invasive so we maintain them in an elevated raised bed.

We have two 3x6 beds with garlic and onions (G) and strawberries (S). One 4x8 bed(A) that we've sown asparagus seed into. Yes, we know it will take several years to have good root stock for great stalks. We can wait. The boxes marked with an H are our elevated raised beds of herbs on either side of the gate facing the house.

Rosemary and lavender are planted on either side of the front gate between driveways. Eventually the plan is to have elevated raised beds of each herb we plant. The plan calls for both medicinal and culinary herbs to have enough to sell. Since the beds are made from pallets, they are 4X4. 

We have an orchard space diagonal to the barn down a twenty foot slope that levels out a bit before the drop off to the fresh spring water creek that borders one side of our property. We've got oaks, apples, peaches, blueberries, raspberries, black walnut, and pecan trees planted here. Eventually, we have plans to plant muscadine grapes here too.

Along the downward slope we've seeded with wheat and barley seed. This will enrich the soil for future gardening or continue to be grain or flax growing areas. We do cover crops of this type to stop erosion and fuel our organic growing endeavors. In the area where our old chicken run was will also be seeded in this many also. We can scythe the grain for straw for bedding for our flock of chickens. Green manure for fertile new soil.

We have a patch 5x5 dedicated to dandelions and clover behind the greenhouse. This is for our rabbits free grazing pleasure once a few harvests are cut for our use. As we rotate this patch to other areas, a mixed variety of lettuces will be planted. These weeds, to most, have many medicinal uses. Speaking of medicinal uses for weeds, we have wild violets, blackberries, chickweed, and plantain running rampant on our property. As I find these plants I'm transplanting them into easier to harvested areas.

By rotating the crops within these spaces, we can double and in some cases triple our yield. By staggering our crop plantings we can grow things we use the most of like potatoes, leeks, onions and garlic twice a year always giving us a fresh supply year around. We take the plastic covering off our greenhouse about mid-spring allowing us an ample supply of fresh greens, peas, and other "cool weather" crops for a later harvest. The green tree cover allows for filtered sunlight and a drop of temperature for these plants. We eat fresh for as long as we can. By first frost, we will have canned, frozen, or cold stored all the vegetables we need for the gap between November through April.

Eventually, we will cut the trees that narrow our growing area, but for now...this is what we do. While we cannot grow enough wheat to be self sustainable, we do what we can. Without the purchase of several acres of additional land, we will not be totally self sufficient nor do we expect to be. But every step towards getting more self sustainable is one step towards being better off.

Until next week...
Y'all have a blessed day.