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, April 22, 2018

Seeding the Orchard Area

Everyone knows that when you have bare earth Mother Nature tries to fill it with something. Even under trees, something is growing. Take a walk through any forest and you'll see.

So we are beating Mother Nature to the punch once again and filling it ourselves. We are sowing orchard grass, diakon radish, and clover seed on our orchard tiers. If we don't seed it Mother Nature will with assorted weeds that we don't want plants there. That doesn't mean birds and wind won't carry seeds into this area. We do expect some especially since we only manages to cardboard and deep mulch one tier before the cold weather set in last year. We started this process way too late.

The number one reason for seeding the area late last fall was plant life helps stop erosion of the topsoil.We knew the winter rains run off would erode the tiers. Since the seeds we sowed did not get a chance to go to seed before the snows and freezes killed it off, we are resowing them this spring.

History showed us what can happen when soil erosion takes place. Especially, when man is involved. Remember reading about the Great Dust Bowl of the 1930s? My grandmother and father lived in Nebraska during it and it's in her journal. Yes, the cause was partially man made. It caused by the stripping away of large hectares of deep rooted grasses to plant crops by homesteaders in a five state area. Except one man made factor
coupled with one Mother Nature factor were working  against them.  The Great Depression and a drought. The farmers couldn't plant and sell their crops so they didn't plant. With no cover crop, the top soil blew off in wind storms. Now I'm not saying that my 1/4 acre bare spot of an orchard would cause a dust bowl situation, but erosion of top soil is never a good thing. So even though we knew whatever cover crop we planted wouldn't reach maturity, we sowed a crop last fall figuring it would help fight erosion and regrowth of other things we didn't want in this area.

We are still nine months to a year away from totally planting all the trees in this area, it will be a slow process as finances allow. It will be another five to ten years until all the trees have grown enough block out the sun under the trees but still these cover crops will be essential to keep Mother Nature from filling the void. By seeding the area now, we are allowing it to go to seed for the continued plant growth. I've already talked about the utilizing these crops in a previous blog. Remember one of our guiding principles, double or triple utilization of space on such a small homestead.

It's been busy work with first a pickaxe (yes, the clay was that hard) garden raking the area, using a hand held seed sower, and then brushing dirt over the area again with a leaf rake. Hand scattering Fescue hay over top is the last step we'll do. The hay will help keep the temperature up and hold in moisture for germination and protection for the seedlings. Rabbit love Fescue grass too. Remember each tier is 4' x 75', it just takes time. We watch the weather also. If we are expecting rain within three days, we'll sow seeds. If there isn't a rain storm within a week, we won't sow the seeds. It would be a waste,  the chickens and wild birds would eat the seeds before they could germinate. I'll do the raking while Mel does the pickaxing and sowing. We'll both scatter the flakes of hay to put the seeds to bed. By walking across the area this way, we ensure most of the seeds are making good contact with their soil bed. This alone is a couple weeks worth of a project. One and a half tiers are complete, only three and a half tiers to go. We wouldn't have got that much done if it hadn't been for our neighbor's fourteen year old grandson, Eli, helping us.

We were saved once again by a brother in Christ. He brought his Briggs and Statton tiller. Not only did he totally till the area in a couple hours, we had a very nice chat. Although I don't speak much about religion on this blog, I am an ordained minister. We both depend on our faith to carry us through. I do attest to God sending people in need others that can help you overcome obstacles. Such is the case with breaking the hard clay in the orchard.

Notice I didn't mention any other ground prep besides chopping up the ground and raking grooves in the soil. The whole area was covered in a scattering of leaves during fall. This has laid on top of the soil all winter long. It has been subjected to rain, sun and chickens during that time. I'm leaving the rest up to Mother Nature and God. I'm not growing a lush green lawn. It's just ground cover and some rabbit feed. If God and nature let's it grow abundantly, we are so much better. If not, then it just stops erosion and reseeding of plants we don't want. Whatever happens, it can't help but enrich the soil and condition it for whatever we plant later. Perfect ground work for an organic orchard.

Our free range rooster had fun in the hay
We aren't in a hurry to produce this area fast and now we don't have to break our backs doing it. This reason alone I am thankful for my brother in Christ who tilled the area for us.
 has been in the planning stage for two years before we finally terraced the land last year. So it takes two to ten years until we have abundant harvests to eat, barter, or sell...we've got time to lay great and firm foundations for future successes and blessings. Without a good back bone we cannot stand. This is what we are shooting for now. Each goal towards self sufficiency takes planning, hard work, patience, and faith. But isn't that true for anything in life? Sure even if we had tons of money to burn, it would be a faster proposition. At the very least, we could hire manual labor besides doing it ourselves. But that would take away our connection with the land and the process. With two handicapped, limited income, sexagenarian women working, the whole process is slow going, but worth every minute it takes.

Y'all have a blessed day!

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Lessons Learned in Homestead Gardening

For March, the weather is basically wonderful outside. Coolish, near freezing temperatures at night but up in the 60s and 70s during the days. It makes me want to plant the garden outside, but I know better. Just as soon as I put the plants out, it will freeze hard for several days. Just long enough of a freeze to kill whatever I've planted. It hasn't failed to do so the past two years I've been here.

With the warmer weather, Mother Nature has fooled plants into flowering. The roadsides and yards are full of Daffodils and tulips. All the peach trees are in full bloom. Our peach trees last year were in full bloom in April when an arctic blast dumped six inches of snow on us. The result was no peaches. None for the squirrels either. Usually, the squirrels hit my peach and apple trees very hard each year, but not last year. It was slim pickings for all of us.

This year, I've bought some small smudge pots in the hopes of fending off some of the damage these late freezes cause. When we get the 1/4 acre orchard planted we'll be looking for the larger ones, but for right now, these will work. We'll really be working for an abundant harvest this year of fresh fruit from our existing trees. I've invested in bird netting to protect the fruit from birds and maybe a few squirrels. I've also bought a gross of nylon stocking the bag out apples with to prevent the caterpillars and moths from munching on the developing fruit.

New to the orchard this year is the 3 1/2' x 3 1/2' raised pallet herb beds. Mel has been busy constructing these as I type. We are using commercial feed bags from the rabbits to line them before putting our soil mixture in them. Our soil mixture is 2 part native clay soil, 1 part peat moss, 2 parts compost, and for extra drainage we add 1 part sand. Herbs don't like standing in water. As far as "chemicals" go, we add 1/2 cup bone meal, 1/4 cup rock dust, and 1/4 cup blood meal. We'll add additional compost during the growing season for the herbs. This mixture is only added to our newly built beds. Last year's raised herb beds get a thick top dressing of compost. We use the underneath of the raised beds for making compost by layering leaves and rabbit/chicken used bedding.

Nothing goes to waste on our homestead and because of our limited space, everything does double or triple duty.

We've also got the beginnings of our raspberry and grape trellis system being built.  It's slow going with the hard packed Georgia clay. Mel is digging down three feet and placing 4x4x8s in the ground. We actually got the raspberry plants to go into the beds. I know, I know the trellis should have been built first, but I got some heritage canes on sale.  I'm still waiting on the grapes though until the trellises  are finished. I've been drooling over some blueberry plants too. This will complete the first 75' terrace. We've seeded the other terraces with a combination of orchard grass, clover, rye, and diakon radish seed. The rabbits and chickens will be eating well. I may leave a few diakon radishes to grow for me to eat too.

I love making pickled diakon and kim chi with diakon radishes. Yummy for my tummy! I'll even tempura fry the radishes instead of potatoes. They have a bite to them and hold up better like turnip roots. I also use diakon in soups and stews. Okay, I know. I'm making you hungry. I'll stop. This is another example of double or triple use. By seeding the bare soil, it prevents weeds from forming. Or at least, I'll grow the weeds I want.

I also plan on sowing dye flowers and plants in this for now empty part of the orchard. I may even plants some vegetables, I'm not sure yet. I don't expect much from the orchard area this year. But anything is better than nothing. Any plant life will enrich the soil by adding nutrients and help break up the hard clay. Why not let Mother Nature do the work for us if we can? It sounds like a win-win situation.

I know I'm not the only one who looks at huge expanses of gorgeous lawns around town and think, what a waste of space! Sure it looks nice, but other than that, where's the benefits? You could be having an edible food forest on that same landscape. Rip up even half of all that grass and you would never go hungry. Am I right? It only makes sense. I mean you have to weed it, fertilize it, and cut it to keep it looking nice. To me that's empty labor. I'd rather eat. Even when you have an expanse of green lawn, how about some sheep or some goats. They would cut it and fertilize it for you. Even chickens will dethatch it and fertilize it. You will have to do less work and they'll feed and clothe you except for maybe the chickens. I'm all for less work and more benefits. Maybe, it's just my cockeyed way of looking at things around me with a homesteading biased mind. Yes, that sounds better than crazy, doesn't it?

This week we've been revamping the bunny barn. All the cages were taken down and scrubbed. We do this twice a year. Not that we don't clean them in between, we do. But nothing beats a thorough scrubbing. Even the water bottles and J feeders get a once over. It's also the time we give our Angoras their summer crew cuts. Each rabbit is sheared of its fur. They also visit Madame Mel for their manis and pedis. Their ears are treated with mineral oil for treatment and/or prevention of ear mites. This is a quarterly thing with our rabbits. An intense trip to the beauty shop for their makeovers. Not that we don't groom them throughout the year, but this is labor intensive and takes both of us a full week for them all. When you have this much hair, trips to the beauty shop are essential every couple of days. These bunnies only weigh about three pounds with their summer crew cuts, but close to double that fully coated.

We are gearing up the chicken run to give them a constant source of green food. Yes, they'll still get the leftover fodder that the rabbits don't eat, but I was watching YouTube and they showed how to build a feeder out of wire inside the run. How neat is that?  Anyone that has chickens knows that wherever they are kept is devoid of any living plant in short order. So how to keep my hens happy and healthy, while protecting my garden, give them greens in their run. Since I ferment seed for them, it will be nothing to soak a cup or two extra to keep them in constant green food stuff. Even soaking scratch grain will work. It will also give them an activity to do. An unlimited salad for their pleasure. So that's the plan for one corner of the chicken run. But unlike the video, I'm going to build the framework out of 2x4 lumber. These birds weigh greater than five pounds a piece, I can see them crushing a wire set up rather quickly without the extra support. Let's see if Mel will let me build something?

That's it for this week.

Y'all have a blessed day.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

The Cockeyed Water Heater Went Boom

As I've said before, I'm an old hand at home repairs. There wasn't much of anything I couldn't fix or install before my strokes. I've always been pretty self sufficient  in that respect. I'm luckier than most unlike my roommate, Mel. Don't get me wrong. She's great at figuring out how to build stuff from basically nothing. But when it comes to mechanical repairs, she just doesn't have the knowledge to do these repairs or experience.

This week our water heater sprung a leak. After figuring out where the water was coming from, I told Mel to shut off the water and trip the circuit breaker to the water heater. She turned off the wrong 30 amp breaker. I really can't blame her for this, it's the cockeyed wiring in this trailer. If it's marked on the box, it's wrong. Then, she shut off the main water supply to the whole house at the well. I didn't realize this until the morning.

First of all the water heater is in a closet with an opening measuring 22"x 59" off the back porch. Once again, there's really not much room to work. I was missing my old homestead where I had everything in my garage including the well pump, but I was thankful (and so was Mel) that I'd done the handicap remodeling complete with ramps to the back porch.

The rats had made a home in the water heater closet. Droppings couple inches thick in some places and chewed insulation everywhere. I looked at the manufacture date of the water heater on the panel...1999. That and the fact that the water was coming from the base of the water heater was all the confirmation I needed. Yes, you guessed it. It had to be replaced. Another unexpected household replacement and repair job. It has been one thing after another since I've moved here. I told Mel that I could get our handyman to install it, but she said "No, I'll do it."

Luckily, replacing a water heater is not that big of a deal. It was electric versus gas. When I discovered this, I looked heavenward, and mouthed the words, "Thank you, Jesus!" I wouldn't have to talk Mel through the cleaning and soldering copper tubes. She's never done that before and doesn't even own a torch. It would be hard enough talking her through removing the old tank and the wiring. Darn my one-handedness!

So I went to the plumbing supply house and bought a new water heater. It was great. I told them the dimensions of the opening, the wire, the gallons, the amps and they did all the rest. It sure beat Lowe's and it was cheeaper too. I knew if Mel was installing it, it would be a two day process. First, she had to disconnect the old one, clean all the crap out of the closet space. While Mel cleaned out the drip pan (it was still in good shape), I put down some Tomcat rat poison. We don't have to worry about our animals getting in there...there's no room. Next she had to remove the new water heater from my van and get it into place. Since Mel doesn't even get motivated to do anything until at least 2 or 3 PM, it makes this a two day job because being early spring, the sun sets early and there's not enough light to work after it goes down. Also, we ain't spring chickens anymore at 60 or fast approaching it in Mel's case. We are having difficulty with lifting heavy loads. Water heaters aren't light.

I figured the more Mel learned how to do these repairs, the better off we'll be. Plus, I don't mind teaching. After I told her about the cut off valve at the water heater, we had water in the house again. I told her that everything that has water running to it should have a cut off valve like the toilets and sinks. If they didn't we'd better install them. After saying that, I went around the house and checked. I put no stock in what the previous owners did. They were there! I was shocked.

Mel found out that she had thrown the wrong circuit breaker when she touched the wires while disconnecting the old water heater. Surprisingly enough, a string of curse words didn't follow. Although, she did scream in surprise. Just to be extra safe she shut off all 30 amp breakers while she disconnected the wires. I don't blame her. Up to 600 volts can pass through those wires. Not that her electrical shock was that many volts.

She had watched several YouTube videos on replacing a water heater and read the installation manual thoroughly before she started too. Which made it easier on me. Thank you all of you YouTube creators out there. Why is it men folk don't read the manuals? It always puzzles me.

Mel manhandled the water heater out of my van, that it took two men to put in my van, put it on a hand truck and wheeled it inside the porch. The next step would take some finessing, lifting it into the closet and into the now cleaned drip pan. Mel figured it out. I'm so proud of her! Did I mention the opening was two and a half feet off the floor? Now I did. All the time, she was praising God for the ramps.

What's going on right now on the homestead?

Hot water now flows through our taps. Yippee! One more challenge conquered. Pat yourself on the back, Mel, for a job well done. Now there's all these dishes and clothes to wash. Did I also mention that I received my Zaycon order for skinless, boneless chicken thighs? I canned the bulk of it in strips and diced, and only left two bags for the freezer. Yummy for the tummy for months to come. The seeds are started for spring planting. I still have a hard time thinking of spring planting in May, but that's life in the north Georgia foothills. I did get my garlic and potatoes planted outside though. That's it for this week.

Y'all have a blessed day.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Wood Stove Heaters- Different Stokes for Same Results

No, that isn't a typo in the title. It's a play on words sort of. It's just the way my cockeyed, stroke addled mind works now. By the way, Happy Easter and April Fool's Day rolled into one. My goodness, it's April already!

Now that wood burning season is almost over, I thought I'd talk a bit more about wood stoves. I noticed a difference in the way Mel starts a fire in our wood stove heater and the way I do it. This is just an observation. I'm not saying that any way is right or wrong. We get the same results.

First let me say that we use fallen twigs and small branches for kindling. Then, we use larger pieces scraps of wood, branches (2" in diameter or a bit larger) for the third layer. We both layer these three layers the same.

Mel's way-

Mel lays crumpled paper and various sized twigs and branches for the base. The third layer is the same. No biggie. It's almost a no brainer for any fire starting technique except she'll make the third layer of  kindling twice as big as mine. She'll apply fire to it all. She'll light it in several spots. She'll let it burn for a about ten minutes and fuss with it before adding more larger pieces of wood to it. She'll poke and stir the fire every twenty minutes. She even sets her phone alarm. She'll get up and two-handed chuck pieces of wood and poke it down into the hot coals.

It's amazing how few pictures I have of me
Jo's way-

We layer the first three layer the same except I'll use a a thicker layer one and two of the twigs and half as much of the third layer stuff. I'll crisscross the layers as I go to insure good airflow. Then, I'll add the larger splits to the stack. Smaller to larger so it almost settles itself as it burns. I forego Mel's starting off the kindling and just load the fire box. After the firebox is loaded with several layers of wood, I'll light it off in one spot. I'll play a game of Canasta on my computer (20-30 mins), and then check to fire. I'll poke the fire a bit to get the wood settled downward after the twigs and paper are burned, and maybe chuck another piece or two into the fire box, but that's it. I won't have to touch it again for an hour to one-handed chuck more wood in. Meanwhile, Mel is up every twenty minutes to fuss with the fire for hours.

We get the same results with a toasty warmth of the wood stove. It's just my way is simpler with less fussing. Why the difference? There is the lure of the fire. There's something mesmerizing about a burning fire. It's a life entity of it's own. It dance and whirls around the wood as it burns. It's an ever changing landscape.  It's hypnotizing to watch. You get a sense of warmth even from a picture of a fire. Ever wonder about those fireplace videos on Netflix or other channels being hugely popular during the winter months...that's why.

For me, after being married to a firefighter of almost a score of years, I'm so over watching fires. The destructive nature of fires has killed any romantic notion I had with it. I need the fire in the wood stove to keep warm and that's it. I feed the fire to continue being warm. I have no love for fire. It has it's uses for heat and cooking, but if I never saw again, I'd be fine with it too. I guess the experiences of that marriage scarred me for life in more ways than this.

Which way do you start a fire? My way or Mel's? Do you have another way? I'd like the hear about it.

Y'all have a blessed day.