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, September 16, 2018

Planning for 2019: Too Early? How About the Next Five Years?

First, it's never too late or too early. I've been looking over my five-year homestead/ self sufficiency plan a pseudo business plan. I've done it every year for the past two years. I allowed for wiggle room in my plans, but I'm a year to two years behind. I tend to do this periodically. But as the growing season winds down, I look and start planning for the next year's goals. A where-do-we-go-next strategy building exercise essential for any operation be it homesteading or anything else while fulfilling your dreams.

What can I say, two Masters degrees in business and marketing are still useful even if it's used only in homesteading. My Momma used to say, "Knowledge gained is never wasted. It's something no one can take away from you."  I'm a firm believer in Plan A, Plan B, and even Plan C with adjustments along the way. I'm a Murphey too, so Murphy's Law is also set in stone.

My "business plan" includes:
  • When a project has started, estimated cost, when project is finished, and final cost breakdown on all levels. No one likes surprises when it comes to money especially on a fixed income.
  • Black Infrastructure improvements like roadways, bush hogging, transforming the property into usable space, alternative energy, and major building projects. This is my permanent changes for the homestead. Estimated cost breakdowns for each is in here too.
  • Green Infrastructure pertains to the gardens, orchard, rabbitry, and chickens (other livestock). They change from season or year. Estimated costs, maintenance, profit and loss are also included here.
  • I've also got a separate area that I call my Grey Infrastructure. These include improvements/repair/replacement of things we already have or would like to have that are under $250. Examples of this are the chicken coop and run, revamping the barn/workshop areas, an electrician to hard wire the barn, etc.
According to my initial five-year plan before I moved here, I should well be on my way to being self sufficient (75%) in groceries two years in. In reality, I've just reached 25%. We've had a rough three springs and growing seasons setting up our small, organic vegetable patch.

In fact, it wasn't until this year that we got it fully outlined and fenced the garden patch, and grown our own needs in tomatoes, green beans, and cucumbers for a year. The goats for milk and cheese, supplying our own poultry, and other sources of protein needs have slipped into future plans.   We will always be dependent on outside resources for beef. Sheep and pork may be in our future. Mel's gotta have her beef. It's looking more like 2019-20 to reach this initial goal. This will bring us up to 75%.

Terracing the orchard last year was only a year behind schedule. I grossly underestimated the manpower and time for this, and there's a little thing like money that's necessary.

Speaking of money. This, in a way,  has been our biggest delayer. First, Mel lost her job and still unable to find another one. That's a long story that I won't go into here, but it cut our income by almost half.

Then my daughter who moved into my south Georgia property had financial troubles. I ended up selling the property well below  value (almost $50K less- A Big Ouch!) just to get out from under the mortgage.

That short fall put a halt to any additional black infrastructure plans I made for two years. It slowed any future black infrastructure plans to a trickle which in turn impacted my green infrastructure plans too. I did manage to get the main driveway, the food storage building, the orchard terraced, a new deck and access ramps and a very few other things in the black and green infrastructure accomplished, but not near of what I wanted to accomplish.

There's no use crying over spilled milk. So instead of getting the major black list accomplished in two years, it will now be budgeted over ten years. You gotta roll with the punches and just keeping on.

Best laid plans and all that aside. We are still operating and building the ground work after almost three years here. We are making farther strides to being self sufficient just not as fast as I planned.Well, if it were easy, it wouldn't be cherished as much. For now, going totally off grid is pushed back until 2029, or there about.

You can only do what you can do. At least there is no mortgage here. We have had all our needs met. We are blessed.

We've had some really hard knocks and false starts where our chickens and rabbits go over the past two years. So instead of showing a profit, we are eeking by. They are still taking care of their expenses. That should change in the next six months with babies being born and more wool. The rabbitry has been more of a false start than a failure with the loss of our nonrelated breeding stock, now rectified with the addition of new breeding stock (Lil Albert and Cara), we start again. We aren't as flushed with nonrelated stock as we were two years ago, but it's a start.

We've got the chickens under control again. They aren't destroying the garden too. A repeat of losing 3/4 of the flock shouldn't happen again this winter. We might even start hatching eggs and meet our own poultry needs in Spring of 2019. I've downloaded plans for a grow out pen for the butchering chickens. That's a grey infrastructure deal. That would be another step big forward. I've been in contact with local, no chemical producers of lamb, pork, and beef so that will be another check mark towards being psuedo self sufficient in a protein source since Zaycon went belly up this year.

We'll be planting wheat, barley, and oats again in the orchard next spring. We'll replace the area with fruit trees and bushes as we go. It will go a long way in cutting our feed bills for our small livestock. I'm finally done with the research portion of us acquiring some pygora goats. We'll be starting on the goat pen in mid 2019. Whether we actually get the goats in 2019 or 2020 is still up for discussion. It's a fairly Green/Grey infrastructure expense of between $500-$1500. We'll have to see where we stand before deciding.

In 2020, we'll be clearing and terracing another 1/4 of an acre earmarked for two tiny houses and a grain/straw/hay area. Hopefully, we can entice a couple of folks to come onboard with us in our cockeyed community adventure. We could honestly use the manpower. We ain't getting any younger. Plus, the added income couldn't hurt either. We are still leaning towards widows and single females in our vision quest.

It seems like everything we want to do is costing us $1500 or more. That takes some planning.  Not to mention my daughter's wedding in Tuscon next summer. It only takes money, right? But that which does not grow- dies.

Y'all have a blessed day.
Jo

Sunday, September 9, 2018

New Logo for the Cockeyed Homestead Coming Soon

Next year, I'm focusing on branding our homestead. The logo design needs to be simplified, one color design or  that translates well in a single color.  Y'all know with screen printing and embroidery, extra colors mean extra cost, don't you? An almost silhouette design that incorporates our quirky sense of humor, thinking outside the box, homesteading, angora rabbits, chickens, organic gardening, etc. It was more than my stroke addled brain, or even Mel's, sort of okay brain, could translate into a simplified design. We also lack the time to work on it. This was also the information I gave to the graphic designer candidates as well to get a ball park figure of what the logo would cost me.  

I've now hired a graphic designer to create a new logo for our homestead. Our current design is just too busy. I've thought it from its creation, but ran with it because of expediency for this blog and our videos. Now is time for a change before we get too big, with sales and other stuff, where branding and our logo are important. 

In 2019, we'll be expanding our rabbitry (actually we started this year) for fiber production, babies for sale, and our pedigree line of English Angoras. We'll also be selling our vegetables, home canned
pickles and jams, eggs, wood working projects at the market and online. As well as, Mel's homestead computer programs in a big way. So we are gearing up for profit making. This blog will also be
expanding into syndication through the Homestead Bloggers Network and a few others. What can I say, they like my writing. This necessitates a need for branding. There are business licenses, inspections, registering our rabbitry with the ARBA and NARBC, and other businessy type things that are also needed to set up branding us. We weren't in serious need of a revamp before now with sales being so small and sporadic.
Who did we hire? Jenna Woginrich. She's been free lance for years since she left it all behind (big city life). She, like us, is following her dream. She is the owner/operator of Cold Antler Farm in NY. I've been a fan of her published books, blog, and videos for over a decade. She's a one woman operation. Her credentials and work are impressive. And I, formerly in this business also, am not easily impressed. We believe in supporting like minded people everywhere. So take my cockeyed laundry list and fly with it. You won our cockeyed lottery for creativity, right thinking, and price. I promise not to be over critical and a nightmare client.

So exciting changes are coming in 2019 to the Cockeyed Homestead. Continue reading about them here. Some have even started already. Did you notice the "For Sale" tab at the top?
 
Y'all have a blessed day!

Jo

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Building Organic Garden Soil, Finances, and Homestead Design

Well, the cardboard is laid. At least it is all out of the house. It was quite a pile. Since Mel is in summer mode, she's spending the majority of her time, in not building mode, on the screened back porch because it is cooler. The formal dining room was being used as the cardboard storing area. All the shipping, drink, and assorted boxes are broken down as flat as they can go. All the packing tape is removed. Who wants plastic in their organic garden, not me.

When we get a goodly stack, table and surrounding floor is covered, we set about moving them where they are needed. These areas right now, is the vegetable garden for stubborn weedy patches and the orchard. It's a slow process building soil this way, but we're in it for the long haul. Doing something the right way always takes time, but the end results are worth it.

I'm waiting on the rains next week to thoroughly soak the cardboard in place. Then, I'll cover it all
with straw and hay. I'll wait until it rains again to soak it all in place before I add the compost layer or sprinkle bone meal over the area. I'll repeat this process again and again throughout the fall and winter seasons (without additional cardboard layers). By the time the snow falls, it's time to quit and let it all cook during the rest of the winter until early spring. This type of layering is a "lasagna" gardening technique for building organic soil. Instead of a chopped leaf layer, Mel will blow leaves from the property. Instead of peat moss, we use wheat straw and fescue hay (both are relatively available and cheap here). Two 4x5 rolls of hay ($45) will cover the 1/4 acre orchard in several inches. We roughly measure each layer by the foot.

Worms love the wet cardboard. They are drawn to it devour it, and lay their eggs in it. Then, they will get started on the upper layers during the winter speeding up the composting over winter. The worm tea fertilizes the broken down material. They'll also break up the hard clay. So long as you feed them, they'll stay in the area. They'll multiply at will in the warm, composting layers creating a bio-diversified soil mix. In the orchard, this will be the second year of doing this and the last giving us almost four feet of new soil to plant in.

Building soil this way, on such a large piece of land isn't easy. It's time consuming and often back aching labor. It would be easier and more expensive hauling in three dump trucks worth of top soil and compost in. But there is no telling what is in those truck loads. From experience, I've found "compost" less than half composted material (branches and too green stuff mixed in). Fill dirt and top soil is often riddled with weed seeds just waiting for the opportunity to sprout. I want to reduce my labor not increase it.

Last year, we did a "back to Eden" layering with shredded trees and branches waste with a combination of cardboard and straw for the orchard. We had an abundance of tree "trash" after hurricane Irma blew through. This year, not so much. Thus, the lasagna gardening technique. Sometimes, one method just isn't doable because of the expense. I mean nothing beats free with a minimum of labor afterwards, right?

We're building this homestead on the cheap because we don't have thousands of dollars to do it with  Granted, I did shell out $1500 to have the orchard area cleared and terraced. It was necessary to expand our homestead infrastructure. It will return to me many times over in produce, grain, and straw... not to mention fruit and wine.

This was a major expense on my fixed income. Anything over $500 a month is what I consider a major expense. Still, I'm thankful that I have that amount of sort of dispensable income being on just Social Security and my retirement check. I owe of this all to my beloved's careful financial planning. God give him rest. With Mel full time on the homestead and not working outside the homestead, it's a blessing to be sure.

Cockeyed Homestead layout design
We are planning our homestead with aging in place in mind. After all, nobody is getting any younger. It's only smart. We are both sexagenarians already and women to boot. That's not to say that being women alone is a hindrance, but working smarter, as well as harder at times, does come into play more than if we had a man around to do the heavy lifting. The majority of our housing, barn/workshop, gardens, orchard, livestock are all in half an acre rather than spread out over our two-acre property.  This is only partly due to the landscape of the property. The other part is accessibility  in the design layout of ours.

I had thought to plant my berries and grapes on the top tier of  our orchard but changed my mind and planted them on the second tier from the top. The berries and grapes are easy enough to tend to on the second tier. The berries and grapes enjoy full sun on the second tier and protected from strong winds that can sweep through the hollow. Once the fruit trees mature and grow in size, the berries and grapes will have even more protection, but still have plenty of full sun because of the terraced hillside.
Example of our elevated pallet raised beds
On the top tier is more shaded so it's perfect for the raised pallet beds with herbs. While most herbs love full sun, the sun gets pretty strong and heated in Georgia. The partial shade will benefit them on the top tier. There will also no watering issues because of them being elevated beds. A simple soaker hose system attached to the 375- gallon water tote should supply them with ample wet stuff throughout their growing season. The beds will over winter with a thick blanket of compost and mulch.

Did I mention that these beds do double duty? In the space below the beds we stuff with large, perforated, black trash bags filled with moist leaves. These leaves will compost and form mold that increases the biodiversity. Ants and worms will work to break down the leaves over time. This way the space these beds take up do double duty. To make removal of these bags easier, we tie long pieces of baling twine around the top of these bags with the other end wrapped around a nail on the outside of the raised bed. The baling twine is recycled from the bales of straw and hay we purchased during the years.

We'll even reuse the bags too until they are too torn up to use again for leafing. Then, they will be cut into 3" strips and braided them to form weed deterrent mats under the fruit trees. The braiding will allow water to seep into the ground and it makes them stronger. They'll have many more years of reuse to them. I even reuse baling twine to make these. As the trees grow they will need bigger mats so nothing goes to waste. I'll even leave rows gap stitched together so I can plant garlic in the gaps. Garlic keeps moths and other pests away from fruit trees. On average, every five rows of braids gets a gap row for garlic, onions, or leeks. So once again, this shows multiple reuses/repurposing of items that usually end up in landfills. It doesn't have to be pretty. It just has to work. Nothing goes to waste on our homestead until it is definitely unusable again.

Y'all have a blessed day.



Sunday, August 26, 2018

Tomatoes: A Cockeyed Harvest and Mysterious Bug Bites

My plum tomatoes have been growing for months now. The plum tomatoes have been hanging for several weeks still very green. The few that have turned red are swarmed by pests before I can pick them. I've hated buying tomato sauce and fresh tomatoes in the store each week waiting for them to ripen.

Oddly enough, the pests are mainly attacking my plum tomatoes and leaving my Cherokee tomatoes placed along another fence alone. This week I found a way to beat Mother Nature and the pests to the punch. I found that the pests leave the green tomatoes alone for the most part. As I was tying the errant branches to the fence several green tomatoes fell to the ground. I picked them up and put them into my harvest basket. To me, if a tomato comes off the plant at a slight touch, it's ready to be harvested no matter if it's green or red. As I looped each branch to the fence I touched each tomato. If it came loose, I put it in my basket. I continued down the 24' row row touching and gathering as I went..

I ended up with about 10 lbs of green plum tomatoes. I brought them inside, washed them, and placed them in a southern-ish facing kitchen window. Our trailer is cockeyed where no window is true facing in any compass point. Sure enough they ripened in the window turning the glorious red color in a matter of days.

My version of tying up tomatoes is to weave the branches through the 2x4 fencing. It's best I can mange one handed. As  a result of this, every rain with wind or the sheer weight of the tomatoes pulls the branches loose. While it doen't hurt the tomatoes or the plant to grow on the straw covered ground, the plants are easier for some pests to get to them. So every other day, it seems, I am trussing up tomato branches.

Each time more and more green tomatoes come loose. So I've got about thirty pounds of tomatoes on window sills  Soon I'll have enough ripe tomatoes to make a big pot of sauce to can. So, since I've already canned my green beans for the year, it's tomato canning time.

On to the mysterious bug bites. Over the past week, I've been chewed on by something. At first I thought mosquitoes, but the bites were in areas not exposed like on my upper thigh, hip, and waist areas. Mel kept insisting they were ant bites. But I had my doubts. The bites formed a knot under the skin, and after a couple of days a pus pocket formed.  They were painful at first and then itchy like mosquito bites. There were also bites on my ankles. I always wear thick, knee-high socks even to bed, and one leg is covered by a brace. These bites were also under the places where my AFO covered.It looked similar to a bee sting or tick bite. It was a mystery.

I thought bed bugs, but the onset was wrong. I was sitting in a chair in the dining room or the back porch. There was also the fact of where the bites were. It took a happenstance, I was getting ready for bed a couple of days later, and changing my socks, I found a small spider, now dead in my sock. After a thorough search, I found an empty egg sack under my computer chair in the dining room and the back porch. These baby spiders were small enough to worm their way through the knitted material of my docks and were small enough to fit between my AFO and my leg. Mystery solved! A thorough spraying of an insecticide and no more bites. See, I told Mel it wasn't ants.

Y'all have a blessed day.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Cockeyed Weather

Now that spring and summer of 2018 are almost fully gone. This one has to be one for the weather record books for this area.

We had a fairly mild winter that stretched into May. Our spring may have lasted a week, and then we got blasted with high summer heat. While this is not unusual for south Georgia, it's almost unheard of here in the high foothills. We had three weeks of rainy weather going into late spring followed by late arctic blasts. Our poor plants transplanted at the end of May didn't know whether to grow or shrivel up. They either got too cold in the low overnight temperatures, wither in the heat blasts of the afternoon (heat indexes reaching 100+ degrees), or struggled to keep their heads up above the onslaught of heavy rains. This trend continued throughout spring.

Summer????
And then came summer, we expected the heat waves to continue as it usually did. We were pleasantly surprised and mistaken. Nighttime highs ranged in the 60s. We ran Mel's little air conditioner exactly two times and that was because of the high humidity from days of constant showers. The daytime highs ranged in the high 70s to mid 80s. Our heat loving plants like melons, okra, and sweet potatoes were hard pressed to find the heat they needed to grow and thrive. Inside our abode, our sweaters still hang within easy reach because the early morning temperatures cause us to put them on, or drape them across our shoulders to ward off the chills. It wasn't until late July or early August that these heat loving plants even flowered. Time is running short them to produce harvestable fruit before the fall's nighttime chilling temperatures arrive in late September.

There's no predicting fall after the last two seasons. While I planted my fall garden seeds last month as usual, the weather is so cockeyed, I expect another heat blast like we had in the spring or early freezing temperatures. Either one will kill off any hopes of expected harvests.  The plants may have to overwinter and get a jump start in the spring. Except for the heat blast this spring and the blizzard of squash beetles, we could have planted cool weather crops all summer long. Go figure!

The only plants that did well this year so far are my green beans and tomatoes. My tomatoes were grown in straw bales, or my raised soil bags so their feet (roots) maintained a good moisture level without drowning. The same went for my bush green beans which I planted in double width, raised rows. My original intention was to conserve watering over the summer. LOL

Try as you might, there's no predicting Mother Nature. She's been the blessing and cursing of gardeners everywhere since man first planted a seed.

Y'all have a blessed day!

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Planting the Fall Garden

I usually start thinking of the fall garden after I finish harvesting the cucumbers and zucchini each year since I've been in the Northeast Georgia foothills. This year the weather has been crazy. Almost no spring, soaring temperatures, and then a coolish snap in July (daytime highs in the 70s). We've had a very wet summer, not that I'm complaining. It was a welcomed change from the previous two summers.

So my cabbages, napa cabbages, daikon radishes, carrots, leeks, and lettuces all went into the ground this week.

But it led to a very buggy growing season. We had an explosion of squash beetles and mosquitoes galore. The beetles not finding much to eat on my zucchini plants devoured my poor cucumber and watermelon plants with gusto, and then even chewed the leaves of my tomato plants. These little buggers went after my bunny greens patches too. Nothing was safe from them. Even planting my usual deterrent of icicle radishes and dusting with DE (Diatomaceous Earth) worked to control them.

I'm finding pests choose different years to attack my garden. Thank goodness, they don't all have explosions at once. Last year was stink bugs. The year before it was cut worms. I'm not the only on complaining about them either. Paying visits to my local feed and seed store and Tractor Supply Co., everyone there were complaining about the squash beetle explosion this year.

Unfortunately, even my chickens find them distasteful too. I'd hand picked these morsels in the beginning, partially squish them, and toss them in my bucket I carry with me into the garden for this very purpose. After I finish, I'd call the chickens and dump these morsels out for them to gorge themselves on them. Normally, the rooster would call the hens because there were tasty tidbits available. With these beetles, he uttered no sound. The hens and he would peck at them and spit them out. I'm not joking. They would then look up at me with a disgusted face and walk away. As if they were saying, "What is this crap you're feeding us?!"

After a few attempts to feed these beetles to them, I even noticed that their usual behavior of circling the garden while I was working within the fenced off area, changed. They no longer cared that I was in the garden. They were off to greener pastures like going down to the creek, 1/2 an acre away and down the slope, where there are endless smorgasbord of tasty nibbles to be had.

Our peaches have colored up and will be harvested this week. Some actually survived the squirrels!  They are small, but this is only the third year for them. I'm looking forward to tasting them not that I'm expecting much as I previously explained. It should be interesting.

Speaking of peaches, I went to my neighbor's and picked up a a peck for fresh eating and to replace the jars we used last year. I also went grocery shopping. I really liked the Loring peaches this year of all the varieties he grows in his orchard. He's only a mile down our road.   Another farm about a 1 and a 1/2 down the road has blueberries. We do a barter for fresh eggs. Ain't I lucky?

Well, I brought my groceries home and told Mel to fetch 'em. Well, a month's worth of sodas, milk, and assorted other groceries came in, but my peaches and assorted produce that I didn't grow this year were left in the car. It wasn't an imperative that they come in immediately. Mel got her drink and sat down a spell to rest before getting the rest inside. Mel has a nasty habit of leaving the sliding door or the hatch open while she rest. No big deal. Normally, she'll be out again in about fifteen minutes. I started processing the day's harvest of cucumbers, peppers, and store bought Vidala onions for bread and butter pickles and relish. This should be the last batch I'll have to put up for the year.

It's been a while since I've said this but THOSE DARN BLASTED CHICKENS got into the back of my van and feasted on my peaches! About eight of the thirty were hen pecked. Mel tossed two of them out into the side parking area to get the chickens out of my van. It's far easier than trying to chase them the inside of my van to get them out. These peaches were three-quarters the way eaten anyhow. After looking at the remaining peaches, I  decided to give the half eaten and severely pecked peaches to the rabbits. Grrr!

Pictured is the worst of what's left. I may be able to salvage the rest for canning and fresh eating. Double Grr! More work for me because of our birds. At least, they didn't poop in my van and they did leave me some. At least, they are staying  out of our garden this year too, thank God!

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


Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Introducing Cara to the Cockeyed Critters

Cara @ 8 weeks old
I found another nonrelated English Angora doe! Cara is the newest addition to the Cockeyed Homestead Rabbitry.

I found her on Craig's List for a price at the within my price range ($25). Cara is what we are naming her keeping with the Celtic names for our rabbitry. It means beauty and adored. At just 8 weeks old, it will be next spring before we can breed her at the earliest. But we will probably wait until fall 2019, giving her a full year to mature. But we're in this for the long haul.

The only down side to Cara is that she is a English/ Satin cross angora rather than the purebred English that we specialize in. What this means is she will be bigger (5-6 lbs) than the standard English (3-5 lbs), her fur will be longer, finer, silkier, and have luminescent qualities. Not necessarily a bad things for fiber production. What makes her more difficult is the guard hairs that will have to be removed before spinning. English Angoras have no guard hairs. I'm hoping, because she is a cross, the guard hairs will be reduced.
Cara@8 weeks

It will take three generations to breed the satin out of the equation to get a purebred angora out of her original litter. Of course, they'll always be a few throwbacks in future litters. As you can tell from from the picture, she looks more of the Satin angora than English (French+English=Satin) with her fur clad face and ears instead of fiber. No fluffy, tufted ears that Mel loves and I have a hard time grooming.

Wool Chart
The fiber from a satin angora is finer than an English angora thus lighter weight. The micron count for English to Satin is 22-25. Compared to  the finest sheep's wool, Merino, at 22. This is why we usually blend Merino wool with it for the lightest weight, strength, and warmth. It is the cheapest fiber and yarn we sell.

Why weight is important to us? Have you ever picked up a fisherman's wool sweater? Heavy wasn't it? As a woman wearing this sweater and moving, it's sure to add several pounds to your scale weight. It will easily add 5-7 lbs. If you could get the even more warmth with over half as much weight, wouldn't you? I would. Just the sheer ease in movement would be worth it.

Cara @8 weeks
I currently have one 100% angora knitted sweater. It weighs a pound, but when I wear it, there's no need for an over coat outside with temperatures in the high 20s. Yes, it's that warm. Angora doesn't give you the itchy feel next to the skin either unlike sheep's wool. The only down side to angora is it's hydrophobic (it doesn't like being wet). But, it is also prime luxury fiber. It's the mink of spinning fibers and no animal has to die to get it.

Cara, by being a larger rabbit, has an added benefit. Possible meat production. If I can ever get Mel over her dislike of culling rabbits. I refrain from butchering rabbits because of this. To her, they are just too cute and lovable to kill. I'm partial with her when it comes to angoras. I'd rather sell them than eat them. But push comes to shove, I'll do it regardless.

Well that's it for this week. We are thrilled to have a baby on the  homestead again.

Y'all have a blessed day.