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, July 15, 2018

Homesteading~Ya Gotta Love Freebies or Almost Freebies

For weeks now, I have been looking for more angora rabbits for our breeding program. I was actually searching for an unrelated breeding trio (two does and a buck). They would also be a mixed breeding cycle with our five related does and bucks (mother, father, two bucks and a doe which are brothers and sister). I really wanted to get started on our pedigreed breeding program. The kicker was most of the breeders within a 100-mile radius wanted $100 per rabbit. This kind of initial layout of cash just wasn't in my budget. But, time was on my side because we won't start breeding until the fall or winter.

I contacted a breeder one town over to inquire whether she had any English Angoras available. She didn't have any, but she would put out feelers for our needs. Believe it or not, I met her on Raverly, an international site for producers and crafters.  She's a fabulous lady who has been in the angora rabbit circles for this area for a decade as a breeder and fiber producer. Considering, if successful, we'd be in direct competition with her business, she still gave us help. We are still newbies in the area and to angoras by comparison.

It took a couple of weeks, but she passed our contact information on to another lady who had a buck for sale. I was in North Carolina and negotiating with this lady for her rabbit via email, and then by cell phone.  Her father had taken a fall in the Florida Keys, where he lived. She was selling her urban homestead and moving to be closer to him. In fact, she was closing on her house in the Keys the next week. This lady had also had a hip replacement a couple of months prior.

I made arrangements to meet with her the day after I got back from North Carolina to check her bunny out. It was a few days before her FL trip. I had already found out that he was a self black English angora. He was a 2 1/2-year old, proven (had fathered kits) buck named Einstein. He was priced at the median level I'd set for individual rabbit purchase price. Sounded good so far. The deal breaker would be his manners and temperament. An unruly buck that bites and scratches you up during grooming has bad manners. While doable, untraining the bad behavior and retraining good behavior takes time with these furry creatures that we really didn't have. With an aggressive natured rabbit, the genes could be passed on to his offspring. We wanted kits we could handle to groom or even be handles by children. Especially for a one-handed groomer like me and grandchildren to boot. He was the perfect gentleman! So Einstein, we call him Little Albert, became the newest Cockeyed Critter.

Not Einstein but close
Einstein's  silver colored coat will allow us to to get deeper colors using natural dyes just as Dustin's fur did...may he rest in peace. This new addition will head up our pedigree breeding program starting this fall. I really wanted another doe or two, but his offspring can be paired with our current bucks (Benjamin and Alby, a father and son) for genetic diversity.

This will work until I can purchase the unrelated does. It's a start anyhow. After the false start with losing our unrelated does and buck over the past year, it's a new beginning. So our 15-hole rabbitry will be full soon as it cools off some. I'm personally looking forward to having baby bunnies again. They are such characters and so cuddly. You can't help picking them up, cuddle, them, love them, squish them, and name them all George...even the girls.

You may notice I left Angus out of the breeding cycle. You may recall a post from last year about a bunny surgery. This was the six-month old buck that tore open his scrotum with his toe nail. We didn't realize it until he was dragging testes behind him in his cage. We stitched him up to close the wound, but I doubt he has enough or functioning testes left to sire kits. I could be wrong. We haven't had any does to test this yet. It's a real shame to because this REW (red eyed white) has beautiful facial furnishing and fur. He is still an excellent fiber rabbit.

Since the lady was moving to FL permanently and selling her homestead, she had plenty of "junk" to dispose to get it ready for sale. Her back yard was an English garden complete with healing and culinary plants. It was badly overgrown with her hip replacement happening in late spring, and her traveling back and forth between her home here and FL. It was a jungle. But hidden in this jungle of overgrowth was a treasure trove.

We were given permission to take what we needed.

  • So into the truck with Einstein went 20- 5''x4' pieces of roofing tin. She had replaced the roof on her gardening shed.
  • Then, we noticed a hen house that was lop-sided because a tree limb had fallen on it. Mel doesn't go anywhere without her tools. It was quickly dismantled and put in the back of the truck. It was partially buried in a foot of wet, composted chicken manure. While we could always use compost, I was using the bins for another purpose. We didn't ask what happened to her hens. 
  • With a little bit of work, this hen house would be the new home for Broody/Gimper. It would get her out of a rabbit cage. It could also be used as a chicken hospital so we won't have to have chickens in the house anymore. We have plenty of leftover wire fencing from building the big coop and run to give them outside space under the rabbitry tarp roof to socialize with the other hens and such. It could also be used as a grow out area for any hatched chicks.
  • I found out what happened to the lady's chickens when I reached the back of the yard. There were three hens in a makeshift pen with a tarp covering for them to get out of the weather. They had to go also, but we'd only brought one cage for the rabbit. We made arrangements to pick them up later.
  • In the gardening shed, there was a Standlee bale of timothy hay and a 3/4 of a 25# bag of pellets for the rabbit. There was barely a flake of the hay gone. Into the truck it all went.
  • We had taken both vehicles because I'd had a therapy appointment before we met up at this lady's house. A good thing we did because there were more gems on this property to be gotten rid of. Half of a 25# bag of chicken feed, a Standlee 50# bale of straw with barely a flake gone all went into the back of my van. My van was still loaded from my North Carolina trip too.
  •  Pushing farther into the overgrowth, I found a plum tree with all its fruit ladened branches on the ground. I grabbed the bushel tote and started picking. On getting to the center trunk, I found the reason its branches were now partially broken and on the ground. The central trunk had a foot long split in half. Without the support, the heavy branches fell. I filled the tote and another quarter sized tote with ripe fruit. After I finished gleaning the tree of fruit, the branches that were not broken rose off the ground a foot. There was still plenty of life left in this tree. It's just a shame I couldn't dig it up, transplant it into my orchard, and heal the split, but I didn't have permission to do that.
  • There are still some other "junk" we wanted to get, but both vehicles couldn't hold one more thing so we headed home.
  • The plums I picked were organically grown. I taste tested one before I harvested the tree. Naturally sweet, the juices were dribbling down my chin from the first bite with a fantastic plum flavor. The downside of this harvest was the size of the fruit. All the fruit was between a large Concord grape and a golf ball. I spent the next two days canning plum halves and plum syrup. I wanted to make plum jelly but hadn't made enough apple pectin left from last year to jelly that much juice. Like an idiot, I forgot I could have used the Clear-jel I bought on my North Carolina trip instead of pectin. Oh well, I can do it later. So we now have enough plums and syrup/jam to last until we harvest our own plum trees to be planted in the fall.
  • And finally an almost free. I was checking out Craig's List and found a 375-gallon empty tote. It was food grade. It came complete with a standard hose hook up and the top opening was ready for a gutter...for only $40.The owner's wife was tired of it being in their front yard. You know how wives can be (grinning). I honestly wished he'd had five more, but that wasn't the case. It will be perfect for watering the orchard and/or garden.
Nothing beats a freebie. I think we racked up. What do you think?

Y'all have a blessed day.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Amish Store Purchases and Plans for Growth

Thirty cases of pint canning jars that I went to North Carolina to get a couple of weeks ago are now washed, put back in their boxes, and stacked into their respective spots in the storage building.

Plus, the food grade three-gallon buckets are washed, and filled with the GMO-free flour, wheat, and raw sugar I bought at the Amish store also from my trip to North Carolina. My van was packed coming home, but not as packed as last time when I brought home sixty cases of jars, but I did buy more flour and sugar this trip.

All thanks to one of our Cockeyed Homestead YouTube subscribers. Who lives near the Amish store. She opened her house to me and let me stay. Thank you, Ellen! Another subscriber I tried to meet on this trip had a family emergency. Maybe next year, Marie. I'd really love to see your homestead operation.

In a year, we used 40 lbs of sugar. It was used in baking, canning, and wine making. So I bought ten extra pounds to make even more wine with. At $0.88 a pound, I thought it was a bargain.

By picking up my Clear-jel also, I have all I need except for the produce to make my cream of chicken and mushroom soups for the coming year with plenty of Clear-jel for my pie fillings too. The base ingredient (thickener) for all my canned goodies that are yummy in our tummies. I'm still hitting the reduced price section for mushrooms and dehydrating them. If there is a lot of them, six# or more, I'll can my cream of mushroom soup. The chickens for the cream of chicken soup are awaiting slaughter. They'll be pressure cooked to make them tender. Now, all I have to do is wait until my onions and celery are ready to harvest for both.

I still may have to buy more sugar for the wine making though. It all depends on our Muscadine and Catawba grape harvests. I plan on setting aside a few pounds for fresh eating and jellies. I might even try canning some for winter munching. The rest will go into the 5-gallon recycled water jugs for wine. It might make an interesting flavored vinegar if the wine turns too. We've been saving Mel's wine empty wine bottles for a year now to put the wine in once it's finished. I may play with blueberry, apple, blackberry, and raspberry flavored wines also. It all depends on the harvest. I missed the dandelion harvest due to rains and busyness of planting the garden this spring. There's always next year.

In the store, I went up and down each aisle as usual. But as I expected, there wasn't much "new" or exciting to pick up. Not that I was shopping for anything else. So now I've checked off three items that I'd need for a year of baking, cooking, and canning.

No trip would be complete without a trip to their version of thrift stores. I love a good bargain, don't you? I told Ellen that I was looking for another fermenting crock. A good size crockpot bottom is what I normally use. While I had two, and bountiful harvest would overwhelm them. We found one without a lid ($3). I put in my basket and traveled down the aisle. I saw another crock on the top shelf. I thought it was a cookie jar. It was too heavy for me to lift one handed so I pulled off the lid preparing to lift it by the rim. Ellen came to my rescue and lowered it down for me to get a better look. It was a complete German fermenting pot. The same one pictured. Brand new it sell on Amazon for $59 plus shipping. My price at the second hand shop...$10.

Now, if I just had a solution for our milk consumption, we'd be set. Yes, I know we need goats. A cow, even a miniature one, is an impossibility. I've researched it. We are still not set up for housing and caring for goats. I refuse to buy any animal unless we are knowledgeable about the animal, had everything in place for the animal, and an outlet for any extra production (like milk, cheese, butter) from that animal. It's just a smart way to do it.

I'm still a firm believer that an animal pay it's own way on our homestead. Either in production we can use to replace a grocery item, or for straight cash sales in babies, or products like our rabbits and chicken do. On such a small homestead with a limited resources, this is an important consideration. The fact that we'd need multiples because they are herd animals is also part of this consideration. They will also be a huge outlay of initial cash for them and creating a habitat for them. It isn't in the budget for this year even though it was on my 5-year plan for this year. I'm running at least a year behind schedule with Mel being out of work.

I'm also still researching mini angora goats (Nygora or Pygora). They would give us triple bang for our dollars in meat/for sale, milk and fiber. So long as I'm in research mode, there won't be a purchase.

Well, that's it for this week.

Y'all have a blessed day!

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Pick it Now or Tomorrow? The Beauty of a Homestead Garden

I've been watching my garden grow and am content with its progress. We actually planted very little in the garden itself. We just planted a lot of a few things. What I did plant has started producing fruit. I get a thrill each time I see a tiny vegetable start to form and grow bigger to maturity.

I grew this with my own one hand! Yes, I've been doing this for decades, but this cycle of life never ceases to amaze me. God is perfect in all He plans. Yes, it takes a lot of nurturing on my part to get seeds to grow to maturity, but the joy of biting into that first cucumber harvested from the garden to the last, is tasty, nutritious bite just can't be beat. I use cucumbers as an example here because that was the first thing I've harvested so far. Soon, I'll be busy making bread and butter pickles. I've only got one jar left from last year's crop. This year, I need to make double.

With the rains, I've been watching my zucchini, cucumber, and tomato plants very carefully. All it takes is a little rain, and small zucchinis and cucumbers blow up to huge zucchinis within 24 hrs. Tomatoes will split. Not that I mind split tomatoes. I'm going to cut them up anyhow, but pests can enter a tomato this way. Enter the decision making. Do I pick it now or tomorrow? This is the beauty of planting your own garden. You decide on the ripeness you want. The extra day of sunshine or rain can add to the taste and growth to any vegetable.This is something commercial farmers miss, but you as a homesteader gets to choose.

Another consideration you need to make is about processing your harvest. When the fruits of your labor start coming in, your first inclination is to eat it that day. Nothing beats fresh eating. Otherwise, you'd purchase your vegetables from the grocery store or produce markets, right? I do a 50:50 ratio. Half a harvest is for fresh eating and half is for preserving. Will leaving the produce on the plant one more day or two allow other ripening fruit be harvest size? Can I get a full canner load, or fill a freezer bag by waiting? I want everything preserved at the peak of freshness. If the answer is no, then I'll go ahead and pick it. It will be incorporated into a recipe for the night. Hoppin' John is a great recipe for using a handful of black-eyed peas, 1 tomato, and 1 pepper in. Just chop up some onion and add the rice and you got a tasty side dish or add some ham for a meal. This is what I'm fixing for dinner tonight because I had to harvest these today or lose them.

Of course, there is the old stand by of a good, old tomato sandwich with that one tomato with a cockeyed twist. Two fresh slices of homemade bread, a little bit of homemade mayo, fresh basil leaves, a sprinkling of fresh oregano, some slices of homemade mozzarella cheese, and a little bit of salt and fresh ground pepper. I'll brush my bread with a little olive oil and rub it with a clove of garlic, and grill it before I fix my sandwiches. It's to die for.

Are you hungry yet? I'll quit for now.

Y'all have a blessed day.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Spring is Over and Laying the Groundwork for Next Spring Begins

Spring is officially over as of June 21st. Hello summer. The temperatures have been summer like with the heat indexes being over 100+ degrees with temps lower than 90. While awaiting the harvest later this summer, I'm already planning and laying the groundwork for next year. Too soon? Not really.

Last year's tropical storm Irma, just below a hurricane when it hit us, left a lot of debris which went into the garden. We've had two solid years of amending the garden area. Not much in produce, but we were laying the foundation of an organic garden. Without good soil, not much grows in our heavy clay soil over granite. So we've laid wood chips, rabbit and chicken poop, yard waste, compost, and umpteen dozen bales of hay and straw into the area we wanted for our garden. Now, we actual can't turn a shovel full (18 inches) of this richer soil without digging up worms and it's easier to dig. This is our pay day and what we were striving for. This nutrient rich soil has taken time to get to this point and not  a little bit of hard work.

I can tell I'm still coming off the inactivity of winter and getting older. I am over 60 and living post stroke now. I'll work like gang busters one day and the next, all my body parts start aching and I'm doing less. It takes more than eight hours of sleep to repair my muscles after a workout. But I keep plugging away. So it took a week to spread the moldy straw 6"- 12" thick on the areas not being planted this year. It isn't going to be used for a year. It's all prep work for spring 2019. Right now, before the harvest, I've got nothing but time.

This week, while waiting for the plants to grow, I've been laying more cardboard and straw in the areas that aren't planted. Meanwhile, Mel has been cleaning out the rabbit barn. We've used the deep bedding method for the animal waste for two seasons, about every six months we clear it out and start again. She's actually digging down 3" under the rabbit pens to get the good composted stuff. In the central walkway, she's only raking up all the straw and chicken poop. We are dumping it all into a big compost pile by the peach trees within the garden and letting it finish composting there. We'll move it again to spread it in the garden before we put the garden to bed for the winter. The reason we are composting the manure and straw further is because the chickens have been free ranging in the rabbit barn too. We all know that chickens are not toilet trained. They go where they feel like it.

Mel's got some stubborn weeds on this property. They have broken through in some areas.  You'd think all this stuff on top of them would have snuffed them out, but no. After a good rain shower and a couple days of sunny weather, here they are again. I'm discounting any seeds of fescue and wheat that sprouted from the hay and straw. I'm talking wild plantain, clover, weeds which can be pulled for the rabbits. But the worst, is the invasion of spiny rushes. They defy being uprooted. I've landed on my butt a few times trying to pull clumps up. The only way I've found is digging down with a spade 12" to 24" to loosen the roots enough to get them out of the ground. They are deep rooted suckers.

Speaking of chickens going where they please. We've had to let our hens free range also. All the rain we've had made their run a mucky mess.  The hens' feet stayed muddy and they seemed miserable. It took two compressed bales of straw to not feel the mud underfoot. We've let them free range with the roosters. Two roosters (Houdini and Big Red) have one hen apiece that follows them around. Little Red has won over the rest of the hens. When it comes time to pen up the hens again, Little Red will go with them. He's ever so gentle with the hens too. He's constantly on guard for predators including the other roosters.  If one squawks, he's running to bring the hen back to flock. He's taken to singing to his girls to keep them happy when he's not finding them goodies. Big Red was purchased by a neighbor and will be going to his new home this weekend. He's way too rough with his lady and almost killed her, and has been challenging us. We can't abide that.

As a result of free ranging the hens, Broody, aka Gimpy, has tried to go broody. The only problem is that all the hens only use one out of the two nesting boxes to lay their eggs in. This box is eight eggs deep at the end of the day. They yell and peck at her until she moves. She's been trying to sit on the nest for three days now. We are going to have to partition off an area for just her this week. Now watch her break out of broodiness by the time we complete the fencing off an area and building her a nest box.

We got Broody's area completed a few days later.  As predicted Broody broke out of her broody behavior although she does half --hardheartedly try from time to time.

 I normally use hot chicken, uncomposted, for fertilizing my hot peppers. It makes the peppers hotter. I do use it sparingly. Last year, my cayenne and Korean peppers were so hot that even I could barely eat them. Now that's saying something, because I used to munch on Habanero peppers straight out of the garden (±350,000 SHU). These were close to the same heat, although I didn't have them tested. This year, I'm using the 6 months composted manure. I want the heat, but don't want to pay the hefty price 24 hours later, if you get my meaning.

By planting season next spring, all the cardboard and straw should be composted and I'll have additional growth of the worm population in the garden.Worms are essential to great garden soil. Their waste product fertilizes the soil while their plowing through the soil makes for a rich, aerated planting medium for a healthy root system. Remember, the roots are the brain of the plant. In addition the tree waste should have composted down more.

One patch of chicken planted strawberries
The tree bark mulch we put on our walkways two years ago is no more. It is now all composted into the soil. The worms and beneficial microbes have done their job. In fact, the chicken planted strawberry patch is growing atop weed cloth and a thick layer of this composted mulch. I've got to remove the weed cloth and transplant the berries  to a better spot in a couple of weeks. Or I might just leave it for next year as I previously mentioned.

 I just have to decide where to plant them. The orchard is a logical choice, but where in the orchard? Under the grapes and raspberries, under the blueberries? Or, do I transplant them on a tier to themselves designated for other fruit trees? Decisions, decisions.  Of course, I'll be thinning them out too. As it stands right now, I could transplant a quarter acre in just strawberries if spaced correctly with just the plants I have in the garden area. There's pretty close to a hundred plants and runners in this patch pictured and it's only June. It seems like daily I'm moving or removing runners to keep them out of my green beans and asparagus. The runners I'm removing are being fed to the rabbits.

Since spring, we've transitioned the rabbits off of the winter time ration of commercial pellets in favor of a more nature based, green diet. Did you know that some commercial rabbit pellets contain animal fat? Rabbits are herbivores! Their bodies do not digest or need animal by products. Check the ingredients on all purchased feed. This winter our long eared money makers will be eating our chemical free orchard grass hay and a variety of sprouted wheat, barley and oats harvested from our orchard. Nothing is wasted  on the Cockeyed Homestead even weedy patches are fed to the rabbits and chickens. They love it!

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

Sunday, June 17, 2018

In Homesteading, Expect the Unexpected

When homesteading, nothing goes according to plans especially on the Cockeyed Homestead. This past two weeks is a prime example.

We hadn't planned planting fruit trees until next year. I went to Lowe's and found three apple trees on clearance. In fact, they were the only apple trees in the store. I could get all three for the price of one regularly priced tree. How could I pass that bargain up?A quick call to Mel and it was unanimous. Don't worry, I didn't plan on passing up this deal. While I was picking them up, Mel started pick axing holes for them to be planted in. I also picked up some organic soil for the garden.

We were in a rush to plant the garden before the week worth of rain hit. I was planting like a mad woman. But the apple trees needed to be planted in the orchard too. It took better than a day to get them in the ground. I was working around doctor appointments in Atlanta and Gainesville too. I still didn't get it all planted before the rain started falling. So now I'm planting in between rain showers. I might mention I was canning and cooking too.

Several times a day, Mel and I fell exhausted into the porch swing with glasses of iced tea. We'd take a thirty minute break and get back at it. Then the rains started. Thank God! We can relax a bit. Or so we thought.

We heard a dripping sound inside. We were taking some nontech time out on the porch swing. I had broached the subject of a no tech day for us. To wean Mel off her tech, we take several hours each day as no tech time. We heard a crash in the living room and went to investigate. Part of the ceiling had fallen and rain was steadily dripping in. Wet insulation and broken ceiling panels lay in a heap on the carpet with more threatening to fall.

I had been saving my pennies for the driveway along the side of our property to be finished (another $1500  job). Originally, we'd only planned this drive-thru for access to the rabbit and chicken areas, but the additional building project of a new deck and ramps made for easier access into in house as well. We started parking out vehicles there as well. The winter's snow and rain and the additional traffic on this drive-thru sank the #4 gravel into the ground so we had a mucky mess. We needed a proper car park and drive here so I was saving the $1500 it would cost me. It is now all going to repair the roof and interior of the house. The drive will have to wait.

Of the 32 Roma tomato plants I transplanted into the garden,  so far only 14 have survived the bugs, the blast of heat followed by hard rains. But I expected this that's why I planted so many. Remember the old saying, Don't count your chickens before they hatch? I always try to when gardening. Those that survive to bear fruit will be the strongest and provide a better harvest. Natural selection and all that.

The same goes for our fruit trees. The peach trees have done their
Mel's 3 peach trees
fruit drop. Mel was close to tears to see all those little baby peaches on the ground, but there are plenty still left on the trees. Mother Nature knows best. Mel started these three peach trees from saved seeds four years ago. She made the mistake of planting them from their pots into one corner of the garden. She was intending to move them when some space was cleared. That didn't happen until last year. They are too big to moved. Or actually, it will take some heavy duty shovel work to moved these trees to the new orchard. Maybe this late winter, they'll be moved after they go dormant and before they awaken in the spring. We can start prepping the tier they'll go on this fall. Digging holes in the hard packed clay is tons of fun. Yes, I'm joking. But Mel will dig the holes for the expected large root balls. We'll load the holes with chicken and rabbit waste straw and poop, and let them do their thing until we can move the trees down there.

Wild strawberry patch
Last year, I planted  a whole 3x6 raised bed of strawberries. The young chickens ate every one of them. Or worse, they decided to dust and sunbathe in my strawberry patch destroying any plant they hadn't eaten. As a result this year, my whole garden and surrounding areas on the property is covered in wild strawberry patches. None of the berries being produced are bigger than a pencil eraser this year. Mel weed whacked a lot of these patches to the ground. We kept one large patch in the garden area and several others around the property because the rabbits and chickens love them.. None of the berries are very sweet when ripe although they do have an excellent strawberry flavor. The berries are only the size of a pencil eraser. I picked about a quart of these and dehydrated them for muffins later on. I'll give it a try anyhow. Meanwhile, this unexpected bonus will be fertilized with rabbit poo tea and left alone. We'll see if we get better berries next year. From the plants we kept, if I could dig them all up and space them properly would easily full 1/2 an acre and every day I'm finding more. I don't think I'll bother this year. If they come back in the spring next year I'll think about transplanting them in the orchard.

Why use a  shovel to dig the peach trees up instead of a back hoe? First of all, we don't have access to one. When Mel planted these little trees, yearlings where they sit now (see picture above), she put all three gallon pots together in the ground. She had not intended them to stay there very long. But over the three years to date, they have grown that way. We'll have to dig a massive area around all three and separate them. It will be a nightmare of a job that no machine can do without possibly destroying the trees. We want to avoid that if at all possible especially now that they are beginning to bear fruit. But I'm a realist.  The chances of getting tasty fruit from these saved seeds is iffy. Grown fruit seed isn't always as as tasty from a saved seed as the parent. most parent plant have been cultivated. But it could happen. We also may damage these trees ourselves. They may not survive the move. They may be shocked beyond survival once transplanted. I'm well prepared to buy new ones in the spring for the orchard.

I also realize this is more than a one woman job even if Mel thinks it is. I'll try to round up some able-bodied help for her. Time the roots are exposed to air and sunlight needs to be minimized. Air and sun directly on bare roots equal death. Similar to a stroke in the brain in humans. Each second exposure to unnatural substances equal cell death. A root system of a tree is like the human brain to humans. It coordinates everything about a plant living.

So you see in homesteading, as in life in general, you have to roll with the punches. Not much is set in stone. Our forefathers, pioneers, learned this truth while homesteading. Wild fires, unpredictable weather patterns, and just stuff in general that happens when you least expect it causes you to expect the unexpected. You can only prepare so much and you can't prepare for everything. You can hedge your bet in the garden by over planting like I did, but stuff happens. Another 100 days without rain, hail, torrential rains that last weeks, blistering heat and it could all crumble into oblivion. You can only do what you can do and pray. This is homesteading. It's not all bleak. The rewards when it all comes together right, even if it's cockeyed, is priceless.

Life isn't about the final destination. It's the journey that makes it worthwhile. I remember going on a real vacation with our two younger children. Their memories are not just about destination, but traveling to and from the destination also. It created a fully rounded experience of learning, fun, joy, and hardships along the way. Homesteading is about the journey. We learn. We laugh. We get angry. We love. But above all we expect the unexpected and live.

Y'all have a blessed day.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Oh, Rats! Two Stories

You may have read a few times about our rat problem here at the Cockeyed Homestead. Nothing was safe or sacred to these pests. They invaded our home, in the walls, furnace and water heater closet, in our cabinets and pantry, they were everywhere that our Herbie or cats couldn't get to them.

All winter long we battled this vermin. We were at our wits end. We had tried everything organic even suggested to rid us of this pest  We were tired of them scurrying around having a high old time. They must have put a all call to all their friends and relatives too from the amount of dropping we were sweeping up.

 Story #1

Yes I bought the 9 lb bucket!
Outside they were even worse. They nested in our storage buildings, barn, rabbitry, the greenhouse, and chicken house. We couldn't leave their food out overnight because they'd crawl into the cages at night with the rabbits to feast. We tried planting herbs that deter the rodents around the house and out buildings, we set traps out and finally we resorted to poison. We placed the bait where our animals couldn't get to it in case they wanted to nibble it, or in Herbie's case, gobble it down. I bought the 9 lb tub because we had multiple areas to put it in.

After about a week, we checked on the bait. Not even a nibble was eaten of the cubes! Well, that didn't work. Maybe another brand would work better, I thought.  We picked up all the bait cubes and placed the container in my stores building. I bought a much smaller box pf rat bait and kill the next times I was in Tractor Supply. I complained bitterly to the store manager and got a refund without having my receipt or bringing it back in. You gotta understand that I spend $100 or more each trip I make into that store. In a small community like ours, could they really afford losing me as a customer?

Still, I was upset the rat poison hadn't worked. This was an ultimate no-no for an organic homestead, but we were desperate. Especially when the rats chewed the container of Angora wool and soiled it. If the rats were diseased and with our rabbits, we'd have a big crunch in our pocketbooks. Not to mention, rats could/would eat/kill and kits born. Even moving all eleven rabbits inside out house wouldn't guarantee their safety. This would be impossible.

These rabbits are not only our livelihood, but they are part of our family too. The sale of their wool and offspring cover the cost of their yearly feed bill, as well as part of our living expenses for our homestead.

Anyhow we put the new bait and kill out again. Within another week, we were rewarded by seeing several dead rats here and there. But the numbers weren't as high as I expected. I knew we still had a rat problem because we could hear them scampering and fighting in the walls. Still, it was a start.

We were cleaning rat poop out of the stores building one day, when I noticed chewed white plastic slivers by the door. On closer inspection, I noticed a hole was chewed into the lid of the Tomcat rat bait/kill. There's no accounting for rats having brains. And, to think they use rats to test drugs and diseases on for us! These rats must have been desperate. I was even more astonished by the fact that the 9 lb tub was empty! Inside the bucket was peed on bait stuck to the creases and rat droppings. As we cleaned the storage building there were no telltale signs of rat infestation. Later, we noticed the absence of telltale rat noises in the house too.

Wonders of wonders, the rats didn't want the bait given to them, but wanted to work for their food. I felt bad about getting my money back from Tractor Supply. The next time I went in there, I told him what happened. I offered to pay him back. He laughingly refused. "Mrs. M, we're just glad to see your smiling face back in our store."

Story #2

You know with rats comes other critters that love to eat rats. I'm talking about snakes. While Patches, the cat, has done a pretty good job killing rats in the barn, there were some places she couldn't get at them. Mel's Christmas decorations was a prime example. The rats had made a home in these boxes and tubs along with others. We are still currently going through all the boxes and tubs in the barn. One of the rats' favorite places to nest was in Mel's large tool chest.

For a year now, Mel opened her drawer very gingerly on the lookout for furry creatures. Mel's chicken also laid their eggs in the top hatch before the chicken coop. You may remember my post about Broody/Gimpy going broody and hatching out a chick in this tool box.

As she was going about doing spring fix ups, she again was opening drawers in her tool chest and pulling out various rat nesting materials as she went. She pulled open the bottom big drawer and there sat a snake. It looked up at her with a dazed look upon his face like she had awoken him from a nap. This snake must have had a grand old time eating rats because he was 4' long! She grabbed a stick, picked him up, and took him to a heavily wooded area of our property to release him.

Upon returning to the tool chest, she looked inside to find a another 2' long garter snake. He wasn't too happy that Mel had taken away his friend. He rattled something in the tool chest that made him sound like a rattle snake. He coiled up like he was going to strike at her. Mel just chuckled at his antics. She picked him up with the same stick and was leaving the barn when Nnyus rounded the corner to see what she was up to. Nnyus is deathly afraid of snakes. The dog screamed when she saw what Mel held and ran in the opposite direction. I'm with Nnyus where snakes are concerned. Mel carried this feisty, little fellow  to the woods. She hoped they would find each other again.

In recounting the story to me she said she almost had a heart attack finding the first one. She was expecting furry little critters and found a big, slimy one. I told her she would have had to of called 9-1-1 for me because I would have had a heart attack. In my case with my bad heart, it darn could have killed me.

Y'all have a blessed day.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Growing, Growing, Gone, Grrr!

Just after transplanting
A couple of weeks ago I mentioned all those Roma tomato plants I transplanted into the garden. They are taking to the straw bales in lackluster form. I've been somewhat disappointed in their growth. Coupled with the infusion of a couple days of rain and sunshine, I was preparing the fencing to stand them up because they had started to flower. With all the bees and wasps in the garden, I knew that we could have a bumper crop this year. Due to the heat and the rains I'm down to 25 of 32 plants. They were growing and growing.

The day dawned bright and sunny. I walked the garden to check the plants as I usually do each morning, weather permitting, as part of my morning prayers and meditation time. I glanced at where a Roma tomato was suppose to be. All that was left of the leafy, green plant was a chewed down stalk. Farther down the row was another one and another one, and so on.. "Lord, what could have eaten these plants overnight?!" Honestly, I knew the answer. Caterpillar! Yes, pests have made their way into our organic garden. But there was no sign of them in the light of day. I'm down to 14. So much for a bumper crop. With 14, I'll barely make do possibly.

I went inside and broke out the blender. I'd slow their munching progress. Into the blender I put 4 dried cayenne pepper pods (from last season),  5 large clove of garlic. Once this was ground to a pulp, I added a 1/4 cup of milk, 3 tbs of olive oil, and 1 cup of water. I whizzed it around to combine and poured it into an old Windex bottle that I reuse just for this purpose. I then add 1/4 tsp of Dawn dishwashing detergent. Remember large pieces will clog your sprayer attachment. I give the bottle a shake to combine. Do this gently because you don't want a lot of suds. This "pesticide" is the combination of a couple of different recipes for pest control. If you have pests eating your plants like this, you probably have a couple of them. I make up this recipe a bottle at a time and discard any remaining liquid.

Armed with my Windex bottle, I again venture into the garden. I spray each leaf (top and bottom) and around the base of the plant with the mixture. After it dries, it looks like dusty mildew has attacked your plant because of the milk, but hopefully you checked your plants well before applying the spray so you know it isn't. This solution will have to be reapplied after a rain shower. It's probably  a good time to add Epsom salt, and side dress my plants with rabbit poo tea also.

No, it's not this bad,
Don't ya just love the way one thing leads to another on the homestead? Oh, and we sprung a leak in our metal roof during the last rainy period so Mel so up on the roof trying to track down the problem is. Not that I can do anything if she falls, but Whirling Dervish and I are continually yelling up at her to be careful. I only bought two small tubes of seal flex so I hope it will do the job. Then, it's on to the inside to fix the ceiling.

Y'all have a blessed day.