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, August 9, 2020

Organic Fertilizers

Just because we grow our vegetables and fruits organically, doesn't mean we don't fertilize our gardens and orchard. We just don't use commercial fertilizers (nutrition made from chemical compounds) that are not organic, (plants or organic animal sourced ingredients).

For pretty close to four decades, I used rabbit manure both composted and fresh for my garden, as well as compost even in a suburban setting. That put tons of nitrogen and trace minerals in my soil for beautiful, lush green plants which grew fast. Since the rabbit poop was self contained, little, round pellets, it acted as a slow release mechanism doling out the good stuff over a few months as they decomposed. But for the first time this year, my garden is missing them. We have no meat or fiber rabbits on our homestead. Although we did have some when I mucked out the rabbitry for the last time this spring. So, I needed to find an alternate source for nitrogen rich pellets.

We live in zone 7, although you couldn't tell it from the weather this year. For most of us seveners, our spring gardens runs into our summer garden and our fall plantings runs into our summer gardens so we set aside spaces from our spring gardens to plant our fall gardens after after amending our spaces with compost and fertilizers. I usually amend the soil of our spring garden areas when I side dress the summer crops.

Since we don't have rabbit manure to use anymore and the chicken (hen house) waste hasn't reached its 6 months to a year's worth of composting yet, I was stuck with nothing to amend the garden patches with. The solution I fell back into my old urban fertilizer mixture to add to the area we set aside in our garden for fall planting.  I guess I should have tested the soil, but I pretty much knew what had been deleted from the previous planting.

My General All-Purpose Fertilizer Mix
(Broadcast spread over a 800 sq ft garden
Or, divide in half for 1 TBS side dressing plants)

Available @WalMart for $5
1-4 lb bag of Expert Gardener 4-4-4 organic fertilizer
1-3 lb bag of organic blood meal, 12-0-0
1- 3 lb bag of organic bone meal, 2-14-0
2 cup wood ash, for 13 essential nutrients
2 cups Epsom salts, for magnesium
2 cups egg shells, washed and ground into a powder,  for calcium

It's pretty balanced as most general fertilizers go. Extra nitrogen for plant growth and extra phosphorus for good root development. Magnesium is added because it's essential for calcium absorption. Calcium prevents root end rot in tomatoes and squashes. It also makes for healthier plants. In plants like broccoli, it boosts the nutritional calcium value in the end produce.

DISCLAIMER-I know you shouldn't mix nitrogen rich compounds with wood ash. It creates an ammonia gas, but I mix it and use it within 12 hours, and it's never seal and stored. Wood ash also raises the pH of the soil, but I use so little of it. The insect repellent qualities and the essential nutrients from the wood ash makes it a necessary ingredient to my mix. ***If in doubt, leave it out.*** Wood ash can be hand broad casted over the area separately and raked in.😀

So how does your garden grow?

Have a blessed day!
Cockeyed Jo

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Cooking with Chef Jo: No Pectin, Low Sugar Peach Jam

I only wish mine were this big.
I mentioned last post that I was picking peaches and was going to make jam with them. The recipe I use is pretty standard. I use lemons as a high pectin addition. This way I don't have to run to the store and buy pectin to make my jam thick, nor do I have to deplete my food storage of Clear-Jel. This was the first run of seriously harvesting one tree. We picked a 5-gallon bucket full before heavy rains had us scampering inside.

For the amount of sugar added, I started with 3 cups and add more to taste. With my little tween golf/tennis ball sized peaches, it took 15 peaches to get 7 pounds worth. They were quite tart so I went up to four and a half cups of sugar. They still have a little bit of tartness, but I like my jams that way.

Peach No Pectin, Low Sugar Jam
About 8 half pint jars

What you'll need
7 lb peaches, about 6 large peaches, small diced
3-5 cups sugar
3 lemons, juiced and 1 zested

Putting it all together

  • Peel and dice peaches.
  • Place peaches in a saucepan. 
  • With a potato masher, break up fruit until there are equal amounts of peach juice to peaches.
  • Add 3 cups of sugar, lemon zest and juice.
  • Over medium heat, still until the sugar is dissolved and bring mixture to a boil.
  • Taste your jam. If it needs more sugar, add it now.
  • Bring mixture back to a boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved.
  • Boil two minutes.
  • Reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer, stirring occasionally for 20 minutes.
  • Ladle into hot jars.
  • Wipe rims, lid and ring the jars. Water bath can for 15 minutes. Jam will thicken as it cools.
Slather this jam on biscuits with a ham steak dinner. Use it with brown sugar as a glaze for a whole
ham.  It's excellent on English muffins. Or, anytime you want a "little bit of Georgia in every bite." We aren't called the peach state for nothing.

Y'all have a blessed day!
Chef Jo

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Picking Peaches

Ah, yes. It's summertime. When you can take a break from working outside, get a drink, and sit in the shade. That first sip of iced tea sizzles down your throat and into your stomach. It makes an almost audible hissing sound as it travels down.

About eight years ago, Mel watched a Youtube video about how to grow fruit trees from seeds. She started three peach, an apple, and a lemon tree seeds from produce she had purchased from the store. As they grew into quart, then three gallon sized containers, she began thinking of where she'd plant them. She decided to leave the lemon tree in the greenhouse because of the cold winters. She planted the apple tree out where the
Three peach trees in our garden.
orchard is now. It was later killed by the Bobcat when we terraced the orchard. The three peach trees were planted at the edge of the new side driveway. The garden didn't stretch as far as it does now. It was only for a year so she could move them when she figured out where she wanted them to go.

Fast forward five years, we now have an orchard area to plant the peaches in, but the peach trees have gotten so large we can't move them easily. She did top them off so the main trunk only reaches five foot. All three are planted together in a clump with barely a foot between the main trunks. Up until this year, all the peaches either fell prey to insects or squirrels. So, we never even tasted them.

This year was different. In spite of Mother Nature sending cold weather until June, we have an abundance of peaches that even the bugs, squirrels, and birds couldn't consume them all. They are smaller than usual, between a golf and tennis ball size, and quite tart. Yes, we finally got to taste our peaches!

It would probably take ten of them sliced to fill a pint sized jar with peaches. Currently, only one of the three trees have ripe fruit. The other two are loaded with green peaches. So we'd have no shortage of them if I wanted to do that. I haven't done anything in the way of fertilizer or cared for these trees in the five years I've been here. I didn't see the since in wasting my time and resources with these trees if we weren't getting anything from them. For five years, I've held off moving the trees or removing them out of my garden. But surprise, surprise! We have a bumper crop this year. So I'll be fertilizing them this year. Actually, we decided to take the smallest one out so the other two would have a better chance. We are seriously talking about moving them down to the orchard if next year's produce is larger and sweeter...if not all three will be cut down and we'll start over.

So what am I doing with all these tart little peaches? Well, I've been picking them. I've been dicing them up for jams and jellies. I've even halved some for cobblers and pie filling. All these things have loads of sugar added to them so the peaches being tart is a mute point. I will say our little peaches are packed with a great peachy flavor. It's a case that we've been gifted these peaches to harvest. It was totally unexpected. So as usual, it's waste not, want not, and see where it goes.

How to make money with just some ingenuity and a little bit of time? The year was 1991, I was a single mother, working my way through college with five children underfoot. I'd pick up cull peaches for free from other vendors. They were too bruised or weren't pretty enough to sell. The next week I'd have more peach jam to sell. Not to be out done, my children picked up corn husks and silk from other vendors. They made corn husk dolls and corn husk refrigerator magnets to sell too.

 What better way to serve a "Little bit of Georgia in every bite!" This is the tag line I came up with when I sold my peach jam at the farmers market. Tourist's snatched them up by the case load. Soon, other vendors offered to sell our wares for a percentage and I didn't have to get a stall at the market anymore. I just delivered 20 cases of jam to the vendor before the market opened and settled up after it closed. I also picked up their culled peaches. By the time the market closed down in October, I'd made enough money for my textbooks for two semesters, and my children had saved enough money for their own back to school supplies. How's that for cents making sense?

Y'all have a blessed day!
Cockeyed Jo

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Cooking with Chef Jo: Grilled Spatchcock Chicken

I had to opportunity to butcher some chickens with a neighboring homesteader recently. Since this neighbor was new to butchering animals, my payment for teaching them the ins and outs of the techniques was half a dozen legs and thighs out of the forty they were butchering.

Homesteaders can spend a small fortune on specialty butchering products like propane fired deep kettles for scalding the birds, butchering tables, assorted special knives, a plucker, etc. We set the date for a weekend after the chickens were 12-weeks old. Like most folks coming off the government lockdown, money was tight.
The husband asked, "What do we need?"
The wife grabbed her notebook to write it all down. 
The husband was ready to mentally tabulate what they'd have to spend.
I rattled off my list. "Your water bath canner pot, a couple really sharp knives, a sharp pair of garden shears or kitchen shears, a work table, a meat thermometer, a couple 5-gallon bucket, and an ice cooler. Oh, and some clothes you don't  mind getting dirty in."
They smiled and answered back immediately, "We got all of that! Except a worktable."
"No worries. You still got that old door in the barn, two empty trash cans, and an old tarp? 
They nodded. 
"Clean 'em up with bleach, and then we got us a worktable!"

When I asked them how they were going to use the chickens (the chef in me snuck out), About half  were going to be cut into pieces for frying and about 15 birds would be left whole for roasting. The wife, being a city girl, had no idea how to cut up a chicken, but she'd watch others do it.

They had been on YouTube watching videos of people butchering chickens. They saw all the equipment, the dollar signs were rolling into a tidy sum equaling a house payment and they were worried. 

This was their first venture into raising their own meat. They didn't even know if they wanted to do this yet. Some people like my roommate, find the process distasteful. They'll do anything else to homestead but leaves the butchering to someone else. Me, I don't feel that way. I believe God populated the Earth with animals to help, feed, and clothe us. They should be cared for and respected throughout their lives until that time comes. The fact is, you can get it if you want it, but you DON'T HAVE TO HAVE IT. I teach the basics first. Remember my old chef's motto, Have knife and I'll cook? Well, it's the same for butchering.

Butchering day came. The night before I went over and helped them setup because we'd start at 8AM. I arrived an found the couple, his tween son from another marriage, and one and half sets of parents. Her father had to work. I started the class, "I didn't know we'd have so many hands today. Welcome to how to butcher a chicken 101. "

My teaching method is is simple; see one, do one, show one to teach one, and pass it on. The site I chose was close to the house and a faucet. I'd instructed hubby dearest to start a fire in the fire pit and to put the kettle on to heat by 7:30. I checked the temperature with the thermometer. It was right at 140 degrees and I poked the wood some. "You want to the temperature at 150-160 degrees before you butcher your first chicken."

I won't bored you readers with the slaughter and butchering process except to tell you how to spatchcock a chicken. There's just three steps:
  1. Cut along either side of the back bone and place spine aside, 
  1. Remove the chicken innards and turn the chicken breast side up.
  1. Press hard on the center of the breast until you hear it crack. You will notice that the chicken now lays flat.
Congratulations! You've just spatchcocked your first chicken.

Now what can you do with it? Quite a bit. Spatchcocking a chicken is the first step of a partially deboned chicken, you can grill it in less time, it makes it easier to cut into pieces, roast it, you can do almost anything to it. I rarely hear at the dinner table, "I want the back pieces, please."

By Spatchcocking a chicken before you cut it up into pieces, it's easier to see where the cuts are for leg, thighs, wings. and breasts. I was teaching our homestead newbie wife how to cut up a chicken too. I was horrified to learn that they only wanted the breast meat and only a little bit of dark meat. That's our favorite part. We saved the back, hearts, livers, gizzards, and feet of the birds for broth, and the organs for pet food. The heads and other innards went to another homesteader's hogs. The feather went into the compost pile. Nothing was wasted. With so many hands working all forty chickens were in the cooler full of salted ice water for the night by early afternoon. Waste not want not.

What?! Is that it? No recipe?!
Now, would I do that to you after you patiently read through the story?

Grilled Chicken with Wild Rice Stuffing
Serves 8

What you'll need
2 chickens shown here
1 Spatchcocked chicken, raw
3TBS honey
1 tsp dried thyme, or 2 tsp fresh, finely chopped*
2 cloves garlic, minced or 2 tsp garlic powder*
1 tsp onion powder, or 2TBS minced fresh onion*
2 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp ground rosemary, or 2 tsp fresh minced*
3 TBS oil
1 tsp sage, dried and ground or 2 tsp fresh minced*

Notes-* I prefer using dried herbs when grilling. Fresh herbs tend to leave a charred flavor.

Wild Rice Stuffing
If you like Uncle Ben's, this is similar without the chunky bits
Serves 8- 1 cup servings

What you'll need
2 tsp salt
4 c water
4 cup chicken stock
4 c long grain rice
2/3 c dry wild rice
1/2 c mushrooms, chopped
1/2 c dried cranberries
1/2 c dried raisins
1/2 c toasted pecan, chopped
half stick of butter
1/2 medium onion, small dice
1 rib of celery, small dice
1 tsp parsley, chopped
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
2 tsp turmeric, ground
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp ginger powder
1 tsp black pepper

Putting it all together
Spatchcocked Chicken

  • Blend honey and oil together until combined well.
  • Dry entire surface of the chicken with paper towels.
  • Coat entire surface of the chicken, front and back with honey mixture.
  • Blend remaining herbs and spices, and sprinkle on both sides of the chicken slightly pressing the herbs into it.
  • Place in a plastic bag and refrigerate for 1 hour.
  • After the marinade time is done grill over hot coals. Approximately 20 minutes each side. Until meat thermometer reads 160 degrees. 
  • Set aside 10 minutes to seal juices in under a foil tent.
Wild Rice Stuffing

  • In a cast iron Dutch oven pot, melt butter over medium coals.
  • Add onions, celery, cranberries, rices, mushrooms, salt, and raisins to the melted butter. Cook while stirring until the onions are translucent. 
  • Add broth, herbs and spices, and water to the pot. Bring to a boil.
  • Stir at a boil for 2 minutes, and cover the pot. 
  • Move pot so that the temperature simmers the rice mixture. 
  • Once the liquid is all absorbed, the stuffing is done.
Serving suggestions- A green tossed salad comes to mind as an additional side. Place a cup worth of
stuffing onto a plate. Cut the the chicken into portions and place on top of the rice stuffing. This will allow any meat juices to run onto the stuffing. With a tossed salad, you've got a plate full over yumminess that can't be beat. The fruity, nuttiness of the dressing compliments the savory sweetness of the chicken. The sweetness of the honey has caramelized onto the skin of the chicken giving  it a crispy texture compared to the juicy savory meat.

Y'all have a blessed day!
Chef Jo                                                       

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Giving Up on the Garden for This Year, Sort of

The heat and no rain has killed my Roma tomatoes...ARGH! It didn't matter how much I watered them. Same was true for most of my summer garden. About the only plants that are doing fairly well is Mel's experiment bucket garden. My straight neck squash and zucchini finally put on some female and male flowers respectively. The only problem is they have no counterparts. I've never had such a bad gardening year. It only took three weeks of blistering heat and weed growth to do it.

But I have a plan for a better spring next year. What I don't plant in the fall will get a new foot of hay, a layer of compost, and at least 6" of fallen leaves (when they drop). I'll sprinkle the whole thing with nitrogen rich blood meal and let it cook for fall and winter. I'll do the same for the fall garden when I finish harvesting it and it will cook all winter. There should be very little of the weeds left by spring also. I hadn't planned building 8" more inches of soil but I gotta do something. Short of spraying an herbicide on it, I can't think of a better solution. Besides, the worms and other beneficial organism will love it. I'll be hitting up the orchard after the trees and bushes go dormant. I'll spike them with Jobe's Organic fertilizer stakes this year too for good measure. I want to sow amaranths and millet around where Mel has planned the new coops and runs for extra goodies for the chickens. We just love our chickens. It's also a good shield from predators.

I ain't tilling no more.  Uh, uh, no way, no how. I'll be saving pennies all fall and winter to afford more of the landscape fabric and pins. We'll also be investing (Haha! They're free) in more five gallon buckets to make Mel's experiment a reality in a big way for all my tomatoes and pepper plants. I'm thinking 40 more buckets and two more stands to start with. So we'll both have a busy winter projects. I'll probably splurge and buy a couple 1"x 10' PVC pipes even though we probably have something that we can make do with here, but I'm not sure if we have enough to do 40 pots. I've got to get another 1/2" PVC pipe for another quail triplex watering system anyhow.

This time, I plan on spreading the landscape fabric underneath the bucket benches. I sure got tired of pulling the weeds that kept growing up between the wire shelving, because we didn't do it in the spring.  Lesson learned. Isn't it amazing how we keep learning as we go in homesteading?! Even when we think we know it all we are still learning. That's what I love about this lifestyle.

So it's back to the drawing board for our organic garden, sort of, to get the weeds under control again. Honestly, it was time to pile on a fresh layer. It should be done every year and we skipped last year because I wasn't able to do it. Usually it's about 6" worth not 18", but it's been a couple of years. All that composting being done shrinks with time. Healthy, nutrient rich soil equals better produce, Over the winter, I'll also be sprinkling wood ash too.

Yes, next spring will begin a great gardening year, starting with revitalized soil and less weeds.

Y'all have a blessed day!
Cockeyed Jo

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Cooking with Chef Jo: My NOT Pasta Roni Angel Hair Pasta Sauce for Stores

I made my copycat version of Pasta Roni Garlic and Herb Pasta Sauce with some angel hair pasta last night to go with the succulent lamb chops with roasted asparagus for dinner. We were celebrating the final completion of laying of the foundation of the new chicken coop and feed/straw storage building. It took Mel three weeks to level and complete it. The first week was clearing the weeds for the 6'x 16' foundation. The second week was spent nursing pulled muscles in her back from zigging instead of zagging emptying the dish washer. The third week was laying all the sand and cap bricks into place level. Yes, Mel actually used a 6' level.

Anyhow I digress. As I was making the pasta sauce, I thought how easy it would be to make it in bulk in a powdered variety so I can make with other forms of pasta in short order. It would be a handy thing to have around. All the fresh stuff you'd need is water, butter, Parmesan cheese, (but I could dehydrate this too) and olive oil. It would be as easy to make as the boxed stuff without the preservatives except what was in the dehydrated milk.

I calculated how much I'd need for ten four-servings pouches like you'd get in a boxed package. When I calculated the costs, it was less than $0.50 a box. I haven't seen boxed that low in the grocery stores in about 20 years so the cost savings was fabulous also.  I'll give you the recipe for one four- serving box amount and you can multiply it by how many you'll think you'll need. I put mine in a quart canning jar and vacuum sealed it. I'll just scoop out 1/2 cup of mix for each four serving.

Jo's NOT Pasta Roni Garlic and Herb Pasta Sauce

What you'll need
3 TBS dehydrated whole milk powder*
1 1/2 chicken bouillon cubes, crushed or equivalent powder
1/2 tsp granulated garlic
1 TBS dried parsley
2 tsp dried Italian Seasoning
1 dash of white pepper
                                                             1 tsp onion powder
                                                             2 TBS dehydrated Parmesan cheese

Notes-* For my dry milk, 3 TBS of powder reconstitutes to 1 cup. My calculation reconstitutes to 1/2 cup of milk equivalent so the consistency is thicker like half and half or cream.

Putting it together

  • In a lidded saucepan, place 1 3/4 cup water, 1 TBS butter and 1 TBS Olive oil
  • Bring to a boil.
  • Stir in 1/2 cup sauce mix.
  • When dissolved, stir in 1 1/4 c of pasta of your choice.
  • Boil for two minutes.
  • Reduce heat to a low simmer and put the lid on the pot.
  • Simmer for 10 minutes adding some more water if needed for bigger and thicker pasta. I usually use angel hair or medium egg noodles. 
  • After time is up and the pasta is cooked, there will be some liquid in the pan. It will thicken as it cools.
  • Let rest for 5 minutes and serve.
For service- For angel hair, linguini, or spaghetti, twirl the pasta servings into a bee hive formation.
The Parmesan cheese will continue to thicken as it cools to hold it together. You can sprinkle fresh grated Romano or Parmesan cheese on top with a pinch of fresh chopped parsley for a festive presentation. For egg noodles or rotini, scoop two scoops per serving with an ice cream scoop. Again, it will hold together as it cools or use a biscuit cutter and make rounds. Remove the forms used before service. Enjoy!

Y'all Have a blessed day!
Chef Jo

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Is This Corn?

It's a little over my 5' waist in height. It's about 3' high at the most. It has tassels and silks. If it had been 6' or 7' tall I would have believed it to be corn. But. I dunno. I'm talking about my five lone plants in my corn patch. These are the five planted corn seeds that survived the chickens and the dogs out of twenty seeds that sprouted.

Getting them to grow to this stage has been a constant battle. The have been knocked over by the animals and storms repeatedly this growing season. I dutifully propped them back up trying to will them to survive. It's April's and May's unseasonable cold spell that I blame the stunted growth on. I've never seen corn so short. It will be amazing if the ears fully form. I did my usual bag pollination as soon as I notice the pollen falling to enhance a possible yield. There's only one ear per stalk though so I'm not holding my breath. It remains to be seen.

My straight neck yellow squash has put off showy male blossoms but no female flowers yet. Watch them be sterile. Now my zucchini is just the opposite, all female and no males. I've watched the fruits go unpollinated, turn brown and fall off the stems. The good news is that everything has survived the onslaught of Japanese beetles and so far, no sign of aphids nor squash beetles. But then, I've seen great flurries of ladybugs and lacy wings. I've even seen a few praying mantes. They have to be eating something. Since we've not been able to keep the grass mowed, I figure there's an abundance of food for them in the weeds. So far nothing has touched my tomato plants.

I had to water the plants this week for the first time in months. We've actually had a dry spell of dour days without rain! Although the ground is still moist a couple inches below the live ground cover (clover) they were a little thirsty and limp so I gave them some out of the rain barrel. With barely a cup and a half per plant, they stood taller and happier. The thunder rolling off in the distance tells me I won't have to worry about it tomorrow.

The heat index is in the 90s finally with the lows in the low 70s. It's definitely summer. I think I'm going to plant some more cucumber seeds tomorrow. It looked like stem rot or cut worms are nibbling the bases of my six plants.

Mel lost interest in her experimental garden when it didn't instantly didn't take off and it developed weeds. Sigh! I pulled the weeds, scratched in some bone and blood meal, and then added some organic 4-4-4 fertilizer to each bucket she planted. There's no such thing as a "no work" garden. It needs love and attention. The added boost has produced about a foot of growth in her experiment. She had planted wild flower seeds with the cucumbers and the have robust growth. 

In Mel's partial defense, she has building the new coop and run in the orchard. First she had to cut down the 5' weeds in the spot she wanted to place it into. No mean feat with only a hand sickle and no power tools. She picked up the wrong canisters at Lowes for our weed eater. She has since rectified it so the second coop and run will be easier. But loading sand and concrete cap blocks have to be done manually down to the second terraced level one load a a time in the cart. The cap blocks are the flooring for the 4'x8'coop and 4'x8'feed/straw storage building. Some 40 blocks later, they are all leveled and sanded in. The walls and the rest of the coop is just wood working, and for Mel, a piece of cake. She's definitely getting her exercise going up and down the 6' drop between tiers with first the blocks and bags of sand, and then the cut lumber. After the building goes up, she'll be digging the post holes for the 2x3 fencing for the run. It will be covered on five sides for the ultimate predator protection. We've got enough lumber and fencing around the homestead for the first one and egg sale money for the second one. The chickens are now laying an average a dozen eggs a day. We've set
aside monies for the next purchase of breed specific15 chickens for the coop nearest the house for a grow out area until they start laying. Then, the second chickens will go into the the coop and run on the third tier. By keeping two roosters with the 13 hens, we should have a good fertilization ratio to let the first batch of hens go broody. For of them have already tried to brood some eggs, but with no rooster with them, it was a wasted effort. The coop and run nearest the house will become the brooding/chick house. The chicks will either be sold or allowed to become layers. That's the plan, anyhow. So Mel's Poultry Farm is finally on it's way, and will continue to grow a bit smaller than she first thought, but it's going.

That's our update for the week...

Y'all have a blessed day!
Cockeyed Jo