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 24, 2017

A Cockeyed Update

In a few weeks, is our first frost date. This growing season has zoomed by. I'm still trying to adjust to having four seasons again.

Honestly, it's been a cockeyed roller coaster of weather this year. Marked with late freezes, a cooler than normal summer, rainy spring and summer (not that I'm complaining), and a tropical storm blowing through our mountains. I keep saying that next year will be better. Or, I hope it will be.

BECAUSE of our strange weather patterns, the orchard wasn't planted, but it is cleared now with a thick layer of cardboard, wood chips (thank you TS Irma), and straw so it will be ready in the spring for the trees and bushes. We did expand our garden area. It now has a blanket of cardboard, wood chips, and straw too. My goal for the garden this year was to produce six months worth of vegetables. We fell short. I only managed a few months worth. Vegetables that grew well for several years didn't this year. In part I blame the chickens...they ate the seeds, and decided my garden was the ideal place to sunbathe and dust bathe. Once again, I had no idea what would come up, or even if the plants would survive the chicken claws and beaks.

Most of what I canned was chemical-free, non-GMO, and locally sourced produce. Although it seemed like I canned a whole lot, it isn't when you look at how many meals and sides it will be. But then again, I did manage six months worth. I'm still working on Mel's attitude of not having too much food around. She just has a hard time understanding the quantity of food that is necessary to feed us for that amount of time. It's the city girl in her. It's so much easier to go to the grocery store every couple of weeks and buy what you need without thinking what the total amount needed for months. Sure we could still do that, but it goes against a healthier, self-sufficient lifestyle. It's hard to find good, whole foods in the grocery stores.

She griped when I canned two cases of apple pie filling. "We aren't going the eat THAT many pies!" Then, I made my pie filling muffins.  I didn't hear another peep out of her.

When I canned two bushels of green bean, her favorite. It was the same thing. I tried logic. "How many cans of green beans do you want to eat a week?" That didn't work. So finally I told her, "Shut up! It's my money." She stopped fighting me about food stuff. She's also got a part-time job now too so she's out of the house more.

While our 5 cu ft freezer is filled to capacity with beef, chicken, pork, and shrimp, I keep hearing her say that there's no more room but yet, I find room. Mel has a giant love of animal protein. I can take it or leave it. Five pounds of organic soybeans and dry beans will supply the amino acids I need without the animal based meat products for quite a while. Not that I don't like a well cooked steak, or chicken and dumplings from time to time. I really do! I love my veggies. I made a video of making Lo Mein. Mel's complaint, "It has too many vegetables." When I made chicken Lo Mein the other night I made hers with mushrooms, onions, and garlic for vegetables. Mine was loaded with about six ounces of vegetables. I try to get her to eat healthier, but sometimes it's a losing battle.

The Cockeyed Critters are doing well. I had the opportunity to buy a new breeding trio of Chinchilla rabbits, but didn't. Mel helped me butcher the roosters this go around! She held them while I dispatched them. She learned how to pluck them and watched as I butchered them saving the choice bits. It's a start. But by the same token, she loves the cuddly, fluffy bunnies. She doesn't mind eating them but raising them for meat purposes, she's against it. I don't understand the difference meat is meat. I watched her tear into a deer roast with no problem. If I could still maneuver, I'd be packing another freezer with venison hunting season. She doesn't think of deer as Bambi, or beef as Elise the cow. I do know that I'll be getting my quota of squirrel meat this year. Wait there is no quota. :o) I'll eat squirrel in a pinch but it'll go towards dog food. Anybody else notice how expensive animal food has gotten?  I wish the cats and dogs would eat fodder too, but their diets is meat protein based. I really love knowing where my food comes from and how its grown. It's quite a bit quieter around here since four roosters went on to their next stage of life.

Moira and Mel
The cockeyed rabbits, now down to ten, are doing great in the new, rabbitry barn. The does love their new, larger cages. The bucks are content. They get their weekly outings. All the bucks are allowed to hop and play for hours inside the rabbitry area (12'x24') while they are groomed. The does, likewise, are allowed their time too. Moira, while sweet and timid with us, is a holy terror and territorial in the open space. She'll stake out a corner and chase everyone else out of it- including the cats and chickens. It's really hilarious to watch her guard her territory. This giant poof ball chasing a full grown hen. Even Flynn the fearless runs from her. She actually only weighs a little over three pounds without the fur, but you'd never know it from her thick, luxurious coat. But then, all our angoras are great woolers. Our Chinchilla rabbit doe, Colleen, doesn't seem to miss the kit rotation I've had her on before we lost Keiran. But who really knows what bunnies think? 
Y'all have a blessed day!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

We Survived the Storm of the Century

Well, we survived Irma. While watching this huge storm creep up Florida at 15 mph, we were preparing for it even here in the northeast Georgia mountains.Mel saw an Amber Alert on FaceBook for the state of Florida. The whole state was buried under the storm. The winds and outer bands of the storm proceeded to us before it even made landfall near Tampa.

At 6:45 AM, it was on it's way to us, but even bouncing off the coast, it was still a category 1 hurricane. Mel and I both moved away from Orlando and southeast Georgia to these mountains expecting never to have to deal with hurricanes ever again. This storm was too big. It was picking up warm water from the Gulf and the Atlantic.

Having lived for decades threatened each year by these storms, all our preparations were made. I'd been canning like a mad woman all summer long. Food would not be an issue. Loss of power for an extended period of time would be difficult but not an insurmountable issue. We cook with gas and we had a store of charcoal. The major snag would be the freezer stuff, but I could can all the meat products in a pinch so we really wouldn't lose anything. It would just take time to do. The ice would load the coolers in the meantime for milk and cheeses. The eggs weren't washed so they were still covered in their bloom so they would keep for a week or more at 60 degrees without spoiling.

We were as prepared as we could be for the advancing storm of the century. Sort of. The new chicken coop to protect our flock wasn't complete so they still roost on our front porch. They could go underneath the porches or trailer if it got really bad. The weather service was predicting 50 mph winds even though the storm status had been reduced to a tropical storm. We figured down in our hollow we'd get maybe 40 mph winds. We shouldn't have to worry about flooding with the creek 100 feet below the house.

By nightfall, we hunkered down and were watching Netflixs when we heard a loud cracking sound soon followed by the a loud boom and vibration of a large tree falling. Yes, we felt it 1/4 mile away. The lights went out. We were ready with lanterns. We watched the trees bend and sway as the wind tried to whipped them into submission. The chickens on the porch were blown off the porch rails. The hens uttered shocked cries as the wind knocked them onto the porch. Soon they gave up trying to roost on the rails favoring the shelter of the wood pile. By the morning, they were tired, wind blown and alive none the worse given the night's events.

Also by the morning we found that while we survived the tropical storm, we were hit by tornado Flynn. Ah, come on Jo! Tornadoes don't have names. But I tell you honestly, this one did in the form of our 16-week old kitten, Flynn. He had blown through the inside of our home like a tornado during the night. Cat food food dishes were upset and their contents littered the floors. Towels had been unfolded and dragged hither and yon, candles separated from their candle sticks. The guitar case had been used  as a monkey bar. There was nothing on the end tables and two dining room tables that escaped his notice. Everything was a toy to be played with and dropped on the floor.

It took the better part of the day just cleaning up the mess he made! He was so-o-o naughty that when I went to Walmart for extra paper towels, I saw this dog coat and HAD to buy it for him. He still can't figure out how to really walk around in it yet. He'll appreciate it this winter. Flynn definitely had a flashback moment to his feral beginnings. I chock it up to him being bored out of his gourd from being inside for a day and a half because of the rain.

Anyhow, back to my tale of the storm.

We ventured outside to survey the damage. The rain had stopped around 7 AM. Branches were strewn all over the place. Mel grabbed the larger branches and limbs to clear the driveway. I grabbed the smaller one starting a pile for the debris. We made our way up the drive to the main road. We found the cause of our power outage. A large popular tree had fallen during the storm. A power line was visible underneath. Going half a mile down the main road in the other direction, an old oak tree blocked any forward progress downing even more power lines. The impact of these huge trees with the road actually broke the trees into large sections. We headed back home to work on more clean up work and await our electric company to restore power. Power was restored to our section within 19 hours. We are lucky. Over 75% of the county lost power and still 40% is still dark. After three days, we are still picking up the smaller sticks. Volunteers are still clearing trees late into the night. We've got a good start on the kindling pile for winter. This area just isn't used to tropical storms like this blowing through.

The refuse, chipped up trees, have found a new home...our garden. We've volunteered as a dump site for some tree services. Our orchard area and garden will soon be covered a two-foot thick layer of the stuff. It will decompose over winter and be ready for an additional layer of compost (chicken and rabbit manure, straw, and kitchen scraps). It'll be ready to plant in the Spring. For every cloud there is a silver lining. This is ours.

Nothing is impossible.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Killing Off Roos on the Homestead

Back in late March when we bought our chicks, we bought straight runs. We knew we'd get some roosters.. We were actually praying for one of each type. Extra roos would not go to waste. They'd just go to freezer camp or the stock pot for us. We got a fifty/fifty split. I guess this was fair, but we were hoping more for a 60/40 split, hens to roosters. Well, I'm finally getting around to it.

Yeah, I know we're late in butchering. It should have happened three or four months ago. We were busy with other projects like the new coops and runs. We weren't going to use fryers for the freezer, but stew them in a stock pot. There wasn't any rush for the slaughter. We have plenty of young chickens in our freezer already, thanks to a Zaycon order earlier in the year. Next year, the plan is to harvest all our own chickens.

Of the sixteen birds we had (12 new and 4 old flock). We've lost a few over the past month due to free ranging attrition and we are down to ten. Of the ten, six are roosters. In this harvest, I'm working smarter by killing off the rooster two at a time. They are no longer tender young birds so the delay won't hurt them. It's not only the energy it take to catch, slaughter, and butcher the chickens but the processing time. The roosters has to be cooked, deboned, and then canned. The bone broth needs to be chilled, schmaltz removed (chicken fat), and then made into soups, or canned as straight broth. This takes time and space. We only have one small refrigerator. I can't justify the cost and energy use for heavy use of a second one for a few months out of a year. Before my stroke, it was nothing to butcher ten birds a day, but now, two is my limit. I plan on killing two this week and two next week. Even working within the 30 minute killing to chilling time frame for each bird. The rest tales me hours.

Mel, God love her, is tenderhearted. She can't kill our animals. Canning and cooking has never been her thing. That's okay, because it is mine. So it's left for me to handle. We both grew up in privileged, upper middle class, lower high class income households, but what we did during that time that's where the similarities differ.

My family was heavy into family activities. While we had the money for servants and any food we wanted; we camped, hunted, fished, and cooked for ourselves too. My parents wanted us to have a well round childhoods. We foraged in the woods. We preserved items we got from u-pick farms and a host of other things. My dad had two rules. You kill it; you clean it, and you eat what you kill. You don't kill for sport. Of course, it was a fun/sporting activity too. When you harvest fruits and vegetables you are also killing them so the rules still applied. Not that we NEEDED to do all of this to survive like some people, but it taught us life long survival skills. It also taught us to respect life no matter what form it took. It is also where I developed my death is the absence of learning and no education is lost principles.

For Mel, homesteading and self sufficiency was an "it would be nice" thing. But she's willing to learn. For me, I've been practicing it for fifty years thanks to my upbringing. So, butchering rabbits and chickens is a no brainer. I've got my two (21 and 23 qt) canners on the stove for boiling water. As soon as they come up to a boil, I'll set them on simmer until Mel carries them out to the big tub to help loosen the feathers on the birds. After they come to a boil, I'll run up to the store for a bag of ice for the cooler. I've already filled the cooler half way full of water and dissolved a cup of salt in it. This will help draw the blood and any impurities out of the chicken after it's gutted and before I cook them. I usually do this for two hours. It'll give me a chance to set up my cooking station.

I'll knock a rooster in the head, so it'll lay still for me to chop off its head. I'll let it thrash around in a 5-gallon bucket. Then, I'll carry it to the tub of hot water. A minute or two dunking and it's off to the plucking table. This new way of harvesting chickens for me and is a far cry from the cone method I used to use. But that method takes two hands. I have a towel on my work table so the chicken does not slide around. I'll give it whole area a quick rinse with the garden hose before I start gutting the bird. Since I'm only doing two birds a bowls will suffice for keep and discard piles. I'll rough chop the chicken into quarters so they'll fit in my stock pot easier and drop them into the ice bath. Then it's on to the next one.

I wanted to guy one of those turkey frying set ups before I harvested these birds, but all the local stores have been out of stock. My bad luck so it's carrying hot pots of water (not me but Mel). I figure they'll be back in stock for Thanksgiving.  That's okay, I'll have it for the next cycle of chickens next year. Not to mention large quantities of soups/chili/stew and tomatoes for canning.

That's it for this week.

Y'all have a blessed day.

Progress Continues at the Cockeyed Homestead

New back door, stairs, and ramp
I believe it was a month ago or longer that I mentioned that we were putting in ramps off our porches for easier access for me into the house. Well, one of them is done and it is the Taj Mal of ramps. Or at least cost wise it should be. Building materials especially pressure treated lumber ain't cheap.

I should mention that we started on the back ramp because it would give me easier access to the food storage building and the animals. Well let me say that this one ramp cost me more than I allotted for both ramps because of an addition I made to the ramp in back. So I'm stopping with the one. A deck that would allow a wheelchair or my wagon to turn around on. I will say that the finished product was nicer, stronger, and more utilitarian than I could have imagined.
porch L store room R

We held off moving my home canned goods into the storage room until the project was completed. Last night, Mel and I moved 16 cases of goods into the store room. Yes, I've been busy. The garden had a lackluster performance year because of a late cold (freezing temps in May!) followed by a blistering short lived heat wave. But I more than made up for it with local contacts. Not that anybody had a stellar year, but homesteading is a community. I traded off herb for vegetables. I even bought a few cases of produce off local vendors. Next year, I'm hoping not to have to buy anything.
Rabbits and chicken at the bottom

Among the weeds are watermelons, tomatoes, okra, cucumbers, and black eyed peas. But then again, these same weeds like grasses, clover, wild plantain, wild violets, etc offer free food for our rabbits. Nothing goes to waste here. We are stock piling straw, grass clippings, cardboard, and compost for a major revamp of the garden area late fall. We are going to till it and bury the area in about 24" of this extra material. I'm also going to line the area next to the barn drive through with old, molded straw bales and trying for a living fence in the spring.

Broody/Gimpster's new home
In the rabbit hoop barn (pictured top left), our injured hen from last winter has a safe and secure habitat. She's got a cage up with the rabbits at night. During the day she has the entire 12x24 area to roam around. We set water and food down for her during the day. She can see the other hens and roosters through the chicken wire clad pallets enough to be sociable, but isn't jumped on by the roosters and hens. I did notice that the twice daily physical therapist I did with her wasn't a complete waste of time. She bear weight on the leg to help support her after a dust bath and long enough to scratch with her fully functioning leg. It's only for a matter of
seconds, but she has adapted.  I wish all humans living post stroke like I am the same resiliency and adaptability.

Her new digs even has a nest box just for her. She still gives us an egg a day. This was her saving grace. Otherwise, I would have been culled her months ago. She's so tamed now that even one-handed me can pick her up with barely a ruffled feather. Her head and neck still bears the scars of her narrow escape from the figure with the scythe. Her comb on top of her head is a short, mangled mess instead of her once beautiful comb, but she's a keeper. Like a puppy she comes and greets me whenever I enter the rabbitry.Then, she'll hop up to me and clucks askance for treats. For the past couple of weeks, it has been deer apples that were so bad I couldn't make applesauce, apple pie filling, or apple butter with them. Out of the 65 lbs of deer apples I got for $13, there was about a 3-gallon bucket of bad apples. The chickens go nuts for these.

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

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Apples Get a Second Life and Even a Third

'Tis almost that favorite time of year for most men...deer season. You can get deer apples for cheap in the farmer's market. I saw an auction ad for them 65 lbs for $13. They may be under ripe, bruised, bug nibbled on, or just plain ugly. They are deemed unsalable to human consumers who only want bright, shiny, and pretty apples.

Not me! I'm looking at these apples and thinking apple pie filling, applesauce, and apple butter. Yummies for my tummy! Our newly planted apple trees here at the Cockeyed Homestead are still a few years from producing. The one ancient apple tree on the property was raided by squirrels again this year. So, I'm still having to search elsewhere for apples.

Bed Bath & Beyond model
At 21 cents a lb for apples, count us in! Sure they might require some extra labor getting them ready for the peeler/corer, but for the price I couldn't ignore it. But before my purchase of these apples, I needed somehow to peel and core them. I used to say, "With a sharp knife, I can do anything." I could shred fifty lbs of cabbage in an hour for sauerkraut. Of course, that was before my strokes left me with one functioning arm. Now, I need extra tools to get the job done. So I searched for one of those peeler/corer thing-a-ma-jigs that my grandmother had. I wanted one that bolted to the table, but short of ordering one, I had to get a suction base one. I was pleasantly surprised by the one I purchased. The suction cup actually held well!

Usually for pie filling, I like nice sized wedges of apple in my pie so I didn't use the slicer. This time was the exception. If the slices got broken, it was okay. Since it's just Mel and I on the homestead, pint jars were fine for apple pie filling. Huge, deep dish pies have been replaced by hand pies or smaller, individual serving type pies. Smaller pies need less or smaller pieces of apples. For applesauce and apple butter the size of the slices didn't matter.

When I picked up my deer apples, I wasn't surprised by the lot. It was just as I suspected. I got busy sorting them. Nothing goes to waste on this homestead. The really bad apples (overripe, too bruised, really wormy, etc) were placed in a bucket to be fed to the chicken and rabbits as treats. For the chickens, it's mainly to get them from underfoot. I ended up with a 3-gallon bucket of these. For every ten tasty, but ugly apples I threw in a couple of under ripened apples as I peeled and cored them to keep my tart to sweet ratio.

After all of them were peeled, sliced and cored, I rinsed the slices with cold water. I ended up with two 5-gallon buckets of the "waste." The reason the word waste is in quotes is because nothing is wasted until it truly is waste. I'll show you what I mean.

One 5-gallon bucket of peels and cores went into the kitchen. This was set aside to make fruit pectin for jams and jellies. The last 5-gallon bucket was set aside for homemade apple cider vinegar.

Spoon test
The bucket of peels and cores destined to become pectin was rinsed and place in a stock pot 2:1 ratio with water to boil. Two gallons of water to 1 gallon of peels/ cores. I did a spoon test to check the pectin. Once the liquid was reduced by half, it was strained through a butter cloth bag. It was allowed to slowly drip (no squeezing) overnight. The liquid was brought up to a boil the next day and hot packed unto jars. I did not process this in my water bath canner, but inverted the jars for ten minutes and then allowed them to cool and seal on their own. The ratio I use when making my jams and jellies is 1/4 cup of pectin to 1 cup of fruit/juice.

Now for the other 5-gallon bucket of peelings and cores destined to become apple cider vinegar was rinsed and divided up into 1 gallon jugs. I placed one cup of sugar to a ratio of 1:3 apples to water in each jugs. If you have an organic, apple cider like Braggs you can super charge your starting apple cider vinegar by adding 1 cup of Braggs to a gallon. I shook it up until the sugar was dissolved. I covered each with several layer of cheesecloth held in place by a rubber band. Each day, I stir it down for two weeks. It will start to ferment. I'll follow this by once a week stirring unless a SCOBI has formed already. If my SCOBI has formed, I'll carefully remove it, strain the liquid, and then replace the SCOBI. Each week, I'll taste the liquid until it reaches the acidity level I want. Usually within two months it's ready.

Use it for your next batch of apple cider vinegar or make kombucha with it.

Now, I'll have to admit there's not much else you can do with the cores and peels after all of this.Wait, have you got pigs? Yummies for their tummies. Shucks, we don't have pigs on our homestead. But it all can do triple duty by adding it to our compost pile.

Let me add all this up. My cost for the apples was $13. Sugar and assorted spices about $6. My results were three cases of pint jars of pie filling, one case of apple butter, two cases of applesauce. *BONUS* Four gallons of apple cider vinegar, and a case of fruit pectin for free. And, don't forget all those "spent" apple peels and core in the compost pile for feeding my next year's garden.

How's that for adding bang to my bucks?

Y'all have a blessed day.