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, October 29, 2017

Homesteading Update

I can't believe it's the end of October already!This year like last year has zipped by.

One wood shed is almost bare
Here on the homestead we use wood to heat with here at the Cockeyed Homestead. We'll go through about two cords of wood each winter which isn't bad. Mel volunteers at one of the local churches who provides free, split firewood to the needy in the community. As a result, we receive two cords of firewood free of the umpteen dozen cords she helps cut and splits.

 Yes, we have a chainsaw besides the little 14" electric one you've seen in our videos. What homestead wouldn't along with axes and mauls? We save the latter to use it the chainsaws go down or the area is too inaccessible on our
homestead. There's quite a few areas like that now. The problem with the big chainsaw is that Mel lacks the upper body strength to pull the cord to start it. While I have the upper body strength, I'm also paralyzed on my right side, so balance is an issue. You want to have great balance when operating equipment that can easily cut off limbs. I'm taking about arms and legs versus tree limbs. So most times, the big chainsaw is useless on our homestead. Mel does use it on church firewood days. There are other men folk who can pull that cord for her. No other women from the church are present. Go figure. I guess the church has different ideas on what woman's work is. But on a homestead, there is no such distinction. And for us, two women alone creating a homestead, it's all woman's work. Everybody works and does what they can.

The chicken run is complete. It's completely fenced in top and sides. It would have been faster going up if I could have helped her, but I've had some medical issues and couldn't help much. No, predators allowed. We've even extended the fencing two foot out from the bottom and have concrete blocks and rocks on top in case a predator decides to get frisky and burrow its way in. Now we just have to sort through the scraps of plywood to find pieces that are big enough the cover the one and a half open sides. While we have a full sheet of plywood we can cut to do the job, we also have a rack full of pieces leftover from other building projects. We might need that full piece in the future like for an additional coop that's in the overall plan.

What's been the delay in doing this? Well, Mel's workshop in the barn was a disaster. Stuff pilled on top of stuff.  Overflow from the house, my stuff, and tools and such dumped wherever. It had to be cleaned and reorganized. That took a few weeks with Mel being side tracked with her ADD tendencies. The weather hasn't cooperated with two tropical storms blowing through and temperatures higher than usual. The barn becomes hell in a few short hours even with the huge fan in there. The lack of a current source of electricity and lighting in there also hasn't help. Hopefully this will be resolved shortly when the electrician can get out here. I've purchased the additional ceiling fans for the house and four florescent workshop lights. Now I'm waiting on him.At least now we can get to the plywood that was stacked against one wall. Now, if she could only find her other cordless drill,  circular saw, and electric staple gun. Not that we don't have spares. She's been using mine, but that also means I can't help her.

The garden has officially been put to bed until spring. All it needs now is another covering of cardboard and manured straw on top. It will been nice and tucked in for a long winter nap. We have to recover the greenhouse. The knock-off version of duct tape, Mel used when she recovered it last, peeled off like cheap wallpaper leaving gaps in the plastic. It's an easy fix. We'll be growing our fodder, salad greens, and transplants for spring in there this year too.

We are still picking up after the brush by of tropical storms Irma and Nate. Sometimes I wonder if there will be a shortage of kindling this year when looking at the huge pile of sticks and twigs. I know I'm tired of picking them up and this is only from walkways and driveways. We started three piles 4x6x4 and there is still a lot more where that came from. We still have not broken out the electric chainsaw to chop the smaller limbs into more manageable pieces. But it will get done eventually. I much prefer doing this ahead of time instead of when I need it. Plus we still have all the piles that were made when Bobby cleared the driveway and orchard for us. That another six piles (think small foothills like where we live). There's never enough time for all the work on the homestead that needs done.

Although we've been blessed with an unusually long Indian summer, the cold weather is coming and we can't dally.

Y'all have a blessed day.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Homesteading on the Hillside

In real estate sales the phrase is location, location, location. When looking to buy the ideal, self sustainable, homestead it's also true.
Somethings to look for...

1. Access to water- not much will grow without it. It's difficult to keep yourself and livestock alive without it too. Ideally, your
homestead will have a creek, fresh water pond, and be sitting on a huge aquafer that's easy to tap into. Or you have a decent rainfall each year so water catchment systems are a viable option.

It's amazing how much of the clear, liquid stuff you need on a homestead. There's your own hydration, cleanliness, and cooking needs at a bare minimum. On the low end you'll need two gallons of water per person. That's just to survive. That's not counting the luxury things. Keep in mind, the average tub bath is 30 to 40 gallons of water. A small load of laundry takes 3 gallons to wash and rinse.

2. Sunlight- everything needs sunlight to grow and thrive. Most plants take full sun (6-8 hours a day). So if the property is heavily treed, you have to think about cutting some down. That costs money. If you have tall pines, oaks, or maple trees you may be in luck and find a buyers for the trees. Then you only have to worry about removing those stumps and roots. If not, it will take months and back breaking labor to clear enough space to grow anything. If you look at the cost of having someone else clear it for you, it will set you back a few grand.

3. How much land will you need? It depends. Are you looking to raise several head of cattle? For your beef and milk consumption, you need about four to start... two steers and two cows. One bull for fertility and one to eat. The cows, if you rotate your breeding roster, you can have fresh milk year around. You have a 50/50 shot of one of your cows birthing a steer for future consumption. Cattle eat a lot of hay/grass. About 24-27 lbs a day.  That's about 1/2 a ton per cow or bull. The average yield for hay, baring any unforeseen weather calamities, is about 1 ton per acre of field. You do the math. Of course you do get plenty of free fertilizer with these animals when it's composted properly. You also got to consider  shelter for these animals too. This only takes added time.  You also need to remember the gestation period for a cow is 283 days. And, you thought your pregnancy lasted forever.

Now compare this to a rabbit. A rabbit will consume about its body weight of hay per day. The average meat rabbit weighs 10 lbs fully grown at six months old. Two 50 lb bales of hay per year should almost provide what it needs in a year per rabbit. Rabbits can birth a litter 6-10 babies per litter every two months. An acre of hay field can feed 200 or more rabbits per year. That's a lot of meat. It all depends on what weight you harvest your rabbits at. I prefer the 6 lb weight mark or about four months old. The same field would only feed two cows. You'll also need some kind of confinement/ shelter system for your rabbits or your rabbits will join their wild cousins.

Now if you add chickens to the mix, let them free range or put them in a mobile coop. They can be harvested at 12 weeks. They may even raise their own young if separated. Remember, chickens are cannibals too. They are omnivores like us. Again using the same 1 acre field hay measurement, you can raise 50 hens per acre for egg production. The same amount of chickens will produce 2.5 tons of manure. But it will have to be composted if you are planning on fertilizing human crops with it. You'd never have to fertilize your field plus you get eggs. You could even raise more broilers for your dining pleasure because they have a shorter life span. How much chicken can you eat in a year?

So as you can see it all depends on what you are planning to raise in relation to how much land you need. You'll need at least 1/2 an acre (rotational planting) to produce your fruits and vegetables too. Man does not remain healthy on a strict meat diet.

Of course, you'd also need some place to live. Some way to power it. Doing everything with manual power may be a great ideal, but difficult to achieve. There's heating and cooling costs. We do like our creature comforts. You'll need a source for light. Some way to cook your food. You'll also need someplace to store your processed harvest for the lean months when not much grows.

Now having said all of that, we come to the Cockeyed Homestead. It was originally bought site unseen. It had been abandoned for a few years. Heavily over grown with vegetation, and a mixture of old and new trees. In fact, you can't even see the house in Google maps satellite view. At ground level, the property slopes downhill from the main road. It's more than a 200 ft drop to be exact. Located in the NE Georgia foothills the soil is hard packed clay over granite. Not the ideal homestead property. At only two acres, we are limited in what livestock we can raise here. We're even limited by the tree coverage for plantable areas. The only things going for it was it was cheap and it has a spring fed creek bordering the southern and western property lines. Our well water supply comes from a shallow spring fed area between the granite layers. The only thing good about the property is that it's paid for and the property taxes are really low. The trees are not lumber quality, but makes decent firewood if allowed to season for a year or two.

So we are starting our homestead with the deck stacked against us. For two widows almost 60 years old with limited resources, we are etching out our spot. Every inch of our cleared 1/2 an acre cleared land is spoken for. Everything has to pull double or triple duty on such a limited space homestead. Our 1/4 orchard also doubles as our hay field for the rabbits and chickens to feast upon. Vegetables and fruits produced so far has been fresh eating with limited storing for later months. It's going too take a lot of organic matter to expand our vegetable patch larger than it is. What we've got now has been a three year labor of love.

But nothing ventured, nothing gained. This is the lifestyle we've chosen for ourselves. It's what we love doing and we are happy. Yes, it could have been easier with forethought, more planning, and an ideal homestead, but we don't mind hard work. More land would mean more responsibilities and more to keep up with.

Y'all have a blessed day.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

My Trip to the Big Apple

No, not this one again but this one, The Big Red Apple Festival here in Cornelia, GA.

main street's big red apple
Twice a year, Cornelia hosts some sort of apple festival. In the spring it's the Apple Blossom Festival, but in the fall it's the Big Red Apple Festival. Last weekend was it. Even the rain bands from Hurricane Nate could keep people away. That's the nice thing about living in the Northeast Georgia foothills, the abundance of this fruit. Mel wouldn't go because of the rain. In her years of living here, she's never been to this festival, but always wanted to go. I tried my father's line of "You won't melt. Sh*t floats." She came back with that she was made of circuit boards and would fry. Her loss, I was going. She spent the day cleaning out the barn and organizing her tools. I was going to take the day off and have some fun.

It's been an active hurricane season in the Atlantic this year. It looked like the tropical rain from this storm would miss us entirely, but still we got some rain from it last weekend. A shame too because if I had been watching the weather closer, we could have sown the deer plot seeds in the orchard.

Anyhow, back to the festival. In the spring and summer months there are a huge number of street fairs going on every weekend within a 30 mile radius of us.The apple harvest tends to be the last hurrah for the year. It usually a couple of weeks after the county fair. I still find it difficult to believe that not much actually happens in our tiny town, but in surrounding communities. This year was my first Big Red Apple Festival. I wasn't going to miss it because of a little rain. I'm not sorry I did.

A few of the food vendors
Every restaurant and church in the county set up food booths. Although apples were the main theme a plethora of other yummies were also available. I savored my lamb Gyro from one such booth with the gusto of a starving man. Juices ran freely down my chin. I got the mandatory Big Red Apple Festival t-shirt and a caramel apple. Although I was tempted to purchase a huge bag of red apples, I knew they would go bad before we ate all these juicy delights. Even using my grandmother's Depression/farm techniques for storing them. Commercially grown apples just don't keep in cold storage as well as homegrown, organic ones do as in my grandmother's day. They are sprayed too much and too hybridized. I'm looking forward to ours which won't be.

This festival closed three town streets for several blocks. Even the decubitus ulcer on my foot couldn't keep me from seeing all there was to see. Not a drop of rain fell the whole two hours I was there. After perusing all the food vendors, I was off to the craft booth two streets over. The kid zone with the mandatory bounce houses and such was the only street I passed up. Handmade jewelry, wood carvings, aromatherapy products, soaps, honey, sewn and needlework booths, home preserved pickles and jams, and the every country festival's quilt booths didn't miss a visit from me.

You see I was also doing market research for a future Cockeyed Homestead booth at festivals and farmers markets if not next year, for the year after. That's the thing about selling homemade/ homestead products for profit, you gotta know what's available. You also have to know how to make your products more desirable than the other vendors out there. What's missing. I'm also looking at display options for easy set up and take downs. I'm not sure what we'll have to sell at this point. I do know we have a glut of free-range chicken eggs which are large to extra large, organic, browns. But then again, so do most homesteads. We are also coming up on our lower production winter months. We don't have enough hens to mass produce eggs and won't unless we have a market for them. The old catch-22.

While I can make soaps and laundry soaps, I'm not sure of the market here. I know Lisa, the Clarkesville Farmers Market coordinator, and another vendor in that market group make soaps so it's too much competition in such a tiny market. As far as vegetables and fruits go, the Clarkesville market is wide open. The problem is I don't know what will grow in abundance next year to sell. But it's something to plan on. Herbs, homemade jams, jellies and pickles for sure. I may have a market for angora fiber and yarn too. This will depend on how much spinning and knitting I can do this winter, but then again the price point may not be what the market can bear in such a limited market. Oh, decisions, decisions. At this point, I have more questions than answers. This winter will also be spent making decisions.

Y'all have a blessed day!

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Waiting for Rain

Now that we have the orchard terraced, we are waiting for a rain forecast. It won't do any good to seed the tiers with a green cover crop without rain.

Without rain...
The seed will just lay on the ground and not germinate.
The chickens will have a field day eating all the seed.

So you can see our dilemma.

In looking at our extended forecast, there's no rain this week either. Sure we could run sprinklers and hoses, but that a lot of both to cover the 1/4 acre plot. The best chance of rain is the week of the 20th. So we're waiting until the 19th to sow our seeds.

It's too late in the year for a substantial hay harvest. We decided to hand sow about five or ten pounds of deer plot seed (rye grass, radish, and clover seed) over the area. We don't expect much. It will only have a month to set its roots and maybe some greenery before the cold will kill it. That's okay though. It's just a nitrogen booster for the newly terraced area. Later in the fall or early winter, cardboard, wood chips, manured straw and compost will cover the area for a nice warm bed for the winter's snow.

In the spring, we'll be hand sowing orchard grass seed as a cover, or should I say under cover crop for the fruit and nut trees. It will help retain moisture
and fertilize the fruit. As an added bonus, when trimmed, it can supplement the rabbit and chicken feed. We also plan to plant herbs around the trees like comfrey, oregano, and mint that are too invasive for anyplace else. The empty spaces between the trees might as well produce something else too. Remember, we only have a small patch of land to work with. Double and triple duty is the norm when possible. Maybe even sweet potatoes, and melons while the trees grow for ground cover to keep the weeds out. When there's bare patches of ground, Mother Nature tries to fill it. Better for me to fill it with something we can use.

While we could seed the area with orchard grass now, I'd rather wait until spring when we can sow and harvest a couple of times before next winter. The seed for organic orchard grass is a bit pricy. I want full bang for my buck.

I've also been researching markets to sell our excesses at. There are several within a 30-minute
driving radius of our homestead. While I don't see Mel sitting at a booth for four hours every Saturday, I can. I'd just need her help setting up and taking down the booth. I don't expect a huge amount of business income from this, I do want exposure for our homestead products. Whether it's fresh, chemical free fruits and vegetables, or angora wool and yarns, or needle worked products,  or even some other canned produce like pickles and jams. I had toyed with the idea of operating a CSA, and still may. I'd expect to break even on expenses, but we wouldn't say no to profits. :o) But the first step is make others aware of who we are and that takes time. I'm definitely more people orientated than Mel is. I've owned and operated several successful business ventures over the past couple of decades. I'm not opposed to doing it again.

I was talking to a friend of ours last week about the plans for the interim orchard(while the trees grow). She was shocked. "You have really put a lot of thought into this," she said. My response was, "Yes, I have." I don't believe into throwing away money. It took a pretty penny or thousands of them to get the area cleared and terraced with a back hoe and little jobber. While it was mainly done for our needs, it doesn't hurt to sell off the excess produce. It's getting a monetary return on my investment. There will always be other areas that will need investments in the future like dairy goats or guinea hogs maybe. Being a small homestead, cash influx to reinvest into the homestead is a must.

When I say little jobber, I'm talking about a small Bobcat like the one pictured. When my oldest daughter was five years old, we passed one working along side or its much larger cousin. When she asked what it was her father told her that it was used for little jobs the big one couldn't. "Oh," her five-year old mind rationalized, "It's a little jobber!" This name for a bobcat has stuck in my mind ever since then...almost forty years ago.

On that note...
Y'all have a blessed day!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Prep Work on Next Year's Orchard Begins

Clearing begins
The trees, broom grass, weeds left to grow for decades, and wild blackberry brambles disappear this week. It will be roughly terraced into the planned orchard this week. It's only a year behind schedule, but it's getting done. Next, all the cardboard boxes, mulch, trees chips, straw, manure, etc will be laid for spring planting.

Having a self sustainable, organic orchard on a little under a 1/4 of an acre takes planning especially when talking about fruit and nut trees. To plan this 1/4th of an acre on a steep sloping hill side doubles the work to make it easier to plant and maintain. It takes heavy equipment to clear and somewhat level the area into tiers. Elements like terracing the land seemed like our best option for optimum sunlight for each tree. Keeping the trees dwarfed, will take and continuous effort on our part. A rough 75'x 100' area will be divided into three or four terraces.

We calculated each level to approximately 30' wide giving ample room for foliage spread. We also figured that each tree, of the larger varieties, would be five trees on a 75' level with heavy pruning. Two trees trees would supply us with ample produce for ourselves, but four will allow us to sell some too.  but we are dividing it further for more variety.

my vision on much smaller scale
The first tier, closest to the barn, will be dedicated to berries and grapes. We gathered some Muscadine grape seeds this year. I want to try to start them from seed rather than buy the starts. Yes, I know this will delay harvesting for a few years. I may buy some plants in addition for faster results in between these starts. The plan is for 32' of grape vines and the support system it needs. We also have 10' each of blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries on this tier. None will be over 5' tall. These bushes will require more hands on care so it seemed logical to put them at the top and they won't shade the lower tiers.

The next two levels down will be the larger trees:  cherry, fig, peach, and apples. Maybe a pear tree also, I haven't decided yet. These will also have their growth dwarfed to a more manageable six feet tall. I may espalier these trees for better control and harvest. We aren't going to get a huge glut of fruit this way, but it will be an easier harvest. Higher periodic maintenance is necessary so it's is best on the second and third tiers. I also saw on YouTube how to protect the fruit from insect damage using footie socks. It will be much easier to do by espaliering the trees for a better harvest.

What a difference a day makes!
The last, lowest, levels will be the really tall sweet acorn oaks (Thank you Big Bear Homestead for the acorns), pecan, and black walnut trees.Two each. Lowest maintenance except in harvest time. They don't require the heavy pruning after the first couple of years. They can even be staggered on the rest of the downhill slope into the tree line that remains. Careful planning went into this westerly facing orchard for water run off. We've spent three years watching the sun track across this area in all seasons.

A look at the tiers from 4th level
We're getting older so planting smarter is the key. When looking at our property, only 1/4 of an acre (where the house, barn, and garden is) of fairly level- otherwise it's a 100-foot sloping drop (in some places over a 20 degree grade drop) to the creek.  In some areas, the land drops very sharply 10-15 feet. It's a challenge to homestead this property at best, but we're working with what we've got. This makes 1/2 an acre of our two-acre homestead recovered from its previously abandoned state. Heavy equipment is a definite plus.

Y'all have a blessed day.