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 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.