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, November 26, 2017

Still Prepping the Orchard *Sigh*

We've had an unseasonably warm November so far. I think we've only lit the wood stove three or four times so far. I know this will change, but for now it's great. Thank goodness! Preparing the organic orchard with cardboard and hay has taken longer than expected. Doesn't all plans versus reality? We started on the lower tiers first so the upper tiers are yet undone as you can see in the picture. It takes two weeks to do one 8' x 75' tier. Ah, if only we were younger and both able bodied. It would all be done by now. Or am I just kidding myself?

The rains has also delayed us. Not that I'm complaining. I don't think I'll ever complain about too much rain again after the drought of 2016. I guess we could continue to work in the rain, but we have heavy clay soil. It's like walking on a oil slick when it gets wet. When you are talking about a sloped access to the lower levels, it's a downhill slide quite literally. We err on the side of safety here. We could easily slide all the way down and off the twenty-foot drop at the bottom tier. No thank you! Besides, being older folk, we ain't ducks, rainy weather with its winds racing down the hollow, is for the insane carrying large pieces of cardboard as sails. And scattering straw, fuggedaboutit.

I've come to the realization that it'll get done when it gets done hopefully before the freezing temperatures set in. If not, then it will have to wait until spring thaw. I'm just not going to worry about it. At my age, things just don't have the immediacy it once did. It's better to enjoy life than killing yourself getting it done.

It truly doesn't help that Mel took another tumble and cracked a bone in her forearm two weeks ago. No, as usual, she didn't go to the doctor. She hates them all. She depended on her common sense and "Dr. Jo" to diagnose her problem. It was fairly obvious over time. No nerve or mobility impairment. Just pain with certain movements and point tenderness. It lasted for days so it wasn't a sprain or deep bruise. Of course, it could still be the last two, but treating it as a hairline fracture is the same treatment.
It's only common sense, right? If it hurts, don't do that. If you are tired, rest.Who needs x-rays and doctors at today's price of several hundred bucks to diagnose it? Why does it seem the younger folk out there seem to have been standing behind the door when God handed it out these days. I noticed it in general observation of my children and grandchildren. They have a lot of "Doh!" moments when shown the sensible way to do something. I mean, I'm older, brain damaged, and have multiple CRAFT (can't remember a freaking thing) moments, but still I'm capable of common sense. Enough of this rant.

I also finally got my new shoes! I'm a lot more stable upright and less chance of a pressure sore developing. My foot brace needs the support of my shoe to work properly. With the new shoes, I'm more active. Yippee! I'd be going like gang busters if it wasn't raining. But rainy days the work of the homestead doesn't stop for me. There's baking to be done, herbs to dry (yes, the warmer weather means they are still growing), clothes to wash, etc. I'm still playing at making hard cheeses. But, it's a lot less attractive, or self-sufficient, or sustainable when you have to purchase the milk to make cheese.

So work continues on the orchard and around the home of the homestead. Until next week...

Y'all have a blessed day.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Trying Something New- Making Hard Cheese

I tried something new this week...making hard cheese. We are cheese fiends in this household. Cheese omelets, grated cheese in dishes, cheese and crackers, or even just slicing it and eating it.

Don't get me wrong. Any self respecting homesteader has made cheese. I'm no different. I've made half a ton of cream cheese, cottage cheese, ricotta cheese, and other herbed spreadable cheese before, but never a cheddar or even a semi hard cheese like Swiss.

My excuse...I didn't have the molds,nor weights, nor a press. Then I figured I didn't need a fancy smancy cheese press or cheese molds the online places sold. I went to my favorite place to learn something new...YouTube. There isn't much that you can't find. I also bought one of those Ricki Carol kits. The one with various cultures and rennet. It also came with cheesecloth, a thermometer, a strainer basket, and instructions. I much prefer my flour sack dish towels than cheesecloth. It's more sustainable.

My friend in North Carolina had sent me home with a gallon and a half of frozen goat milk. Mel was tired of "tripping over" all those
Mel built hers with 16" bolts
quart bags in the freezer when she was trying to find something. She had made herself a book press a while back because she wanted one. I simply repurposed it into a cheese press. I had some leftover 3" PVC pipe from when we made our rabbit poo removal system to use as a mold. I didn't have to pay another penny.

All I needed was to fashion was the follower that moved freely inside the pipe on to the scrap pile. We tried several ready made options, like a wide mouth canning lids, but the all could not stand the pressure. Mel then took a leftover piece of 1x4. She cut the insert and sanded it. We finally had something that would work...sort of. It took several cuttings and sanding attempts before we got it perfect. By using wood as a follower, the wood would get wet and swell. After a while, the follower wouldn't move freely in the PVC. So wood would not be the best option, but it's what we had. We also pulled small blocks from the scrap pile to take up the space between the follower and the top of the book press/cheese press.

The weights were empty, gallon milk jugs filled with water. 1 gal of liquid= 8 1/3 pounds. I figure 1 jug equaled about 10 lbs or at least close enough for just playing around. If I was successful and I liked making hard cheese, a yard sale or Goodwill would have a set of standard weights cheaper than new. First we'd have to buy the dairy goats to supply my cheese making endeavors. Right now, I was playing with options. Who knows, I could hate the process and not want to do it again. No sense in spending my nickles and dimes yet.

Now I was ready to make cheese! I mixed enough cow's milk with calcium chloride with the partially thawed goats milk to make two gallons of liquid. working with full gallons is a lot easier than cutting a rennet tablet into 1/8th or 16ths. Then I placed it in a large, heavy bottomed pot. I gently brought the combined liquid up to temperature. I added the culture and let it bloom in the warm milk. I added the required rennet. It was instant gratification to see curds forming as I stirred it in. I put the pot in a warm water bath to let the curds finish forming.

Now many folk will cut the curds very precisely. I'm a one handed homesteader and don't have a lot of patience. I used a wire whisk to cut my curd. I didn't need perfect cubes. I just needed it cut fairly uniform and the whisk did the job. It was a whole lot simpler.

I cooked off the curds and strained them dry. I poured the curds into the mold. I retained the whey for ricotta cheese later. But that's another process.

I have to say, that I'm actually pleased with the result.  Did you know that cheddar cheese is made by cheddaring the curds? I didn't. I thought this was kind of neat. It seemed a shame to have to break that glossy, smooth cheddared cheese up to add salt, but I did.

I air dried, to set the rind, 1 1/2 pounds of pressed cheddar. The bits and pieces that did not fit into the mold for the first weighted pressing was put in a bowl with cream, garlic and herbs for an overnight aged treat to be eaten with crackers. After all, the cheddar won't be aged for 3 months to a year before it's ready to eat.

As with most homesteads, the Cockeyed Homestead believes in waste not, want not. Everything has a second or third use. The whey was turned into ricotta cheese. Add some day old cream cheese, homemade sour cream, and leftover cottage cheese and we had the start of my infamous baked cheesecake. Just something else to nosh on while we are waiting.  Topped with my Triple Berry Delight jam made this summer as an extra fine treat. Yum!

After all is said and done, I may be investing in some weights. Cheese making is a labor of love and time. I can see myself doing this again. Now, about them goats... :o)

Y'all have a blessed day!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Working in the Orchard and Garden Planning

We've finally seen the last of 80+ degree temperatures for the year, we hope. But still we may don sweatshirts in the morning but are shucking them off by 11. And now, our work begins in the planned orchard. Our homestead is pretty much a hands on type of endeavor. We don't have huge tractors or machinery to do what we need to do. It's all hands on manual labor. Sure we hire out some things, like building the new driveway and the clearing of the orchard area, that's only smart thinking. It can be done quicker and it's less wear and tear on our bodies. We ain't spring chickens anymore going on our 60th year on this planet. I'm well into the fall hen stage and looking forward to my next stage of life. All the rest of the work is up to us. In organic gardening, you get up close and personal with your food. To me, it makes it taste so much better when the love that goes into them returns to boost the flavors and nutrition.

With our wood shed filled and the garden put to bed until spring, we are now able to tackle the orchard. It's slow going when it's only one and a half women working. With the purchase of a lawn tractor, I'm now able to venture down the tiers of the orchard more easily and safely. I've taking quite a few tumbles and falls lately. Mel Jerry-rigged a hitch that would allow us to pull the lawn cart behind it. This helped her finish the chicken coop by allowing her to stack all the necessary items from the barn to the chicken area.

I'm happy to report that the chicken coop and run are finally complete. All but the two extra roosters, we still haven't culled them, are in there. Yes, finally! I can look forward to having a productive garden in the spring. I've only been saying this for two years now. But now, it's finally done. No more gathering eggs from four different locations. No more chickens to eat sprouted seed, seed, nor sunbathing in newly planted areas. No more chickens eating almost ready to harvest produce. Of course that also means, more bugs to deal with, but I can handle that. We ferment non gmo grain for the chickens and supplement their diet with commercial, organic feed. For added calcium for the layers, we'll fine grind dried egg shells and feed it back to them. About a cup of ground egg shells to 12 cups of fermented grain is the ratio we use. The commercial layer pellets are given as a treat during the day. Leftover cooked grains, breads, meat, and vegetables are scattered in the evening. Our chickens feast like kings, but they also feed us.

 We will be laying the cardboard down in a thick layer to suppress any unwanted weeds. It will also encourage the earthworm population. We've broken down all that have come into the house including soda boxes, Mel and I are both heavily addicted to sodas for months now. But this will not be enough for our orchard space. We'll have to go into town several times for box and pail runs at our local grocery stores to cover the area. We pick up empty frosting, pickle, and such to reuse on the homestead. These have multiple uses on the homestead.

We'll be picking up two rolls of wheat straw to spread over the top of the cardboard. Mind you this is also over about a foot of wood chips. It may seem like all of this is over kill, but the results of the fine composted soil in the spring is worth it. The next layer will be composting manured straw from the chickens and rabbits. Although we don't have a year's worth, it may cover half of the area. I will also sprinkle lime, blood and bone meal to it to add the nitrogen booster it all needs to compost. After that, It's up to mother nature to water it all in over the winter.

You may wonder why I'm bothering to travel and pick up wheat straw where there are tons of hay nearer to me. Wheat straw has channels which allow air, water, and nutrients to pass through it. If it's moldy straw, all the better. It will compost fast. If the straw is seedy, the wheat grass or clover that sprouts will be fed to the rabbits and chickens. Those inky, black mushrooms that also sprout up can be harvested for black dye for wool. Nothing goes to waste on this homestead. We just harvest it and use it.

Car park before clearing
I  did the same to our vegetable patch on a much smaller scale. This year I'm also trying something new this spring. Straw bale gardening. The area where the fence (the edge of our garden patch) is in the picture was cleared of Spanish Bayonets and a tree stump by our hero Bobby when the driveway was put in. The fence is now rolled up and put away for the winter thanks to Mel's moveable fence posts. It is a driveway or parking area close to the house. In fact we can almost back up to the front steps.

I was thinking of a way to border the garden area along this short 25' area without using fencing and build up the soil in this new area. This seems to be the way to go. After two years, I'll have a thick layer of composted material in which to plant. I was thinking of planting green peas and green beans in the bales. I'm also thinking of transplanting my rosemary and lavender into a couple of bales along the far side too.  The rosemary and lavender will have years of material to digest as they grow. Especially since the three peach trees, now residing in one corner of my garden, will be moved down into the orchard in the spring.

As vegetables finish their life cycle including making seed for next year, they will be replace with other herbs and vegetables until cooler weather returns to us once more. I can companion plant Diakon radishes, Napa and regular cabbage, carrots, leeks, onions, and such. I usually plant my peppers into between my tomatoes in case you were wondering. I do love my sauerkraut and kim chi for some fabulous probiotic eating. All of these are early spring and fall plantings.

I also plan on setting t-posts or Mel's moveable fence posts and old fence to supports some vegetables while others get recycled pallet A-frame supports.

After all, it's reuse and repurpose first on this Cockeyed Homestead.

Y'all have a blessed day.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Touching Email and Thank You Readers

I received an email from a lady in Tennessee a couple of weeks ago that touched my heart greatly. It touched my heart at a time when I really needed it. You see the middle of October is a very sad time for me. It's my wedding anniversary, and my beloved's anniversary. It's a difficult reminder of what I've lost with his death. Last year, I could work through it with busy work on the homestead. This year, I was off my feet with a pressure sore on my foot and left to muddle in my thoughts. I was pretty down when I received the email.

I have readers that have been with me for a year. Only a few actually comment, but other email me through the contact option. Sometimes, I forget what an impact my blog has on others. I'm just chatting away on things in my life. It's a saga...a never ending story that is my life on the homestead. I hope to inspire, motivate, and bless others with my blogs here and at the Murphey Saga (my living post stroke blog).

I don't always know for sure even with the hit counts in the analysis charts. Many may just scan a bit and find out it's not what they were looking for like I do when researching a subject. The internet is great for that. But to know someone is actually reading and digesting what I've written is great. To know that I've actually succeeded in my goal is awesome. It is a reaffirmation to me that I really am answering a calling by blogging. It's really the only way I know I'm reaching people.

Yes, this blog is new. Yes, I've barely advertised it. Readers would have to search to find it. I know, I know. As a former marketing consultant, I should do better. But I'm busy operating a homestead to FaceBook (Mel does though), Tweeter, Instagram, Pinterest and all that other marketing jazz. In fact, I'm paying for a website that I've done nothing with.

I guess it would be different if I was really marketing a product like I did with my nonfiction and novels. Eventually, we'll probably get there. We're just not there yet. Sure we have angora wool to sell. but honestly, it's sold or used as soon as we harvest it now. Which is fabulous, right? But I digress.

I just wanted the say to my readers...