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 14, 2018

New Firewood Access~ Mel's Project

For years now, we've used a section of our front porch as a firewood staging area. The last stacking area before it comes inside to burn. It's always been the left side of the porch as you face the house. It's also the area for our porch swing in non firewood times. We have several firewood and kindling storage buildings around the property holding cords of wood to season up.

The only problem with this set up was the stairs were on the opposite side of the porch. We or the firewood delivery service would back up next to the porch rail and chuck to wood over the rail and then stack it a half cord at a time. We often thought wouldn't it be nice if there was a gate to make unloading the wood easier. We could load the wood into the back of the pick up, and back it next to the porch. No more climbing from the pick up bed over the rail to sort the wood. It would be a simple step across.

This month Mel's project was to remedy this. She dismantled the rails from two- four feet sections and hinged gates to where they would be anchored by the 4x4 posts. We still need to prime and paint the additions, but it works. She replaced the bottom rail with a 2x4s and added a 2x3s cross pieces for sturdier use. Nice job Mel! Thanks again to Jason at the Big Bear Homestead for the table saw. Without this gift, we'd have to depend on Mel's makeshift table saw out of a circular saw contraption. Big Bear's is definitely safer.

Painting the porch was on my to-do list anyhow. I want to replace the dark brown with an evergreen color. It means painting the front shutters and trim too. It's more in line with our colors we envisioned for the Cockeyed Homestead. It was to be a fall project for me. Now it will depend on my healing time after surgeries on my foot. The transition will happen. It's Mel's favorite color and a nod to my husband's Irish heritage. To me, brown is yucky. It will definitely be brighter and fresher looking. Pressure washing the almond colored (now tan) siding is a Mel project. It'll make short work of cleaning the windows and screens too.

As soon as it's painted and pressure washed the porch will be ready for its winter mode transition. I should be able to prime and paint it, at least the gate sections before next week. The weather has been cooler and drier unlike all summer long. The high humidity this summer here gave a whole new meaning to watching paint dry. It would take two days if it wasn't raining. This fall, it's rained maybe once a week.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Still Canning and End of the Year Harvest Tally


The green bean harvest is finally done. The beans still left on half a dozen plants will be the seed stock for next year's garden. I've left the beans on the plant to die naturally. Then I'll pick the beans and shell them. I canned 100 new pint jars of green beans this year. Coupled with what's leftover from last year's harvest, we have enough jars to eat green beans twice a week until next year's harvest. We've been eating fresh green beans for the last two months too. It was a great year for green beans for us. All from the equivalent of two pack of seeds. I planted seeds from my 2017 seed saving efforts. So we are self sufficient in green beans. Yeah! Only about $0.30 a jar of homegrown, chemical free goodness.

 I've canning about three cases (36 pint jars) of large diced tomatoes, 2 cases of stewed tomatoes, and 2 cases of tomato salsa so far. I've also 12-gallon bags of tomatoes in the freezer for making sauces (tomato sauce for BBQ and ketchup too) later on. We are almost at the end of our tomato harvest, but I'm still picking them. All of this is from 14 Roma, 4 Cherokee Purple, and 2 beefsteak tomato plants. Plus we've been able to have sliced, fresh tomatoes at every meal for the past month. I'll let some of each go to seed production for the rest of the season until frost.We are now self sufficient in tomatoes too. Yeah! For diced tomatoes $0.30, stewed tomatoes $0.50, for the salsa $0.70 a jar. It's been a good year for our tomatoes.

We grew a heirloom bi-colored corn in the orchard this year. I didn't expect much, but I harvested 34 salvageable  ears of plump corn. It was better than I expected. I've been shucking corn on the porch today and will be canning it up into pints jars. While a pint jar will hold two cups of corn and liquid, I normally will put only a cup of corn in each jar. That's about the most the two of us will eat in a meal.

I'll also be making 1/2 pint jars of my pickled corn relish about a case worth because Mel doesn't like it. Her loss is my gain. I have a few peppers leftover from putting up my tomato salsa that will go great in them.

I'll have to let you know how many jars I get out of the 34 ears. It's going to be about half of what we need for a year, I think. So almost self sufficient in corn. A Semi-Yeah toward self sufficiency! I'll buy a case of corn this month to round out our needs, but that's better than buying two or three cases. A case of corn is about $20 right now (about 30 odd ears). With the addition of the case of corn about $0.75 a jar. This price would drop significantly without the purchase of corn.

The reason for bi-colored corn is Mel loves Silver Queen, a white corn. While I love yellow corn, what can I say, I hail from the plains of NE. I'm just a transplanted southerner. This compromise gives us both what we like to eat.

By gerry-rigging the corn cutter onto a bucket, I could easily take the kernels off the cob one-handed. The other side has slits in to to hold the sliding prongs. To substitute the hand pressure, I used rubber bands looped around the end of the cutter so all I had to do is push the cob through to take off the kernels after the corn was blanched. The hardest part was finding a bucket my 9 1/2" cutter could stretch across. This 2-gallon bucket worked well. The next time I'll purchase a corn cutter, I'll get a longer one like the one pictured. It's easier doing a lot of corn in a 5-gallon bucket. The corn cutter usually last about three seasons and become dull or breaks. Ya gotta love the planned obsolescent of gizmos these days. I usually buy two of any gizmo I buy because of it. They always seem to break in the middle of a job.

How do I figure our yearly intake? I calculate a meat and two vegetables for one meal a day. This is our big meal of the day. If I want to serve the vegetable once a week, then it's 52 jars. Twice a week is 104 jars needed. For just the two of us that means pint and half pint jars where a family of four to six would need quart jars. Leftover jarred vegetables go into a container and into the freezer. When the container is full, it's time to make a large batch of soup or Mulligan stew. I'll hold out enough for two meals and can the balance. I do this for all the meals I cook and before long you have a pantry full of heat and eat meals.

The idea of canning 52 jars of anything may seem pretty daunting, let alone 52 jars of all the vegetables you eat. But I small batch can. One canner load at a time (8 jars). It all adds up. Before my strokes, I thought it was nothing to can several  cases (4-6 cases of qt jars) of jarred produce in one day in my big pressure canner, 22 pints or 8 qts at a time. Now, all I can manage between prepping and canning is about 16 pint jars or one large canner load a day. A day's harvest equals a day or two days of canning and/or dehydrating. I don't have the energy to harvest and preserve that much a day. My foot sure won't let me especially this year with all the problems I've been having. So small batch canning it is. Perfect for harvest from a small garden.

It was far easier to do more before my stroke, but it's still doable even living post stroke. It takes more steps going to and from the breakfast nook table where I let my jars cool down and seal carrying one jar at a time. My kitchen counter space isn't large enough to let them rest in there.The same goes from cleaning the jars before they go into the food storage building. But I place all the cleaned jars back into the case the jars came in to carry case by case of filled jars into the store building. Little by little, it gets done.

I also harvested enough Muscadines for 5 gallons of wine and a dozen pints of Catawba grape jelly. Next year's harvest should be double.

I still have my cabbages, napa, ginger, carrots, and turmeric to harvest. The leeks, onions and garlic will overwinter. I can almost taste the Bavarian sauerkraut and kim chi. I've harvested, dried, and ground my gochugaru peppers already.

I love going "shopping" in my storage building after the fresh eating season is done. I'll carry my market bag and pick the jars I need for the week. The same goes for my freezer. I'll "shop" and meal plan at the same time because I know what's available on the shelves. I stocked it, after all. Remember, I upcycled all my plastic bags into plarn and knitted or Mel crocheted the market bags. When I actually do go to the grocery store, I also love looking at the items and saying, "I don't need that, and that, and that." I'd bypass the vegetable aisle totally if the spices weren't on the same aisle. If it weren't for our dairy, meat, cola addiction, and paper needs I could by pass the grocery store all together for the most part. I love the  wide long handle on this pattern. I can wear it across my body and it doesn't cut into my hand.

Isn't that grand. I used to not mind shopping too much. But now, it's a chore. Stores are too large to navigate now, especially with a bum foot.  Everything is so expensive in comparison.  I spend more time waiting on a parking spot or motorized cart than I do shopping. It seems that everything I need to purchase is in the back of the store or some distant corner. So I'd rather not shop in the stores and instead, do my version of shopping. Yes, being a one-handed canner ain't easy, but it sure beats going to the regular grocery store by price and health.

Y'all have a blessed day!
Jo

Making Sauerkraut and Fermented Vegetables

Sauerkraut was a staple in my family for generations. Being of German descent doesn't hurt either. I love Reuben sandwiches with thick layers thinly sliced corned beef and kraut. Or, kielbasa sausages and Bavarian kraut on a cold winter day. Or, even a summer fare of kraut dogs. Nothing makes my taste buds sing like good sauerkraut.

I can remember as a child the stink of fermenting cabbage drifting up through the floor boards of the kitchen because the root cellar was underneath it. My grandmother had two barrels of sauerkraut down there. Think large whiskey barrels up ended with lids. Yes, we ate that much sauerkraut in a year actually she made it twice a year spring and fall.

Is it any wonder that I make sauerkraut fall of every year. It's a no brainer. I prefer fall planting of my cabbages over spring plantings. The cabbage worms are less in the cooler fall months of a growing season. I only do this once a year because I'm the only one in the house that eats it. For all the health benefits this fermented food offers, I can't get Mel to eat it. That may be why...it's healthy. It's like when I switched her from eating commercially grown chickens to chemical free, no antibiotic, hormone free chicken. She couldn't taste the difference, but her body thanked me.

skin and all
My sauerkraut fermenting is a little bit different than most of the standard recipes using salt and cabbage. I'll add one small grated Granny Smith apple and a tablespoon of caraway seeds to every 3 lb mix of shredded cabbage with a tablespoon of salt. It's the way my grandmother did it. It adds a spicy and very mild sweetness to my kraut.It makes Bavarian style kraut easy without adding sugar.

Now the addition of caraway seeds is not only for flavor. Take a look at this...
It makes you wonder why caraway seeds aren't used more in cooking and for general health. It's a anti histamine. It's an antiseptic and disinfectant. Useful for cardiac health. It's an antispasmodic. It's a carminative- reduces gassy stomachs. It's speeds up digestion. It's a diuretic. It's got several other useful benefits too.

Health benefits aside, considering you are eating cabbage, the carminative nature of the addition of caraway seeds in sauerkraut goes without saying. You know the old saying about cabbage and the smell. Smell it for two days when you cook it in your household and you smell it for two days in gaseous bodily emission after eating it. Caraway seeds might not help with the household odors, but the gaseous emissions are held at bay.

I've found that in eating sauerkraut. Although you will smell it during the week long fermenting process, it does not linger as cabbage does.

So all my cabbages are harvested and shredded. Only a couple worms in two of the four heads. They didn't get the chance to eat much before harvesting. Now with the salt added, it will sit for a couple of hours in the bowl to start giving off their juices.
Then I'll mixing in the grated apples and caraway seeds. I'll give it all a vigorous one-handed massage
until it's mixed thoroughly. I'll press and weight it all in my Goodwill found German fermenting crock and let it get happy for a week. It's around the high 60s to mid 70s temp wise here. After a week, I'll taste it. If it meets my satisfaction, I'll water bath can it for 15 minutes in half pint jars. Now it will seal and be shelf stable for several years if I don't eat it all first. A half pint jar will crown four hot dogs, or two Reuben sandwiches. Good gut and stomach filling meals.

So this week it's all about fermented vegetables. In my old upcycled crock, liner from a busted crockpot, I've got s batch of be kim chi fermenting.. But that's another post.

Y'all have a blessed day.
Jo

Sunday, September 30, 2018

How Could I Forget About Salsa!?

I've been up to my ears in Roma tomatoes.  With our cockeyed weather this spring and summer, I was beginning to doubt that they'd ripen before our predicted first frost date of October 11th (earliest recorded was Sept 24th), I needn't have worried. My tomatoes have come in, and in, and in.

I was so concerned, I started last month picking them green and ripening fast via the brown paper bag and banana peel trick. Now, I'm picking them as soon as they start to blush because the insects are so bad. The heat wave of spring (100+ temps) killed off half of my plants and all of my marigolds. I should have gone to Lowe's and replaced them, but I didn't. Dumb move, Jo. Hindsight is always 20/20. This year, I haven't seen a single aphid, but the squash beetle infestation has been horrible and the caterpillars have started their munching cycle two months late. I'm thanking God for this. But my tomatoes are paying for it.

Tomatoes with heavy blush
I have to pick them when I first see the blush or the caterpillars will get them. I went through my row of Romas first thing after sun up, about 7 am. I counted 24 tomatoes just starting to blush. I decided to wait and pick them on my late evening garden pass before dinner. I wanted them to get a day's worth of sunshine to ripen some more. Big mistake! When I went to get them later, there were holes all in them. I salvaged eight of them. The rest went over the fence to the eagerly waiting chickens. They love following me around the garden. Well, at least they ate good. I was mad, but lesson learned. I picked all the rest of the blushed tomatoes. I was kicking myself all the way to the house. As I washed, stemmed, and placed them in the window sill, I vowed never again.

I was making sauce with my tomato harvest. Pizza sauce, BBQ sauce, even freezing them in two gallon bags. In case you didn't know, the skins slip off of frozen tomatoes as they thaw.  Between the Romas and the Cherokees, we are in tomato heaven. All those half pint jars of bacon I canned during "Operation Empty the Freezer" made fixing BLTs a breeze. I've been dicing, slicing, and quartering tomatoes like they were going out of style.

Not my salsa
I was entering the latest batch of tomato canning into Mel's Food Master List canning program when I noticed my salsa inventory... 1 half pint jar! How could I have forgotten the salsa?! Now in my salsa recipe I use at least four different types of tomatoes and four different types of peppers. I use cilantro as well as basil. Yeah, yeah. I'm cockeyed like that. I don't make salsa in NYC or TX. I make what we like my way here in the Northeast GA foothills.

I still had two of the tomato varieties I needed and only one of the four types of peppers I needed. A quick call to Cliff at Jarhead Farm, a neighboring organic farm, quickly solved this problem after I told him what I was making. He had some Rutgers and cherry tomatoes left. Not a whole lot, but enough to balance the flavor profile I wanted. He grew a new type of warmish Japanese pepper, for him, called Shishito, he said would be a good substitute for Jalapenos (he knows Mel doesn't like it too hot) and a couple other sweet peppers. While some people add stuff like sugar to their salsas, I let my vegetable do it for me.Cliff was a life saver!

I brought home my goodies and started chopping. The cherry and Rutger tomatoes were juicier than I liked so did them first in the pot and let them cook down to half the volume. Then I used a stick blender to grind them into a thick sauce. This wasn't the usual way I made salsa, but beggars can't be choosers when it came to my tomatoes. Usually, my tomatoes were firmer and gave off a little in the way of liquid. Most times the watery stuff is left in the bowl after the salsa is gone. I always felt this was a waste. I hoped to remedy this by making the liquid more sauce like.

Next, I added my diced plum tomatoes, peppers. onions, herbs and spices. I don't bother peeling them for salsa. I stirred it well and brought the whole mixture up to a simmer. After 30 minutes, the salsa was ready to be jarred and processed them.

Of all the jars of pasta sauce, diced, and stewed tomatoes, I almost forgot my jars of salsa. It turned out beautifully delicious. Only one pint jar out of 18 didn't seal. Perfect to accompany the steak burritos I have planned for supper. That reminds me. I need to make refried beans too. I better grab a pint of pinto beans I canned during winter from the stores building. While I'm at it, a half pint of my corn relish will go nicely in the rice too. Well, I'm off to "shop."

Y'all have a blessed day.
Jo



Sunday, September 23, 2018

Gearing Up for Babies~ Angora Rabbit Babies

With the weather cooling down, we start turning our attention back to the rabbits. Yes, even some of the trees are putting on their fall colors and dropping leaves already.  We never truly ignore the rabbits. They are too blasted cute! You've just got to touch them and cuddle them besides their usual care routine.

We've been giving their cages some much needed attention. After two years, the GAW (galvanized after the weld) 1/2" hardware cloth bottoms of the cages were rusting and the rabbits were actually chewing holes in it. They were also sagging. Hardware cloth is not as durable as cage wire. I should have bought the 1/2"x 1" cage wire in the first place, but the store was out and I settled for the hardware cloth. Anyhow, they had to be replaced.

I saw this video on YouTube and thought these would be fabulous for our rabbitry, except for the expense.

Jnull0 (John) had a great idea. While I loved the idea, I just couldn't handle the expense especially for the tightmesh shelves. Not for ten rabbits plus two grow out areas. Then I happened on a restaurant auction. I found 8 of the standard wire shelves (1" spaced wires). They would work for some of the bucks' cages. I won the bidding at $15 for all of them. Wohoo! Still I'd have to buy the tightmesh shelves (1/2" spacing wire) for the bottoms and the tops. Still an expensive proposition even for "forever" cages. I would have to budget for them.

Well, then this revamp of the cages came up and I still didn't have enough money put aside. Poo! As a stop gap, Mel placed 1/2"x1" cage wire over the standard wire shelves. Since the sides and the tops of the cages were still good, it was just a question of her removing the J clips from the bottom of the cages and zip tying and wiring the cage wire and the shelf to the bottom. The sides of the does' cages were already made with 1/2"x 1" wire so we were good for babies. The cage wire is a heavier gauge than the hardware cloth so it should be good for a few years. Maybe by then, I can purchase enough tightmesh wire shelves to do a proper job of it all.

The only problem with this new configuration is the drop down nest boxes can't be used. We opted for a permanent nest box placement within the 36"x36"x 36" square does' cages. There's plenty of room for it with these little English angora rabbits. We placed a 12" square tile on top to protect the babies inside. Plus it gives the mama rabbit a place to get away from her kits once they get big enough to get out of the nest box. Even with the nest box in place, the rabbits still has enough head room to stretch. Even though they have no babies yet, they have fun jumping up and down from the tile covered nest box.

We saw that the does were having so much fun with their elevated area, that we decided to put something similar in the bucks' 30x30 cages.

Cara, our newest addition, has doubled in size over the last three weeks. She has no trouble jumping to the tile section. Right now, it a game for her. She's loving all this space over her 24"x 18" quarantine cage. The Satin angora in her makes her a big girl compared to the other does. She's still a junior doe at 16 weeks old.

The Planned Breeding Cycle

Cara will be ready for breeding with Alby in the spring. They will be first-timers together. Neither of them have had litters before. I perfectly expect a couple of false starts with them, but I may be surprised. They'll make some fabulous babies if they carry their parents' fun loving temperament, docile grooming manners, luscious fiber, and good body genes. I can hardly wait to meet them.

Meanwhile, Moira will be bred to Lil Albert Einstein. This will be the first generation of purebred English angora rabbits born at the Cockeyed Homestead. Moira is a REW (red eyed white). She has always had great fiber at almost 5" long. She is docile even when grooming. She is almost fearful and timid, but playful too. This will be her first litter. It will be interesting what colors besides Ermine lies in her gene pool.

Lil Albert Einstein, at 2-3 years old, is a proven breeder. His last breeding netted 6 healthy kits. His grooming manners are quite good considering he has not been handled much over the past year. While initially he was fearful and poor mannered while grooming, he has become inquisitive and a joy to groom. He has socialized well with us and the other bucks although he is a bit smaller weighing in at 4.5 lbs.

It will be the second tier of our pedigree program. It takes at least three for an initial pedigree and get them registered with the NARB (National Angora Rabbit Breeders). Then, all subsequent litters can be registered as show rabbits and command a higher premium.

Cockeyed Moira
When breeding rabbits, I usually like to breed two does at a time. This way, if one doe has too many babies a litter can be split between two moms. Or in the unlikely event of a doe dying, I have a foster mom in milk to take over. I've done the every two-hour feeding with goats milk before. It ain't fun. That means we'll be waiting until spring to breed our rabbits instead of this fall.

Of course, I could breed Daisy and Moira with Lil Albert this fall and Moira and Cara with Lil Albert in the spring, but I really dislike back to back breeding (less than 6 month apart) of my bunnies. To me, it's an unnecessary hardship on the does to breed back to back.

You've heard the saying of reproducing like rabbit? The average angora lives for about 12 years. If they are bred every 3 months, their life expectancy drops. Imagine, as a woman, having babies ten months apart for your whole child bearing years. To me that's cruel and unusual punishment. Sure I'd make a huge profit at the expense of my does. I'll keep a breeding doe in the rotation for 4 years, and then retire them to fiber rabbits. I'd rather have them around for longer not shorter. Either way, the does show a profit. That means Daisy has 1 more year as a potential breeder (1-2 litters) and Moira 2 years (2-4 litters).

Then, there's the selling of the babies. While I have a few outlets in mind, it doesn't guarantee a sale. Ideally, I could get one litter sold by twelve weeks old and sell the second or third set accordingly. I'm really not sure of the market around here and won't be until I have rabbits to sell. I'll start soon after they are born and collecting reserve amounts of cash.

The Price
I've looked at others who are selling angora rabbits and will do our rabbitry the same. I'll do a 50/50 payment plan. With 50% due to reserve a kit and the balance on delivery. For the first purebred angoras out of our rabbitry, it will be with no pedigree for $40 each. That undercuts most of my competitors by almost half. 4-hers will get a special discount of $20 with continuous training in care and grooming tips throughout the school season. After which, they can return the rabbit or keep them. If returned, the rabbit will either become part of our warren and added to the breeding rotation, or sold as a senior to their fur-ever home.

By the third cycle of breeding, we'll be offering a pedigree with all kits. The price will increase by $10-$20. It still undercuts my competitor's price of $100.

To Reserve a Kit
We consider the reserve deposit as nonrefundable funds. A refund will be issued if the bunny reserved is injured or dies before delivery. Or, if the desired kit isn't born. For example, the reserve is for a REW, doe and the litters born is multicolored and bucks. The reserve would be returned in full or held until the next litter at the buyer's discretion. It's regrettable, but it does happen. First come first served on reserves. So money in my hand gets first choice. As a former accountant, I take money matters and record keeping to the next level.

We ask that the prospective owners have prior knowledge of the care and grooming requirements of angoras. If they are first-time angora owners, they must have done their homework and researched the breed prior to placing a reserve on any kit. Believe me. We will ask. We want our bunnies to have happy and healthy lives.

We invest time, money, and energy into ours. We expect prospective owners to follow suit. We will offer a mini course, about an hour long, at delivery to show how we groom them. Each kit will be sent home with a week's worth of rations to help their tummies adjust to dietary changes.

Transportation from our homestead to the buyer is the buyer's responsibility. We do not air transport our bunnies. It's too stressful for them. We can tattoo the rabbit 48 hrs before delivery, if the owner requests it. All rabbits for show purposes have to be tattooed. Otherwise, the bunny will have a Sharpie "temporary tattoo" for our purposes.

As you can see, we've put quite a lot of research and planning into this endeavor. We could just not breed them and keep harvesting the fiber for our own pocketbooks. We want to share our good fortune and expand the breed for the love of the breed. Who knows. Maybe rabbit breeding is not for us and we'll stop. Only time will tell.

You may have noticed that the layout of the blog has changed. The different pages are now accessible at the top of the blog. This is to incorporate a new page on this blog to sell items produced on our homestead. The "For Sale" tab will be opened when we have enough inventory to sell. Be it Angora fiber, angora fiber blends, handmade goods, rabbits, eggs, homesteading computer programs, etc. It's just another outlet for us. Payment is through Paypal for the fastest delivery. But, other options, like cash are available just contact us.

Y'all have a blessed day!
Jo


Sunday, September 16, 2018

Planning for 2019: Too Early? How About the Next Five Years?

First, it's never too late or too early. I've been looking over my five-year homestead/ self sufficiency plan a pseudo business plan. I've done it every year for the past two years. I allowed for wiggle room in my plans, but I'm a year to two years behind. I tend to do this periodically. But as the growing season winds down, I look and start planning for the next year's goals. A where-do-we-go-next strategy building exercise essential for any operation be it homesteading or anything else while fulfilling your dreams.

What can I say, two Masters degrees in business and marketing are still useful even if it's used only in homesteading. My Momma used to say, "Knowledge gained is never wasted. It's something no one can take away from you."  I'm a firm believer in Plan A, Plan B, and even Plan C with adjustments along the way. I'm a Murphey too, so Murphy's Law is also set in stone.

My "business plan" includes:
  • When a project has started, estimated cost, when project is finished, and final cost breakdown on all levels. No one likes surprises when it comes to money especially on a fixed income.
  • Black Infrastructure improvements like roadways, bush hogging, transforming the property into usable space, alternative energy, and major building projects. This is my permanent changes for the homestead. Estimated cost breakdowns for each is in here too.
  • Green Infrastructure pertains to the gardens, orchard, rabbitry, and chickens (other livestock). They change from season or year. Estimated costs, maintenance, profit and loss are also included here.
  • I've also got a separate area that I call my Grey Infrastructure. These include improvements/repair/replacement of things we already have or would like to have that are under $250. Examples of this are the chicken coop and run, revamping the barn/workshop areas, an electrician to hard wire the barn, etc.
According to my initial five-year plan before I moved here, I should well be on my way to being self sufficient (75%) in groceries two years in. In reality, I've just reached 25%. We've had a rough three springs and growing seasons setting up our small, organic vegetable patch.

In fact, it wasn't until this year that we got it fully outlined and fenced the garden patch, and grown our own needs in tomatoes, green beans, and cucumbers for a year. The goats for milk and cheese, supplying our own poultry, and other sources of protein needs have slipped into future plans.   We will always be dependent on outside resources for beef. Sheep and pork may be in our future. Mel's gotta have her beef. It's looking more like 2019-20 to reach this initial goal. This will bring us up to 75%.

Terracing the orchard last year was only a year behind schedule. I grossly underestimated the manpower and time for this, and there's a little thing like money that's necessary.

Speaking of money. This, in a way,  has been our biggest delayer. First, Mel lost her job and still unable to find another one. That's a long story that I won't go into here, but it cut our income by almost half.

Then my daughter who moved into my south Georgia property had financial troubles. I ended up selling the property well below  value (almost $50K less- A Big Ouch!) just to get out from under the mortgage.

That short fall put a halt to any additional black infrastructure plans I made for two years. It slowed any future black infrastructure plans to a trickle which in turn impacted my green infrastructure plans too. I did manage to get the main driveway, the food storage building, the orchard terraced, a new deck and access ramps and a very few other things in the black and green infrastructure accomplished, but not near of what I wanted to accomplish.

There's no use crying over spilled milk. So instead of getting the major black list accomplished in two years, it will now be budgeted over ten years. You gotta roll with the punches and just keeping on.

Best laid plans and all that aside. We are still operating and building the ground work after almost three years here. We are making farther strides to being self sufficient just not as fast as I planned.Well, if it were easy, it wouldn't be cherished as much. For now, going totally off grid is pushed back until 2029, or there about.

You can only do what you can do. At least there is no mortgage here. We have had all our needs met. We are blessed.

We've had some really hard knocks and false starts where our chickens and rabbits go over the past two years. So instead of showing a profit, we are eeking by. They are still taking care of their expenses. That should change in the next six months with babies being born and more wool. The rabbitry has been more of a false start than a failure with the loss of our nonrelated breeding stock, now rectified with the addition of new breeding stock (Lil Albert and Cara), we start again. We aren't as flushed with nonrelated stock as we were two years ago, but it's a start.

We've got the chickens under control again. They aren't destroying the garden too. A repeat of losing 3/4 of the flock shouldn't happen again this winter. We might even start hatching eggs and meet our own poultry needs in Spring of 2019. I've downloaded plans for a grow out pen for the butchering chickens. That's a grey infrastructure deal. That would be another step big forward. I've been in contact with local, no chemical producers of lamb, pork, and beef so that will be another check mark towards being psuedo self sufficient in a protein source since Zaycon went belly up this year.

We'll be planting wheat, barley, and oats again in the orchard next spring. We'll replace the area with fruit trees and bushes as we go. It will go a long way in cutting our feed bills for our small livestock. I'm finally done with the research portion of us acquiring some pygora goats. We'll be starting on the goat pen in mid 2019. Whether we actually get the goats in 2019 or 2020 is still up for discussion. It's a fairly Green/Grey infrastructure expense of between $500-$1500. We'll have to see where we stand before deciding.

In 2020, we'll be clearing and terracing another 1/4 of an acre earmarked for two tiny houses and a grain/straw/hay area. Hopefully, we can entice a couple of folks to come onboard with us in our cockeyed community adventure. We could honestly use the manpower. We ain't getting any younger. Plus, the added income couldn't hurt either. We are still leaning towards widows and single females in our vision quest.

It seems like everything we want to do is costing us $1500 or more. That takes some planning.  Not to mention my daughter's wedding in Tuscon next summer. It only takes money, right? But that which does not grow- dies.

Y'all have a blessed day.
Jo

Sunday, September 9, 2018

New Logo for the Cockeyed Homestead Coming Soon

Next year, I'm focusing on branding our homestead. The logo design needs to be simplified, one color design or  that translates well in a single color.  Y'all know with screen printing and embroidery, extra colors mean extra cost, don't you? An almost silhouette design that incorporates our quirky sense of humor, thinking outside the box, homesteading, angora rabbits, chickens, organic gardening, etc. It was more than my stroke addled brain, or even Mel's, sort of okay brain, could translate into a simplified design. We also lack the time to work on it. This was also the information I gave to the graphic designer candidates as well to get a ball park figure of what the logo would cost me.  

I've now hired a graphic designer to create a new logo for our homestead. Our current design is just too busy. I've thought it from its creation, but ran with it because of expediency for this blog and our videos. Now is time for a change before we get too big, with sales and other stuff, where branding and our logo are important. 

In 2019, we'll be expanding our rabbitry (actually we started this year) for fiber production, babies for sale, and our pedigree line of English Angoras. We'll also be selling our vegetables, home canned
pickles and jams, eggs, wood working projects at the market and online. As well as, Mel's homestead computer programs in a big way. So we are gearing up for profit making. This blog will also be
expanding into syndication through the Homestead Bloggers Network and a few others. What can I say, they like my writing. This necessitates a need for branding. There are business licenses, inspections, registering our rabbitry with the ARBA and NARBC, and other businessy type things that are also needed to set up branding us. We weren't in serious need of a revamp before now with sales being so small and sporadic.
Who did we hire? Jenna Woginrich. She's been free lance for years since she left it all behind (big city life). She, like us, is following her dream. She is the owner/operator of Cold Antler Farm in NY. I've been a fan of her published books, blog, and videos for over a decade. She's a one woman operation. Her credentials and work are impressive. And I, formerly in this business also, am not easily impressed. We believe in supporting like minded people everywhere. So take my cockeyed laundry list and fly with it. You won our cockeyed lottery for creativity, right thinking, and price. I promise not to be over critical and a nightmare client.

So exciting changes are coming in 2019 to the Cockeyed Homestead. Continue reading about them here. Some have even started already. Did you notice the "For Sale" tab at the top?
 
Y'all have a blessed day!

Jo

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Building Organic Garden Soil, Finances, and Homestead Design

Well, the cardboard is laid. At least it is all out of the house. It was quite a pile. Since Mel is in summer mode, she's spending the majority of her time, in not building mode, on the screened back porch because it is cooler. The formal dining room was being used as the cardboard storing area. All the shipping, drink, and assorted boxes are broken down as flat as they can go. All the packing tape is removed. Who wants plastic in their organic garden, not me.

When we get a goodly stack, table and surrounding floor is covered, we set about moving them where they are needed. These areas right now, is the vegetable garden for stubborn weedy patches and the orchard. It's a slow process building soil this way, but we're in it for the long haul. Doing something the right way always takes time, but the end results are worth it.

I'm waiting on the rains next week to thoroughly soak the cardboard in place. Then, I'll cover it all
with straw and hay. I'll wait until it rains again to soak it all in place before I add the compost layer or sprinkle bone meal over the area. I'll repeat this process again and again throughout the fall and winter seasons (without additional cardboard layers). By the time the snow falls, it's time to quit and let it all cook during the rest of the winter until early spring. This type of layering is a "lasagna" gardening technique for building organic soil. Instead of a chopped leaf layer, Mel will blow leaves from the property. Instead of peat moss, we use wheat straw and fescue hay (both are relatively available and cheap here). Two 4x5 rolls of hay ($45) will cover the 1/4 acre orchard in several inches. We roughly measure each layer by the foot.

Worms love the wet cardboard. They are drawn to it devour it, and lay their eggs in it. Then, they will get started on the upper layers during the winter speeding up the composting over winter. The worm tea fertilizes the broken down material. They'll also break up the hard clay. So long as you feed them, they'll stay in the area. They'll multiply at will in the warm, composting layers creating a bio-diversified soil mix. In the orchard, this will be the second year of doing this and the last giving us almost four feet of new soil to plant in.

Building soil this way, on such a large piece of land isn't easy. It's time consuming and often back aching labor. It would be easier and more expensive hauling in three dump trucks worth of top soil and compost in. But there is no telling what is in those truck loads. From experience, I've found "compost" less than half composted material (branches and too green stuff mixed in). Fill dirt and top soil is often riddled with weed seeds just waiting for the opportunity to sprout. I want to reduce my labor not increase it.

Last year, we did a "back to Eden" layering with shredded trees and branches waste with a combination of cardboard and straw for the orchard. We had an abundance of tree "trash" after hurricane Irma blew through. This year, not so much. Thus, the lasagna gardening technique. Sometimes, one method just isn't doable because of the expense. I mean nothing beats free with a minimum of labor afterwards, right?

We're building this homestead on the cheap because we don't have thousands of dollars to do it with  Granted, I did shell out $1500 to have the orchard area cleared and terraced. It was necessary to expand our homestead infrastructure. It will return to me many times over in produce, grain, and straw... not to mention fruit and wine.

This was a major expense on my fixed income. Anything over $500 a month is what I consider a major expense. Still, I'm thankful that I have that amount of sort of dispensable income being on just Social Security and my retirement check. I owe of this all to my beloved's careful financial planning. God give him rest. With Mel full time on the homestead and not working outside the homestead, it's a blessing to be sure.

Cockeyed Homestead layout design
We are planning our homestead with aging in place in mind. After all, nobody is getting any younger. It's only smart. We are both sexagenarians already and women to boot. That's not to say that being women alone is a hindrance, but working smarter, as well as harder at times, does come into play more than if we had a man around to do the heavy lifting. The majority of our housing, barn/workshop, gardens, orchard, livestock are all in half an acre rather than spread out over our two-acre property.  This is only partly due to the landscape of the property. The other part is accessibility  in the design layout of ours.

I had thought to plant my berries and grapes on the top tier of  our orchard but changed my mind and planted them on the second tier from the top. The berries and grapes are easy enough to tend to on the second tier. The berries and grapes enjoy full sun on the second tier and protected from strong winds that can sweep through the hollow. Once the fruit trees mature and grow in size, the berries and grapes will have even more protection, but still have plenty of full sun because of the terraced hillside.
Example of our elevated pallet raised beds
On the top tier is more shaded so it's perfect for the raised pallet beds with herbs. While most herbs love full sun, the sun gets pretty strong and heated in Georgia. The partial shade will benefit them on the top tier. There will also no watering issues because of them being elevated beds. A simple soaker hose system attached to the 375- gallon water tote should supply them with ample wet stuff throughout their growing season. The beds will over winter with a thick blanket of compost and mulch.

Did I mention that these beds do double duty? In the space below the beds we stuff with large, perforated, black trash bags filled with moist leaves. These leaves will compost and form mold that increases the biodiversity. Ants and worms will work to break down the leaves over time. This way the space these beds take up do double duty. To make removal of these bags easier, we tie long pieces of baling twine around the top of these bags with the other end wrapped around a nail on the outside of the raised bed. The baling twine is recycled from the bales of straw and hay we purchased during the years.

We'll even reuse the bags too until they are too torn up to use again for leafing. Then, they will be cut into 3" strips and braided them to form weed deterrent mats under the fruit trees. The braiding will allow water to seep into the ground and it makes them stronger. They'll have many more years of reuse to them. I even reuse baling twine to make these. As the trees grow they will need bigger mats so nothing goes to waste. I'll even leave rows gap stitched together so I can plant garlic in the gaps. Garlic keeps moths and other pests away from fruit trees. On average, every five rows of braids gets a gap row for garlic, onions, or leeks. So once again, this shows multiple reuses/repurposing of items that usually end up in landfills. It doesn't have to be pretty. It just has to work. Nothing goes to waste on our homestead until it is definitely unusable again.

Y'all have a blessed day.



Sunday, August 26, 2018

Tomatoes: A Cockeyed Harvest and Mysterious Bug Bites

My plum tomatoes have been growing for months now. The plum tomatoes have been hanging for several weeks still very green. The few that have turned red are swarmed by pests before I can pick them. I've hated buying tomato sauce and fresh tomatoes in the store each week waiting for them to ripen.

Oddly enough, the pests are mainly attacking my plum tomatoes and leaving my Cherokee tomatoes placed along another fence alone. This week I found a way to beat Mother Nature and the pests to the punch. I found that the pests leave the green tomatoes alone for the most part. As I was tying the errant branches to the fence several green tomatoes fell to the ground. I picked them up and put them into my harvest basket. To me, if a tomato comes off the plant at a slight touch, it's ready to be harvested no matter if it's green or red. As I looped each branch to the fence I touched each tomato. If it came loose, I put it in my basket. I continued down the 24' row row touching and gathering as I went..

I ended up with about 10 lbs of green plum tomatoes. I brought them inside, washed them, and placed them in a southern-ish facing kitchen window. Our trailer is cockeyed where no window is true facing in any compass point. Sure enough they ripened in the window turning the glorious red color in a matter of days.

My version of tying up tomatoes is to weave the branches through the 2x4 fencing. It's best I can mange one handed. As  a result of this, every rain with wind or the sheer weight of the tomatoes pulls the branches loose. While it doen't hurt the tomatoes or the plant to grow on the straw covered ground, the plants are easier for some pests to get to them. So every other day, it seems, I am trussing up tomato branches.

Each time more and more green tomatoes come loose. So I've got about thirty pounds of tomatoes on window sills  Soon I'll have enough ripe tomatoes to make a big pot of sauce to can. So, since I've already canned my green beans for the year, it's tomato canning time.

On to the mysterious bug bites. Over the past week, I've been chewed on by something. At first I thought mosquitoes, but the bites were in areas not exposed like on my upper thigh, hip, and waist areas. Mel kept insisting they were ant bites. But I had my doubts. The bites formed a knot under the skin, and after a couple of days a pus pocket formed.  They were painful at first and then itchy like mosquito bites. There were also bites on my ankles. I always wear thick, knee-high socks even to bed, and one leg is covered by a brace. These bites were also under the places where my AFO covered.It looked similar to a bee sting or tick bite. It was a mystery.

I thought bed bugs, but the onset was wrong. I was sitting in a chair in the dining room or the back porch. There was also the fact of where the bites were. It took a happenstance, I was getting ready for bed a couple of days later, and changing my socks, I found a small spider, now dead in my sock. After a thorough search, I found an empty egg sack under my computer chair in the dining room and the back porch. These baby spiders were small enough to worm their way through the knitted material of my docks and were small enough to fit between my AFO and my leg. Mystery solved! A thorough spraying of an insecticide and no more bites. See, I told Mel it wasn't ants.

Y'all have a blessed day.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Cockeyed Weather

Now that spring and summer of 2018 are almost fully gone. This one has to be one for the weather record books for this area.

We had a fairly mild winter that stretched into May. Our spring may have lasted a week, and then we got blasted with high summer heat. While this is not unusual for south Georgia, it's almost unheard of here in the high foothills. We had three weeks of rainy weather going into late spring followed by late arctic blasts. Our poor plants transplanted at the end of May didn't know whether to grow or shrivel up. They either got too cold in the low overnight temperatures, wither in the heat blasts of the afternoon (heat indexes reaching 100+ degrees), or struggled to keep their heads up above the onslaught of heavy rains. This trend continued throughout spring.

Summer????
And then came summer, we expected the heat waves to continue as it usually did. We were pleasantly surprised and mistaken. Nighttime highs ranged in the 60s. We ran Mel's little air conditioner exactly two times and that was because of the high humidity from days of constant showers. The daytime highs ranged in the high 70s to mid 80s. Our heat loving plants like melons, okra, and sweet potatoes were hard pressed to find the heat they needed to grow and thrive. Inside our abode, our sweaters still hang within easy reach because the early morning temperatures cause us to put them on, or drape them across our shoulders to ward off the chills. It wasn't until late July or early August that these heat loving plants even flowered. Time is running short them to produce harvestable fruit before the fall's nighttime chilling temperatures arrive in late September.

There's no predicting fall after the last two seasons. While I planted my fall garden seeds last month as usual, the weather is so cockeyed, I expect another heat blast like we had in the spring or early freezing temperatures. Either one will kill off any hopes of expected harvests.  The plants may have to overwinter and get a jump start in the spring. Except for the heat blast this spring and the blizzard of squash beetles, we could have planted cool weather crops all summer long. Go figure!

The only plants that did well this year so far are my green beans and tomatoes. My tomatoes were grown in straw bales, or my raised soil bags so their feet (roots) maintained a good moisture level without drowning. The same went for my bush green beans which I planted in double width, raised rows. My original intention was to conserve watering over the summer. LOL

Try as you might, there's no predicting Mother Nature. She's been the blessing and cursing of gardeners everywhere since man first planted a seed.

Y'all have a blessed day!