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, April 15, 2018

Lessons Learned in Homestead Gardening

For March, the weather is basically wonderful outside. Coolish, near freezing temperatures at night but up in the 60s and 70s during the days. It makes me want to plant the garden outside, but I know better. Just as soon as I put the plants out, it will freeze hard for several days. Just long enough of a freeze to kill whatever I've planted. It hasn't failed to do so the past two years I've been here.

With the warmer weather, Mother Nature has fooled plants into flowering. The roadsides and yards are full of Daffodils and tulips. All the peach trees are in full bloom. Our peach trees last year were in full bloom in April when an arctic blast dumped six inches of snow on us. The result was no peaches. None for the squirrels either. Usually, the squirrels hit my peach and apple trees very hard each year, but not last year. It was slim pickings for all of us.

This year, I've bought some small smudge pots in the hopes of fending off some of the damage these late freezes cause. When we get the 1/4 acre orchard planted we'll be looking for the larger ones, but for right now, these will work. We'll really be working for an abundant harvest this year of fresh fruit from our existing trees. I've invested in bird netting to protect the fruit from birds and maybe a few squirrels. I've also bought a gross of nylon stocking the bag out apples with to prevent the caterpillars and moths from munching on the developing fruit.

New to the orchard this year is the 3 1/2' x 3 1/2' raised pallet herb beds. Mel has been busy constructing these as I type. We are using commercial feed bags from the rabbits to line them before putting our soil mixture in them. Our soil mixture is 2 part native clay soil, 1 part peat moss, 2 parts compost, and for extra drainage we add 1 part sand. Herbs don't like standing in water. As far as "chemicals" go, we add 1/2 cup bone meal, 1/4 cup rock dust, and 1/4 cup blood meal. We'll add additional compost during the growing season for the herbs. This mixture is only added to our newly built beds. Last year's raised herb beds get a thick top dressing of compost. We use the underneath of the raised beds for making compost by layering leaves and rabbit/chicken used bedding.

Nothing goes to waste on our homestead and because of our limited space, everything does double or triple duty.

We've also got the beginnings of our raspberry and grape trellis system being built.  It's slow going with the hard packed Georgia clay. Mel is digging down three feet and placing 4x4x8s in the ground. We actually got the raspberry plants to go into the beds. I know, I know the trellis should have been built first, but I got some heritage canes on sale.  I'm still waiting on the grapes though until the trellises  are finished. I've been drooling over some blueberry plants too. This will complete the first 75' terrace. We've seeded the other terraces with a combination of orchard grass, clover, rye, and diakon radish seed. The rabbits and chickens will be eating well. I may leave a few diakon radishes to grow for me to eat too.

I love making pickled diakon and kim chi with diakon radishes. Yummy for my tummy! I'll even tempura fry the radishes instead of potatoes. They have a bite to them and hold up better like turnip roots. I also use diakon in soups and stews. Okay, I know. I'm making you hungry. I'll stop. This is another example of double or triple use. By seeding the bare soil, it prevents weeds from forming. Or at least, I'll grow the weeds I want.

I also plan on sowing dye flowers and plants in this for now empty part of the orchard. I may even plants some vegetables, I'm not sure yet. I don't expect much from the orchard area this year. But anything is better than nothing. Any plant life will enrich the soil by adding nutrients and help break up the hard clay. Why not let Mother Nature do the work for us if we can? It sounds like a win-win situation.

I know I'm not the only one who looks at huge expanses of gorgeous lawns around town and think, what a waste of space! Sure it looks nice, but other than that, where's the benefits? You could be having an edible food forest on that same landscape. Rip up even half of all that grass and you would never go hungry. Am I right? It only makes sense. I mean you have to weed it, fertilize it, and cut it to keep it looking nice. To me that's empty labor. I'd rather eat. Even when you have an expanse of green lawn, how about some sheep or some goats. They would cut it and fertilize it for you. Even chickens will dethatch it and fertilize it. You will have to do less work and they'll feed and clothe you except for maybe the chickens. I'm all for less work and more benefits. Maybe, it's just my cockeyed way of looking at things around me with a homesteading biased mind. Yes, that sounds better than crazy, doesn't it?

This week we've been revamping the bunny barn. All the cages were taken down and scrubbed. We do this twice a year. Not that we don't clean them in between, we do. But nothing beats a thorough scrubbing. Even the water bottles and J feeders get a once over. It's also the time we give our Angoras their summer crew cuts. Each rabbit is sheared of its fur. They also visit Madame Mel for their manis and pedis. Their ears are treated with mineral oil for treatment and/or prevention of ear mites. This is a quarterly thing with our rabbits. An intense trip to the beauty shop for their makeovers. Not that we don't groom them throughout the year, but this is labor intensive and takes both of us a full week for them all. When you have this much hair, trips to the beauty shop are essential every couple of days. These bunnies only weigh about three pounds with their summer crew cuts, but close to double that fully coated.

We are gearing up the chicken run to give them a constant source of green food. Yes, they'll still get the leftover fodder that the rabbits don't eat, but I was watching YouTube and they showed how to build a feeder out of wire inside the run. How neat is that?  Anyone that has chickens knows that wherever they are kept is devoid of any living plant in short order. So how to keep my hens happy and healthy, while protecting my garden, give them greens in their run. Since I ferment seed for them, it will be nothing to soak a cup or two extra to keep them in constant green food stuff. Even soaking scratch grain will work. It will also give them an activity to do. An unlimited salad for their pleasure. So that's the plan for one corner of the chicken run. But unlike the video, I'm going to build the framework out of 2x4 lumber. These birds weigh greater than five pounds a piece, I can see them crushing a wire set up rather quickly without the extra support. Let's see if Mel will let me build something?

That's it for this week.

Y'all have a blessed day.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

The Cockeyed Water Heater Went Boom

As I've said before, I'm an old hand at home repairs. There wasn't much of anything I couldn't fix or install before my strokes. I've always been pretty self sufficient  in that respect. I'm luckier than most unlike my roommate, Mel. Don't get me wrong. She's great at figuring out how to build stuff from basically nothing. But when it comes to mechanical repairs, she just doesn't have the knowledge to do these repairs or experience.

This week our water heater sprung a leak. After figuring out where the water was coming from, I told Mel to shut off the water and trip the circuit breaker to the water heater. She turned off the wrong 30 amp breaker. I really can't blame her for this, it's the cockeyed wiring in this trailer. If it's marked on the box, it's wrong. Then, she shut off the main water supply to the whole house at the well. I didn't realize this until the morning.

First of all the water heater is in a closet with an opening measuring 22"x 59" off the back porch. Once again, there's really not much room to work. I was missing my old homestead where I had everything in my garage including the well pump, but I was thankful (and so was Mel) that I'd done the handicap remodeling complete with ramps to the back porch.

The rats had made a home in the water heater closet. Droppings couple inches thick in some places and chewed insulation everywhere. I looked at the manufacture date of the water heater on the panel...1999. That and the fact that the water was coming from the base of the water heater was all the confirmation I needed. Yes, you guessed it. It had to be replaced. Another unexpected household replacement and repair job. It has been one thing after another since I've moved here. I told Mel that I could get our handyman to install it, but she said "No, I'll do it."

Luckily, replacing a water heater is not that big of a deal. It was electric versus gas. When I discovered this, I looked heavenward, and mouthed the words, "Thank you, Jesus!" I wouldn't have to talk Mel through the cleaning and soldering copper tubes. She's never done that before and doesn't even own a torch. It would be hard enough talking her through removing the old tank and the wiring. Darn my one-handedness!

So I went to the plumbing supply house and bought a new water heater. It was great. I told them the dimensions of the opening, the wire, the gallons, the amps and they did all the rest. It sure beat Lowe's and it was cheeaper too. I knew if Mel was installing it, it would be a two day process. First, she had to disconnect the old one, clean all the crap out of the closet space. While Mel cleaned out the drip pan (it was still in good shape), I put down some Tomcat rat poison. We don't have to worry about our animals getting in there...there's no room. Next she had to remove the new water heater from my van and get it into place. Since Mel doesn't even get motivated to do anything until at least 2 or 3 PM, it makes this a two day job because being early spring, the sun sets early and there's not enough light to work after it goes down. Also, we ain't spring chickens anymore at 60 or fast approaching it in Mel's case. We are having difficulty with lifting heavy loads. Water heaters aren't light.

I figured the more Mel learned how to do these repairs, the better off we'll be. Plus, I don't mind teaching. After I told her about the cut off valve at the water heater, we had water in the house again. I told her that everything that has water running to it should have a cut off valve like the toilets and sinks. If they didn't we'd better install them. After saying that, I went around the house and checked. I put no stock in what the previous owners did. They were there! I was shocked.

Mel found out that she had thrown the wrong circuit breaker when she touched the wires while disconnecting the old water heater. Surprisingly enough, a string of curse words didn't follow. Although, she did scream in surprise. Just to be extra safe she shut off all 30 amp breakers while she disconnected the wires. I don't blame her. Up to 600 volts can pass through those wires. Not that her electrical shock was that many volts.

She had watched several YouTube videos on replacing a water heater and read the installation manual thoroughly before she started too. Which made it easier on me. Thank you all of you YouTube creators out there. Why is it men folk don't read the manuals? It always puzzles me.

Mel manhandled the water heater out of my van, that it took two men to put in my van, put it on a hand truck and wheeled it inside the porch. The next step would take some finessing, lifting it into the closet and into the now cleaned drip pan. Mel figured it out. I'm so proud of her! Did I mention the opening was two and a half feet off the floor? Now I did. All the time, she was praising God for the ramps.

What's going on right now on the homestead?

Hot water now flows through our taps. Yippee! One more challenge conquered. Pat yourself on the back, Mel, for a job well done. Now there's all these dishes and clothes to wash. Did I also mention that I received my Zaycon order for skinless, boneless chicken thighs? I canned the bulk of it in strips and diced, and only left two bags for the freezer. Yummy for the tummy for months to come. The seeds are started for spring planting. I still have a hard time thinking of spring planting in May, but that's life in the north Georgia foothills. I did get my garlic and potatoes planted outside though. That's it for this week.

Y'all have a blessed day.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Wood Stove Heaters- Different Stokes for Same Results

No, that isn't a typo in the title. It's a play on words sort of. It's just the way my cockeyed, stroke addled mind works now. By the way, Happy Easter and April Fool's Day rolled into one. My goodness, it's April already!

Now that wood burning season is almost over, I thought I'd talk a bit more about wood stoves. I noticed a difference in the way Mel starts a fire in our wood stove heater and the way I do it. This is just an observation. I'm not saying that any way is right or wrong. We get the same results.

First let me say that we use fallen twigs and small branches for kindling. Then, we use larger pieces scraps of wood, branches (2" in diameter or a bit larger) for the third layer. We both layer these three layers the same.

Mel's way-

Mel lays crumpled paper and various sized twigs and branches for the base. The third layer is the same. No biggie. It's almost a no brainer for any fire starting technique except she'll make the third layer of  kindling twice as big as mine. She'll apply fire to it all. She'll light it in several spots. She'll let it burn for a about ten minutes and fuss with it before adding more larger pieces of wood to it. She'll poke and stir the fire every twenty minutes. She even sets her phone alarm. She'll get up and two-handed chuck pieces of wood and poke it down into the hot coals.

It's amazing how few pictures I have of me
Jo's way-

We layer the first three layer the same except I'll use a a thicker layer one and two of the twigs and half as much of the third layer stuff. I'll crisscross the layers as I go to insure good airflow. Then, I'll add the larger splits to the stack. Smaller to larger so it almost settles itself as it burns. I forego Mel's starting off the kindling and just load the fire box. After the firebox is loaded with several layers of wood, I'll light it off in one spot. I'll play a game of Canasta on my computer (20-30 mins), and then check to fire. I'll poke the fire a bit to get the wood settled downward after the twigs and paper are burned, and maybe chuck another piece or two into the fire box, but that's it. I won't have to touch it again for an hour to one-handed chuck more wood in. Meanwhile, Mel is up every twenty minutes to fuss with the fire for hours.

We get the same results with a toasty warmth of the wood stove. It's just my way is simpler with less fussing. Why the difference? There is the lure of the fire. There's something mesmerizing about a burning fire. It's a life entity of it's own. It dance and whirls around the wood as it burns. It's an ever changing landscape.  It's hypnotizing to watch. You get a sense of warmth even from a picture of a fire. Ever wonder about those fireplace videos on Netflix or other channels being hugely popular during the winter months...that's why.

For me, after being married to a firefighter of almost a score of years, I'm so over watching fires. The destructive nature of fires has killed any romantic notion I had with it. I need the fire in the wood stove to keep warm and that's it. I feed the fire to continue being warm. I have no love for fire. It has it's uses for heat and cooking, but if I never saw again, I'd be fine with it too. I guess the experiences of that marriage scarred me for life in more ways than this.

Which way do you start a fire? My way or Mel's? Do you have another way? I'd like the hear about it.

Y'all have a blessed day.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Still Healing, but Not Healed Yet Setback

Just when I thought my foot was healed, I found out it's not the hard way. It's been a couple of weeks that my healing broken bones in my foot has virtually been pain free. What with the new AFO and rocker sole on my affected foot's shoe, I thought I was out of the woods. I've actually been pretty good about staying off of it. Even though it has felt better.

As it happens too often on the homestead, we had a calamity that took both of us to fix. A couple of the cattle panels that make up the roof of our rabbitry slipped their shelf. The brackets we had screwed in to hold it in place came loose. Thus the roof caved in on one side. But worse than that, the five male rabbit cages were attached to the cattle panels suspending them off the ground.

I said that I've been good and I have. I've only been out to the rabbitry twice since I broke my foot. So now, I looked at the five cages with rabbits in them tilted to a 45 degree angle. Those poor rabbits! I helped Mel by supporting the cages as she released the cables. It took both of us to lower the 15' section of rabbit cages to the ground so that they were level once more. Then we began transferring the bucks to the outdoor hutches on the other side of the house ( a good 80' walk each way). We removed the remaining screws from the rail which held the cattle panels and reattached them. Finally we zip tied the panels to the pallets so this wouldn't happen again. By  the time we finished all of this my foot was screaming at me. The old twisting knife pain was back. I don't know if I rebroke the original bones, or new ones, or the one I'm hoping for, just aggravated the dickens out of it.

If you haven't viewed the YouTube video on the rabbitry. Enjoy it now. You'll see the bunny cages on the left of the screen that fell. Mel's showing off the some of the bucks and Gimpy.

Now instead of brushing out these rabbits, we are going to have to shear them. We'll lose all that fiber. The reason- Broody(Gimpster) chicken and her sister had made their home on the tops of the cages. The hens like being on top of the cages because the roosters leave them alone. They just hop on  the straw bales we house in the rabbitry for easy access to the top of the cages. Now chickens aren't toilet trained. They go wherever they feel like it. Not to mention their feed and watering bowls were all up there with them.

We placed metal oil pan drop trays on top of the cages to catch all of it. Well, when the roof gave way, all those trays dumped into the buck cages dousing them with all that poop and everything else. Of course being rabbits, they couldn't get it off no matter how hard they shook themselves. The shaking only cause that poop and straw to get embeded further in their hair. The five bucks look pitiful! We would wash them but their fur is so fine (think cashmere) that it would mat against their skin. So we lose a little over four pounds of fiber. At the selling price of $8 an ounce... you figure out how much this additionally cost us.

We've just chocked it up homesteading. Things like this happen in life when you least expect it. Living post stroke doesn't make it any easier. Recovering from broken bones and Mel's trigger thumb which is now reinjured also, just makes for a bad turn of events. We're in bad shape for the fast approaching springtime busyness.

So once again, I'm off my feet again. I will be helping Mel rehang the rabbit cages after some minor adjustments and a good cleaning. The bucks will return to the rabbitry after we shear them. Mel with her little scissors and me with my mustache trimmer.

It's kind of amazing that while I don't play well with scissors, I can handle a battery powered trimmer with great accuracy. The bunnies do tend to move more with the vibration, but I can hold them pretty securely by pinning them down with my affected arm. Except for their fuzzy ears and their nails, I can shear a rabbit without cutting them once unlike Mel with her scissors. Mel is responsible for their ear and nail care for all the rabbits.

While we're at it, a good cleaning of the rabbitry is in order. I'll do what I can, but it's going to up to Mel for most of the grunt work this year. The deep bedding needs to be raked out and piled up to decompose further. But I can scatter flakes of fresh straw under the cages scooting my rollator around once it's cleared.  If my broken foot has taught me anything, it's the need for a cleared and possibly a matted surface down the center of the rabbitry. I'm thinking the rubber mats like horse stalls have in them. They are 4x6 so four of them would work perfectly. We decided to expand the rabbitry another 4' long. We wanted a larger area for the rabbits to get sunshine and a "free-range" area that they would be protected in. The 3' section we currently have for this is taken up by food storage bins (plastic garbage cans). They hold the sprouting grains and seeds (corn, black oil sunflower seeds, barley, wheat and oats) and commercial, organic feed for both the chickens and the rabbits. We use the commercial feed as back up.

So while I'm still healing I'm taking it slow. In about a month, I'll be setting seed for the transplants to go into our straw bales. They've been "cooking" (decomposing) since October. Their centers should be full of composted material to feed the plants. Notice how I'm only mentioning things I can do while seated. I plan once again to be good. Hopefully, neither one of us have another setback in healing.

Y'all have a blessed day.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Cockeyed Videos Standstill, but the Programs are Great!

We are still on hiatus with our cockeyed videos on YouTube. Mel is still busily working on an additional Java based software programs. The garden planner/seed catalog/gardening journal is now out for beta testing.

This new program is based on animals on the homestead. For example, (it can be used for whatever animal you choose) I'll use our angora rabbits. Date of birth, breeding, offspring, size of litter are important information you'll have access  within a few clicks of your mouse after inputting your data. It will also contain a simple profits and loss calculator which will show you where and how much money you are making and spending for your animals. Like the gardening software, it will help you stay organized. It will also include information enabling you to pedigree your stock.

These are separate programs. So you can buy just what you need. It's a buy once and it's yours to use unlike the online subscription based services. It has plenty of wiggle room built in to expand or customize it based on your needs. The exact price of the software programs has not been set yet, but we want to make it affordable for small homesteads like ours. These are not comprehensive programs but they do cover the basics every small homestead up to hobby farm size ventures.

What determines what software to make? Well, that's simple. Whatever we need or want. If we could use it, you can bet other homesteads out there can use them too. The small homestead governs what we make because we are tiny compared to other homesteads. We have just two acres. 

What's next on the programming agenda?  How about something based on your pantry/freezer? We can a lot of our vegetable and poultry production here at the Cockeyed Homestead. We have chickens that provide us with meat and eggs. A garden that produces about 75% of our needs. It's great that we are able to put by each year. How do you keep track of it all? Do you know how many jars of food stuff to put by each year. What did you can too much of? What did you can too little of?

I canned about three bushels of tomatoes last year thinking that would be enough. It lasted the two of us four months. Guess what I'll be planting and canning more of this year. My pickles? I barely will eek through. A few extra jars would be heavenly. I canned way too much jams. We don't need half as much for a year. Peaches, between frozen and canned we broke even. I did this by memory and guessimation this year. A program would have been nice. It will help us produce more accurately and hold down costs.

I normally buy meats we don't produce from Zaycon by the case.Well, it turned out their pork sausage links made Mel nauseous. I ended up giving 3/4 of a case to my neighbor. We loved their all beef hot dogs so much that I'll be buying two cases this summer to last us all year. With just the two of us on this homestead, a case or two of whatever will last us a year. Coupled with their sales, it's cheaper than the grocery store. I'll hit a local vendor for grass fed/ no antibiotic beef. I'll buy half a cow a year. I'll even take all the bones, tongues, and fat the processor will give me. It's bone broth/beef stock and rendered fat for soaps for basically free. The dogs love the bones after I've finished with them.

So why did Mel design the computer based programs? 
We started, like most homesteads, with a ring binder journal. We quickly found that the forms that were downloadable were inadequate for our needs in just three years. We tried creating spread sheets of our own. We were quickly overwhelmed by just pages upon pages. A 3" binder wasn't big enough. We ended up with several. And then, it was shuffling back and forth between notebooks trying to correlate the data we needed. It became a headache in record keeping. Now, we have the data we need and want within a simple program that we can adjust based on our needs.

Let's face it, as homesteaders, we have a duty to be self accountable. We want to know if something is a dismal failure or a success, and by how much. Are we getting our money's worth? A return on investment? Where did we spend too much or too little? How can we save money? Will these programs help with that? Well, let me put it this way. It sure couldn't hurt. It had to be simple to use because my damaged brain and at my <cough>age, it has to be.

The programs will be available soon.

Y'all have a blessed day.

Cockeyed Garden Philosophy

Here in northern Georgia we have a definite winter season unlike my previous homestead in south Georgia. This is much to my dismay. I've waited this whole cockeyed winter season for something to grow. Yes, we are still in the Y'all part of the country too, but there are three distinct growing areas in Georgia, and we  ain't that big of a state. I know I said we'd start seeds around Easter, but I want it now! Yes, I know we still have several more cold snaps to go before spring. I'm not talking about planting outside yet either.

The back porch is finally wrapped in plastic wrap. Nobody really wanted to be outside replacing screens and hanging plastic when it was 40 degrees outside, but we've had a spell of really nice days of late with daytime temperatures in the 60s and 70s. Of course, this warming spell had its days (weeks) of rainy weather too. As much as I wanted the porch enclosed, I didn't want Mel out when it was raining. It was bad enough that I had to get out in it going various medical places.

Now we have a cozy spot to grow in even if the night time temperatures drop near freezing. The great part is that the plastic can be rolled up out of the way during the warmer months to allow cooling breezes in. The plastic will also keep out the blowing rain. I like doing the work once the right way and not having to do it again. Now, it's just putting up the storage racks to hold the seedlings and plants. It has become my 18'x25' greenhouse.

Do you start you plants in trays? Do you actually purchase these? My question is why are you paying for it? Have you bought tomatoes or other vegetables in the winter? What are you doing with all those baskets and cardboard or foam bins? You aren't throwing them away are you? How could you! You might as well be throwing dollar bills in the garbage.

These are excellent seed starting trays. I also use  my homemade soil block maker, and paper towel cardboard rolls. The toilet paper rolls are used exclusively for rabbit treats and toys. The cardboard is thinner on toilet paper rolls and won't hold up for 6-12 weeks for growing plants.

As the days grow warmer I find myself getting more excited about the prospect of being in the garden again. My garden time is also my one on one time with God. He shows and teaches me all His wonders in the garden. Even through the weeding, disease management, and pest control, He is constantly showing me something new. I no longer try to eradicate all the pests in my garden. There really is no need. They are happy with their 1/3 and I am happy with the 2/3rds. If a fruit of my labor is a bit bug bitten, do I really care? Nope, it will still taste good. If the plant is healthy enough and produces a good yield, isn't that good enough for a few bugs?

I used to be almost anal about pest control in my garden. God showed me that the best plants will have the most pests. It stands to reason, right? Who honestly wants to eat substandard food? I'll spray my plants with a cayenne, garlic, oil, and soap water solution to hold the insect population to a dull roar. I'll do this a couple times a season. That's it for my organic bug spraying. The rest of the  time, I'm picking off caterpillars and larva for the chickens. I won't get every single one. That would almost be impossible, but I don't sweat it either. So long as the bugs don't take over their 1/3 share, I'm content to live with nature.

2 cups of poo to 1 gal rain water
By starting my plants indoors and then transplanting them into the garden, they have a chance to get a head start on growth. I look at it this way. Who is more susceptible to harm a newborn baby or an adult? The baby, right? Well my plant babies are protected from that which will harm them. Temperature variations and pest/diseases being the major threats. They receive abundant nutrients via the compost in their growing medium  and a couple waterings with rabbit poo tea during their first 6-12 weeks of life. While the temperatures may vary, it never falls below 50 degrees in my make shift growing area. The plants will also be watered in with rabbit poo tea when transplanted to prevent shock. By transplant time, they will have grown into teenagers and less susceptible to damage by temperature and pests.

To me, I think of plants like children growing up. I did raise five children.
I consider this babyhood- anytime before flowering
When the flowers start budding= teenage/puberty
It takes a lot of energy to grow a teenager to adulthood. Ask any mother of a teenager what their grocery bills are like. If you don't have children compare it to double the normal cost and amount.
Adulthood= produces fruit

I'll usually top/side dress the plants with additional rabbit poo when they start to flower and again after the first flush of harvesting. Your plants need food to keep producing great fruit. It takes hard work and energy to keep producing offspring (fruit). You consume a lot of calories when pregnant to grow healthy babies. If you garden like me, I grow several different plantings of seedlings a couple of weeks a part to have a continual harvest over the growing season. It seems like I'm always feeding my plants.

An entire growing/harvesting season for us starts in May and lasts until September most years.  Gone are the days of waiting for November to plant greens and other cooler weather crops. It will freeze before harvesting. I've had to rethink and reorganize my planting/harvesting charts for these more northern climates. It's been a heck of a learning curve. But with the addition of plastic on the porch, I can eek out a few more months of planting/harvesting. I'll also be able to grow citrus fruits that Mel and I love. An almost year around harvest of ginger, horseradish, and turmeric too. Three medicinal/culinary roots that I can't do without. I may even try propagating pineapples too. Mel loves her some pineapple.

I thought I'd update you on some of my general garden philosophies that I hold dear to my heart as we travel this homesteading path. Hopefully, I can implement it all this coming year.

Y'all have a blessed day.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

It's a Cockeyed Life

You know if it wasn't for my body crapping out, I'd live on this Earth forever. But that is not the case for me. For instance, I'm still dealing with a broken foot. As if a surviving a stroke isn't bad enough, I also have a bum ticker, aortic aneurysms, and now moderate kidney damage. In other words, I'm dying, but aren't we all?

All each of us can do is the best we can do.  I'm no different. I'm busy living my life and dreams until I can't anymore. As should we all. Bummed out yet? Don't be. I'm not.

Even with all these health issues, I'm getting ready for Spring. We've got a garden and orchard to plant. Although right now, all I can do is plan and pay for it. It will be up to Mel to install it. Much as I hate it, it's the truth. It's already March. The last expected frost date is May 1st. That means come Easter, I need to start seedling in trays so we'll have a jump start on our garden. My garden plan and layout still stands. Hopefully by about mid growing season, I'll be back on my feet again.

I'm praying for a great harvest this year now that the chickens are finally penned up. Well almost. Houdini, Buff Orpington rooster, and Little Red, Rhode Island Red rooster, are still free ranging. They service our two remaining New Hampshire Red hens who live in our rabbit barn. But all of them are too big to squeeze under the gates or through the fence. So my garden should be safe now. Just the occasional squirrel or small cotton tail rabbit should be the only predators.

Now pests and birds in an organic garden and orchard is another  story. I plan my planting and yield with them in mind. I figure 1/3 of the proposed harvest for them leaving 2/3rds for us. Bugs and birds do have their benefits. Birds eat the pests. For the caterpillars and larva the wild birds do not eat, my chickens will feast on them as I go through the area. It will break their hearts to have to wait on their treats this year, but oh, well, if they had left my harvest alone they'd be loose still.

I'm already gearing up for canning and freezing my produce. I found an upright freezer for free on Craig's List and it works great.  This will be for bunny bottles and vegetables. The chest freezer in the barn will be for just meats. I bought another sleeve (364) of canning lids off of E bay. I also purchased rolls of food saver bags. So I'm ready.I still have another 60 cases of pint canning jars awaiting pick up for when I to to North Carolina again.

I still haven't found a good, used small pressure canner yet. I'm still looking. I'm in the market places and auctions looking for two of them actually. I want a smaller one for smaller batches. My two large ones are great for bulk produce, but as any gardener knows, fruits ripen at different times. Sometimes, there's just enough harvest for 6-8 pints or even half pints. It just seems like a waste of energy and resources to keep pulling out my 23-qt pressure canner for these jobs.

The reason for two of them is that the Lord has put it on my heart to provide one for an internet friend in TN. She wants/needs to can food, but doesn't have the resource to purchase one. She only has her freezer that's on top of refrigerator too. That makes canning a necessity. I'd love to find an All American, but almost any small pressure canner will do. If it needs new seals, gauges, or weights is a small issue that can be corrected. I usually change mine every couple of heavy canning seasons just out of habit. Better safe than sorry.

This isn't a story of a friend of a friend occurrence with a pressure canner. I've actually seen one of these explode through no fault of the owner. She was scraping canning jar glass and beef stew, I think, for weeks off of walls and ceiling. There was actually imbedded glass into her dry wall. The cause was a fault in the metal which held the lid on. Two of the prongs snapped off when the canner was under pressure. The lid made a dent in her range hood. Luckily no one was hurt. She was also an experienced canner. This was a Chinese knock off pressure canner too, which I will only buy a canner from reputable dealers and check them out carefully. I always follow the instructions of the manufacturing company. So far in almost 25 years of pressure canning and cooking, I've had ZERO incidents. It just takes caution and common sense when operating your equipment. Oh Lord, please don't get me started on the lack of common sense these days.

Anyhow, I'm healing and hope to be ready for Spring.

Y'all have a blessed day!

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Straw Bale Gardening Continues

I know, I know. I told you last week that I'd give you an update on our outdoor Cockeyed Critters this week. All I can say is things change. My foot isn't healing as anticipated. In fact, I have two more fractures starting to form. So no updated photos of our bunnies and chickies.

But today, I'm going to give you an update on our straw bale gardening endeavors. As you may have read here, we've expanded our garden spot. As you can imagine with 10 rabbits and a dozen or so chickens, they produce a lot of waste. Their poop does not go to waste. Get it, waste and waste? Two meanings for one word. Oh, never mind.

We placed our straw bales on the new areas of the garden rather than trying to dig through the compacted red clay soil. We have huge granite rocks and thick tree roots under the surface. It was just a labor saving device to build the fertile soil up rather than spend big bucks and years of labor to get the new areas up to speed with the rest of the garden area that we spent years amending to make fertile. It will take two years to completely rejuvenate the new areas rather than the four it took for the rest of the garden and we can grow produce while we do it. Makes sense right?

We started with a layer of wood chips over the entire area. Thanks to Hurricane Irma. But we wanted to hedge our bet for a better gardening season.  We decided to do two growing seasons (2 years) in straw bales as well. One row of straw bales around to new perimeter of the garden. It will serve dual purpose for now. A garden outline and build up the soil.

We've waited all winter long for the rains to fall. We wanted Mother Nature to do the work for us to decompose the straw bales. I added bone and blood meal to the bales last month when we had a couple of rainy days. Now was time for the serious nitrogen boosters, the manure. Chicken manure is very high in nitrogen as well as several pathogens that can be passed on to humans, such as botulism. That's the reason it should be composted for a year. But for our purposes, the three month deep bedding method used for our coop,and then sat undisturbed for three months, and plus being on he straw bales for three months works.

We loaded a couple wheel barrows full of the stuff. Yeah, chickens are messy critters. We also took a couple of wheel barrows of the deep bedding method manure and straw from the rabbit barn too. It does not have to be composted. We mixed it all together. We spread this about six to eight inches thick on top of the bales and growing areas. It will have three months to perform it's magic on the bales and regular garden areas. Meanwhile, Mother Nature complies with heavy rain falls soaking all that nitrogen run off into the bales and ground. Working with nature is the backbone of self sufficiency. It's like that very old television commercial, "It's not nice to fool [with] Mother Nature."

As this one farmer found out.
The warmer temperatures, we've been having will speed the composting process up.  This morning, two weeks ago manure was added, the temperature of the bales was 105 degrees. I added some more rain water to the bales that were this hot. So it's cooking rather nicely since it rained. We will be expecting another drenching down pour next week. But between now and then, we'll be having sporadic showers to cool the bales down some. The danger in straw bale gardening is that they can catch fire without matches. Yes, the decomposing pile can get that hot. So we are watchful. We take the bales' temperature every other day. We'll add more rabbit manure and straw if the temperature falls below 50 degrees to keep it bales cooking. Until we are ready to plant the end of April and the beginning of May. The interiors of the bales should be fertile, compost and more than ready to receive plants.

The plan is that next year, we'll plant directly into whatever is left of this year's straw bales.  We've got two 4 cu ft of peat moss and about two bags of mushroom compost to add to the existing garden too to replenish the soil. They were left over from our raised bed gardening endeavor two seasons ago. Although we have plenty of earth worm working for us in the existing garden as well.

Public Domain
Nothing is fast when dealing with organic gardening on the cheap side. But that's the way nature intended it. We prefer to work with nature here at the Cockeyed Homestead rather than the chemical ladened alternatives. So we have an off season or two as we attempt to become more self-sufficient. In the long run, we'll get there.

In the mean time, the farmers' markets and grocery stores are full of options. We've got time to experiment on what works best for us and our area. To get the best, it takes a lot of practice. We are constantly searching for alternatives to getting back to nature and self sufficiency. Some things work, but others can work better/worse too. You never know until you try. That's why we are the Cockeyed Homestead. We do things a little twisted and corny rather than the normal way to do things. We make you tilt your head to one side and go, "Huh?" followed by an, "Oh, now I get it. How neato!" Interject whatever word you want here, I'm just showing my age. "I never thought about doing it that way!" AND, everything was originally done cockeyed when building this place originally. There isn't a day that I don't cock my head to one side and go, "Huh? Why'd they do that like that?"

Y'all have a blessed day!"