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, June 17, 2018

In Homesteading, Expect the Unexpected

When homesteading, nothing goes according to plans especially on the Cockeyed Homestead. This past two weeks is a prime example.

We hadn't planned planting fruit trees until next year. I went to Lowe's and found three apple trees on clearance. In fact, they were the only apple trees in the store. I could get all three for the price of one regularly priced tree. How could I pass that bargain up?A quick call to Mel and it was unanimous. Don't worry, I didn't plan on passing up this deal. While I was picking them up, Mel started pick axing holes for them to be planted in. I also picked up some organic soil for the garden.

We were in a rush to plant the garden before the week worth of rain hit. I was planting like a mad woman. But the apple trees needed to be planted in the orchard too. It took better than a day to get them in the ground. I was working around doctor appointments in Atlanta and Gainesville too. I still didn't get it all planted before the rain started falling. So now I'm planting in between rain showers. I might mention I was canning and cooking too.

Several times a day, Mel and I fell exhausted into the porch swing with glasses of iced tea. We'd take a thirty minute break and get back at it. Then the rains started. Thank God! We can relax a bit. Or so we thought.

We heard a dripping sound inside. We were taking some nontech time out on the porch swing. I had broached the subject of a no tech day for us. To wean Mel off her tech, we take several hours each day as no tech time. We heard a crash in the living room and went to investigate. Part of the ceiling had fallen and rain was steadily dripping in. Wet insulation and broken ceiling panels lay in a heap on the carpet with more threatening to fall.

I had been saving my pennies for the driveway along the side of our property to be finished (another $1500  job). Originally, we'd only planned this drive-thru for access to the rabbit and chicken areas, but the additional building project of a new deck and ramps made for easier access into in house as well. We started parking out vehicles there as well. The winter's snow and rain and the additional traffic on this drive-thru sank the #4 gravel into the ground so we had a mucky mess. We needed a proper car park and drive here so I was saving the $1500 it would cost me. It is now all going to repair the roof and interior of the house. The drive will have to wait.

Of the 32 Roma tomato plants I transplanted into the garden,  so far only 14 have survived the bugs, the blast of heat followed by hard rains. But I expected this that's why I planted so many. Remember the old saying, Don't count your chickens before they hatch? I always try to when gardening. Those that survive to bear fruit will be the strongest and provide a better harvest. Natural selection and all that.

The same goes for our fruit trees. The peach trees have done their
Mel's 3 peach trees
fruit drop. Mel was close to tears to see all those little baby peaches on the ground, but there are plenty still left on the trees. Mother Nature knows best. Mel started these three peach trees from saved seeds four years ago. She made the mistake of planting them from their pots into one corner of the garden. She was intending to move them when some space was cleared. That didn't happen until last year. They are too big to moved. Or actually, it will take some heavy duty shovel work to moved these trees to the new orchard. Maybe this late winter, they'll be moved after they go dormant and before they awaken in the spring. We can start prepping the tier they'll go on this fall. Digging holes in the hard packed clay is tons of fun. Yes, I'm joking. But Mel will dig the holes for the expected large root balls. We'll load the holes with chicken and rabbit waste straw and poop, and let them do their thing until we can move the trees down there.

Wild strawberry patch
Last year, I planted  a whole 3x6 raised bed of strawberries. The young chickens ate every one of them. Or worse, they decided to dust and sunbathe in my strawberry patch destroying any plant they hadn't eaten. As a result this year, my whole garden and surrounding areas on the property is covered in wild strawberry patches. None of the berries being produced are bigger than a pencil eraser this year. Mel weed whacked a lot of these patches to the ground. We kept one large patch in the garden area and several others around the property because the rabbits and chickens love them.. None of the berries are very sweet when ripe although they do have an excellent strawberry flavor. The berries are only the size of a pencil eraser. I picked about a quart of these and dehydrated them for muffins later on. I'll give it a try anyhow. Meanwhile, this unexpected bonus will be fertilized with rabbit poo tea and left alone. We'll see if we get better berries next year. From the plants we kept, if I could dig them all up and space them properly would easily full 1/2 an acre and every day I'm finding more. I don't think I'll bother this year. If they come back in the spring next year I'll think about transplanting them in the orchard.

Why use a  shovel to dig the peach trees up instead of a back hoe? First of all, we don't have access to one. When Mel planted these little trees, yearlings where they sit now (see picture above), she put all three gallon pots together in the ground. She had not intended them to stay there very long. But over the three years to date, they have grown that way. We'll have to dig a massive area around all three and separate them. It will be a nightmare of a job that no machine can do without possibly destroying the trees. We want to avoid that if at all possible especially now that they are beginning to bear fruit. But I'm a realist.  The chances of getting tasty fruit from these saved seeds is iffy. Grown fruit seed isn't always as as tasty from a saved seed as the parent. most parent plant have been cultivated. But it could happen. We also may damage these trees ourselves. They may not survive the move. They may be shocked beyond survival once transplanted. I'm well prepared to buy new ones in the spring for the orchard.

I also realize this is more than a one woman job even if Mel thinks it is. I'll try to round up some able-bodied help for her. Time the roots are exposed to air and sunlight needs to be minimized. Air and sun directly on bare roots equal death. Similar to a stroke in the brain in humans. Each second exposure to unnatural substances equal cell death. A root system of a tree is like the human brain to humans. It coordinates everything about a plant living.

So you see in homesteading, as in life in general, you have to roll with the punches. Not much is set in stone. Our forefathers, pioneers, learned this truth while homesteading. Wild fires, unpredictable weather patterns, and just stuff in general that happens when you least expect it causes you to expect the unexpected. You can only prepare so much and you can't prepare for everything. You can hedge your bet in the garden by over planting like I did, but stuff happens. Another 100 days without rain, hail, torrential rains that last weeks, blistering heat and it could all crumble into oblivion. You can only do what you can do and pray. This is homesteading. It's not all bleak. The rewards when it all comes together right, even if it's cockeyed, is priceless.

Life isn't about the final destination. It's the journey that makes it worthwhile. I remember going on a real vacation with our two younger children. Their memories are not just about destination, but traveling to and from the destination also. It created a fully rounded experience of learning, fun, joy, and hardships along the way. Homesteading is about the journey. We learn. We laugh. We get angry. We love. But above all we expect the unexpected and live.

Y'all have a blessed day.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Oh, Rats! Two Stories

You may have read a few times about our rat problem here at the Cockeyed Homestead. Nothing was safe or sacred to these pests. They invaded our home, in the walls, furnace and water heater closet, in our cabinets and pantry, they were everywhere that our Herbie or cats couldn't get to them.

All winter long we battled this vermin. We were at our wits end. We had tried everything organic even suggested to rid us of this pest  We were tired of them scurrying around having a high old time. They must have put a all call to all their friends and relatives too from the amount of dropping we were sweeping up.

 Story #1

Yes I bought the 9 lb bucket!
Outside they were even worse. They nested in our storage buildings, barn, rabbitry, the greenhouse, and chicken house. We couldn't leave their food out overnight because they'd crawl into the cages at night with the rabbits to feast. We tried planting herbs that deter the rodents around the house and out buildings, we set traps out and finally we resorted to poison. We placed the bait where our animals couldn't get to it in case they wanted to nibble it, or in Herbie's case, gobble it down. I bought the 9 lb tub because we had multiple areas to put it in.

After about a week, we checked on the bait. Not even a nibble was eaten of the cubes! Well, that didn't work. Maybe another brand would work better, I thought.  We picked up all the bait cubes and placed the container in my stores building. I bought a much smaller box pf rat bait and kill the next times I was in Tractor Supply. I complained bitterly to the store manager and got a refund without having my receipt or bringing it back in. You gotta understand that I spend $100 or more each trip I make into that store. In a small community like ours, could they really afford losing me as a customer?

Still, I was upset the rat poison hadn't worked. This was an ultimate no-no for an organic homestead, but we were desperate. Especially when the rats chewed the container of Angora wool and soiled it. If the rats were diseased and with our rabbits, we'd have a big crunch in our pocketbooks. Not to mention, rats could/would eat/kill and kits born. Even moving all eleven rabbits inside out house wouldn't guarantee their safety. This would be impossible.

These rabbits are not only our livelihood, but they are part of our family too. The sale of their wool and offspring cover the cost of their yearly feed bill, as well as part of our living expenses for our homestead.

Anyhow we put the new bait and kill out again. Within another week, we were rewarded by seeing several dead rats here and there. But the numbers weren't as high as I expected. I knew we still had a rat problem because we could hear them scampering and fighting in the walls. Still, it was a start.

We were cleaning rat poop out of the stores building one day, when I noticed chewed white plastic slivers by the door. On closer inspection, I noticed a hole was chewed into the lid of the Tomcat rat bait/kill. There's no accounting for rats having brains. And, to think they use rats to test drugs and diseases on for us! These rats must have been desperate. I was even more astonished by the fact that the 9 lb tub was empty! Inside the bucket was peed on bait stuck to the creases and rat droppings. As we cleaned the storage building there were no telltale signs of rat infestation. Later, we noticed the absence of telltale rat noises in the house too.

Wonders of wonders, the rats didn't want the bait given to them, but wanted to work for their food. I felt bad about getting my money back from Tractor Supply. The next time I went in there, I told him what happened. I offered to pay him back. He laughingly refused. "Mrs. M, we're just glad to see your smiling face back in our store."

Story #2

You know with rats comes other critters that love to eat rats. I'm talking about snakes. While Patches, the cat, has done a pretty good job killing rats in the barn, there were some places she couldn't get at them. Mel's Christmas decorations was a prime example. The rats had made a home in these boxes and tubs along with others. We are still currently going through all the boxes and tubs in the barn. One of the rats' favorite places to nest was in Mel's large tool chest.

For a year now, Mel opened her drawer very gingerly on the lookout for furry creatures. Mel's chicken also laid their eggs in the top hatch before the chicken coop. You may remember my post about Broody/Gimpy going broody and hatching out a chick in this tool box.

As she was going about doing spring fix ups, she again was opening drawers in her tool chest and pulling out various rat nesting materials as she went. She pulled open the bottom big drawer and there sat a snake. It looked up at her with a dazed look upon his face like she had awoken him from a nap. This snake must have had a grand old time eating rats because he was 4' long! She grabbed a stick, picked him up, and took him to a heavily wooded area of our property to release him.

Upon returning to the tool chest, she looked inside to find a another 2' long garter snake. He wasn't too happy that Mel had taken away his friend. He rattled something in the tool chest that made him sound like a rattle snake. He coiled up like he was going to strike at her. Mel just chuckled at his antics. She picked him up with the same stick and was leaving the barn when Nnyus rounded the corner to see what she was up to. Nnyus is deathly afraid of snakes. The dog screamed when she saw what Mel held and ran in the opposite direction. I'm with Nnyus where snakes are concerned. Mel carried this feisty, little fellow  to the woods. She hoped they would find each other again.

In recounting the story to me she said she almost had a heart attack finding the first one. She was expecting furry little critters and found a big, slimy one. I told her she would have had to of called 9-1-1 for me because I would have had a heart attack. In my case with my bad heart, it darn could have killed me.

Y'all have a blessed day.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Growing, Growing, Gone, Grrr!

Just after transplanting
A couple of weeks ago I mentioned all those Roma tomato plants I transplanted into the garden. They are taking to the straw bales in lackluster form. I've been somewhat disappointed in their growth. Coupled with the infusion of a couple days of rain and sunshine, I was preparing the fencing to stand them up because they had started to flower. With all the bees and wasps in the garden, I knew that we could have a bumper crop this year. Due to the heat and the rains I'm down to 25 of 32 plants. They were growing and growing.

The day dawned bright and sunny. I walked the garden to check the plants as I usually do each morning, weather permitting, as part of my morning prayers and meditation time. I glanced at where a Roma tomato was suppose to be. All that was left of the leafy, green plant was a chewed down stalk. Farther down the row was another one and another one, and so on.. "Lord, what could have eaten these plants overnight?!" Honestly, I knew the answer. Caterpillar! Yes, pests have made their way into our organic garden. But there was no sign of them in the light of day. I'm down to 14. So much for a bumper crop. With 14, I'll barely make do possibly.

I went inside and broke out the blender. I'd slow their munching progress. Into the blender I put 4 dried cayenne pepper pods (from last season),  5 large clove of garlic. Once this was ground to a pulp, I added a 1/4 cup of milk, 3 tbs of olive oil, and 1 cup of water. I whizzed it around to combine and poured it into an old Windex bottle that I reuse just for this purpose. I then add 1/4 tsp of Dawn dishwashing detergent. Remember large pieces will clog your sprayer attachment. I give the bottle a shake to combine. Do this gently because you don't want a lot of suds. This "pesticide" is the combination of a couple of different recipes for pest control. If you have pests eating your plants like this, you probably have a couple of them. I make up this recipe a bottle at a time and discard any remaining liquid.

Armed with my Windex bottle, I again venture into the garden. I spray each leaf (top and bottom) and around the base of the plant with the mixture. After it dries, it looks like dusty mildew has attacked your plant because of the milk, but hopefully you checked your plants well before applying the spray so you know it isn't. This solution will have to be reapplied after a rain shower. It's probably  a good time to add Epsom salt, and side dress my plants with rabbit poo tea also.

No, it's not this bad,
Don't ya just love the way one thing leads to another on the homestead? Oh, and we sprung a leak in our metal roof during the last rainy period so Mel so up on the roof trying to track down the problem is. Not that I can do anything if she falls, but Whirling Dervish and I are continually yelling up at her to be careful. I only bought two small tubes of seal flex so I hope it will do the job. Then, it's on to the inside to fix the ceiling.

Y'all have a blessed day.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

More on Straw Bale Gardening

Notice how we planted marigolds too
I've mentioned in previous posts that we are straw bale gardening this year. The first row along the barn side, I planted English peas and bush green beans. It wasn't long that these peas needed something to climb on. It was a simple fix of adding 4' garden rods with string.

The next row was all the tomatoes. Again I used the posts and string to try to keep the extending growth contained. I knew that this would only be a short lived fix. Tomato plants can grow to 8' tall or more. One year on my old homestead, I planted some tomatoes in those topsy-turvy planters. I had eye-bolts anchored into the eaves of my house and they still lay on the ground. So my fix is cattle panels. They are placed in a hoop fashion on the rods over the pea/bean row of straw bales and the tomato row of straw bales. It gives me shade for harvesting these vegetables. We simply zip tied the panels in place on the rods. Now both can grow as long as they like. If the tomatoes grow to the other pea/bean bale, they'll root to form new plants for a continually rotating crop of tomatoes until the frost kills them. By the time that happens, the peas will be done and the green bean harvest will almost be done.

I let the wheat seed in the bales grow to feed to the rabbits and chickens. It's a quick, easy feed since the straw wasn't seed free. Triple duty in a small space. The straw bales will enrich the soil over time as they compost. The wheat straw provides food for or bunnies and chickens, and we get vegetables to eat. Don't you just love it when a plan comes together?

I've got to plant the zucchini for my pickle relish too. Since I've added preparing the refreshments for my stroke support group to my litany of to-dos, I'll need twice as much as I put up last year. I just love my zucchini relish. Mel, who hates squash of any kind, loves it too. The zucchini holds its texture so much better than cucumbers do. Thank you Great-Aunt Nancy! She gave me her recipe 43 years ago and I haven't used cucumbers for relish since. It's just so yummy.

Well, that's it for this week.
Y'all have a blessed day!

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Cockeyed Homestead's Adaptive Gardening Style

Adaptive gardening can only take you so far. If you are like us, we depend on the production of our garden to supply us for the whole year. We use a variety of planting methods. Some are adaptive and some are not.

This year we are focusing on building up new sections of the garden area. We laid wood chips in a thick layer. Then, we laid down cardboard. On top of it all, we placed straw bales. Hopefully in a season or two, we'll have a foot or more new, rich, composted soil over the hard, compacted red clay and granite rocks in which to grow vegetables in.

Straw bale gardening is another adaptive gardening technique. But for us, I'm not talking a dozen straw bales. I got fifty of them. As I said, our garden needs to provide a year's worth of vegetables for us. Each row around the perimeter of the garden took 10 bales a side in a trapezoid shape. This is all new ground for the garden. It was previously a rough driveway of sorts so the clay is really compressed. Now, with the new driving areas graveled in, we've got a definite borders to the garden besides just a fence.

While planting or transplanting these bales, would be a classic adaptive or handicapable garden, the interior of the garden is the standard row planting. Unlike the previous year where I misplanted some crops in low raised beds that should have been elevated and vice versa, this year I'm actually mapping it out before I plant. I know what I need to plant where.

I'm also not listening to Mel this year. Her idea of walkways between rows and mine are feet apart . Her ideal walkway between tomato plants is 2' when actually with the sprawling growth, tomatoes really need 4' between rows. I just really have difficulty managing to weed and harvest in that narrow of a row spacing. My toy box garden cart or a garden cart won't fit between the rows once the plants reach full maturity.

We are still growing potatoes in tires. Old tires are easy to manage. It's upcycling although there is some concern about toxicity of old tires. We roughly get 50 lbs of potatoes a year and that is just about right for the two of us to consume. I just throw another tire on the stack and compost as it grows. I usually stop mounding tires and compost when I get five tires stacked. That's roughly 5lbs of potatoes for each tire. We usually do two tire towers for 50 lbs or there abouts. To harvest, it's simply removing the tires one by one and pulling the potatoes out. The soil can be mixed with new compost and it's recharged for the next plants. The straw we put in the noncentral parts of the tire also decompose over the growing season. The reason we do this is water tends to pool inside of this part. It serves to provide a moist not soggy growing area.

After the initial potato harvest, I'll stack and fill the tires two high for sweet potatoes or onions. Some of the tires I'll leave as singles and plant spinach or other greens in them. I do like my gutter planters (another adaptive gardening technique) for lettuces though. I can pick micro greens to my heart's content without stooping. Gutter planting works best on quick harvesting like salad greens. They aren't deep enough for standard crops. They also tend to dry out quickly so close and careful monitoring is essential. I've watched videos on using this technique for strawberries, but when I attempted it I found the soil depth too shallow for an abundant harvest.

If you are only raising two or three tomato plants a raised bed is fine, but this year we'll be plant a minimum of 25 plants between Roma paste tomatoes and Cherokee blacks. The same goes for other vegetables too.  For seedling or seeds planting, I carry two sticks. One is 6" long and one is 3' long. Can you guess why? The 6" stick is for elevated raised bed planting. Our beds are only 3 1/2' wide. It's an easy reach to the center of the beds. The 3' stick is for ground level planting. It's also a substitute cane if I need it. I use a lot of different things in the garden that can substitute for my cane; a rake or hoe works wonderfully. I can get pretty creative when it comes to my mobility issues and doing what I want/need to do.

I say that living post stroke has been an adventure. In a way it has been a great blessing. A blessing?! I hear y'all now wondering how anyone would consider surviving a stroke is a blessing. "Jo, you've stepped off the ledge and are free falling into the crazy zone!" My response is still, it's a blessing. Hear me out. I jokingly say that God permitted my strokes to happen to me to teach me patience and it's working.
  • I have met many wonderful and supportive people since my stroke. Ones I may not have met otherwise. I inspire regular folks to break free of their comfort zones and try something new.
  • In spite of all I lost in abilities, I've found new and creative avenues to enjoy that I may not have tried if it weren't for my strokes.
  • I'm thinking more outside the box to achieve what I want out of life. Admittedly, I've always thought outside the box, but now it's extreme and I love it.
  • Through the frustrations in attempting to live my life post stroke, I've developed a more patient attitude. See, God, it's working.
  • Through my pain, I have a deeper compassion and empathy for others than I had before. I can relate more on a one by one basis.
  • Through my limited ability, doors or windows open that were closed shut before.
Every experience is an opportunity for learning. You can either embrace it and get on with your life, or stew in despair. I never would have thought that adaptive gardening as a way to be self sufficient before my strokes. My strokes opened my eyes to a new way of being self sufficient and productive that I wouldn't have thought of before.

Sure, adaptive gardening techniques are for small time gardeners. But sometimes, the end results can be greater than you first thought. I'm still trying to get back to the production levels here as I had on my old property. It will happen. It just takes time. I'm patient. Hear that God! I'm being patient. If you are physically impaired, it's the only way to get something good out of a bad situation. Gardening adaptively, let's you produce your own food. Maybe not most of it like we do, but even if you produce one tomato, it's gonna be the best tasting tomato you have ever eaten. Plus, you know where it came from, how it was grown, and you tried something new. So what are you waiting for? Let's get down and dirty.

Y'all have a blessed day!

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Taking Advantage of the Cooler Weather

Yes, as I predicted, we are still experiencing some 40 degree night time temperatures at the Cockeyed Homestead. So I'm doing the Snoopy dance of happiness that I have planted the garden, but my seedlings are now plants and should survive the cooler weather. To date, 40 tomato plants are in straw bales. Thirty-two of which are Roma tomato plants. Yes, I'm planning to can a huge bunch of tomatoes. We just added another set of tires to our potato plants. They are growing great. The bush green bean, cucumber, zucchini, cantaloupe, watermelon, and English peas seeds are planted. I'm growing horseradish, ginger and turmeric in pots. It just gets too cold here in winter to plant them in the ground. I've seeded our gutter garden with lettuces. Now in my starter trays, I've got okra, pumpkin, peppers, and sweet potatoes.  They will love the warmer weather in a month or so.

 I have been canning up a storm while it's cool. The canners adds needed humidity to the air inside and heat. It's that time again to empty out the freezers and defrost them. We do this every two years. It's hard to believe I've been here two years already. Time flies when you are busy. So I've been canning the contents of the freezer and more.

So far, I've canned up pint jars of 18 lbs of ham, 40 lbs of pork chops, 24 lbs of roast beef, 40 lbs of pork loin chops, 24 jars of spaghetti sauce with meat and there was still shrimp, fish, and ground beef in the freezer. I've even made a case of chili for quick fix dinner nights when Mel comes in saying, "I'm starving!" The fish, shrimp and the 10 lbs of ground beef can sit in the coolers until Mel finishes defrosting the freezer. Or maybe, I'll try and can hamburger patties and meatloaf again if I have enough wide mouth pint jars. I also canned about 20 lbs of bacon in half pint jars (a serving for the 2 of us). I couldn't keep Mel out of the bacon. She was a regular piggy it scarfing up every time she passed the pans. I did the last 10 lbs in a 10 lb batch. I won't ever do that much at one time again. Even Mel complained that she was almost sick of the smell of bacon and after a week she says no when I talk about cooking some.

I even canned the bacon fat that rendered off the bacon during the par cooking process. You may think canning the bacon fat is overkill, but I don't. We make our own laundry, bath, and hand soaps on this homestead. We even make our own lye from the wood ash and rain water we collected over the winter. How's that for being self sufficient? Homemade soaps take a lot of fat to make a good bar. The fat can come from anywhere even store bought. The less money I pay for base ingredients for the soap I make means more money I can spend elsewhere.

Besides the canned fat can be used in biscuits, gravy, and pie shells. The canned bacon fat will have to go through another cooking process to remove the smoky flavor before it's used in anything other than flavoring. Although, the bacon flavor and taste wouldn't be bad in breakfast biscuits. Oh, it makes some yummy green beans and other vegetables too.

So my winter depleted storage building got a new influx of canned foods before the garden starts producing. My plans for the empty chest freezer? To fill it again. This time with half a cow and culled roosters. Maybe, even half a lamb for variety. I also do plan to buy 2 cases of hot dogs from Zaycon in early summer. We do love the Zaycon all beef hot dogs! The one case I ordered last year was gone too fast and I thought we'd have plenty. The plan is not to have to buy meat again this year unless it's something special like seafood.

Actually, I plan not not having to go to the grocery store for much besides milk, hard cheeses, and sodas. At least that's the plan. There might be a few household items like bleach and vinegar or paper goods that might have me running out to get it, but I tend to buy these on sale in lots of three or four at a time. I did make about three gallons of apple cider vinegar from the peeling and cores of the deer apples I bought last fall so that will carry us through until pickle making time in mid summer.

Oh, and I'll make my yearly trip to the Amish store in NC. I'll pick up some more cases of used canning jars, my non GMO flour, wheat, sugar, and Clearjel. We'll be set for at least a year. The purchase of the 50 lbs of ground flour is a luxury item for me. It will get me several months worth of ready to use flour rather than soaking, drying, and grinding it myself. The Clearjel is necessary for pie fillings, and cream of chicken and mushroom soups that I can. I've used other thickeners in the past, but for long term storage of these items, I prefer Clearjel when I can get it. But I use half as much than is called for in a recipe. I kind of like getting my canned food stuff out of the jars without having to dig it out. Oh, geez! I just checked my inventory program that Mel created and saw that I only have six pint jars of Cream of chicken soup and only 2 pints of beef broth left. Guess I gotta make some soon.

It's been a busy canning time for me this week. Mel has been troubleshooting her new Master List gardening program. We've also been busy with the bunnies who blew their coats. A shorter staple length because of the shearing, but not too short. Still a respectable 4" length on average. So we've been busy!

****Something NEW to this blog****
I now write a newsletter weekly on the happenings on the homestead. A more precise look at what is going on weekly here than this blog. If you'd like to be included, please fill in the contact form ----> over there and put "newsletter" in the message section.

Y'all have a blessed day!

Sunday, May 13, 2018

6 Reasons Why We Use Elevated Raised Beds For Herbs

We plant our harvesting herbs in raised beds. That is with the exception of our spearmint,  peppermint, rosemary and a few others.You may wonder why.
  • We are two sexagenarian (60-ish) women- Herbs like oregano, thyme and most herbs grow low to the ground barely a foot to two foot tall. That's a lot of bending in caring for and harvesting herbs. For me, it poses a fall hazard with half my body paralyzed.
  • Pallets are an easy to come by, a reusable commodity, and they are free. We recycle old feed sacks to line the inside to hold the soil. 
  • Weed infestation- Granted birds or wind will carry weed seed into the raised beds but not near as much as if they were planted in the ground.
  •  Contains growth- Many herbs are spreading plants. They'll self propagate either through root spread or by stem. Oregano is a bad herb for this. Using elevated raised beds contains this growth. If the herb goes to seed, then the reseeding is mostly within the bed.
  • We use the area underneath each elevated raised area to compost. It's an unseen composter.  Since we are strictly organic in our growing practices, we use a lot of compost. No unsightly piles or bins. It's all hidden under the elevated raised beds.
  • By unseen composting under the elevated raised bed, we are able to plant these beds sooner because of the warmth of the composting process under the beds. Perennial herbs come back sooner after the winter thaw.
For us, elevated raised beds takes a lot of the work out of growing herbs. You may wonder why we just don't go ahead and plant all of our herbs this way. Well, there's a method to our cockeyed thinking.

Rosemary, when left to it's own nature, is a woody herb. It will form a hedge over five foot tall over years. It also self propagates by stems touching the soil. In this way it could be invasive, but controllable. At my old homestead, it was my front hedge.

Mint on the other hand is wildly invasive. But mints also deter rats and mice. That's why we plant it around our house and storeroom building.  It will grow two feet high so harvesting isn't that much of an issue for my five foot frame.

We grow feverfew the same way. In case you didn't know, Feverfew helps with headaches and migraines. According to WebMD...
"Feverfew is a plant that is native to Asia Minor and the Balkans, but is now common throughout the world. Feverfew leaves are normally dried for use in medicine. Fresh leaves and extracts are also used.
People take feverfew by mouth for the prevention and treatment of migraine headaches.

People also take feverfew by mouth for fever, irregular menstrual periods, arthritis, a skin disorder called psoriasis, allergies, asthma, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), dizziness, and nausea and vomiting.

Some people take feverfew by mouth for difficulty getting pregnant or fathering a child (infertility). It is also taken by mouth for "tired blood" (anemia), cancer, common cold, earache, liver disease, prevention of miscarriage, muscular tension, bone disorders, swollen feet, diarrhea, upset stomach, and intestinal gas.

Feverfew is sometimes applied directly to the gums for toothaches or to the skin to kill germs. It is also applied to the skin for itching and to prevent insect bites.

Some people also use feverfew as a general stimulant and for intestinal parasites."

All I know is it's a handy herb to have on hand. We plant this herb around our Camillas. It does double duty as a pretty border plant and a medicinal one. It also makes a tasty tea.

The other herb that is strongly invasive and we do not contain is comfrey. But plant it exclusively in our orchard. While semi contained by the tiers, we don't actively contain it. Look up the health benefits and warnings.

The last herb we let naturalize is lemon grass. It's clumping nature and mosquito repelling property are a welcome addition to wherever it grows. It's delicious when added to chicken or fish dishes. Look up theh medicinal uses and warnings.

Y'all have a blessed day!

Sunday, May 6, 2018

More on Seeding the Orchard Area and More

Since Paul, our brother in Christ, was nice enough to give us his time, tiller, gas, and fellowship. We returned the blessing to him and his wife. He didn't leave empty handed. Nobody does that comes into our lives. I filled his stomach with my best lamb stew. I also sent him home with a jar of my pickled eggplant, orange marmalade, dill pickles, a dozen and a half fresh eggs, and apple butter. I vastly overestimated my needs for these. I was blessed in abundance of the raw materials to make these food stuffs so I was returning the blessing and praying it forward.

I bought enough orchard grass seed to cover the area. Mel hand sowed the seed too heavy handed, which meant she over sowed the area in orchard grass exclusively. Thirty pounds of orchard seed was seeded on one tier instead of five. I have a choice to make. Either to buy more orchard grass seed, find the bags of mixed seeds (deer plot seed) that I bought last year in the barn (it's a wreck), or plant the non GMO wheat, oats, barley, and flax seed I bought to seed the remaining tiers. It would all be great ground cover to help break up the soil and slow erosion. Decisions, decisions. I may might as well use the seed I have on hand. Deer have made their way to help themselves to the hay and the free range chickens have gorged themselves on exposed seed, but still with the recent rainy spell green is starting to show.

The wheat, barley, and oats seeds could help feed us, the rabbits, and the chickens on a very small scale, not that I'm expecting a huge crop on such virgin soil.The plants themselves will be dried into straw for the animal areas. The flax seed that will be produced is a healthy addition to any diet boosting Omega 3 and fiber in a diet. It is also a plant based protein. The plants themselves will be processed into linen thread by spinning it, and woven into fabric. It would still be a double/triple use of space. Although not as much hay and clover for the rabbits nor food for me in diakon radishes.

This week, the raspberry and blueberry bushes go into the ground. We have been digging up wild blackberry brambles from other areas of the property and transplanting them in the orchard. It will be much easier to harvest this way with them trellised. I don't expect a huge harvest this year, but next year watch out, we'll be rolling in a multitude of berries. The same goes for grapes. I settled on the dual purpose Catawba and Muscadines grapes for our orchard. If you haven't heard of Catawba grapes before...according to Wikipedia...
Catawba is a red American grape variety used for wine as well as juice, jams and jellies. The grape can have a pronounced musky or "foxy" flavor.[1] Grown predominantly on the East Coast of the United States, this purplish-red grape is a likely cross of the Native American Vitis labrusca and Vitis vinifera.[2] Its exact origins and parentage are unclear but it seems to have originated somewhere on the East coast from the Carolinas to Maryland.
So both grapes are dual purpose and should do well here.

Mel bought scythe at an auction a few years back. It still needs the blade sharpened. She's got a few months to do this though. I asked her why she wouldn't use the electric weed wacker? It would be simpler. She still may after she swings that blade around a few times. I can see her chopping more than grasses in a single swipe especially around the berry plants.

Mel has started something new over the past couple months. We'll be talking about something like planting potatoes. I'll say it's time to plant the seed potatoes. She'll respond back with, "No, it isn't. It's too soon." And after she checks,  "Darn! I hate that!" Of course, she's talking about me being right and her being wrong.

Now, I'm not always right. But it's happening more and more. <grinning> I want to respond to her with something along the lines like, "Listen, you young whipper snapper, I told you so." But I don't, I just giggle. There's only two years difference in our ages. But my wisdom comes from experience and hers from reading or watching the internet. Tators, onions, garlic, English peas, and carrots just don't like the hot temperatures of summer in Georgia. They don't mind a few hours of near freezing temperatures though. In fact, they'll produce better.

Speaking of temperatures, our peach trees blossoming early are setting fruit. I was tickled to see the tiny green buds in the trees. We may actually get some peaches this year if the squirrels don't get them first.

My neighbor's grandson, Eli, and his cousins have been hunting them down along the creek with their air rifles. Whatever they kill, they bring to me to butcher. Squirrel meat make excellent dog food and with a little bit of labor (skinning and gutting) it's free meat. The same goes for the wild cottontails around here. So far they haven't killed any. I have gotten a few with my .25 caliber. It all goes into the freezer until I have a canner load of meat and veges. This is a supplement and a treat for them right now because we don't shoot enough to replace their chow.

You may be wondering what I was doing while Paul was tilling the orchard and Mel was over seeding it. Well, I was doing what I do best. The night before, I put the leg bone from our Easter leg of lamb into a stock pot. It simmered away until I had lamb bone broth. I've never seen the sense in making just stock. I always do bone broth for the extra calcium and minerals. I will put in some onions and carrots for flavoring. Sometimes, I'll add salt and peppercorns to it too. So it's an enriched bone broth. For this bone broth I added nothing except the little bit of garlic, salt, pepper, and rosemary that was on the bone. It came out an ivory colored broth because I didn't roast the bone first. I ended up with nine pints of broth. The leftover lamb stew filled three pint jars was also canned for our enjoyment later on. I also went "shopping" for the week in our storeroom and freezer. So I wasn't exactly doing nothing.

I've also been canning ham, bacon, and ham and bean soup.

We are finally shooting videos for YouTube again. It's been a long 7 months without for our subscribers. Now, for the most part, I forget to grab a camera until I'm well into a cooking project. I'm so out of practice and so is Mel. Mel basically tore the house apart looking for any of the four cameras and sound equipment. After an hour of frantic searching, I found the two we usually use hidden away in one of her nightstand. She had taken to hiding things to keep our dearly departed Flynn away from playing with it. I hollered out, "I found one!" Quickly followed by, "I found two!" Mel's response, "But I looked there twice!"

Well, that's it for this week.

Y'all have a blessed day!

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Seeding the Orchard Area

Everyone knows that when you have bare earth Mother Nature tries to fill it with something. Even under trees, something is growing. Take a walk through any forest and you'll see.

So we are beating Mother Nature to the punch once again and filling it ourselves. We are sowing orchard grass, diakon radish, and clover seed on our orchard tiers. If we don't seed it Mother Nature will with assorted weeds that we don't want plants there. That doesn't mean birds and wind won't carry seeds into this area. We do expect some especially since we only manages to cardboard and deep mulch one tier before the cold weather set in last year. We started this process way too late.

The number one reason for seeding the area late last fall was plant life helps stop erosion of the topsoil.We knew the winter rains run off would erode the tiers. Since the seeds we sowed did not get a chance to go to seed before the snows and freezes killed it off, we are resowing them this spring.

History showed us what can happen when soil erosion takes place. Especially, when man is involved. Remember reading about the Great Dust Bowl of the 1930s? My grandmother and father lived in Nebraska during it and it's in her journal. Yes, the cause was partially man made. It caused by the stripping away of large hectares of deep rooted grasses to plant crops by homesteaders in a five state area. Except one man made factor
coupled with one Mother Nature factor were working  against them.  The Great Depression and a drought. The farmers couldn't plant and sell their crops so they didn't plant. With no cover crop, the top soil blew off in wind storms. Now I'm not saying that my 1/4 acre bare spot of an orchard would cause a dust bowl situation, but erosion of top soil is never a good thing. So even though we knew whatever cover crop we planted wouldn't reach maturity, we sowed a crop last fall figuring it would help fight erosion and regrowth of other things we didn't want in this area.

We are still nine months to a year away from totally planting all the trees in this area, it will be a slow process as finances allow. It will be another five to ten years until all the trees have grown enough block out the sun under the trees but still these cover crops will be essential to keep Mother Nature from filling the void. By seeding the area now, we are allowing it to go to seed for the continued plant growth. I've already talked about the utilizing these crops in a previous blog. Remember one of our guiding principles, double or triple utilization of space on such a small homestead.

It's been busy work with first a pickaxe (yes, the clay was that hard) garden raking the area, using a hand held seed sower, and then brushing dirt over the area again with a leaf rake. Hand scattering Fescue hay over top is the last step we'll do. The hay will help keep the temperature up and hold in moisture for germination and protection for the seedlings. Rabbit love Fescue grass too. Remember each tier is 4' x 75', it just takes time. We watch the weather also. If we are expecting rain within three days, we'll sow seeds. If there isn't a rain storm within a week, we won't sow the seeds. It would be a waste,  the chickens and wild birds would eat the seeds before they could germinate. I'll do the raking while Mel does the pickaxing and sowing. We'll both scatter the flakes of hay to put the seeds to bed. By walking across the area this way, we ensure most of the seeds are making good contact with their soil bed. This alone is a couple weeks worth of a project. One and a half tiers are complete, only three and a half tiers to go. We wouldn't have got that much done if it hadn't been for our neighbor's fourteen year old grandson, Eli, helping us.

We were saved once again by a brother in Christ. He brought his Briggs and Statton tiller. Not only did he totally till the area in a couple hours, we had a very nice chat. Although I don't speak much about religion on this blog, I am an ordained minister. We both depend on our faith to carry us through. I do attest to God sending people in need others that can help you overcome obstacles. Such is the case with breaking the hard clay in the orchard.

Notice I didn't mention any other ground prep besides chopping up the ground and raking grooves in the soil. The whole area was covered in a scattering of leaves during fall. This has laid on top of the soil all winter long. It has been subjected to rain, sun and chickens during that time. I'm leaving the rest up to Mother Nature and God. I'm not growing a lush green lawn. It's just ground cover and some rabbit feed. If God and nature let's it grow abundantly, we are so much better. If not, then it just stops erosion and reseeding of plants we don't want. Whatever happens, it can't help but enrich the soil and condition it for whatever we plant later. Perfect ground work for an organic orchard.

Our free range rooster had fun in the hay
We aren't in a hurry to produce this area fast and now we don't have to break our backs doing it. This reason alone I am thankful for my brother in Christ who tilled the area for us.
 has been in the planning stage for two years before we finally terraced the land last year. So it takes two to ten years until we have abundant harvests to eat, barter, or sell...we've got time to lay great and firm foundations for future successes and blessings. Without a good back bone we cannot stand. This is what we are shooting for now. Each goal towards self sufficiency takes planning, hard work, patience, and faith. But isn't that true for anything in life? Sure even if we had tons of money to burn, it would be a faster proposition. At the very least, we could hire manual labor besides doing it ourselves. But that would take away our connection with the land and the process. With two handicapped, limited income, sexagenarian women working, the whole process is slow going, but worth every minute it takes.

Y'all have a blessed day!