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.

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