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, 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!