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 24, 2018

Spring is Over and Laying the Groundwork for Next Spring Begins

Spring is officially over as of June 21st. Hello summer. The temperatures have been summer like with the heat indexes being over 100+ degrees with temps lower than 90. While awaiting the harvest later this summer, I'm already planning and laying the groundwork for next year. Too soon? Not really.

Last year's tropical storm Irma, just below a hurricane when it hit us, left a lot of debris which went into the garden. We've had two solid years of amending the garden area. Not much in produce, but we were laying the foundation of an organic garden. Without good soil, not much grows in our heavy clay soil over granite. So we've laid wood chips, rabbit and chicken poop, yard waste, compost, and umpteen dozen bales of hay and straw into the area we wanted for our garden. Now, we actual can't turn a shovel full (18 inches) of this richer soil without digging up worms and it's easier to dig. This is our pay day and what we were striving for. This nutrient rich soil has taken time to get to this point and not  a little bit of hard work.

I can tell I'm still coming off the inactivity of winter and getting older. I am over 60 and living post stroke now. I'll work like gang busters one day and the next, all my body parts start aching and I'm doing less. It takes more than eight hours of sleep to repair my muscles after a workout. But I keep plugging away. So it took a week to spread the moldy straw 6"- 12" thick on the areas not being planted this year. It isn't going to be used for a year. It's all prep work for spring 2019. Right now, before the harvest, I've got nothing but time.

This week, while waiting for the plants to grow, I've been laying more cardboard and straw in the areas that aren't planted. Meanwhile, Mel has been cleaning out the rabbit barn. We've used the deep bedding method for the animal waste for two seasons, about every six months we clear it out and start again. She's actually digging down 3" under the rabbit pens to get the good composted stuff. In the central walkway, she's only raking up all the straw and chicken poop. We are dumping it all into a big compost pile by the peach trees within the garden and letting it finish composting there. We'll move it again to spread it in the garden before we put the garden to bed for the winter. The reason we are composting the manure and straw further is because the chickens have been free ranging in the rabbit barn too. We all know that chickens are not toilet trained. They go where they feel like it.

Mel's got some stubborn weeds on this property. They have broken through in some areas.  You'd think all this stuff on top of them would have snuffed them out, but no. After a good rain shower and a couple days of sunny weather, here they are again. I'm discounting any seeds of fescue and wheat that sprouted from the hay and straw. I'm talking wild plantain, clover, weeds which can be pulled for the rabbits. But the worst, is the invasion of spiny rushes. They defy being uprooted. I've landed on my butt a few times trying to pull clumps up. The only way I've found is digging down with a spade 12" to 24" to loosen the roots enough to get them out of the ground. They are deep rooted suckers.

Speaking of chickens going where they please. We've had to let our hens free range also. All the rain we've had made their run a mucky mess.  The hens' feet stayed muddy and they seemed miserable. It took two compressed bales of straw to not feel the mud underfoot. We've let them free range with the roosters. Two roosters (Houdini and Big Red) have one hen apiece that follows them around. Little Red has won over the rest of the hens. When it comes time to pen up the hens again, Little Red will go with them. He's ever so gentle with the hens too. He's constantly on guard for predators including the other roosters.  If one squawks, he's running to bring the hen back to flock. He's taken to singing to his girls to keep them happy when he's not finding them goodies. Big Red was purchased by a neighbor and will be going to his new home this weekend. He's way too rough with his lady and almost killed her, and has been challenging us. We can't abide that.

As a result of free ranging the hens, Broody, aka Gimpy, has tried to go broody. The only problem is that all the hens only use one out of the two nesting boxes to lay their eggs in. This box is eight eggs deep at the end of the day. They yell and peck at her until she moves. She's been trying to sit on the nest for three days now. We are going to have to partition off an area for just her this week. Now watch her break out of broodiness by the time we complete the fencing off an area and building her a nest box.

We got Broody's area completed a few days later.  As predicted Broody broke out of her broody behavior although she does half --hardheartedly try from time to time.

 I normally use hot chicken, uncomposted, for fertilizing my hot peppers. It makes the peppers hotter. I do use it sparingly. Last year, my cayenne and Korean peppers were so hot that even I could barely eat them. Now that's saying something, because I used to munch on Habanero peppers straight out of the garden (±350,000 SHU). These were close to the same heat, although I didn't have them tested. This year, I'm using the 6 months composted manure. I want the heat, but don't want to pay the hefty price 24 hours later, if you get my meaning.

By planting season next spring, all the cardboard and straw should be composted and I'll have additional growth of the worm population in the garden.Worms are essential to great garden soil. Their waste product fertilizes the soil while their plowing through the soil makes for a rich, aerated planting medium for a healthy root system. Remember, the roots are the brain of the plant. In addition the tree waste should have composted down more.

One patch of chicken planted strawberries
The tree bark mulch we put on our walkways two years ago is no more. It is now all composted into the soil. The worms and beneficial microbes have done their job. In fact, the chicken planted strawberry patch is growing atop weed cloth and a thick layer of this composted mulch. I've got to remove the weed cloth and transplant the berries  to a better spot in a couple of weeks. Or I might just leave it for next year as I previously mentioned.

 I just have to decide where to plant them. The orchard is a logical choice, but where in the orchard? Under the grapes and raspberries, under the blueberries? Or, do I transplant them on a tier to themselves designated for other fruit trees? Decisions, decisions.  Of course, I'll be thinning them out too. As it stands right now, I could transplant a quarter acre in just strawberries if spaced correctly with just the plants I have in the garden area. There's pretty close to a hundred plants and runners in this patch pictured and it's only June. It seems like daily I'm moving or removing runners to keep them out of my green beans and asparagus. The runners I'm removing are being fed to the rabbits.

Since spring, we've transitioned the rabbits off of the winter time ration of commercial pellets in favor of a more nature based, green diet. Did you know that some commercial rabbit pellets contain animal fat? Rabbits are herbivores! Their bodies do not digest or need animal by products. Check the ingredients on all purchased feed. This winter our long eared money makers will be eating our chemical free orchard grass hay and a variety of sprouted wheat, barley and oats harvested from our orchard. Nothing is wasted  on the Cockeyed Homestead even weedy patches are fed to the rabbits and chickens. They love it!

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

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!