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, July 15, 2018

Homesteading~Ya Gotta Love Freebies or Almost Freebies

For weeks now, I have been looking for more angora rabbits for our breeding program. I was actually searching for an unrelated breeding trio (two does and a buck). They would also be a mixed breeding cycle with our five related does and bucks (mother, father, two bucks and a doe which are brothers and sister). I really wanted to get started on our pedigreed breeding program. The kicker was most of the breeders within a 100-mile radius wanted $100 per rabbit. This kind of initial layout of cash just wasn't in my budget. But, time was on my side because we won't start breeding until the fall or winter.

I contacted a breeder one town over to inquire whether she had any English Angoras available. She didn't have any, but she would put out feelers for our needs. Believe it or not, I met her on Raverly, an international site for producers and crafters.  She's a fabulous lady who has been in the angora rabbit circles for this area for a decade as a breeder and fiber producer. Considering, if successful, we'd be in direct competition with her business, she still gave us help. We are still newbies in the area and to angoras by comparison.

It took a couple of weeks, but she passed our contact information on to another lady who had a buck for sale. I was in North Carolina and negotiating with this lady for her rabbit via email, and then by cell phone.  Her father had taken a fall in the Florida Keys, where he lived. She was selling her urban homestead and moving to be closer to him. In fact, she was closing on her house in the Keys the next week. This lady had also had a hip replacement a couple of months prior.

I made arrangements to meet with her the day after I got back from North Carolina to check her bunny out. It was a few days before her FL trip. I had already found out that he was a self black English angora. He was a 2 1/2-year old, proven (had fathered kits) buck named Einstein. He was priced at the median level I'd set for individual rabbit purchase price. Sounded good so far. The deal breaker would be his manners and temperament. An unruly buck that bites and scratches you up during grooming has bad manners. While doable, untraining the bad behavior and retraining good behavior takes time with these furry creatures that we really didn't have. With an aggressive natured rabbit, the genes could be passed on to his offspring. We wanted kits we could handle to groom or even be handles by children. Especially for a one-handed groomer like me and grandchildren to boot. He was the perfect gentleman! So Einstein, we call him Little Albert, became the newest Cockeyed Critter.

Not Einstein but close
Einstein's  silver colored coat will allow us to to get deeper colors using natural dyes just as Dustin's fur did...may he rest in peace. This new addition will head up our pedigree breeding program starting this fall. I really wanted another doe or two, but his offspring can be paired with our current bucks (Benjamin and Alby, a father and son) for genetic diversity.

This will work until I can purchase the unrelated does. It's a start anyhow. After the false start with losing our unrelated does and buck over the past year, it's a new beginning. So our 15-hole rabbitry will be full soon as it cools off some. I'm personally looking forward to having baby bunnies again. They are such characters and so cuddly. You can't help picking them up, cuddle, them, love them, squish them, and name them all George...even the girls.

You may notice I left Angus out of the breeding cycle. You may recall a post from last year about a bunny surgery. This was the six-month old buck that tore open his scrotum with his toe nail. We didn't realize it until he was dragging testes behind him in his cage. We stitched him up to close the wound, but I doubt he has enough or functioning testes left to sire kits. I could be wrong. We haven't had any does to test this yet. It's a real shame to because this REW (red eyed white) has beautiful facial furnishing and fur. He is still an excellent fiber rabbit.

Since the lady was moving to FL permanently and selling her homestead, she had plenty of "junk" to dispose to get it ready for sale. Her back yard was an English garden complete with healing and culinary plants. It was badly overgrown with her hip replacement happening in late spring, and her traveling back and forth between her home here and FL. It was a jungle. But hidden in this jungle of overgrowth was a treasure trove.

We were given permission to take what we needed.

  • So into the truck with Einstein went 20- 5''x4' pieces of roofing tin. She had replaced the roof on her gardening shed.
  • Then, we noticed a hen house that was lop-sided because a tree limb had fallen on it. Mel doesn't go anywhere without her tools. It was quickly dismantled and put in the back of the truck. It was partially buried in a foot of wet, composted chicken manure. While we could always use compost, I was using the bins for another purpose. We didn't ask what happened to her hens. 
  • With a little bit of work, this hen house would be the new home for Broody/Gimper. It would get her out of a rabbit cage. It could also be used as a chicken hospital so we won't have to have chickens in the house anymore. We have plenty of leftover wire fencing from building the big coop and run to give them outside space under the rabbitry tarp roof to socialize with the other hens and such. It could also be used as a grow out area for any hatched chicks.
  • I found out what happened to the lady's chickens when I reached the back of the yard. There were three hens in a makeshift pen with a tarp covering for them to get out of the weather. They had to go also, but we'd only brought one cage for the rabbit. We made arrangements to pick them up later.
  • In the gardening shed, there was a Standlee bale of timothy hay and a 3/4 of a 25# bag of pellets for the rabbit. There was barely a flake of the hay gone. Into the truck it all went.
  • We had taken both vehicles because I'd had a therapy appointment before we met up at this lady's house. A good thing we did because there were more gems on this property to be gotten rid of. Half of a 25# bag of chicken feed, a Standlee 50# bale of straw with barely a flake gone all went into the back of my van. My van was still loaded from my North Carolina trip too.
  •  Pushing farther into the overgrowth, I found a plum tree with all its fruit ladened branches on the ground. I grabbed the bushel tote and started picking. On getting to the center trunk, I found the reason its branches were now partially broken and on the ground. The central trunk had a foot long split in half. Without the support, the heavy branches fell. I filled the tote and another quarter sized tote with ripe fruit. After I finished gleaning the tree of fruit, the branches that were not broken rose off the ground a foot. There was still plenty of life left in this tree. It's just a shame I couldn't dig it up, transplant it into my orchard, and heal the split, but I didn't have permission to do that.
  • There are still some other "junk" we wanted to get, but both vehicles couldn't hold one more thing so we headed home.
  • The plums I picked were organically grown. I taste tested one before I harvested the tree. Naturally sweet, the juices were dribbling down my chin from the first bite with a fantastic plum flavor. The downside of this harvest was the size of the fruit. All the fruit was between a large Concord grape and a golf ball. I spent the next two days canning plum halves and plum syrup. I wanted to make plum jelly but hadn't made enough apple pectin left from last year to jelly that much juice. Like an idiot, I forgot I could have used the Clear-jel I bought on my North Carolina trip instead of pectin. Oh well, I can do it later. So we now have enough plums and syrup/jam to last until we harvest our own plum trees to be planted in the fall.
  • And finally an almost free. I was checking out Craig's List and found a 375-gallon empty tote. It was food grade. It came complete with a standard hose hook up and the top opening was ready for a gutter...for only $40.The owner's wife was tired of it being in their front yard. You know how wives can be (grinning). I honestly wished he'd had five more, but that wasn't the case. It will be perfect for watering the orchard and/or garden.
Nothing beats a freebie. I think we racked up. What do you think?

Y'all have a blessed day.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Amish Store Purchases and Plans for Growth

Thirty cases of pint canning jars that I went to North Carolina to get a couple of weeks ago are now washed, put back in their boxes, and stacked into their respective spots in the storage building.

Plus, the food grade three-gallon buckets are washed, and filled with the GMO-free flour, wheat, and raw sugar I bought at the Amish store also from my trip to North Carolina. My van was packed coming home, but not as packed as last time when I brought home sixty cases of jars, but I did buy more flour and sugar this trip.

All thanks to one of our Cockeyed Homestead YouTube subscribers. Who lives near the Amish store. She opened her house to me and let me stay. Thank you, Ellen! Another subscriber I tried to meet on this trip had a family emergency. Maybe next year, Marie. I'd really love to see your homestead operation.

In a year, we used 40 lbs of sugar. It was used in baking, canning, and wine making. So I bought ten extra pounds to make even more wine with. At $0.88 a pound, I thought it was a bargain.

By picking up my Clear-jel also, I have all I need except for the produce to make my cream of chicken and mushroom soups for the coming year with plenty of Clear-jel for my pie fillings too. The base ingredient (thickener) for all my canned goodies that are yummy in our tummies. I'm still hitting the reduced price section for mushrooms and dehydrating them. If there is a lot of them, six# or more, I'll can my cream of mushroom soup. The chickens for the cream of chicken soup are awaiting slaughter. They'll be pressure cooked to make them tender. Now, all I have to do is wait until my onions and celery are ready to harvest for both.

I still may have to buy more sugar for the wine making though. It all depends on our Muscadine and Catawba grape harvests. I plan on setting aside a few pounds for fresh eating and jellies. I might even try canning some for winter munching. The rest will go into the 5-gallon recycled water jugs for wine. It might make an interesting flavored vinegar if the wine turns too. We've been saving Mel's wine empty wine bottles for a year now to put the wine in once it's finished. I may play with blueberry, apple, blackberry, and raspberry flavored wines also. It all depends on the harvest. I missed the dandelion harvest due to rains and busyness of planting the garden this spring. There's always next year.

In the store, I went up and down each aisle as usual. But as I expected, there wasn't much "new" or exciting to pick up. Not that I was shopping for anything else. So now I've checked off three items that I'd need for a year of baking, cooking, and canning.

No trip would be complete without a trip to their version of thrift stores. I love a good bargain, don't you? I told Ellen that I was looking for another fermenting crock. A good size crockpot bottom is what I normally use. While I had two, and bountiful harvest would overwhelm them. We found one without a lid ($3). I put in my basket and traveled down the aisle. I saw another crock on the top shelf. I thought it was a cookie jar. It was too heavy for me to lift one handed so I pulled off the lid preparing to lift it by the rim. Ellen came to my rescue and lowered it down for me to get a better look. It was a complete German fermenting pot. The same one pictured. Brand new it sell on Amazon for $59 plus shipping. My price at the second hand shop...$10.

Now, if I just had a solution for our milk consumption, we'd be set. Yes, I know we need goats. A cow, even a miniature one, is an impossibility. I've researched it. We are still not set up for housing and caring for goats. I refuse to buy any animal unless we are knowledgeable about the animal, had everything in place for the animal, and an outlet for any extra production (like milk, cheese, butter) from that animal. It's just a smart way to do it.

I'm still a firm believer that an animal pay it's own way on our homestead. Either in production we can use to replace a grocery item, or for straight cash sales in babies, or products like our rabbits and chicken do. On such a small homestead with a limited resources, this is an important consideration. The fact that we'd need multiples because they are herd animals is also part of this consideration. They will also be a huge outlay of initial cash for them and creating a habitat for them. It isn't in the budget for this year even though it was on my 5-year plan for this year. I'm running at least a year behind schedule with Mel being out of work.

I'm also still researching mini angora goats (Nygora or Pygora). They would give us triple bang for our dollars in meat/for sale, milk and fiber. So long as I'm in research mode, there won't be a purchase.

Well, that's it for this week.

Y'all have a blessed day!

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Pick it Now or Tomorrow? The Beauty of a Homestead Garden

I've been watching my garden grow and am content with its progress. We actually planted very little in the garden itself. We just planted a lot of a few things. What I did plant has started producing fruit. I get a thrill each time I see a tiny vegetable start to form and grow bigger to maturity.

I grew this with my own one hand! Yes, I've been doing this for decades, but this cycle of life never ceases to amaze me. God is perfect in all He plans. Yes, it takes a lot of nurturing on my part to get seeds to grow to maturity, but the joy of biting into that first cucumber harvested from the garden to the last, is tasty, nutritious bite just can't be beat. I use cucumbers as an example here because that was the first thing I've harvested so far. Soon, I'll be busy making bread and butter pickles. I've only got one jar left from last year's crop. This year, I need to make double.

With the rains, I've been watching my zucchini, cucumber, and tomato plants very carefully. All it takes is a little rain, and small zucchinis and cucumbers blow up to huge zucchinis within 24 hrs. Tomatoes will split. Not that I mind split tomatoes. I'm going to cut them up anyhow, but pests can enter a tomato this way. Enter the decision making. Do I pick it now or tomorrow? This is the beauty of planting your own garden. You decide on the ripeness you want. The extra day of sunshine or rain can add to the taste and growth to any vegetable.This is something commercial farmers miss, but you as a homesteader gets to choose.

Another consideration you need to make is about processing your harvest. When the fruits of your labor start coming in, your first inclination is to eat it that day. Nothing beats fresh eating. Otherwise, you'd purchase your vegetables from the grocery store or produce markets, right? I do a 50:50 ratio. Half a harvest is for fresh eating and half is for preserving. Will leaving the produce on the plant one more day or two allow other ripening fruit be harvest size? Can I get a full canner load, or fill a freezer bag by waiting? I want everything preserved at the peak of freshness. If the answer is no, then I'll go ahead and pick it. It will be incorporated into a recipe for the night. Hoppin' John is a great recipe for using a handful of black-eyed peas, 1 tomato, and 1 pepper in. Just chop up some onion and add the rice and you got a tasty side dish or add some ham for a meal. This is what I'm fixing for dinner tonight because I had to harvest these today or lose them.

Of course, there is the old stand by of a good, old tomato sandwich with that one tomato with a cockeyed twist. Two fresh slices of homemade bread, a little bit of homemade mayo, fresh basil leaves, a sprinkling of fresh oregano, some slices of homemade mozzarella cheese, and a little bit of salt and fresh ground pepper. I'll brush my bread with a little olive oil and rub it with a clove of garlic, and grill it before I fix my sandwiches. It's to die for.

Are you hungry yet? I'll quit for now.

Y'all have a blessed day.