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, August 26, 2018

Tomatoes: A Cockeyed Harvest and Mysterious Bug Bites

My plum tomatoes have been growing for months now. The plum tomatoes have been hanging for several weeks still very green. The few that have turned red are swarmed by pests before I can pick them. I've hated buying tomato sauce and fresh tomatoes in the store each week waiting for them to ripen.

Oddly enough, the pests are mainly attacking my plum tomatoes and leaving my Cherokee tomatoes placed along another fence alone. This week I found a way to beat Mother Nature and the pests to the punch. I found that the pests leave the green tomatoes alone for the most part. As I was tying the errant branches to the fence several green tomatoes fell to the ground. I picked them up and put them into my harvest basket. To me, if a tomato comes off the plant at a slight touch, it's ready to be harvested no matter if it's green or red. As I looped each branch to the fence I touched each tomato. If it came loose, I put it in my basket. I continued down the 24' row row touching and gathering as I went..

I ended up with about 10 lbs of green plum tomatoes. I brought them inside, washed them, and placed them in a southern-ish facing kitchen window. Our trailer is cockeyed where no window is true facing in any compass point. Sure enough they ripened in the window turning the glorious red color in a matter of days.

My version of tying up tomatoes is to weave the branches through the 2x4 fencing. It's best I can mange one handed. As  a result of this, every rain with wind or the sheer weight of the tomatoes pulls the branches loose. While it doen't hurt the tomatoes or the plant to grow on the straw covered ground, the plants are easier for some pests to get to them. So every other day, it seems, I am trussing up tomato branches.

Each time more and more green tomatoes come loose. So I've got about thirty pounds of tomatoes on window sills  Soon I'll have enough ripe tomatoes to make a big pot of sauce to can. So, since I've already canned my green beans for the year, it's tomato canning time.

On to the mysterious bug bites. Over the past week, I've been chewed on by something. At first I thought mosquitoes, but the bites were in areas not exposed like on my upper thigh, hip, and waist areas. Mel kept insisting they were ant bites. But I had my doubts. The bites formed a knot under the skin, and after a couple of days a pus pocket formed.  They were painful at first and then itchy like mosquito bites. There were also bites on my ankles. I always wear thick, knee-high socks even to bed, and one leg is covered by a brace. These bites were also under the places where my AFO covered.It looked similar to a bee sting or tick bite. It was a mystery.

I thought bed bugs, but the onset was wrong. I was sitting in a chair in the dining room or the back porch. There was also the fact of where the bites were. It took a happenstance, I was getting ready for bed a couple of days later, and changing my socks, I found a small spider, now dead in my sock. After a thorough search, I found an empty egg sack under my computer chair in the dining room and the back porch. These baby spiders were small enough to worm their way through the knitted material of my docks and were small enough to fit between my AFO and my leg. Mystery solved! A thorough spraying of an insecticide and no more bites. See, I told Mel it wasn't ants.

Y'all have a blessed day.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Cockeyed Weather

Now that spring and summer of 2018 are almost fully gone. This one has to be one for the weather record books for this area.

We had a fairly mild winter that stretched into May. Our spring may have lasted a week, and then we got blasted with high summer heat. While this is not unusual for south Georgia, it's almost unheard of here in the high foothills. We had three weeks of rainy weather going into late spring followed by late arctic blasts. Our poor plants transplanted at the end of May didn't know whether to grow or shrivel up. They either got too cold in the low overnight temperatures, wither in the heat blasts of the afternoon (heat indexes reaching 100+ degrees), or struggled to keep their heads up above the onslaught of heavy rains. This trend continued throughout spring.

And then came summer, we expected the heat waves to continue as it usually did. We were pleasantly surprised and mistaken. Nighttime highs ranged in the 60s. We ran Mel's little air conditioner exactly two times and that was because of the high humidity from days of constant showers. The daytime highs ranged in the high 70s to mid 80s. Our heat loving plants like melons, okra, and sweet potatoes were hard pressed to find the heat they needed to grow and thrive. Inside our abode, our sweaters still hang within easy reach because the early morning temperatures cause us to put them on, or drape them across our shoulders to ward off the chills. It wasn't until late July or early August that these heat loving plants even flowered. Time is running short them to produce harvestable fruit before the fall's nighttime chilling temperatures arrive in late September.

There's no predicting fall after the last two seasons. While I planted my fall garden seeds last month as usual, the weather is so cockeyed, I expect another heat blast like we had in the spring or early freezing temperatures. Either one will kill off any hopes of expected harvests.  The plants may have to overwinter and get a jump start in the spring. Except for the heat blast this spring and the blizzard of squash beetles, we could have planted cool weather crops all summer long. Go figure!

The only plants that did well this year so far are my green beans and tomatoes. My tomatoes were grown in straw bales, or my raised soil bags so their feet (roots) maintained a good moisture level without drowning. The same went for my bush green beans which I planted in double width, raised rows. My original intention was to conserve watering over the summer. LOL

Try as you might, there's no predicting Mother Nature. She's been the blessing and cursing of gardeners everywhere since man first planted a seed.

Y'all have a blessed day!

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Planting the Fall Garden

I usually start thinking of the fall garden after I finish harvesting the cucumbers and zucchini each year since I've been in the Northeast Georgia foothills. This year the weather has been crazy. Almost no spring, soaring temperatures, and then a coolish snap in July (daytime highs in the 70s). We've had a very wet summer, not that I'm complaining. It was a welcomed change from the previous two summers.

So my cabbages, napa cabbages, daikon radishes, carrots, leeks, and lettuces all went into the ground this week.

But it led to a very buggy growing season. We had an explosion of squash beetles and mosquitoes galore. The beetles not finding much to eat on my zucchini plants devoured my poor cucumber and watermelon plants with gusto, and then even chewed the leaves of my tomato plants. These little buggers went after my bunny greens patches too. Nothing was safe from them. Even planting my usual deterrent of icicle radishes and dusting with DE (Diatomaceous Earth) worked to control them.

I'm finding pests choose different years to attack my garden. Thank goodness, they don't all have explosions at once. Last year was stink bugs. The year before it was cut worms. I'm not the only on complaining about them either. Paying visits to my local feed and seed store and Tractor Supply Co., everyone there were complaining about the squash beetle explosion this year.

Unfortunately, even my chickens find them distasteful too. I'd hand picked these morsels in the beginning, partially squish them, and toss them in my bucket I carry with me into the garden for this very purpose. After I finish, I'd call the chickens and dump these morsels out for them to gorge themselves on them. Normally, the rooster would call the hens because there were tasty tidbits available. With these beetles, he uttered no sound. The hens and he would peck at them and spit them out. I'm not joking. They would then look up at me with a disgusted face and walk away. As if they were saying, "What is this crap you're feeding us?!"

After a few attempts to feed these beetles to them, I even noticed that their usual behavior of circling the garden while I was working within the fenced off area, changed. They no longer cared that I was in the garden. They were off to greener pastures like going down to the creek, 1/2 an acre away and down the slope, where there are endless smorgasbord of tasty nibbles to be had.

Our peaches have colored up and will be harvested this week. Some actually survived the squirrels!  They are small, but this is only the third year for them. I'm looking forward to tasting them not that I'm expecting much as I previously explained. It should be interesting.

Speaking of peaches, I went to my neighbor's and picked up a a peck for fresh eating and to replace the jars we used last year. I also went grocery shopping. I really liked the Loring peaches this year of all the varieties he grows in his orchard. He's only a mile down our road.   Another farm about a 1 and a 1/2 down the road has blueberries. We do a barter for fresh eggs. Ain't I lucky?

Well, I brought my groceries home and told Mel to fetch 'em. Well, a month's worth of sodas, milk, and assorted other groceries came in, but my peaches and assorted produce that I didn't grow this year were left in the car. It wasn't an imperative that they come in immediately. Mel got her drink and sat down a spell to rest before getting the rest inside. Mel has a nasty habit of leaving the sliding door or the hatch open while she rest. No big deal. Normally, she'll be out again in about fifteen minutes. I started processing the day's harvest of cucumbers, peppers, and store bought Vidala onions for bread and butter pickles and relish. This should be the last batch I'll have to put up for the year.

It's been a while since I've said this but THOSE DARN BLASTED CHICKENS got into the back of my van and feasted on my peaches! About eight of the thirty were hen pecked. Mel tossed two of them out into the side parking area to get the chickens out of my van. It's far easier than trying to chase them the inside of my van to get them out. These peaches were three-quarters the way eaten anyhow. After looking at the remaining peaches, I  decided to give the half eaten and severely pecked peaches to the rabbits. Grrr!

Pictured is the worst of what's left. I may be able to salvage the rest for canning and fresh eating. Double Grr! More work for me because of our birds. At least, they didn't poop in my van and they did leave me some. At least, they are staying  out of our garden this year too, thank God!

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

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Introducing Cara to the Cockeyed Critters

Cara @ 8 weeks old
I found another nonrelated English Angora doe! Cara is the newest addition to the Cockeyed Homestead Rabbitry.

I found her on Craig's List for a price at the within my price range ($25). Cara is what we are naming her keeping with the Celtic names for our rabbitry. It means beauty and adored. At just 8 weeks old, it will be next spring before we can breed her at the earliest. But we will probably wait until fall 2019, giving her a full year to mature. But we're in this for the long haul.

The only down side to Cara is that she is a English/ Satin cross angora rather than the purebred English that we specialize in. What this means is she will be bigger (5-6 lbs) than the standard English (3-5 lbs), her fur will be longer, finer, silkier, and have luminescent qualities. Not necessarily a bad things for fiber production. What makes her more difficult is the guard hairs that will have to be removed before spinning. English Angoras have no guard hairs. I'm hoping, because she is a cross, the guard hairs will be reduced.
Cara@8 weeks

It will take three generations to breed the satin out of the equation to get a purebred angora out of her original litter. Of course, they'll always be a few throwbacks in future litters. As you can tell from from the picture, she looks more of the Satin angora than English (French+English=Satin) with her fur clad face and ears instead of fiber. No fluffy, tufted ears that Mel loves and I have a hard time grooming.

Wool Chart
The fiber from a satin angora is finer than an English angora thus lighter weight. The micron count for English to Satin is 22-25. Compared to  the finest sheep's wool, Merino, at 22. This is why we usually blend Merino wool with it for the lightest weight, strength, and warmth. It is the cheapest fiber and yarn we sell.

Why weight is important to us? Have you ever picked up a fisherman's wool sweater? Heavy wasn't it? As a woman wearing this sweater and moving, it's sure to add several pounds to your scale weight. It will easily add 5-7 lbs. If you could get the even more warmth with over half as much weight, wouldn't you? I would. Just the sheer ease in movement would be worth it.

Cara @8 weeks
I currently have one 100% angora knitted sweater. It weighs a pound, but when I wear it, there's no need for an over coat outside with temperatures in the high 20s. Yes, it's that warm. Angora doesn't give you the itchy feel next to the skin either unlike sheep's wool. The only down side to angora is it's hydrophobic (it doesn't like being wet). But, it is also prime luxury fiber. It's the mink of spinning fibers and no animal has to die to get it.

Cara, by being a larger rabbit, has an added benefit. Possible meat production. If I can ever get Mel over her dislike of culling rabbits. I refrain from butchering rabbits because of this. To her, they are just too cute and lovable to kill. I'm partial with her when it comes to angoras. I'd rather sell them than eat them. But push comes to shove, I'll do it regardless.

Well that's it for this week. We are thrilled to have a baby on the  homestead again.

Y'all have a blessed day.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Reorganizing and Plans for the Barn

Similar to this but no door or window in front
It really isn't a barn though we call it that. It's a metal structure that's supposed to be a garage. It has one window which overlooks the orchard and a door on the opposite side of the garage door. It's 18x 26.

Mel built a raised, platform floor inside of it that takes up a quarter of the space from the back entry door out 8x12. We will be expanding this area out another 4' to give her more room to play  in 12x12. She didn't have near as many toys to play with before I got here. It's easier on the feet and legs standing on the raised platform than the asphalt patch type floor.

I bought about $100 worth of 2x4x8s for a shelving unit along one side of the garage between the window and garage door.  I wanted them sturdy and strong. Rather than use plywood for the shelves, we used 2x4s. It is almost overkill for weight bearing. Didn't I say I wanted it strong and sturdy? Each upright is double thickness between the shelves.  Then each unit is secured to the building at the back.The earth would have to shake a whole lot to move them.

Most of my stuff is in these 45-gallon, wheeled totes, and are heavy.  There are four of them and a foot locker that's mine. They are almost totally rodent and bug proof. Two of these totes would fit on each bottom shelf. She built three of these storage shelves units. These are on the lowest shelf while the upper shelves house the standard 18 to 30 gallon totes. One whole shelving unit houses paint, varnishes and assorted odds and ends that Mel stores. The upper most shelves hold seasonal stuff. Hopefully, the rats won't chew through the plastic as easily as they did the boxes these items were originally in.

A whole truck load of damaged belongs were taken to the landfill this year because of the rats and bug damage...mostly stored in cardboard boxes. With each tote labeled and stacked, we should be able to find what we want more easily. Better organized, the easier to find, right? Of course that meant having to go through each and every thing too. We've been at it since spring and we're almost done. The days of dumping whatever wherever in the barn is over! Now it has a proper place.

Next in the barn to build is building a small storage building within the barn (8x12x6). This space will be designated for storage of extra empty canning jars, rabbit and chicken (and people too) grains and feed when we catch a sale on these items. It will be built out of recycled pallet wood. It will be sealed against rodents and bugs. With recycled nails, visits to the Re-store, it shouldn't cost much at all to
build. We are only planning to build this room 6'  tall. The "roof" will allow for storage of extra hay and straw for the animals so we can take advantage of sales without cluttering up the rabbit barn. Buying 5 compressed bales of straw and hay for the critters severely limits the area our bunnies have free to scamper and play in. It also hampers our ability to catch them after free play is over. This is even with the almost 6' expansion of the rabbit barn.

The rest of this side of the 24' length will be for lumber (8x4) and large garden tool storage with a much smaller shelving unit (2x2x5) for storing sacks of perlite, bone and blood meal, Epsom salts and small hand tools and gloves. The large garden tools have a place in the space between the door and runs along a 2' of the walkway between the wall and the platform for the workshop about 6' wide.

As I said before, everything will have a designated space. The yearly cleaning out the barn will be history. There also will be no more hiding spots that Patches, my mouser cat, or Herbie, our rodent hunting dog, can't get to. Although neither of them like snakes very much, they will alert us us to their presence. Patches may play with smaller ones. Both have permission to kill whatever is in the barn. The beauty of this is we'll be able to close the garage door when it doesn't need to be open. Right now, it stays open even in winter.

We may eventually have a barn that really is a barn.  All the livestock we have already have their designated areas so it isn't necessary. But for now, we are using what we have for optimum use.  We even have space to drive the yard tractor in to get it out of the weather. What a novel concept!

The infrastructure plans include a goat area to be built beside the current barn. We'll set up a milking station at the garage door opening and fence off an area between the shelves and the storage room as well as a walk thru area that's the car park area for this purpose. The goats won't mind the sloping area between the barn and the orchard. They might even enjoy it. So long as their house is fairly level ground. There's about a six-foot wide area between the barn and the slope for their house. We can set up other areas for them to play in also on the property. I'm only talking about two or three dwarf Nubians or Nygoras not a full herd of  10-20 goats.

Like this one
The infrastructure future plans also include a chick /chicken grow out area just beyond the well house as soon as we clear it. Not huge, but space enough for ten to twenty birds at a time to be healthy and happy until slaughter. The plan is to raise up these chickens twice a year.

We always insist that our animals be healthy and happy no matter what their eventual disposition may be. Housing our chickens for slaughter needs to be everything they could dream of. Happy, healthy chickens mean a healthier end product for us to consume. We'll also know how they were treated and fed.

That's it for now. ***Please use the contact firm to subscribe to our weekly newsy emails.***
Y'all have a blessed day!