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, September 2, 2018

Building Organic Garden Soil, Finances, and Homestead Design

Well, the cardboard is laid. At least it is all out of the house. It was quite a pile. Since Mel is in summer mode, she's spending the majority of her time, in not building mode, on the screened back porch because it is cooler. The formal dining room was being used as the cardboard storing area. All the shipping, drink, and assorted boxes are broken down as flat as they can go. All the packing tape is removed. Who wants plastic in their organic garden, not me.

When we get a goodly stack, table and surrounding floor is covered, we set about moving them where they are needed. These areas right now, is the vegetable garden for stubborn weedy patches and the orchard. It's a slow process building soil this way, but we're in it for the long haul. Doing something the right way always takes time, but the end results are worth it.

I'm waiting on the rains next week to thoroughly soak the cardboard in place. Then, I'll cover it all
with straw and hay. I'll wait until it rains again to soak it all in place before I add the compost layer or sprinkle bone meal over the area. I'll repeat this process again and again throughout the fall and winter seasons (without additional cardboard layers). By the time the snow falls, it's time to quit and let it all cook during the rest of the winter until early spring. This type of layering is a "lasagna" gardening technique for building organic soil. Instead of a chopped leaf layer, Mel will blow leaves from the property. Instead of peat moss, we use wheat straw and fescue hay (both are relatively available and cheap here). Two 4x5 rolls of hay ($45) will cover the 1/4 acre orchard in several inches. We roughly measure each layer by the foot.

Worms love the wet cardboard. They are drawn to it devour it, and lay their eggs in it. Then, they will get started on the upper layers during the winter speeding up the composting over winter. The worm tea fertilizes the broken down material. They'll also break up the hard clay. So long as you feed them, they'll stay in the area. They'll multiply at will in the warm, composting layers creating a bio-diversified soil mix. In the orchard, this will be the second year of doing this and the last giving us almost four feet of new soil to plant in.

Building soil this way, on such a large piece of land isn't easy. It's time consuming and often back aching labor. It would be easier and more expensive hauling in three dump trucks worth of top soil and compost in. But there is no telling what is in those truck loads. From experience, I've found "compost" less than half composted material (branches and too green stuff mixed in). Fill dirt and top soil is often riddled with weed seeds just waiting for the opportunity to sprout. I want to reduce my labor not increase it.

Last year, we did a "back to Eden" layering with shredded trees and branches waste with a combination of cardboard and straw for the orchard. We had an abundance of tree "trash" after hurricane Irma blew through. This year, not so much. Thus, the lasagna gardening technique. Sometimes, one method just isn't doable because of the expense. I mean nothing beats free with a minimum of labor afterwards, right?

We're building this homestead on the cheap because we don't have thousands of dollars to do it with  Granted, I did shell out $1500 to have the orchard area cleared and terraced. It was necessary to expand our homestead infrastructure. It will return to me many times over in produce, grain, and straw... not to mention fruit and wine.

This was a major expense on my fixed income. Anything over $500 a month is what I consider a major expense. Still, I'm thankful that I have that amount of sort of dispensable income being on just Social Security and my retirement check. I owe of this all to my beloved's careful financial planning. God give him rest. With Mel full time on the homestead and not working outside the homestead, it's a blessing to be sure.

Cockeyed Homestead layout design
We are planning our homestead with aging in place in mind. After all, nobody is getting any younger. It's only smart. We are both sexagenarians already and women to boot. That's not to say that being women alone is a hindrance, but working smarter, as well as harder at times, does come into play more than if we had a man around to do the heavy lifting. The majority of our housing, barn/workshop, gardens, orchard, livestock are all in half an acre rather than spread out over our two-acre property.  This is only partly due to the landscape of the property. The other part is accessibility  in the design layout of ours.

I had thought to plant my berries and grapes on the top tier of  our orchard but changed my mind and planted them on the second tier from the top. The berries and grapes are easy enough to tend to on the second tier. The berries and grapes enjoy full sun on the second tier and protected from strong winds that can sweep through the hollow. Once the fruit trees mature and grow in size, the berries and grapes will have even more protection, but still have plenty of full sun because of the terraced hillside.
Example of our elevated pallet raised beds
On the top tier is more shaded so it's perfect for the raised pallet beds with herbs. While most herbs love full sun, the sun gets pretty strong and heated in Georgia. The partial shade will benefit them on the top tier. There will also no watering issues because of them being elevated beds. A simple soaker hose system attached to the 375- gallon water tote should supply them with ample wet stuff throughout their growing season. The beds will over winter with a thick blanket of compost and mulch.

Did I mention that these beds do double duty? In the space below the beds we stuff with large, perforated, black trash bags filled with moist leaves. These leaves will compost and form mold that increases the biodiversity. Ants and worms will work to break down the leaves over time. This way the space these beds take up do double duty. To make removal of these bags easier, we tie long pieces of baling twine around the top of these bags with the other end wrapped around a nail on the outside of the raised bed. The baling twine is recycled from the bales of straw and hay we purchased during the years.

We'll even reuse the bags too until they are too torn up to use again for leafing. Then, they will be cut into 3" strips and braided them to form weed deterrent mats under the fruit trees. The braiding will allow water to seep into the ground and it makes them stronger. They'll have many more years of reuse to them. I even reuse baling twine to make these. As the trees grow they will need bigger mats so nothing goes to waste. I'll even leave rows gap stitched together so I can plant garlic in the gaps. Garlic keeps moths and other pests away from fruit trees. On average, every five rows of braids gets a gap row for garlic, onions, or leeks. So once again, this shows multiple reuses/repurposing of items that usually end up in landfills. It doesn't have to be pretty. It just has to work. Nothing goes to waste on our homestead until it is definitely unusable again.

Y'all have a blessed day.


  1. A very timely post! I just published one on soil building too - or rather one of our experiments in soil building. Very true about having to adapt methods to one's circumstances and resources. We've learned we really have to think outside the box at times. Like you, we're trying to get the "heavy" work done now so that it will be more manageable as we get older (which seems to be happening at an alarming pace!!)

    I love your raised pallet bed idea. Also the mats for the fruit trees!

    1. About getting older, I planned on homesteading although starting over again from scratch at 60+ is not ideal, it's better than 70 or 80. Things start moving at hyperspeed after 50. The down hill slide with gravity.


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