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, March 31, 2019

A Cockeyed Garden Plan for 2019

Mel set the garden plan for this year and I let her. So I shouldn't complain.  I must admit it's beautiful, but I fear not highly productive.

First thing I noticed is there's not enough planted for continuing to be self sustainable in any of the vegetables planted. This is a real bummer, to me, because last year I grew enough to cover our needs 100% in green beans (actually 2 years worth), corn, and tomatoes.


Observations (complaints)
1) While it looks like I'll be able to ferment my kimchi and sauerkraut, we may not have the expected yield. She is planting these brassicas in the spring when the cabbage worms are at their height of their reproductive cycle. This is worrisome and added vigilance. Thus a reduction of usable harvest. While I plant these is the fall so I have a full summer harvest of all the other vegetables that go into my kimchi like ginger, peppers, daikon radishes, and garlic. By planting my napa cabbages in the spring, I may not have enough of the other vegetables ready. Napa does not hold well.

2) The pathways are too narrow. When I asked her about it, she said she made the pathways one foot wide! Can you maneuver around full grown plants with only 12" of footing? It should prove interesting. Each garden bed allows for a 3'x 4' long allotment of plants. She'll have to take care of it all this year. I find it's difficult to maneuver in 3' walkways. I guess I'll just piddle around with the elevated raised pallet garden beds of herbs this year. Just as well with my surgeries.

3) When I look at the transplants seedling. I asked for 20 Roma tomatoes, she started 10. She did that with everything I suggested. Sigh, oh well, it will be a light canning season for me, but more trips to the grocery store. Grocery store= more $$ spent. It's only money, right? God save my pocketbook. I don't know where she expects the money to come from.

Our money tree died. If you play Sims 3, you know what I'm talking about. Every day you can harvest a couple hundred buxes off this tree when fully matured. I've often wished for a real life equivalent of this, but there isn't, is there? Also when this tree matured it would drop a seed to grow another one. You could plant a whole orchard in them. How cool is that? It's nice to dream.

Y'all have a blessed day. I know we will!

Jo



Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Crafting with Jo: Soil Block Maker Tutorial

I know Wednesdays you are used to seeing recipes, but I planned on using the additional blog page for other homesteading activities like cooking, crafting, and other creative stuff. So no secret recipe today. Instead we are crafting! And better yet, we are repurposing and recycling items which would take a couple thousand years to compost.

I was looking at my soil block maker while we were sowing our indoor seed starting operation a couple of weeks ago, and thought it would be a nifty idea to make a small set of soil block makers for the smaller seeds like herbs and carrots. So I decided to bring you along while I make them.
The middle bottle

Since my pharmacy now fills some of my prescriptions for 90 days including one of my muscle relaxers (Dantrolene). I get 6 of these bottles every 3 months. While we have a slew of uses for these bottles, I have a medium size stockpile of this size bottles.

How to Make It

Tools
Exacto Knife
Scissors
Marker
Saw, if combining them
Drill

Odds and Ends Bits
1 pill bottle or other round or square container with screw on lid
1 Eye bolt, how long depends on the length of the bottle plus 3"
4 fender washers
4 nuts, sized for the bolt

Duct Tape, if combining them
Six-inch long piece of 1x4, if combining

Now take your marker and mark the bottle following the diagram.
1) You want to mark for your drill hole in the center of the top. This is where the eye bolt will go.
2) Mark around the bottom of the pill bottle above the curved bottom.
Cut along the bottom with an Exacto knife.

3) Save the bottom that you just cut off. You'll use it as part of the plunger attachment. cut around the bottom piece until it fits smoothly inside the pill bottle.

3) Drill a hole in the center of this cut cut down bottom.

 
4) Drill a hole in the top where you marked the center spot. The size will depend on the size of you eye bolt. Make sure the eye bolt can move freely through the hole.

Assembly

  1. Take the cap off the bottle.
  2. On your eye bolt, screw on a nut within 2" of the eye.
  3. Thread on a fender washer onto the bolt.
  4. Slide on the cap. 
  5. Add fender washer and nut. Make this finger tight to the cap. Too much torque and the plastic cap will crack.
  6. Measure your bottle from the neck to the cut edge.
  7. Now measure you bolt and sbtract a 1/2". Mark your bolt.
  8. Screw a nut onto your bolt so the bottom edge of your nut is just above that mark.
  9. Screw the top onto the bottle.
  10. On the eye bolt, add a fender washer.
  11. Slide on the cut down bottom piece.
  12. Slide on a fender washer.
  13. Screw on the nut.
  14. You should have about 1/4" to 1/2" inch clearance off the bolt showing.

This isn't mine. I googled this one for a finished product image.
Your soil block maker is ready to use. Pull the plunger all the way up. Fill with moist seed starting mix. Invert onto seed starting tray. I use a repurposed baking sheets. It had rusty spots. Or even a repurposed vinyl tablecloth lined box will do. Place seed in the depression made in the top by the bolt. Scratch the surface to cover the seed. I use a bamboo skewer or popsicle stick. Water from bottom up or gentle spray from the top.

How to Tell If Your Mix is Moist Enough 
It's not runny but clumps together nicely when squeezed in your hand.

BONUS
Now making a hundred pots one at a time is a bit tedious. I make 4 to 8 bottles at a time. I'll mount regular bolts instead of eye bolts onto a 1x4 piece of lumber. This way I fill and unmold 4-8 soil blocks at a time. I'll use duct tape to stabilize the bottles together.

Y'all have a blessed day!
Jo


Sunday, March 24, 2019

Transplants Are Done Now What?

Well, we spent the week sowing seeds into assorted pots, containers and soil blocks. Now what are we up to on the homestead? We tilled under all the hay, straw and compost that we spread to overwinter in the garden and orchard. This is the last till under on this scale that we'll have to do. From now on it will just take a rake and fork. Yes, we've finally built up enough good, organic soil in these areas!

HURRAY!!

It's taken a couple of years of work to get to this point. Our soil is once again teeming with all healthy organisms and worms galore. We can dig over two feet down and not hit granite nor hard packed clay. The soil may have streaks of the red clay throughout, but it's light and fluffy for good oxygenation of the root systems. As if we needed further proof, this winter has been one for the record books for rainfall. Not once during the deluge of rain fall did the garden flood even with several inches of rain. This sure beat three years ago when you needed galoshes to walk in the garden area.

The gate posts Mel built out of the Sweet Gum tree she chopped down and pallets fell over winter. Too much rain, high winds, and weight snapped off the trunks at ground level. She has plans for a new set up for this year. The garden gates will be housed with an arch way with climbing roses in raised boxes on either side. We are aiming to beautify or spaces this year now that we have firm outlines and good soil within. I'm thinking of the Rosa Rugosa. They are a single petaled rose that should give us ample rose hips at the end of blooming season.

Remember, us being a small homestead of only two acres, everything has to do double or triple uses. In this case attract pollinators, rose hips for health and nutrition, and beauty(and fragrance). Our herbs and flowers also do the same thing plus deter the bad predators in our garden like cut and cabbage worms, aphids, etc.

Of course, I'm still waiting on Mel to give me the bottom line on what she needs to purchase. She's great at planning and building projects, but she's slow in determining cost of a projects. Since I'm the one footing the bill, I kind of want to know.This irritates me a bit because it shoots any budgeting plans I have in the foot.

Garden gate fell!
While the arched arbor with roses climbing over them would be grand, I just want a gate that will keep our free ranging chicken out of my growing vegetable patch. I don't want a repeat of the darn, blasted chickens again like the first two years of gardening here. They've done their job of denuding, eating pests, fun scratching, and fertilizing our garden all winter long. Now is my turn to play.

In two weeks, we'll start planting our cool weather crops like English peas, radishes, beets, carrots and lettuces so the gates need to be fixed. So far, the chickens have not messed with the garlic and leeks we planted last fall. Here's hoping they survive in the orchard. I don't want to even plant in the garden before the gate goes up. Not to mention my having easier access (safer) into the garden.

So we're setting up the garden to be planted. This year Mel set up the garden plan with a little input from me. Just the opposite of the last three years. Maybe her Hodge podge way of planting will work better this year with decent soil. I'll definitely be mulching it all in and watching.


Y'all have a blessed day!
Jo



 



Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Cooking with Chef Jo: It's Violet Harvesting Time

I was walking around the yard picking up branches and twigs when I noticed the wild violets have begun to bloom. They are the true harbingers of spring to me. While the daffodils and crocus may bloom only to be killed by a arctic blast, violets only bloom when the nighttime and daytime temperatures are just right. Let the violet harvest begin!

We have a variety of colors ranging from white to deep purple, but that's not why I harvest them. You may wonder what this has to do with cooking? Well, medicinally, wild violets and their leaves can be dried and made into teas to strengthen the immune system and soothe a sore throat. They are packed with vitamin C and other vitamins and minerals. More per weight than oranges.

They can be added to salads for bright touches of color. I make a couple of jars of violet syrup, candy them, and sugar them, and I've even made jellies with them. So deciding which recipe to share with y'all was a tough choice. The taste is slightly sweet and fairly bland, but the color and aroma are the stand out points.

I finally decided on violet syrup because it's the most versatile recipe. You can brush a white cake with with it (it will keep your cake moist and add a lovely violet color), pour it into hot or cold teas, and even use it on pancakes and waffles. I'll  do a poked cake with this syrup for an Easter dessert to color my white cake with the glorious purple color and top the frosted cake with sugared violets of course.

Violet Syrup
Makes 3 pints

  • Pick your violet flower in the morning before the dew dries is best. Pick the fullest blooms possible. 
  • Pick about a gallon of compressed blooms. What are compressed blooms? When the jar is filled, press the blooms down. Repeat this process until you can't push them down any more and the jar is full. It's takes a whole lot of flowers.
  • Bring the blossoms inside and spray them with water to remove any dirt and debris.
  • In a large, heavy bottomed pot bring two quarts of water to a boil and turn off the heat.
  • Add the blossoms, cover and let steep for 24 hours. Use a small plate to hold the flowers under the water.
  • Strain the liquid through a fine mesh strainer lined with a coffee filter.
  • For every cup of violet infused water, add 2 cups of sugar.
  • Return pot to the stove top on low. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. DO NOT BOIL. If you do boil it you will lose the vibrant blueish purple color.
  • Add 10 drops or 1 tsp lemon juice. It will brighten the flavor and help raise the acidity level of the syrup.
To preserve this syrup for later use, pour the hot liquid into hot canning jars and hot lids. Invert the jars on a towel for 15 minutes. The jars should be cooled enough to touch. Leave the jars sit, right way up, for 12 hours to ensure it seals. If any jars do not seal place in the refrigerator.

Welcome to Spring!🌼Enjoy!

Y'all have a blessed day!
Jo




Sunday, March 17, 2019

Starting Seeds for Transplanting

Recycled plant pots
Well, it's that time again. We are starting seeds for spring planting indoors. We'll be transplanting them in the garden when it warms up a bit around May 1st.

Now, we grow organically, saving seeds from one year to the next. The only vegetable seeds we need to purchase is maybe some red seed potatoes in the fall, but for spring planting, done this week in old tires, we're good. I had enough eyes on the potatoes from fall harvest to plant for spring. The other thing we usually buy is red or white clover and orchard grass seeds. Last year's growing to seed was cut short by fall freezes. But those are hand broadcasted sowing.

assorted plastic ware (unwashed)
How do we start seeds indoors? I imagine it's no different than any other gardener out there. We've been saving plant pots for a while now. Each year we wash them with detergent and bleach to kill any bacteria that may live in them. But that's not the only thing we start plants in. We have a collection of assorted plastic ware from berry baskets to old yogurt cups that we start seeds in too. I imagine you can find oodles of these types of things in your kitchen cabinets too.

Who needs those expensive seed starting kits, we sure don't. Just cover container with plastic wrap with a couple of holes in the bottom for drainage. Every other month I'll splurge and buy a rotisserie cooked
chicken from the deli department at the grocery store. They flame roast these antibiotic free birds and put them on sale for $3.99. I can't cook one for less so it's a good deal for three meals for us. Throw away the container it comes in? Not on your life! Start seeds in it. You can start a lot of lettuce seeds in one container to name just one vegetable.

But we start more than vegetable seeds in these containers. Since we garden organically with no chemicals, we start flowers and herbs indoors also. Flowers such as marigolds, zinnias, and nasturtiums go a long way in deterring a wide array of pests.  Herbs like oregano, basil, parsley,and dill when planted with vegetables can deter critters large and small and actually help your vegetables thrive. Don't take my word for it, do your own research on companion planting. By the time the vegetables are ready to transplant, these herbs and flowers are ready too. it all works together.

Now that our seed potting containers are ready to grow, next is the soil. Starting mix is different than growing mix. Our seed starting mix is 3 parts. The first part is commercially prepared organic seed starting mix. 😀The second part is our nutrient rich compost (finely sifted). The last part is sand or perlite to add extra drainage. Everybody likes a drink, but don't want to drown in the water. All in equal proportions. This will hold enough water for germination and growth, plenty of food to grow healthy roots and plants, and enough drainage to prevent rot.

Sure, I could just use the commercial seed starting mix, but I believe a lot of transplanting shock stems from a different bunch of nutrients introduced during transplanting. By adding my own compost, the plants become accustomed to my plant food that's in my soil. My transplants continue to grow in similar soil.

Next after seeding the containers and covering the tops, we'll place them on a thickly paper towel lined old baking pans. This will do double duty as a liquid draining and self waterer. You just water the bottom of the pan as needed. This way the germinating seeds aren't disturbed and it waters from the bottom up..

I've even made soil block makers out of old prescription pill bottles which would otherwise go into the landfill. To make it faster, I even taped four bottles together.

There are tons of DIY videos on YouTube. They are easy enough to make. I think I've tried them all over the years. I've upcycled toilet and paper towel center cores, newspaper and a host of other things back when I had a full acre to plant. When I run out of reused containers, I'll use some. The possibilities are endless for making seed starting pots with a little creativity and forethought.

How do you mark your seed trays when planting multiple types? We've tried several different things. Tape on pots doesn't last too long. popsicle sticks bleed the writing and the ones that you pick up from the store are expensive. We use cut up mini blinds slats. You can buy them or find them in a second store.cheap enough, but we didn't have to a couple were left in the house when Mel moved here.We upcycled them. One slat will make 4 to 6 labels.  After 4 years we've might have used half of one blind. Another thing we do is save the plant labels that come on plants that you buy for when we move our seedlings outdoors. Most seedlings look alike.

They'll sit and grow happily in our plastic covered screened back porch until transplant time. That's how we do it.

Y'all have a blessed day!
Jo


Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Cooking with Chef Jo: Cherries

I'm buying a couple dwarf cherry trees for the orchard this year. I fact, I just ordered them. They should arrive by the mid April planting date for our 7B gardening zone. At maturity, 5 years, they should produce 25 lbs each of cherries for fresh eating or canning. I can't wait. I love my cherries!

The variety I bought are a heirloom variety, of course. Self pollinating, fruit mid summer and easy care for organic orchard. They grow to only 10' tall which is an added plus for my short stature. In honor of my ordering the cherry trees, I thought I'd share one of my favorite cherry recipes with y'all. You can bet that there are more coming.

Cherry Waldorf Salad with Rice
 Serves 8
 My Cherry Waldorf Salad with Rice is a bright, colorful, tasty side dish for any meat dish in summer. A great hit at neighborhood barbecues or pot lucks.


1/4 c mayonnaise, I make my own
1/4 c sour cream, I make my own
2 Tbs honey
1/8 tsp salt
1 Tbs fresh lemon juice, I just squeeze half a lemon
2 large apples, cored and cubed into 1" pieces
3 ribs of celery, small diced
1 c cherries, pitted and halved
1/2 c dried cranberries, rehydrated
1 c rice, cooked and cooled by your preferred method
1/2 c nuts, your choice toasted and coarse chopped if using a larger nut

  • Rehydrate cranberries- either place in a bowl of boiled water, or submerge in bowl of water and microwave for 2 minutes, or boil on stove top until reconstituted. Drain, set aside and let cool.
  • Place mayonnaise, lemon juice, salt, sour cream, and honey in large bowl and whisk until the dressing is smooth.
  • Add apples, cherries, celery, cranberries, nuts, and rice to the bowl with the dressing. 
  • Toss until it is all well coated
  • Cover and place in the refrigerator for at least an hour, but overnight is okay too.
  • Before service, toss again and place in a lettuce lined bowl for extra fancy touch.

For an additional meaty dinner, add 2 cups of cooked diced chicken or canned tuna for a cold, summer dinner for a Chicken or Tuna Cherry Waldorf Salad with Rice. Enjoy!
Y'all have a blessed day!
Jo



Sunday, March 10, 2019

It's Almost That Time Again- Spa Homestead Days

Every year in March, we have spa days. Everybody except for Nnyus, the chickens, and the cats get shorn for approaching warmer weather. Nnyus' hair is too short, chicken don't have fur, and all our cats are the short haired variety.

Mel's and my hair gets cut usually the first or second week in March. All the fall and winter growth, that's kept our ears warm all winter long, gets a well needed cut and styled. It's our timely passage into spring. Plus we don't want a mop of hair come summer.

We'll spend a day scrubbing, shaving, manicuring ourseves. Our legs have hairs long enough for piggy tails. Sounds sick, but our legs felt warmer under our pants during winter. It's one of the benefits of not having men folk around. We'll heavily lotion up rough winter dried skin and may even start apple cider vinegar foot baths again.We ain't girlie gals.

Next comes Herbie. This little dog has a love-hate relationship with spa days. He hates to be touched especially his feet. But he loves the way he feels afterwards. By the end of winter, his hair is 6" long. Mel enjoys doing something cute while shearing him. The year before last was a Yorkie cut with extra poofy ears. Last year was a lion type tail tip.

He is never a pleasant boy to wash. He'll growl and snap the whole time. He rarely bites hard enough to break the skin. Once or twice he'll knock my glasses off my face while shearing. Cutting his nails, fergetaboutit! There aren't muzzles and tie down straps strong enough to do the job without getting bit several times. A Doberman or German Shepherd in full attack mode are infants compared to this dog if you ever touch his nails. He'll eventually break or chew them off.

After we release him from spa torture, He'll scamper and dance around happily. He expect to be called "funny," "cute", or "pretty boy" repeatedly. This will continue for several days until he's bored with it.

Next comes the rabbits. Each will be shorn down to the skin. Their nails are trimmed seasonally. Mel's in total charge of nails and ears. They'll binky around their space happy to be rid of all that hair. Angus has heavy facial furnishings. "I can see!" he'll say. " Thank you, thank you, thank you!"It takes almost the whole month to accomplish them all.

But then, the rooster's spur is clipped to make his breeding attempts easier on the hens. I really hate doing this to him because his spurs help keep the flock safe.

All the hens will be checked also. Hopefully the Buff Orpingtons will go broody this year so I won't have to purchase as many  meat birds this year. But I may purchase half a dozen to a dozen anyhow.

Nnyus and the cats don't escape untouched during March. Their nails are clipped too. They each get a pass with a brush.

Everybody (critter wise) gets their bi-annual dosing of DE. This is done internal ingestion for parasites, and externally for fleas and mites. The dogs have their dose added for 6 days into wet (homemade) dog food and they are dusted. For the cats, we just dust them heavily a couple of times. They'll lick it off grooming themselves. The rabbits have DE sprinkled on their fodder for ingestion. The chickens have it make in a special seed crackers I makes for them a couple times a year for extra ingestion doses. Several pounds of DE and wood ash are added to their coop, run, and dirt bathing areas in lieu of dusting the chickens.

So let the spa days begin.

Y'all have a blessed day.
Jo

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Cooking with Chef Jo: Seed Crackers for Chickens

Since I started homesteading thirty odd years ago, I find myself adding to the recipes in my brain to include our critters. Today's recipe is no exception. Sunday, I mentioned my special seed goodie for our cockeyed critter flock. It prompted quite a few questions about what goes into mine.

I feed our gentle giant rooster and his harem sprouted, fermented grains seven months a year. The other five months (in hard winter) they gets organic commercial feed. They also free range for the seven-month stint which cuts our feed bill immensely. We also have our own maggot and meal worm set up too. Nothings to good for our flock and ultimately us.

My chicken special seed treats are no exception. I'll toss a couple cups worth to worm/parasite control and a healthy dose of good for them goodies into the mix. I'll break up pieces and give them to our flock as needed and just because.
It looks about like this

DE Seed Cracker Mix for Chickens

1/4 cup standard chicken scratch or bird seed
2 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup of each: black oil sunflower seeds, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, dried cranberries, raisins, DE, dried oregano, and oat groats
1/8 cup molasses
shells from a dozen eggs, ground
4 Tbs lard (or whatever solid fat you have available)
1 Tbs garlic powder
1 cup dried mealworms or maggots
Enough water to form a dough but not overly wet  about 1/4-1/3 cup

  • Mix all seeds, mealworms, dehydrated fruits, oregano, garlic, and egg shells together in a large bowl.
  • In a separate  bowl, crumble in the lard with the flour and work it into the flour similar to pie crust.
  • Stir in seed mixture.
  • Add molasses
  • Stir well or get in there with your hand(s). The seeds should start being incorporated into the mix.
  • Slowly add the water about a Tbs at a time.
  • When dough holds it shape, flatten on a parchment lined baking sheet.
  • Roll out the dough to 1/8" in thickness.
  • Score the dough with a knife or pizza cutter into 2" squares.
  • Allow a day or two to set and dry.
  • Store in an air tight container.
Enjoy watching your chicken go hog wild for these treats/medicine.

Y'all have a blessed day.
Jo



Sunday, March 3, 2019

Signs of Spring?



Daffodils and Forsythia
It's Indian Spring here in the north Georgia mountains.What's Indian Spring? Y'all know what Indian Summer is, right? It when in the fall you get unseasonably summer like temperatures. Yes, I made the term up, but it fits. We've got several more weeks until spring, but you couldn't tell it by the weather this week. We've had daytime temps in the mid to high 60s with nighttime temps in the 40s.

With the warmer temperatures, the daffodils, crocus, and even our peach trees are ablaze with colorful blooms. On my drive down to Atlanta this week, the medians were full of these harbingers of spring. It makes me almost giddy at the prospect. The Earth is waking up from it's long winter's rest,
Peach blossoms
or is it? Nope. It's Indian Spring. Come Monday and Tuesday, the weather service is calling for sleet and snow.

We'll be breaking out the smudge pot to try to protect the peach blossoms from the worst of it. I drove past the local peach orchard Wednesday and all their trees were ablaze with peachy pink blooms too. But then again, it was the same last year. We can only watch and pray for this year's crop.

We still did not get a chance to move the peach trees down to the orchard this winter. There were just too many rainy days and not enough dry days in between to get it accomplished. We may just plant new ones in late summer and chop down these when the new ones start fruiting.

credit
It would be easier if we had our own Bobcat or large tractor with attachments. I just can't mentally justify the purchase price of one. Sure, I can think of a dozen jobs or more that would be easier and quicker with one, but the purchase price, even older and used, plus the maintenance costs hold me back. It would sit in the barn/ workshop more than 50% of the time unused. That's doesn't make good fiscal sense. Not right now anyhow. It's just just another gas guzzling expense.

Y'all have a blessed day.
Jo