October 30, 2013

Reflections on the Slow Life

One thing most homesteaders seem to have in common is the desire to slow down. There seems to be a universal recognition that modern life is just too fast paced, too hectic, and too complicated. Have you ever wondered to where everyone is in such a hurry to get? The next stoplight? I don't know about you, but having been around enough decades, it seems to me that the pace has picked up. It seems more frantic and more desperate than before. It's as though our inner clocks are being wound tighter and tighter as time goes by.

Hand crank blender
There are theories regarding this. One I call the electromagnetic frequency theory. The frequency of the human body ranges from about 62-68 Hertz (Hz). The human brain is said to be lower, 1 to 30 Hz, depending upon one's state of sleep or wakefulness. Electric and electronic devices operate in megahertz (MHz with mega = million), for example, cell phones at 824 to 849 MHz, AM radio at 535 KHz (kilo = 1000) to 1.7 MHz, FM radio at 88 to 108 MHz, television at 54 to 220 MHz, microwave ovens at 2.45 GHz (giga = billion), even baby monitors at 49 MHz.

Does being in constant contact with modern electronic devices have an effect on our nervous systems? Is it true that as the usage of such devices increases, so do things like road rage, violence, insomnia, anxiety, short tempers, impatience, depression, a basic dissatisfaction with life, etc.? I'm sure some will debate the premise, but it is interesting to note that in addressing insomnia, sleep therapists recommend disengaging oneself from all electronic device activity at least an hour before going to bed and doing something old-fashioned like read an honest to goodness paper based book. Some go so far as to suggest moving the clock radio off the night stand. And a new field of medical science is researching the electromagnetic frequencies at which disease microorganisms activate within the human body.

My favorite mixing tools - an egg beater & a Polish whisk

Have you ever noticed how quite your house becomes if the electricity is down for some reason? All the things we keep plugged in vibrate and hum. We hear it all day and never seem to notice. Does that effect us too? Off-griders, you probably have some interesting things to say about this.

Whether it's true or not, it certainly does seem a plausible explanation as to why society has its foot on the lifestyle accelerator. I can't help but wonder that if we took an electric/electronic sabbatical, could we "reset" ourselves, if we wouldn't feel calmer and less stressed out. I know it seems one more good reason to pull the plug and find manual alternatives to so many of the things we do. The trade-off is that it takes more time to do things by hand, so that I feel like I'm getting less done.

 My manual food processor

I can't help but wonder that if one of my goals is to slow down, then why am I so impatient to get there? What do you think?

Reflections on the Slow Life © October 2013 by Leigh

October 27, 2013

Fall Firsts

First frost, first fire in the wood cookstove, and first scrap soup. This one was made with leftover scalloped potatoes and ham, the remains of a soup experiment (a successful one too, for all that overgrown summer squash), and a quart jar of chevon stock.

Fall Firsts © October 2013 by Leigh

October 25, 2013

Mysterious Squash Circles

Some folks have mysterious crop circles, I have mysterious squash circles.

I have no idea what caused these.

This is the orange cushaw winter squash I showed you the other day. I was digging sweet potatoes and realized it's stem was completely dried and shriveled. So I picked it. It's 15 inches long and weighs 9 pounds, 5.5 ounces.

As impressive as that is, this one is even more impressive.

Cushaw growing in the strawberry bed. Potato fork is for size comparison

This is my other cushaw, and it's 27 inches! I haven't weighed it yet, but will after I pick it. I'll leave it on the vine for as long as I can. It doesn't look like it's going to turn orange, but we'll cook it and eat it just the same.

I've had a number of baby cushaws start, but these are the only two that grew. At those sizes, however, I think I only need two!

Mysterious Squash Circles © October 2013 by Leigh

October 22, 2013

Winter Pasture

If you've read my gardening posts for awhile, then likely you know that I am blessed to live in an area where I can pretty much garden all year long. Or at least harvest root crops all winter long. There are trade-offs for this blessing; our summers are often too hot and too dry for much of anything to want to grow. Besides a seasonal garden, we can also grow seasonal pasture, which means fresh forage for the goats all year long.

Newly planted annual rye

Pasture forage includes both grasses and legumes which are divided into warm and cool weather types, just as garden vegetables are.

Cool weather forage
  • bluegrass 
  • orchardgrass 
  • timothy
  • fescue*
  • annual rye
  • alfalfa
  • chicory
  • wheat
  • oat
  • various clovers
  • vetch
  • winter peas

Warm weather forage
  • bermuda
  • bahai
  • lespedeza
  • various millets
  • Egyptian wheat
  • buckwheat

These are possibilities in my region. There are other things liked by goats and used for forage and hay such as Johnson grass and kudzu, but these are considered invasives and so not a good idea to plant.

Other things that can be planted in the pasture area for forage include herbs (see my post "DIY Vitamins and Minerals For Goats" for an extensive list) and cool weather vegetables such as kale, beet, and turnip. In fact, I toss any old garden seed in with a pasture planting.

Fescue*, particularly tall fescue, is a bit controversial because it can be infected with an endophyte fungus which causes ill thrift in grazing animals including goats, sheep, horses, and cattle. Endophytes bind copper, selenium, zinc, and cobalt, which result in all the problems associated with mineral deficiencies. Endophyte free varieties of fescue are available, but apparently are not as hardy as the endophyte infected.

There are mixed reports on results from goats grazing fescue. Many, on some of the goat forums and websites, claim their goats do fine. Others have problems. For me, it may be a key to problems I've had. For example, almost all of Jasmine's problems, except the broken shoulder, pointed to copper deficiency. Fescue was the primary grass in our front pasture when we moved here and all my dark colored goats have shown symptoms of copper deficiency, for which copper supplementation doesn't seem to help. My white goats show no such problems, but their requirement for copper is lower than for dark goats. Learning about this has possibly been a major clue to a frustrating puzzle.

Immediate solutions include vigilant supplementation of selenium and copper and making sure animals are offered a large variety of browse to decrease the amount of infected fescue consumed. Long term, it means replacing the fescue with other types of forage. The good news on this front is that no pasture remains perfect for years on end. Grasses and legumes run their course, and pastures require maintenance and replanting periodically. Obviously, for us, this means not planting infected varieties of fescue as we work on our annual pasture remineralization and improvement plan.

My aim is to have both warm and cool weather forage in all goat areas, so that they have fresh grazing year around. Any that grows too tall can be cut and dried for hay. So far this autumn I've planted annual rye, wheat, oat seed, herb, and veggie seeds. I scatter the seed by hand wherever I find a bare spot, making sure there are no chickens around! I'll do the same in the spring with warm weather seed, which I believe I'd better start trying to find now!

Lastly, my resources for your perusal:

Winter Pasture © October 2013 by Leigh

October 20, 2013

The Kittens' Snoozy Sunday

The Future Rodent Hunters of the Homestead have gotten their first taste of the big outdoors. Both are cautious, which is a relief, and stick close to the house and the kitty door. Katy even knows how to ring the kitty door bell to be let into the kitchen if the door is closed! Smart kitty.

Katy and Sam in a favorite nap spot

I think Sammy will be like Riley, mostly an outdoor/barn cat. Riley rarely comes inside, especially during summer when there is a lot of rodent activity outside. Katy likes to go out, but likes to spend more time in the house. That's okay, because we can use a housecat. When we bought the place, there were long vacant mouse nests in the pantry, and there continues to be mouse activity in the attic. There are rodents enough to go around.

Neither one is allowed out much yet. Just short, mostly supervised outings during the day. They're both cautious, which I'm glad for. Riley has made it very clear he doesn't want them following him. Just as well, I suppose.

The Kittens' Snoozy Sunday © October 2013 

October 18, 2013

Field Corn Update: The Harvest

Guinea fowl patrolling the outskirts of the corn patch.

Several of you mentioned an interest in our field corn growing. This is our third year to grow it, but the first year to properly mineralize the soil beforehand. So far, corn has been the easiest grain for us to grow and process.

The variety I plant is Truckers Favorite. It's an heirloom variety that grows well in the southeastern U.S. I like it because the kernels are small enough to feed whole to our chickens. Ground, it makes very tasty cornbread.

I planted in double rows, sowing Ozark Razorback cowpeas in between. This works well because it gives the cowpeas something to grab on to, plus gives the corn a nitrogen boost.

Ozark Razorbacks growing up corn stalks.
Photo from "Pea Pickin'", September 2012

I harvested the corn early, before it was ready, because I began to find evidence that something was helping themselves!

Possible culprits: opossums, raccoons, and squirrels

Initially it was only an ear or two, but one day it was about half a dozen. It was a dilemma. Should I harvest early, even though it hadn't dried yet, in order to keep more from being eaten?

I opted to harvest early. It means I have to make sure the corn continues to dry before shelling and storage. It was a modest harvest.

Pickings filled this 8 cubic foot wheelbarrow.

We planted less than a quarter acre and some sections of that didn't grow, or was the seed eaten? Or was that the spot I ran out of seed and had to go get more. It's possible I accidentally grabbed a can of old seed. Then some got knocked down during a hard thunderstorm. And I think what did grow would have done better if it'd had more sun. We planted in the buck pasture this year, which receives morning shade and afternoon sun. Unfortunately, all our rain meant more cloudy days than sunny. Still, I'm thankful for whatever we get.

Not all the ears were as large and filled out as the above, but in general I was pleased. The very best will be saved for next year's seed. Second will be for cornmeal for us. The rest will go to the chickens.

After I finish harvesting the cowpeas, I'll open the gate and let the bucks browse the remains. I've already seeded the bare spots in the field with annual rye, wheat, and oats. The annual rye is growing beautifully, the wheat and oats have yet to sprout. Combined, these will make a winter pasture for our billy boys.

Parting shot...

Riley: "Pay attention to me."

Field Corn Update: The Harvest © October 2013 

October 15, 2013

Progress on the Bedroom: The Window Wall

Deciding to tear down the window wall in our soon-to-be bedroom was the easy part. We knew we were going to replace the old drafty windows with energy efficient ones. We also knew we were going to put in better insulation and a vapor barrier. The hard part was trying to decide what to put back.

A view out the windows
Before photo of the window wall in the original bedroom

Dan tore down the planks & removed the loose insulation
at the same time. Being 90 years old, the planks were dry
and brittle. Most of them shattered during deconstruction.

New energy efficient windows installed.

New insulation and plastic vapor barrier.

We couldn't reuse the old tongue and groove planks, and didn't want to try and replicate it. I felt a failed attempted match wouldn't look as good as a totally contrasting look. We discussed drywall, but even though he did it in the kitchen for me, Dan really dislikes doing drywall. The next idea was a Victorian style wood panel look. That's what we did.

Dan used finished plywood panels and a stain that matched the
color of of wood that was beneath the painted tongue and groove. 

We bought and stained ready-made, off the rack trims from Lowes. 

Funny how the colors in the photos change depending on the time of day and light. Most of it will be hidden by draperies by the time it's done. Still to do is apply polyurethane. Then it's on to the ceiling.

October 13, 2013

It's Time To Defrost Those Tomatoes

Last jar of 2012 pizza sauce. 

I'm down to my last jar of pizza sauce; it's time to make more! Ordinarily, I would have started canning pizza sauce in July or August. But I did not have a very good tomato harvest this summer, likely due to too much rain and very little sun. We had enough for fresh eating but extras for preserving amounted to only a few every other day. I popped these into the freezer for a future sauce making and canning session.

Frozen Amish Paste tomatoes from this summer's pickings. 

A couple of year's ago I discovered that peeling frozen tomatoes is so much easier than the boiling water/ice dunk method. Now, however, I have my Roma juicer/squeezer, so I use it instead. It's easier still!

Tomato juice cooking down with homegrown thyme, oregano, & rosemary

Also easy, is cooking down the juice in a crock pot. It never scorches and uses less electricity than my electric stove. I add everything during the cooking down stage except salt. I add salt to the canning jars when I fill them. I figure if salt ever becomes scarce, I at least have my canned goods seasoned to taste. Also I add my lemon juice or citric acid as I fill the jars. On that note, I wanted to mention an interesting post over at Thoughts from Frank and Fern, "Why Acidify Tomatoes?"

Sadly, I only had one crock pot's worth of juice, making my sauce seem all the more precious. And since this is a several day process, the crock pot spends the night in my spare fridge in the pantry.

Except, horror of horrors......

Is this a good time to mention I can be a tad clumsy?

What can I say? Except that I discovered Aldi's now carries organic tomato sauce (marinara or tomato basil) for about $2 a jar. Looks like a stock-up trip is in order.

October 11, 2013

Not Pumpkins

If there's a book of gardening bloopers, this one may be a candidate.

Last spring I bought lots of seeds, because so many new-to-me varieties looked really good. Planting was sporadic because of all the rain and I didn't get everything planted that I wanted. I made a sketch on graph paper of what I planted, when, and where. Then I lost my garden plan.

As the garden began to flourish, I puzzled over one mystery squash, trying to remember what I had planted. As the squashes began to take shape and grow large, I figured they must be spaghetti squash. But they never turned yellow like spaghetti squash. Instead, they turned orange.

They looked like pumpkins but I knew I didn't plant pumpkins this year. I planted orange cushaw instead. I chopped up some of these orange not-pumpkins and fed the to the goats. They loved them. There's no great loss without some small gain, as Ma Ingalls used to say.

One day, while staring at the bed of these now large, mature squashes, it dawned on me that these were Tatume summer squash. I bought them from Baker Creek, after reading how well they did in the Mexican and Texan summer heat. They are supposed to be picked while small and tender, but by the time I realized what they were, it was too late!

This is the size at which they ought to be picked.

Well, almost. I managed to find two small ones and saute them in a little olive oil with a few of our multiplier onions and fresh sweet basil from the garden. This is my favorite way to eat summer squash.

They were delicious! Sweet and tender. Oh, how I lamented all the good summer squash eating we'd missed. Plus, they grew better than the crookneck and pattypan types I'd grown in the past.

On the bright side, I'll have plenty of seeds for next year, and the goats will have good eating too. I may even experiment and see what I can do with mature summer squash. Who knows? I may figure out a tasty way to salvage the lot.

Not Pumpkins © October 2013 

October 8, 2013

Adventures in Guinea Wrangling

Every species of animal we've brought to our homestead has truly enriched our lives. I'm not just talking about them as producers of things we need: eggs, milk, meat, manure, rodent control, etc. Those are the primary motivators, for sure, because we are a working homestead rather than hobbyists. We agreed from the beginning that every animal should have purpose and that we, in turn, would not keep more animals for which we and our land can provide. In addition to their natural gifts, our critters give us a sense of routine and purpose, which is invaluable. But also, each species adds it's own unique personality to the homestead. Each is endlessly fun and fascinating. Our guinea fowl are no exception. They are not only excellent insect eaters but top notch in the entertainment department.

I did my homework before we got them and, in the beginning, set out to "train" them to roost indoors at night. This is sort of a no-brainer against predator loss from owls, raccoons, etc. Unfortunately, guineas are notorious for not cooperating. Even so, I am happy to report that my guineas do indeed go inside at night to roost! However, in compliance for this I am expected to follow a couple of rules.

1. Be on time. Like all other animals, guineas like routine. In fact, if you've every tried to change your routine with your critters, then you know it's easier said than done. It's always best to determine what the routine will be before the animals arrive, and set up their care in a manner that facilitates both animal and human.

My chores begin at first light, when I let the chickens out of their coop first, and then I let out the guineas. I check water and feeder levels, toss some scratch into the chicken yard and give the guineas some "treat," i.e. white proso (parakeet) millet. They clean that up, pour out the door, and fly up to the top of the roof of the buck barn. After their morning conference, they set up a squawk and fly off the roof and into the corn patch. They look like ducks coming in for a pond landing.

After evening milking and before dusk, I make my final check on the guineas and put them up for the night. They are already in the barn but when they hear the gate, a few heads poke out the door to make sure it's me, then they run excitedly back inside. They have been visiting their mirror while waiting, but are eager for their evening treat. Once again I check water and feeder levels, and give them a generous sprinkling of millet before closing them in for the night.

One evening, Dan took me out to dinner. It wasn't a late night out, but we didn't get home until after dark. I was a little concerned about the guineas, so I immediately went to check on them. I arrived by flashlight at the buck barn and was alarmed to discover it was empty. I called in my customary "guineaguineaguinea," and heard a many-footed something thundering from one side of the tin roof to the other. I went out, shined the flashlight up to the roof, and there they were; ten guineas all peering down at me. However, I could not coax them down for anything. It didn't matter how much treat I sprinkled on the ground, they were staying put. Eventually I had no choice but to leave them there.

I was relieved to see them still up there the next morning. They flew down when I arrived, gobbled up their treat, and went on about their guinea business. Happily there were still ten, but I was worried this would set up a new pattern, that of sleeping on the roof instead of coming inside to roost.

That night I arrived "on time" and they were waiting for me inside. It's been like that every night since, unless I arrive too early. Then they all run out again as if they aren't ready to go to roost. As long as I arrive just before dusk, they are ready to bed down and I know they are safe for the night. Lesson learned.

2. Dress appropriately. Appropriately to an animal does not mean the same thing that it does to a human. To a human it means to dress according to the situation. To an animal it means to dress as expected. Part of the routine is you, the keeper, showing up as they expect to see you.

Usually I do all my chores in work clothes, an old t-shirt with optional old jacket and an old skirt or old jeans. If, for example, when it's raining hard and I wear a poncho to do chores, I can expect some nervousness amongst our animals until I call to reassure them. Once they recognize my voice they calm down. Not so with the guineas. One rainy evening I arrived in a red poncho which sent an immediate alarm through the guinea ranks. I tried to reassure them it was me but, they were in such a frantic panic, they couldn't hear my voice. I thought I was going to have ten guinea heart attacks and ten dead guineas! Lesson learned.

I suppose it might be argued that the guineas aren't the ones who are trained, rather, I am. Actually I have no problem with that! As long as they're safe and healthy, I'm willing to do whatever it takes. No matter who's in charge.

Adventures in Guinea Wrangling © October 2013 

October 3, 2013

The Garden at Change of Season

I've been admiring some beautiful gardens around the internet. And I truly mean admire, because the ones I've seen are well tended. Me? Well, the honest truth is that my garden is a mess.

My beds are overgrown with morning glories, Bermuda,
and other grasses,so that the beds all seem to run together.

It's been a challenging year for gardening with seemingly nonstop rain, no sun, and mud topping the list. Then there's been poor germination (too much rain?) and scant harvest (too little sun?) I've also lost this year's battle in my ongoing war with wire grass aka Bermuda grass. I started early with heavy mulch, like about 8 inches in the asparagus bed, for example, but the wiregrass spread right out over the top of and took over.

Jerusalem artichokes blooming. Morning glories
and mature summer squash brighten the foreground.

Then there's the ants. If I was in the chocolate covered ant business, we'd be millionaires. They are always a problem but worse this year. These are the small biting kind and their bites hurt and leave welts. I'd say every time I was out in the garden I got at least half a dozen bites. It took a lot of the fun out of it for me.

Wild muscadines. We haven't had these since our first year here. I didn't get
many because the goats eat the vines. The rest grew too high up the trees.

The summer harvest was not abundant which has meant I've done very little canning this year. But, we had enough enough for daily eating for the two of us. I won't complain about that.

All my corn has done well, thanks to plenty of nitrogen this year. I previously mentioned that this has been an abundant year for compost, of which the corn benefited greatly.

Japanese Hull-less popcorn. Probably not a year's worth,
but I'm thankful for what I have!

I've had excellent pollination with almost all kernels developed, also, very few problems with disease and insects.

Earth Tones Dent Corn, seed from R.H.Shumway.
How could I resist anything with a name like that?

Husking helpers. I save the leaves & stalks to feed the goats.

Still to harvest are my sweet potatoes, field corn, cowpeas, and orange cushaw winter squash.

Orange cushaw winter squash

I decided to try these this year instead of pumpkins. I've used them in the past as a pumpkin substitute and no one was the wiser for my "pumpkin pie." They certainly have done better than my past pumpkin attempts. I will harvest at least two huge ones before first frost.

Of my front yard herb garden, I have very few new herbs. I planted 15 types of seeds, but very few germinated. The sweet basil I planted with the tomatoes, catnip near the house, and marshmallow in the front yard.

Marshmallow blooming

I've been planting the fall garden bed by bed: kale, beets, carrots, onion seed, lettuce, radish, and broccoli so far. Unfortunately, the deer have been grazing the tops off of the beets and nibbling on the sweet potato vines.

Various types of purchased cabbage plants

Even though I have the seed, I bought cabbage and cabbage-collard plants. Time got away from me!

Watering with collected rainwater.

We had a dry spell during the first half of September, so I watered the new transplants with rainwater from our rainwater tanks. The sprinkler above is primitive by modern standards; it has no moving parts (but never breaks!) Between the tanks and gravity, I get just enough pressure to water the width of the bed.

With first frost expected this month, it's time to finish fall/winter planting. Throughout the dormant season we'll rake and haul the zillions of leaves on the ground, and pile them in the beds as a blanket of mulch. Like tucking the garden into bed for it's winter rest. All the while I'll promise myself I'll stay on top of it next year, knowing that next year will likely be the same and that a year from now, I'll be shaking my head at what an overgrown mess the garden is. Ah well.

The Garden at Change of Season © October 2013 

October 1, 2013

House Exterior Done For Now

Some house projects are primary, some are ancillary. Remodeling our future bedroom meant new windows, and new windows meant structural repairs plus refinishing the exterior of our house. As tempting as it is to continue, we had to find a stopping point in order to resume the primary project, the bedroom. So this is where we stopped and how the house will remain until we can get to replacing the windows in the corner bedroom.

The new siding covers the exterior of the middle bedroom, the bathroom, and the back porch. You can see where we stopped at the corner on the left. The back wall of the porch is still covered with the old vinyl siding. But if I take a photo from this angle....

I love this color of paint. It changes depending on the light
and angle it's viewed from. It can range light to dark blue.

.... we get a glimpse of how our house will look when the entire thing is done. We sided and painted the back part when we replaced kitchen windows two years ago.

After the bedroom is done and we've moved in, we can replace the remaining windows on that side of the house, then do the new siding. Our long range plan is to build a soil filtration bed along that side of the house for laundry greywater, and put pergolas over the windows for growing shade producing vines in summer.

Sketch for laundry greywater soil filtration bed idea.

That won't happen any time soon(!) but it's good to have the big picture in mind as we discuss what needs to be done. We think ahead to the front of the house too, where the front porch needs a lot of repair. We don't have all that figured out yet, but when it's time to do it we will.

House Exterior Done For Now © October 2013