December 30, 2010

Evaluating Our 2010 Homestead Goals

In my last post, I took a look back over 2010 and hit the highlights. We accomplished a lot, but really, that was due to the goals we set last year. Recently, Dan and I spent some time evaluating those goals, in preparation for 2011. This post shares that evaluation.

We met many of our 2010 goals, but some we didn't. Some are still in progress, and some we realized are part of a bigger picture which needs to be addressed as such, rather than as random projects.

Goals we accomplished:

~ Find septic tank. Check. That adventure here.

~ Investigate the water heater. Check. It needs to be replaced, which we will do as soon as we finish the bathroom. New one will go in the new utility room, which will require some plumbing work too. (Old one is in crawl space).

~ Make a decision about our HVAC system. Check. Completion post here.

~ Evaluate our home and energy usage in terms of sub-systems, exploring possible energy alternatives for each of these. Check. This was mostly observation of sun and wind patterns, and research on what's feasible for our area. Use of solar or wind power would be limited, not justifying the cost of putting such systems in. That doesn't mean we might not eventually use these in some smaller subsystems, but we realize they will only be functional at certain times of the year.

~ Finish the goat fence and shed and get goats. Check.

~ Likewise chicken house, yard and chickens. Check.

~ Experiment growing some small patches of grains. Check: amaranth and wheat.

~ Prepare for & experiment with overwintering root crops in the garden. Check. Well, I didn't really experiment, I just did what I did last year, mulched them. The experiment is in the amount and types of root crops I planted.

~ Preserve all our vegetable needs for next winter and spring from the garden. Time will tell. Click here for a tour of my pantry.

Goals we didn't accomplish:

~ A solar water heating system Contingent on the new water heater mentioned above, which requires relocating when installed

~ Pointing (where needed) & sealing the home's brick foundation.

~ Start insulating the floor. So far nothing has been done with this one. However, the bathroom floor will be the first. That coming up soon. What Dan did do however, was to cover gaps in the foundation at the front of the house. These allowed cold north winds and drafts to blow in and around under the house. Some of these found their way up between the inner and outer walls, which noticeably chilled rooms on the northwest side of the house. We've noticed a definite difference from blocking off those gaps.

~ Put in electrical add outlets on the front and back porches, and fix one in our bedroom. DH decided to do these when the individual rooms are remodeled, rather than as one big separate electrical project. The back porch will be first, because it needs some work before we can remodel the kitchen. The front porch will wait until warmer weather when we replace the front door. Likewise the bedroom outlet, which will be part of the master suite project we're contemplating.

~ Cold frames &/or hoop houses

Goals in progress:

~ Remodel the back bathroom. Progress report here.

~ Finish planting perennial fruits. Does one ever finish planting? LOL

~ Plant only open pollinated seed and save all seed for 2011. Check on part one. I want to experiment with some other varieties and veggies next year, so eventually I won't be buying any more seeds for that. Here's a list of the seeds I did save for next year.

Goals we've re-evaluated & re-assigned:

~ Improve drainage around the house 

~ Rain catchment 1 - as an extension of improving drainage by channeling rain runoff into a collection area behind the house

~ Rain catchment 2 - utilize rain barrels. 

~ Shade for setting sun side of house. 

All of these will be implemented as part of the water conservation plan we're working on, even shade for the northwest side of the house. I'll have details on all of that in a couple of days.

I admit that it was an overly ambitious list and it's amazing that we got as much accomplished as we did. Almost all the credit for that goes to my husband. He's a motivated, hands-on kind of guy. His job cooperates too. As a dedicated product over the road truck driver, he has good chunks of time off, enabling us to work on projects for several days at a time.

I think too, we have somewhat of a sense of urgency in getting our homestead in order. Had we started 20 or 30 years ago, when our family was young, we would have long since been established by now. So our age is one factor. On top of that is an uncertain future for our nation and the world. What goes up, must eventually come down, so the things we're doing only make sense to us.

All in all, I'm extremely happy with the progress we've made and the goals we met. I have to say that next year's list of goals won't be quite so lengthy. We're putting the finishing touches on that, so I'll have that posted soon.

Evaluating Our 2010 Homestead Goals © December 2010 by Leigh at

December 28, 2010

2010: Year In Review

Time is a funny thing, isn't it? The days, hours, and minutes are units of measurement, each one specific in duration, never altering or fluctuating. Yet when I think about our being here, on our homestead, it can either feel like we've been here forever, or like we've only just arrived. I know you all can relate to that.

When we bought the place a little over a year and a half ago, we were full of plans and excitement. Some days since then we feel like we've accomplished a lot, other days, all we see are the things needing to be done. These loom over our heads and cloud our vision, casting a shadow over what we've already accomplished.

One thing that helped last year, was my 2009: Year In Review post. It helped to pause and take stock of what we've done. Here is a look back at 2010.


We were still working on the dining and living room hardwood floors, finishing up the details. We started evaluating our small second bathroom with an eye to remodeling. I did a bit of transplanting around the place, relocating hardy hibiscus, azaleas, irises, daffodils, and daylilies. We ate the last of our green picked, window sill ripened, garden tomatoes. We started researching and getting ready for baby chicks. January made its exit with an ice storm.


Our chicks arrived. We got a start on our spring vegetable garden, and planted strawberries and fruit bushes. It was also the month we began evaluating what we are doing and clarifying what we are about:
   Why We're Not A Hobby Farm
   Farm? Homestead? What Are We About? and
   A Self-Supporting Homestead


The spring garden was just starting to sprout and I was still harvesting from the fall garden. We started evaluating and researching HVAC systems. This was also the month we resumed working on the fence for the first goat field. The homestead "find" of the month was the old swimming pool.


We were still working on the goat fence. I bought and planted 30 comfrey plants for livestock feed and compost. I also started evaluating our food self-sufficiency goal and how much I'd need to plant to reach that goal.


We got our first goats! The chickens were finally big enough to free range. I got a start on my herb garden. Dan bought his first snath & scythe and we hand harvested our first hay crop. We finally found our septic tank and discovered there was no leach field for our septic system. Shortly afterward we had a new drainfield put in. May is also the month we got Katy and Riley.


I bought my first registered Nubian doe, with a view to eventually raise Kinders. We got our first egg, and butchered chickens for the first time. June was the month our rooster became a man.


July had a sad start when we lost Rascal. On a happier note, we finally finished the dining room. In July we started harvesting blueberries, tomatoes, potatoes and onions. July was also the first time we could look back and evaluate a full year's energy consumption.


We got our llama! The garden harvest was in full swing and it was our month for figs. House project for the month was insulating the ductwork under the house, in preparation for installing the new HVAC system. Also in August, I sold one of our two grade goats and bought my 2nd registered Nubian.


We finally got the HVAC in, after the summer heat had passed. We also made progress on our bathroom remodel. In the garden, we finished up the summer harvest. We also started making plans for a new fencing project.


Traditionally the month highlighting scary things, we had a scary close call when a hawk almost nabbed one of our chickens. Consequently our scarecrow made its debut. We worked on (and finished) fencing our second field for the goats and Charlie. Dan also started building a shelter for the animals in the new field. It was also the month I unveiled my new pantry and summer preservation efforts.


I re-evalutated our food self-sufficiency goal. I cleaned deep litter out the chicken coop for the first time, and the fall garden was the best I'd ever had. Progress on the bathroom included plumbing and  wallpapering. After a number of foiled breeding plans, I finally got a buck. Not what I originally wanted, but one to hopefully do the job (time will tell).


We bought our woodburning cookstove and started looking toward kitchen remodeling plans. In the bathroom, Dan put up the wainscoting and put down the tile floor. We were still getting plenty of fresh root crops and salad greens from the fall garden. Also window sill ripened tomatoes. My Meyers lemon tree bloomed for the first time and I had my very first pancake patch! At the end of December, Petey went to a new home.

As I read this over, I notice a lot of firsts and new things. It reminds me that we are in the establishment phase of our homestead. While we are nowhere near being self-sufficient, almost everything we do heads us in that direction and I'm happy with our progress.

How about you? What are your highlights for 2010?

2010: Year In Review © December 2010 by Leigh at

December 26, 2010

Garden Analysis for 2010

Christmas snow

Our Christmas snow turned out to be about 2 inches. It started around sunset, continued on through the night, and still falls gently today. This morning not a creature was stirring, nor wanted to venture out in the snow, but everybody wanted to be fed!

Snow makes the garden look decidedly tucked in for it's long winter's nap....

Snow covered garden

... so this may be a good time to publish this post, which I've been working on for awhile. These are my thoughts on what my garden taught me this year, and what I'd like to do differently next year.

Garden notes on things I want to 
remember, research, repeat, or resolve

Things that did well this year:

Amaranth, Giant Golden (or is it Golden Giant?) - did well in dry conditions.

Beets, Red Detroit - very happy with these, both for greens and roots

Black turtle beans - produced well even during our dry spell with little watering

  • DiCiccio though slow to start producing
  • Waltham 29 - poor germination but larger heads than DiCiccio. Will save seed & try these again

Bush beansState 1/2 Runner - ditto to what I wrote about the black turtle beans. Originally a substitute for a drying bean I ordered. Very prolific. These supplied most of my beans for canning this year. Dried seeds can be used as soup beans.

Calendula (pot marigold) - slow to get going but showy. I collected lots of seeds to plant and harvest a bunch next year.

Carrots, Scarlet Nantes - theses are the first carrots I've grown that have attained a decent size in our clay soils. Very sweet eating too.

Herbs, oragano, thyme, rosemary, sage, sweet basil, dill, yarrow, echinacea - all did very well though 1st year echinacea is just leaves. Apparently though, I have 2 different kinds of thyme plants. I noticed a distinct difference in smell.

Lettuce, Parris Cos Romaine - mine never do make a true Romaine head. Need to stagger plantings better.

Marigolds - long lasting and prolific! I've been reading though, that some varieties are better against nematodes than others (when planted as a cover crop), so I may try another variety next year.

Melons - ate our fill & had plenty to give away
  • Cantaloupe, Hale's Best
  • Watermelon, Small Sugar

Okra, Clemson Spineless - the only problem was aphids and ants toward the very end. Discovered the goats love the whole plant.

Potatoes, Red Pontiac - did well. My problems was planting too early. I need to plant a few in the spring for summer potatoes, but the bulk around July for winter storage

Radishes, Cherry Belle, Pink Beauty, & China Rose - The China Rose are supposed to be good winter keepers but I planted too late for much size. Need to stagger plantings for these as well.

Swiss Chard, Fordhook Giant - it took a break when it got hot, then came back. Survived several frosts.

Turnips, Purple Top White Globe - produced beautifully

Winter SquashButtercup - got a goodly amount for storage. Have seen them bigger in the grocery store though

Things that had problems (and what I believe them to be):

Cabbage plants - Dutch Flat and Savoy
  • had to purchase because I was too late to plant my own seed
  • growth seemed really slow, heads small. More compost?
  • cabbage moths
  • fall plants did much better than spring

Cucumbers, National Pickling
  • Mosaic virus
  • - need to research treatment

Horseradish -
  • Planted with the potatoes as an insect repellent companion
  • Spread outside of its pots 
  • This is a problem because it is a hybrid variety
  • Needs its own bed
  • Probably need to find an heirloom or OP variety

  • spindly, died quickly, no flowers - they don't grow well in this part of the south. Ah well. Just thought I'd give them a try anyway. I loved growing them when I lived in Arkansas.

  • sets grew well, but some bulbs developed soft spots on one side. I haven't been able to identify the problem yet though
  • seeds never germinated

Pole Beans, Kentucky Wonder
  • The problem was that I used the popcorn as poles. Japanese Hulless just doesn't grow tall enough
  • Not as prolific as the bush beans, but I do like not having to bend over to pick them.

Parsnips, Harris Model
  • didn't sprout as in nothing grew
  • probably planted too late 

Popcorn, Japanese Hulless
  • corn earworm
  • one success however, was no cross pollination with my sweet corn

PumpkinsSmall Sugar
  • poor germination
  • poor production, only got 2
  • I believe lack of water was part of the problem

Rutagabas, Purple Top
  • didn't germinate, nothing grew
  • probably planted to late

Strawberries - both June and everbearing
  • overrun with a creeping, spreading "wire" grass, even with landscape cloth & mulch

Summer Squash, Yellow Prolific Straightneck
  • bacterial wilt
  • squash bugs 

Sweet Corn, Stowell's Evergreen
  • poor germination
  • hence poor pollination
  • corn earworm

Sweet potatoesPorto Rico Bush
  • grew well even in dry conditions
  • Black rot (a fungal disease) noted on tubers during curing

Tomatoes (both my Romas & Rutgers)
  • Blossom end rot - resolved with Enz-Rot calcium spray
  • Anthracnose - initially I thought they succumbed to blight, but when the plants recovered and started producing again, I figured I was wrong. Finally identified anthracnose from this site
  • Fusarium or verticullium wilt? 

  • Powdery mildew
  • Anthracnose? - noted dark spots on fruit 
  • planted for fall crop but they didn't get enough heat

Thoughts on those things
  • Most of my problems were diseases rather than pests. Seems though, that pests are easier to control than diseases. Or at least, organic pest control products are more effective than organic disease control products. I haven't had success even when used prophylactically. 
  • What saved my tomato preservation was the number of plants. If these had been healthy, I would have had too many tomatoes. As it was, I got barely enough, and actually I would have liked more.
  • Bush beans vs pole beans (???) I like the productivity of bush beans, but like the ease of picking pole beans. Opinions?

Things I'd like to do differently next year
  • Finishing mulching before I start canning in June!
  • Plant potatoes for a fall crop
  • Try some new stuff:
    • asparagus
    • Egyptian walking onions
    • and/or potato onions
    • ramps
    • and more
  • Try different varieties of:
    • lettuce - needs to be a Romaine type, or else I need to learn to grow Iceberg too, for DH (his favorite)
    • sweet potatoes - or maybe just certified disease free slips, or both
    • amaranth - golden giant is too giant, though produces excellently
    • sunflowers - want to switch to black oil for feed
    • Swiss chard - just to compare 
    • potatoes - in addition to Red Pontiac, which we like
    • Horseradish - try to find an heirloom or at least OP variety
    • marigolds - used a grocery store seed pack but will switch to a French dwarf variety (Tagetes patula) which are reputed to be the best for nematode control
  • Do more mixed companion beds à la Sally Jean Cunningham's Great Garden Companions
  • Grow a patch of field corn, with pole beans and pumpkins
  • Get my cabbage seeds started early enough and plant enough for a big batch of sauerkraut!
  • Grow more:
    • cucumbers
    • pumpkins
    • varieties of winter squashes
    • turnips and beets
    • sweet potatoes. Maybe try an additional variety too. I've gotten such good recipe ideas from you all that I want more next year.
  • Watermelons grow don't ripen well once the weather turns cooler. Pull vines earlier.
  • Expand herb gardens (these will be raised beds)
  • Cold frames next spring, row covers next winter
  • Semi-permanent irrigation for the tomatoes. I plan to put down a soaker hose when I put in my plants and leave it there. It will be covered with mulch, but will be in place for more consistent watering. I think that was part of my tomato problem.
  • Get some Tattler canning lids

So much to do! The other thing I'm learning is to take both successes and failures all in stride. Our time, money, and energy have to be divided amongst many things. Not only the garden, but upgrading the house, but also in simply establishing our homestead in general. There are lots of one time jobs (like fencing and remodeling) which take resources from other projects. I'm learning to be patient and simply chip away at it as we go along.

Garden Analysis for 2010 © December 2010 by Leigh at

December 25, 2010

White Christmas

Snow falling

Snow flakes had been falling on and off on Christmas day, but it wasn't until time for evening chores that it started to really come down.

Flash shot of snow falling

As a kid growing up in northern Illinois, I used to hope, wish, and pray for a white Christmas. I don't know why, but a white Christmas seemed truly magical to a kid.

Fluffy snow flakes sticking to Jasmine's back

Usually though, our snow came in January through March, so a white Christmas was rare. I'm sure today's snow was a real treat for a lot of kids around here.

Merry Christmas from all of us to all of you.

Our temperatures are still a bit above freezing, so I'm not sure what it will be like in the morning. At any rate, I hope you had a very happy holiday.

White Christmas © December 2010 Leigh at

December 23, 2010

A Few Favorite Christmas Recipes

Alla (Mountain Valley Farms) recently posted some of her favorite Christmas recipes and invited readers to do the same. Even though I did a lengthy recipe post for Thanksgiving, I've been so busy this month that I hadn't thought about sharing any Christmas recipes.

My Christmas menu isn't set in stone like Thanksgiving. One turkey a year is good enough for us, so the Christmas entree is always up in the air. One of my favorites was a crown roast with cranberry/sausage stuffing. Impressive and tasty. These are hard to find and expensive, so other years we've tried other things. Goose didn't go over very well (must have been me), and no one seems very enthusiastic when I mention duck, but ham is always acceptable. A good pork roast is in order this year.

Some things though, are traditional. Our Christmas Eve dinner for example. Throughout Advent, I make our favorite Christmas cookies and freeze a half dozen or so from each batch. Christmas Eve, I make pepperoni bread and we have that variety of Christmas cookies for dessert. That evening we attend a candlelight service at church and take the long way home to enjoy Christmas lights, listening to Charles Dickens Christmas Carol on tape. This tour always ends with a stop for ice cream. Brrr, I know! I don't know how we started doing that but it quickly became a family tradition!

A few things are traditional for Christmas dinner as well. Baked sweet potatoes with cinnamon butter. My grandmother's cinnamon apples. Pumpkin pie for dessert. My great-grandmother's lemon cream pie until last year. Last year we had our own pecans, (at least we had what the squirrels didn't get) and I found organic corn syrup, so I made my very first pecan pie. (There's also a Christmas chocolate-pecan layer cookie recipe at that link.)

The recipe for cinnamon apples does not tip the scale much toward healthful, but it's a tradition. I'm sure it could be made without the candies and red food coloring, but that red color is signature for Christmas!

Cinnamon Apples

This is the starter recipe. Once made, it keeps in the fridge until the following Christmas.  I've toted mine around the country through several long distance moves. The flavor only improves with each year's simmering!

2 C *apple juice concentrate, not diluted
1 C sugar
1/2 C cinnamon candies, like Red Hots
a little red food coloring

*Original recipe calls for 2 cups of water and a chopped apple. I substituted juice for convenience.

Mix and bring to a boil. Peel and core as many of your favorite cooking apples as you'd like to serve. (Original recipe calls for Jonathans, but most years I've only been able to find Granny Smiths). Simmer whole apples until tender but not too soft. Chill before serving.

Leftover liquid can be refrigerated until next year. I add a little of each ingredient if I don't have quite enough.

Also, here's my pepperoni bread recipe. My husband is Italian (half actually, but apparently the other half doesn't count), and this recipe came from his mother (ironically, the non-Italian half).

Pepperoni Bread

One batch of your favorite bread dough (enough for one loaf -
     this is one recipe I make with 100% unbleached white)
A package of sliced pepperoni
Provolone cheese, preferably grated, but slices cut in thin strips will do.

Roll out the bread dough as for pizza. Layer pepperoni and cheese over all, roll, and pinch all edges. Bake at 350F in French bread pan or baking sheet (or on pizza stone), for 35 to 45 minutes or until crust is browned. Slice and serve.

[HINT: A serrated bread knife makes it easier to slice fresh hot bread]

Those are two of the recipes that really "make" Christmas for us. It's funny how traditions can do that, but thats why I think traditions are important. Ask most adults about any holiday and chances are they will talk about the things their own families did year after year.

How many of you shared some of your traditional Christmas recipes on your blogs? Show of hands, please!  I'll try to drop by over the next several days to check them out because as much as I like our traditions, making new ones is fun too.

December 21, 2010

Tiling The Bathroom Floor (In Pictures)

Bathroom remodel progress continued from here.

Laying out the tile to estimate fit

The marble threshold is laid first

Cutting tiles with masonry blade
Nice clean cut

Nice clean fit

Nipping off tiny bits to fit around the toilet 

Tiles adhere to the cement board with thinset mortar


Almost done. It needs to cure for 48 hours before sealing.

After the grout is sealed, we'll do the baseboard.

December 19, 2010

An Herbal Salve For Jasmine

I reckon I could also call this an update on Jasmine. In general, I'd have to say that she's doing well. It's hard to tell how much improvement there's been. The sore is no longer oozing and the teat is gradually getting less hard. Treatment includes the antiobiotic injections prescribed by the vet. However, I have only nominal faith in allopathic medicine, and so I have added more natural means of promoting healing as well.

One is garlic, which I liquefy with water in the blender, a couple of cloves per 1/4 cup water. This is administered orally, 10 cc in a 12 cc syringe. Fresh garlic contains sulphur compounds, specifically allicin, alliin, and ajoene. These are what make it a powerful anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal agent. She doesn't like it, but gets a nice chunk of apple following dosing.

The other thing I'm doing is massaging the teat several times a day with an herbal salve. I made it with dried powered herbs, beeswax, and vegetable oil.

Ingredients for an herbal salve

The basic recipe is:
  • 1 - 2 oz dried herb
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 oz beeswax
For this preparation I'm using herbs that promote tissue healing. It is not my formula, but rather comes from Dr. Christopher via H.E.A.L. Marketplace: white oak bark, comfrey, mullein, marshmallow root, black walnut hulls, gravel root, wormwood, skullcap, and lobelia.

For the vegetable oil, I chose food grade grocery store vegetable oil. My personal choice for cooking oils are coconut and olive. Both of these are often used in salve making, but both also solidify in cool temps (Coconut at 77º F / 25º C, and olive at 36º F / 2º C). Since the salve contains herbs, it needs to be refrigerated to keep it from spoiling. I needed an oil that wouldn't solidify under refrigeration.

The choice of oils is largely dictated by personal preference. Ones that I would definitely not use are mineral oil, petroleum jelly, and/or paraffin. I know these are considered food grade and are common in cosmetics, skin care products, and medicinal preparations, but the problem is that they coat the skin. Petroleum molecules themselves are too large to penetrate skin pores, but whether or not they block penetration of the healing properties of herbs and other ingredients is the subject of some controversy. For that reason alone I prefer to use vegetable oils and beeswax, but besides that, I'm trying to eliminate as many products containing petroleum as I can.

James Green, in The Herbal Medicine-Maker's Handbook,  also suggests using food shortening as an alternative for oil and beeswax. We don't use hydrogenated oil in our diet, so I don't keep the stuff around. Still, it never goes rancid and might make a good emergency backup.

I get the beeswax locally, as you see it on the left. It runs $5 a pound around here, so that cone on the left cost a little under $2. Someday of course, I hope to have my own beeswax.

The first step is to make an herbal oil. This is done by mixing the herbs in the oil and allowing them to steep in warm oil. The oil must be kept below the simmering point as a safety precaution. Consequently it requires several hours steeping in hot oil. For some things, I like to powder my dried herbs.

Coffee grinder
for powdering herbs
The reason I powder my herbs is to expose more of their surface area. I believe this enables more of the medicinal properties to be infused, into oil in this case, or into alcohol or vinegar for a tincture or tonic. To powder my herbs, I have dedicated an inexpensive electric coffee grinder (left) for this purpose. It works really well and is easy to clean afterward.

Next the herbs can be strained out. Mine being powdered however, probably wouldn't strain out, so I left them in. This particular herbal combination is recommended as a poultice anyway, so I don't mind the herbs being left in the salve.

Melting in the beeswax
The beeswax is allowed to melt in the herbal oil. I left it as a chunk, but chopping it into smaller bits would melt it faster. Once melted, the concoction is poured into a container for keeping and allowed to cool. If properly done, it should be a nice, salve-like consistency. Testing of consistency can be hurried a bit, by placing a small amount in the fridge to allow it to cool more quickly. If too soft it needs more beeswax, if too hard it needs more oil.

Testing salve consistency
I didn't test it that way, and my salve was still a bit thick. Rather than adding more oil however, I added aloe vera gel, which I've found to be very healing for skin problems. In addition, I added a little cayenne pepper, to stimulate blood flow to the area.

When I give Jasmine her garlic and apple, I also wash her udder with warm water and soap, rinse, and then massage the salve onto the affected teat. She'd rather I didn't do this, but she tolerates it (and me), especially if she's distracted with something to eat. The good news is that she no longer flinches when I touch it.

For now I'll administer the antibiotic as prescribed by the vet and continue the rest of the treatment until she's healed.

And while I'm at it, I'll put in a plug for my little eBook, How To Make an Herbal Salve: an introduction to salves, creams, ointments, & more. It gives more detailed clear directions plus discusses herbs, other ingredients, plus covers creams, ointments, and more.

December 17, 2010

The Garden in December

Actually, there's not much to show you. The first week of December was mild, with frosts at night but 40s during the day. The garden still looked pretty good.

Fall garden 1st week of December

Week two we got hit with a hard freeze. For days we had lows in the teens and highs not getting out of the 30s. What didn't freeze wilted from the cold.

Fall garden after hard freeze

While much of the rest of the northern hemisphere was getting buried in snow, the third week of December here brought only a few stray flakes coming down. Then Thursday we woke up to a freezing rain which coated everything with a thin, slippery layer of ice.

Freezing rain on the ice covered broccoli

Those aren't snowflakes in the photo above, they're raindrops freezing on the way down. The flash caught them coming down.

We're still getting plenty of fresh vegetables though. I harvested the last of the broccoli right after the plants froze. There was enough for a broccoli, dried cranberry, and toasted almond salad. Next spring we're likely to get another growth of it, and then I'll collect broccoli seeds.

I also harvested the frozen cabbage heads (sauteed cabbage and onions, yum!). Then there are still fresh turnips, beets, and carrots to harvest as long as the ground isn't frozen solid. We've eaten a lot of turnips; diced and roasted with potatoes mostly, or mashed with potatoes. I've also made several yummy batches of sauerruben. I remembered to mark a few turnips in the garden to let flower and go to seed. These will be saved for next year's seed.

Having all these plus the Swiss chard and salad greens has meant that we've used very little of our pantry stock, except when we want some variety.

Annual rye in the sunlight.

Lastly our winter green manure. We planted annual rye is at the far end of the garden, where we tilled in the chicken litter. It's only coming up sporadically, thanks (I think) to our $1 seed spreader. Maybe we don't have the hang of it yet! Still, my gardening philosophy is that something is better than nothing.

I recently blogged about the winter wheat, which still looks good. Next month I can start my cabbage plants inside. In the meantime I'll work on staying warm by perusing the 2011 garden catalogues. :)

December 15, 2010

Our Christmas Tree. Likely Doomed This Year

Dan and I went out the other day to cut a Christmas tree from the goat field. It didn't take long before decorating efforts looked like they were going to prove fruitless.

After repeated "no"s and chasing them off a few times, I thought they got the message.

Apparently not.

Well, it is Riley and Katy's first Christmas, but I think redecorating the bottom half of the tree every morning is going to test my Christmas spirit.  :)

As usual, photos & text of Our Christmas Tree. Likely Doomed This Year © December 2010 Leigh at Please respect my copyright.

December 13, 2010

Life Is Gonna Give Me Lemons

Dwarf Meyer lemon blossoms
My dwarf Meyer lemon tree is blooming! I bought it about two years ago, and was beginning to wonder if it ever would.

It and my aloe vera are the only potted plants that I have. I just don't have a green thumb when it comes to potted plants, so these blooms are especially exciting to me.

This little tree lived outside all summer, and fortunately I remembered to water it fairly regularly. Before our first expected frost I moved it into my studio, where it can get plenty of light. It has rewarded me with an abundance of  fragrant, pale pink blossoms.

I know very little about these trees, nor about Meyers lemons themselves. With my track record with potted plants, the fact that its blooming is very hopeful. Maybe there's a greenhouse in my future after all.

Lemon Blossoms and Katy in Basket

Life Is Gonna Give Me Lemons © December 2010 Leigh at

December 11, 2010

Some Not So Good News About Jasmine

Sweet Jasmine
I was very much alarmed the other day, when I noticed scabs on one of Jasmine's teats. I took a closer look and saw that the right side of her udder was hard, had scabs, and one weeping sore. I hadn't paid a whole lot of attention to her udder since I stopped milking her in September. Her appetite had been excellent, and her behavior hadn't changed. Still, I felt very much ashamed that I hadn't noticed this immediately. The teat wasn't hot to touch, fortunately. The next morning I took her to the vet.

He said it was definitely infected, and prescribed Benzillin injections every other day for a total of four doses. The bad news is that there was some necrosis of the tissue. He said this would slough off, but that the teat would probably seal itself off in the healing process. If this happens, it means she won't be able to be milked on this side. He went so far as to suggest that if I was planning to cull any animals, she would be a candidate.

This leads to the question about the reason I got Petey. Is she pregnant? I never saw that she was all that interested in him, but that doesn't mean anything. Petey likely goes to a new home in the next couple of days, which is probably just as well.

Well, I'm neither ready to cull her nor give up hope. For the time being I'm going to give her the antiobiotic and use an herbal salve we learned about from HEAL Marketplace called "Bone, Flesh & Cartilage." It contains white oak bark, comfrey, mullein, marshmallow root, black walnut hulls, gravel root, wormwood, skullcap, and lobelia. It definitely won't hurt and I have every reason to believe it will help. Only time will tell.

Jasmine, happy to be home from the vet's.

December 9, 2010

Progress On The Bathroom: Wainscoting

And we are making progress! I'm working from the top down, which means we're at the halfway mark for the interior finishes! 

The next step after the wallpaper, was the wainscoting. I want wainscoting to cover the lower half of three of the bathroom walls to visually brighten this small room, and provide to a backsplash of sorts for the corner sink.

The commercial wainscoting available locally is chair rail height, 36 inches. I really wanted it a little taller than that, so Dan made ours from 4x8 foot bead board panels. These were cut in half for a 48 inch tall wainscoting. At that height however, we had some challenges to deal with. There were a number of workarounds for these, but since height is arbitrary, we decided to let our "problem areas" determine exactly how tall our wainscoting would be.

One of those areas was the light switch. 48 inches split the switchplate in half, which meant more cutting and fitting for the wainscoting trim. Not that this wasn't possible, but with so many projects vying for our attention, we're learning to make decisions based on resource availability. By that I particularly mean time, energy, and money. We could go for the fanciest results, or the cheapest, or something in between. When we first bought the place, we were filled with ambitions of true period restoration. Then reality sank in. Perhaps if the house were the only thing we have to do, it would be possible. But it isn't. We want a comfortable, aesthetic, somewhat updated home, but especially we want a homestead. That means we have to make choices about the house they are in line with those goals.

The easiest way to deal with the switch plate was to put the wainscoting higher, than 48", to allow the trim to just clear the switch plate. The trim itself (right), is panel moulding. It has a lip on the back which fits over the top of the paneling, giving the whole thing a nice, finished appearance. We could have special ordered wainscoting top and bottom moulding, but figured the convenience wasn't worth the expense.

Raising the height of the wainscoting however, leaves a gap at the bottom.

This will be easily remedied with baseboard moulding. After the wainscoting is up, we'll lay the tile floor and then choose a moulding to cover the gap.

Another "problem" area was the small space in this window corner. My original idea called for wainscoting going around this corner to cover  both walls. The window sill though is 44.5 inches from the floor and well below the top of the wainscoting. After installing the wainscoting on the right hand wall, the corner looked like the photo lower right.

The question about how to treat the small space between the corner and the window was pause for consideration. We decided to put the window trim and panel moulding up and see how it looked then.

That we did, and below left is how it looks at present....

Now I ask myself, should
I have left the wainscoting on two walls only and simply have papered all the way under the window? Should I have insisted that DH do some fancy woodworking for a 1 inch gap on the wall? Will anyone notice from a galloping horse?

It's a simple project with lots of little challenges often due to the tiny size of the room. Actually, challenges seem to be the rule with everything we do. In the end though, it always seems to work out. :)

Progress On The Bathroom: Wainscoting © December 2010 by Leigh at

December 7, 2010

My Pancake Patch

If the title of this post puzzled you, and the photo of that patch of pretty grass offered no clue, then chances are you haven't read much Gene Logsdon, one of the most helpful authors for homesteaders and small farmers. You can read all about his pancake patch here.

On the other hand, if I had entitled this post "My Wheat Patch", it would have been crystal clear. But what fun is that!

One of my goals for the year, was to experiment with growing grains. I had a successful go with amaranth for chicken and goat feed, but the one I really wanted to try was hard wheat. Wheat is commonly grown on plains areas, not the southeast US, so I wasn't sure if I could even do it. Still, I wanted to give it a try and see what I could learn.

It only took a little research to discover that wheat can indeed, be grown in my part of the country. The reason it isn't commonly seen, has more to do with commercial interests rather than homesteaders' interests.

To grow wheat for bread making, I needed to grow winter hard wheat. This simply means wheat sown in the fall rather than the spring (i.e. spring wheat.) Hard wheat is used for bread baking because it is highest in gluten, the protein which gives bread dough the elasticity needed for a good rise. Soft wheat is starchier, with less gluten, and makes tender baked goods.

I didn't buy special seed, I just used wheat berries I had on hand. Dan tilled compost into last summer's 5 by 25 foot cucumber patch, and this because my experimental pancake patch. It sprouted in less than a week and all I can say is so far so good.

Book lover and collector that I am, I do have two resources to share with you:

Gene Logsdon (of course), Small-Scale Grain Raising: An Organic Guide to Growing, Processing, and Using Nutritions Whole Grains for Home Gardeners and Local Farmers, and

Homegrown Whole Grains: Grow, Harvest & Cook Wheat, Barley, Oats, Rice, Corn & More by Sara Pitzer.

Gene's book is the kind you can sit down and enjoy from cover to cover, while Sara's is more reference style. Both are loaded with excellent, practical information for folks like us.

I'll keep this project updated on my monthly garden posts. I have no clue as to when it will be ready to harvest, but this we will do by hand. Besides giving me experience, I'm curious as to how much wheat we can get out of an approximately 100 square foot patch. But, we'll just have to wait and see, won't we. :)

Related Post:
Wheat Harvest

December 5, 2010

I'm A Happy Camper

My Heartland Sweetheart wood cookstove
Look what we bought last Friday, a used Heartland Sweetheart wood cookstove. This is a "before" photo, taken before we disassembled it, brought it home, and put it in Dan's workshop to store, until we remodel our kitchen.

This cookstove had been listed on Craigslist for quite awhile. When I first saw it, the asking price was $2500. That price seemed impossible to me, but also, there was a Waterford Stanley (my dream stove) on Craigslist for $3000. That price seemed even more impossible. Still, I visited these ads often.

After about a week the price for the Waterford Stanley raised to $3500. The Sweetheart eventually came down to $2000. Sweetheart stoves retail for about $4000, and this one included a water reservoir, rear heat shield, and floor protector, all of which added another $1000 to the value.

Rear heat shield
view from side
The heat shield is a must for a small kitchen like ours, as it drastically reduces the required clearance behind the stove. Without a heat shield, a minimum 27" needs to be allowed between the stove and a combustible wall. With the shield, that clearance is reduced to just inches.

Rear heat shield, view from above
(after stove pipe was removed)
There have been quite a few other woodburning cookstoves offered on Craigslist as well. Most of them old, and listed in the $500 - $600 range. We'd looked at some of these, and though the owners thought they were in excellent condition, they had missing pieces, cracked parts, and loose fittings. They may have been lovely as antiques or decorative pieces, but they were in poor condition for functioning cookstoves.

We did research on what it would cost to repair an old stove. The most common wood cookstoves for sale in our area were originally manufactured by Atlanta Stove Works. However, that company has been out of business for a long time, so there is no way to get new parts. Welding and metal fabrication is costly, so that a $500 bargain is no longer a bargain. (If you ever consider buying a used cookstove, an excellent resource is Woodstove Cookery: At Home On The Range by Jane Cooper. This book gives you a complete rundown on what to watch out for.) The Aga-Heartland company still manufactures the Heartland cookstoves in Canada, so replacement parts and upgrades are readily available.

DH and I talked about the Sweetheart for some time. As badly as I wanted it, buying it would completely wipe out the remains of our house fund savings and then some. DH said that was what the money was for, so in the end, we decided to go see it. It was a good price for an important addition to our home. I admit that it took me several days to work up the courage to call to make an appointment. The ad was a month old, so I was pretty sure it had been sold. Lo and behold it wasn't and I made arrangements to see the stove.

As advertised it was in excellent condition. Not only did the price include the extras I mentioned above, but also all the pipe: double walled stove pipe, 12 feet of double walled insulated chimney pipe, storm collar, roof flashing, chimney cap, ceiling pipe adapter, and attic insulation shield. All of this would cost an additional $1500 plus shipping to purchase new, but was included with the stove.

The only negative is that the oven is a tad small, 13.25" wide, 12.5" tall, and 18" deep (1.7 cu. ft.). It's advertised to be large enough to cook a 15 pound turkey, but unfortunately it isn't wide enough to accommodate my 14.75" pizza stone! Reckon I'm in the market for a smaller pizza stone.

Riley discovers the woodstove
This stove though, is for more than just an appliance or a step toward energy independence. It will provide much needed heat for the back of the house. Last winter, our only heat source was our woodstove. Even with fans to blow the heat, the kitchen & back bathroom remained at about 45 F. It was such a cold winter that we ended up using space heaters in the kitchen, back bathroom, and my studio. These of course caused our electric bill to skyrocket. That was a factor in the choice we made for an HVAC system.

Until Thanksgiving, outside temps were mildly cool so we only needed occasional heat. For that we used the heat pump, because the soapstone stove takes awhile to heat up. That means it's not so good for quick or short term heat, such as taking a chill out of the air. On the other hand, it burns wood ultra-efficiently, has a damper with a hair's breadth sensitivity, and retains warmth for a long time after the fire has gone out.

Riley likes the woodstove
With colder temps since Thanksgiving, we've started using the woodstove. To keep the back of the house warmer, I'm experimenting with how to utilize the heat pump minimally, as an auxiliary heat source. Our new cookstove will solve that problem however and keep the kitchen and back bathroom comfortable.

I won't be able to use the Sweetheart until next fall. Not only do we need to re-do the kitchen floor first, but also running stove and chimney pipe up through the ceiling and roof is no little job of work. However, the cookstove is key to being able to resume serious plans for remodeling the kitchen. Everything in that room depends on where we put it. We needed the stove's measurements and recommended clearances before we could plan where to put cabinets, counters, and kitchen table. Now we can start to figure all that out. We hope to get started as soon as we finish that bathroom!

We want heat! We want heat!
Turn it on Dad, or I'll laser you with my eyes.

So. Are you all staying warm so far this winter?

Related Posts:
Getting the Sweetheart Installed
Cooking on it at last

I'm A Happy Camper © December 2010 by Leigh at