February 26, 2014

Late Winter Garden Tour

After our snow earlier this month, spring arrived!

Katy and the bed of daffodils at the top of the garden

Other than those glorious daffodils, however, there's not much to show. The cold was so severe this winter that everything in the garden either died or went dormant. Still, the garlic is beginning to recover (if you can see it for all the leaf mulch).

Garlic bed of 100+ cloves planted last fall. 

The strawberries are waking up.

My hopes of getting strawberries is that they produce before the wiregrass does.

Some things I thought were goners are starting to make a come-back:

Siberian Dwarf kale is putting out new leaves. I'm glad to see this.

Two collard plants made it,

as did this cabbage-collard plant.

And of course I'm still harvesting Jerusalem artichokes.

Besides the cold, other problems have included renegade chickens unmulching the beds, particularly the Speckled Sussex. These have since been wing clipped. Also deer cleaned out all my beets: red detroit, sugar, and mangels. Gone, every one. To protect the newly sprouting mesclun planted last fall, I decided to try this cattle panel laid across the bed in cattle guard fashion. Hopefully it will deter deer from venturing into the bed.

Cattle panel will hopefully protect the mesclun planted
with the multiplier onions. For a little while at least. 

At least until the greens get tall, do you think?

I'm also pleased to report that planting has commenced. So far I've planted Wando garden peas, purple top turnips, purple plum radishes, and more lettuce. Something new, ramps

Sammie and my two little ramp plants. He was
determined these were destined to become toys.

Ramps are a native Appalachian onion, similar to leeks. They are shade lovers and I eventually hope to have a lot. I started with two which I planted in a pot. I figured that was the best way to keep track of them to begin with. For anyone interested, there is more information at NC State University, "Cultivation of Ramps".

All I can say is, it's good to be back in the garden again.

Late Winter Garden Tour © February 2014 

February 24, 2014

Bedroom Remodel: Floor on Hold

Our bedroom floor is actually a subfloor, or perhaps there is no subfloor.
What I mean is, it's the only thing between us and the crawl space.

Here is a long overdue update on our bedroom remodeling project. The next step is the floor, and from our 2012 income tax return we set aside some money for that. We hung on to it until the end of the year and hoped to tackle the bedroom floor around Christmas. But a family member had a need and so the money went to that because, in the end, people are more important than things. So, getting the floor finished is pending the acquisition of new funds! In the meantime, life goes on with a zillion other projects.

Bedroom Remodel: Floor on Hold © February 2014 

February 21, 2014

The Master Plan and The Chicken Coop

Detail from our 2014 master plan.
Everything in red is proposed. 

If you've been following our master plan revisions, then you know that the thing about which we've been the most indecisive, has been the barn; it's size, shape, and location change on every revision. We've finally settled on what to do: build both a new chicken coop and a new goat barn. The chicken coop must be first so that we can use the old coop area for storage when we tear down the existing dilapidated coal barn. I'm pleased to announce that building the coop has commenced.

The idea for our new coop came from the poultry shed plan (page 59) in Carol Ekarius's How to Build Animal Housing.  It includes a feed storage area which we liked, but I didn't like the arrangement of the doors, so we modified the plan. I wanted a straight shot into the chicken area for a wheelbarrow. We also moved the location of the exterior door based on the arrangement of our own buildings.

Very rough sketch of the new chicken coop floorplan. I'm thinking
of putting a Dutch door between the chicken and storage areas. 

Before you look at the project photos, I'm supposed to tell you that this is not conventional construction. This is get-er-done construction. If some of it looks a bit unconventional, well, that's just how it is.

Corner posts were sunk and concreted in.

Dan dug a trench and used cap block for a footer. It needed to be buried
deep enough to prevent critters like dogs or foxes from digging underneath.

Cinder blocks are dried in on top of the cap blocks. As you can
see, the new coop sits across the chicken yard from the old coop. 

Anchor bolts and concrete trowel for the next step.

Anchor bolts were cemented into some of the cinder block holes

The sill plate will be attached to the blocks with the bolts.

First, however, an in-between layer of flashing. We didn't have metal
flashing so Dan used what he had, asphalt flashing. It prevents moisture
from wicking into the wood sill plate and keeps termites away, hopefully.

Folded over the cinder blocks, the flashing makes a drip edge.
Sheathing on the outside will cover the flashing so it won't be seen.

First wall framed out. The entry door is on the right
& a window to light the storage area is on the left.

The chicken entry will open into the existing chicken yard. The real challenge will be convincing the chickens to use it.

Continued in "Evolution of a Chicken Coop."

February 18, 2014

Lacto-Fermented Jerusalem Artichokes

Freshly harvested & washed Jerusalem artichokes

Besides sweet potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes are the one root crop that did well for me this year. I feed them to the goats (used to feed them to my rabbits), and we eat them too. They are great cooked any way you can think of and can be eaten raw too. Unfortunately, neither Dan nor I can digest raw ones well, so I decided to try lacto-fermenting.

Although it doesn't effect the flavor, we find we like various cuts for various
lacto-fermented items. Cabbage we like shredded, but turnips in thin slices.
I shredded the artichokes in my King Kutter & we liked this texture just fine.

This book is a keeperThe recipe I used was from this book, Preserving Food without Freezing or Canning. It's actually for sauerkraut ("Sauerkraut in Glass Jars" page 68) but I've substituted turnips and now Jerusalem artichokes for the cabbage.

Fill a wide mouth quart jar and pack down (I use a wooden potato masher). Add a tablespoon of sea salt and about 10 juniper berries. Cover contents with warm, non-chlorinated water.

I've been researching salt and recently bought some Real salt for the minerals

I had about two quarts, so I dumped it into a crock. I cover the contents with a small saucer and weigh that down with a water filled half-pint jar. I cover the whole thing with a clean cotton dishtowel and let it sit on the countertop for about three days. Then it goes into the fridge.

Lacto-fermented Jerusalem artichokes. Yummy!

When we first started with sauerkraut we loved it. Then I tried turnips for sauerruben and we liked that even better. The Jerusalem artichokes are best of all!

February 15, 2014

Winter Weather Wonderings

There is a flaw in human nature that tends to assume that the familiarity of one's personal experience is the norm. We subconsciously apply this to all things in life: family, economics, climate, ecology, etc. If something changes, we become alarmed and want to "fix" it. I can't say I've been any different in the past, but living close to the land has taught me that change is the norm and what seems like extremes are part of it.

Sammy was a trooper when it came to chore time.

We were spoiled by two mild winters which made things easy. The garden produced all winter as did pasture and forage areas. This winter has been different. Not that we haven't experienced this kind of weather before, but I confess to having become a bit lazy and assumed this winter would be mild too.

Our three day snow started Tuesday, but the prior week's mild temperatures meant the ground was too warm for the snow to accumulate at first. I was glad because I had to take someone to the airport. It snowed all day long but I don't know how much. The next morning temps dropped and the snow began to stick. By mid-afternoon we'd had two inches but then it turned to freezing rain. That meant a layer of ice on top of the snow.

Freezing rain left a sheet of ice on the kitchen window.

It's the ice that's worrisome. Snow is a problem because folks here don't know how to drive in it, and the county is slow to deal with it. But ice is the real issue. It coats the trees and power lines and the weight of it causes power outages when limbs break and fall on power lines. We did in fact lose electricity for an hour or two, but for us, it was an inconvenience rather than an issue.

This is as far as the chickens would venture, except for the
Speckled Sussex hens, who are a brave, adventurous lot. 

I do practice storm preparedness, but this winter's unusual cold has me evaluating things differently. For example, last summer's never-ending rains and sunless days meant a smaller harvest than usual. This winter's cold has made my fall garden go dormant. In the past I've relied on mulched root crops and my winter garden to help feed my goats. These are slimmer options this year.

Lily. The Nubians refused to step foot in the snow.

On top of that, the recent news of Standlee's switching to GMO alfalfa for it's pellets has left me feeling caught between a rock and a hard place. We've made progress in our goat feed self-sufficiency goal, but we haven't arrived yet. Alternatives for feed supplementation are shrinking. I'm now thinking I need to push through to achieve this goal. I've done my homework, now it's time to stop dilly-dallying and make it a reality.

Extreme weather reminds me how poorly we are set up for our goats. Our six does fit comfortably in our two stall shed, but it makes feeding in inclement weather difficult. In fact, I realize that we have too many goats. With kidding due to start next month, I must decide which goats to cull and which to keep. Self-sufficient goat keeping requires understanding how many goats our land and resources can support.

Still, these experiences have helped me to plan the goat barn we are preparing to build. In fact, all of our experiences help us plan for the future.

The Nigerians and Kiko crosses were willing to venture out to be fed.

One new experience was how the snow blew in and covered things even under cover: the hay mow, the wood pile, the kindling box and Dan's tools in the carport. It reminded me of the Ingalls family in The Long Winter, where Laura describes shaking snow off the covers when she made the bed. It is said that we learn best from experience. I know that is certainly the case for me. Another first was that the freezing rain froze all the gate latches shut.

Back to my opening paragraph. It probably sounded like a dig at politically correct trend thinking, but what I'm trying to get to, is the realization that my preparedness shouldn't simply follow the trends in thinking. I need to consider the extremes. Last summer our temperatures were ten degrees below average; the summer before we had sweltering streaks topping 100. This winter has rivaled the record low for our area. Plus the snow. These are the things I need to be prepared for.

Now we are in a cycle of daytime thaws and nighttime re-freezes. It all makes for difficult travel, so why not stay at home? I'm sure there's nothing out there to miss anyway.

Riley, wondering where all the field mice are.

Winter Weather Wonderings © February 2014 

February 12, 2014

Agrarianism: Forward or Backward Thinking?

There was a comment made during my radio interview with Scott Terry which struck a chord with a lot of listeners. In fact I'm guessing quite a few homesteaders have heard it in one form or another too. It is the idea that agrarianism necessitates the abandonment of all technology, of all things modern. Many a homesteader has been accused of being a hypocrite for using cell phones, power tools, and the internet.

I think part of the reason for this is because agrarianism is thought of as an historical event, a way of life associated with pioneers and Little House on the Prairie. What is true, is that agrarianism is a cultural, economic, and social structure based on agriculture. It's not specifically rural because even merchants and tradesmen can be dependent on the land albeit in an indirect way, such as bartering. Today when we think of agriculture, the technology minded think of industrialized, centralized agriculture run by corporations. This is agriculture as a business endeavor rather than a way of life. Today, technology is the modern way of life.

Seeing technology as a standard by which to live reflects a dependence on technology without which life as we know it would cease to exist. This is true, of course, for most of the modern world. However, real life options are not technology versus no technology, but rather technology as a lifestyle versus technology as a tool. The difference is in either being totally dependent upon technology to function in the world, or in being free to use as many or as few technological innovations as one desires; even to live without.

Unfortunately, the technology-as-a-lifestyle mindset assumes that only technology brings progress. That any other way of thinking is anti-progressive. Progress as the ultimate good ignores potentially devastating consequences and never stops to evaluate the results.

The heart of the modern agrarian movement is not saying technology is evil, but rather dependence on it and the consumer system it fosters is unwise. Most of what it has produced is not sustainable: chemical agriculture depletes and poisons the land, dependency on consumerism produces mountains of trash in overflowing landfills, globalized food production gobbles up precious petroleum reserves for transportation, monoculture crop failures are catastrophic to the world food supply, genetically modified seeds are patented and illegal to save and plant, yet they are pushed on all of us including third world countries who really can't afford them. Science hasn't fixed any of these problems yet; what makes us think it ever will?

All of this is key to the simpler life many people long for. The very technology that is touted as being able to save the world is actually destroying it. But in the end, it boils down to individual choices; choices about how we choose to live and what we choose to buy. The homesteading movement and return to agrarian values is a reflection that people are beginning to understand there is a better way to live. It's not going backwards, it's a course correction. It's moving forward in the right direction.

February 10, 2014

If My Beloved Had His Druthers

After all this talk about master plans, barns, and plowing, I thought I'd let you all in on a little secret. While we've thought the most feasible tool for us would be a walk-behind (two wheeled) tractor if we can ever manage one, what Dan really would love to have ...

A team of Dutch Drafts. This is the breed Dan has been admiring.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. 

There are a few problems with fulfilling this particular dream, however.

  • cost of horses
  • cost of tack
  • availablity of horse drawn equipment
  • cost of horse drawn equipment
  • cost of feed
  • availability of non-GMO feed (or rather lack of)
  • housing (bigger barn or we'd have to kick out the goats)
  • land (we've only about 2 acres in pasture/forage which is also utilized by the chickens and goats)
  • zero experience with horses
  • zero experience with horse drawn equipment

There are lots of good resources on the subject out there, such as Small Farmer's Journal and books like Farming with Horses and Work Horse Handbook. And there are certainly apprenticeships and hands-on classes to gain a working knowledge, although none anywhere near us. Even so, in the end it all boils down to our piggy bank, which usually houses more moths than cash. Still, it's a wonderful dream and I wish I could make it come true for him. 

If My Beloved Had His Druthers © February 2014 

February 7, 2014

Homestead Master Plan: Updates & Tweaks

2014 revised Master Plan. Copies of recent master
 plans can be found in  5 Acres & A Dream The Book

No profound changes with this revision. A few finished projects needed to be added:

Specific plans for the barn are the main reason for the update. Past master plans all show something different in regards to the barn. The current plan for the barn is to tear down the existing outbuilding and build a goat barn in it's footprint. This plan is pretty much set.

Before we can tear down the existing shed we have to move everything out of it. That has led to turning the carport into Dan's workshop, also building the chicken coop so we can use the old coop for storage too. More on all that soon.

The other change to the master plan is a fence for the big garden where I have deer browsing, chickens scratching, and stray dogs digging. That has gotta stop! Nothing specific yet, except we know it will need to be tall to keep the beet green and sweet potato vine eating deer out.

The puzzle is what to do about planting field corn this spring with its companion cowpeas. We've been growing it for the past three years to provide corn for cornmeal and some of our chicken feed. We have no means to plow however, so we're stumped about what to do.

I should also mention that the plan is not specifically to scale, rather it is a rough sketch. We aren't so much mapping the homestead out as we are trying to see how all the pieces might possible fit together.

I know several of you have specifically mentioned the master plans in your book reviews. Has anyone got one ready to share?

February 4, 2014

Home-Ground Chevon

This old hand grinder used to belong to my grandmother.

We don't eat a lot of beef, but we do eat a lot of goat meat, also known as chevon (or cabrito, although chevon is the "legal" term.) Folks will sometimes ask what it tastes like; all we can say is it tastes like goat. It doesn't taste like beef anymore than mutton or venison tastes like beef. But it doesn't taste like mutton or venison either! Still, I've served chevon burgers to folks who didn't know it wasn't beef and weren't the wiser.

Like everything else we do, there have been things to learn. One helpful thing was aging the meat before butchering (technically, butchering is the cutting up of the carcass. The killing part is called killing).

Aging is the process of allowing the carcass to "rest" after it's been dressed. I'm sure we're all familiar with rigor mortis, the stiffening of a body shortly after death. This biochemical process is not permanent. Aging the carcass allows the muscles to relax and allows enzymes to further tenderize the meat. We didn't age the first chickens we prepared and the meat was tough! Aging makes a delicious difference. I'll list some links at the end of the post for those of you interested in more information.

I've also learned that it's a whole lot easier to grind the meat if it's partially frozen. At room temperature, even refrigerator temperature, it gums up the grinder and it's a real chore to get a good hamburger.

Someday I hope to invest in equipment that will let us process larger amounts, but for not, I'm thankful to have even a small hand grinder.

Parting "Where's Riley?" shot with the promised links below.

Of course I had snoopervision. And a taste tester as well.


Home-Ground Chevon © February 2014