Homestead Happy Snaps

I have so very much I could be reporting on from the wee homestead, but I only have the energy to share some photos, a couple short vids and a few brief comments.

We’ve got some really weird weather that has us back in long sleeves and pants after a few weeks of blistering heat. I have no time to get started down that fool’s path at the moment. Moving along.

The bees have finally graced us with their presence in the garden, I was getting a bit worried! They are all over the cucumbers, which we’ve just started harvesting.

They also found the cantaloupe at last, thank goodness, this is my primo experiment for this summer. This is a true heirloom French cantaloupe, Noir des Carmes, which you can’t buy anywhere in these parts. I learned from the seed catalogue that what we call cantaloupe in the U.S. was renamed, these ’muskmelons’ in green or orange (with the ‘netted’ skin) are not the original cantaloupe, which does not ship well, and so was never popularized here.

“Noir des carmes” cantaloupe, named after the Carmelite monks.

Hubby had some surprising success with peas in his ’gorilla garden’ — a new experiment. We were gifted a garbage bag full of seeds, some of them 8 years old, which I thought would be useless. He threw them down in a spot he’d roto-tilled for the purpose, mixed up all the cool-season seeds together and broadcast them, watered them a couple of times, and we actually got a big bowl of peas out of the effort. I so love fresh peas and they are not always a reliable crop around here. He planted them later than advised too, so I was very surprised he got anything at all. He estimates germination at about 20%.

We got a great harvest of onions and canned up a couple of batches of French Onion Soup, mmmm. I have my glove under one in the middle photo to show their nice size. It was our best onion harvest to date, and I think that is owed to all the sheep poop and the mild winter.

I was proudly exclaiming to Hubby some kudos on our team effort with pressure canning the soup when he had to burst my little bubble by explaining how that makes us one teeny-tiny fraction closer to the recommended annual Ball Blue Book chart from 1966.

We have kittens! We just happened upon them in the old tractor barn while gathering dewberries.

The kids are growing SO fast!

They are following mamas into the woods, playing and jumping around and are so fun to watch.

Once again, I did not mean to hit ’slow mo’ on this short vid, but it’s a good thing I did, because you can really see the ‘look’ of triumph in Walnut’s demeanor after she bullied tiny Athena. I guess goats are something of a belligerent species!

And to end, the best part, my new She-shed, thanks to Hubby, which will get an entire post of its own very soon!

Garlic still to be harvested in front of my recycled garden shed—
Oh the joys of being at the top of Hubby’s to-do list!

A Bit on Gardening

“He is grumpy and coarse and all the things I was warned about. He takes his contest with nature very seriously and finds no comfort in its unpredictable forces. Like most gardeners, he never vacations. In winter when all is quiet and still, he would much rather spend his time fretting—about the fruit trees budding, about the relentless springs frosts that may or may not come, about the sun and the moon. Gardeners, I discovered, are tough, content to be grim”

The Cook and the Gardener: A Year of Recipes and Writings From the French Countryside by Amanda Hesser, 1999

Forbidden Cheeses: Little Turd & Wetnurse Breast

I ran out of attention span last post before I got to talking about cheese. Now that we have three mamas in milk I’ll be having a ball experimenting with new cheeses, which along with kombucha experimenting, is my favorite homesteady sort of thing to do.

Gardening and cooking being not far behind, to be sure!

Aged chèvre (goat cheese) in the French tradition is made of the highest craft and care, even when they are whimsically-named, like Crottin (Little Turd) and Sein de NouNou (Wetnurse breast).

But here in the U.S., Land of the FreeTM, Velveeta is ‘safe’ for consumers and aged goat cheeses, ideal for homestead creation, are completely illegal.

Because they care so very much, right?

“Chèvre evolved in frugal farming households of the sort that continue to make it today. It is a cheese that’s very economical, in both time and ingredients; made on the family farm, where there are many chores to take care of and livestock to feed, a cheese that didn’t need much attention or many costly ingredients fit right in.”

That is in Central France and other locations where it’s not illegal to sell. These are cheeses that require few inputs and no regular purchases—you don’t need a cheese press, or any expensive cultures, or even rennet. Fig sap (or other coagulants like nettles) can easily be substituted for rennet as only a few drops are used to set a gallon of milk.

These are also cheeses suitable to make in warm climates, similar to the more well-known goat cheeses like Feta or a fresh goat cheese. What makes the aged chèvre so unique is that it can only be made with raw milk. You may find hard raw milk cheeses in your grocery store or farmer’s market, like Gouda or Cheddar, these are pressed cheeses aged over two months, which are legal to sell with all the proper licensing. (I have NO interest in that!)

Feta, aged in salted whey for 2 weeks, some still soaking for a sharper flavor and others now drying for packaging in Foodsaver bags for longer storage.

These illegal aged goat cheeses sit at room temperature for about four days.

Imagine the horror the germophobes have with that!

You most certainly can’t do that with pasteurized milk. These cheeses were invented before pasteurization and before refrigeration and aged for a month or two in caves.

Mine will be aged in Tupperware bins inside a small beverage fridge I use for aging cheeses. (I would prefer not to use plastics at all, but they work just fine and I don’t have other options at the moment.).

I use natural cultures, not store-bought or freeze-dried, developed from previous cheeses, and stored in the freezer. Once the cheeses develop their fungal coat after a couple of weeks, they will be wrapped and aged for about a month.

Traditionally wrapping for these cheeses include leaves, like grape and fig, and even hornet’s nests. A few will also be coated with ash, instead of wrapping, like the traditional Sein de NouNou.

It is positively amazing how differently the cheeses will taste based on just a few variables in the process!

“Relatively unknown in North America, this class of cheeses includes some of France’s most famous fromages: ash-coated and pyramid-shaped Valencay; Sainte Maure—pierced with a blade of straw (the industrial version of Sainte Maure features plastic straws!); and small, moldy Crottin are all aged chèvre cheeses. Perhaps the only well-known North American aged chèvre is Humboldt Fog, a creamy, ash-ripened goats’ milk cheese from Humboldt County, California.”

(I’ve not looked into why or how the Humboldt Fog is legal to mass produce and sell. I plan to dig into that, but my initial guess is they’ve been able to either find a way to use pasteurized goat milk or they have a state-of-the-art affinage ‘cave’ where they can age it over two months without losing the creamy texture.)

“Goats are a belligerent species that have rejected the rigorous production regime thrust upon their bovine cousins. Unlike cows, who contentedly chew their cud in confinement and produce enormous quantities of milk year-round, goats refuse to be cogs in the machine of industrialized dairying.”

On left: Cutting into the last Kensho cheese experiment, aged two months, a washed-rind cheese similar to something between a Muenster and Gouda.
Result: Delicious Success!

A most excellent resource, and the source of the above quotes:

Goats, a belligerent species? HA!
The perfectly adorable non-conformists more like!

The latest and last addition to the herd this year (in the foreground) yet to be named, and already twice the size of our wee Athena (in the background, about 5 days old), formerly Zena, we decided we prefer the former.
Any name suggestions on our newest? We are at a loss so far with this big girl who is sure to be a lifetime keeper! She came out huge and most active and ready to suckle immediately and play within 1 day!

Kids, Kombucha, Bees & Cheese 

What better day to ponder than Mother’s Day why kids are so darn cute?!

The newest kids, born yesterday, Phoebe’s firsts—Hercules & Zena—notice he is twice the size of her!

We’ve bartered or sold most of our piglets already. We’re not on social media where such information is exchanged, but it certainly does seem the homesteading community in our area is growing rapidly. Yippie!

One family who came by insisted we were under-profiting from our piglets. Their 11-year old daughter offered her mom to pay us $50 more than we were charging, ‘for the cuteness factor’. Aren’t kids precious!

In not-so-cute news, the swelter season has started abruptly. Bye, bye beets and broccoli, before your time, because I think not even the shade cloth can save you now. The last rain that was hyped on about for days, that flooded some areas and caused tornadoes in others, yielded us a whopping 1/4 inch, not even enough to penetrate the mulch layer.

Of course I’m happy we didn’t get hit with another tornado, but I can still be miffed I have to start watering the garden. Half my roses haven’t even bloomed yet, or the zinnias. The parsley and celery have gone to seed before I got a decent harvest from them and the lettuce will soon follow, no doubt.

The bees are feeling it, too. I checked these hives last week and they were just half-full, yet the bees are bearding. Unfortunately, the swarm we got a couple of weeks ago left after only one day, unhappy with the digs I’d offered apparently. Now it’s already too hot for me to do the splits I’d planned. Better luck next spring.

I’m so pleased to be getting any strawberry harvest at all, they’ve never done well before. Then I saw this video and quickly got a reality check.

Hubby tried to make me feel better by saying those were probably grown in California and loaded with pesticides harvested by illegal aliens. He’s mentioned before something is off about this (Fabulous!) channel. It must be CGI, or heavily staged, or something. Never has a country cottage been so clean and picturesque. Where’s the chicken poop on the table and the flower pots dug up by the puppies? Good questions!

By ‘doing well’ I see I need to learn a thing or two about growing strawberries. They are too crowded and between the humidity and the wet mulch they are mostly half-rotted by the time they get ripe. I’m really loving the strawberry kombucha though! As well as the blackberry, and mulberry. I’ve started making the kombucha tea from yaupon, which grows like a weed around here. It’s delicious and sweeter than the store-bought green tea I usually use.

And speaking of mulberries, what a great surprise, Hubby found a full grown, wild mulberry tree in a spot we walk by regularly and never noticed before. What a treasure hidden in plain site!

More mulberries, please!

And this post has reached my attention span limit, so I leave the cheese to the next post. It’s gonna be a good one all on its on, really! Stay tuned!

Instead I exit abruptly, like spring has done in East Texas, with this quick lesson from Bubba in best yoga techniques.

The ’Just Chill’ technique ala Bubba

Scrappy Moms Against The World Brain Sometimes Stand Alone — Wrench in the Gears

Such an inspiring woman, with a degree of courage and honor I’ve rarely witnessed, sharing a deeply touching story that brings tears to my eyes.

Thank you, Alison McDowell!

Featured photo: Alison McDowell next to Ben Franklin, Craftsman at his printing press, sculpture donated to the City of Philadelphia by the Pennsylvania Freemasons. Masonic Hall and Philadelphia City Hall in the background. We imprint reality through our intentions.  It’s a few days before Mother’s Day, and I find myself alienated from the two people…

Scrappy Moms Against The World Brain Sometimes Stand Alone — Wrench in the Gears

Homestead Happy Snaps

So many babies! It’s not easy getting good shots sometimes, but I’ll admit I don’t have the time or patience to sit around too long. We have our first kid!

Swallows just out of the nest, and on the right, can you spot the Cardinal still sitting on hers?

Hummingbirds are so hard to photograph. They have wars over this coral honeysuckle every sunrise and sunset and throughout the day, but it’s nearly impossible to catch them at it. Wow, are they fast!

These guys aren’t easy to happy snap either, but we do so love when they pay us a visit! And thanks y’all too, cyber visits can be almost as fun (sometimes)! 😁

Brief Plant Profile: Sweet Potato

I’ve got sweet potatoes on the brain since I’m just fixing to plant them. I’ll continue planting them for another month or so as they are such heat lovers they’ll thrive all summer long, with supplemental water, and they have numerous benefits.

The biggest benefit, besides doing well in the heat, is that they are vigorous enough to out-compete the many grasses that try (and too often succeed) to take over the summer garden. Additional benefits are that the leaves are edible and delicious, few pests bother them too much, and all the critters love the surplus. Plus, they are so easy to grow you can start them right in your kitchen and have dozens of plants from just one potato.

There are several methods for growing the ‘slips’ which you then plant in the garden. It seems the most popular way is to suspend your potato in a jar of water then snap each new vine off when there’s about 4 or 5 leaf sets, then plant it.

I prefer another method because when those vines get taller they don’t do so well with the wind when you first put them in the ground and they dry out faster. I lay them first flat in a tray and cover them most of the way with loose soil. Once they get 2 or 3 leaf sets I snap those off and put them in water for a week or so to grow roots. The short vine with many roots transplants much better in our climate than the long vine with no roots.*

These are from last year’s harvest, under lights in the corner, but a sunny window would work as well, especially with a heat mat.

Not exactly attractive, but very tasty! Some of our favorite ways to enjoy them are as a crust for quiche, in a roasted veggie medley tossed with plenty of olive oil or pork fat, and mashed with turnips and butter.

I prefer to tone down their sweetness rather than accentuate it, but lots of folks prefer the opposite, like the popular Thanksgiving dish topped with marshmallows or baked in a pie. They also do very well as a thickener for soups and sauces. To further tone down the sweetness you can avoid the curing process and move them straight indoors to overwinter.

For more growing tips and cooking ideas, here’s a good site:

Morag Gamble, Our Permaculture Life

* Another tip for Southern gardeners is to grow your own slips rather than order them. I wanted to try some different varieties I saw in the catalogues and tried for several years to get a good crop and they failed every time. The vines went crazy, but no tubers grew at all. I tried to discover why this was, but never could find an answer. My only guess is that coming from a more northern climate disrupted their growth somehow? Not only that, but they are obscenely expensive considering how easy they are to grow! I was not at all pleased to waste so much time, space and money for those failures. But, lesson learned and now I waste no money on them at all!

Homestead Happenings

Holy Moly, when you’re hot, you’re HOT!

And, it seems to me, the only way to really know that, is to have known how very low you can go, when you’re really not, hot.

Mamas and babies are all doing great and our semi-feral cat, Skittles, has just had TicTacs, though we can only hear them so far, somewhere, under the floorboards of the old tractor barn where she’s taken up semi-permanent residence .

And . … We just got our first swarm! I’m extra excited because it’s off our ‘Ninja’ hive, our strongest colony. And a bit of an odd story about that. I ‘sensed’ it, before I saw it. I know, sounds crazy! I did suspect they’d swarm this season, because they didn’t last year, as far as I know.

All settled in already, after just a couple of hours!

I call them the Ninja hive because they are right by the house, always very active, regularly fighting off robbers and just generally busy, but never aggressive toward us. We can even mow right around them with no problem.

Because I like their temperament so much I have taken splits from them in the past hoping to spread their lineage far and wide. Funny thing is, they were the brand new hive that got flipped over during the tornado several years ago and they were so weak I thought they wouldn’t even make it through the summer.

This afternoon I had a sense, all of the sudden, that they’d swarmed, and I looked out the window, and there was their swarm!

Bad photo I know, but just to show the location, right above the power lines in the nearby pine tree.
Didn’t bother to edit this after all, I’ll learn someday soon though, really!

Mama Chop went for an excursion and I figured she’d go right to her daughter’s place, which she did. Virginia was nursing at that moment and one piglet had strayed through the fence into the orchard and couldn’t figure her way back in and was NOT AT ALL happy to be missing her breakfast! (Actually, it could very well be a ’he’ and probably more likely since the boys are typically first to venture off).

We traded a couple piglets once again with a farming friend for our next breeding ram. We named him ‘Terdeau’, HeHe, can you guess why?!

More news soon, stay tuned!

Homestead Happenings

We have some happy snaps, one minute of piglets’ bliss and a couple garden successes to share today.

Mamas and piglets are venturing out already and enjoyed their first spa day. Unfortunately, Mama Chop did still squish two of her wee ones despite Hubby’s extra efforts, so both Mamas are now with seven. Virginia has proven to be the better mother, but we prefer Mama Chop’s personality. But, it’s not about us. Sadly this will probably be Mama Chop’s last hurrah.

Mama Chop with her Lucky 7
Our semi-feral cat, Skittles, is becoming more domesticated now that there are only two dogs who chase her off. That is, if you call hissing and snarling for her supper domesticated! 😳

Moving on to the garden I’m pleased to report good news. The alliums are looking amazing, the best ever at this time of year., I expect that is due to our very mild winter and an extra helping of sheep poop. I love this time of year when chopped green onion can top every savory dish. Also, unlimited lettuces, for a limited time only. Once the heat sets in there are only a few varieties that survive, arugula and oak leaf primarily, and even those still have a tendency to get too hot or bitter and bolt quickly.

Here we’ve got garlic, elephant and a few varieties of hard neck, plus white, red and yellow storage onions, shallots, and a pearl onion perennial that I highly recommend for hot climates (Bianca di Maggio). I’ve tried every type of popular perennial onion and this is the first time I’ve gotten them to last, relatively carefree, for two full years. Normally they do not last the summer. That could also be because these I grew from seed instead of getting sets.

Seed saving and propagation are big on my garden plans lately, not only because of the high costs we’re seeing. Some seeds naturalize very quickly to their environment and I’m regularly impressed at all the volunteers that have found their way into the garden over the years—including tomatoes, wild carrot, datura, tomatillos, jumping jacks, Malabar spinach and collards/kale. In some cases I’m planting these purchased seeds and they don’t do that great the first year, but the volunteers that come back thrive with no care and even competing with some of our very pernicious grasses. Nature is so amazing!

Tis the season for pokeweed, a new and reliable favorite—that poor maligned and misunderstood plant I wrote about last year. We ate the greens all summer, the berries all fall and winter . … and we’re still alive . … go figure! So much mis-and dis-information out there on this delicious, nutritious and versatile, once upon a time Southern staple, that ‘science’ has tried to steal from us.

Two more such successes are strawberries and chayote squash. These are definite testaments to the old adage: “If you don’t succeed, try, and try, again!”

Why, oh why do you let weeds grow in your garden!? Oh let me count the ways . … the bees, the seeds, and, seriously how much time do you think I have?! Actually though, there’s a very good short answer for that—when you allow the deeply-rooted ’weeds’ to work among your short-rooted annual crops you have a magnificent force of nature at your fingertipes—those long tap-roots bring nutrients up from the depths in order to feed your fancy annual crops their otherwise lacking essential minerals.

The chayote squash, pictured left, I’ve tried to get established a minimum of five times. Even this time, the one I expected to live has died and the one I expected to die has come back with impressive gusto. This is why the plants I really want to work I place in different spots of the garden, just to see, as extra insurance, even though this is often inconvenient and seemingly counter-intuitive.

Same thing with the strawberries. Texas gardeners don’t have an easy time with strawberries or blueberries, they both prefer cooler climates. Most gardeners here who are serious about strawberries either buy new plugs each fall for the spring crop or dig up their crop and store them in the fridge all summer until the fall planting. This is too much work and/or expense for us here, yet I’d love to have at least a small, but reliable, crop of strawberries. This time did the trick so far, but only time will tell. At least I’ve got them not only surviving the summer, but also spreading. I used a couple of folk tricks I heard over the decades. One is from Finland—put them with the asparagus, I was told. But alone that did not do the trick. So, I tried them where the asparagus had been, but also where the Indian strawberries had been growing wild. Success! So far . …

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