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

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

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 . …

Homestead Happenings

Huge days on the wee homestead! The pigs and sheep have all had successful births without a single hitch. Mama Chop did lose a couple, but she has such large litters that’s not such a bad thing. We were very concerned about her as she crushed her last two litters, literally, not in the new way of the term—She crushed it! Nope, in the old way, as in she smooshed them all.

Hubby was able to prevent that sad ending this time by clearing out her corral space of every last twig. She was in the habit of building huge nests, full of branches and twigs and so steep the piglets would roll right off it, falling between branches and getting pinned whenever she moved around. We were worried with another total loss we’d have to get rid of her because we like her so much, she’s so gentle and good-natured. She loves company and will even go on walks with us. It is truly amazing how graceful these huge creatures are around those tiny, squirmy little things!

I did not mean to hit ’slo-mo’ during this video, oops! Need to work on my skills.

Virginia had a similar setup to Momma Chop, but she wanted nothing of it. She went off into the woods to build her own nest, her way. Luckily she doesn’t have such a penchant for branches and twigs. She’s got more of the wild side in her attitude as well as her nesting preferences. And she certainly does not appreciate prying eyes and will come after anyone who gets too close to her brood!

Peek-a-boo! Yes that is Hubby running away from one irritated mama!

Watching the little lambs play, and sleep, is so cute. But I expect when the kids come next month we’ll really be in for a comic treat! It will be our first experience with goat births and I hope it goes as smoothly as the sheep did this time.

Getting friskier by the day!

We have a new visitor to the garden which surprised us.

It’s been there every day now for about a week and I’ve never seen one like it around here before. It flies just like a hummingbird and had us quite confused. It was darting all around so fast and so far that it took me about 10 minutes and 30 attempts to get one decent shot of it. After some searching we learned it is some kind of hawk moth. Fastest moth in the west? Sometimes I undervalue the usefulness of the Internet, I might’ve been left baffled on that simple identification for a lifetime!

Not to mention the joy of sharing these simple pleasures with y’all!

Fall Flourishing

It’s been unseasonably warm for us so far, with regular episodes of more mild weather whiplash than in recent past years. I suspect that’s about to change, so here’s the garden as it’s growing now.

It’s a first for fresh tomatoes in December around here! We are still harvesting from the ‘volunteer’ tomato jungle growing in the duck coop. It looks so pretty and is producing much more than we can munch. Even though it’s tedious work, I dry them. They come out delicious that way and can be added to all sorts of dishes or made into a pesto.

The large tomatoes pictured here are previously frozen. Freezing the surplus in summer solves one big problem around here: the tomatoes come ripe after the cilantro has gone to seed. To me, salsa without cilantro is like a bed without pillows! Now the cilantro is growing like gangbusters, and we still have fresh peppers (another first!), so we get nearly fresh salsa in December too.

With the peppers still growing strong that means in 20/20 hindsight I should not have moved a couple of them last month to winter them indoors after all. Where’s my crystal ball when I need it most?!

Now that’s a radish! I love all radishes, but the Korean radish is seriously impressive.

The mushrooms continue to marvel me! First we had chanterelles nearly all summer, now we have delicious ’wood blewits’ (clitocybe nuda—ok that sounds a bit pornographic, no?!) and tabescens, and lactarius paradoxus. Also pictured are either the hallucinogenic ’laughing Jims’ (Gymnopilus spectabilis) or the highly toxic ’Jack-o-lanterns’ (Omphalotus olearius). The latter I give to a friend who uses them to dye yarn. The former, if I were 100% sure of my identification, I might be inclined to try! Apparently you can tell from the spore print color, either orange or white. But, what about when it comes out whitish-orange? Too risky for me!

The cooler temperatures make even our old dogs feel a little frisky!

Play time!

And for a little more humor . …

How Do You Know They’re Fake?

I’ve been trying to talk with folks about the fake clouds and the fake weather for so long now that I’ve been able to witness my personal growth on the topic.

At first I was simply appalled. Seriously?! How on earth can you NOT see it? It’s so obvious to me and has been for so long it’s like when I discovered real cheese and real beer for the first time, in Europe. That was over 30 years ago, when I’d only previously tasted individually wrapped Kraft American cheese slices and a few sips of my step-dad’s Bud Light. It was a revelation. I could never again feign a taste for fake cheese. Of course, I went on to uni and drank plenty of fake beer.

(Yesterday (11.30.2021) from morning to dusk. Some of us can not only see it, we can smell it and feel it and have palpable physical reactions to it—like allergies, cough, vertigo, etc. We’re called ‘sensitive’ in the pejorative and told we’re crazy and to take more meds.)

One can argue that the cheese, the beer, the clouds are not ‘fake’ and I understand that position. Just because they are mass produced and have very little in common with the original doesn’t mean they’re fake. I’ve tried to find a more descriptive word—imitation, manufactured, chemically-concocted, disgusting—but the word choice doesn’t seem to matter anyway, folks just don’t want to hear it.

So I took some well-meaning advice in trying on some new tactics in years past. Don’t say ‘chemtrails’, use the science terms—albibo enhancement by stratospheric sulfur injection, solar radiation management, climate remediation, etc—that way when folks look it up online they don’t get lost in ‘conspiracy theory’. If anyone has yet to research anything thanks to my posts, comments, rants, or suggestions, I have yet to hear about it.

Then I tried some advice from the ‘communication-expert’ types: say 5 positive things for every negative one, ask more questions than make statements, don’t get flustered, never let them see you sweat. Problem is, that requires I fake it, which I loathe doing. Not to mention, in my opinion there doesn’t exist 5 positive things about geoengineering and when I’ve tried to fake it, the teeny, weeny, little negative gets lost in all the “positive” and no one hears it anyway.

I’ve come to the conclusion that simply, very few folks care, for the same reasons they don’t care if they’re eating fake cheese, drinking fake beer or touching fake boobs. The simulacra is good enough for them. They prefer it even. Like the time I was giving landscaping advice to an acquaintance. She wanted some ‘curb-appeal’ plants. Her requirements were that they look good all year, never drop any ‘mess’ on the lawn or sidewalk, and require zero maintenance. “Ah, so you want some plastic plants then,” I replied. That’s where we’re at as a culture, and I accept that.

But as long as I live I will NEVER stop complaining about it, ranting about it, or praying it was different, or trying to change it all back to its natural state.

Even if I never reach a single soul or gain an inch against the tide of insanity.

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