Homestead Happenings

Just a wee update with some happy snaps because we’ve been keeping as busy as bees around here!

The bees are busy indeed and multiplying like rabbits. Time to expand their chambers or to do some splits.

Bearding in summer, not too unusual in our hot climate. But, bearding in spring, probably a sign they’re really cramped and fixing to swarm.

I did end up losing one colony, the only one I have in the conventional Langstroth model hive. I’m going to blame myself for that though, I left a super on over winter and we had a really bad winter. They made it through alright from the looks of things, but left about a month ago, probably because their numbers were still too small to keep a mansion clean while trying to nurse babies to build up the colony again. There was no evidence of freezing or starving, so I suspect they left as a small swarm. That’s my story anyway.

Construction continues on the best project so far. Handy Hubby is building an addition to our house and I’m over the moon excited about it! This place was never meant to be a year-round residence, it was initially used as a weekend cottage and hadn’t been used for many years by the time we moved in.

We’ve been cramped for quite a while, but now we’ll have a new, very necessary and very functional, climate-controlled Utility room. Thank you, my love, better late than never! 😉

We aren’t cat people but we adopted a barn kitten last year to try to help with our mouse, vole, mole, gopher, snake problems. Apparently she didn’t get the memo, or realized the problem was so bad she needed a crew.

Skittles, our frisky barn kitten having kittens.

Our piglet population is back down to a manageable size since trading 2 piglets for a milking goat to be delivered next month and 2 others for a breeding ram after a friend has freshened her flock. We also traded a beehive for some bantam hens because they are known for their strong broody behavior, and sure enough, here’s one tightly tucked on her clutch. It’s one of my favorite things to trade with folks and leave Uncle Sam with his funny money out of our pockets for a change.

You can’t see me! Bantam hens, known for tucking up in tiny corners to brood.

As for garden developments, I continue my efforts incorporating permaculture features. I keep experimenting with good companion plants; I’m planting more perennials amongst the annuals; I’m doing more succession planting; I’m getting lots of comfrey growing for ‘chop and drop’ composting.

My latest addition is a ‘poison garden’ including such toxic beauties as datura, belladonna and castor bean. I’m testing a few tricks like ‘spooning’ the onions, which is to remove the dirt from the bulb tops to encourage larger storing onions. I’m watering weekly with ‘poop soup’ that is, watered down cow manure I’ve gathered from the stray cows sometimes wandering our property.

It’s a dirty job, but anything for my plants!

As always, I let the herbs and greens go to seed, but this year I’m going to get better about seed-saving. The price of seeds is going through the roof! Another new project I’m dedicating time to is more propagating, but not just the easy stuff anymore, like figs and roses and mulberries.

I’m going for the big time—‘native’ trees! Wild cherry (because they taste so amazing), Osage orange (because they are so useful) and prickly ash (because they look so cool) are at the top of my current list.

As for foraging, a favorite spring activity for me, in addition to pokeweed and dandelions, I’ve got another new favorite: greenbrier tips—taste just like asparagus. The root, along with sassafras root, were once the main ingredients of root beer, which I plan to try soon. Yum!

Ciao for now, thanks for stopping by!

They Live!

If you’re needing a dose of good news from Texas you’ve come to the right post. I’m so pleased to report the snow and ice have been replaced with spring temperatures virtually overnight. One night with snow is already considered a lot here and we had it for a week.

Once I realized the piglets, sheep and goats were faring just fine, my worry was for the bees. We’d covered as much as possible in the garden but I had little hope anything would survive. It’s only the lightweight row cover, which in normal times would be enough here.

It’s certainly not rated for 4 inches of snow and ice, for a week, and for the second time this year. I expected rows of dead onions and lettuce but was pleasantly surprised.

Best news Today: All 6 colonies are alive and seemingly thriving! I couldn’t be more thrilled because, of course, I’d considered the worst, but prayed for the best.

I’m so glad now that my instinct in fall was to not take any honey, even though I waffled for weeks about it. I think sometimes procrastination is actually a 6th sense at play—an inner voice hinting to you that the time is not yet ripe. Or at least in hindsight that excuse is marvelous for reassuring youself of your keen judgement, which only works if it indeed did turn out to be keen, which with gardening in Texas these days is more like Russian Roulette than Old Maid. (Bad pun intended, if you can catch it!) 😉

Or, ignore my babbling (wiser choice) and offer yourself one full minute of BeeZen. That’s today’s happy bees, feasting on the Chinese cabbage I’d left to go to seed just for them, which survived our week-long ‘Arctic’ blast (meanwhile, the Arctic has Texas temps, go figure), now a welcome treat! Along with the henbit, which survived in bloom under the snow for a week. WOOHOO!!!

Now, deep breath, and . . .

Hubby camped with all 4 dogs in the living room so he could keep the wood stove burning, that’s our only heat source. And, unlike so much of the state, we only lost electricity for one night and had prepared the water pipes, kept the faucets running, which is the common hack around here, and hopefully also saved some perennials with tarping, but time will tell.

The best thing that could come from yet another weather disaster, not just here, but anywhere, is that folks get prepared. It’s not fun, it’s not comfortable. But without it the lesson is always the same and should be neon-level obvious by now: Self-reliance is FAR greater peace of mind than relying on collapsing structures. Food, water, energy, folks, time to get back to the basics!

Mattress moved to the living room in front of the wood stove, Handy Hubby managed to fit in there somewhere.
First time they’ve ever been inside, and they were SO good!

Homestead Happy Snaps

It’s time again for some fun snaps. Apparently my ‘extremist’ opinions are not nearly as popular as far as posts go. What a mystery! 🙂

As usual, not suitable viewing for vegetarians.

But, our veggie of the year has definitely been the turnip. Not too sexy, I know. Personally I think the turnip is way under-rated. Lucky for us, they were so prolific this year we’ve been giving them away, feeding them to the pigs and eating them ourselves pretty much daily. Raw, baked, stewed, roasted, fermented—don’t knock ‘em ‘til you try ‘em! (And if you have any yummy suggestions for preparation, please do share.).

Hakurei F1 Turnip from Johnny’s Seeds—fantastic producer, delicious and nutritious

Our small asparagus bed was so over-packed we created 2 huge beds for them, had to go outside the garden fence and cut down a few trees to do it, and still had enough to give a big box away to a sister homesteader.

I also dug up the ‘naked lady’ lilies, day lilies and iris, replanted a bunch of them and still had loads to give away. I love to spread the wealth! It was A LOT of work, but hopefully worth it. Time will tell.

(Note to new gardeners: DO NOT crowd your asparagus, those crowns are a nightmare to separate once they get over-clumped. Lesson learned the hard way.)

Fava beans and lovely greens and my favorite herb, chervil.

Mama Chop, ready to pop! Papa Chop must be very proud, he got Virginia preggers too, her first time. Loads of piglets coming any day now.

We had to borrow another ram, apparently the last one was sleeping on the job. He’s been keeping very busy.

Handy Hubby’s Grand TajMa-Coop post coming up soon, it’s a beauty, so stay tuned!

Dare I say, it’s the classiest coop in the county?
Have a Great Dane of a day!

Easy-Peasy 2020

Relatively speaking, we had an excellent year. I’m not the type to gloat, really. It comes as no surprise to me at all that my experience is pretty much the polar opposite of most folks most of the time. I accepted that ages ago and prefer to think I’m perfecting this ‘gift’ bit by bit, year by year.

Following are some highlights, some whys and hows and so forth, not meaning to boast or give advice, but rather to contrast previous years with my rosy 2020 perspectacles.

I perfected sourdough bread. I’ve been getting failures regularly for years without understanding why and thanks to one farm friend and her new guru, Elaine Boddy, I got the bitch slap needed to learn I was doing it ALL wrong. Not only was I making it infinitely more difficult than it had to be, I had a flabby starter and was creating needless waste. We’ve entered into higher consciousness sourdough on the wee homestead, praise be.

She doesn’t just make it look easy, she actually makes it easy.

I have also become a Kombucha master. Really, a master. It’s easy to say that for a number of reasons, but especially because so few folks drink it around here, or like it once they try it, that it’s in the realm of ‘acquired tastes’ and only needs to appeal to Hubby, and two nearby friend-aficionados. I’ve been working on signature blends for months, using seasonal herbs and fruits, have Kombucha vinegar in a few flavors and am now aging Kombucha champagne. It’s the funnest thing ever. Or, I’m just a real geek like that.

Of course, no one becomes master without help, and in Kombuchaland, this is Scripture:

Even funner than making cheese and much easier too.

Three great gardening successes overshadow the multiple failures—like a second year of sweet potato perils and a fourth year of melon miseries. I leave those to ponder in an upcoming post. For now, it’s Cranberry hibiscus, Blue coco beans and Trombetta squash. I really can’t praise them enough and they were prolific and worry-free and I can’t wait to plant them again in profusion.

But I once said that about the sweet potatoes and the melons, so I’ll shut up now.

Trombetta squash, delicious as summer or winter squash, we have one still standing in the kitchen waiting to be enjoyed.
It’s the sepals that are most popular for tea-making with the Thai red Roselle, aka cranberry hibicus or rosella.
Still eating these six months later and a second crop of volunteers came back at the end of summer.
All the wild grapes and pears we’d harvested and processed and froze in preparation for wine and cider-making were spoiled, because Hubby accidentally turned the deep freezer off. His one big dumb move of the year, pretty mild, relatively speaking again.

Extra-special mention goes of course to the best news of the year, Hubby’s layoff-rebranded early retirement, a somewhat unexpected miracle that has improved my reality already in very unexpected ways. Sometimes the true weight of a burden isn’t fully realized until it’s lifted.

I think he prefers his current working conditions.
Pretty certain it will take him a while to get sick of us, but just in case, there’s always the sourdough.

I knew he’d take over most of my animal chores leaving me more time in the garden and the kitchen, where I most prefer to be. And that he’d build more and relax more and check off items on the to-do list at a more satisfying pace. We’ve added two large asparagus beds, coop 3.0 has raised the bar once more in poultry housing, the orchard looks positively professionally and my promised potting shed is in the planning phase finally.

What I had not expected was how good all of that would feel and that it would come so early and that he’d be so glad about it and that we’d be prepared enough for it to not miss the income much in the foreseeable future.

There’s incredible empowerment and peace of mind in preparing, and not just financially. It has gone in a single year from “Prepping” being something we heard mocked for a decade in the mainstream to now feeling like we were choosing wisely all along—not the easy road for sure, but the right road for us and the many others doing likewise.

And with that a wee bit of a boast.

And another. Still, mask-free, with no need or intention to alter that reality or any of the layers horse shit coming down the pipeline with it in future. Have I earned the right yet to say what I really think about these fucking vaccines? Decker, at Dispatches from the Asylum, says it best so far: vials of battery acid.

Just mark me down in your permanent ‘anti-vaxx’ file and if they send the goons to our house, warn them they’ll be given a good ole-fashioned goose chase. (hmm, bravado before breakfast, I must be feeling good!)

Food for thought for the New Year:

“Ignorantly worshiping our own being on the theater of the external world leads to pathological behavior and neurosis. We are ensnared and enslaved to the will of despots in all sorts of guises. We are wide open to irrationality, manipulation, mania and insanity. As parents often work to deliberately undermine our will and identity, the world’s leaders and misleaders use our psychic dissociation to their advantage. In fact, our estrangement from ourselves is the main reason for the rise of all tyranny. However, the deadly predicament ends the moment we heed the inscription at the Oracle of Delphi – “Gnothi Seuton” or Know Thyself. No other instruction is needed on the journey toward enlightenment.

Jesus Meets Jung: Religion vs. Psychology – michaeltsarion

Homestead Happenings

Just a wee update on the wee homestead during our current Sweltering Season—that runs from about mid-July to October here—where you thank Man every damn day, and especially every night, for inventing A/C, and refrigeration.  As miserable as it is, especially when the weather makers continue to steal our rain, this has been the best one yet for me.

When we first came here I swore I’d travel every summer at this time.  HA!  After that plan failed, I’d give up on the garden by this time, because who really cares about okra and eggplant anyway?  I’d ritually whine to Hubby we are over-producing.

Recently pulling out a hot sauce from 5 years ago, with pickles and marinara still left from 2 years ago, Hubby made an astute (yet annoying) observation.   “Aren’t you glad now we were over-producing?”

Yes, indeed I am.  I haven’t had to don a face diaper yet, and I’ve no intention to.  I’ve got a freezer full of grapes and tomatoes to process, a fridge full of peppers and a living room full of pears awaiting the same fate, fall seedlings started, a pack of dogs at my feet, and the plan to take a serious ‘home vacation’ very soon.  More details on that forthcoming.

In the meantime, look how the girls have grown!

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We’ve established a favorite snack station!

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Not for sure if all the sheep are pregnant, but clearly the majority are, fingers crossed.

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The hummingbirds and bees are happy with my offerings and don’t even notice the heat, it seems.  6 colonies going strong so far, or so it seems from their activity at the entrance, because I never mess with them in the Sweltering Season.

The old piglets are getting fat while Mamma & Papa Chop are getting reacquainted in the Back 40, planning for more piglets soon on the way, we hope.

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I’ll leave out the part where friends and I are complaining about the mysterious lack of butterflies this year.

 

Homestead Happenings

Just another loungey Sunday on the wee homestead.  I’m so grateful I don’t have to go to the grocery store, or venture to town at all or anywhere near where masks are apparently now required, and witness the ‘shitf**kery’ (Decker’s choice expression from Dispatches from the Asylum, highly recommended for anyone who might wish to choose a few minutes of lucid reality) happening all around us, apparently, like a super-creepy episode of the Twilight Zone or Black Mirror.

Here we have problems, who doesn’t.  Even if might be completely unmanageable problems, at least they are sane, rational problems.

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Another 20 pounds of wild grapes, whatever to do with them all?  And melons harvested a bit early due to disease, no where to store them but the living room as they ripen, so problematic.

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Girls gone grazing!  Whatever to do, what if the kids flock with the sheep and forget all about me?  This is what keeps me up at night.

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Why are some of my very favorite plants considered toxic and are pooh-pooed by ‘science’ and most of my modern-day neighbors (and certainly NOT by my ancestral ones!)?  Like this gorgeous castor bean, the ubiquitous pokeweed everybody wants to kill, and especially my most beloved Datura?  These heat-lovers belong in the South!

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A gorgeous volunteer Datura growing here in the background.  No poultry have died from it, though we’ve lost more than usual to something mysterious, about 20 now, one or two at a time, with no clue as to why.

Here’s a wonder: why do Lowe’s, Walmart, and all the other shills of the Corporatocracy sell the same zucchini and yellow squash seedlings that are nearly impossible for organic gardeners to grow according to everyone I’ve talked to, including the Master Gardeners to whom I once was a member?  Get out there with your hand-vac at dawn, they all said, to gobble up all the squash bugs and vine borers they attract, meanwhile this gorgeous heirloom squash (Trombetta) takes it all, virtually maintenance-free, with the stamina of a giant, even in our crazy summer heat?!

Bubba & Buttercup: “How to stay cool in incessantly manufactured weather, we wonder?  Don’t worry, we’ll find a way!”

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And here’s to the countless ninnies and nitwits claiming Trump is solving the weather modification/geoengineering issue.  Come on now, do I have to go back to photographing the sky every damn day?

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“Mamma, we’ll follow you anywhere, just save us from the chicanery and chaos of civilization!”

You’re Kidding Me

Oh my, I suck again.  Of course I already knew goats are notoriously mischievous.  And as a habitual novice, I expect mistakes and steep learning curves, but a nearly fatal accident before my new kids are here even a week?

Don’t worry, the story has a happy ending or I wouldn’t be writing it right now.  I’d still be sobbing, watching chick flicks, eating popcorn, and overindulging in kombucha cocktails, like I did all afternoon yesterday.

I don’t handle this kind of thing well at all.  In fact, even that expression ‘to handle it’ is too generous, because I barely do.  What actually happens is I panic, get hysterical, panic some more, act out of sheer desperation, and then sob, whether or not I was successful.  I have so much awe and admiration for real farm folk, the kind that grew up with livestock, so that all this life and death drama is second nature to them.  But I grew up like most Americans, very sheltered from death and the other common dramas of nature.

I woke up yesterday morning and went directly to the corral where I have the new kids penned up, for their safety, of course.  No, not at all of course.  Phoebe, once the tamer and more exuberant of the two, had wedged herself in the feeder, she was on the ground not moving, I thought she was dead.  Panic ensued immediately.  I left the gate open as I rushed to her, and out bolted Chestnut, who then also panicked as the dogs began pursuing her eagerly around the corral.

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Guard or chase, we’re getting mixed messages?!

Phoebe’s neck was twisted in a horrific way, but she was still breathing.  And I couldn’t get her out.  I struggled for what seemed like 20 minutes but was probably more like 2, absolutely beside myself.  I thought for sure if her neck wasn’t already broken, I was breaking it without a doubt.

I did at last get her out, she tried to stand, head and neck terribly deformed, and fell right back down again.  My mind was racing and whirling and the very thought that I was going to have to put her down had me collapse in a heap of sobbing.

She barely moved all day.  Miraculously though, she’s now recovering.  She doesn’t have her voice back at all, she’s more skittish, but she’s eating, and I am so grateful, and so lucky that my ineptitude and panic didn’t cause nearly as much pain as expected.

Something good in fact came out of it—I realized the wild grapes are ripe as I tore at the vines to bring the kids.  Today’s a new day and there’s no time to keep crying over milk not even spilled.

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Grapes for the adults and vines for the kids. Now get busy crushing, woman!

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2 huge tomato plants found dead, mysteriously, full of unripe fruit. No time to cry or wonder why!

Boasting & Roasting

A warm thanks to those kind souls who click like on my weird poetry.  I really appreciate that, because I consider them like word salads. I love making salads, but I’m consistently better at the edible type. Both of these salad varieties I make from true love of craft, which is really the only way to go for me, because then failures become almost meaningless.  I can’t imagine what might stop me from always trying again.

But poetry is just fun for me.  What I really do for (a) living is create delicious beauty and abundance under pretty tough circumstances and often alone.

What I actually mean is:
I coax and nurture nature to feed our bodies, minds and souls!
What’s your super power?!!

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Welcome to my office!

I’ve had loads of failures already in the garden this year, and it’s still early. Under the constant attack of man in the way of weather warfare and in the terms of nature, who feels the assault as well, of course, but takes it out on me, personally.

Mexican sour gherkin
Mexican sour gherkin, normally a heat-lover and such a cute plant to grow, but showing stress already.

Just as the first crop of melons were coming ripe voles or moles took out 6 of 7 plants. I out-smart them this time by planting melons in a few locations, and at different times, but some sort of mite has just found the second patch and their population is exploding practically overnight.

Then they took over the cucumbers and are feasting on the eggplant leaves too! Greedy pests out to torture me vicariously.

I always avoid spraying any manufactured chemical in the garden. Sometimes I have to do something though, or it will all be dead in a fortnight, and right before harvest after so much hard work. The bees are all over these same plants too, which is why I tend to wait too long and hope the problem will just go away.

When I do finally cave, I go for an oil/dish soap mix that’s actually pretty effective on the mites but gentle on the bees. I do it early in the morning on an every other day schedule between overhead sprinkling. We do not (but will, I hope!) have a well, so that is treated water going all over the garden constantly, because the weather terrorists have stolen our rain, again.

Someday, when there are more folks growing their own food, weather will matter to them again, and they will realize it’s being manipulated and they will join me in finding this practice completely unacceptable. That’s my big dream anyway during this best Apocalypse ever.

My current nightmare is the drip irrigation and the grasses. We will be evolving our design, again. Boxes lined with heavy duty wire mesh everywhere. Probably no grass at all, eventually. Those damn rodents also got a bed full of jalapeños, the parsley and some lettuce. We’ve lost countless young fruit trees to them, too.

It’s a really good way to teach and learn strategy and problem solving, and it never ends. Gifts of Ba’al, as James True likes to say.

My current paradise is in the salads—growing them, crafting them, sharing them. I’m getting a bushel full of cucumbers every day. I got so sick of processing green beans I’m letting them go now for fresh and dried beans. That’s another reason I love these gorgeous ‘Blue Coco’ beans, they are so prolific and can be eaten for months as young, mature, or dried. Unfortunately they are also showing signs of great stress, which considering it’s in the 90s every day and there’s been no rain for about a month, it’s not surprising.

Blue Coco

I always let some of the greens and herbs go to seed. Not only do the bees love the flowers, but the tips have loads of flavor and add an attractive addition to salads and soups.

The blackberries are still coming in heavy, and, drum roll please, we’re days away from salsa season!

Trombetta squash flower

My new favorite garden addition is Trombetta squash and I haven’t even tried the fruit yet. I love it just because it’s so beautiful and it’s still flourishing, even though all the zucchini and yellow squash died before producing anything. I’m convinced after years of failure that they cannot be grown here organically without far too much headache than they’re worth. That makes it all the more thrilling to find a squash that just might make it into the rotation.

Trombetta squash vine

If you’ve never experienced going grocery shopping in your own garden, crafting it up your own unique way in your kitchen, and sharing it (even if it’s just with the pigs because it didn’t turn out that good) you’re missing out on what I consider the most satisfying work I’ve ever done.  I’d have to be dragged kicking and screaming back into the office, or the classroom, ever again.

And that’s another reason why this is the best Apocalypse ever!

For any of y’all who want to talk real weather, meet Mike Morales.