Homestead Happenings

Just a wee hodgepodge of happy snaps and some light commentary for today.

Our preserving efforts have been at fever pitch with bushels of cucumbers and melons coming in. The Noirs des Carmes cantaloupe that was my main prize experiment for this summer has been a success, for the most part. We’ve gotten loads of melons, way too many to count, and the majority of them have been good.

But many of them have ‘exploded’— and that’s not just split, but within a day, before even being fully ripe, they’ve blown open completely. Some are tasteless even though fully ripe. Some are softening while still small and unripe.

The pigs have been the great beneficiaries of these rejects. I do understand why this melon is not commercially available and is not a favorite at farmer’s markets either, even though when they’re good, they’re delicious. Though some of these issues could certainly be the extreme heat and drought, they do not last long once they are ripe. They must ripen on the vine, and once ripe they last only a few days before rotting.

For us they’ve been prolific and very tasty even under stressful conditions, so they will be a keeper. Needless to say, we’ve been eating A LOT of melon! Melon for breakfast, snacks, aqua fresca, desserts, juice, syrup, jam and smoothies.

A small fraction of our harvest, preparing to make preserves.

We’re trying to take advantage of the heat by trying out a recent gift, a sun oven!

Our place is so small and we love cooking, but it’s hardly economical heating up the whole house every afternoon, when it’s blazing hot outside, and while inside the air conditioning is blasting away.

The kids are growing so fast! I’m slowly, gently trying to ween them. In this heat I don’t dare take too much milk for us, just enough for our morning coffee. But the daily training is still essential, for us all.

Around 5:00 am I separate mamas and kids for about 5 hours. The kids are eating grains and forage already, but they don’t like to be long off those teets, that’s for sure! By 9:00 they are wailing and it’s hard to listen to them while we’re working away outside, but it must be tolerated.

I train them on the milk stand and bring them a wheelbarrow full of sweet potato vines, which they devour.

A few baffling successes have been carrots and broccoli that are still producing in this heat! This is a first for us. I guess I got the timing and variety just right, for once. They are both under shade cloth and not totally productive or tasty, but good enough for us and a very nice surprise.

I’ve started some seed trays of tomatoes and lettuce indoors for the fall garden. Fingers crossed, I’ve never had successful fall tomatoes so far, but you never know, considering those carrots and broccoli!

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!

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

Romancing the Goat: An Ode to the Redneck

Something is wrong! What have I done?!

The friend who traded us for Summer, our first milking goat, patiently tried to coach me, not nearly as concerned as I was.

“Are you massaging her udder with a warm wash cloth before you milk her?”

Yes I am!

“Are you feeding her her favorite treat before and after milking?”

Yes, again!

Though I did try on the first day to transition her from her animal cracker addiction to fresh cucumbers straight from the garden, thinking of her long term health.

Summer would have none of it.

After 3 days of barely being able to coax a cup from her I thought for sure I’d created some awful affliction, maybe worse than mastitis, yet to be listed in any book, from my sheer incompetence, or maybe that she just didn’t like me, at all.

Her udder was full to the point of bursting, but I was failing miserably at filling my pail. At that point if my friend had advised me to bring scented candles, perhaps some champagne too, to our milking sessions I’d have asked, “Which scent does she prefer?”

But as chance would have it, on the 4th day we had visitors. Friends of this friend wanted one of our young boars for future breeding. These were true farm folk, born and raised. I wasted no time whining about my failure as a blossoming milkmaid.

I played coy for the necessary split second before taking them up on their offer to take a peak at her.

When they saw her udder they had concerns. The dreaded ‘mastitis’ term crossed their lips and I felt even more deflated.

“Oh, no, how do I fix that?” I lamented.

Summer hopped right up on the milk stand for her animal crackers. At least we got that part down. They both examined her udder more closely and concurred it wasn’t particularly hot, so probably not mastitis, followed by my great sigh of relief.

The large man, with a deep country drawl, stepped behind her then and proceeded to pound at her swollen bag with an upward motion and milk burst out both her teets.

“Ain’t nothin’ wrong with this goat!” he confirmed. Then he gave a couple of tugs and strong, steady milk streams came pouring forth.

“How did you do that?” Was my relieved exclamation.

He proceeded to show me how it was all my bad, I was not being nearly rough enough.

“You gotta get way up in there hard and pull that milk down. Give her some good shots with your fist, like this. As long as your not bruising her or using a 2 x 4, she’s fine.”

Summer was completely calm and unfazed by this approach. Apparently I was tickling her more than milking her. We’re already up to a quart with my refined method.

I envy the rednecks and all their learnin’. So little seems to phase them, whereas I still get squeamish around blood and death and dis-ease after a decade of the most typical farm foibles.

Perhaps reading my mind and wishing to make me feel better, the large man shared a story as we stood at the gate before their departure.

“Now, I apologize in advance,” he began, “we just met, but let me tell you . . .”

And he proceeded to tell the story, flush with explicatives, about his recent long haul (he’s a truck driver in addition to a farmer, few make it these days as ‘just’ farmers) when his Bigrig broke down.

“Well I had to get one of them Ubers to take me into town and I ain’t ever been so scared in my life!” He’s a veteran, served overseas in the Middle East, grew up on a farm, been a truck driver for decades, but that Uber driver had him clinging with both hands for dear life, begging to Jesus and swearing to never get in a car with one of them crazy drivers for anything money can buy.

I inquired if he’d gone online to give the driver a poor rating.

“A poor rating?” he questioned. “They don’t go that low!”

He’s probably too nice of a guy to give that driver an ear-full while he had the chance. But I bet I would’ve!

I tried to find an appropriate fun song about goats to finish this post, but the best one was about a Billy.

Milking Mamas, Busy as Bees

Big days on the wee homestead! The cucumbers are coming in by the bushel full, the lambs are dropping like rabbits, the mushrooms are growing like mad and the bees sound exceptionally pleased. I can’t keep up!

Luckily, Handy Hubby is here now every day, thanks to his ‘early retirement’ (that is his layoff six months ago) thanks to The Great Scamdemic. With his steady efforts and attention our place is shaping up beautifully and my stress levels have been reduced by half, even as chaos still reigns. For these are not the only new milking mamas, I’m now officially a milkmaid in training myself!

Welcome, Summer! Two piglets for a goat in milk was our barter with a friend. She’s settling in nicely and Phoebe was the first of the herd to greet her.

Learning to milk in humid and buggy 95 degrees F is every bit as pleasant as it sounds. 😏

Impressive udder and gymnast-like capabilities!

Handy Hubby crafted me a nice milk stand from plans posted by Fias Co Farms, a very good resource for goat newbies.

The chanterelles will surely give up very soon in this heat, so I forced myself to brave the mosquitoes and ticks once more to gather one last big basket full. I came across a new variety while hunting that’s not in any of my books, so I contacted Texas Foraging expert Mark ‘Merriwether’ Vorderbruggen, who identified it and directed me to this excellent site:

https://mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/hexagonal-pored-polypore

Since our temps went from April-like to August-like overnight, I got stuck in a bit of a bind with the bees. Because I’m trying to work between 3 different hive types (very stupid, do not entertain this folly I would advise) I’m trying to get them to move of their own accord. It is working, but it is quite a slow process. I will eventually have 3 colonies from this one very full nuc without too much destruction or fuss, or at least that’s my plan.

To end I offer a true garden success. I’ve been experimenting a lot with companion planting, sometimes with advice from permaculture books, but sometimes just by my own observations. This year I planted sunflowers very early, before it was warm enough for the cucumbers and melons. My thought was to attract the bees to the garden like a lure down to the still small cucumbers. It’s worked like a charm and the trellises are bursting with activity.

I’m also trying some new tricks with the tomatoes, letting the cherry types go wild, but highly managing the large varieties and interspersing them with various herbs, lots of comfrey, turmeric and ginger. The results are not yet in on those efforts, but I’ll keep y’all posted.

Mmm, grapes, our favorite! Ta Ta for now

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