There is the famous gardening adage of ‘4 in a row’ but it seems there should be another one something like ‘Every single success brings 4 new challenges’.
Because of course, now that we’ve spent years building up a gorgeous loamy soil from our heaps of sand and clay, the moles, voles and gophers have moved in with a vengeance. It’s gotten so bad I’ve had to enlist Handy Hubby with his big guns.
And now that we have the fanciest coop in the county, we’re losing more eggs and chicks than ever—to the only beasts still able to penetrate the walled and fenced fortress—snakes. Another job for . . . Guess who?
Of course the snakes don’t go after the rodents, why go to the extra effort of hunting when there’s free food lying around everywhere?
Of course the cat doesn’t go after the snakes or the rodents, or maybe she does, but she can’t keep up with the steady traffic.
So we’ve lost all our cabbages, most of our broccoli, a couple dozen onions (don’t believe the hype, onions are not a rodent deterrent by any stretch of the imagination).
We had a Foraging Walk that was well worth the two years waiting. The first postponement was after a tornado leveled their property during one of their tribal ceremonies, the Caddo Mounds in Weeping Mary, which I wrote about here and here.
The second time was during the initial stages of the Plandemic, when I cancelled due to mask mandates.
On this fun foray, 3rd time was a charm, no storms, no masks and a very educational afternoon. Top 3 things I learned:
1. Medicinal weeds should never be dehydrated in a machine, something about chemistry. Two ubiquitous weeds I thought had no other redeeming qualities besides bee food: Goldenrod and Carolina geranium, are in fact beneficial medicinals.
2. There’s a compound in red cedar that inhibits the breakdown of alcohol for 18 hours. So, a common practice is to soak some branch tips in strong spirits for a month. The final product becomes kind of like Absinthe in that it’s potent enough to cause hallucinations, which can lead to great art, says me, or, a cheap date, says Hubby.
3. Foraging in areas where there was once iron mining operations, quite common around here apparently, unbeknownst to me, should be avoided due to potential mercury contamination.
A super exciting swarm event is next on the Fun list!
I’ve been wanting to populate a couple of re-furbished TopBar hives, but the dimensions are not the same as those Hubby’s crafted, so splits would prove very challenging.
I was hoping for swarms, and got one off the ‘bearding’ hive I recently wrote about (pictured above). They stationed themselves about 75 feet away in a young cedar tree and I got lucky to find them there immediately, while I was nearby harvesting mulberries. This is our first plentiful mulberry crop and I’m not sure what to make with them. Any suggestions?
I did recently learn from the Deep Green Permaculture site that it’s possible to get a 2nd crop of mulberries by cutting the branches back after the 1st harvest.
As far as the swarm goes, my first attempt was dismal, in the ‘Don’t do this!’ category of the pathetic novice, which I should know better by now, which I post so y’all can laugh at me, as I well deserve.
I don’t know what I was thinking! I wasn’t even good at holding a tray like that as a cocktail waitress. Spontaneous blasphemy makes this quick clip RATED R—For Mature Audiences Acting Immaturely Only. (Bet you didn’t know in a past life I was a sailor!)
The 2nd attempt was successful, thanks to Hubby, who sawed the branch off into my waiting hands so I could gently walked them over to their new hive. They seem to be adjusting nicely! These thoughtful bees saved me lots of messy work.
The Ninja* colony has attracted a gorgeous bird, which I’m pretty sure after consulting my field guide, is a Summer Tanager. Though I don’t approve of his hunting live bees, he does also forage dead bees under the hive, so he gets a pass.
*Ninja colony, so named due to their constant battling yet relatively calm nature. I believe this is at least partly due to their position right next to the house, where they get constant traffic, but seem unperturbed by it, unlike the more remote colonies at the far end of the orchard, who are just plain abusive.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.).
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!
Just wanting to share this educational and inspiring Homesteading blog for anyone interested in these no longer lost arts without the sassy opinions and superfluous political commentary of some, so-called, homesteading blogs. Not mentioning any names (besides ours! HA!) 🙂
I’m not much for new year’s resolutions. But I am big on having goals and doing new things each year. I think it’s important to have something to look forward to in a new year. It feels like we’re sorely low on hope in our society today, so make plans, I say. Have something to…
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.
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:
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.
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 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.”
This is a post that defies logic, as I suppose you could already tell from the title. But, irrationality only scares me when it’s collective and blindly enforced.
For example, did you know that it’s illegal to possess an owl, dead or alive? Even an owl feather. I thought that was just a rumor, or one of those old, dumb laws that never get enforced and most folks have forgotten about anyway.
That is, until I called our local taxidermist to have one stuffed.
As chance, or synchronicity would have it, we found one dead in our front yard this past week. If you’ve ever seen one that close, and handled one, they are truly gorgeous and remarkable creatures. It looked perfectly healthy and in the prime of its life with no visible injuries or defects.
As chance, or synchronicity would have it, I’ve just been reading about owl symbolism in an interesting book called Lords of the Left-Hand Path: Forbidden Practices and Spiritual Heresies.
Those familiar with such symbolism will surely associate ‘dark magician’ Alister CrOWLy and Bohemian Grove with the owl. For many Christians the association will seem sinister and foreboding. To Satanists, however, the owl is known as the mascot of the sorcerers and a symbol of paranormal wisdom.
Belonging to neither of these faiths, I felt only awe, and deep sadness, as it appears from burns on its talons that it was electrocuted while feeding on a rodent. I revere and honor wildlife and abhor seeing it destroyed, whether accidentally or deliberately. The tears I shed for this beautiful creature are a testament to that fact.
I thought, what way might we honor the life of this magnificent being? I set it on the table, pulled the wings out to their full span, gently cleared a bit of grass from its feathers, and called the taxidermist.
I’ve never wanted or particularly liked mounted animal trophies. But, it just felt wrong to not do something, and I couldn’t think of anything else to do.
The taxidermist on the other end of the line took such a serious tone at my simple question it immediately jarred me.
“I could go to jail!” He meant me, as well as him, and sounded so paranoid I tried to defend myself.
“But we found him dead in the front yard!” I explained again. “What should I do with it then?”
Throw it in the trash was his reply.
He then proceeded to discourage me from calling any other taxidermists lest my loose lips land me in jail.
So, this is how to honor the death of a revered and respected wild predator—throw it in the trash? Yet another brilliant Government mandate, no doubt.
Reminds me of a meme I recently read: “If you think our problems are bad, just wait till you see our solutions.”
If owls really are as wise as the myths make them out to be, I seriously doubt they’re resting in peace.
I’ve had a recurring nightmare for too many years to count. I call them ‘stress dreams’ and there seems to be a direct correlation between how little stress I actually have and the overwhelming stress in the dreams.
A year or so ago I thought they’d stopped, or at least I’d hoped. I’d even written about this hope at the time, with fingers crossed. But, a few nights ago, it came again.
The details of these stress dreams are always very similar. I’m in a large, dirty, foreign city, alone and lost. I’m roaming the streets, looking for help, having lost my wallet, phone and shoes. I never find help and wake up feeling miserable and scared.
In reality, I haven’t lost my wallet since I was a kid. I’ve only once been barefoot on city streets (Paris), by choice (what was I thinking?!). I’m not all that attached to my phone either. Maybe that’s why sometimes in the dream I never had a phone at all, but find myself in phone booths (remember those?) unable to recall the phone numbers of anyone I know, Hubby included.
Now this next part might seem unbelievable, but it’s 100% true. On Friday I lost my wallet and two nights before that I had had the dream again. I didn’t even realize I’d lost it before a got a call. A woman’s voice from a nearby church left a message on my phone: “We found a wallet with your business card in it. If it’s yours, please call us.”
Not for one second did I think it was my wallet. I never lose my wallet! I went about my day for several hours after that wondering who at that church I’d given my business card to. I thought of several ladies I might call to see if they’d lost their wallets, in which my card could’ve been found, in order to be the Good Samaritan.
I was in the middle of making cheese (Munster, for more advanced cheese makers) when I had a sudden flash. Dumb move dipshit!
Remember putting your wallet on the hood of your car?
Remember retrieving your wallet from the hood of the car?
I checked my bag, sure enough, no wallet.
Hubby was coming inside at that moment and I repeated my foolishness. He jumped in the car with me and away we went.
We drove to the church on the beautiful quiet country roads just as the sun was beginning to sink low in the sky. I hadn’t realized it before, but this particular church is part of a very large and impressive complex—a retreat—spread out over rolling hills, with a big lake, lots of buildings and impeccably maintained grounds. To add to its picturesque-ness, there was an elderly man feeding the geese as we crossed the bridge to the main campus.
A stranger had found my wallet on the back road that was part of the property, a tiny dirt road, which I take as a shortcut to a friend’s farm. He turned it in to the groundskeeper, who took it to the church’s office manager, who in turn called me, all within a few hours.
The wallet was on the desk waiting for me, fully in tact, even with $220 in cash still there.
On the drive home I pondered my extremely good fortune. Not alone. Not barefoot on city streets. Not without help. Benefitting greatly from the kindness of strangers and on a lovely drive with my hubby on empty country roads at sunset.
And I thought, “What the hell is wrong with my artificial stress-filled dreams that can’t seem to align with my idyllic natural reality?”
Most of our cyber-only friends don’t know this, because we’ve been keeping it secret for security’s sake, but for the last nearly decade we’ve been establishing our wee homestead, I’ve been doing it alone for half the month.
I’ve wanted many times to talk about how hard this has been on this blog where I’ve shared so very many of our ups and downs, bad moods, worse ideas, unpopular philosophies and big defeats sporadically dotted with a few triumphs.
It’s been not only lonely and isolating, but also on more than a few occasions, terrifying, like when the tornado came through in the middle of the night, or the many times I’ve had to manage alone tasks like lambing—including their challenging life and death complications—all of which I have absolutely no previous experience with—having been raised in the burbs. We started with nothing, now we’ve got garden, orchard, dogs—started with chickens and now have poultry, sheep, goats, pigs. When I injured my shoulder about two years ago I was really at my wit’s end.
Of course, it was no picnic for Hubby either. He was offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, on platforms with all dudes, working long days far from home for weeks at a time for all those years. Then he’d come home and scarcely rest before diving in to the book-long homesteading to-do list and climbing learning curve after learning curve. He spent his vacations building coops and corrals and many acres worth of fencing.
Of course as well, he worried about me here alone, especially in the beginning. My learning to shoot gave him a bit of a respite, but considering I suck at it as well as abhor doing it leveled that relief mostly.
We stopped taking vacations, have almost no social life, rarely buy new anything. We both equally dreaded the inevitable moment one of our 4 big dogs died of old age or had a fatal accident while I was here alone. We lucked out there.
The physical challenges were hard enough, but the emotional ones have been exceptionally challenging for me.
Sundays off became a forced ritual after the first few years, a much needed one we’ve become reliant upon now in order to remind ourselves weekly that ultimately we came here for a better quality of life, not to recreate city-like schedules in the country and killing ourselves for some potentially unattainable goal.
So, after all that backstory, I’m beyond thrilled to announce a new chapter for us, one of those blessings in disguise that I hinted about a few posts ago . . . Hubby’s been laid off!
We’ve rebranded it as early retirement and have already celebrated with champagne and verses of “For he’s a jolly good fellow!”
For he truly is—jolly good and my Great Hero—we’ve no idea what’s in store for us yet and that’s a fun place for us to be again.
Had we not been preparing for this potential outcome our disposition would be very different. And with this post I don’t want in any way to diminish the hardships of the very many families who’ve lost their income in this Plandemic, or those who surely still will.
We’ve been living low on the hog, as the saying goes. It’s been a lot of little sacrifices that are now paying off in peace of mind and time to reflect, rejoice and redesign.
We are not self-sustaining still, maybe we will never be, but we still hold out hopes and intentions toward that goal.
Thanks to the readers out there who’ve stuck with me during my foul tempers, moody rants—now you know mostly their underlying triggers and you can expect more positivity in future.