Monday, December 14, 2009

catch up

its a busy busy monday. i'm giving the wee one his last bit of breakfast before a long nap. lots to report and little time to report it.

sweet potatoes we've harvested most of our sweet pots now. at first i was rather discouraged with lots of very small ones. people have said to not water or fertilize, but i think some of both is in order. the ones inter-planted with cowpeas were significantly bigger and more numerous. we ended up pulling a full laundry basket full. they're now sitting on the porch curing.

square foot sprouts- we have sprouts in all but one square... a brussels sprout square. i'll snip down the extras and replant the missing ones hopefully today.

veggies- finally got some lettuce taking off in the big garden. looking good so far. pulled our first turnips yesterday. gotta do some major planting, but i'm so far behind being ready for christmas i'm not sure when that will happen!

ornamentals- i framed out an area with landscape timbers and covered the space enclosed with a plastic drop cloth to kill the grass underneath. i hope it works. w/out strong sunshine this time of year, it may do nothing. farmer girl and i are putting in this ornamental/butterfly garden in early january... i think.

space planning- with only an acre, we must plan our use of space wisely. the grandparents are blessing the little farmers with a swingset this christmas (they are going to be THRILLED!), but we've had to do some major thinking about where to put it. not close to snake habitat, where it can get some afternoon shade, where its not in a place frequented by pooping animals, where it won't look like a sore thumb, where its not inhibiting nap times of kids sleeping on the other side of a nearby window, and where its far enough from the road that i have time to respond should one make a break for it. so much to consider because once its there its not getting moved!

time to keep moving. don't expect another post until post-christmas!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

square foot garden

we spent saturday putting in our square foot garden- a single 4' by 4' raised bed on the east side of the house. while we prbly won't be getting much broccoli out of it w/ its mere 5 hours of full sun a day right now, i hope to extend our cool season crops a bit with its placement there and no direct afternoon sun.

we put a block of peat moss from home depot, 4 bags of compost and 1 bag (3 cubic ft) of coarse vermiculite (available at lindleys nursery- will special order for you if not in stock) onto a large tarp. an 8'x10' tarp is what we used and i would not have wanted to use a smaller one! we folded each side in, one at a time, to mix the contents, then shoveled it into our box made of 4-4' sections of 2"x6" (not pressure treated- toxic for food!). we used feed bags under the box as we were unable to find decent weed cloth. then we used wire from our electric fencing attempts as the grid. so we now have 16 clearly distinct squares for planting. in these squares i have cabbage, lettuce, carrots, broccoli raab, broccoli, turnips, brussels sprouts, onions, swiss chard, and radishes- all direct seeded. some plants, such as cabbage and broccoli, have only one plant per square, some (chard) have 4, some (lettuce, onions, turnips) have 9, some (carrots) have 16 and finally radishes have 36 plants per square.

As of now, this garden is unfenced. its a fair distance from the nearest woods so rabbits aren't likely to venture into it much. its in full view for our gopher tortoises that live in the pasture so they may be a problem, but we can fence it easily if we need to. And since its in the back yard, it can be as ugly a fence as we want without the neighborhood grump getting upset.

i have a few pots filled w/ leftover mix where i will plant more carrots and broccoli. broccoli likes long daylight hours and cool temps... nothing we have at the same time. heard alaska is the best place for broccoli. this is going to be my last attempt- if it doesn't go well, i'm bagging broccoli for good... or at least for a few years. last year i got a few horrible tasting tiny heads. this year i've had a single plant actually flourish post transplanting, and that has been attacked by aphids recently. though i've transplanted broccoli every other week, the ones that survive just stunt out. i have many more favorite veggies that if its going to take this much work for broccoli, its not worth it. hooray for bok choy, my all time favorite from my china days, doing well and going strong!

For more square foot gardening info, see Mel Bartholomew's website that is linked in the sidebar.

Pictured: 1) Our box. We extended the "weed cloth" or for us, feed bags, up to the house and around each side to kill the grass for easier mowing. We'll mulch with rocks or bricks around the house to prevent termites. 2) The hard workers shoveling the mixed planting medium from the tarp to the box. Water while shoveling so that there's consistent moisture throughout. In case you're wondering, behind homesteading hubby is a chicken pen of young meat birds though the birds themselves are camera shy. 3) The semi-end result. Grid laid, seeds planted, all watered.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Spring Seed Order

Here's my finalized seed order. I'll put it in in a couple weeks. Any locals (Volusia county) wanting to jump in on the order, e-mail me at floridahomestead(at)mail(dot)com. If anyone has actually tried any of these here and would like to comment, I'd love to hear what you have to say. Don't make me try something that you know doesn't work! :-> I'm also open to splitting a pack if anyone is interested in that.

Southern Exposure
Cucumber- Poinsett 76
Eggplant- Rosita
Cantaloupe- Edisto 47
Zucchini- Dark Green
Limas- Christmas

*Asters- Powder Puff
*Gomphrena- Mix

Baker Creek
Amaranth- Tiger Eye
Zucchini- Early Prolific Straight
Butternut- Waltham
Okra- Burmese
Cowpeas- Purple Hull Pink Eyes
Greens- Dark Green Gailan

*Calendula- Pacific Mix
*Marigolds- Harlequin
*Alaska Shasta Daisies
*Evening Scented Stock

Johnny Seeds
Lettuce- TRopicana

*Salvia- Marble Arch Mix
*Sunflowers- Pro Cut Series

Tomato Growers Supply
Tomatoes- Tomande
Cherokee Chocolate
Sun Gold
Peppers- Roumanian Rainbow
Sweet Pickle

*Denotes an ornamental for our new addition... the pretty patch.

I bought a few packs of seeds at the purple cow fest... brand is Botanical Interest.
broccoli raab- rapini
bok choy- rosette
carrot- scarlet nantes

I may not order from Johnny's if no one else wants in... depends on how badly I want their gorgeous sunflowers! Those are seeds the girl can handle well, but a pretty yellow is all the same to her. But will I begrudge a simple sunflower for being merely "normal"?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

so much... too much

we learned so much at the purple cow fest... too much because i want to implement it all NOW. Some of what we learned was gleened from the seminars while other info was simply from talking to people who were there. Sometimes its easy to feel like you're the only one on the planet, or at least in the county, who's actually trying to do the homestead thing. Then you get connected and learn there are people everywhere doing all kinds of things. So, for those of you who think we're nuts, we're at least not alone! Crazy hippies are EVERYWHERE!

Beekeeping very doable. and if you're a neighbor, don't worry. you won't even know they are there other than your fruit and flowers will produce like never before. honeybees aren't at all agressive. you want to get your hives in the spring. a man north of gainesville sells the bottom box complete with a hive for $150. to harvest honey, you need a "super", which is a box that sits on top of that which sells for $15 and each frame for $1. You can start off immediately with only 1 hive, but the master beekeeper highly encouraged to start with two so that if you have a problem with one you can repopulate with the other. It hedges your bets of not having to start all over. It sounds like its really not difficult to manage a couple hives. Its the huge industrial honey factories that are having major problems because they don't spend the time with each individual hive. For a small homestead, very doable. While doing an initial gulp at the start-up cost ($300 in bees and hives, about $50 in supers, $50-100 for a hat and veil (made of metal netting... a must), $20 in lumber for the stand and about $10 in harvesting supplies), and that's to do it the cheep, redneck way, I also calculated the potential income: a hive will produce about 15 gallons of honey a year, that's 30 gallons of fabulous honey. If we use 5 gallons a year, 25 gallons are left to be sold. Asking $30 per gallon (a very reasonable price), that's $750. The cost of starting would be offset in the first year should all go well. But even still, I think March is a bit too soon to start. We'll probably wait until March of 2011 to make the jump... but that seems SOOOO far away!

Square Foot Gardening: After expanding our garden and putting in lots of time and effort to have it ready this fall, we've decided to immediately put in a "square foot bed". It will be a 4' by 4' raised bed. The reason is that I can direct seed things that aren't transplanting well and not worry about them being overtaken by weeds or eaten by ants. While others are already eating lettuce, I have yet to have any transplanted. Our Thanksgiving salad should be completely homegrown, yet I have no lettuce, no carrots, and far too few tomatoes. Square foot gardening should be a solution to most of that though not before Thursday! I don't regret expanding our inground garden as it will be great to host a multitude of vining cucurbits, and summer veggies, but I think a box or two of raised beds will be a great addition as well.

Goat Care: Learned the reason we aren't getting much for milk from our goats is that they have always freshened in the spring. Milking through the summer means the majority of water they drink goes to keeping them cool and not producing milk. Much better for Florida goats to freshen in the fall and milk all winter and spring. Also learned to not give a dewormer just because its time to give a dewormer. Parasites LOVE Florida because there's never enough cold to kill them off. Thus the subsequent generations quickly adapt to dewormers given regularly. We should alternate dewormers and only give them when the underside of the skin around the eye socket becomes white.

composting my lazy man's composting (no water, no turning) is doing nothing. i have to make composting part of my weekly regime. we also learned about vermicomposting (w/ worms). we'll probably get that going after the Christmas chaos is over.

butterfly gardening yes, we're (or should i say I) are putting in our first ever ornamental garden. i want cut flowers to bring in the house and the farmer girl loves butterflies. my husband is happy to go along w/ it, but the pointlessness of it baffles him. i'll probably add some pretty peppers to the bed just to keep it somewhat edible. Stokes asters, gaillardia, firebush, and passionvine are just a few that were mentioned that we'll add to our little bit of beautiful in the yard. I intend to start that this spring.

Sheep I guess I should start with the announcement that I haven't been defeated, animal wise. I'm going to keep going. but adding sheep to the mix right now is still a bit more than I think I'm ready for. Maybe come spring? We'll see. Once again, March seems too close. Maybe we'll get the county fair cast off's next year. We've been reading about them more recently and have gotten quite excited about these little creatures. Keeping them and the goats bred I think will be our biggest problem to figure out as rams and buck goats don't get along. Sounds like each place can only handle one head male. We're really liking Copper, but golly he stinks! And goats are easier to get bred than sheep (as in there's a goat on every corner practically!). We'll maybe start off with a trio or maybe just a duo, milk the ewes, eat the lambs and keep going until the ewe is too old then we'll raise up another ewe, get a new ram and start a new cycle. Just rambling thoughts, maybe call them wistful dreams, that need to be fine-tuned to fit our specific situation.

We neglected to take in the backyard chicken seminar. Our chickens are doing great so we chewed the fat with a pig farmer (no pun intended) instead. The kids did fabulous. The girl very much enjoyed dancing to the live bluegrass band. I told my husband we need to have enough kids to have a full bluegrass band in our home. Maybe a certain grandfather would enjoy giving banjo lessons. (hint hint) :->

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

see you at the purple cow!

a pretty interesting festival is going to happen in saturday (9/21). the purple cow festival! there will be music, food and great workshops. i've copied the workshop schedule below, but for more details go to the purple cow website. there's a children's activity tent so bring the whole family. see you there!

10:00 - 10:45
Composting, Vermicomposting & Rain Barrels by Kevin Bagwell
11:00 - 11:45
Beekeeping by Master Beekeeper Tom Barlett
1:00 - 1:45
Butterfly & Hummingbird Gardening by Kevin Bagwell
3:00 - 3:45
Raising Backyard Chickens by Glenwood Trailblazers 4-H Club
4:00 - 4:45
Square Foot Gardening by Kevin Bagwell
~ ~ ~ On-Going Workshops ~ ~ ~

Cooking with Herbs
EcoTours in your Backyard by Cracker Creek Canoeing


what's going on??? how do aphids multiply so well with lows in the 50s? my collard greens are covered and they've recently discovered the brocolli too. sprayed them good today with a soap/neem solution. if they're still abounding tomorrow, i'll give the collards a good pruning, throw away most of the aphid population and spray the rest again. but we've been heavily depending on collards for our veggies recently. just may have to (gulp) BUY some!

Friday, November 13, 2009


previously i've sworn by drip irrigation. the "vineyard garden" (the garden in front of our grape vines) is equipped w/ 2 zones. we reconfigured and expanded the "orchard garden" and didn't want to lay out the money right then for more tubing and supplies. most of what was there was used to give the vineyard garden better coverage. now i'm glad. ive found a new system i like better:

a hose.

while i can't just turn it on and go about my other chores, it ensures that i'm walking the beds every day. it also ensures good water to seedlings where with drip irrigation, the drip may not hit each plant. i found myself running the system then planting in the wet spots... loosing a lot of space.

the newest discovery was made when i ran out of compost for compost tea fertilizer. i bought worm poop complete with a hose attachment. it makes such a nice spray, i love it! when im out of worm poop, i'll refill the bottles with compost tea and keep going. this means they get a bit of fertilizer every time i water. its a very nice system and much easier for me!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Losing My Fight

I hate to say this... I hate to be wearing my sappy little heart on my sleeve... but I'm very seriously considering ending the animal venture of our homestead. I just can't deal with death. I can't deal with the responsibility and guilt as I said goodbye to our FOURTH dead doeling. To have a 20% survival rate is miserable. Its cursed. And I just plain feel like I'm losing my will to fight against it.

Naturally speaking all these deaths have been "flukes"... flukes I could have prevented and thus that guilt weighs heavily on me. Sundae had a wound that got infected. I loved on her several times a week to try to tame her so we wouldn't have to tether her constantly. I never noticed the wound until it was really bad. If I had, I would have given her away to someone with a better fence. Cocoa and Carob were bit by a snake- yet if I had mowed inside their enclosure instead of letting the grass grow tall for them to eat it, a snake would not have found that area so desirable. Now Wednesday, the best doeling yet, dead. She had a great personality and a really good conformation. A few months ago I felt to use a different dewormer. Was it God??? I don't know, but I decided I would wait until I was out of the stuff I had. Then yesterday morning I felt I should go to the feed store and get something different first thing in the morning. I had an appointment in the afternoon so decided to wait. I didn't think a matter of hours would be life or death. And I still don't know if worms killed her. It was a shot in the dark. Her eyes showed she was anemic which happens when parasites are bad. But she got a weekly herbal dewormer. For whatever reason, this may not have been working on her. When I got home with different dewormer, I found her panting, feverish and grinding her teeth (meaning she was in pain). My neighbor was a God-send, not only taking care of all 3 kids, but brought over baby Motrin and some antibiotics to try to get her fever down. I sat there in the driveway keeping cool towels around her, holding her head and commanding her not to die. But around 7pm she gave up the fight as well. I had considered ending her life earlier as I hated to see her suffering, but I really just wanted to give the medicine a chance to work. I hate the ignorance I was under all weekend. I hate that I didn't find out any possible action until several days later. I never considered worms because she is regularly fed dewormer... and even still her poop looked normal, even on Sunday afternoon. But all the arguing with myself won't bring her back... I just need to decide if I'm going to keep going with this.

Looking at it in cold dollars and cents, we've invested a lot to have the back half of our property cleared and fenced. We know the unmatched value of raw goats milk, not to mention grass-fed meat. And frankly, goats are cheap. My mom was frantically encouraging us to take her to a vet. First of all, dog and cat vets don't much care for ruminants. Then a large animal vet comes to your house with a monstrous fee... and then the weekend emergency call would probably then at least double that fee... then the cost of the actual care. We can walk down the road and buy a new goat for $50. She was a tool, not a pet... just tell that to my heart as I can't stop crying for her. I laid awake for 3 hours last night thinking about her. This morning while looking out into the pasture over breakfast, I kept expecting to see her roaming around with the others. And the constant lurking thought- it's my fault that she's dead. Can I bear the guilt of another death without becoming so cold and calloused as to not care for them at all?

The other thought is that eventually I must graduate from the school of hard knocks. Eventually, I must know enough about goats to keep them not just alive, but thriving. Eventually I must know the real facts of our specific situation and not just trying to cram our goats into the mold of "Story's Guide to Goat Farming". Eventually this has got to get better.

In the meantime, I'm giving our three remaining goats a dose of the chemical dewormer. Good sheep will be coming up for sale all over when the fair is over. I have to make a decision. Keep up the fight or toss it all. It hurts a lot less when a watermelon rots on the vine.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Doing it yourself

a post i've been meaning to do sometime while stuck in front of the computer: all the random things i (and anyone else) can make or do themselves to save money or improve quality...

1) Toothpaste- mix equal parts of sea salt, baking soda and xylitol (available at health food stores). Shake a little into your hand, wet the brush and scoop it onto your brush. brush teeth as normal. good clean feeling, safe for kids, no flouride, and been using for a year now with my dentist having nothing but good to say about our teeth.

2) Yogurt- spend a fraction of money on organic yogurt. start with store bought live cultures plain yogurt. buy a gallon of organic milk. put a scoop of yogurt in a jar and fill the rest with milk. i use our excaliber dehydrator set at 115 for 10-12 hours, but prior to owning that, i put the jars in the oven, turned the oven on for a minute, left the oven light on and just monitored the temp. turn oven on when getting cool, open the door if too warm. more work, but could make a lot more than the dehydrator will hold. make sure lids are loose as there are gases that will need to escape to keep cultures active. When you get low and need more, simply use a scoop of yogurt from your previous batch in each jar. eventually it will get very tangy- indicating its loaded w/ good bacteria! but if its too tangy for you, merely start over using store bought yogurt for your culture. When goats are dry, this is the kids morning drink... puts something good back into pasteurized milk!

3) laundry detergent- this recipe is about 1/20th the cost of other detergents! i must say, it appears to be causing some film build-up on my pocket diapers... indicating i'll need to "strip" them more frequently than i've had to w/ arm-n-hammer. if you're a pocket cloth diaper user and need more info, e-mail me. other than that its great! easy to make even.

All ingredients can be found at your local grocery store in the laundry isle.

1 bar of Fels Naptha soap, shaved
4 cups of hot water to melt the soap3 gallons of hot water
1 cup of borax
2 cups of washing soda
1 cup of baking soda
1 large Rubbermaid container about 4-5 gallons size (or a 5 gal bucket)

Here’s what you do: Grate the soap into a saucepan. Add 4 cups of hot water. Simmer on low until it melts completely. Add borax, washing soda and baking soda to the hot water. Simmer on low until it desolves with the soap. If the mixtureis not melting, add more water if needed. Add 3 gallons of hot water to the large container. Add the mixture to the hot water. Mix with a large spoon until itcompletely dissolves. Let cool overnight. Turns Into A Thick Gel.Use 1 cup per load. Works great!

4) Chicken broth- After eating a chicken, even store bought chicken, whole or pieces, save the bones. You may think its gross to put a bone someone gnawed on and boil it for several hours, killing all the germs. If that's the case, read about how they make the canned stuff. I know, out of sight out of mind... but really, think about it. Anyway, take all your bones, chewed on or not, and toss them into a crock pot. Fill the pot with water, add a tablespoon or so of vinegar (takes the calcium out of the bones and puts it in the broth!) and let it run all night... or as long as you need it. I always make broth and may let it simmer in the crock pot for two whole days before I use it. Right now I have the whole crock in my fridge because I haven't gotten around to either using it or pouring it into jars. No biggie. Stays good for a good while... its always gone before I can determine how long it takes to go bad. :-> Make rice or other grains with it if you're not into soup. Adds great flavor and FABULOUS nutrition!

finally fall

its finally fall... meaning the high is generally under 80. the ac is officially off. farmer boy #1 gives his approval of the weather by playing outside rather than whining at the door w/ sweat dripping down his face.

i'm on snake alert again though. this morning, Wednesday didn't come to eat w/ the other goats. i found her in the shed standing as stiff as a statue, empty glazed over eyes. took 5 min. for her to even look at me. given our prior history w/ snakes, i opted to not go in the shed lest i find it too. she eventually came out, very wobbly on her feet. i felt over her completely- no swelling, no blood, no sensitive spots. she came over to me and laid her head right on my shoulder. she's generally a sweetie, but that's not typical- she must not be feeling well. over the morning, i kept a close watch. she's not scouring or drinking like cocoa was after her snake bite so i really don't know what it is. she's more stable walking than cocoa was too. and wednesday hasn't been normal for the last couple weeks. she hasn't been running at all and lays down most of the time. i figured she got pregnant too soon and she's especially tired from growing her baby and herself. i know i was tired! anyway, she's hanging in there, but i'm keep vigilent watch on her too.

in chicken news, 85 chicks arrived yesterday morning. we ordered 80, but most hatcheries will send extras to cover losses. and sure enough 4 arrived dead (3 appeared to be crushed... i think the box was set at an angle for a bit) and a fifth went spraddle legged (where the tendons in a leg tear and they are unable to stand). I bound her legs with a ribbon, and she could stand, but she still wasn't eating and drinking. She died last night. The rest are doing well. However, the meat birds, as a breed, must be stupider than your average chicken. Generally you get a couple flakes in the box who must climb into the waterer. This happened and I treated it as normal... grab those couple, hold them close to the heat lamp, get them dried off and put them back in with the others... but while I was dealing with the first ones, the rest of that breed, one after another, all climbed into the waterer! And it was a windy day so we were getting gusts coming straight into the garage! I was getting scared... finally I found a neighbor who was on his way home and had a hair drier I could use. He brought it by just in time. I stood their fluffing their feathers for about 20 minutes. They don't climb into the waterer anymore!

We're brooding this batch differently than we have before. Previously we've layed down newspaper, set the pen on top of that (in the garage) and then laid down a piece of burlap over the pen's chicken wire bottom. It works well, but is awfully messy and stinky to change. With this many birds (we're brooding for 2 other families), we'd be changing twice a day by the end- yuck! So instead we have an old kiddie pool filled with sawdust and paper shreddings. A bottomless pen is over that. We'll add more sawdust and paper as we go and then add the whole works to the compost pile when we're done. We'll let you know how it works.

On the garden front, we continue to be loaded with peppers. And now tomatoes are really coming- only purple cherokees right now, but boy those are good! Farmer Hubby raved over a sandwich he made the other day- egg salad (from our eggs) with pepper slices, tomato and dill all from the garden. We're almost ready to harvest some radishes. Ate the last of the big bok choy last night (nothing coming in behind it due to a pregnancy induce hiatus and screwy weather). Planted seedlings of cabbage, bok choy, peas, brussels sprouts, and chard yesterday and they are doing fine. While Central Florida Gardener is harvesting lettuce, I've managed to finally get a whole THREE seeds to sprout. They aren't getting transplanted until they're good and strong! Got some broccoli that's almost ready to be transplanted, but again, with how they've done thus far, I'm waiting a while longer until the weather is likely to STAY cool.

As for our citrus problem... thank you, commenter, who alerted me to the fact that I was killing swallowtail butterflies! And don't tell my daughter this- she'll cry for a week! The only thing that I can figure is that I have several things attacking my trees... and what I was the most concerned with isn't the most severe. I think citrus greening is what killed them... which is why my 3 tangerine trees is all that's left. Tangerines are supposedly more resistant. We also seem to be losing our avocado tree. Someone said we're having the problem with tree-attacking viruses and such because of clearing our back yard. Since the yard has been cleared for a year and a half now, I'm not sure that's likely, but I'm not ruling it out either. I'm open to suggestions and opinions!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

a little bit softer now

Aaahhhhh, it is finished. the last rooster is chilling out... without its voice box. to be honest, the noise itself didn't bother me that much... i kinda got used to it. but i knew our sweet neighbors like to sleep in when they're able... and 30 minutes of cackling did not afford them that luxury. and it is QUITE bothersome in the summer when the sun starts rising at 4:30am. All this week, when I'd go to collect eggs from that pen, I'd find a hen sitting on a couple. Its a shame we couldn't give breeding one more try, but frankly, I didn't have it in me. We could have left one living, but I think we've trampled on our neighbor's good graces enough this year. We can't forget the rotten fish emulsion fertilizer episode either! We offered her a chicken as a peace offering (no pun intended), but I could tell she was a bit wigged out to eat a bird that was slaughtered next door. We get that a lot. Randy and I wonder how long we have to do this and how many birds we have to eat without ever having food poisoning before people will trust that we know what we're doing? I mean, we may not have a stainless steel slaughter table, but we also don't have to soak our meat in bleach because we blew out their instestines and embedded fecal matter into the muscle fibers. Oh well. The roosters themselves, though grand and glorious, were all feathers. The two meat bird hens that we had saved out from the last slaughterfest for breeding were almost double their size. Since we only had 7 birds to slaughter, we didn't bother borrowing the automated plucker. But hand plucking is for the birds! The feathers come out easy enough, but the hairs are awful.
So now we have all 19 layers in one pen. That pen has been nicely dressed with a new tarp and its frame reglued and tightened. The pen most of our layers were in is in dire need of repair. We need to build a whole new top. We designed it with corrogated PVC roofing as the lid, but it was always blowing open and now is cracking and splitting also. We hold it closed with a heavy 2x4 and the frame to a metal chair- VERY redneck! The slowing of grass growing in the winter means we often have to move chickens to the front yard. That pen will need some major attention before we can set it out for every neighbor to see! Our next batch of chicks will be arriving on Thursday and Friday of next week. I'll do my best to have it spruced up nice before then.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Firsts and Lasts

Postponing folding laundry for a quick post. We've gotten a lot of good work done in the last 4 days.

1) We ripped out the watermelon vines. They still had young melons and lots of blossoms, but anthracnose had really taken its toll. My pre and post-birth hiatus was just too much for them. Blacktail Mountain is the clear winner (shown in picture). Every single one of the Sugarlees split before they were ripe. Since I still have some seeds left, I'll try them again in the spring, but I'm pleased with the Blacktails enough to make those our standby variety.

2) Farmer Girl helped me to stake up the peppers... that are doing fabulously! I'm really excited about these. Sweet Chocolate Belles are winning w/ vigorous healthy plants, heavy yields and lots of good tasting bells. Charleston Bells are fairing ok, but not nearly the performers like sweet chocolate. Got our first picking in a mexican dish i made up on the fly for tonight. if it doesn't taste good we'll have to blame it on my made-up recipes and not the peppers!

3) Having a very difficult time with tomato germination. I still had 2 half beds empty waiting for toms and nothing germinating! So... off to the big box store (because the nurseries don't have handy carts to contain 2 active toddlers and close too early). I got a 9 pack of better boys and another 9-er of celebrity. Got those in this morning with farmer girl's help. Also noticed our first tomato, a cherokee purple, is starting to blush.

4) Direct seeded radishes are coming up well so took a chance w/ others: cabbage, brussels sprouts, turnips, lettuce, & onions. then noticed ants literally running away w/ my seeds! poured the last of my diatomaceous earth on them and prayed for the best. i really need a second sprouting station so I can keep things moving better... and not moving into an ants winter storage!

5) Again, farmer girl helped rip out an overgrown herb garden. I took cuttings from the basil and stevia to plant when ready. Next week I'll put in my parsley, sage, cilantro, rosemary and thyme that is taking up space in pots.

All for now... back to folding. Ug.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

a little of this, a little of that

4give the shorthand... most computer time is 1-handed due to a hungry little boy.

GARDEN- the weather is down right odd. it cooled down some, then got back up to 100 with the heat index, back down to 70 and the high by fri. is 87. seeds that i planted well over a month ago stunted. just quit growing. i put some cabbage and brussels sprouts transplants in the ground on sat. they were so tiny i didn't expect much, but i needed to make room 4 a new round of seeds. by yesterday i couldn't even find what i had set out. i direct seeded some radishes also which i'm still hopeful of. i have 2 trays of seeds now that i hope will sprout well despite the coming heat. i did manage 2 weed the garden on sat. feels good to have that done. it was hard... especially w/ a babe in the moby wrap, but we did it. farmer girl helped. hubby was busy mowing and milking.

CANNING- while we don't tend to have much extra bounty for preserving, i still can. i get good deals on organic produce thru our co-op. this month i ordered a case of pears- 40lbs worth. yesterday i canned about half of them and have the dehydrator filled also. i'll process the rest tomorrow. next month i'll get apples. its nice to have good organic fruit all year even if its not from our own trees. this will likely be farmer boy #2's first solid food.

CHICKENS- we've decided to quit trying to hatch our own chicks 4 now. we're going 2 slaughter the roosters first chance we get. we're also going to be ordering another round of chicks: dixie rainbows from s and g poultry and barred rock hens from ideal poultry. if anyone lives in the area and wants 2 jump in on the order, send me an e-mail at we hope to get an early nov. hatch date.

GOATS- we think our goats are bred. milk production is down 2 a pint a day, mostly from 1 goat. the other i'm purposely drying off and am considering doing the same w/ the main milker.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Arch Nemesis

Here it is... my current arch nemesis. And I have no idea what it is. This is what I think has killed 2 orange trees in the last 3 weeks and is still working on our 3 remaining citrus. But I could be wrong. I've been battling this "thing" all summer, clipping off the affected leaves and spraying with soapy water and neem oil once a week. But I always seemed to be clipping off more than was growing. A couple weeks off this regimine proved fatal. I've searched online, in books, every book that is supposedly an expert on citrus and have gotten no answers. I've seen this wormy thing on leaves before, usually only one and that's rare. And they're not hard to spot. Yet citrus leaves show up paled, curled, wrinkled with black leaf-miner like trails all through them even on trees where this worm isn't found for weeks or ever. I'm stuck. I don't know what to do. I've been so frustrated with the growth rate on our citrus trees already before this attack that I'm close to ripping them all out and planting our entire back yard in figs instead. The chickens didn't even want to eat this sucker... it looked just like their poop! Hubby squished it in the chicken pen to prevent it from escaping should it be the cause of all our citrus woes.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Another week

Another week of garden neglect... but this time with a babe in arms. Farmer Boy #2 was born at home Sept. 25th and is doing great.

And if it weren't so dry, I'd say the garden was holding its own. I'm still doing the bare minimum in the garden (hubby is still doing all the animal chores), but thankfully, even though the rain just isn't falling, the temps are lower and the "bare minimum" is considerably less than it was a few weeks ago. Even some lettuce seeds that I gave up for lost have sprouted in the cooler nights. My bok choy wilts in the afternoon and the brocolli is still holding on by a thread, but I think it will allow me another week of recovery before I need to jump in with both hands.

The only thing that I've done since birth is tie up the tomatoes... and discovered the culprit that devoured so many of them in a single night... a hornworm! I only found one- though that one was so big the chickens didn't quite know what to do with it. I'm still surprised it was able to chomp through a big stem, but that has to be it. The plants are making a decent comeback now that the threat has been dealt with.

I've also harvested a couple Blacktail Mountain watermelons. The first still seemed a bit unripe (though still more flavorful than our first attempt at watermelons!). This made us hold off on cutting into the second. The aphids have slowed significantly as have the fungi without the rain. The main attention that I'm giving those vines right now is keeping them from climbing the tomatoes and swarming the peppers!

While my to-do list is taunting me, I know I'm not ready to spend all day playing in the dirt just by my pure willingness, yes even desire, to merely stay inside, seated in a comfy chair sipping (or gulping) cold water and knitting while the electronic babysitter sedates my 3 year old. And until I am ready... please, God, keep the highs at 80 or below and send a good rain cloud twice a week, ok?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The To-Do List

A week of waiting for a baby to be born. A week of neglecting the weeds and the aphids and the fungus. A week of my husband doing 90% of the absolute necessities at barely-dawn hours before work. Its amazing the things that cry for attention at the worst possible times. Here's my as-soon-as-I'm-back-on-my-feet to-do list:

1) All my empty beds in our beautifully expanded garden are COVERED in weeds... and the weeds are now starting to go to seed. I'll be weeding in there all winter.

2) Grass is coming up in the walkways meaning its poked through the weed cloth underneath the mulch. I need to pull it up, cover the main walkway with pallets and add more mulch to the other walkways.

3) Tie up the tomatoes again.

4) Crawl through the watermelons and clip out disease and spray for aphids again.

5) Plant more swiss chard, collards, bok choy and lettuce seeds.

6) Get more compost from our horsie friends.

7) Call the ag extension to find out why it appears as though 2 citrus trees have died.

8) Weed the herb beds and mulch for the 3rd time this summer.

9) Give all the animal waterers a really good scrubbing.

10) Rip out the cowpeas and luffa (and their weeds!), add more compost and sawdust, and cover until ready for planting.

Hopefully nothing else will get added until I can at least cross a couple off the list. Until then, its back to waiting for labor.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

More Garden Woes

I staggered through morning chores today... and the sight in the garden almost knocked me down completely... 4 tomato plants eaten!!! Not just the leaves, but eaten down to the half inch stalk! What animal (that we have around here) would get over a 2' woven wire fence to eat fibrous foliage? Coons get over anything, but they don't eat foliage. The rabbits can't get over the fence. Same for the gopher tortoises. We've seen deer out a lot on the highway, but I've never thought of one coming this close into town. No damage to the fence either. Its baffling. Guess its time to get the hubby to... ahem... add an extra measure to the fencing. Too bad its in the front yard. For those who don't know, urine is a fabulous barrier... it just washes away a lot quicker than a fence does!

Still waiting for the baby. Gonna go curl up for a nap and pray he comes this evening.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Last Days of Summer

Its the last days of summer. I got the okra ripped out and covered that little bed with a tarp for weed control since it will be quite a while before anything else is in there. I let several pods go to seed from the last remaining plant that was producing. I've got plenty of seed for next year, but will probably still buy some just to make sure at least some is pure.

I've looked high and low for more black garden plastic and everyone just says, "That's supposed to be bad to use." Well... it works! Don't know what's bad about it. Sure it heats up the dirt, but that needs to happen to kill the nematodes. It heats up plant roots too so you need to be careful with it, but nothing else is going to remotely control weeds. I had to laugh one day when I was reading in a magazine about people starting a new garden. The "expert" suggested to take a shovel full of sod and simply turn it upside down. The roots dry up in the sun and the grass decomposes and fertilizes the dirt. Right! Our grass would thank us for the respite from the sun and be all the stronger for it! That's like saying boiling water kills weeds and their seeds in sidewalk cracks all season. Doesn't even wilt them! I'd like to see these "experts" and their gardens and see if they know how ridiculous their claims are.

Anyway, I'm done with my tirade. We also picked a few luffa sponges, peeled them, cleaned them and deseeded them. Its a fun little novelty. I don't know if we'll do it again. I guess it depends on the kids and if we have room for it. If I'm doing a second round of planting for okra, cowpeas and yard long beans, I just may not have space for frivolities. But then again, if a pretty little farmer girl asks to plant some luffa, I just may not have the heart to say no.

The cucumbers are being utterly destroyed by an unknown enemy. They lay black eggs in clumps on the leaves. In ripping out a couple decimated plants, I noticed clumps of green eggs and what may have been tiny little mites all over the ground as well. I sprayed some yesterday and did a very thorough job today, also including the watermelons who are still battling aphids and this fungus. I noticed those black eggs on the watermelon leaves this morning. Very frustrating. I need to be watching everything like a hawk just when I'm about to give birth. My husband, while very much a trooper and loves the gardening rewards, is just not as familiar with danger signs. He'll be taking over the "farm" for a few days, but somethings may still my hand... or we just let it go and see what happens.

On the upside, all varieties of everything has sprouted at least some. Pretty low showing for the lettuces, but it has still been a bit warm for them. I'm thankful to see that the turnips haven't taken off and will probably be able to hold out in my tiny cups until I and the littlest one are fully recovered. It seems the broccoli, bok choy, swiss chard and collard greens that I have been babying for the last couple weeks will make it. I haven't lost any more in almost a week. We were able to have a small portion of collards this past week from the first round I planted. They were really tasty! But it may just have been that it wasn't okra that made them so good!

In the wee hours of morning on a sleepless night, I perused our seed catalogues with our spring garden in mind. While I found some good stuff, I think I'm still going to have to employ yet more companies to get all that I want. The majority will come from Baker Creek and Southern Exposure, but I do have some things for Johnny Seeds and it looks like Tomato Growers Supply and Evergreen Seeds will be tacked on too. I'm such a one stop shopper... even when dealing online! It will be nice when we have the bulk of our varieties determined and can save our own seeds and end the experimentation. But then again, I was a science major... experimentation is what I do best. I just want 100% success with each experiment!

I'm also planning on adding a little ornamental garden to the property. I haven't decided where yet, or even how big. I just want something where I can cut pretty flowers and have them spruce up inside the house too. That was probably the most fun part of looking through seed catalogues. I've never looked in the ornamental sections before! I'm hoping to get this in come spring, but that may be a bit ambitious. My to-do list is already growing and that's without a third child to love and care for!

And finally, we're still on a mad rage against something that is starting to really damage our citrus trees. Our trees were finally starting to grow this year, but then we got this "thing". And of course I've found it in no book nor online. It crinkles all the new growth, pales it to yellow and drops it off leaving dried, dead branches. About 2 months ago I started a weekly regimen of picking all affected leaves and spraying with a neem/soap solution. It's keeping them at bay, but at least one of the trees is really looking sad now. Its our tallest (about 5') with about 20 leaves left on it. It seems as soon as they start to grow some, this thing moves in and destroys the new growth and bit of the old as well. I don't know what else to do.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Fall Garden Update

The temps have noticeably cooled down though I can still say its hot in the afternoon. Mornings are quite pleasant though. The afternoons have not cooled quite enough to forgo afternoon waterings of tender transplants... I seem to be learning that the hard way this year.

I fertilize weekly and the first Monday of every month I add a dry fertilizer. I prefer GardenTone by Espoma, but I've had to special order a big bag and it not in yet so I've been using Organics Choice. I ran out about 3/4ths of the way through so I did the rest in Sea Tea and made another batch of compost tea. I'm considering using compost tea twice a week instead, or maybe experimenting a bit to find out just what I need to do for abundant tasty veggies.

I strung up some neon orange plastic fencing... you know, the stuff that they use on construction sites. We managed to come by a large amount of it for free so of course we'll find a use for it. Right now its holding up our tomato plants. It looks a bit ghetto, but in time the tomatoes will swamp the neon orange and hopefully look a little less... well... ghetto.

I had also noticed, without any careful inspection, a dry and wilted patch in the watermelons a couple days ago. I did some research as it didn't look like anything we'd encountered before. Well, turns out its what we battle every season- aphids. That's the good news. They're fairly easy to control. The bad news is that they are only going after the undersides of the leaves making them difficult to find and time consuming to spray.

Sweet Chocolate bell peppers are beginning to flower. I did a third round of seeds on the Charleston Belles where I had such horrible germination. This time they did great so now I'm swimming in plants. I stuck one in a topsy turvy (where I had to evict 4 frogs that had taken up residence). I have had very poor production in the topsy turvies (upside down tomato pots), but am going to give them another go. I think part of it is too little light and part is never being able to tell if it needs water. More of my excess peppers are in other pots. I've heard peppers do better in pots than straight in the ground so I also have 2 buried pots (one of each variety) in the bed with the rest of them. They were transplanted later so it will be a while before I can adequately compare them.

I planted my first round of September seeds on Friday. Lots of turnips, a few cabbages, a small showing of broccoli and some dill are already sprouted. Got brussels sprouts, tomatoes, sage, and 2 varieties of lettuce waiting to pop. I expect these to sit in cups until I'm "back to action" after birth. Though I'm wondering now if, the turnips especially, will be far too big in less than 2 weeks. I just may be planting while in labor. Guess that beats endless walks up and down the street.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Another attempt

I've noticed a couple laying hens acting a bit broody lately. So, I decided to give hatching eggs another whirl. I snagged 2 buff chickens (buff rocks, I think... they were given to us by people who didn't know the breed) and a barred rock in a pen with a golden nugget rooster (golden nuggets are the laying breed from S and G Poultry). I'm trying to think of what would suffice for a suitable nest box. I'm open to suggestions. It needs to be able to hold up with moisture yet be more stable and secure than our empty kitty litter containers that we use now. I figure I'll give them about a week where I still collect the eggs as they may not have begun to be fertilized yet. Then I'll leave them all in the nest box and hope they don't fight over who gets to sit on them. Once they're being set, I'll remove the rooster and probably the barred rock hen, leaving just 2 hens... to keep each other company. I'll leave them in there even after hatching and we'll see how they do.

This is a major experiment for us, but I think its worth it.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Snake Hunter

The snake hunter came yesterday and laughed when she got out of her car. She shook her head and said, "where do I start?" We're completely surrounded by the perfect habitat for every venomous snake in Florida. Well, duh. I know that. BUT, after almost 2 and a half hours of hunting she only found an empty hole and the skin to a rat snake. I didn't know if that should comfort me or disappoint me. This morning though, a neighbor said they saw a coral snake go from our front yard into the woods across the street. The end decision: we just have to be careful. It seems they are out very early in the morning (which means my schedule of not going out until a little later in the morning works well). We have "nesting spots" everywhere... the goal is to clean them up as best we can, but just act with caution around them. Its more likely it was a pymgy rattlesnake that killed our goats... the lesson learned is to make sure that the goats are keeping up with the grass and we don't allow it to get too tall. I check the yard before the kids come out with me and I watch them like a hawk that they don't get too close to brush or venture into un-checked territory. Its a bit of bother, but the alternative is to move to a condo. And that would SOOO not work for me. I'm learning its just an unfortunate part of working and enjoying the outdoors. Rather than thinking of every possible way to be snake free (and get overconfident and careless), its better to just know they're out there and be vigilent. Its a bit sad for the kids though. Yesterday late afternoon while I was preparing dinner, farmer boy #1 went tottering outside to play in the backyard- which I can clearly watch from the kitchen window. It used to be normal. It used to be a pleasure to allow them some late day romp time before dinner and bed. But I went hustling out to bring him back in for fear of something sneaking around in the grass. I'm sure this new lifestyle will become habit just as the old did and I won't have to carry an active boy back inside crying for his slide. But until then, its caution, vigilence and trust in our Good God to keep us safe.

And maybe praying for the hawk population to increase.

Garden Update

Its finished... a week ahead of "schedule" even. The "smother garden" expansion is complete with a lot of sweat from my husband. We went out to our horse-loving friends and got our 4th and final load of compost to finish off the last remaining beds today. We throw a weekly paper route which supplies our source of newspaper for the grass smothering. A woodworking neighbor supplies the sawdust which I've found to greatly improve seed germination (when mixed with compost) as well as post-transplant seedling survival. I'm happy to have it complete as homesteading baby #3 is due in 3 weeks and I'm hoping to have more seedlings in the ground before he comes and I'm moderately incapacitated. So far we have watermelon coming in strong (4 small fruit that I've spotted so far and tons more blossoms), bell peppers growing well, tomatoes doing well, cucumbers struggling, but 2 planted later fairing much better, beans also struggling somewhat from unknown causes, and collard greens, broccoli, and bok choy doing their best with the drier conditions and being very newly transplanted. I lost half my broccoli and all my swiss chard after transplanting (with no sawdust in the beds)... I watered in the morning and expected it to rain in the afternoon. It didn't and I didn't water again. They were dead by morning. Live and learn.
Another neighbor owns a honey store and processing plant. She's begun saving these large tubs that they get bee pollen in for us. The first came just in time for our first round of compost tea (what we hope to use as our weekly fertilizer). So the little farmer girl and I sewed up a bag from some fabric scraps we had on hand, ran bailing twine through for a drawstring and filled the bag with compost. We then set the bag in the tub and filled it with water. A couple days from now we should have wonderful compost tea for all our young plants.

And here's our summer garden that I've begun to almost completely neglect. Its an absolute jungle of sweet potato and loofah vines. The sweet potatoes climb the fence on one side and are shading out my pineapples. The loofah climbs out the other side and keeps curling its grippers on my seedlings, herb cuttings and potted plants. I've left a few okra on the one bearing plant for seed. The others have lost all their leaves and are looking rather sad. If I feel ambitious with nothing to do between now and child birth, I'll rip out the okra and cover that section with plastic to bake out any nematodes. The cowpeas are frustrating me because it seems everything is coming in with worms now and I've only been drying and storing them lately. I don't know what to do with the loofah. I think its supposed to dry on the vine so I'm planning on just letting it go until I can't stand it anymore. The sweet potatoes we'll begin harvesting in October, but not pull up the last until December. Until then its just going to have to be a jungle. The grapes are doing well considering the harsh pruning we had to give them this spring. The harvest has been modest but very tastey. When they start going dormant it will help diminish the jungle effect considerably as well.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Goat Swap

While trying to minimize the morning chore list in preparation for my "maternity leave", I posted our sweet matriarchal goat, Annabelle, on Craig's List hoping to trade her for an intact male where we could begin the breeding cycle again. I had already begun drying her off- not much to it as she was only giving about 5 ounces a day. I quickly (much more quickly than I expected!) got a great response. Yesterday we bid farewell to Annabelle (little sad, but with both her babies gone, she had nothing left to keep her here) and welcomed "Copper". Annabelle will be given a great retirement. She'll probably have a few more rounds of kids, but without the expectation to produce milk for human consumption as well. She'll just get to be a sweet old goat mama. Copper, meanwhile, is a wonderfully tame, 3 year old male. He's got beautiful coloring and blue eyes (meaning we'll probably have some more blue-eyed babies which sell for a higher price). He's registered even. The lady who traded him clearly got the short end of the deal, but she said things just aren't selling like they used to and she's tired of fixing the fencing between Copper and her other breeding bucks. We win. So now he's here and putting the moves on Noel. They have one paddock to themselves while Noel's mother and daughter are sharing the other paddock. The front enclosure is still down due to the snake issue. We hope to stagger the pregnancies and thus the lactations so we don't have down times with no milk at all, but if the dividing fence doesn't hold, we may just have all 3 kidding at once again.

A Lesson on Snakes

I made about a hundred phone calls and God graciously led me to a wonderful snake-hunting lady who does this for free... for fun. Her only request is that we visit her in the hospital if she gets bit. If you're in Central Florida and are contending with a venomous snake, e-mail me (floridahomestead(at)mail(dot)com) and I'll give you her contact info. She's coming over Thursday morning for some hunting, but has given me a wealth of info over the phone recently too. Here it is:

1) Mid-August to mid-September is snake breeding season. They are particularly active so be vigilant. Watch where you step. Keep your grass short. Inspect areas before kids run out to play. Hot afternoons are a bit safer as they are hiding from the heat so if it doesn't matter when you go out, go out then.

2) Black snakes do NOT keep away venomous snakes. In fact NOTHING does. People make lots of money selling spray-on snake repellents that do absolutely nothing but give you some unwarranted peace of mind. The best thing to do is keep the areas you use free from their hiding places be watchful.

3) King snakes (the coral snake look-alike) are extremely rare around here. If you see a red,yellow and black banded snake, you can count on it being a coral snake. The good news is they are incredibly tame. A little girl was recently bit by a coral snake... after several minutes of playing with it. Don't take chances, but know they're not hunting you down.

4) Snakes can't see worth beans. They attack by the movement you make. If you spot a snake, slowly back away and they won't be able to "see" you.

5) If you have a snake-haven you'd like to dispose of (like our massive piles of pine scrub in the pasture), do so in cooler weather when they're not so active. And still be careful.

6) If a bite occurs, tie a band tightly around the appendage that was bit, just up from the bite. This keeps the blood from flowing so quickly to the brain. Keep it low to again prevent rapid blood flow. Make a criss-cross cut in the skin over the bite. Suck out blood, venom and fluid and spit it out. Do so until an ambulance arrives. If you have an open wound in your mouth, you'll be putting yourself in GREAT danger so weigh that when you're making the decision on who should do the sucking.

Hope this helps everyone to be safe outside in these later summer months.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Potential Answers

Cocoa, who had seemed to be doing so much better after the apparent lightening jolt, died suddenly Wednesday afternoon. Tuesday I was right there to witness what appeared to be a seizure. Today, while mowing the lawn where their fencing was, I noticed a strange hole in the ditch... where we have standing water for a few hours after a decent rain. I started to wonder about snake bites. After doing a bit of research I discovered that the black snake my husband saw a few weeks ago could actually have been a water moccasin, that they will live in dry areas such as pine forests (what surround us), and that their bites produce these symptoms (aside from what would be visible except on a furry little goat):

blurred vision
excessive sweating
increased thirst
loss of muscle coordination
nausea and vomiting
numbness and tingling, especially in the mouth
rapid pulse
altered mental state
breathing difficulties

All these, aside from maybe the breathing difficulties, complete paralysis, nausea and vomiting, Cocoa was displaying. I'm now wondering if, with all the rain, a snake came out of the woods to swim in the newly flooded ditch and was disturbed by the goats... which would explain why they weren't under any shelter. They were probably bit well after the rain had ended.

Now... how do I find and eliminate this threat and make the yard once again safe for my kids?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Summer Garden Lessons Learned

Every season we learn something we "shoulda" done. This season is no different.

1) Cowpeas apparently poop out after a good flush. I didn't do any successive plantings because I assumed they would just keep on producing till the weather cooled down. Not so. The last I planted are bearing strong now meaning a couple weeks from now I'll have none and yet still be weeks away from any fall harvesting. Gotta plant a final round in mid July looks like.

2) Same for okra. The seed description says it bears well until frost (Burmese okra), but I have 2 plants that seem to have decided to just quit. I'm wondering if in every other place in the world they can make it all the way to winter, but here... well these guys were in the ground in April... most places don't have 7 months of HOT weather to keep okra going with. Again, I think I'll do a second planting in early June next year.

3) Plant less basil... this is insane. I ripped out half of it and still have more than I can process. Gotta make pesto this afternoon and stock the freezer with it. At least the stuff slows down in the cooler weather and we'll get a chance to eat the stores before I'm making it fresh again. Though I bet I get another good bunch before any sign of winter rolls in.

Goat Update

Well, Cocoa is improving. She's far from normal but I think she's going to be fine. She no longer wants to drink milk, but is all over the stemmy alfalfa hay that the mamas won't eat... go figure. The hubby fixed the partition fence in the pasture this weekend (continually broken by the big Boer goat who is now occupying the freezer) so we'll put the kids on one side and the mamas on the other. It seems Cocoa is anxious to be with other goats again. Wednesday has been sneaking through the fence to munch on her goodies anyway so I think they'll be fine together.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Hardest Part

The hardest part of animal farming... untimely death.

Last night we had a severe thunderstorm. As usual, I unplugged the electric fencing so that stray voltage isn't giving our baby goats a constant stream of mild shock through wet ground. I thought no more of it. We left for the evening, only giving one pen of chickens any more consideration and that was because they were in a puddling zone of the yard. All was well. It was just another Florida thunderstorm.

This morning, my husband walked out the door, noticed the baby goats were still unplugged (they don't often test the fence anymore) and plugged them in, but could only find 1 of the 3. Upon closer inspection he noticed the other 2 were inside the fence, but down. He came back in and said he thought we had some dead goats. We ran out to find the strangest sight.

The bigger of the 3 ("Wednesday"-a single birth) was fine. The 2 little ones (twins-"Cocoa and Carob") were laying limp on the ground. The smaller of the 2 (Carob) was dead or severely comatose. The bigger (Cocoa) was somewhat responsive. Wednesday was dry... the other 2 were damp. Cocoa was slightly under their rain shelter. Carob was just outside of it. Carob had no rigor mortise meaning she was very freshly dead or in a coma. I took Cocoa inside, rubbed her dry and put her in front of a space heater despite that last night maybe got down to 75. I put the last of our goat milk on hand in a bottle which she drank readily. At first she wasn't able to stand, then she got to standing, now she's walking feebly though only wants to stand with her head in a corner. My husband tried to bring Carob around to showing some signs of life, but eventually ended her life (if there was any left to end) and dealt with the carcass before leaving for work... rather late.

I called Hoeggar's goat supply's help line and got some very good advice... unfortunately none of which I could implement immediately for lack of supplies available even at a feed store. But I packed up the kids and Carob and headed out to see what I could find. The owner of our favorite feed store sent me to his mom. I was unsure what had caused this sudden downfall. She suspected it was shock/fear from the storm and possibly some nearby lightening.

But why wouldn't she have been under cover? There was plenty of space! Was she just not smart enough? Did she get rained on all night? This was a normal storm... nothing they haven't been through before. Do I have to take extra precautions every time rain hits now? What should I have done? I understand animals die. I have no problem with slaughtering an animal destined for meat, but when one so young suffers... well, I've cried a lot this morning. I feel responsible. Carob was my sweetie, the one I bottle fed because her mother rejected her at 4 days old. She was tiny... still even much smaller than her twin sister. We doubted we would be able to safely breed her and considered several times to sell her... but I was attached. I kept arguing that maybe she would start growing more, that we would just have to wait a little longer to breed her. My husband always conceded to my sentimentality. Now I just wish she were alive.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Chuck's Chillin'

We slaughtered our boer meat goat, Chuck, on Saturday. I say we, but I did very little. I occasionally held a water bottle to my husband's lips while his hands were bloody. He did everything of any substance. This goat has gotten hard to handle so we slaughtered him at about 10 months rather than waiting till the year we were planning. The process was quick, a couple well-aimed gun shots to the head while he was partaking of his last meal, skinning his hide for tanning, and cutting the meat into large chunks but still small enough to fit into the cooler of ice.

The hide tanning process comes from a Mother Earth News article titled "How to Tan Rabbit Hides" (available free online)... we just use more solution to cover a big goat hide. Some salt and battery acid in water is all that's required... besides some work.

Last night we took most of the chunks of meat out of the ice, cleaned them up from stray hairs as best we could, cut them into roast sized chunks, cut some off for grinding, bagged and labeled them, and put them back in the fridge. We are unsure how long it should age. This was a young goat, castrated at about 6-7 months, very lean. Goat means its gamey and needs to be aged, castrated means its doesn't need to be aged much, castrated after the common 5 week time frame (I would think) means it should be aged longer, while being lean means it shouldn't be aged at all. So... what do you think?

So nothing has been frozen yet. We found a recipe for barbecued goat ribs on and will have a rack of ribs tonight. If its really gamey, we'll keep aging the rest. If its good, we'll put it all in the freezer.

This is only the second goat we've slaughtered. The first was a very young, very small goat put down in a mercy killing. Before we plan to slaughter another meat animal, we'll put in a hanging post. Something where the animal can hang during the skinning and cutting process and not be sitting on a table where its awkward to move and gets covered in hair. Shouldn't be difficult to build yet a very handy tool to have around.

Yesterday morning while milking, everything seemed so peaceful. Chuck has been bullying the smaller dairy goats and trying to climb out of the pasture while the others are being milked (and thus being fed). Then with the meat birds and a particularly noisy rooster not squawking for grain either... so serene. Its what a quiet country life should be.

Friday, July 31, 2009


You don't go into Publix and buy a pound or 2 of fresh cowpeas, but they're a staple in the Florida summer garden. These hearty, heat and humidity-loving, soil improving little gems have a lot going for them. They're essentially black-eyed peas... only coming in vast colors and shapes and not just black-eyed. We have 3 varieties growing this year:

Purple Hull Pink Eyes (from Baker Creek)- very strong and prolific. I really like these because the pod ripens to a deep purple making them easy to find in the bushy jungle I call our summer garden. Not drawing too many bugs and slow the dry out. Only problem is they color your fingernails black when you shell too many.

Mississippi Silvers (from Southern Exposure or Baker Creek)- Again, strong and prolific. Pods ripen to a pale yellow and dry out faster so I've learned to harvest twice a day when I can. What isn't ready one morning can be beyond ready the next. The peas are small and tan. Pods are easy to shell (the 3 year old farmer girl does all our cowpea shelling).

California Black Eyes (from a hardware store's seed rack)- I really don't recommend these. In fact I'm really learning my lesson over snagging whatever is on a store's seed rack. I just don't think they have Florida in mind when Morse Ferry is putting together their display. These draw bugs and worms continuously. They too fade to pale yellow and will immediately rot on the vine with all the worms that will chew on them. Not nearly as prolific either.

We eat a lot of soups (from bone broths of home grown chickens or local grass-fed beef) so I generally throw then into whatever soup I've got cooking. But there are tons of salads and side dishes that can be made from them. I generally collect them for a week and if I haven't used them, I put them in the dehydrator and then into a jar for storage.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Poultry Praise and Problems

Slaughterfest VI went off without a hitch. All is great. And we remain very impressed with the Dixie Rainbow breed from S and G Poultry. They are a bit smaller than the cornish rocks, but the healthfulness of the bird is worth the small decrease in size. We'll still probably be able to get 2 main meals and a soup out of each bird... though maybe not once the Boy is eating more. Between the two of us, we were able to slaughter 6 birds per hour. We had a lengthy break for lunch and child-tending which meant it took all day, but one day's work to put up 6 months of food is a pretty good rate.

Now for the poultry problem... previously we had 3 muscovy ducks- Donald and Pretty Duck and Pretty Duck (the females were named by the Girl). Last week around Thursday, I noticed a pretty duck wasn't around. I hoped she had found a safe place to lay eggs and had gone broody. Previously if I didn't find eggs, crows, coons or anything else did... quickly. Then Monday morning I noticed Donald didn't come running for his bit of grain. I haven't seen him since either. We've had these ducks for about a year now with no problems with predators so we don't know if they've been eaten or have run off to greener pastures. There's a pond down the street, but I've checked there twice and found nothing. The other Pretty Duck is still here and we have 3 hopefully fertilized eggs sitting in the incubator... but at what point do you have mercy on the single remaining duck? Do we wait until after August 9th (the hatch date) and see if we have anything hatch and keep what does? Should we wait the 35 days from last Thursday to see if the missing ducks really are setting on some eggs (with Donald being the protector?) Or should we cut our losses and take Pretty Duck down to the muscovy haven pond a mile or so away where she'll have lots of friends and plenty of breeding opportunities? We got them for bug control... and they did wipe out the ant piles in our yard. But they aren't helping our fly problem... nor mosquitoes for that matter. I think we just don't have enough of them and I'm not sure we're willing to keep the size flock we'd need for that kind of insect control. I think we'd be better off with a bat box or two. But I don't want to leave a lone female muscovy vulnerable to an unseen, unknown predator either... Any suggestions?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Slaughterfest VI- preparation day

A noisy rooster has finally settled down and stopped screaming... which he's been doing since before 5 am and I'm enjoying the thought of only one more morning to contend with him. His fertilized eggs are in the incubator... his work is done. Tomorrow we will have Slaughterfest VI... our sixth round of slaughtering chickens for meat. Today is preparation day. For people not understanding how we could "kill our pets"... that's just it. They're not pets. They're tools. They've lived a GOOD life and enjoyed freedoms most chickens don't even know to dream about. And soon they will be GOOD food, completely unmatched in quality by even the finest store-bought birds. And here's what I do to prepare:

1. Clean out the fridge and make as much room as possible. Also alert nearby family and friends to find possible overflow refrigerator space if needed.

2. Clean out and organize the freezer.

3. Count and label enough 2 gallon ziplock bags, one for each bird.

4. Clear and clean counters, tables, sink and anything else that could get in the way of piles of raw poultry. Have a container of disinfectant wipes on hand.

5. Move furniture to allow for easy access from outside to the clean, clear counters.

6. Clean coolers, buy ice, and get the garden clompers sharpened.

7. Remove the chickens' feeder in early evening.

Tomorrow morning we will:

1. Heat a big pot of boiling water. The scald temp should be 150-160 degrees. For us, this means we fill a cooler with hot tap water, add a pot of boiling water, and use a candy thermometer to monitor the temp.

2. Hook up the automatic plucker (a borrowed Featherman) to the hose and run electric to it.

3. Set up "tables" for gutting... this is usually an upside down Rubbermaid tote with a plastic garbage bag taped to it.

4. Gather random equipment: tweezers, kitchen knife, small garden clippers, and small containers for hearts and livers.

The process:

1. Dump the boiling water into cooler #1 and get temperature to 150-160.

2. Give chickens a little grain (this is so that the crop is detectable but not so full as to have if burst during gutting).

3. Quickly grab a chicken. We've found the easiest way to end the life is for one person to hold the bird down and stretch out the neck while the other uses the large garden clompers to sever the head. Then the bird is still held still during the twitching so the meat isn't bruised. When twitching slows, we repeat the process with bird #2 and then #3.

4. Dunk birds one at a time into the scald tank for about 20 seconds, swishing the bird around so the water gets under all the feathers.

5. Throw all 3 birds into the plucker and let it do its job.

6. Get another pot of water starting to boil.

7. Pull out a bird from the plucker and go over it with tweezers to pluck any stray feathers and hairs then hand it over to be gutted.

8. Feet are cut off with the garden clippers. A slice is made under the breastbone and the innards removed. Our deal is that the homesteading Mama changes poopy diapers and the homesteading Papa eviscerates chickens so I'm not so familiar with this part. I know there are several more sites depicting the details of the gutting process so I'll just say that here, they are gutted.

9. Hose them down and clean them up. Put them in cooler #2 filled with ice water.

10. Repeat steps 1-9 until all birds are processed.

11. Bring birds in 1 or 2 at a time. Do a final good cleaning and tweezing in the clean and sanitized kitchen sink. Drop the bird into a ziplock bag and stash in the fridge for 24-48 hours before transferring to the freezer. If you put them in the freezer too soon, you'll have a tough, dry bird.

12. Clean and sanitize the kitchen and the floor (bird juice will no doubt drip as you bring them in).

13. Cook up the livers with a good amount of onions and butter for a yummy dinner. Save the hearts (cut off the aorta) for cooking with eggs in the morning... tastes like sausage!)

14. While I'm cleaning and cooking, my husband is cleaning up outside. The feathers go into the compost pile (GREAT nutrient value!), the innards go into a garbage bag. Our trash day is Friday and we typically slaughter on Saturday so we dump the waste in a nearby dumpster instead of holding it for a week. If trash pick up is within 3 days, it would probably be safe to put it in your own trash can provided its not too close to the house. It will stink, but maggots wouldn't be hatching yet. This round we're saving the heads and feet for a friend who uses them in crab traps. Trading chicken heads for fresh crab sounds good to me!

15. When cooking grass-fed chicken (or grass-fed anything), cook it low and slow for optimum flavor and texture. I cook with the breast down so the best part cooks in its own juice. You can turn it right at the end to crisp up the skin if you want a pretty presentation.

Chicken processing complete for another 6 months or so. We tend to raise meat birds twice a year for about 13 weeks. This is our first time raising "Dixie Rainbows" by S and G Poultry (see the links on the sidebar) and are VERY impressed. They're not quite as big as Cornish Rocks, but its also late July and we haven't lost a single bird. Cornish Rocks start dropping like flies when the heat hits 85. They're fat, lazy, don't feather out well because they're always laying down and just flat don't look like real chickens. These Dixie Rainbows are gorgeous, healthy, hearty looking birds. We will definitely be continuing with them! In fact we're saving out 2 hens and a rooster for breeding with from this batch.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Fall Garden Plan

Seeds are up and getting big for the fall garden. This is our plan, though as with anything, nature may change it up some. All veggies this round are started from seed. All were ordered through Baker Creek or Southern Exposure. All are new varieties to me unless noted with an asterisk*. In the end we intend to really minimize the number of different varieties we grow, but we're still in the experimentation phase right now. When choosing varieties, I look for quick return (in the spring we have to beat the heat and in the winter we have fewer hours of daylight meaning everything grows slower anyway), good yields, tolerant to heat, humidity and disease and obviously, good taste. We're not against hybrids, just haven't really tried many yet. We'd rather do open-pollenated heirlooms as much as is feasible... but we've already learned there is a definite place for hybrids in the Florida garden!

July: Tomatoes- Black Cherokee and Uncle Mark Bigby
Belle Peppers- Sweet Chocolate and Charleston Belle (low germination rate on Charlestons... just planted round two this morning)
Watermelon- Blacktail Mountain and Sugarlee (again, low germination and planted more)
Cucumber- Edmonson Pickling
Collard Greens- Georgia Southern
Green Beans- Contender

August: Broccoli-Waltham 29* and De Cicco
Bok Choy-Ching Chang
Swiss Chard- Canary Yellow and Flamingo Pink

September: Brussels Sprouts- Long Island Improved
Cabbage- Early Jersey Wakefield and Early Flat Dutch
Lettuce- Jericho, Little Gem*, Sweet Valentine, Slo-Bolt, Mignonette Bronze*
Turnips- White Egg
and more collards, broccoli, bok choy and swiss chard

October: Radishes- Early Scarlet Globe
Peas- Wando*, Lincoln*, Little Marvel
and more brussels sprouts, cabbage, lettuce, turnips, brocolli, bok choy and swiss chard

November, December, and January: more radishes, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, lettuce, turnips, bok choy and swiss chard.

January also begins spring planting, but that's still unplanned. More about that a few months from now.

For companion planting, I've done the best I could with our plan and the suggestions made in Carrots Love Tomatoes. Here's the plan:

Bed 1- Watermelons (fresh soil that has never seen a cucurbit... a vining squash-type plant)

Bed 2- Peppers

Bed 3- Lettuce and Radishes

Bed 4- Peas and Turnips

Bed 5 and 6- Tomatoes, Collards and Swiss Chard

Bed 7- Beans and Cucumbers

Bed 8- Brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, etc)

And a smattering a dill here and there for insect repellant. Much of what I did this season as far as companioning wasn't so much what really HELPS each other, but rather what won't HURT each other and then also arranged them so short brassicas and lettuces aren't shaded by tall vining beans and cucumbers or bushy tomatoes.

To Prepare Beds, if its an already established bed, I double dig (which is essentially tilling gently with a shovel) and add composted manure and some sawdust. If its an unestablished bed and I have the energy, I do the same, but then cover the tilled part with newspaper before piling the compost and sawdust on top. If I'm feeling lazy (as being 7 months pregnant tends to do), I lay the newspaper pretty thick right on top of the grass and pile the compost and sawdust on top and pray the grass dies before it pushes up. I don't recommend this version in the spring or summer as the grass is just way to hearty then.

To Plant Seeds, I put them in seed cups filled with about 2 parts compost to 1 part sawdust and elevate them above the ground to keep down the bug activity. Some have major problems with squirrels, but I think that can be solved just by keeping them in a higher traffic area where human smell is detectable to them. I have more of a problem with an 18 month old dirt loving boy so my seed station is on top of a pile of wood pallets and I tend to get good rates.

To Protect the Garden, determine what you're protecting from. DON"T put your garden right next to woods where any critter under the sun can come out and munch and quickly be home again. We have one garden fenced with wood pallets and the other fenced with standard 3 foot rabbit guard fencing. Our main pests are gopher tortoises and rabbits though the fence does wonders to ward off little humans as well. 3' is nice because its still easy enough to step over and a gate does not need to be installed. We do have a "gate" where a pallet can be removed somewhat easily to allow wheelbarrow access, but its not simple enough for daily or twice daily removal for quick harvesting. Keep your garden accessible to you, but not little critters. Don't try to keep out raccoons... it won't work. Just harvest before they do.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A New Leaf

If you've found this already, congratulations on your cyber sleuthing abilities. This is a new face to a previous blog. Now that we've been homesteading for almost 4 years, with a VERY steep learning curve, I've decided to make the blog a bit more informative- especially with the large numbers of people looking to do similar ventures as the state of the nation gets more and more unsure. My intention for this blog will be to describe what I've learned, what I'm learning, what I'm doing right, what I'm doing wrong and everything in between... homesteading wise. I hope to make it searchable so that anyone looking for a specific topic doesn't need to sort through years of posts to find out how to help a goat give birth or what to do for anthracnose or how to get your herbs to grow. But I'm also still a mom and I still have many more responsibilities so this blog will be a continuous work in progress. If there is something in particular you are interested in, e-mail me (floridahomesteader(at)mail(dot)com) so that I'm sure to post on that topic before I tackle others. Happy homesteading!