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!