Homestead News, Volume 23

Things have slowed down somewhat here for the winter. Outside of the opinion pieces we have been sharing for news, in our little corner of the world things are relatively quiet. We have our daily routines of animal chores, cooking and eating, and eating. The small lane that leads to our house is about 1/4 mile if you walk round trip. Frank walks it twice a day for about a mile or so. I usually make it about half to three quarters before the arthritis in my back starts complaining. We take the half hour drive to see my mother in the nursing home regularly. Some of those trips are easier than others. Her dementia is now limiting her speech significantly and it’s hard to keep her attention. So, go our days. Watching the demise of the world and wondering when it will reach our doorstep.

We have some food growing in the greenhouse along with some basil and flowers. More flowers than usual and surprisingly, some of them like to bloom in the winter.

Turnip greens

Salad fixings – amaranth, pak choy, kale, cress, lettuces

Looking out of the door that goes into the house.

Balsam – I had no idea they would bloom in the winter greenhouse.

And believe it or not, the tomatoes are blooming. I don’t think they will produce because it gets too cold at night.

But this will be the first plants I set out come spring if they make it until then.

Our baby goats are all on the ground for the year. We had one set of twins and two sets of triplets. One of the does has continued her mastitis problem from last year so we gave away two of her kids when they were four hours old. They got a few good drinks of colostrum and we sent more home with them. 

Now we have fresh milk again which we both consider to be a wonderful treat.

I have been using up some of my fabric and quilt batting making lap quilts to donate to the nursing home where my Mom lives. It’s part of my downsizing effort.

And speaking of eating, today is a good day for a pot of soup. It’s still warm outside, t-shirt weather, but I wanted to use some of our harvest for a good hot meal.

 
I don’t like the feeling that these tools are always necessary when I walk out the door to go milk the goats, or garden, or take a walk down our lane, but so go the days of our lives. Anymore, you just never know what you need to always be prepared for.


 Until next time – Fern
 

Homestead News, Volume 22

I keep going back to the quote on the last article.

Consider what you would do if you knew [we inserted if you actually BELIEVED] your country had already moved beyond the point of no return.”

When Frank and I discussed this quote, my response was we would keep doing what we are doing, because we do know that we are beyond the point of no return. So, with that, here is the next homestead update and some of the things we are doing to prepare.

We are watering the garden with the water well and a 12volt pump. Why now? It’s time. We have had this well and pump since late 2008. It’s been waiting in the wings. This spring Frank looked on the shelf at the box with the pump in it again, took it down and figured out what we needed to install it. Nothing. We had everything we needed, it was just putting in the time and effort to install it. Since then we have treated the well, pumped out the old stagnant water, treated it again and had it tested twice. The first time there was still one type of coliform bacteria in it, so we treated it again. The second time it came out clean. We’ve been watering the garden in two hour intervals about three times a week. When we started using the pump, we measured the production which is about three gallons a minute. This was one of the first things that came to my mind when we read that quote.

Frank’s next step will to be to install solar panels on top of the greenhouse which he has already configured, installed onto a framework and wired together. These panels will connect with a battery bank which is already installed in the greenhouse with a charge controller, and will be used to run the well pump. He is just waiting for cooler temperatures and some help. It won’t be long. We have some ideas running around in our heads about pressure tanks and plumbing the well into the house, but that is down the list quite a ways and may or may not materialize.
 

Next. Food. We have been canning more tomatoes and tomato sauce to replenish the stock. We canned instead of froze our winter squash. Today we finished grinding the remaining beef in the freezer. A few days ago some of it went to making and canning 14 quarts of chili.

We have plenty of cowpeas on the shelf, so this patch will be picked, left whole in the pod, and dried in the greenhouse. This will be some of our winter animal feed. It will be interesting to see how well it keeps and how well the animals like them. The goats love fresh pods, with or without the peas. The chickens like the fresh or dried peas, but not the pods.

Several of you have asked about the amaranth experiment. The spring planted crop is still producing even after four cuttings. I have learned to let the heads turn an almost rusty, golden, brown to make sure they are ripe to pick. The heads dry in the greenhouse, then I remove the seeds, winnow the chaff and save the stems and chaff for the goats, which they are eating quite well. They like it.
 

The summer planted amaranth crop has not done well at all. They grew very slowly, then started falling over. Turns out the pigweed weevil loves amaranth stems. Amaranth and pigweed are in the same family and wild amaranth, which is called pigweed, grows here quite well. All over the garden, in

fact. It’s just that I didn’t know what it was until this year when I grew amaranth and right beside it was this weed that had leaves exactly the same. Interesting, the learning opportunities that come along. Well, after the weevils came the cabbage moths, or I think that’s what they were.

Many of the plant’s growing heads became covered with sticky webs, small worms and black clots of eggs. I picked these heads off and fed them to the chickens. This batch of amaranth is just now starting to show seed heads even though some of them are much taller and thicker stemmed than the spring crop. They won’t have time to mature before frost. We plan to pull these plants and hang them whole to dry for winter animal feed. We’ll see how that goes.
 

Amaranth seed heads drying in the greenhouse
Wheat on the left, amaranth on the right


The amaranth seed we have been able to harvest is going into our bread. We tried the seed whole a few times, then started grinding it with the KitchenAid grinder on the finest setting, otherwise the grains are so small they fall right through the grinder. I like the additional nutrition this adds to our bread. We have not tried eating any of the greens even though we have read that they are edible in both salads and cooked as greens. Maybe next year. 

Our focus has been on increasing the food supply for our animals and ourselves. We consider our goats and chickens to be an important part of our food supply. Our garden has now become not only our food supply, but some of theirs as well. Since writing this article and running across the Ice Age Farmer, we feel it is wise to grow or store as much food as is practicable. The Ice Age Farmer had a couple of interesting videos out yesterday about cooler temperatures affecting crops this year due to the solar minimum and about some scientists saying we will have to rely on cannibalism for protein in our diet to help with global warming. Folks there are some very strange things going on with food and food control. Some people have some very perverted, dangerous ideas they are actually presenting to the public, not in some dark, back room. The more we can rely on ourselves and what is on our shelves, the better off we will be.

Wouldn’t it be great to be wrong? Wouldn’t it be fun to sit back and watch trash stuff on television and eat ice cream out of the carton (as long as someone

hadn’t licked all over it and put it back on the shelf in the store)? Wouldn’t it be grand to be clueless, hopeless and caught totally unaware when there are no more cell phone signals, television signals, talking boxes that can answer every question you ever had, a myriad of devices that can watch, track and record your every sound and move, in every room in your house, even in your bedroom? Wouldn’t it be great to know that there will always be food on the store shelves, gasoline for your car, Amazon delivery right to your front door and free stuff from the government? Wouldn’t it be great to have friends to count on in the event of a collapse that wouldn’t come and kill you for your stuff because they were the grasshoppers while you were the ant? 

Wouldn’t it?

What would we do if we knew that our country had already moved beyond the point of no return? We have been doing it most of our adult lives. Preparing. Learning. Practicing. It’s why we became reserve police officers before Y2K, became EMTs in remote Alaska, lived on a homestead where financial resources were focused on creating a sustainable life, learning what grows here, and how to care for animals that will help feed us. And now we’ve been drawn to this place, this world of the internet to share with those that might listen and that will teach us in return. Every last thing we can learn, practice and practice some more, will help us in this journey as we all fall off the cliff of civility and normality. Stay safe.

Until next time – Fern

Food on the Shelf

Here is what we’ve been up to – adding food to the shelf. We have plans for more to come including cowpeas, chili, tomatoes, tomato sauce, green beans, sunflowers and amaranth. Not everything will end up in jars, but will be on the shelf in some fashion. Food. The essence of life.

Carrots

Beets

These are the best tasting beets we have ever grown.

Green beans – a basic staple

Winnowing amaranth
Amaranth for our bread

Thelma Sanders winter squash

Winter squash and pinto bean harvest

Communication is always essential.
Our first apple crop. These are wind falls.

The tomatoes are being frozen for future canning.
The more food we put on the shelf, the more content we feel about feeding ourselves for a few more months. That’s a great feeling. Enjoy your harvest, whether it be a garden or a grocery store. 
Stay vigilant. Stay away from crowds. Be ready for anything, it just feels near.
Until next time – Fern

Homestead News Volume 21

We are enjoying below normal temperatures here this week which is a welcome relief to the hot humid weather we have been having. Our hot weather has been similar to what is happening across the country east of here, we have been having daily heat advisories for a while now. We know the heat will return because that is what is normal for this location in the middle of summer, but this morning the low was 61*, normal is about 80* in the midst of summer.

Self discipline has kicked in a little better this summer with rising early and getting out of the house before 10:00am. We don’t always, and definitely haven’t always in the past. It’s easy to sit and drink coffee, visit and peruse the internet. That’s more fun than going outside and sweating. But when we do get up and about and get things done, it feels better, physically and mentally. The bonus is that things get done. So, here are some things that have been happening around the homestead.

We have put about two dozen roosters in the freezer, with the last of them butchered today. Now that the chickens are finished we have six wethers we need to get in the freezer as well. That will be next on the meat preservation list.

There are now more jars on the shelf including green beans, turnip greens and beets.

The garden continues to produce a good harvest almost daily. We are currently getting okra, tomatoes, peppers and green beans.

The pinto beans have been pulled and I’m working on shelling them for canning. The harvest would have been much larger if I had realized pinto beans are pole beans, not bush beans. 

Pinto bean harvest

The first planting of cow peas, purple hull peas, are just about ready to begin blooming and the second planting is up and growing well.

We have harvested the first cutting of amaranth. I will be doing a separate article soon. The second planting is in and also doing very well.

Amaranth after the main seed head has been harvested.

New amaranth seedlings

I have pondered doing a Goat Tale for you, but there really isn’t much to tell so I will include them here. The doe, Patch, that had mastitis and a retained placenta, is now healthy, and I am still milking her on the ‘good’ side of her udder.

Patch – you know, see that patch of white on her side?

In the last few weeks all of our does have bred which has happened before, but is unusual. Neither the does or the buck seem interested in breeding during the heat of the summer most years. This breeding means in the next few months our milk supply will diminish and dry up sometime before they give birth in December. Winter babies are good. They tend to be healthy and thrive better than summer babies, but we will miss having our own fresh milk while waiting for them.

Here is a sneak peek at a project Frank has been working on. He will fill you in on the details in a future article.

We have begun reading Leigh Tate’s book Prepper’s Livestock Handbook. Leigh blogs over at 5 Acres & A Dream which is packed with information about developing their homestead and becoming as self-sufficient as possible. Leigh does a lot of research and tracks data covering their successes and failures. This is where I discovered amaranth and kefir. If you haven’t been there, go take a look, she has a wide variety of information available. We’ll be telling you more about her book after we have more time to graze through it. After all, it is about livestock. 

Frank and I were talking about plans for our activities yesterday and came to the conclusion that this time of year almost everything we do is related to food. It is the food production and preservation time of year. Other things can be postponed until winter when the harvest is in and the weather cools down. 

Life is good on the homestead. Very good. The world? Well, that’s another story. I could direct you to all sorts of horrible, troubling things, but you know what is out there. You know what is coming our way. Prepare accordingly. Don’t be caught by surprise. What comes may shock us, may devastate us, may end the world as we know it. But until that time arrives, the sun is shining, I get to spend my days with the man I love at my side. The flowers are blooming. There is food on our shelves. We have a wonderful life.

Until next time – Fern

What’s Growin’ in the Garden 3

I looked back at the pictures from the previous garden update and realized what a difference a month makes. We have had a few more storms and wind, but the plants are much larger and there was not much negative affect from the weather. This article is long on pictures, so grab a cup of coffee and enjoy. 

June 22nd

July 13th

The rest of these pictures are from July unless otherwise indicated.

Pinto bean weed patch, July 13th


This looks like overgrown weeds, doesn’t it? This is the pinto bean patch interspersed with crabgrass and other delectable weeds…. I have begun to slowly pull the plants and harvest what I can. Next year I will know these need a trellis. An error on my part not knowing pintos are a vine like pole beans. I just made the assumption they were a bush variety like the Jacob’s Cattle beans I have been growing for the last few years.

Once the pinto beans are harvested, this area will receive carrot and beet seedlings. I will probably plant a couple of hills of yellow squash and see if we can have a fall crop for fresh eating.

The trellis next to the pintos has the peppers and Missouri Wonder pole beans. The peppers are just starting to produce well. I will be freezing some of them soon. We have found that frozen, chopped peppers come in handy cooking through the off season.

The yellow squash is finished thanks to the annual squash bug invasion. These will be pulled up and replaced by another cowpea patch.

The tomatoes are starting to ripen and we have begun to freeze them. We have two gallons in the freezer so far. Last summer we froze 20 gallon of tomatoes that we turned into tomato sauce. They seem to be ripening late again this year. Last summer many people in our area barely got any tomatoes and most folks we talked to indicated their gardens didn’t do well at all. We’ll see how this year turns out.

 

We tilled between these tomato trellises about a month ago with the new electric tiller and this is all that has grown there. Without the tilling it would have the same crabgrass overgrowth you see at the opening of the row. I remain very impressed with how this new tiller helps to eliminate grass and weeds compared to the Mantis that I used and liked for years. These amaranth seedlings will be planted between the tomato trellises and in the now harvested corn patch which I’ll show you in a minute.

Amaranth seedlings

Speaking of amaranth, we have harvested some of the heads and are drying them in the greenhouse. I probably picked the first few before they were quite ready, but this is a new learning process for us. There are more heads to harvest from the original growth and we hope the side shoots will now continue to grow and produce more grain. For now we are not harvesting the entire plant, only the top most portion of the main grain head.


How are we going to winnow and clean the grain? Well, we have yet to figure that out. We have some fine strainers that may work and will cross that bridge once the seed heads are dry and ready to work.

The cowpeas we planted right before the last garden article are growing well. They will soon fill in this area between the tomatoes and okra. For now the zinnias are taller, but that won’t last much longer.

Purple hull cowpeas

The okra has been slow to grow and produce this year. It just hasn’t liked the cool, wet spring and the lack of sunshine. One of the nice things about this patch is that it was grown from seed that we saved last year.

And speaking of seeds, much of the garden this year was grown from our seeds. This has been a goal for many, many years, one that we are starting to make some progress on. From our own seeds this year we planted green beans, okra, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, winter squash, turnips, zinnias and marigolds. And yes, you read that right, carrots. As you know, carrots don’t seed the first year, so I had to plant them in a separate part of the garden two years ago. We harvested these seeds last year.


The last of the corn has been harvested and I have a question. I didn’t realize that corn grows suckers similar to tomatoes. I broke them off thinking they would prevent the stalk from producing good ears, but I think some of those plants didn’t produce any ears. Would someone increase my knowledge about the growth and production of corn? We haven’t grown any in a number of years and have never been tremendously successful.

 

  
The strawberries have died. Last year after we planted them they grew very well. Then toward the end of summer, some of the leaves started getting brown spots, curling and dying. The only information I could find was that a virus in the soil causes this problem. The solution? Kill the plants and start over somewhere else. I tried inoculating with nematodes to see if that would have any impact, but it didn’t. The plants started growing this year and trying to produce in the wet, cloudy spring, but most of the berries rotted from the excessive moisture. Now, the virus has wiped out the rest of the plants.





We had a plum harvest this year. Here is half of it. Tasted great!

We have some lettuce coming up in the small bed by the back porch. I’m not sure how well it will do in the heat of summer, but fresh salad greens do sound good.

  
We are blessed to be able to live where and how we wish, and we certainly hope this continues as long as possible. There seriously appears to be very troubled times coming. Plan and plant ahead.

Until next time – Fern

SHTF Animal Feed

How are we going to maintain our animals in a SHTF situation? Good question from Leigh over at 5 Acres & A Dream. She and her husband continually work to improve their land and self-sufficiency goals, so this in an interesting question. This article has quite a few links to previous articles that discuss some of our efforts at providing for our animals. A lot of what we do now is based on how things have developed since we moved to this homestead. Here is Leigh’s question.

“Here’s a preparedness question. I would really like to know how you are feeding and managing your goats. Feed self-sufficiency has been one of my goals for as long as we’ve had goats, but I keep being thwarted and frustrated at so many turns. We grow some of our own feed and hay, but not enough and I’m constantly feeling time pressured to achieve this goal. I have to say I’ve learned a lot from research and experimentation; and made huge changes in my feeding philosophy, but I’m not there yet. I’d love a blog post on how you’re managing this.”

We currently buy grain from the feed store for our goats and chickens. Along with that, they all have access to forage. Right now we keep the chickens penned up until about noon or early afternoon, then let them out to range. If we no longer have access to grain for them, we will let them out each morning to ‘fend for themselves’. We also supplement with garden scraps, comfrey and amaranth leaves when available.

Our current Nubian goat herd consists of three does, eight wethers and two bucks. The males and females are separated into different pastures. Our ten acres is cross fenced into four pastures which is way more than enough for the number of animals we have. We rotate them between pastures during different times of the year for grazing preferences and to help control intestinal parasites. One of the main things we use for parasite control are copper boluses. We have acquired a large supply that will more than last our lifetimes in a SHTF situation, and hopefully will be adequate to help maintain the health of the animals. We also grow a number of plants that help deter worms. I don’t pick and feed them daily like I used to, but they are out there if we need them. After we started using the copper boluses, the goats have been very healthy most of the time.


We have always had a plan for standing hay. It’s warm enough in our location that there is usually something green growing most of the year for the goats to graze, and if not, there is still a lot of forage of the standing dried variety. If we are unable to buy the small amount of hay we use each year for bedding during the birthing season, that is another issue. We currently do not have a solution for that, it’s something we would have to work out. We have plans, but not finalized plans because it is something we have never done.


We realize our milk and kid production would decrease substantially since the does would not be receiving a milking ration of grain. The same would be true for the chickens and their egg production. To hopefully offset some of that, we have some things growing that could be used to supplement the grazing. We have a small patch of Jerusalem artichokes and comfrey.


One crop that grows very well here is cowpeas. We would increase our planting and dry some of these in the greenhouse for winter supplement. There are parts of the country that grow them extensively for animal feed for their protein content. We also have Austrian winter pea seed that has remained viable for about a decade, that loves the cold weather. It doesn’t make a ‘pea’ per se, but the foliage is edible for man and beast and is very nutritious.

The scraps from the garden and winter greenhouse are always saved and taken to the animals, usually the chickens. We were talking about how to save the corn stalks for silage the other day. We haven’t tried it yet, but that might also be doable.

Another crop we are trying for the first time this year is amaranth. So far so good. It is growing very well, we will just have to wait and see how it produces. The plant can be dried and chopped for the goats. It’s highly nutritious and I got the idea from Leigh after reading about it years ago on her blog.

I haven’t concentrated on SHTF animal feed in quite a while, but it’s a good reminder to do so. When we moved to this homestead 11 years ago there were many things to do to increase our self-sufficiency and prepare for the collapse. Now that many of them are in place I am much more peaceful about our preparedness level. The current challenge is our aging bodies and what we can still physically accomplish. We continually reevaluate what we need to downsize or alter to continue to accomplish our goals.

We have watched others try to grow non-mechanized grains and hay. This is something that has always been too labor intensive for our life styles. And now that we are older, this could never be a consideration for us. We have downsized our herd of goats to a more manageable level as we realize our limitations and how they will continue to affect our abilities in the future whether there is a collapse or not. We have to be realistic. Adding in the belief that the SHTF sooner rather than later, we add our aging bodies and waning physical abilities to the equation and adjust accordingly.

Thank you for the question, Leigh. It is a good review for us and helps to refocus on how we might be able to continue providing for our animals, which in turn will provide for us. Milk, meat, and eggs will go a long way toward sustaining us.

Let’s hear from everyone. What other recommendations or experiences do folks have to share? Again, we are all in this together.

Until next time – Fern

Hmmm….. I need to grow more food

I haven’t felt this way in a while. This year has been a normal garden season, no urgency, just grow our own healthy food and put it on the shelf for another year’s supply of homegrown food. The garden is a little smaller and would be even smaller still if we hadn’t decided to grow a little corn for the first time in many years. Just another year. Right? Waiting for the collapse, watching the shenanigans of our congress, observing the demise of civility, avoiding crowds if at all possible.

We had this same flooding about two weeks ago. Here it is again.

We have had an over abundance of rain this year, with over four inches in the last 24 hours, and more falling from the sky as I type. Everything is growing well, not necessarily producing a harvest yet, but growing well, except maybe the okra. It’s barely over knee high and is just starting to bloom. The peppers are in the same shape, starting to bloom. The tomatoes are green, but there are quite a few of them. 

Our great bread basket across the country has been flooding and flooding and flooding. Stories have been coming out about the impact to major crop harvests. Some say there will be shortages and rising prices, some say all is well. What do we believe? We have been fortunate to get comments from CW who lives in Iowa’s corn country. We like hearing from boots on the ground.

Somewhere along the way we ran into a link for the YouTube channel of the Ice Age Farmer. I watched him to see what he had to say about farms underwater and the country’s major crop harvest. It doesn’t look good according to him. And then he started talking about the grand solar minimum. I didn’t think a lot of it at first. I knew the sun cycle was at the low end because of how it is affecting radio propagation. Then I remembered an article I wrote back in 2014, What is a Maunder Minimum? I went back and read it, then went in search of more information about the grand solar minimum that the Ice Age Farmer was talking about. This took me to these two articles.

Winter is Coming – Super Grand Solar Minimum

Evidence of Grand Solar Minimum Continues to Mount

Hmmm….. comparison to another mini ice age? I sure hope not. But Colorado did just have two feet of snow in some places on the first day of summer. The same storm that caused major storms in other parts of the country. I have never believed in the current global warming paradigm. Man’s carbon emissions are not causing the planet to warm. The planet has always gone through cycles of warming and cooling. Just like the sun cycles. Either we adjust or we don’t. We learn new ways of living and producing food, or we don’t. If we as a society don’t learn to adjust, we die. To me, it’s that simple.


Is this the only reason I feel like I need to grow more food, after the growing season has started and the garden is already planted and growing? No. But you probably suspected that didn’t you? Our last few articles discuss the ways of the world, our country, our politics, the invasion of foreigners from all over the world, and the potential conflicts between countries worldwide. Is that it? No, not entirely.


In the last few weeks Frank has begun working on a project to provide another source of water to our house. We will write about it before long showing the steps, equipment and results. But just yesterday Frank looked at me and said, “After all this time, I don’t know why I am doing this project now.” You see, we have had the supplies, parts and equipment for a long time, in some instances up to ten years. It has all been on a shelf, waiting in the wings for the time it was needed. But recently, he took these things down, looked them over and started to work. The scary part is he doesn’t have a distinct reason why.

Amaranth will be planted here.


As I harvested the carrots and cleared up the area between the tomatoes, Frank asked what I was going to plant there. My response? Nothing, we don’t need anything else. Then we harvested the beets. Again, same response, we don’t need anything else. As the amaranth has grown well and started to produce large seed heads I have been reading about harvesting and winnowing the seeds for use in our bread, reviewing the nutritive value and how it can benefit both us and our chickens and goats.


Then, in just the last week, I have had this need to grow more food. Densely nutritious food. Just this morning at breakfast I asked Frank what shorter season crop we can grow once the pinto bean crop is finished. I plan to plant some carrots for winter eating in a portion of that area, but there will be a lot of room left over. Cow peas are a 75-85 day crop, high in protein and other good nutrients, good for animals and humans. That’s why I planted some yesterday after I tilled the space where the beets and winter squash had been. This is what lead me to pull up the winter squash before it was fully finished with it’s production.

And instead of leaving the winter squash to cure so we can bake one every now and then, or bake and freeze some if the need arises, I am going to can them all. We can add a jar to soup and it will be ready on the shelf for another food option as desired or needed. Why? I’m not sure. It’s just another one of those food options I have been impressed to change from my original plan.

The areas I showed you between the rows of corn and between the tomato trellises will be planted with amaranth as soon as the new seedlings come up. I have two trays planted and more pot maker pots made up today for planting. And if there is time once the corn is harvested, the rest of this area will be planted with amaranth.

Wire cat protectors for the seedlings as they grow.

Just like Frank and the water project. I don’t know why, but I need to grow more food. We have lived our lives listening to that little voice of warning and instruction and it has served us well. So, it’s time to plant, tend, harvest and preserve. The why can take care of itself in it’s own time. Heed the warnings you are given. Listen. Act. 

Until next time – Fern