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
 

Without Food, You Are Dead

Everyone needs to read the opening dialogue from Ol’ Remus at the Woodpile Report this week. He’s right. Food is a Weapon that can, has been and will be used against you. There is a reason Bison Prepper is always writing about food first, wheat, calories, wheat, wheat, wheat. Without food, you are dead. End of story. Not to mention the disease and debilitation that comes from malnutrition and starvation. 

I’ve been thinking about sharing our fall/winter growing plans for a while and the thoughts from Ol’ Remus decided for me that today, I had better get with it. We are working on putting most of the garden to bed for the winter. We’re in the process of taking down the tomato/pepper/green bean trellises. After they are out of the way Frank will brush hog all of

the plants, including the okra forest, into a type of organic mulch.

Then we’ll clean out the chicken house and barn and add that to the garden and till everything in for the winter. If the weather isn’t too cold by that time, it usually isn’t in our latitude, we will broadcast some winter peas for an edible cover crop. It’s good for man and beast.

 
This is the plan for most of the garden anyway. The two ends, east and west are planted with a few more food crops. Not to mention these volunteer squash plants that came up in the yard close to the compost pile. We’re enjoying a few last meals of squash. The first frost we had, we covered these plants with a frost cloth which prevented death, but did not keep the plants damage free. We’ll be covering them again this weekend to see if we can get a few more meals before winter takes it’s toll.

We have a small patch of turnips planted for greens. These are seeds we saved this spring from the turnips we planted last fall. It seems to be a good cycle to get into. We were also able eat fresh greens well into winter, again in the spring and even canned a few jars in June. Our permanent turnip bed idea didn’t work out, so maybe this cycle is a better alternative.

On the other end of the garden we have planted some beets for canning, if they make it that far. 

Some carrots for winter eating.  
 

And some cabbage. We still have some frozen, shredded cabbage we grew in the spring of 2018 that we are using in soup. It’s a great addition. If these cabbages make, I’m hoping we won’t have insect problems this time of year, we’ll eat some fresh and freeze the rest to continue our soup making routine.

 

This small bed on the east side of the house is the only place I have successfully grown spinach. We have had our first salad with miniature spinach and lettuce leaves. I was too impatient to let them grow any bigger before we had our first taste.

In the greenhouse we have started our winter salad collection.

We have two kinds of lettuce. Romaine

Black Seeded Simpson

Russian Kale

Pak Choy from seeds we saved this spring.

Cress

I have also planted a tub of amaranth since it is supposed to be good in salads and we know it’s packed with nutrition.

Even though I don’t expect success, I planted some of the tomato seeds we saved this summer. I wanted to make sure they were viable and wanted to try one more time for winter greenhouse tomatoes.

On a whim back in the spring I bought a six pack of sweet potato plants, put them in some rather rocky ground under a trellis, and pretty much ignored them. They made a few potatoes, more than I expected. We’ll try one for supper tonight with some of those turnip greens we canned in June.

I tried keeping the vines when we dug the potatoes and planted them in a pot in the greenhouse to see if we can use this for our plants in the spring. I don’t know if they will make it when the weather gets cold. We’ll find out.

This is the first year we have had anything close to an apple harvest from the two trees we planted about eight years ago. The apples are good, not too sweet, but homegrown which means a lot to us. We have one with lunch almost everyday. 

 

So, food. What do you have? Is it enough for everyone you need to feed? For a while? Days? Weeks? Months? Years? Can you replenish the supply on your own without any outside assistance? 

Food has always been used to control people. Always. Think of Joseph in Egypt. His father and brothers had to come and beg for food. They had the money to pay for it, but that didn’t mean they would receive any. It’s no different today. Look around the world. Look at how interdependent everyone is. Some countries have oil. Some have water. Some have the type of land and soil that will grow food, some don’t. If any one thing goes wrong, one spoke of the wheel breaks, all systems fail. No water, no food. No oil, no fertilizer, no commercial farming apparatus, no food. No transportation, food rots in the field. No workers, no food. 

Food can and will be used against you as a means of enforcing your compliance to any and all demands. Moral, immoral, just and unjust. Be ready. Provide for yourself and those you love. Otherwise……. 

Without food, you, and everyone you love, are dead.

Until next time – Fern
 

Homestead News, Volume 20

We just got back from Frank’s checkup, his second cataract surgery was yesterday and everything is going well. He has some physical limitations for a few more days, so we’ll be taking it easy. It’s supposed to rain over the weekend too, so another reason for a slow couple of days.

We have added the last of the fertilizer from the chicken house to the garden and tilled it again. Planting will begin sometime next week, weather and mud will help determine the timing. This year will be one of the latest starts on planting the garden. We didn’t put in any cold weather crops this spring, they just haven’t produced well for us, so we didn’t expend the time and effort. We decided to try some time lapse photos of the garden through the season, so here is step one. Dirt.

The seedlings are doing well in the greenhouse, all except the carrots who are suffering from a case of aphids. They moved outside and have been through a few frosty mornings. Maybe that killed off a few of the little buggers.

Beets

Tomatoes

Peppers with basil in the middle smaller pots

Tubs of lettuce, almost ready for lunch

Carrots outside
Nasturtiums

Part of the bed out back, sometimes known as the herb bed, will be used for the perpetual turnip bed. I started to do an article on the nutrition of turnips and turnip greens since we had a lot of interest in them recently, but then realized I had already written one. 

We have simplified the goat herd, quite a bit actually. We had 14 baby goats this year. It’s always easy to keep a few young does, they’re young, cute and have potential to be good does. At first we were going to keep one, then two, then three. What did we end up with? None. And that was a good decision. We also sold three adult does. What do we have left? One Stripe, our 11 year old, ‘old lady goat’ that is no longer a producer. 

Her four year old daughter Patch that had a serious illness with a retained placenta this year that led to mastitis on one side of her udder. Her six year old sister Copper, who we sold, help raise her triplets along with her own. Patch is still losing hair in some places and I’m still working on her udder, but her health appears to be much better. I’m actually hoping she goes into heat and breeds, then maybe her udder will function on both sides and she can provide us with milk this coming winter.

Two of our young does had their first kids this year and are doing well on the milk stand. I’ll write a Goat Tail sometime soon and give you more details on their progress.

Our chicks have hatched and more arrived in the mail, but that tale will wait for one of Frank’s chicken stories.

It’s spring, almost time to mow the yard, rains are here and the temperatures are rising. What’s not to like about spring? Unfortunately, the temperatures appear to be rising in more ways than one across our country. There are those in power that will never cease fomenting hatred and unrest in our country. They care not one wit for your welfare, well being or contentment with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They will never be satisfied. Ever. Until everything is either under their boot or destroyed down to the last man, woman and child.

I relish the sunshine, the awakening of spring and the quiet solitude of our rural, country life. But I am not unrealistic about how quickly the peace can be shattered in an explosion of violence and hatred. Even here. Do not be led to believe that all is well in the land of the free and the home of the brave. It is not. Do what you can in whatever environment you find yourself in, there are always opportunities available.

Until next time – Fern
 

Winter Greenhouse Salad

The greenhouse has turned out to be bountiful, and a good learning experience. I have tried to grow a number of things that were failures, but in the process we learned a lot. We have also been able to eat fresh greens for the past few winters that weren’t available to us before.

Since we have changed our diet to healthy low carbohydrates and quality proteins, our meals have become more simple, with less ingredients, and contain as much homegrown food as possible. Actually, we have gotten to the point that we have to be very careful what we eat from the store, because most of it makes us sick. But that’s another article for another day.

We are far enough into the winter growing season that the spinach and lettuce in the outdoor, back porch bed is slowing down and buried in oak leaves, while the greenhouse vegetables now provide a good plate of salad fixings.

Small garden bed by the back porch. We have wanted to use this area for a long time.

For these salads I picked…..

Romaine, Buttercrunch and Black Seeded Simpson lettuces
Simpson lettuce

Bloomsdale spinach

Pak Choy cabbage

Cress

The cress is still pretty small. I transplanted it from the back porch bed about a month ago since it had really slowed down it’s growth from the weather.

Kale

We have finally found a way to eat kale. All of the other ways we have tried, we don’t like because of the strong flavor. Here I pick the leaves when they are about the size of a quarter to half dollar. They are starting to get that kale type of flavor, but mixed in with the other greens, they aren’t noticeable.

Parsley

The parsley wasn’t growing well back in the herb bed this year, and neither did some of the other herbs. I’m not sure why, but I ended up transplanting them into pots and growing them on the porch instead. Now all of those herbs have moved into the greenhouse to see how they do over the winter. We had a bit of parsley in some of the salads, but it didn’t set well in Frank’s stomach, so it’s just growing in here for now.

When the forecast is in the teens at night, like it is tonight, we cover everything with some frost cloth and turn on a small electric space heater. Tonight is the second time we have used the frost cloth and space heater this winter. I don’t worry about 22*F and above. The water barrels seem to keep everything warm enough and most of the things growing in here are cold hardy plants. The space heater and frost cloth seems to help and we haven’t lost anything yet. Not even the yellow squash, believe it or not, or the flowers.


I never thought this would grow. We haven’t done anything special for it.

It’s nice to be able to tell Frank I’m going to go pick some lunch, even in the winter. I feel like I am providing some good nutrition and at the same time, get to enjoy the process of growing things, something I have always enjoyed.

Until next time, Fern

What’s Growing in the Greenhouse? Volume 1

Well, we did it. We actually built a greenhouse after 30 years of dreams and plans. Dreams really do come true, and they are appreciated all the more when the wait is long. To be honest, it still doesn’t seem real to me even though I tend the plants here everyday. Recently I had lots of fun, when I added another 18 pots of stuff, some alive and kicking from the yard, and some with newly planted seeds.

We decided to continue using our former seedling tables for planting, this is where the messes will be made. The set up is great, there is lots of room for dirt, gravel, pots, tubs and such, at first we were thinking that everything would move into the greenhouse, but not now. We’ve already started to wonder if the greenhouse is too small, when at first it didn’t look like we could possibly fill the shelves. It is quite the interesting learning process. I can only imagine the other changes we will make along the way.

I started out my planting foray by digging up some things from the garden and herb bed. I realized today that I missed getting some marjoram, which we have really come to enjoy. I will get some in the next few days and add one more pot to the greenhouse shelves, for now. My digging adventure turned up a number of things.

More potatoes from the garden
Comfrey

Mustard greens
Lemon Balm
Creeping Thyme
Two year old celery
Oregano

Tiger decided we needed to have a discussion while I was putting these plants in pots. 

 

Next came the seeds, more pots, and more trips to the greenhouse.

 

I have to admit, it looks pretty neat in here. With more pots on the top shelf to water, I started using the step stool. I am tall, 5’9″, and watering a few plants is not a problem, but now that there are a lot more, it’s time to ‘step up’ to the task.

I have been reading about hand pollination since we have a number of plants that will need help. Since I have several different cucurbits (squashes, cucumbers, muskmelon) growing, and I don’t want to cross pollinate them, each plant will have it’s own paint brush for this task. When I told Frank I needed some paintbrushes he reminded me there were some in the garage. It’s nice to go no farther than one of your own shelves when you need something.


We have picked some lettuce and spinach for salads. I even trimmed some greens from the onions once. We’ve also picked a few turnip greens, but that’s all so far. I don’t think it will be long before the pickings will be increasing, and that will be a real treat, especially as the days get shorter and cooler. Here is what’s growing in the greenhouse.

Onions
Collard greens


Comfrey
Romaine that is going to seed.
Lettuce
Strawberries from the garden thanks to a reader.
Spinach
More Turnips
Turnips
Brussels sprouts
Broccoli
Cabbage

Carrots in tub #1
Carrots in tub #2
Beets

As I prepared some of the new seeds and plants, I began to wonder where I would put them. Some of these plants thrive in cooler weather, so I thought about putting them on the floor. Even though the concrete will help with some heating via solar mass and ground temperatures, I could picture these plants going dormant because of the cold air that settles to the floor. At first I thought about raising them off the floor with concrete blocks, but they would be cold as well. I settled for scrap blocks of wood from some of our building projects, hoping the wood would not conduct the cold as much as a concrete block. We’ll have to see how this theory pans out. This also utilizes more of the space we have in the greenhouse.

Austrian Winter Peas in the tub, new potato plants in the pot
Celery from the herb bed
The first potatoes from the garden
Mustard greens
Okra, which is a hot weather plant. We really don’t expect it to produce.

The area next to the wall of the house contains the plants that prefer hot weather and/or need a trellis. So far with night time temperatures in the 40’s occasionally, this area tends to be around 10 degrees warmer than the main shelf by the outside wall. We are very interested to see how this will work out with freezing temperatures. Since the nights are not down to freezing and the temperatures inside heat up quickly on sunny days, we have not closed down any of the vents yet. Frank has a plan for easily opening and closing the vents as needed.
 

Back row: Green beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers
Front row: ginger, buttercup squash, turmeric

Yellow squash

 

Muskmelon

The yellow squash and muskmelon are in the center of the room. So far, they are very happy. The squash will be blooming soon. I hope to be able to wind the muskmelon around on the table top as it grows.
 

The herbs, a few greens and some flowers, have found homes on the top row of shelves. When I was looking for herb seeds, I ran across some Thumbelina Zinnia, Livingston Daisies, Dandelions and Moss Rose (which we have always called rose moss), and just couldn’t resist having a few flowers in here.

2 kinds of Kale
Rose Moss
Zinnias
Mesclun Mixed Greens

 

Creeping Thyme

The almost dead Stevia is coming out again.

Oregano
Lemon Balm with a dandelion

It’s hard to imagine how growing these things may affect our diets, especially in a survival situation. This truly is our survival greenhouse. We have much to learn, and a short time to do it. There will be failure and there will be success, but most of all, I hope there is food.

Until next time – Fern

The Survival Greenhouse

Now that the greenhouse is up, has doors and looks wonderful, I want to fill it with plants! I’m not a very patient person and I’m ready to get started. The problem? This afternoon when it was 89* outside it was only 117* in the greenhouse. It would make an excellent dehydrator at this point, and would cook any plant I put in there. The solution? Plant seeds anyway, but leave them on the porch in the same place we have been growing seedlings for the past few years.

Speaking of growing seedlings in the past, the other day when we cut the hole in the wall of the house for the door, I did some reminiscing. The window we removed was the first place I learned to grow seedlings. It wasn’t ideal and they were usually a little leggy, but it was all we had at the time and we learned a lot.

This is also the time we discovered using newspapers and a Pot Maker to make our own seedling pots that would quickly break down the in soil and recycle newspaper at the same time. We have been very successful transplanting the seedlings we grew this way. 

So as that window was removed and the door installed, I remembered our learning process of the past and looked forward to this new learning process in our future. We have never had a greenhouse, so there is a whole new learning opportunity in front of us. My problem is I just can’t wait to get started. 

This afternoon after finishing up a batch of mozzarella from our fresh goat milk, I got out the seeds and sorted out the ones I want to try growing in the greenhouse. Some of them will probably make you shake your head and wonder, but we want to try all kinds of plants and see how it goes. Our greenhouse will be unheated except for the sun and the thermal mass of the concrete slab and ten 55 gallon water barrels. Our theory is that with the sunshine during the day, the concrete and water will absorb heat. The question will be how slowly that heat will dissipate through the night and what effect it will have on the air temperature surrounding the plants. This will be fascinating to observe, a great learning adventure. We also have some frost cloth to use if the temperatures are going to be very cold. I have only tried them in the garden up to this point, so that will be another experiment. We can only wait and see how our theories pan out.

 

For most things, I used some of the dishpans and bus tubs we have used previously. They get pretty brittle in the sunshine, but we will keep using them until they break down and are unusable. I still have a few on the shelf that will have to go. Eventually, when time allows, we will build some planting flats from wood that will last for years. For now, these will work fine.

 

I keep soil in a 30 gallon trashcan. After some seedlings have grown large enough to plant in the garden and are removed from the tubs, the remaining soil is put back in the trash can for use again the next time. Each tub has a layer of gravel across the bottom to help with drainage.

What did I plant today? Five kinds of lettuce: Romaine, Buttercrunch, Tango, Corn Salad & Endive.

 

 
Two kinds of spinach: Mustard Spinach and Bloomsdale Long Standing.

 I planted two kinds of peppers, yes peppers even though it is fall. We are going to try to grow a few ‘hot weather’ plants and see how they do. Banana peppers and Marconi Rosso Sweet Peppers.

Yellow Crookneck Squash

Banana Muskmelon

Danvers Half Long Carrots

Golden Ball Turnips

I ran out of space on the table and daylight before I got to the beets, kale, collard greens, kohlrabi, cabbage, chives and onions. I’ll also be planting more carrots at intervals along the way.

I thought this might be a good place to put these tubs, but then I remembered the cats always think these tubs are litter boxes. I hope they don’t get into them up on the table this time.

I didn’t plant tomato seeds today, instead, I went out in the garden and cut some starts off of a few of our tomato vines. I’ll root them in water then plant them in this pot.

 
My theory is to put the ‘hot weather’ plants against the wall of the house or in the middle of the greenhouse away from the outside walls. I’m hoping the heat from the house, concrete and water barrels will provide enough heat for these plants to grow.

And I cheated a little. We were at the lumber yard last week and they had some bedding plants. This is the first time I have seen fall seedlings and I picked up a few.

 

We really look forward to the possibility of eating fresh food during the winter. This greenhouse has long been on the drawing board with supplies bought and stored years ago. There are many different ways to accomplish a goal, sometimes sooner, sometimes later. Frank has had a saying for longer than he has had me. Postpone gratification for long-term gains. We have long lived by that motto. We buy most things on sale, and if we can’t pay for an item, we don’t buy it. It’s that simple. This greenhouse is a very good example of living by this creed. We have dreamed of having a greenhouse for many, many years. The time has now arrived and we are very thankful. It is unfortunate that the excitement of a new learning opportunity has an underlying sense of necessity. The coming storm will tax us all in our endeavors to survive. This greenhouse is one more means of producing food. Food that we will need for survival. A survival greenhouse.

Until next time – Fern

Working in the Garden

Once the gardening season starts, there is always more work to be done. It is a never ending activity until the frosts of late fall bring it to an end sometime in November…maybe. When I read other blogs and some of the comments, it’s hard for me to imagine still having snow on the ground and having to wait until June to plant. By the middle of February, I am ready to play in the dirt and get things going. Here is a run down on our latest activities.

Earlier in the week we planted more onions, then we got the last of them in today.


Even though the carrots are not growing as good as they did last year, we went ahead and planted them by the peas as well. Even though the peas are growing, we feel they should be doing more than they are. We will see.

The potatoes are coming up and look great.

 

The beets are growing and look pretty good.

This afternoon we got out the pots we had made and filled all 220 of them. Here is a list of the seeds we planted. Some of these varieties we have tried before and some we have not.

  • Romano Italian green beans (very good pole beans)
  • Dr. Jaeger’s Cantaloupe (new variety)
  • Early Cluster Cucumbers (new variety)
  • Swiss Chard Fordhook Giant (new variety)
  • Oakleaf Lettuce (new variety)
  • Summertime Lettuce (new variety)
  • Tendercrisp Celery
  • Bloomsdale Long Standing Spinach (new variety)
  • Earliana Cabbage
  • Early Jersy Wakefield Cabbage (new variety)
  • Premium Crop Hybrid Broccoli (the only hybrid we grow)
  • Early Golden Yellow Crookneck Squash
  • Large Smooth Prague Celeriac (new variety)
  • Red Russian Kale

The tomato and pepper seedlings are doing very well. We will begin to harden them off out on the porch after the cool nights expected this week pass. Then we will plant them in the garden in a few weeks after it warms up a little more.

Even though April 1st is our last average frost, we are still having some cool nights. Once these seedlings are up and hardened off, our gardening season will be in full swing. It’s a very busy time of year, but one of our favorites. We will still be trying to tuck in some projects in between all of the regular chores that come with everyday life at our homestead. Life is good.

Until next time – Fern