Homestead

Father’s Day

Father’s day didn’t start off great. We are in a heat advisory until tomorrow evening. As such, I was antsy this morning to get my outdoor work done (weeding the garden and weedeating the property). Well, Benji and I are the early birds and most everyone else normally sleeps in until 7:30 or 8.

By 7 am, I was desperately wanting to get outside and get started. Benji was being a bit needy and wanted me to sit with him and watch his favorite YouTube show. I did for a while, but finally I told him I was going outside and I put a show on. He started whimpering/crying because he wanted to watch something else. I got upset and turned the TV off. I turned it back on for him, got him situated and went out to get to work.

By the time I took my first break, I was feeling like a pretty crappy dad. He just wanted to spend some time with me and he wasn’t going to understand that I’d be with him when I was done. Needless to say, I made a point to come in and get him for my break. I told him I had a special surprise.

He was very enthusiastic to get his shoes on. We went to the blueberry bush and picked the first blueberry of the year. Then we went to the raspberries and had a few of those. Then we went to some of our wild black raspberries and picked a few handfuls (he offered me one and praised himself for sharing). Then we got on the golf cart and found a few more and some mulberries. By the time we were done with our berry hunt, mom and Brody were up. So I got them all situated inside and went out again.

When I had finished my weedeating, I remembered shandi had mentioned the garden needing weeded. So I asked her if she wanted some help. We went out and weeded a while

I get cranky when I’m hot. And it was definitely hot. So when we were done and the boys wanted to jump on the trampoline, I just couldn’t muster much enthusiasm. Sis took them and I decided I was gonna need a cold shower. It’s amazing how much better I felt after that.

I had some lunch, got lots of hugs and “dad, look at this!”, and “dad, watch this”. Well, the boys are both asleep now. I’m feeling both upset at my failures and positive that I eventually got things worked out and gave the kids their attention.

I’m so blessed. These kids love me in spite of my shortcomings. I’m still not gonna step foot outside until this evening though…I don’t care how much they beg and plead…it’s just too danged hot!

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Homestead

When did June become July?

When I was 19, I worked for a tree company. One day, a co-worker’s saw went into my chest and removed half of my left lung. Ever since then, I have a very hard time working in stiffeling heat. Anymore, it seems like we go from winter to summer without many of those gorgeous 60 and 70 degree days I love.

We have had a moderately wet spring/early summer, but we aren’t getting a ton of rain. Just enough to not really be a drought, but enough for the plants and I to notice.

I went a checked our well Saturday and we are fortunately around 27′ of water. Normal is around 30′, so we are down, but still ok for a while.

We got several inches of rain yesterday and last night so hopefully we will be good for a while now.

Gardens are doing well. Surprisingly, some things we thought were goners (carrots, some herbs, etc) seemed to be sleeping as they are starting to grow pretty well. Carrots are a big disappointment, but this was our first year so I don’t mind the poor production.

We have managed to get a few strawberries off the plants we put in the ground this year. I’m pleasantly surprised at how well they are doing given the lack of care I provide our plantings. Don’t get me wrong, I do the best I can when planting (location, adding mulch when appropriate and watering), but after that, our plants are on their own. Either the soil, growing conditions and selected variety of plant do well, or it’s back to the drawing board.

As I mentioned previously, wifey has been battling hogkins lymphoma since November. Her first round of chemo didn’t do the trick so we are trying to decide how to battle it from here. She has been juicing and eating raw, organic veggies-only since chemo ended. It isn’t cheap, but I’m quite thankful for the garden we have as she is already using plenty of our leafy greens, beets and herbs. I’m so thankful we have the garden as it will ensure she’s getting the best possible veggies when each plant comes into season.

As I mentioned, we have gotten a few strawberries (and picked a ton from the orchard) and have been nibbling on some mullberries, but we are getting close to mother nature’s fruit frenzy as the wild black raspberries are close, as are the cultivated raspberries and blackberries we have.

I see wild elderberry flowers all over our stomping grounds and our planted varieties are doing great themselves so we should have plenty of elderberry syrup for fall/winter.

Our pear and apple trees are still growing fairly well, but they just appear to be growing up and probably won’t see any fruit for another year or two. The paw Paw’s are doing well enough, but as I planted them as an understory/partially shaded tree, they are taking their sweet time to grow. We’ve really come to fall in love with paw Paw’s so I’m trying (unsuccessfully) to be patient.

This weekend I got our woodland trails cut back so wifey and kids can get out and enjoy them on hot days. It’s always a bit cooler in the woods and I try to keep the trails 4-5′ wide so nobody wanders into poison ivy or makes it easy on the ticks and skeeters. I saw several mushroom varieties while cutting, but aren’t positive on ID’s, so we won’t risk it (I may research one of the varieties I found, but probably won’t remember until they’re gone).

My never ending battle with duckweed on the pond showed promise after I treated it last weekend. Then the rains came and greened it back up again. Ugh. I so despise the duckweed.

We have a couple different potato patches that seem to be doing pretty well. I just done want a repeat of our potato box I built last year that saw great green shoots, but nothing in the box. I took a hands off approach this year and hope to see some better results.

I suppose that’s a good update for now. Another hot week expected with weekend temps in the mid-90’s. I’ll do some work in the mornings, but I pretty much don’t work outside when the afternoons are that hot…unless it’s essential then I just take my time and hydrate like crazy.

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Spring again

This is always an exciting time of year. The seedlings are going into the ground, leaves are starting to pop open, the first fruit trees are flowering and the biting insects aren’t out yet. Other than fall, this has to be the best time of the year. 

We have most of our garden in and the first mowing of the year got done this weekend. I have to repair the water line to our outdoor spigots as it burst this weekend. Never a fun prospect to do plumbing work, but it’s part of the deal of home-ownership I reckon. 

Benji and I both had our first ticks of the season, though I wonder if they weren’t brought in by the dog.  She has the soresto collar that seems to work…maybe I should order some for the rest of us. 

We’ve found a few morel mushrooms, but just enough to go with our dinner last night. The boys liked them pretty well, but Benji was sad we didn’t get to fish more this weekend. 

The pond has some algae, but the duckweed seems to be clumping on top of the algae and dying out. I’m hopeful that by leaving the algae, the duckweed will be starved out. It’s all trial and error at this point, but it completely took over the pond last year so I’m clinging to anything now. 

Wifey’s chemo didn’t work. We are likely going to MD Anderson in Houston, TX in a couple weeks to see what they say. It’s pretty frightening to think about, but we are trying to stay positive and just roll with whatever happens. 

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April snow showers bring May food


The snow that came down today was a beautiful sight. It also provided me the perfect opportunity to replace the seals and gaskets on the pond aerator that I have been dreading. 

Our pump was a refurbished unit I found on eBay two and a half years ago and the whole set up cost us about a third or half of what one costs on a commercial pond website. But last fall, it wasn’t working very well so when the weather cooled off, I went ahead and began looking into the problem. Eventually I determined the problem was in the pump itself so I purchased a gasket repair kit. It cost about $30 (for about $2 worth of rubber and metal). 

I found a few YouTube instructional videos which showed it was about a 10-15 minute job. Four hours laters, I finished the job. Ha ha. In reality, the father-in-law had to help me loosen many of the screws that had been loc-tite’d in place and once that was done, the job wasn’t too bad at all. 

On the food production front, I’m happy to report all of our honeyberry plants are showing new sprouts. Hopefully in a few weeks we will be trying our first honeyberries!  

I think we also figured out the atrium growing problem too. As a back story, we have been trying to grow spinach and greens in the atrium this winter. They would shoot up just fine, but then they would start to whither and then die off. Well, we are pretty sure that it’s because the night time temps would drop pretty low in the room. 

Wifey has started a ton of bell peppers, tomatoes, watermelon, herbs and who knows what else.   She started beets, carrots and onions as direct sews into one of our raised beds (and our fall garlic plantings are coming along quite nicely as well). 

Mom and dad are arriving on Wednesday for their relocation move to the area from Florida. Hopefully the weather will allow me to do some more garden preparations as I’m needing to build a rasied bed for the strawberries we ordered. We also want to expand our main terraced garden as well. So there’s still much to do, but getting the aerator fixed and ready for installation is a big relief and now we can get down to the business of growing a bunch of our food. 

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Early Spring update

Just a short update. Mom and dad have decided to sell their place in Florida and move close to us. They told us a couple weeks ago, flew up last weekend to look at houses and have already sold their place and purchased a house here about 20 minutes away in a small town. 

It’s happened so fast I’m kind of in shock, but it’s awfully exciting. When we decided to move to this area it was because we wanted to kids to grow up near family. Never did I imagine that would include both sets of grandparents. How lucky are our kids?  I’m still in blissful shock about it all. 

I’m backtracking slightly on the prospect of raising hogs this year. As I said before, wifey is undergoing chemo and will wrap that up in April. Then we have to see about radiation. We have a long ways to go in our fruit and veggie production until we are producing all our needs there and I don’t know how much or how quickly wifey will be able to spend sufficient time in the garden this year. 

We started our seeds this weekend…well, she started our seeds, but I can see how happy it makes her to get them started so I just need to think it over some more to see if I’ll have time to do hogs on top of my increased work load in the fruit and veggie part of our homestead. 

On top of that, my father-in-law said the orchard owner said the peach variety on my in-laws land (that used to be owner by the orchard owner) may be the only peaches they produce this year. My in-laws allow the orchard owner to take peaches when he wants some since the orchard folks still maintain the trees for my in-laws. Last year, the other peaches the orchard folks own produced bountifully so we got as many of my in-laws peaches as we wanted. This year, it looks like that might not be the case. It makes me that much more eager to plant a few peach pits this year and start growing some of our own. 

As I’ve mentioned before, we had a pretty good drought last summer and fall. Fortunately we’ve had a few good rains this spring so the river and ground water are both up again. But with respect to our plantings, I wanted plants that could survive on their own so I didn’t really do much watering last year. I am antsy to see how many of our plants survived, but I did notice buds on one of the honey berry plants this weekend so that was a huge relief. 

I have high hopes for our honeyberries, and I even ordered a few more this year without ever having tasted a honeyberry!  If those little first year plants could survive that drought, then they’re keepers in my book. We also ordered some strawberries, a few grape Vines, goji plants and I’ll get some more hazelnuts at some point.

I have been clearing different parts of our woods over the winter. We have a ton of invasive honeysuckle and Chinese something-or-others that are a shrubby undergrowth. I have been cutting them down by hand and I know it won’t kill the plants, but I’ve managed to clear most of the plants from most of our property. There are still pockets of them and I’m sure some smaller ones were over-looking, but I know we will have a healthier woods as a result of my work. 

This weekend, I finally got around to cutting a big Willow tree that had cracked and partially fell into the pond. I left a few branches that hang high over the water, but they are in no danger of falling in. While I was over there, I’ve been clearing out more undergrowth so we have more shoreline to fish and we can otherwise access more of our property.   I still have plenty of black locust trees to cut down (if you don’t have them near you, be thankful). It’s alot of piddly work, but I feel like each time I cut some of this stuff down, I’m returning our property to it’s more natural status.

Maybe it’s just wishful thinking, but it seems that we have more wildlife now. I see more birds, pheasants, turkey and deer on our property than I have in the past. And even though we let our dog and kids our often, rabbits and squirrels seem to be everywhere. 

That’s it for now I suppose. Just felt like I needed to write and update. Spring is almost here and what a glorious season it is. 

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A crossroad

Remember when social media was where you’d see photos and updates from friends and family?  Yeah, good times. 

I don’t have any of my previous friends that live near me (grade school, college, etc) so it’s nice to see how they’re doing through social media because I don’t call or write many of them. 

But I’m getting social media burnout. I have seen and heard others express similar thoughts for various reasons, but I’m there. 

I used to be a lobbyist. It was a similar feeling. Over time, I just got burned out. I wasn’t enjoying what I was doing and I eventually decided to stop and go in a different direction. I had a drop in income, but I was much happier. 

When something is an emotional drag on us, why do we allow it to continue?  Even as I write this, I am feeling better about my decision to stop. 

What caused this revelation?  Division. Us versus them. I’m right, you’re wrong. 

When you and your friends or family get together, you may discuss a hot topic of the day and have different opinions about it, but when you’re done discussing it, you move on. Social media is like being in room full of people and they are all talking at once. It isn’t social. It’s anti-social. It’s not real interaction or friendship. 

I was listening to talk radio on my drive into work. The topic was generally about what traditions we have lost or are losing as a country. An old-timer called in and said people don’t know or care about their neighbors in places. 

That kinda hit it on the head for me. Social media is selfish not social. 

It isn’t used to check on friends generally.  It’s used to post causes and opinions more and more. And that’s all self-affirming. 

If I were to write a Facebook post about a spring homestead project I’m working on, those that share my interests will applaud it. Those that don’t share our goal of self-sufficiency will scroll past it with maybe a cursory “like” to be polite.   So why would I post it?  

Because of selfish pride. I want people to look at a new garden plot we set up and say “wow, that’s awesome, I wish we would do that”. I want people to look at my life and say how great I’m doing. 

Does that actually accomplish anything?  Of course not. 

So I’m done with it. It isn’t bringing me any joy and eliminating it does. 

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Action

We did it!  Well, wifey will find out at a later date, but I’m getting things in place for us to raise a few heritage breed hogs this year. 

So we are in year three of our new homesteading adventure and each year we find more ways to increase our food indpendence and confirm our thoughts on how much we abhor buying our food from the grocery store. 

This is where I’ll take a moment and say that we will probably always buy stuff from a grocery store and I absolutely love our employee-owned store of choice…but the more I know about food and the more I have to pay to buy the kinds of things I want our family to eat, the more I want to produce on our own.  Oh, sure, I still have a weakness for plenty…including things that won’t grow here, but I estimate we should eventually be able to produce 75-80% of what we eat on our own. 

So to this point, we have been expanding our fruit, veggies and nut production. We still have a tremendously long way to go in many areas, but we are getting the fruit and nut trees going (with more planted each year) and we are continuing to set up gardens. But the biggest missing piece has been our meats. 

My wife is a vegetarian and makes me take insects outside rather than killing them. She is the most gentle soul on the planet, but she has agreed to let me raise pigs to ensure the meat the rest of us consume is the healthiest it can be. This is a big step for her, but it’s important for me too. 

Growing up, we didn’t ever produce much food. As I’ve mentioned, I remember having gardens, but they were generally a few fruits or veggies and we never raised our own meat. I’m nervous as hell. But I’m also excited as hell. 

I want to learn how to raise animals. I want to experience the pain/challenge of feeding them one last time before processing. I’m not one to take an animal’s life flippantly. And I can already feel an appreciation and respect for them as we will raise them to feed our family. 

We are going to get two, but likely three Tamworth hogs this spring. I’ve found a local supplier who will sell us some weaned piglets which we will then raise until fall harvesting. 

That’s a big part of the attraction hogs have for me. Right now, I don’t want to breed them and have them year round. I want to spend six months giving them a good life, then have a freezer full of pork for my family. 

In the long run, I do think I’d like to maybe raise them year round, but that’s quite a bit down the road and maybe I’ll discover I am a horrible pig farmer. 

Pigs just make sense to me. We will put them in a training pen for a few weeks while they learn what the electric fence is and that my bringing a bucket means dinner. Eventually we will move them down into the woods and set up sections in the woods for them to forage/clean up. 

I’ve been researching them for a year or so and get more and more excited as I continue to learn. I spoke with a local family who runs a growing CSA operation and they raise heritage pigs in their woods. The best part is, they said the pigs will go through and root up the invasive honeysuckle we have all over our woods. So not only will we be getting tasty meat, we will have a healthier, more natural property as an awesome by-product!  

As a final bonus, I spoke with a local brewery who is willing to let us have some of their spent grains as a part of the feed we will provide. My intent is to encourage as much foraging as possible, but I will also provide these grains as well as other local proteins and goodies when in season. 

I’m just excited to learn.  I know there will be failures. And I hope my ignorance doesn’t do any lasting harm to the pigs or our property, but just as we have found with our gardens, I believe the satisfaction of producing our own will make it all worth while. 

Well, I’ve got lots to research in the next two to three months. Anyone else out there raise hogs?  The folks from the CSA are going to come out and help us design our pens and a million other things (water, location of final paddock for loading on to trailer, etc).  

It’s another step in our journey and each one brings new fears and excitement!