How Does Our Homestead Grow? Part II

How Does Our Homestead Grow?  Part II

First harvest from this year's garden...cucuzzi edible gourd & volunteer tomatoes

It’s been so good being back again (I know, it’s been over a week since I said I would post again “next week”). This homesteading thing works better with community.  My last post summarized the maturing of our edible landscaping and gardens. Now I’ll share other aspects of life on our homestead.

Many of our mature hens became fox and bobcat lunch this past year until we cleared more palmettos out of the back forage areas. We worked little by little, clearing away hiding places for such predators. Now the remaining chickens feel at ease going back out again to forage, and their egg production has increased.

We added a few batches of egg-laying chicks the past months. They start out on egg yolks, organic homemade cornbread, and soaked barley and oats, eating only one bag of non-GMO store-bought feed per batch at the beginning, which lasts about two weeks. We’ll raise them the rest of the way without any commercial feed, just as we successfully raised broilers last year. I’ll post more on that another time.

How Does Our Homestead Grow?  Part II

Barred rock, white leghorn, and brown leghorn chicks. So cute!

How Does Our Homestead Grow?  Part II

Silver Oak and Farmer Boy can't tear themselves away from watching the chicks...and neither can our new dog Cheyenne.

How Does Our Homestead Grow?  Part II

A temporary pen in the bio-shelter when the chicks outgrew their bin

How Does Our Homestead Grow?  Part II

A refurbished pen purchased off Craigslist

How Does Our Homestead Grow?  Part II

Silver Oak got himself stuck inside the pen! Couldn't resist this shot. Ha ha!

Two of our black Australorp hens successfully hatched a clutch of eggs in a new portable chicken coop Silver Oak built last month. We hope to raise all our chicks the natural way in the future, as well as make more portable chicken coops/tractors and raise laying hens to sell as backyard chickens.

How Does Our Homestead Grow?  Part II

Mama and brood

How Does Our Homestead Grow?  Part II

The front of the portable chicken coops/tractors Silver Oak makes

How Does Our Homestead Grow?  Part II

Back of the chicken coop with the door to the eggbox

How Does Our Homestead Grow?  Part II

Silver Oak's portable fence around the chicken coop

How Does Our Homestead Grow?  Part II

Farmer Boy's set of chicks are growing up!

Our sweet cat Starlett had her third litter of adorable fluffy balls. We’ve been surprised how easy it is to find good homes for her kittens, as they are always so cute and cuddly, with beautiful markings. Our two “mousers” do a great job keeping rats and mice under control so we don’t worry about stored livestock feed being invaded. To be assured of good mousing stock, Starlett is not fixed, which makes our rodent control more sustainable as long as her kittens find good homes and are well cared for. Our family enjoys her kittens so much, and they get a lot of attention living on our deck. The only hard part is parting with them.

How Does Our Homestead Grow?  Part II

Sweet kitties from an earlier litter

How Does Our Homestead Grow?  Part II

Feeding time! The newest litter

How Does Our Homestead Grow?  Part II

Playing around recently harvested volunteer spaghetti squash and tomatoes

How Does Our Homestead Grow?  Part II

So cute, but sure can make a mess!

Another new member on the homestead is Cheyenne, a new puppy which will hopefully bring additional security for our livestock and gardens. She is a lab/border collie/something else mix, showing a lot of potential so far, with the exception of an injured chicken which she over-zealously “caught” for us. But if she keeps following the example of our faithful Aussie in herding and gently catching wayward chickens, all will be well. The injured hen (which WAS being quite naughty) is on the mend and has hopefully repented of her transgressions (repeatedly escaping the chicken yard and digging up landscape beds).

How Does Our Homestead Grow?  Part II

Meet blue-eyed Cheyenne!

How Does Our Homestead Grow?  Part II

We chose the most attentive and alert pup in the litter

The windmill Silver Oak installed last March has been pumping almost all our water. It pumps from the well we dug into tanks on the roof. Gravity-fed from there into the house, a 12v RV pump helps add more pressure. Occasionally we run the electric pump with the generator if there is not enough wind, but that is mostly because we don’t yet have enough tanks to store water when the wind is blowing. A bonus to installing our windmill was learning a new trade. Silver Oak has now installed or repaired numerous windmills for others, adding a new and much needed stream of income as he slowly phases out of landscaping in town.

How Does Our Homestead Grow?  Part II

Silver Oak installs the plumbing from the windmill to our tiny house (trailer)

How Does Our Homestead Grow?  Part II

Another windmill Silver Oak has worked on

Our 3060 watts of solar panels and eight six-volt batteries have served us well, rarely needing the generator to charge the batteries except in unusual circumstances. That is, until the past month. Our first set of batteries wore out prematurely because of the severe abuse they received the first 18 months because we added components little by little as finances allowed. That’s not the ideal way to set up an alternative power system, but was the only choice at the time. This month we used tax refund money to buy a new set of batteries, but most months our power expense is almost nothing, and the controversial smart meters are NOT invading our lives. Yeah! We buy propane for cooking and water heaters, but hope to someday eliminate that as well (making our own fuel with a homemade biogas digester).

How Does Our Homestead Grow?  Part II

The solar panels on our deck roof (peel and stick)

Perhaps the biggest project we’ve been working on is the greenhouse, better called a bio-shelter since we hope to utilize every square foot with in-ground and container-grown tropicals, perennial vegetables, and annuals in layers as a small food forest. We started its construction with a barn-raising two years ago, but it has remained unfinished until recently. What an exciting moment when we finally got the cover on!

In the bio-shelter and yard we are implementing more edible landscaping, intercropping various trees, shrubs, herbs, and groundcovers as a food forest. My favorite book on the subject is Eric Toensmeier’s book “Paradise Lot: Two Plant Geeks, One-Tenth of an Acre, and the Making of an Edible Garden Oasis in the City” in which he tells his story of acquiring a tiny property in NJ with poor soil, and transforming it into an edible and productive paradise within several years (if  you click the link and choose to purchase, I get a few cents, for which I’m grateful). We heard Eric in person at ECHO teaching about Perennial Crops and Food Forests. It’s fun figuring out which useful plants and livestock will work together to produce sustainable agriculture on our homestead.

How Does Our Homestead Grow?  Part II

Skeleton of the once-hay-barn-turned-greenhouse

How Does Our Homestead Grow?  Part II

Digging holes for the tie-downs

How Does Our Homestead Grow?  Part II

More holes...

How Does Our Homestead Grow?  Part II

The rafters are all tied down so they can't blow away in a storm

How Does Our Homestead Grow?  Part II

Framing in the ends and installing vents

How Does Our Homestead Grow?  Part II

Pulling the cover on

How Does Our Homestead Grow?  Part II

The bioshelter as it looks now...waiting for doors and much more

Two skills we’ve added to our homestead activities are rendering tallow for soap-making and cooking, and making hot processed soap. It’s not nearly as hard as I always thought it must be, and it’s so satisfying to use our own homemade toxin-free soap and take one more item off the shopping list.

How Does Our Homestead Grow?  Part II

Making soap

How Does Our Homestead Grow?  Part II

One batch makes many lovely bars

Several years ago I never dreamed I would so thoroughly enjoy learning about and growing edible and medicinal plants. Now I’m learning yet another activity I never dreamed I would love! In my old-ER age I’m finally learning things I’ve ignored most of my life! And loving it! The new love of my life is…(drum roll please)…fiber crafts. I’ve learned to knit and crochet, making dishcloths, potholders, caps, hair bows, scarves, rugs, and more. And the kiddos are learning with me! Eventually we dream of learning to spin, and grow our own plant and animal fibers. For now we’re having fun with yarn and fabrics found mostly at thrift stores or from repurposed clothing.

How Does Our Homestead Grow?  Part II

One of my first dish cloths, knitted with crochet border

How Does Our Homestead Grow?  Part II

Rag rug I made from our old worn out shirts...every family member represented

Actually, Blossom was the first to learn knitting and crochet, (remember our fall vacation at Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park?). She was my beginner coach and together we learn from books and YouTube videos. Now during daily family Scripture readings, rides in the car, or the younger children reading to me I can be productive with my hands. I’ll be sharing more about this in the future.

How Does Our Homestead Grow?  Part II

The children and I had a booth at the Heritage Festival selling hand-made items

How Does Our Homestead Grow?  Part II

Twins born last month

Stay tuned to hear more!

Blessings,

How Does Our Homestead Grow?  Part II

PS. Click here to see the list of “beyond organic” foods available through Full Circle Farm, and sign up for email notices of when and where in FL they will be delivered regularly.

Linked w/Natural Living Mama, Chicken Chick, Barn Hop, Growing Home, Backyard Farming Connection, Down Home Blog Hop, Frugally Sustainable, Homemaking, Wildcrafting Wednesday, HomeAcre Hop, Old Fashioned Friday, Little House in the Suburbs, From the Farm Blog Fest, Farmgirl Friday, and Heritage Homesteading.

How Does Our Homestead Grow?  Part II

Some of Evenstar's never-ending supply of adorable bunnies, great fertilizer producers and income for her

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How Does Our Homestead Grow?

How Does Our Homestead Grow?

Our welcoming committee!

I’ve been “gone” a long time, and when the children kept asking about another post, I knew it was time to get back at it. I’ve been getting in hot water with some of the rest of you too!  How Does Our Homestead Grow?   This unplanned “silence” happened as we spent time digging into sustainable agriculture and a few other new “loves.” I can’t write blogposts WITH the children, so it has fallen farther down the priority list. But they like seeing our journey documented and will hopefully enjoy looking back on it after they are grown.  And yes, I know you have been waiting for this update a loooong time!

Our off-grid homestead has continued to grow and develop, especially with Silver Oak taking seriously the challenge to spend more time working at home and less in town doing landscaping away from the family. A true homesteader makes his living off the land. Since this homestead is still in the making, the transition is a little tough financially. But it is good to see progress and learn to live with less expenses. The more sustainable we become the fewer expenses we have and the more we can work toward being productive here.
How Does Our Homestead Grow?

Our "house" in the background

How Does Our Homestead Grow?

Stepping back for a bigger perspective

How Does Our Homestead Grow?

The chicken coop and milking barn to the left of the red shed

How exciting to see the herb garden planted last spring brighten with new and maturing growth. In central Florida we supposedly don’t experience four seasons, but living closer to the land we see definite differences in plant and animal life never noticed before. This winter we enjoyed herbal teas of mints and stevia from cuttings dried during last summer’s vibrant growing season. Now lemon grass and mints have sprung back to life and stevia seedlings fill in between mature flowering ones. Lavender is flowering beautifully, waiting to be used in salves and other applications. Oregano is doing great, but we miss opal basil and thyme lost in heavy rains last September.

How Does Our Homestead Grow?

Part of the herb garden in front of the house. Notice the volunteer tomato bed on the left where there once were papaya trees.

How Does Our Homestead Grow?

More herbs: oregano, aloe, lavender...

How Does Our Homestead Grow?

New red malabar spinach growing in old shoes next to blackberries

Sustained freezes this last winter killed some tropicals, but our moringa and most other perennial vegetables were protected with fire barrels, frost covers and candles. We couldn’t save most of the volunteer papaya trees that shot up in late summer. Some were 12 feet tall with lots of fruit, but it was no use. After a losing battle the gardens looked like a plant graveyard. This summer we will start more in the greenhouse where they will be protected next winter.

How Does Our Homestead Grow?

Barrel fires protected Farmer Boy's bananas and other plants...

How Does Our Homestead Grow?

The orchard looked like this countless times...

How Does Our Homestead Grow?

But these poor papaya trees were some that didn't make it.

There are at least 10 pineapples growing on the plants we started from pineapple tops in the summer of 2012. Now they are large and thriving, and we hardly did anything but stick them in the ground and water them occasionally.

How Does Our Homestead Grow?

Less than two years ago they started as tops stuck into the ground.

How Does Our Homestead Grow?

Pineapples a-growin'

The 12 varieties of clumping bamboo planted early last fall are thriving in spite of being decimated by escaping goats a few times. And 18 of the 22 olive trees planted last fall are thriving. Some were lost by digging armadillos which we have yet to outsmart (oh dear, I just learned we’ve lost a few more that were uprooted by armadillos and died with the high temps and no rain).

How Does Our Homestead Grow?

Farmer Boy waters a young olive tree with Cheyenne, our new puppy

We have new slips of last year’s Okinawa sweet potatoes growing, and hope to do a better job this year of harvesting at the appropriate time. Last year was our first with sweet potatoes and we didn’t harvest till they were HUGE and ugly! The biggest one was just under 10 pounds! It contributed to three meals for our family of eight, and although it was difficult to clean and cut up because of its size, it tasted very good.

How Does Our Homestead Grow?

The giant sweet potato

How Does Our Homestead Grow?

Beautiful purple pattern when cut open

Last spring’s sugarcane planting was harvested early this year, and we had a wonderful time grinding it the old fashioned way with our neighbor who has been raising sugarcane for years. It was an educational experience and we made new friends as we helped harvest his larger plots of cane by hand just before a big freeze. Now we’ve expanded our sugarcane plot by more than double with cuttings from last year’s crop.

How Does Our Homestead Grow?

Most of our small sugarcane harvest

How Does Our Homestead Grow?

Pushing the canes into the mill...the juice runs out at the left

How Does Our Homestead Grow?

Honey Bun helps skim off the top of the cooking cane syrup

We put down several more huge loads of mulch from our tree trimming friend as weed barrier, moisture retainer, and soil feeder, expanding our perennial and annual growing areas. Often we put down cardboard first. The difference between mulched and non-mulched areas is quite obvious.

How Does Our Homestead Grow?

Notice the areas previously mulched vs. those that weren't

How Does Our Homestead Grow?

We place cardboard over the weeds, and wet it...

How Does Our Homestead Grow?

...then cover it with several inches of mulch

How Does Our Homestead Grow?

It will take a while before weeds appear here!

There are some “weeds” we welcome however, such as clover, Spanish needle, sow thistle, young polk plants, violets, wood sorrel, and Florida dandelion. They become excellent nutrient dense fodder for Evenstar’s rabbits and the chickens, so we pull or trim weeds and greens as feed is needed.

Other welcome “weeds” are volunteers from our composted barnyard scrapings and seeds fallen from last year’s perennials or annuals, such as cranberry hibiscus, Malabar spinach, roselle, sunflowers, marigolds, squash, and tomatoes. We transplant them or, if they pop up in an appropriate spot, we thin them and nurture them as though they were planned. We’ve harvested a surprising amount of food from such volunteers with very little effort.

How Does Our Homestead Grow?

Mystery volunteer squash...is it butternut?

How Does Our Homestead Grow?

The first of many beautiful and tasty tomatoes from this year's volunteers

A beautiful new addition to the gardens are bamboo trellises constructed by Silver Oak and his father last fall when his parents visited. The bamboo used was cut from landscaping customers’ yards and part of a load we hauled away from someone on Craigslist wanting to get rid of it. These sturdy trellises add so much character. I am waiting to see how this year’s Cucuzzi edible gourds grow on the biggest one.

How Does Our Homestead Grow?

Silver Oak with his father building the bamboo tunnel in the raised row garden area

How Does Our Homestead Grow?

Tunnel completed...waiting for spring to support vines.

How Does Our Homestead Grow?

It adds beauty to the garden.

How Does Our Homestead Grow?

Here it supports Cucuzzi edible gourd, madiera vine, and butternut squash.

How Does Our Homestead Grow?

Cucuzzi will probably soon take over the entire tunnel

How Does Our Homestead Grow?

The unusually high heat and lack of rain the past few weeks are taking its toll

How Does Our Homestead Grow?

Another bamboo trellis covers part of the camper on the front of our "house"

How Does Our Homestead Grow?

Another view of that trellis which will soon be overgrown with jasmine and passion vine

With lots of little peaches on our young peach trees, we’re enjoying our first homegrown peaches. They are incredibly tasty!  A citrus tree planted in the fall of 2012 died so we replaced it with persimmon. We’ve also added Florida apples, a neem tree, starfruit, and sea grape. We side-dress them with decomposed manures from the barnyard, never using store-bought fertilizers.

How Does Our Homestead Grow?

The flavor of these peaches doesn't even compare with those store-bought picked green and shipped from afar!

How Does Our Homestead Grow?

The first oranges from our citrus trees!

 

How Does Our Homestead Grow?
Gulf Fritillaries in the yard

 

An encouraging sign of homestead growth is the increase in birds, butterflies, and other creatures attracted. We now have cardinals, mockingbirds, ground doves, ringneck doves, finches, towhees, red-wing blackbirds, hummingbirds, wrens, woodpeckers, quail, and other birds. Hawks visit, but our watchful dogs are instantly alert when they appear. Butterflies often seen fluttering around include monarchs, zebra longwings, gulf fritillaries, sulfurs, swallowtails, and viceroys. These beneficial birds and insects, along with honeybees and ladybugs, frogs and lizards, help with pollination and insect control. Less noticeable are the abundant earthworms living in our once pure sugar sand, speaking of great changes in soil matter.

How Does Our Homestead Grow?

A butterfly in front of the house newly emerged from its chrysalis

Next week I’ll update you about our attempts to raise chicks sustainably, new members of our homestead, our bio-shelter (greenhouse), the off-grid power supply and windmill pump, and new skills we’ve learned.

Blessings,

How Does Our Homestead Grow?

PS. Click here to see the list of “beyond organic” foods available through Full Circle Farm, and sign up for email notices of when and where in FL they will be delivered regularly.

Linked w/Natural Living Mama, Chicken Chick, Barn Hop, Growing Home, Backyard Farming Connection, Down Home Blog Hop, Frugally Sustainable, Homemaking, Wildcrafting Wednesday, HomeAcre Hop, Old Fashioned Friday, Little House in the Suburbs, From the Farm Blog Fest, Farmgirl Friday, and Heritage Homesteading.

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Full Circle Farm

Full Circle Farm

Jerseys and Jersey-Devon mixes comprise the Stoltzfoos herd

We love interacting with other folks who think and live “outside the box.”  Although the blog has been rather quiet and this post is way overdue, I want to share last year’s mini-vacation visit to Full Circle Farm in Northern Florida, operated by another family with similar values and mindset.  Dennis and Alicia Stoltzfoos and their five young children run the farm, learning and growing together.

Full Circle Farm supplies many folks in northern and central Florida with raw dairy products (for pets only, of course, which is legal in FL) from grass-fed dairy cows and goats.  They milk about 20 dairy cows, some full blooded Jerseys and some half milking Devon, as they have a Devon bull.  Unlike most dairy cows in our country who are bred and raised for maximum milk production (rather than quality), Stoltzfoos cows eat no grains.  Here’s why. 

Cows are ruminants, with more than one stomach, and “chew their cud.”  Their systems are designed to process grass through various stages of digestion, including fermentation and rechewing.  Grains may fatten them up and swell their milk supply, but are not properly digestable.  Eating lots of grains and producing massive amounts of milk shortens the cow’s lifespan, and yields far fewer nutrients and healthy fats in their milk.  Since “factory” farmers are mostly concerned with quantity rather than quality (that is how they make their living, which is not always easy), they do what makes the most economic sense.  But this doesn’t cut it for those more concerned about healthy building blocks for their own bodies and their growing children. 

Likewise, our spirits are truly fed and nourished by the Living Word of God, and when we substitute with “cheaper” or more glitzy “food” (TV, internet, other books, etc), we sacrifice the richness, stability, and long life God intends for us spiritually.

Since God didn’t design ruminants to digest grains, the cows at Full Circle Farm are only grass-fed.  Every day they are moved to new grass in an area just large enough to provide that day’s grazing needs.  This keeps parasites under control and allows grass to grow back before they return to that area.  The paddocks are separated with easily moved electric fence.  In the winter flax is added to their diet to make up for the lower protein available in grass. 

Full Circle Farm

Observing the cows contentedly grazing on this day's paddock grasses

Grass-fed dairy animals produce less milk.  In order to turn a profit the milk must have a higher price tag.  More folks are waking up to the reality of our poor quality store-bought milk, often after major health issues.  They don’t mind the higher price for the sake of their family’s health. 

Fats present in pastured milk are totally different from those in store-bought milk.  Healthy fats help prevent heart disease, cancer, diabetes, depression, hormone imbalances, infertility, and a whole host of other issues common in our day.  Food industrialization and the loss of small family farms has resulted in largely depleting our diet of these fats.  Not only is most milk from grain-fed cows, it is also pasteurized (which kills the enzymes and beneficial bacteria needed for proper digestion, and the many components which naturally fight harmful pathogens) and homogenized (breaking up the fat molecules which become harmful to us).  We haven’t even started mentioning the GMOs, hormones, antibiotics, and other chemicals store-bought milk is loaded with.  

To regain what is lost we must return to regularly eating healthy fats from our own dairy animals or from conscientious local farmers.  Isn’t that similar to regaining spiritual vibrancy and ridding ourselves of apathy and erroneous thinking by seriously getting back to the Word of God, making it a part of our everyday way of living? 

Of course if we all stop consuming factory milk products, it will hurt a very large industry that does not appreciate being hurt, hence the demonizing of such endeavors.  Folks like the Stoltzfooses have found themselves in very undesirable situations at times, such as being raided for the “crime” of selling pastured raw milk.  Fortunately Dennis Stoltzfoos knows the law and his rights, and with the aid of the Lord and a video camera overcame the bullying. 

Knowing our enemy’s lies and bluffs, and being prepared with the weapons of spiritual warfare for his attacks can prevent us from being destroyed by him.  Being rooted and grounded in the Word of God is our best hope.

The Stoltzfooses are always learning and trying new things to improve their products.  Their pastures had no trees and since cows benefit from shade during the heat, they planted many young trees between their paddocks.  They are growing velvet beans and iron clay beans to serve as possible supplemental high-protien feed during the winter.

Full Circle Farm

Velvet beans grow on the fence between paddocks

Full Circle Farm

A new portable milking parlor they were hoping to start using soon

Dennis or one of his children raise broiler chicks and laying hens every spring and fall.  Portable hoop barns house these young chickens, placed in paddocks just grazed by the cows.  The chickens pick through the fresh manure and eat fly larvae and other “goodies.”  As a result, flies don’t bother the cows, and the chickens benefit from the high protein. 

Full Circle Farm

Dennis leads us to the portable chicken houses

Full Circle Farm

They are easily dragged along to a new location by the handle lying in front of the house

Dennis’ daughter milks several dairy goats once a day, so raw goat milk is another product they make available.  The goats are also moved from one forage area to another about every week or so.  A portable milking barn goes with them.  A companion dog (part Great Pyrenees) protects them from predators since they are down the road a ways from the farm.  The goats are fed copper for parasite control.

Full Circle Farm

The portable goat milking parlor

Full Circle Farm

The goats nimbly hop up the steps onto the trailer to be milked

Full Circle Farm

The goats' companion and protector

At the end of our visit the unexpected happened.  As we prepared to leave, one of their daughters reported a huge limb had just fallen from one of their massive old oak trees, pinning a cow underneath!  Using a chain saw and farm jack Dennis and Silver Oak soon had that poor cow rescued.  She got up and walked away, seemingly unharmed.  But to everyone’s sadness and surprise she died that night in the barn, evidently from undetected internal injuries.

Full Circle Farm

The poor cow is helplessly trapped

Full Circle Farm

With the tree lifted off she manages to get up and out from under it

Full Circle Farm

She turns and looks back as if to say "Thank you." Unfortunately she did not survive the accident.

We left Full Circle Farm challenged and inspired.  Silver Oak has long dreamed of working at home with the family rather than away from home.  Dennis reminded us our children will be grown and gone before we know it, and we’ll soon miss that opportunity.  So we pray for wisdom to carry out what God has put in our hearts sooner rather than later.

Blessings,

Full Circle Farm 

PS. Click here to see the list of “beyond organic” foods available through Full Circle Farm, and sign up for email notices of when and where in FL they will be delivered regularly.

Linked w/Creative Home & Garden Hop, Natural Living Mama, Chicken Chick, Barn Hop, Eco-Kids, Growing Home, Backyard Farming Connection, Down Home Blog Hop, Rock n Share, Frugally Sustainable, Country Homemaker Hop, Homemaking, Wildcrafting Wednesday, Wicked Good Wednesday, Natural Living, Tasty Traditions, HomeAcre Hop, Homestead Bloggers Network, Live Renewed, Simple Lives Thur., Old Fashioned Friday, Little House in the Suburbs, From the Farm Blog Fest, Farmgirl Friday, and Simply Natural Saturday.

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Merry Christmas!

“Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast…”  Rev. 3:11

“For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth.”  Job 19:25

Merry Christmas!

We hope you had a joyful Christmas.  We pray for wisdom and discernment for the Body of Christ as we face things that are coming.

Blessings,

Merry Christmas!

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Turkey in the Hole

Turkey in the Hole

Wildflowers from the woods perched between our two Big Berkey water filters along with our daughter's teapot from Kazakhstan

I was privileged to write a guest post for The Shady Porch about baking a turkey off the grid.  It’s fun to do even if you are not off the grid.  I promise I will return soon for that post about our visit to Full Circle Farm, where they milk grass-fed Jersey/Devon cows and dairy goats.  Till then, I hope you enjoy this post about how we made the best turkey ever for last year’s Thanksgiving feast.

A Thanksgiving turkey has not necessarily been our tradition since we avoid antibiotic, hormone, and GMO laden foods. But last year someone blessed us with a frozen organic bird which really was asking to be Thanksgiving dinner for us. Since turkey baking requires around three hours and lots of fuel, we decided to try “Turkey-in-the-Hole.”

If you want instant turkey, don’t try this. It takes planning ahead and work, but is a fun family project and makes some of the best turkey you’ll ever eat. It requires no electricity or fossil fuels, but lots of wood from trimming or cutting down trees needing to be removed anyway.

Turkey in the Hole

It was perfectly done, moist and tasty.

The day before Thanksgiving, a pit must be dug. We chose a sandy spot off the beaten path and dug our pit two feet by three feet, and four feet deep [...]

Read the rest of this post

See you back soon!

Blessings,

Turkey in the Hole

 

Linked w/Creative Home & Garden Hop, Natural Living Mama, Chicken Chick, Barn Hop, Eco-Kids, Growing Home, Backyard Farming Connection, Down Home Blog Hop, Rock n Share, Frugally Sustainable, Country Homemaker Hop, Homemaking, Wildcrafting Wednesday, Wicked Good Wednesday, Natural Living, Tasty Traditions, HomeAcre Hop, Homestead Bloggers Network, Live Renewed, Simple Lives Thur., Old Fashioned Friday, Little House in the Suburbs, From the Farm Blog Fest, Farmgirl Friday, and Simply Natural Saturday.

 

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Homestead Vacation and Olive Trees

Homestead Vacation and Olive Trees

Blossom learns to knit

We took a short family vacation last week, a break from the homestead, relaxing and exploring areas of interest to expand our family vision.  I must admit it was so nice not to worry about managing our power and water supply, watering plants, or milking the cow and goats.  Checking our battery function and solar panel input, running the generator when needed, and keeping our water reservoirs full have become routine for us, but it feels like a real treat to go back to seemingly unlimited power and water for a few days.  And the Lord provided an experienced and  trustworthy person (thanks Brennan!) to look after things for three days while we were gone.

 The cabin in northern Florida was small but probably twice the size of our tiny house, so it felt big to us.  We enjoyed the luxuries of longer hot showers with unlimited water, a dishwasher, air conditioning, a gas fireplace (no firewood to cut), and lots of space.  Great family memories were made canoeing on the Suwannee River, making oil lamps and rag dolls, learning to knit, playing checkers, reading Scripture, singing together, visiting a dairy of grass-fed cows and goats, exploring an old sustainable working homestead, and even burning the gas fireplace at the same time we were using the a/c (how silly and wasteful)! 

 

Homestead Vacation and Olive Trees

Hangin' out at the ole' country store in White Springs, FL

But we were all happy to come home again.  We love our little homestead and simple off-the-grid lifestyle.  It is so rewarding to work together as a family, watching things grow (or die), and learning basic life skills.  It has been a pleasant surprise to discover how enjoyable it is to live closer to the soil, learning more and more about God’s designs in nature and how we benefit by living in harmony with them.  As mentioned in Romans 1:20, “For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that [men] are without excuse.”

Homestead Vacation and Olive Trees

The 20 olive trees arrived in the mail in two small boxes, each moist root ball twist-tied shut inside a plastic bag, and they were coiled together snugly.

 Our first stop was at The Olive Grove, an olive tree farm near Brooksville, FL that promotes the use of olive trees as an alternative to citrus (as a cash crop).  Olive trees are more cold and drought resistant than citrus, grow well in sandy soil, and grow into beautiful shade trees that provide health-benefiting olive oil and leaves. 

A few months ago The Olive Grove was selling several varieties of olive trees that grow well in Florida (Arbequina and Koroneiki) at a discounted price, so we purchased 20.  So far they are doing great and we can’t wait for them to grow and start producing olives within the next two years. 

On the first day of our vacation we visited The Olive Grove for a workshop making olive oil lamps from clay.  Dede was a great teacher and we enjoyed learning more about olive trees and making lamps that burn olive oil as in the time of Christ.

Homestead Vacation and Olive Trees

Evenstar and Blossom shape their clay lamps

Homestead Vacation and Olive Trees

Honey Bun puts the finishing touches on her lamp

Homestead Vacation and Olive Trees

Our lamps hardened and dried on the mantle in the cabin for 48 hrs

Homestead Vacation and Olive Trees

Finally we could try one out...it worked!

The campground we stayed at was the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park in historic White Springs, FL.  As a memorial to the author of the famous folk song “Old Folks at Home” (Way down upon the Swannee River…) there is a craft square of cottages where working craftsmen demonstrate cultural arts and traditions such as quilting, knitting, blacksmithing, pottery, and woodworking.  A Carillon Tower is home to the world’s largest tubular bell instrument, chiming the hours and giving daily concerts ringing out the tunes of Stephen Foster with its 97 bells.  We especially enjoyed singing hymns together in the acoustically-alive cathedral-like museum room at the base of the Carillon Tower.  We hoped to take our violins and flute in there for a practice, but ran out of time.

Homestead Vacation and Olive Trees

We enjoyed the concerts by the Carillon (in the tower)

Homestead Vacation and Olive Trees

Two future blacksmiths pose in the blacksmith shop

Homestead Vacation and Olive Trees

The younger girls made old-fashioned rag dolls

Many of the volunteer craftsmen were not working during the days we were there (Mon-Wed), but it was still an educational experience and Blossom was finally able to learn the skill of knitting from a sweet lady in one of the cottages.  She’s been clicking those needles as fast as she can ever since.

 

Homestead Vacation and Olive Trees

One day we went canoeing on the Suwannee River

Homestead Vacation and Olive Trees

"Far, far away."

An upcoming post will be dedicated to our visit to Full Circle Farm in Live Oak, FL where the Stoltzfoos family raises grass-fed only dairy cows and goats (beyond organic), rotating them to new pasture regularly.   They challenged and stretched our thinking.   Another post will feature our tour of an early pioneer homestead established before the Civil War, called Dudley Farm.  This working farm has staff dressed in period clothing tending to crops and livestock, using mules for labor.  It holds a wealth of old ideas which can benefit us today.

 

Homestead Vacation and Olive Trees

The moveable goat barn/milking parlor at Full Circle Farm

Homestead Vacation and Olive Trees

The historic Dudley Farm

See you back soon!

Blessings,

Homestead Vacation and Olive Trees

Homestead Vacation and Olive Trees

Linked w/Creative Home & Garden Hop, Natural Living Mama, Chicken Chick, Barn Hop, Eco-Kids, Growing Home, Backyard Farming Connection, Down Home Blog Hop, Rock n Share, Frugally Sustainable, Country Homemaker Hop, Homemaking, Wildcrafting Wednesday, Wicked Good Wednesday, Natural Living, Tasty Traditions, HomeAcre Hop, Green Thumb Thursday, Live Renewed, Simple Lives Thur., Old Fashioned Friday, Little House in the Suburbs, From the Farm Blog Fest, Farmgirl Friday, and Simply Natural Saturday.

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Our Home Dairy Cow and Goats

Our Home Dairy Cow and Goats
Chore time

This week we are being interviewed by Liz of Eight Acres Blog about keeping a family cow and dairy goats.  Liz and her husband live in Queensland, Australia with similar interests in sustainable living.  I’m thankful to Liz for this opportunity and invite you to join me on her blog to discuss Getting Started with the Home Dairy

Buttercup, our Jersey cow, had a calf last month and we are again enjoying the creamy milk she provides.  After raising and milking Nubian goats for about 15 years, we wouldn’t want to be without them on our little homestead.  But 17 months ago we added Buttercup to our home dairy, and it has been interesting to observe differences and similarities between a family dairy cow and goats.  To learn more, join us on Eight Acres for the interview.

Our Home Dairy Cow and Goats

Kids are always fun

Click here to read the interview.

Blessings,

Our Home Dairy Cow and Goats

Our Home Dairy Cow and Goats

Linked w/Creative Home & Garden Hop, Natural Living Mama, Chicken Chick, Barn Hop, Eco-Kids, Growing Home, Backyard Farming Connection, Down Home Blog Hop, Rock n Share, Frugally Sustainable, Country Homemaker Hop, Homemaking, Wildcrafting Wednesday, Wicked Good Wednesday, Natural Living, Tasty Traditions, HomeAcre Hop, Green Thumb Thursday, Live Renewed, Simple Lives Thur., Old Fashioned Friday, Little House in the Suburbs, From the Farm Blog Fest, Farmgirl Friday, and Simply Natural Saturday.

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Growing Salad on Trees and Shrubs

Growing Salad on Trees and Shrubs

Dill and opal basil from the herb garden

We’re just coming through the very hot, muggy, and buggy season here in FL, when tomatoes, lettuce, and many other cooler loving salad veggies struggle and die.  Since our family’s daily diet consists of at least 50% raw fruits and veggies, and we are working to grow all our own, we’ve wondered how to manage the hottest months every year.

That’s one reason we’ve been excited to learn about a whole new world of yummy vegetables…perennial vegetables.  This year we planted bushes and trees providing a variety of tasty and highly nutritious greens, right through the hot summer.  Our children love these flavorful perennial salad greens so much we rarely use salad dressings anymore.

Growing Salad on Trees and Shrubs

The landscaping around our house is all edible, medicinal, or otherwise useful. These two moringa trees in the front yard are nearly 100% edible and highly nutritious.

Did you know the world has become so narrow minded about food, that out of over 20,000 species of edible plants, over 90% of what we eat comes from only 20 of them?  On our recent trips to ECHO we learned that 75% of the world’s food is generated from only 12 plant and 5 animal species.  Check the ingredients in grocery store food, and what do you see repeated over and over? 

This is what commercializing food has done for us, as more than 90% of crop varieties have disappeared from farmers’ fields.  Of all the interesting foods God created, we’re familiar with only a small percentage.  And most of it is so hybridized, genetically modified, laden with chemicals, and grown in such dead soil that there remain few nutrients and flavors God intended us to enjoy and thrive on.

Growing Salad on Trees and Shrubs

This sign is posted at ECHO's global farm in Ft Myers, FL

Growing Salad on Trees and Shrubs

Honey Bun snacks on cranberry hibiscus, growing in the background

Perennial Vegetables

Of our favorite trees and shrubs in our edible landscaping, the tastiest is cranberry hibiscus (false roselle, hibiscus acetosella), with tangy-flavored burgundy leaves.  It starts easily from seed, growing quickly into an attractive shrub.  The more you harvest for salad, the thicker and faster it grows.  It is useful in fruit drinks, teas, and for natural red coloring.  Kiddos love it!  Much tastier than lettuce, its deep coloring indicates it may also be more nutrient dense.  Purchase seeds from ECHO.

Another is Moringa, used as a super food and for fighting hunger and malnutrition in developing countries.  It is a fast growing, drought resistant, soft wood tree with edible leaves and pods.  The tender nutrient dense leaves contain seven times the vitamin C of oranges, four times the calcium of milk, four times the vitamin A of carrots, three times the potassium of bananas, three times the iron of spinach, and two times the protein of milk.  They taste a bit like horseradish, but mildly enough that it blends easily with other greens or in fruit smoothies.

Growing Salad on Trees and Shrubs

This moringa tree was planted last fall and we harvest its leaves regularly.

Growing Salad on Trees and Shrubs

Facts about the awesome moringa tree

We prune our moringa trees regularly to around seven feet (2 meters) tall for easy harvesting.  We kept these tropical trees alive and growing during last winter’s freezes using covers and candles.  There are other ways to grow them in cold climates.  Seeds can be purchased here or from ECHO.

Growing Salad on Trees and Shrubs

Various products containing moringa available at ECHO

Other perennial vegetables we’ve harvested regularly this summer for our large dinner salads include malabar spinach, okinawan spinach, edible hibiscus leaves (abelmoschus manihot), Thai red roselle leaves (hibiscus sabdariffa), garlic chives (allium schoenoprasum), aloe vera (diced small with spines removed), purslane (stems and buds), sweet potato leaves (varieties vary in flavor and texture), katuk leaves (sauropus androgynus), and opal basil, with a touch of marigold flower petals for added flavor and color.  Most of these leafy vegetables are rich in color and flavor, contrasting with blander lettuces.  After washing, removing stems, and tearing into bite sized pieces, we toss these colorful greens with a touch of apple cider vinegar, sea salt, and homemade cottage cheese (if available).

Growing Salad on Trees and Shrubs

A basket of greens just harvested: from top left and clockwise you will see purslane, garlic chives, malabar spinach, opal basil, moringa, more malabar spinach, aloe vera, cranberry hibiscus.

Growing Salad on Trees and Shrubs

Beautiful vining red malabar spinach grows well in the heat and has tender meaty leaves, great in salad

Growing Salad on Trees and Shrubs

Okinawa spinach: green with purple undersides, not a true spinach but used the same way, propogated only from cuttings.

Growing Salad on Trees and Shrubs

Harvested greens...edible hibiscus (L), okinawa spinach (R), and katuk (bottom)

These salad ingredients are entirely homestead grown except for the ACV (which we’re working on) and sea salt.  They’re probably the tastiest and most nutritious salads we’ve ever had.  Anticipating cooler weather, (it’s still a real feel of 104°F/40°C during the day) we are preparing to also plant traditional garden vegetables, while our edible perennials continue to grow.

Ten Advantages of Perennial Vegetables

  1. Longer lasting.  While many perennial vegetables may require slightly more work initially to establish than annuals, they produce for two or more years.
  2. Drought resistant.  Once established, perennials can usually withstand dry periods longer than annual vegetables.
    Growing Salad on Trees and Shrubs

    This Thai red roselle provides great-tasting leaves for salad or for flavoring teas. Its blooms will also make awesome herbal tea.

  3. Easier care.  Shrubs and trees require less maintanance than traditional garden vegetables for the amount of food produced.
  4. Continual production.  Perennial vegetables produce all year in mild climates or in a greenhouse.  Although growth slows in colder seasons they continue to produce if lightly pruned (harvested) regularly.
  5. Save your back.  As perennials mature they get taller and thicker, making it easy to harvest many of them without bending or kneeling.

    Growing Salad on Trees and Shrubs

    Malabar spinach does well on a trellis, making it easy to harvest. Notice also the garlic chives.

  6. Beautiful edible landscaping.  Many perennial vegetables are aesthetically pleasing as well as delicious and nutritious.  Plants growing near our house must be edible, medicinal, or otherwise practically functional.  If arranged by texture, height, color, and shape, they make beautiful landscaping.  They smell lovely and attract butterflies and birds.

    Growing Salad on Trees and Shrubs

    Some kinds of purslane taste bitter, but this variety is both beautiful and very edible.

  7. Survival food.  In a collapse or crisis food shortage, perennials are more dependable than annuals, requiring less skill to keep alive.  Seed saving is less necessary to ensure future crops.  Many are propogated by division and considered invasive weeds if left alone.  That is real survival food!
  8. Animal fodder.  Most perennial vegetables can double as nutritious fodder for chickens, goats, cows, horses, and rabbits.  We are growing some of these perennials as hedges for that very purpose.

    Growing Salad on Trees and Shrubs

    Evenstar is growing a moringa hedge to feed her rabbits

  9. Politically acceptable.  Most perennial vegetables are not commonly known in our society as being edible.  Easily incorporated into landscaping where traditional gardening is not permitted, who would ever know they are your vegetables?
  10. More Nutritious.  Most perennials are more nutrient dense than the average garden vegetables.

Bonus:  Children love them.  If your children are typical non-veggie lovers, chances are it’s because they are served the pathetic specimens from supermarkets shipped from the other side of the continent.  Most are picked early after being bred for shipping and storing, grown in depleted soils and dependent on chemicals to survive.  The result is little flavor (and nutrition).  Smothering with sugar and corn syrup-laden dressings help make them tolerable.  We must rarely coax our children to eat their greens, especially those we grow, even without dressings.  It probably helps that their taste buds aren’t seared with sugary candies, drinks, and other sweets all day either.  Growing Salad on Trees and Shrubs

Growing Salad on Trees and Shrubs

Aloe vera is a refreshing salad addition if finely diced

Harvesting Routine

Our salad perennials are still very young, most having been planted just this year, so we still supplement here and there with market-bought romaine when needed.  I normally harvest in the morning before the hot sun is beating on them.  They are generally the most crisp and tasty, retaining more nutrients and flavors, if harvested early in the day.  Since harvesting affects the apppearance and beauty of the landscaping, I do it mostly myself, often with a young helper, or the older girls do it if needed.

On leafy plants I take the largest leaves, allowing smaller ones more time to grow.  I cut new 12 – 18” (30-46cm) long leafy branches on thicker plants such as cranberry hibiscus and moringa, which encourages them to grow even thicker.  Unless it’s really cold or dry they usually have new growth to harvest within two to five days.  If I really prune a plant way back, I do it during the waxing phase of the moon (from new moon to full) when growth is much faster than during the waning phase (from full moon to new).

Growing Salad on Trees and Shrubs

Moringa, cranberry hibiscus, and sweet potato vines (on right) ready for washing and separating leaves from stems.

We bring the cut greens and herbs into the kitchen for a “bath” in plain water.  A younger child drains them in a colander then breaks leaves off the stems.  The stems are fed to Evenstar’s rabbits and the leaves bagged and placed in the fridge awaiting dinner preparation.  Tender stems can also be cooked lightly and served as asparagus.  Nothing is wasted.

Growing Salad on Trees and Shrubs

Washing in the sink...the marigold petals will also be added to the salad

Growing Salad on Trees and Shrubs

We're adding lots of bamboo to our landscaping. Young shoots are edible and it has many other practical uses.

I fertilize the perennials periodically with rabbit or barnyard “poo tea”, or eggshell tea.  Mostly I just enjoy watching them grow more greens for us.  Hopefully in a few months we’ll have tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and other annual veggies to add to the salad mix.  And there are more salad perennials I would like to try, including walking Egyptian onions, asparagus, daylily, bamboo, and New Zealand spinach.  I just got Eric Toensmeier’s books “Perennial VegetablesGrowing Salad on Trees and Shrubs” and “Paradise LotGrowing Salad on Trees and Shrubs” which I hope to devour when I get a chance.  Meanwhile, I welcome your suggestions of other salad perennials for our developing landscaping.

Blessings,

Growing Salad on Trees and Shrubs

Growing Salad on Trees and Shrubs

Linked w/Creative Home & Garden Hop, Natural Living Mama, Chicken Chick, Barn Hop, Eco-Kids, Growing Home, Backyard Farming Connection, Down Home Blog Hop, Rock n Share, Frugally Sustainable, Country Homemaker Hop, Homemaking, Wildcrafting Wednesday, Wicked Good Wednesday, Natural Living, Tasty Traditions, HomeAcre Hop, Green Thumb Thursday, Live Renewed, Simple Lives Thur., Old Fashioned Friday, Little House in the Suburbs, From the Farm Blog Fest, Farmgirl Friday, and Simply Natural Saturday.

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How to Get More Done on the Homestead

How to Get More Done on the Homestead

Boots, gloves, clipper, and spade take a welcome break

My rubber boots have rested for a spell…and so have I. I have not fallen off the face of the earth, but there have been so many irons in the fire here on the homestead that I’m afraid blogging has been sadly neglected. All is well. In fact, I wrote this to the sound of absolutely gorgeous orchestral music being rehearsed in front of me. I attended the Anabaptist Orchestra Camp in IN last weekend with Evenstar, who played violin.

It dawned on me as we traveled there that this is the first time in eight years I have done something big alone with my oldest daughter, who for ten years was our only child. Before God blessed us with our remaining five children, she was my little girl. Now, as an adult, I greatly enjoyed this opportunity connecting with her. And I also didn’t mind taking a break from the intensity that has dominated us the past two years setting up our off grid homestead.

How to Get More Done on the Homestead

Evenstar during rehearsal, courtesy of "Action Photos by Tom"

How to Get More Done on the Homestead

The orchestra in concert. Evenstar is third from left.

How to Get More Done on the Homestead

A newly emerged Gulf Fritillary

Yes, it will be two years in October since we moved to our wild 20 acre plot in the boonies. Slowly but surely the wilderness is being transformed into something productive and sustainable. Where there was only scrub, palmettos, and white sugar sand, now there are spots bursting with green and colorful growing things. We aren’t the only ones who love it. The birds and butterflies are attracted as well.

Working together with the occasional help of friends or family, we have a comfortable and cozy tiny house with a grand covered deck, a well, a windmill for pumping water, new fences, a small solar power system, a rainwater collection system partially done, fruit trees and perennials planted, fodder beds started for our chickens and livestock, sugarcane planted, an herb garden, and raised rows and beds for gardening. We’ve learned to make butter and various other dairy products from our goats’ and cow’s milk, cook with solar heat and a rocket stove, do basic blacksmithing (Silver Oak), and set up a successful rabbitry (Evenstar).

Our most recent projects have been planting 22 olive trees, gathering a huge load of free bamboo for trellising, rendering tallow and making soap, adding a much needed small air conditioner, and pouring a footer and building a support wall for the front of our tiny house to make it a better hurricane shelter. God has graciously provided to make these possible.

How to Get More Done on the Homestead

Planting our olive trees

How to Get More Done on the Homestead

Our first batch of pioneer-style soap

How to Get More Done on the Homestead

My dad installs our new a/c...what a relief on hot afternoons!

How to Get More Done on the Homestead

Silver Oak (and his helper) pour a footer and build a stem wall under the front of our tiny house

How to Get More Done on the Homestead

Silver Oak's latest windmill installation on a neighboring ranch

But there is much more to do, staring at us every day: paddock fences for rotating grazing, forage grasses and legumes planted, rainwater collection completed, trellises built for grow beds, and the greenhouse finished. With school lessons and instrument practices, Silver Oak doing landscaping in town, as well as installing windmills for other people, and the debilitating heat slowing us, how can we be productive with homestead projects?

Last year we got many comments about how hard we work and how tiring it was just to read about everything we were doing. Well, it made us tired too.  How to Get More Done on the Homestead  We were running on adrenalin getting ourselves completely settled. But we are not created to live on adrenaline long-term. There must be rest and return to normal function or we will crash and burn.

On adrenaline and under great pressure we accomplished much by often staying up late at night. We even used Sunday afternoons to meet deadlines. We crashed from sheer exhaustion, only to get back up and going again. We had no time to think of vacations or extras. We were in survival mode. But is this really how God designed for us to be productive?

Rest. We finally came to our senses and let the dust clear a little. The Lord helped us out with some obvious stresses and reproofs that got our attention, and we re-evaluated. He gently reminded us that from the beginning of creation He designed us to work and then take times of rest on a regular basis. If the Lord practiced it Himself to demonstrate this importance, shouldn’t we pay attention? So we again made it a priority to rest on Sundays (even though I realize the day He originally set aside for that was Saturday, which is another subject). And we’ve built simple family vacations and field trips into the schedule, whether or not everything’s finished.

Trust. We let some things go and gave more time to reach our goals, trusting God to take care of us in the meantime. An emergency is one thing, but creating our own crisis is pointless. Relationships are more important. While we may have legitimately been in emergency mode at first, we couldn’t stay there too long.

Early Rising. Psalms and Proverbs applaud the benefits of rising early in the morning. In emergency mode we stayed up late and usually dragged around the next morning. By nature I’ve always been a “night person,”much preferring to work late into the night. But I have had a revolution in my “old age.” This past year we’ve been getting to bed in better time and rising an hour early several mornings each week for family projects, experiencing a new level of energy and productivity.

A sense of excitement comes with planning what we’ll do together the next morning. The alarm is set an hour early. Upon rising we have personal quiet times of Bible reading and prayer, then grab a quick healthy snack before heading out with rubber boots and gloves. After a word of prayer everyone is given a job, often with older and younger ones working together.

There is nothing so invigorating as cool early morning air, the rising sun, and choruses of birds singing. There is a strong sense of family camaraderie in working together like this.

In the early mornings we have prepped holes for planting our fruit trees and built our grow beds and rows, hauling in manure from the barnyard or from under the rabbit hutches, spreading tree mulch, ashes, old hay, and other organic matter to build up the soil. We’ve cleared palmettoes, spread load after load of wood chips and leaves, and completed various other projects.

How to Get More Done on the Homestead

Scooping decomposed organic matter from the barnyard for our raised beds

How to Get More Done on the Homestead

Cleaning old hay and rabbit droppings from under Evenstar's rabbit hutches

How to Get More Done on the Homestead

The organic matter is put down in layers on the raised rows

How to Get More Done on the Homestead

New rows or beds are always being added

How to Get More Done on the Homestead

The beginning of our herb garden this spring

How to Get More Done on the Homestead

Pulling the largest weeds to prep a new area for grow beds with the rising sun

How to Get More Done on the Homestead

Spreading loads of mulch to make a weed barrier and hold in moisture

How to Get More Done on the Homestead

Filling in a hole with the "proper equipment" to make another grow bed

How to Get More Done on the Homestead

Digging a trench for plumbing from the well to the windmill

How to Get More Done on the Homestead

Spreading pine needle mulch in the walkways

How to Get More Done on the Homestead

Building fences...the never ending job

How to Get More Done on the Homestead

When we come in for breakfast this is the resulting disaster on the front steps at times

Rising early starts the night before by getting to bed on time. It doesn’t work every morning, but usually several mornings a week. It’s amazing what that extra hour can accomplish. Not only do projects move forward, but it’s a jump start which makes the rest of the day more productive.

During these hot summer months early mornings are especially important to avoid the blazing heat. As fall approaches we’re preparing to plant a vegetable garden, as that is Florida’s best growing season. Our incredible edible gourd vine planted in the spring has been uprooted, and the big gourd we saved is drying.

How to Get More Done on the Homestead

Little Bird and I pose with the "big gourd" in the herb garden

Buttercup finally had a calf, so we’re milking her again after a dry year, following a false pregnancy. Fresh sweet butter again, with no GMO’s!

How to Get More Done on the Homestead

Buttercup and her new calf

There’s lots to do to keep a homesteading family busy and out of trouble. It’s a good life!

Blessings,

How to Get More Done on the Homestead

How to Get More Done on the Homestead

Linked w/Creative Home & Garden Hop, Natural Living Mama, Chicken Chick, Barn Hop, Eco-Kids, Growing Home, Backyard Farming Connection, Down Home Blog Hop, Rock n Share, Frugally Sustainable, Country Homemaker Hop, Homemaking, Wildcrafting Wednesday, Wicked Good Wednesday, Natural Living, Tasty Traditions, HomeAcre Hop, Green Thumb Thursday, Live Renewed, Simple Lives Thur., Old Fashioned Friday, Little House in the Suburbs, From the Farm Blog Fest, Farmgirl Friday, and Simply Natural Saturday.

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Homestead Scenes ~ 13

After over 10 months of absence, I am happy to say that Homestead Scenes (by Evenstar) is back again! So here is # 13:

 

~Summer Joys~

Homestead Scenes ~ 13This beautiful rose was captured on our visit to Bok Tower gardens. We now have rose bushes planted that should bloom like this soon!

 

Homestead Scenes ~ 13A harmless little black racer snake entwined around an aloe vera plant.

 

Homestead Scenes ~ 13

 

Homestead Scenes ~ 13We had tons of cool yellow and black Eastern Black Swallowtail caterpillars eating our parsley, but we didn’t mind because we love the butterflies! Blossom spotted this one over by the sunflowers and got a few pictures right after it hatched from its chrysalis! You can see the gorgeous colors and patterns on the underside (above) and inside (below) of the wings. God is such a master designer to be able to create something as splendid and amazing as the butterfly!

Homestead Scenes ~ 13

 

Homestead Scenes ~ 13

Homestead Scenes ~ 13

Homestead Scenes ~ 13And now for the two ending shots: Little Bird and Farmer Boy after a hard day of work (and a lot of playing) looking like they just came out of the depression (of course the sepia color gives it even more of that effect)!

Homestead Scenes ~ 13

 

Blessings and a happy, hot, rest-of-the-summer!

Homestead Scenes ~ 13

 

 

Linked w/Creative Home & Garden Hop, Natural Living Mama, Chicken Chick, Barn Hop, Eco-Kids, Growing Home, Backyard Farming Connection, Down Home Blog Hop, Rock n Share, Frugally Sustainable, Country Homemaker Hop, Homemaking, Wildcrafting Wednesday, Wicked Good Wednesday, Natural Living, Tasty Traditions, HomeAcre Hop, Green Thumb Thursday, Live Renewed, Simple Lives Thur., Old Fashioned Friday, Little House in the Suburbs, From the Farm Blog Fest, Farmgirl Friday, and Simply Natural Saturday.

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The Incredible Edible Vine

The Incredible Edible Vine

Silver Oak's cousin's children sweetly watch their daddy and Silver Oak placing dirt on their much-loved aunt's grave...a burial the old-fashioned way.

This post was delayed by a quick trip north for the funeral of Silver Oak’s aunt. She was truly a special lady who left a legacy of selflessness and generosity which I could use a bit more of. She is blissfully at rest with Jesus whom she loved, and her dear hubby who preceded her. But she leaves a huge hole and is greatly missed. At the funeral we met friends and relatives we had not seen for years. The Lord worked things out at the last minute for our entire family to go, leaving the homestead in the hands of good friends.

The Incredible Edible Vine

The children pose with Grandpa & Grandma in their colorful flower garden

The Incredible Edible Vine

We enjoyed their northern vegetable garden

I am about to describe an amazing edible plant that has been providing us with lots of nutritious and tasty food, while requiring very little input. A blog reader graciously sent me seeds, so we tried them. It is a fantastic winner, growing vigorously even in the intense Florida heat and bugs. With the goal of eventually raising all our own food, high producing plants that are pest, heat, cold, and drought resistant are of great value to us.

The end of April we placed three of these unusual seeds in the raised mound under a leg of our windmill. They eagerly poked up, although one perished in an accident. The two remaining seedlings quickly developed beautiful deep green velvety leaves. Before we knew it the trailing vines had to be trained to the second leg of the windmill so they wouldn’t expand out of their alloted territory.

In June the first little fruits were found, and within a few weeks our family of eight was enjoying three to four meals weekly eating them and their greens. The vine soon reached the top of the 21 foot (6.4 meter) windmill tower. Last week Silver Oak climbed the ladder carefully to avoid trampling them, and cut off the ends threatening to interfere with the windmill blades. It is now trailing halfway down the opposite side of the windmill tower, making it at least 30 feet (9 meters) long, and still growing like mad.

The Incredible Edible Vine

The windmill makes a great trellis. As you can see the vine has now thinned out below but has much new growth up and over the top of the tower.

What is this mysterious plant? Jack’s beanstalk? Not quite. It is an edible gourd native to Italy which has many names. We know it as Cucuzzi. It is my absolute favorite plant this summer, partly because it makes me feel successful in growing our own food with little labor. It is also beautiful and produces delicious food enjoyed by the whole family and guests.

The Incredible Edible Vine

The leaves feel like soft velvet, and the gourds are similar to zucchini when young.

The Incredible Edible Vine

The delicate white flowers open at dusk and close when the sun comes up

The Incredible Edible Vine

Tied up with pantyhose

As the vines spread out, I used pantyhose stockings to tie them up to the legs of the windmill. Pantyhose is strong enough to support the vines and will flex with growth. I’ve become too much of a country gal and haven’t worn pantyhose for years, but a friend gave us some which we are putting to good use (thanks Ivylover!).

These long slender gourds can grow to be three feet (one meter) long, but by then they are reportedly too tough to eat. We keep out a sharp eye for young ones because they easily grow two to four inches each day and quickly get too large if we are not alert. We’ve read they are only edible up to 12” (30.5 cm) long, but we’ve found that at 18” (45.5 cm) long they are still quite tender and delicious, so we are letting them grow longer. We prepare them just like we would any summer squash like zucchini, with the skin.  Their flavor is quite mild so they can be used in a variety of ways.

The Incredible Edible Vine

We started harvesting the gourds quite small, and gradually increased their size without compromising quality.

The Incredible Edible Vine

You can almost watch them grow! By June 24 this one was around 27 inches (.7 meters).

This plant also provides endless greens. Several months ago I learned that the leaves of squash, pumpkins, and these gourds are very edible! This has opened a whole new world for us. In other countries people know they are edible and sell them in the markets. The vines produce more fruit when thinned out anyway, so twice a week I harvest many long shoots growing where I don’t want them. Since I can no longer reach the gourd vines high on the tower, I’ve been cutting more pumpkin greens growing on the back side of the windmill.

The Incredible Edible Vine

This pile of greens was harvested for the evening meal.

The Incredible Edible Vine

When Silver Oak climbed the tower to trim the upper vines he found a few gourds we'd missed.

The stems are edible but require lengthy cooking to not be stringy. So we use only the leaves, tiny developing buds, and about the last three inches (8 cm) of the tender tips for cooked greens. The rest are given to the goats who don’t like the fuzzy leaves anyway.

The Incredible Edible Vine

Gourd and pumpkin leaves, developing buds, and tips of vines used for cooked greens.

The gourd greens need only be simmered about 15 minutes to make delicious cooked greens easily substituted for spinach. I prefer it over spinach because it’s not as limp or slimy unless overcooked. We like it in pasta dishes, casseroles, mixed with other veggies over rice or potatoes, and as a side dish alone or mixed with the cooked gourds themselves. The fuzz disappears during cooking.

The Incredible Edible Vine

Here the greens and gourds are used as a side dish as well as one of the veggies in corn fritters.

Here is a very simple recipe for our family of eight:

  • 6-quart (5.5L) pot packed full of gourd greens (or squash or pumpkin greens)
  • One 18” (45.5 cm) or two 12” (30.5 cm) gourds or other summer squash
  • Water to cover bottom of pot (more if not using waterless cookware)
  • 1 Tbls olive oil
  • Salt to taste
  • Garlic to taste
  • 1 or 2 onions chopped (optional)
The Incredible Edible Vine

A pot full of greens ready to be cooked.

We use no chemicals near our plants, so we simply rinse the leaves, tear them into roughly 3×3” (8×8 cm) pieces, and stuff them into the pot. Like spinach, they greatly reduce in size during cooking, hence the “stuffing.” Add water, olive oil, salt and garlic to the pot to simmer for 15 minutes. Cut the gourds (and onions) into bite-sized pieces and add the last five minutes of cooking. When the gourd pieces are just barely tender it is done.

For fun we’re allowing the first gourd to mature to see how big it will grow. It is now 33½” (85 cm) long and 14” (35.5 cm) in diameter circumference (oops, I really goofed on that one) suspended from the tower by pantyhose. Any creative ideas how to use it after it’s fully dried? We will be sure to extract the seeds to share.  This plant not only provides lots of food, but practical materials as well.

The Incredible Edible Vine

The first gourd hangs majestically like a giant green pendant.

I forgot to mention that sometimes the leaves can make your arms itchy when handling them.  I’ve learned to wash any skin that comes in contact with them with soap and water after harvesting them, and it has always taken care of the itch right away.

Have you discovered any unusual plants that are high producers or have other remarkable qualities? I’d love to hear from you.

Blessings,

The Incredible Edible Vine

The Incredible Edible Vine

Linked w/Creative Home & Garden Hop, Natural Living Mama, Chicken Chick, Barn Hop, Eco-Kids, Growing Home, Backyard Farming Connection, Down Home Blog Hop, Rock n Share, Frugally Sustainable, Country Homemaker Hop, Homemaking, Wildcrafting Wednesday, Wicked Good Wednesday, Natural Living, Tasty Traditions, HomeAcre Hop, Green Thumb Thursday, Live Renewed, Simple Lives Thur., Old Fashioned Friday, Little House in the Suburbs, From the Farm Blog Fest, Farmgirl Friday, and Simply Natural Saturday.

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Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part III

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part III

Farmer Boy and Little Bird play in their "house"...an edible gourd growing up our windmill. It has grown so rapidly it now reaches to the top of the 21' tower and is providing us lots of delicious food.

This is the first time in central Florida I’ve experienced so much vibrant edible plant growth and color in my own yard in the intense heat of summer (and I’ve lived here 40 years…wow, that makes me feel kinda old!). I hope to share more soon about what we have done differently to make this possible, even before our greenhouse (shadehouse) is built. We moved here 20 months ago and the first year rarely saw butterflies or many songbirds. That has totally changed, and gradually our sugarsand scrubland is being transformed. We feel very blessed by the Lord and rejoice in His provision. I will soon share more about our summer gardening ventures.

I’ve enjoyed your feedback about growing various kinds of animal fodder and forage. While we are glad to share what we’ve learned and what is working so far, we greatly appreciate your input. Homegrown or local feed was historically the only option, but for us who grew up buying bagged feed from a store, it is a learning curve.

In Part One we discussed reasons for growing our own livestock feed and various fodder and forage possibilities. In Part Two I shared some fodder crops we’ve been blessed to start at little or no cost. Next we’ll explore alternatives to GMO alfalfa for dairy animals, commercial chicken feeds, and rabbit feed.

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part III

It's been so much fun to watch the herb garden grow with its delicious tastes and fragrances. This swallowtail must agree.

Dairy animals: To replace alfalfa, tragically nearly completely contaminated with GMOs in this country, we want alternatives to support milk production in our dairy goats and Jersey cow. This may require an adjustment in thinking. With the modern emphasis on quantity, the nutritional quality of milk has greatly suffered. With our own dairy animals we avoid hormone-laden, pasturized and homogenized milk with all its health issues. But what about feeding them grain and milking frequently for high production? Until a few years ago I had no idea there were health issues for both grain-fed livestock and humans consuming milk or meat from grain-fed animals. Consider Jo Robinson’s thought-provoking article.

Our family has come to prefer high-fat (omega-3), nutrient-dense milk and healthy long-living livestock over high milk production using GMO feeds and unnatural grains. If that rules out alfalfa, soy, corn and other grains, we must find alternatives. It’s ok if our goats or cow don’t give the maximum amount of milk possible, especially if that means they will be healthier in the process. Now to figure out how to make that happen.

Take note that cows are grazers and goats are foragers. I won’t pretend to have this nearly all figured out, but in Part Two of this series I mentioned various grazing, forage and fodder options. What plants are specifically good for dairy producers? Black raspberry grows wild here and we’ve already started lemongrass and mulberry, all of which promote milk production. What about other milk-stimulating herbs like dill, fenugreek, nettle, marshmallow root, or blessed thistle? We’re still learning what grows easily here. Fias Co Farm has a great list of what may or may not be edible for goats.  Another list by Kathy Voth suggests edible weeds and plants for cows.

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part III

Our nubian milk doe Jody with her triplets last December

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part III

Our roosters fertilize the eggs and protect the flock.

Chickens: Next let’s consider our chickens’ egg production. Choosing a natural diet of bugs and forage may mean fewer eggs than a diet of laying mash or pellets, but we prefer the healthier option. Chickens have different digestive systems than cows and goats (ruminants) so grains are naturally a part of their diet. We feed ours oats to avoid GMOs, but need a sustainable option we can grow in our subtropical climate.

We have plenty of room for our chickens to roam, so we are increasing the size of our flock for more eggs, since it costs less to feed 30 without laying mash than 10 with. We still need to find an alternative grain that we can grow at home (any ideas?). We made a black soldier fly composter which produces great high-protein grubs for our chickens. As we perfect it I hope to share more.

 Most garden herbs and many weeds are nutrient-dense and excellent for chickens. We give them our fruit and veggie rinds instead of composting them, as well as scraps from a produce market. The chickens’ digestive systems quickly “compost” it and we simply add their aged nitrogen-rich droppings to the garden.

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part III

The black soldier fly composter we made

One super food for chickens (and humans) is pumpkins. Last fall after Thanksgiving we got leftover pumpkins and winter squash from a produce market in town, and broke them open as needed for the chickens. Talk about orange-yolked eggs tasting far superior to organic “free-range” eggs from the store! We raised a batch of meat chickens on those free pumpkins and a little soaked oats, avoiding store-bought chick start. They grew slower, but the end result was GMO-free healthy chicken in the freezer we feel great about. Now we have pumpkins growing at various places on our property. You can’t grow too many pumpkins! If you’re in the south try an heirloom variety called seminole pumpkins. They are prolific and pest resistant even in our hot summers and will keep up to a year in storage.

What are your thoughts on increasing egg production using feed grown at home?

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part III

At left you can see a few half-grown chickens feasting on pumpkins last fall.

Rabbits: I love the free nutrient-dense rabbit food Evenstar raises for her rabbitry. She finds good rabbit weeds that thrive well in our climate with little effort, and grows them in pots and grow beds. These weeds include spanish needle, dollarweed, lambs quarters, redroot pigweed (amaranth), wood sorrel, clover, wild violets, false dandelion (Florida variety of dandelion), various grasses, young smilax, Florida betony, thistle, wild grape, and others we have yet to identify.

Well-fed rabbits generally won’t eat something harmful for them, so Evenstar finds weeds that grow easily on our property and gives them a little to see if they like it. Her rabbits also like moringa, pigeon pea leaves, hibiscus leaves, mulberry leaves, mints, and many other herbs in the herb garden, as well as black sunflower seeds. She places her rabbits out in portable pet fences during the day to forage on grass in the yard. One day she hopes they will be completely free of purchased rabbit feeds. What “rabbit weeds” do you have in your area?

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part III

Evenstar's bunnies enjoy sprouted oats

One key to successfully providing home-grown alternatives for our livestock: variety is better. Many plants contain traces of toxins or have medicinal properties beneficial in small amounts, but harmful in excess. The 10% rule is good: no more than 10% daily of any kind of plant. Evenstar gathers a variety for her rabbits every day, and we hope soon to have enough things growing to do the same for our goats and cow in addition to what grows in their paddocks.

I already mentioned one free source of food we utilize: thrown-out produce from a local produce market. Many times it is simply past its prime and not saleable for human consumption. Once or twice weekly Silver Oak brings home a large bin filled with pineapple and watermelon rinds, partially wilted lettuce, soft bananas, or other goodies the animals go crazy over. Even the dogs come begging for an over-ripe avocado or juicy grapes. When Silver Oak backs the pick-up to the gate the whole barnyard comes alive with anticipation for the upcoming feast.

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part III

The bountiful barnyard banquet!

Some day maybe we’ll have a precise formula for feeding our livestock sustainably, keeping them happy, healthy, productive, and parasite-free. More realistically, we will probably continue adapting to availability as seasons change and needs arise. We are still learning what works best in our climate for our particular animals’ needs. Again, I would love hearing your thoughts and ideas.

Blessings,

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part III

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part III

Linked w/Creative HomeAcre Hop, Barn Hop, Natural Living Mama, Chicken Chick, Eco-Kids, Growing Home, Backyard Farming Connection, Homestead Abundance, Down Home Blog Hop, Rock n Share, Frugally Sustainable, Seasonal Celebration, Country Garden Showcase, Country Homemaker Hop, Homemaking, Wildcrafting Wednesday, Wicked Good Wednesday, Natural Living, Tasty Traditions, HomeAcre Hop, Green Thumb Thursday, Live Renewed, Simple Lives Thur., Old Fashioned Friday, Little House in the Suburbs, Farm Fun Friday, From the Farm Blog Fest, Farmgirl Friday, Simply Natural Saturday, Great Blog Chain, and Eat Make Grow.

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Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part II

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part II

Ten pots of sugarcane we started with in December

In Part One of this series I reviewed reasons for growing our own fodder for our dairy goats, cow, horses, chickens and rabbits, and some beneficial plants for the job. Now I’ll share how we’ve started some of these crops quite inexpensively. Of course I must mention that I am not responsible for anything you feed your animals. Please verify that all feed or plants are safe for livestock consumption.

We have been very blessed to start several fodder crops with little or no expense. Last December at a Sugarcane Festival we asked a sugarcane grower lots of questions. This was the second time we had met him and his wife and inquired about the process. As we sampled syrup made from his cane, he appeared to enjoy explaining about planting, growing, and harvesting sugarcane. He was selling potted canes for planting but we weren’t ready for that project yet. The Lord must have known we needed a nudge because the kind grower told us at the end of the day he didn’t want the remaining potted plants and wondered if we could take them off his hands lest they go to waste. With an opportunity like that we decided it was time to start after all.

We took home ten potted sugarcane plants, divided them, and made cuttings as instructed. Using our composted soil we ended up with around 25 pots, each holding several canes. With sugarcane you simply cut the canes into two-foot sections, each with two “knuckles,” stick them in the ground, and each segment grows a new plant! They thrive in sandy soil, and the grassy stalks make excellent animal fodder. It is fast growing and once planted will come back every year with little care even if it freezes. Eventually we can learn to make our own cane syrup or raw sugar granules and molasses. How cool is that?

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part II

Cutting the canes to start more plants

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part II

We poked the cuttings into pots with soil

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part II

They stayed in these pots till two weeks ago

Farmer Boy watered the potted canes during the dry winter as they got established. We watched new green shoots poking out of the “knuckles,” but pretty much forgot about them in our busyness. Some froze and died off. Finally a few weeks ago we scheduled a big transplanting day to plant out or move blueberry bushes, a pomegranate tree, magnolia tree, hydrangea bush, chaya bush, acerola cherry tree, mulberry bush, moringa trees, bamboo, areca palms, a lemon tree, and a jasmine vine.

By late afternoon we were finally ready to tackle planting the sugarcane when it started raining. Knowing it was now or never, Silver Oak and I worked through the drizzle until around 7:30pm. The rain cooled us but made us a drenched and dirty sight to behold! Evenstar appeared with the camera for a good laugh, saying we looked like field hands in a third world country. I put a plastic bag over my hat to keep rain off my glasses so I could see, adding to the comical look. We wore our rattiest clothing which went into the trash when we were done. It was quite a memory-maker, and our sugarcane patch is planted, complete with a trench between two long rows for irrigating. Now we are watching it grow!

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part II

Farmer Boy proudly hauls the new plants to the field

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part II

Next year we'll hopefully add rows of new cuttings from this year's plants. Notice the trailer behind the mower with the tank of water Silver Oak rigged up for irrigating.

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part II

What a sight we made in the rain!

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part II

Like my "rainhat?"

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part II

Farmer Boy waters the sugarcane with the irrigation rig

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part II

Chaya, or spinach tree

The other big crop we just landed on was chaya. At ECHO last month we purchased one small bush hoping to multiply it with cuttings when it matured. Last week Silver Oak did landscaping for a Puerto Rican family, and guess what was in their back yard? A huge chaya bush! They wanted it trimmed way back so he brought home lots of mature cuttings! Chaya also grows well in sandy soil and roots easily with a woody branch stuck in moist soil. We filled thirty big pots with composted soil and cuttings and are attempting to grow them.

Chaya, also known as spinach tree, is one of those true survival plants as it is extremely productive, drought resistant, fast growing, requires little care, and is highly nutritious. The leaves are more nutrient-dense than spinach, but they MUST be cooked or fried several minutes before consuming to remove toxins (cyanide). Some cook it 20 minutes, but those associated with ECHO say five minutes is sufficient. It is used as a cooked green, but NOT EATEN RAW. Livestock tolerates it raw if it is not more than 10% of total food intake.

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part II

Our new starts of chaya seem to be thriving

Another free crop was the many wild morning glory seedlings (weeds) we found growing all over our garden area, so we transplanted nearly 30 of them along the edge of the raised forage bed so they will reach through the fence and into the pasture for the goats to nibble on. They’re planted three feet from the fence so should be well established by the time they grow through the fence. It’s an experiment, so we’ll see what happens, but we expect the goats will not allow them to ever get very large, and it will comprise only a tiny part of their total diet. (Note: Some morning glory varieties reportedly have adverse effects on goats, especially pregnant ones, if eaten in too large a quantity. Check on the species before feeding.)

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part II

Wild morning glory vines grow on the side of the fodder bed next to the mulberry bush

In part three of this series I will present some alternatives to GMO alfalfa for dairy animals, as well as laying mash or pellets and chick start for egg layers and fryers. I will include some tips from Evenstar’s rabbitry for raising rabbits naturally and sustainably as well. I greatly welcome your input for additional ideas or cautions regarding raising our own livestock feeds.

Blessings,

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part II

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part II

Linked w/Creative HomeAcre Hop, Barn Hop, Natural Living Mama, Chicken Chick, Eco-Kids, Growing Home, Backyard Farming Connection, Homestead Abundance, Down Home Blog Hop, Rock n Share, Frugally Sustainable, Seasonal Celebration, Country Garden Showcase, Country Homemaker Hop, Homemaking, Wildcrafting Wednesday, Wicked Good Wednesday, Natural Living, Tasty Traditions, HomeAcre Hop, Green Thumb Thursday, Live Renewed, Simple Lives Thur., Old Fashioned Friday, Little House in the Suburbs, Farm Fun Friday, From the Farm Blog Fest, Farmgirl Friday, Simply Natural Saturday, Great Blog Chain, and Eat Make Grow.

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Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part I

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part I

The front and back of our deck is now screened...it makes a big improvement in the look of the front of our house, although the carpentry work is still not done...

Things have been moving right along here on the off-grid homestead. Between building and planting an herb garden, building raised garden rows for fall planting (we’re in Central FL), planting edible shrubs and trees, laying sod, building fence, installing gutter for rainwater collection, and the learning curve from doing many new things, I’ve been so swamped I can hardly think about blog posts.

In April we were diligently focusing on back paddock fencing when we started getting nasty bites from yellow flies on our deck (our main living area during the day). I react badly to yellow fly bites, and was miserably laid up with infected swollen feet and ankles. One day we killed 15 of the wretched blood-sucking creatures on our deck. The end framing and screening suddenly became priority and paddock fencing halted. Our deck is now screened and I’ve gotten no bites since! I feel at home again. Silver Oak did a wonderful job at something completely new. It’s beautiful!

Meanwhile, in our ever-present quest to become more sustainable and less dependent on store-bought goods, we have been working slowly toward growing our own animal feed. This is not only preparation for an interruption in animal feed availability, but will also eventually greatly lower our feed bill and give healthier alternatives to the genetically modified and chemically laden grains and undesirable fillers present in purchased feeds.

For several years we have not purchased GMO feeds for our livestock, but have found store-bought alternatives expensive or incomplete. For our goats, cow, horses, chickens, and rabbits we’ve used a combination of simple ingredients, including hay, alfalfa cubes and soaked or sprouted oats, but we really need something more sustainable long-term.

We are far from having a complete plan yet, but we’re taking steps. We hope to make our back eight acres into four separate paddocks for rotating the animals, keeping parasites at bay and allowing forage and pasture to grow. Currently our animals freely roam over this area, largely wooded or covered with palmettos. The center fence row is cleared, fence posts laid out, and birdseed purchased to broadcast in open areas for forage. That project was temporarily abandoned when the yellow flies struck.

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part I

Our first fledgling mulberry bush for future livestock fodder, started from a cutting from our former landlord's tree

Meanwhile we’re planting perennials good for livestock forage. To save money we started small with seeds or single plants we can multiply with cuttings. Our property is almost pure sugar sand, so we’ve hauled in loads of decomposed wood chips from tree trimmers. By adding aged manure and old hay scooped from our barnyard and Evenstar’s rabbitry we’ve been building lots of raised rows and beds on top of the sand. We are encountering earthworms in loamy soil where there was only sand less than a year ago. It can be done!

Some perennials we have started for fodder include sugarcane, moringa, chaya, mulberry, leucaena, pigeon pea, cassava, sweet potato vines, and morning glory. The leaves and stems make great fodder, especially if a variety is used. The tricky part is learning the level of protein and other nutrients in plants so the livestock’s needs are met.

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part I

We purchased this chaya bush, also known as spinach tree, on our recent trip to ECHO. It can be up to 10% of the total diet of livestock, and if cooked is a nutrient dense green for human consumption.

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part I

A moringa tree planted last fall (about 12-18 inches) flourishes in our front yard...now about five ft tall, and that is with heavy regular pruning or it would be much taller. Moringa is a green super food, extremely fast growing. We've started more from seeds for livestock fodder.

As I’ve previously mentioned, planting perennials rather than just seasonal crops greatly simplifies things. Perennials live longer than two years, and are usually easily reproduced with cuttings or by dividing rather than just seeds. They are often more nutritious, grow and reproduce many years, and take minimal care just as any landscaping shrub.

Many perennials for our animals can also be eaten by our family, raw in salads or as cooked greens. They can be incorporated into landscaping and most folks have no clue they are edible. Soon we hope to add perennial peanut, comfrey, serecea lespedeza (a legume that kills parasites), and other perennials for animal feed, as well as velvet bean and various grasses in the paddocks that will hopefully continue to grow and reproduce on their own once established.

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part I

The beginnings of a fodder bed with young mulberry, chaya, moringa trees, and morning glory vines, with room for starting more of the same as we can

Since we live in a subtropical climate we have more options for growing fodder year-round. But some of these plants can be grown in pots and brought indoors in colder climates, using a small sunroom or greenhouse, or by replanting every year as an annual from cuttings or divisions. Most of the plants we’re starting are fast growing.

Making silage to store fodder for nonproductive times is another option which may actually increase nutritional value with probiotics. On our recent trip to ECHO and learning about many DIY projects, we saw a small homemade silo made from galvanized flat iron sheets. There is much to learn about making silage. I would love to hear your imput about this, as well as any other ideas for sustainable feed for livestock.

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part I

The homemade silo at ECHO

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part I

Sprouted oats Evenstar grows for her rabbits

In Evenstar’s rabbitry she has learned to utilize many wild edibles growing on our property in addition to store-bought rabbit feed, black sunflower seeds, hay, and oat grass which she sprouts for them. She’s planted some of the rabbits’ favorite weeds near their hutches to make it easy to grab some every day. She considers this to be a very important part of their diet based on research she has done. Our chickens are free roaming on eight acres so they get lots of insects, grubs and vegetation. We also are raising black soldier fly larvae for them, but that is for another post.

In Part Two I will share how we have been able to start some of the fodder crops I mentioned very inexpensively.

Blessings,

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part I

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part I

Linked w/Creative HomeAcre Hop, Barn Hop, Natural Living Mama, Chicken Chick, Eco-Kids, Growing Home, Backyard Farming Connection, Homestead Abundance, Down Home Blog Hop, Rock n Share, Frugally Sustainable, Seasonal Celebration, Country Garden Showcase, Country Homemaker Hop, Homemaking, Wildcrafting Wednesday, Wicked Good Wednesday, Natural Living, Tasty Traditions, HomeAcre Hop, Green Thumb Thursday, Live Renewed, Simple Lives Thur., Old Fashioned Friday, Little House in the Suburbs, Farm Fun Friday, From the Farm Blog Fest, Farmgirl Friday, Simply Natural Saturday, Great Blog Chain, and Eat Make Grow.

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DIY Technologies Using Local and Recycled Materials

DIY Technologies Using Local and Recycled Materials

This wood-heated oven is made from two large barrels

It has been a long time since I wrote an update about what is going on around our homestead. The truth is we have been so busy redoing fences and putting up new ones; making new grow beds; planting perennials, trees, and some annuals; enclosing our deck with screen to keep the yellow flies from biting us; moving our huge rainwater tank into place; and other projects. I’ve found it hard to keep up with the blog. I do hope to have a post with pictures to show our progress very soon.

I promised to share some of the simple technologies we learned on our recent trip to ECHO; things which can benefit anyone wanting to live more sustainably or independently. The more we learn now about simple ways of making things work with common materials, the more ready we are for unexpected interruptions in our current lifestyle. First I’ll touch on cooking without modern conveniences.

Have you ever thought of making an oven from 55 gallon drums? Here is one made from two steel drums, one inside the other, lying on their sides on concrete blocks. The outer drum is cut open and the ends cut off to create a shell around the inner drum with air space between. The ends are sealed shut with a mud mix of some kind. Heat from the fire below enters the space between the two drums and circulates around the inner one, providing very even heat. Smoke escapes through the chimney coming out of the top of the outer drum. A fire is built under the oven in the back. Sand inside the oven under the baking rack is an insulator and heat retainer.

With this oven you can bake much like with a conventional oven, with high even heat and no smoke or fire in the baking chamber. I’m quite sure with a little creativity it could also be made to look pleasing as well.

DIY Technologies Using Local and Recycled Materials

The back of the oven, displaying the fire pit underneath

DIY Technologies Using Local and Recycled Materials

The front with the lid opened...notice the sand under the rack

I’m afraid I can’t explain the next one very well, but cow manure is used to make methane gas using three plastic 55 gallon drums and some other easily obtainable materials. After fermenting in these barrels, the end product is fuel for a cooking stove. How cool is that?

DIY Technologies Using Local and Recycled Materials

Methane gas made from cow manure in the barrels heats the burner

You may remember the rocket stove we built earlier this year. ECHO demonstrates many applications of rocket stove technology. Rocket stoves are fuel-efficient, wood-burning cook stoves, designed to efficiently burn small pieces of wood. They are easily built using available, low cost materials such as metal containers, stovepipes, clay tiles, fire brick, or other resources. The short, insulated chimney becomes a stove top for cooking. The “elbow” shape of the stove and a metal “skirt” around the cooking pot contribute to its efficiency. With this technology it is even possible to make an oven.

DIY Technologies Using Local and Recycled Materials

Our 16 brick rocket stove

DIY Technologies Using Local and Recycled Materials

Basic rocket stove technology per ECHO

DIY Technologies Using Local and Recycled Materials

Various rocket stove applications

DIY Technologies Using Local and Recycled Materials

A deluxe two-burner rocket stove

DIY Technologies Using Local and Recycled Materials

A close-up of a metal "skirt" around a pot which greatly increases the efficiency of the rocket stove

DIY Technologies Using Local and Recycled Materials

A large clay oven is built over a rocket stove...notice the teapot on the opening at the top which is actually the chimney

DIY Technologies Using Local and Recycled Materials

An intern feeds small sticks into the rocket stove to heat the oven...it takes a little work to get it hot

Water filters can also be made from readily available materials such as sand and buckets or trash cans. One filter they demostrate is called a Sawyer filter made with purchased lifetime hollow fiber filters. It removes bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and down to .02 micron-sized particles.

DIY Technologies Using Local and Recycled Materials

The Sawyer water filter

A very simple way to disinfect water is by exposing it to sunlight in a bottle for six hours. Solar radiation and increased water temperature destroy pathogens. SODIS stands for Solar Disinfection for Water. I’d use glass bottles to avoid toxins leached from plastic.

DIY Technologies Using Local and Recycled Materials

SODIS - a simple water purification method

Many more things were demonstrated. Homemade solar ovens and dehydrators, handmade garden tools made from material scraps, simple moisture-checking techniques, homemade grain silo, PVC water pumps, rainwater catchment systems, and pedal-powered or treadle-powered equipment are just a few more things we saw. It was enough to make one’s head spin.

DIY Technologies Using Local and Recycled Materials

Homemade solar dehydrators

DIY Technologies Using Local and Recycled Materials

Simple corn shellers

One of my favorite little things was a solar liter light, made from a two liter bottle filled with water and a bit of chlorine to magnify the sun’s rays. Installed in a roof to catch the sun’s rays it produces the equivelant of a 50 watt lightbulb. In a dark shed or room needing light when the sun is shining, it may be an valuable option some day!

DIY Technologies Using Local and Recycled Materials

A two liter bottle with water installed in a metal roof

DIY Technologies Using Local and Recycled Materials

This is the effect on the room below when the sun is shining

I didn’t even mention all the uses we saw for bamboo. It’s amazing how many creative things can be done with it, such as conveying water and making carts, buildings, trellises, fencing, lattice, and so much more. We started a few varieties from shoots we harvested at some of Silver Oak’s customers’ houses, and we can’t wait to use them some day. A clump of bamboo cools the air passing through it, so we want it growing near our windows. But that is for another post!

Blessings,

DIY Technologies Using Local and Recycled Materials

DIY Technologies Using Local and Recycled Materials

Linked w/Creative HomeAcre Hop, Barn Hop, Natural Living Mama, Chicken Chick, Eco-Kids, Growing Home, Backyard Farming Connection, Homestead Abundance, Down Home Blog Hop, Rock n Share, Frugally Sustainable, Seasonal Celebration, Country Garden Showcase, Country Homemaker Hop, Homemaking, Wildcrafting Wednesday, Wicked Good Wednesday, Natural Living, Tasty Traditions, HomeAcre Hop, Green Thumb Thursday, Live Renewed, Simple Lives Thur., Old Fashioned Friday, Little House in the Suburbs, Farm Fun Friday, From the Farm Blog Fest, Farmgirl Friday, Simply Natural Saturday, Great Blog Chain, and Eat Make Grow.

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ECHO – Alternative Gardening Methods

ECHO   Alternative Gardening Methods

With my five daughters at a recent ladies brunch

If you are a woman I hope you had a great Mother’s Day last week, whether you are a biological mother, a mother through love, service, or adoption, or you have children waiting in heaven. I was blessed to grow up with a wonderful godly mother, which is priceless. I’m blessed with a loving mother-in-law and other godly women who have invested in me and in our family. And God has blessed me with six beautiful children here on earth, some through birth and some through adoption, as well as five in heaven. I also enjoy being “mother” to others as opportunities arise; like last week as we cared for two girls for friends of ours. Motherhood is a blessed calling! I hope you don’t mind my proudly showing off the children God has given us, in spite of the many years it seemed like multiple children would never be a reality. I am truly a blessed mother!

ECHO   Alternative Gardening Methods

Our six blessings: back - Butterfly (10), Evenstar (18), Blossom (13), Honey Bun (11); front - Farmer Boy (7), Little Bird (8)...matching outfits compliments of a sweet "mother" in our lives

Now down to the business of what we learned on our recent trip to ECHO about gardening in less-than-ideal situations. In many places around the world people are dependent largely on food they can grow, but they have an extreme climate, poor soil or terrain, limited space or time, physical limitations, or few resources available. ECHO is all about helping individuals around the world learn to maximize their time, space, and available resources to produce the most possible nutritious food with the greatest possible efficiency. Sounds like something we can use!

Obviously water is a major component for growing food. On display were several different models of water pumps made from upcycled or easily obtained materials. One pump uses small scoops tied to a cable strung on two old bycicle wheels. Cranking the pipe handle lowers the cups all the way into the shallow well and brings them back up with water. The water dumps into a pipe running to a transparent inverted water jug so you can see the water flow. It must be cranked enthusiastically or the water runs out of the little cups before it gets to the jug. From there the water fills two 55 gallon drums raised high enough to allow gravity to take the water out to the garden when needed. It is amazing!

ECHO   Alternative Gardening Methods

Honey Bun cranks the pump made of upcycled materials

Beside that contraption is another treadle-type pump that runs water directly into the garden. This particular garden has little ditches running down the center and around it with gaps at strategic places for water to run into the grow beds. Sandbags are used as “valves” to direct the water flow. How else would you irrigate if you didn’t have access to hoses and much plumbing?

ECHO   Alternative Gardening Methods

Farmer Boy takes a turn pumping water into the ditches with the treadle pump

ECHO   Alternative Gardening Methods

Sandbags control the flow of water

Companion planting is utilized in various ways. Here an avocado tree is growing on a mound so torrential summer rains won’t “drown” it. The mound is covered with perennial peanut vines which is a nitrogen fixing plant (adds nitrogen to the soil) to feed the tree. The vine also discourages soil erosion.  Too bad it doesn’t produce edible peanuts.

ECHO   Alternative Gardening Methods

Perennial peanut is used as a ground cover and nitrogen fix for this avocado tree

A special drip irrigation system is made using a bucket suspended from a tripod. Drip lines run from the bucket and into the garden. Gravity takes water from the bucket to the grow beds. Screen covers the top of the bucket to keep dirt out.

ECHO   Alternative Gardening Methods

An intern fills the bucket drip system with water

ECHO   Alternative Gardening Methods

A simple kitchen garden

ECHO   Alternative Gardening Methods

Terraces on a hillside create flat growing areas and prevent soil erosion

Rooftops may be the only space some people have to garden. Roofs can’t generally handle the extra weight of adding much soil so other options are used. Many plants can grow in little soil if they are fed the nutrients they need in other ways. One idea utilizes an inverted bucket filled with water and organic fertilizer. The lid, now at the bottom, has small holes allowing the mixture to escape slowly into the grow bed to feed the plants. Some beds used a little soil and hay, others used cardboard, but my favorite used old carpet (hopefully out-gassed) to wick the water to the plants and hold the moisture. I would have never thought of such a thing for growing food!

ECHO   Alternative Gardening Methods

The inverted bucket slowly releases water and nutrients to the planting medium (such as carpet) in the bed through small holes in the lid

ECHO   Alternative Gardening Methods

Plants growing from bags

ECHO   Alternative Gardening Methods

Vertical space is utilized by planting in pallets, gradually raising them to an upright position

Elderly or physically impaired people find gardening difficult, but there are ways around that as well. An entire garden is set up on tables, requiring no bending over. It even has a few rabbits in a hutch to provide natural fertilizer.

ECHO   Alternative Gardening MethodsAs mentioned in my previous post, we learned a lot about growing perennials rather than just the annual vegetables many of us are accustomed to in gardening. Perennials are generally planted once and grow for many years, producing for long periods of time. They require less maintanance in the long run, similar to regular landscaping shrubs. Often they are more nutritious than annual vegetables that must be replanted every growing season. Anyone serious about growing their own food should consider investing time and effort into various edible perennials, such as fruit and nut trees, vines and shrubs, and the types of fodder plants mentioned in my last post. Some take more time initially to start bearing, but have longer lasting results.

ECHO   Alternative Gardening Methods

Cranberry Hibiscus is a pretty perennial bush with delicious tender leaves...good for salads or garden snacking

For annuals or perennials, most grow beds at ECHO are raised but have no wooden frames. Expensive lumber is not an option for many. It is much easier, less time consuming, and more cost effective to build raised beds or rows simply by mounding the soil and composted additives or layers of organic matter, leaving walkways between.  And of course, this is a no-till method of gardening that does not destroy the living organisms in the soil.  Once the rows are built, they are maintained simply by adding organic matter as necessary between planting seasons.

ECHO   Alternative Gardening Methods

Raised rows to control moisture and soil content, using no lumber or tilling

Mulching is a vital part of healthy growing beds.  A thick layer of mulch such as hay, straw, or wood chips (shredded trees and leaves) is always used in growing applications at ECHO. Mulch protects the soil and beds or rows from erosion, feeds the soil as it breaks down, holds moisture in the soil, protects from extreme temperatures, and keeps weeds from growing.

Soon I’ll share some of the simple technologies demonstrated at ECHO built from local or upcycled materials. We’re having so much fun out in the yard trying to apply some of the things we learned, it’s hard to find time to write posts. I’ll try to be back soon!

Blessings,

ECHO   Alternative Gardening Methods

ECHO   Alternative Gardening Methods

Linked w/Creative HomeAcre Hop, Barn Hop, Natural Living Mama, Chicken Chick, Eco-Kids, Growing Home, Backyard Farming Connection, Homestead Abundance, Down Home Blog Hop, Rock n Share, Frugally Sustainable, Seasonal Celebration, Country Garden Showcase, Country Homemaker Hop, Homemaking, Wildcrafting Wednesday, Wicked Good Wednesday, Natural Living, Tasty Traditions, HomeAcre Hop, Green Thumb Thursday, Live Renewed, Simple Lives Thur., Old Fashioned Friday, Little House in the Suburbs, Farm Fun Friday, From the Farm Blog Fest, Farmgirl Friday, Simply Natural Saturday, Great Blog Chain, and Eat Make Grow.

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ECHO – Growing Massive Amounts of Food the Fast Way

ECHO – Growing Massive Amounts of Food the Fast Way

ECHO - "Fighting World Hunger"

As our country faces economic collapse, we search for more efficient and economical ways to feed our family and livestock. Moving to our off-grid homestead has been a major learning experience as we look to become more sustainable and less dependent on the fragile food transport system. We are also increasingly concerned about the growing levels of toxins in purchased foods as GMO farming monopolizes our food sources.

Some countries, like Cuba, have learned from necessity how to grow their own food abundantly and healthfully. We can learn much from them. But there are opportunities to see it demonstrated first-hand without leaving the country. One way is to visit ECHO (Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization) in southwest Florida, dedicated to honoring God through providing sustainable hunger solutions to the world’s poor. We may not be considered poor (yet), but we can certainly benefit from what they teach about sustainable agricultural practices in other countries.

Last week we took a field trip to Ft. Myers and visited the Global Farm at ECHO. What an enlightening experience! We also took their Appropriate Technology tour which demonstrates simple technologies made from local or recycled materials that we could learn to make ourselves, such as a PVC water pump, simple rocket stove, homemade solar dehydrator, sand water filtration system, and more. But that is for another post! Now I will attempt to share a bit about their global farm.

Our first stop on the tour was the fish and duck pond, fenced in to keep the ducks in and predators out. A duck house was built over the water so the duck droppings fall into the water to feed the vegetation, which feeds the talapia. The ducks go into the house to eat, drink, lay eggs, and roost at night. The droppings are swept out of holes in the floor.

ECHO – Growing Massive Amounts of Food the Fast Way

The duck house sits over the pond

ECHO – Growing Massive Amounts of Food the Fast Way

The duck droppings fall into the pond

Next were the rice paddies. They are experimenting and training students to grow rice using the SRI method (System of Rice Intensification) which increases productivity of rice over traditional methods. They are using several methods and comparing the results.

ECHO – Growing Massive Amounts of Food the Fast Way

The rice paddies

ECHO – Growing Massive Amounts of Food the Fast Way

Planting the rice

Of great interest to us were the raised rows of perennial fodder crops (mostly trees and shrubs) to feed their goats, chickens, and rabbits. In return the livestock provide meat, milk, eggs, and manure fertilizer for the garden. The fodder crops used are usually fast growing, nutrient dense, and easy to grow. They are grown on wide raised rows and pruned to a height for easy regular harvesting. Our favorites were moringa, mulberry, chaya, leucaena, and comfrey.

ECHO – Growing Massive Amounts of Food the Fast Way

Rows of fodder crops

ECHO – Growing Massive Amounts of Food the Fast Way

Young moringa trees in the background

Moringa trees deserve a post all their own, as we have been growing two since last fall and are already reaping benefits. Its leaves are a green super food, containing seven times the vitamin C of oranges, and twice the protein in milk. It is very fast growing, but can be maintained at a manageable height. We recently planted seeds in pots. Now I can’t wait to plant them out.

We have a small mulberry tree in a pot, waiting to be planted near the chicken yard so the chickens can eat the berries that drop. But at ECHO we saw how to plant a hedge of mulberry trees (bushes) and harvest the new growth regularly as fodder for the livestock.

Chaya is another very productive bushy tree also called the spinach tree. Its leaves can be cooked and eaten like spinach. Raw they are toxic to humans but not to livestock.

Leucaena is a nitrogen fixing legume that makes excellent livestock fodder. A reader of this blog kindly sent me some seeds (thanks, Kathy!), and I hope to plant them this week!

ECHO – Growing Massive Amounts of Food the Fast Way

Leucaena

I knew comfrey as a bone-knitting herb that heals wounds and injuries quickly, but didn’t know it was also beneficial as animal feed. I have seeds for this as well, but am taking my time to plan where it should grow permanently as it is nearly impossible to eradicate from an area once established.

ECHO – Growing Massive Amounts of Food the Fast Way

Comfrey

There were other perennials we brought home (or we already had) because they produce salad greens or other edibles year round, year after year, especially in a warm climate like ours. Here is a list of them:

ECHO – Growing Massive Amounts of Food the Fast Way

Farmer Boy eats Cranberry Hibiscus

Cranberry Hibiscus – A burgundy-colored bush with fruity-tasting tender shoots and leaves. Our tour guide invited us to try it, and the children had a hard time stopping. Farmer Boy (seven yrs old) especially took a liking to it. It also grows pretty edible flowers.

Katuk – A shrub whose leaves, flowers, and small fruits are tasty in a salad or cooked. The flavor reminds us of peas or almonds.

Edible Hibiscus – This fast growing bush grows tall and produces large leaves used like lettuce, large enough to cover a piece of bread in a sandwich.

Sweet Potato – We brought home two of their varieties, and can’t wait to see how they produce.

Barbados (Acerola) Cherry – Grows little tangy and mildly sweet fruits that contain an adult daily dose of vitamin C in each berry. Imagine growing our own vitamin C “pills!”

Malabar Spinach (red) – A fast growing and productive succulent vine. Not a true spinach, its pretty red and green leaves have a mild flavor.

Okinawa “Purple” Spinach – Also not a real spinach but a pretty purple and green plant tasting much like it (I think it’s better). We’ve had this growing in a protected area of our backyard since last fall, and it is an attractive and meaty addition to salads.

Perennials take less time and work than annual vegetables, and often they contain more nutrients. On our new homestead we’re focusing first on getting these longer lasting and higher producing plants established in our edible landscaping, after which we will turn our attention to the annuals. As time goes on I hope to report on how well these plants produce for our family.

In another post I will share some alternative methods of gardening and irrigating demonstrated at ECHO.

Blessings,

ECHO – Growing Massive Amounts of Food the Fast Way

ECHO – Growing Massive Amounts of Food the Fast Way

Linked w/Creative HomeAcre Hop, Barn Hop, Natural Living Mama, Chicken Chick, Eco-Kids, Growing Home, Backyard Farming Connection, Homestead Abundance, Down Home Blog Hop, Rock n Share, Frugally Sustainable, Seasonal Celebration, Country Garden Showcase, Country Homemaker Hop, Homemaking, Wildcrafting Wednesday, Wicked Good Wednesday, Natural Living, Tasty Traditions, HomeAcre Hop, Green Thumb Thursday, Live Renewed, Simple Lives Thur., Old Fashioned Friday, Little House in the Suburbs, Farm Fun Friday, From the Farm Blog Fest, Farmgirl Friday, Simply Natural Saturday, Great Blog Chain, and Eat Make Grow.

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Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

Our new windmill sings in the breeze

We dug our well last year with the goal of using a windmill pump. Our idea of living sustainably means we aren’t dependent on the availability of fossil fuels or grid power to exist. Since installing solar panels, we normally run our generator only about 30 minutes daily to fill our water tanks. Our inexpensive electric jet pump takes too much “juice” to start with our simple power system. If we aren’t dependent on that pump, we’ll eliminate the need to use our generator.

Since water is the number one survival need, we’re prioritizing securing several good water sources. All other preparations will be pointless within three days with no access to water. So last year we used a tax refund to purchase an eight foot (2.4 meter) O’Brock windmill on a 21 foot (6.4 meter) tower. We just didn’t have the time to get it set up till recently.

Silver Oak got a call from Mr. O’Brock in OH several months ago wondering if he would be interested in putting up another windmill close to our house. Once we got ours installed, Silver Oak would be the “expert” in the area. That appealed to Silver Oak as he is always looking to realize our goal of working from home or very near home rather than commuting to town for landscaping. And this was a motivation to get our own windmill up quickly.

In February Silver Oak started assembling the tower of our windmill, and dug the four big holes by hand to place the legs into. Without the aid of heavy equipment we had to come up with different ideas than the instructions gave at times, so there was quite a bit of trial and error. The base of the tower was lowered by hand into the holes (with lots of grunts!).

Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

We initially helped support the bottom of the tower while Silver Oak assembled it

Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

The four-foot-deep holes were dug by hand

Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

When the base was lowered into the holes the rest of the tower was assembled

Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

The tower and platform are completed

Once the tower was completely constructed, leveled, and squared, the concrete was mixed and poured into the holes to tie it down. There are quite a few O’Brock windmills in central Florida and none were lost to the hurricanes several years ago. Their secret is a strong foundation.

Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

16 bags of concrete were mixed and added to each hole

Next came the assembly of the windmill engine and tail. Silver Oak did this just before turning his attention to the windmill on the neighboring ranch in March.

Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

Assembling the engine, tail, and vane

The ranch’s windmill was the same size as ours, but with a taller tower. The ranch had a back-hoe to dig the holes, hired a truck to bring the concrete, and rented a crane to set the windmill on the tower. That made it easy.

Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

On the nearby ranch Silver Oak assembled the base of the tower, then put the mill together while waiting for the concrete truck to arrive

Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

The next day the crane came to lift the mill up onto the completed 33' tower

Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

With ease the crane swung it up and into place

Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

Silver Oak had to be up there to guide it onto the mast pipe

But it wasn’t easy to set up everything on the top of that 33 foot (10 meter) tower! It was a fairly windy day and we naively had not thought about using a safety harness for such a job. Silver Oak was extremely careful about every move he made up there that day, and resolved to do the next job with the proper harness. I went at noon to take pictures and it made me so nervous to see him crawling around on that thing that I couldn’t leave till he was done. I stayed and prayed, and helped with what I could from the ground.

Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

After the mill was bolted and oil poured into the engine housing, the cover was put in place...see why my heart was seizing up?

Farmer Boy went with me so he got in on the action. This windmill was installed to run an air compressor to aerate the ranch’s pond rather than pump water. It was situated next to a rustic cabin and when it was done it made a handsome sight.

Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

The aerator pump was connected

Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

Silver Oak and Farmer Boy pose proudly beneath Silver Oak's first completed windmill

Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

The ranch's cabin with the windmill in the background...a handsome sight!

Once the neighboring ranch’s windmill was up Silver Oak was itching to finish ours. But we didn’t have the funds to rent a crane to lift the 300 lb (136 kg) mill up to the top of the tower. And you can’t just hang 300 lbs on your back and carry it up there! So Silver Oak had to do what all true homesteaders must learn to do…get creative!

He racked his brain and prayed for ideas, and looked at materials we have to work with. He ended up investing in a $40 chain hoist from Harbor Freight to lift the engine. But what was he going to hang it from, and how was he going to swing the engine around and set it in place once he got it up there? He came up with this:

Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

The pieces used to assemble a lift support for the chain hoist

With the wood he built a little platform for the pole, with a hole to seat it into. Then he dropped the t-pole into the straight pole so the arm could reach out and hold the chain hoist, then swivel around to place the engine and tail right where he wanted it. The finished product is officially called a “gin pole.” It took a lot of tries and adjustments, and was slow going, but he finally got it lifted up and swung into place. That was grounds for lots of cheering!  It is so valuable to know how to do it without a crane!

Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

Mounting the t-pole on top of the tower

Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

The chain hoist is hung from the t-pole

Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

The chain hoist lifts in 10 ft increments, so scaffolding and planks across tower trusses held the engine between increments. I kept the engine from beating against the tower. That was as high as I went!

Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

Preparing to lift the engine the final segment of the journey to the top of the tower

Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

Almost there!

Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

At the top, Silver Oak swung the t-post around, and lowered the engine right onto the mast pipe! It was done!

When the engine was mounted he carried the wheel up in six different sections, installing one piece at a time. It made the job much more manageable. And, this tme, he used a safety harness.

Rather than purchase an expensive harness which he didn’t have time to wait for or money to buy, he studied others and made one himself. He combined webbing rated for a 5000 lb load, a chain, bolts, and heavy duty seatbelt type straps, all which he already had on hand. We all felt more at ease when he started using that. We’re thankful for God’s protection.

Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

Silver Oak's safety harness

Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

Testing it by hanging on the side of the deck

Completing the windmill felt like a major accomplishment, which it WAS! We dug a trench for plumbing from our shallow well in the front yard to the windmill near the back. We hope to some day dig another well closer to the windmill, but for now we’ll pump from the original well.

Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

Our view of our handsome addition from the front yard

Unfortunately other priorities (like planting pasture seed and building my new herb garden) have crowded out finishing the plumbing from the windmill to our water tanks, but it’s a relief to know the big job is done and we have the components on hand to complete it.

Blessings,

Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

Linked w/Creative HomeAcre Hop, Barn Hop, Natural Living Mama, Chicken Chick, Growing Home, Backyard Farming Connection, Homestead Abundance, Down Home Blog Hop, Frugally Sustainable, Seasonal Celebration, Country Garden Showcase, Country Homemaker Hop, Homemaking, Wildcrafting Wednesday, Wicked Good Wednesday, Natural Living, Tasty Traditions, HomeAcre Hop, Live Renewed, Simple Lives Thur., Little House in the Suburbs, Farm Girl Blog Fest, and Farmgirl Friday.

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Absolute Preparedness

Absolute Preparedness

Visiting Colonial Williamsburg in 2010

We’ve had a preparedness mindset for a number of years now, working toward becoming sustainable and relearning basic life skills lost to our generation.  We educate our children to prepare them for life…a life that will likely be different than the way we grew up.  But no matter how long or hard we prepare, the reality is this: one disaster could wipe out our preparations overnight.  Then what?

It takes lots of time, energy and money to store enough supplies, learn basic skills, and become sustainable enough to meet the needs of our family in a time of trouble.  What happens if we improve our lives or survive a few more years, only to die of sickness or be killed in a disaster?  Seriously!  Inevitably we WILL face THE END! 

Will a stash of food and supplies matter when we die?  One split second…and we’re done.  

While lack of finances may slow us down in preparing, it doesn’t cost one cent to prepare to die and meet God.  

Absolute Preparedness

We just put up a windmill so we aren't dependent on fuel for water...more on that soon

We may get overwhelmed trying to learn sustainable living.  Preparing for eternity is not about learning skills, but rather about recognizing and responding to God’s voice.  

No matter how we plan, our stash and resources can be plundered or destroyed.  Our best efforts to protect our family can “go up in smoke” within minutes.  What then?  

“Truly in vain is salvation hoped for from the hills, and from the multitude of mountains: Truly in the LORD our God is the salvation…”  (Jeremiah 3:23)

How do we solve this very real dilemma of being absolutely prepared? 

Who but God, our Creator, holds the answer for a secure future?  Who is religious or enlightened enough to have knowledge or wisdom exceeding God’s?  I don’t trust my own ideas and hopefully you aren’t trusting yours.  Our ideas hold too much room for human error and reasoning.  It’s imperative that this question be answered by God Himself. 

According to Him we can do nothing to earn His favor or heaven as our eternal destiny.  Breaking the least of His commandments renders us unworthy to be in His presence!  Ever told a white lie, disobeyed your parents, spoken His name irreverently? No matter how good we are, it’s not enough for a perfect and holy God (Titus 3:5;  James 2:10; Romans 3:10, 23). 

God says the only way to secure our eternal destiny with Him is to accept His FREE GIFT of Salvation through His Son Jesus Christ.  Religion is not the answer, but a Person, Jesus.  Jesus confirmed this when He said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No man cometh to the Father but by me.”  What?  Jesus was a very good teacher, but how can He claim to be the ONLY WAY?  And how can a PERSON be a “way?”  What about all the good religions to choose from? (Romans 6:23; John 3:36; John 14:6)

One thing is for sure: if Jesus lied, He is far from being good.  If His claim to be the sacrificed and resurrected Son of God is NOT true, then He was a huge hypocrite and liar.  Hypocrites and liars are not good, and have nothing to offer us.   

If what He said IS true, however, we have answers concerning our future, and it is worth giving up everything else, if necessary, to obtain His free offer of eternal life, received by simply trusting in Him.  This is far from being a religion, from just living a good life…it is a relationship, alive and real.  (Acts 16:31; Romans 10:9, 13)

Absolute Preparedness

Learning soap-making at a nearby folk school

It is because of this relationship that I have peace that if I die today my eternal destiny is secure.  

I want my children to live with that security.  

I want you to live with that security.  

Jesus wants you to live with that security.  He has paid the price for our sins which alienated us from God, and taken that burden upon Himself so we can experience peace with God and live in His presence forever.  (John 3:16)

Before you learn more skills, store more food, or become more sustainable, secure the most important aspect of preparedness.  Our stash can be plundered or destroyed, our minds and bodies wounded or killed, but nothing can take our relationship with God and our eternal destiny.  (Romans 8:35)

In Him we are SAFE forever!  Read God’s Manual (the Bible) and see for yourself.  The answers are all there. 

I pray you will face the unkown future…PREPARED!

Blessings,

Absolute Preparedness

Absolute Preparedness

Linked w/Creative HomeAcre Hop, Barn Hop, Natural Living Mama, Chicken Chick, Growing Home, Backyard Farming Connection, Homestead Abundance, Down Home Blog Hop, Frugally Sustainable, Seasonal Celebration, Country Garden Showcase, Country Homemaker Hop, Homemaking, Wildcrafting Wednesday, Natural Living, Tasty Traditions, HomeAcre Hop, Live Renewed, Simple Lives Thur., Little House in the Suburbs, Farm Girl Blog Fest, and Farmgirl Friday.

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Growing Tropical Trees in a Not-So-Tropical Zone

Growing Tropical Trees in a Not So Tropical Zone

Our young papaya tree didn't lose its blooms in the freeze two weeks ago

Our central Florida homestead is far enough inland from the warmer coast that we get lots of cold weather (for Florida). We’ve had plenty of freezing temps and frost this winter, dipping into the mid 20’s F (-7 °C), and local nurseries tell us it is too cold for most tropical plants to survive or yield fruit. It gets cold enough here to supposedly grow several varieties of apples and peaches, for which I’m tickled. We’re going to give them a try.

The early settlers planted mostly what grew well, so why shouldn’t we just settle for that? We have a few daughters born in tropical Liberia, and the rest of us are lovers of some very tropical fruits as well. If we are serious about living sustainably off the land, we should consider raising anything we want to have access to long term, for health reasons or otherwise.

That is why last fall, when growers were selling off their summer inventory at reduced prices, we purchased a few banana, avocado, mango, papaya, and moringa trees. We also bought various citrus trees which are more cold hardy, and a Florida variety of peach (Tropic Snow), which actually needs enough hours of cold to reproduce (no problem here). So far these little trees have seen freezing overnight temps numerous times, including the last week of March, and are doing great. All the trees have new growth and several have blooms and the beginnings of fruit. How have we done it?

Here are the ideas we have used so far when the temps drop too low overnight:

1) Purchase only dwarf varieties or trees that can be pruned to stay short. This way they can more easily be protected.

2) Place permanent or temporary supports over them, like a ladder, trellis, tee-pee or wire frame which can support a cover.

3) Cover with old sheets (from thrift stores) or other covers overnight. Try to keep the cover from touching the foliage if possible, for further protection against frostbite.  Use clothes pins to close the covers around the trees, and keep them from flapping if there is a breeze.

4) Place candles in glass underneath each tree and its cover.  Christmas lights also work but are not sustainable and less convenient if you must run lots of cords or if you’re off the grid like we are.  At first we placed whatever candles we had on hand into jars.  Then we found 8″ tall candles at Dollar General for $1.50 each, and placed them in small holes under each tree so they could not fall over.  We also found oil lamp chimneys at thrift stores to place over them for added safety.  For my protection I must add that you should never leave such candles unattended.  Growing Tropical Trees in a Not So Tropical Zone  

Growing Tropical Trees in a Not So Tropical Zone

The ladder is ready for the night's predicted freeze. It will support a large sheet covering these trees and plants with a candle underneath.

Growing Tropical Trees in a Not So Tropical Zone

Candles and chimneys are placed under the trees.

Growing Tropical Trees in a Not So Tropical Zone

That night the yard is decorated with "ghosts"

5) Light a fire to produce lots of hot coals in a burn barrel so the heat radiates up to 75 feet around it.   Obviously this works only away from town and by taking proper precautions.  After the flames die down we place wire fencing over the hole with a metal trashcan lid on top.  This allows ventilation around the perimeter of the lid while keeping the coals hot longer.  We’ve raised the temp in our yard 10 degrees this way. The biggest drawback is more wood must be added every three or four hours till sunrise.  And again, follow fire safety rules.  Growing Tropical Trees in a Not So Tropical Zone

Growing Tropical Trees in a Not So Tropical Zone

This potted dwarf (Cavendish) banana tree will be planted in the ground on the south side of a wall

6) Water well everything in danger of freeze or frostbite early in the morning before the sun rises.

7) Try to place trees next to buildings, preferably on the south side, or in protected corners. This can make a big difference.

One of our most cold sensitive trees are moringas, native to India, which produce an awesome green super food. Its leaves, pods, and even branches are edible, and super high in protein, vitamin C, and other nutrients. They are a soft tree that will grow 30 feet a year, or you can keep it pruned to nine feet for easy harvesting. They are terribly cold sensitive and will drop their leaves or die back and must start over again if they get too cold. Since our moringas are virtually unprotected in the middle of our front yard, they tend to get “babied” the most. They are still small enough that a six foot ladder can be used to support a cover till we make something more permanent.

Growing Tropical Trees in a Not So Tropical Zone

One of our moringas with a ladder over it, ready to be covered with the sheet above in the predicted freeze that night

Our papaya trees and dwarf mango tree (Nam DocMai) are still in large pots, waiting to be planted permanently in the ground inside the greenhouse when it is finished. For now they are grouped together against the front of the house and easily covered with one large sheet with a candle under it. Mango and papaya trees may survive temps dipping below freezing, but their fruit won’t.

Growing Tropical Trees in a Not So Tropical Zone

The reddish leaves on the top of the mango tree are tender new growth from the past month in spite of several frosty nights.

We purchased the most cold hardy avocado variety we could find (Lila), and use a large 8’ tomato cage to support blankets to keep it warm since it is in an unprotected north corner of our yard. It has thrived this winter and is growing tiny avocados, as well as new blooms. When it grows into a large tree with thick foliage it will better tolerate dips below freezing without being covered.

Growing Tropical Trees in a Not So Tropical Zone

The avocado is ready to be covered with the blanketed cage in the background, and warmed by the candle below.

As the winter wore on we got wiser in protecting our trees. At first we covered the tender young citrus trees with sheets on cold nights but used no supports. One night it got too cold and the top leaves got burned. Since then we made sure to use supports when needed, even if it was just a shovel or pitchfork stuck in the ground beside the tree to keep the sheet off the top of it.

Then we learned the trick of using water to protect the trees. The citrus and some of our garden veggies do fine with a good watering during the coldest hour of the morning, which for us is around 6am (before the time change it was 5am). The other week when it dipped below freezing and covered everything with frost we didn’t even cover our young citrus trees. At 6am Silver Oak found the hose nozzle frozen shut. He removed it and watered everything thoroughly, immediately raising the temperature. We don’t totally understand how this works, but it must be done before sunrise, and is effective when temps aren’t below freezing more than several hours.

Growing Tropical Trees in a Not So Tropical Zone

The tender new growth on this Valencia orange tree did not get burned by the frost

We dream of growing coconut trees and producing our very own coconut oil. We are preparing an area on the south side of our greenhouse for dwarf coconut trees. When they mature we hope to keep them warm enough through irrigation and a burn barrel or wood stove in the center of the grove. It’s worth a try!

Do you live in a warmer climate with possibilities of growing tropical trees? I’d love to hear how you’ve managed or what your dreams are.

Blessings,

Growing Tropical Trees in a Not So Tropical Zone

Growing Tropical Trees in a Not So Tropical Zone

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Growing Tropical Trees in a Not So Tropical Zone
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