Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

Evenstar samples a bit of cane freshly harvested from our own sugarcane patch!

It started as a thought several years ago, as we visited various historical museums in Florida and occasionally tasted the sweet syrup of sugarcane.  If it grows easily in Florida, and can be processed with fairly simple techniques, could we grow it on our little off grid homestead and make our own cane syrup?  Producing this nutrient rich sweetener would be one more step toward becoming sustainable, and something we could use to bless others.  Maybe, in time, it could become a stream of income to further accomplish Silver Oak’s goal of working fulltime with the family.  But how do you start something you know nothing about?  When an idea comes from the Lord, He works out details if we faithfully do our part.  “In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” Prov. 3:6

Here is the story as it has unfolded so far…

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

We watched cane juice being cooked down into syrup and asked lots of questions at the Sugarcane Festival at Crowley Museum. This is when Farmer Boy was six and Little Bird was seven (they are now eight and ten).

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

The old fashioned cane press at Crowley, usually powered by a horse or mule.

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

A horse is pulling the beam here, partially hidden behind the cracker cows.

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

Sometimes people can power the press instead of a horse, like some of our kiddos had the privilege of doing for a short time at a museum almost three years ago.

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

Then they sampled the sweet watery liquid that had just been pressed.

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

Here is a similar cane press we saw at the historic Dudley Farm near Gainesville.

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

This is Dudley's huge old kettle to boil the cane juice down into syrup. A fire is built underneath to heat it. That is seriously off the grid.

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

Dudley's processing shed where the syrup was bottled.

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

One year my Grandpa (98 yrs old) accompanied us to Crowley, and again we watched sugarcane processing. By the way, Grandpa went to be with the Lord this year only two weeks before his 100th birthday, and we miss running things past him about the old days.

Two years ago we were at Crowley Museum for their Sugarcane Harvest Festival and met the kindly gentleman in charge of the cane syrup demonstration.  Mr. H let us sample his cane syrup, which is sweet like maple syrup but with a bit of a molasses flavor. He seemed glad to see a family from a younger generation genuinely interested in the process. We gratefully listened to his explanations about growing and processing cane the old fashioned way, and purchased a bottle of his syrup.  We were amazed to discover that he and his wife live only about ten minutes from us!

After visiting the many other artisans and re-enactors at the event, we prepared to leave for home at the end of the day and again met Mr. H.  He had about a dozen potted sugarcane plants he hadn’t sold and didn’t want to take back home, and wondered if we would take them.  We were more than happy to take them off his hands. It felt like more than just a chance meeting.

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

These are the cane plants Mr. H gave us...the beginning of sugarcane at our homestead.

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

At Mr. H's instruction we cut the mature canes out of each pot, and divided them into pieces to propagate more cane plants.

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

We cut between the joints, making each piece around 18" long.

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

We filled more pots with sand and composted soil, and the younger kiddos pushed the canes into the soil. Each joint in the soil can grow roots, starting a new plant! How easy is that?

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

Mr. H's generous gift of 12 potted plants was immediately multiplied. Those plants grew in the pots all winter and spring until May when we finally put them into the ground (a little late, but it still worked).

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

One rainy Saturday afternoon while the big girls were cleaning and cooking, Silver Oak and I separated each rooted cane and planted around 85 sugarcane plants in two long rows with a trench between for irrigation. In a matter of months, with a little effort, the plants had multiplied times seven!

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

We finally got all those baby sugarcane plants in the ground.

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

Farmer Boy enjoyed being the official sugarcane waterer because it meant he got to drive our little John Deere mower pulling the trailer with the tank of water out to irrigate the plants.

Sugarcane grows in warm weather and the sugar in the canes turns sweet in the cooler months.  If there is a hard freeze, the canes will freeze and their sugars will sour if not harvested and pressed immediately.  We harvested our small plot of cane in December of last year (2013) in time to join Mr. H for his first cane pressing of the year, which is a traditional social event for the old-time Floridians.  The cane was all pressed and cooked for hours in his huge boiler.  While we waited for the syrup to be ready, we ate lunch provided by sweet Mrs. H, and enjoyed learning to know more true Southerners at the event.

When the first hard freeze was predicted earlier than expected, Mr. H called for emergency assistance with the second half of his harvest.  Silver Oak and the older girls dropped everything and went to help.

Mr. H expected to lose part of his crop because of lack of time.  But everyone worked like mad and got all the cane cut before nightfall, saving the entire harvest!  The next day it had to be pressed and boiled down.  It was a privilege to be a part of this effort, working together in community.  We are getting free education in sugarcane production and gaining new friends, and they are getting help when needed.

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

Mr. H has a newer cane press that is geared to be engine-powered. His dad's old hunting truck is parked nearby to power it.

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

Here's another picture of the old gray "beast" that runs it.

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

Mr. H (right) chats with Evenstar and Silver Oak while the cane juice is boiled down into syrup in his 60 gallon cast iron pot with a propane burner underneath.

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

Sixty gallons of freshly squeezed cane juice will yield 6-8 gallons of cane syrup. Near the end of the process it starts rising and falling, then for about ten minutes large bubbles rise to the surface and pop as it thickens. Then it is ready to be bottled and kept without refrigeration.

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

This is the extent of our first year's harvest, with the old leaves and green tops still on the canes.

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

Mr. H demonstrates how to cut the dead leaves off before harvesting, which is quicker and easier, so we would know for next time.

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

Mr. H's homemade tool he uses to "clean" the leaves off the standing cane.

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

Honey Bun feeds one of our canes into Mr. H's smaller cane press, which is the kind used with horse power. This one is mounted on an old wagon and powered by a gas motor.

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

A closer look...cane syrup runs out into a large pot.

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

Farmer Boy feeds in a cane.

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

Our small first harvest (2013) resulted in less than two gallons of cane juice, which we decided to drink raw for its great health benefits rather than make it into a tiny amount of syrup.

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

Meanwhile, the big pot of syrup was finished and we watched them strain it through cheesecloth before bottling.

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

And then sampled the taffy left on the sides of the empty pot.

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

Farmer Boy displays the green tops that were cut off our first harvest before pressing.

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

We planted all the tops in pots just as we had the year before, but this time it was tops from plants we grew.

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

By mid-April this year (2014) they were ready to be taken out to plant in the field, expanding our sugarcane patch.

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

This time we planted them with lots of horse manure, and by October it was thick and towered way over our heads.

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

Mr. H's first harvest this season was December 5, so after Silver Oak and some of the children helped with his harvest, they came home and harvested ours.

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

First, Silver Oak cleans the cane (whacks off dead leaves by sliding his machete downward along each stalk)...

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

...then Farmer Boy cuts off the stalk (cane) at the ground.

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

Evenstar picks up the cut canes.

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

Blossom finishes cleaning the canes and chops off the green tops.

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

Little Bird brings more canes for the big girls to process.

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

The cleaned canes are loaded into the truck bed to haul to Mr. H's the next day.

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

They're bad to the bone!

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

Totally bad! But next time maybe he'll make a lighter wooden cane cleaner like Mr. H's, because when the long harvesting day was over his wrist was swollen from swinging that heavy machete so long and hard.

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

The next morning we hauled the nearly full bed of canes and two tanks of propane to Mr. H's for the cane grinding. Cheyenne went along to visit the place of her birth, because we got her as a pup from Mr. H earlier this year.

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

The motor for the smaller cane press wouldn't cooperate this time, so we got to use the big press after Mr. H's cane was done.

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

This year we pressed about 16 gallons of juice from our cane, up from less than two gallons last year! It was enough to make our own little batch of cane syrup!

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

While Mr. H boiled his cane juice in his huge 60 gallon pot, we boiled ours in his smaller pot over a homemade propane burner.

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

The thing to do while it's boiling for hours and hours is chew on some cane, as well as listen to Mr. H's buddies tell wild stories of their growin' up years. Of course there was another great pot-luck lunch, true Southern style.

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

Even Cheyenne chewed on cane.

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

Our syrup is almost ready!

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

Our syrup is strained through cheesecloth.

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

Back home Silver Oak proudly bottles the cooled syrup he has been dreaming of.

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

Almost eight quarts of syrup!

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

Blossom can't help but pose proudly with the fruit of her labors.

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

From the farm to the table...on some of Blossom's delicious whole grain sourdough bread!

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

On Monday it was back at it, cutting the green leaves off the tops for fodder for the goats.

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

Little Bird and Farmer Boy push the tops into potted soil to start more new plants...the multiplication process begins again!

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

Sixty pots of new plants will grow in the greenhouse till spring when we plant them out, once again expanding the size of our sugarcane patch. How big will next year's harvest be?

The Lord gives seemingly insignificant gifts as part of our lives every day.  What have we been given that He desires to generously multiply and bless us with, if we are faithful to do our small part?  The sugarcane example is a picture of the nature and character of our loving Heavenly Father.  May we be alert and faithful to “small things” He want us to do right now that will reap an abundant future harvest, either here on earth or in eternity.

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

Oooooh...It's fine!

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Blessings,

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

Note:  My appreciation to Silver Oak for editing, critiquing, and commenting on this post.

Linked w/Barn Hop, The Art of Homemaking, Growing Home, Backyard Farming Connection, Down Home Blog Hop, Homemaking, Wildcrafting Wednesday, HomeAcre Hop, Old Fashioned Friday, From the Farm Blog Hop, Little House in the Suburbs, Farmgirl Friday, and Simple Saturdays.

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Homestead Kitchen Items I can’t Live Without

Homestead Kitchen Items I can’t Live Without

These unique corn-cutters take the juicy kernels right off the ear (hopefully non-GMO corn)

A friend of mine is moving to another country to homestead for the first time. She asked what kitchen utensils I would consider absolutely necessary to homestead successfully. So I came up with a list of things I would rather not be without. A homestead mindset learns to adapt to what is available, but with a choice I would definitely include items that make homesteading more efficient and doable.

I’m taking for granted the commonly used items like measuring spoons and cups, large stirring spoons, dippers, scrapers and spatulas, small to extra large mixing bowls, stainless steel and cast iron pots and pans, ovenware, teapot, and a good set of knives necessary in any kitchen used daily for food preparation. My list of “must haves” is colored by living off grid as sustainably as possible. Three years on this off grid homestead has influenced my preferences, which will likely keep changing as we become less and less dependent on commercial industries and food.

My absolute favorite off-grid homestead kitchen utensil is our GrainMaker grain mill (I get no benefits for promoting it, but believe it’s the best). An heirloom quality mill that will way outlive me (including its hardened alloy steel burrs), it meets my specifications of producing flour as finely ground as my old electric Whisper mill did, with speed and enough ease that our youngest children can use it. Installed on my kitchen counter, we use it regularly for wheat, brown rice, coffee, and other grains. It can also grind nuts (making peanut butter), beans, and corn, and dehydrated potatoes, garlic, onions, and tomatoes.  It took a few years of saving to purchase, but is well worth it!  Read more about it in an old post:  My Super Duper Hand Powered Grain Mill.

Homestead Kitchen Items I can’t Live Without

Back when Farmer Boy was still six years old he easily helped grind grain with this mill.

Homestead Kitchen Items I can’t Live Without

A gallon jar for fermenting kraut

 

Glass jars are a huge part of the modern homestead kitchen. We use one gallon and half gallon “pickle” jars to store our raw milk in the fridge or in a cupboard to sour, to make kefir, sauerkraut or other lacto fermented veggies, sprout grains, and store whey or freshly brewed herbal tea. One-gallon “cider” jars are perfect for our rotating storage of filtered drinking water. Wide and small mouth quart jars store fresh cream, buttermilk, rendered tallow, dehydrated herbs, homemade dressings, and of course canned goods. Smaller jars are for canning or storing salves and other concoctions. You simply cannot have too many jars with tight lids, in my opinion.

Homestead Kitchen Items I can’t Live Without

Quart canning jars for storing almost anything...here holding hot rendered tallow

Homestead Kitchen Items I can’t Live Without

Preparing to make butter with my Magic Mill DLX.

We use an electric blender and hand-held beater regularly, especially with my big mixer on the blink. I prefer my Magic Mill DLX MixerHomestead Kitchen Items I can’t Live Without (affiliate link) for kneading bread, mixing batters, mashing potatoes, and churning butter, but after 17 years of vigorous use, it needs repairs. So, we’ve been kneading dough by hand, making butter in the blender, and using the small electric beater for mixing. A hand-powered beater mixes things that aren’t too thick, and my wish list includes a large hand-cranked butter churn and a hand cranked blender.

Water bath canners are easy to store and less expensive than pressure canners. We can applesauce and tomato products, but prefer to dehydrate or lacto-ferment fruits and veggies as much as possible. Canning kills live enzymes and nutrients, while lacto-fermenting greatly increases nutritional density. Nutrients are preserved in dehydrating, which leads to another valuable homesteading item: a dehydrator. I love my nine-tray Excalibur DehydratorHomestead Kitchen Items I can’t Live Without (affiliate link), but it’s not always best for an off grid homestead because it uses lots of battery power to run when the sun is not shining. I hope to some day make a solar dehydrator.

Homestead Kitchen Items I can’t Live Without

Our water bath canners (an old picture of Evenstar a few years ago)

 

Homestead Kitchen Items I can’t Live Without

Dehydrating cooked pinto beans in the Excaliber

We have some hand-cranked or held graters, slicers, choppers and mills for food processing, mostly purchased at thrift stores or eBay. They are a must for processing larger quantities for canning, or for making meals for a larger family. We recently used a hand-cranked meat grinder for grinding sprouted grain to making a lacto-fermented bread.  When making applesauce we use Victorio strainer which is much like the one my grandmother used to separate the pulp and the sauce.  A mortar and pestle, garlic press, masher, veggie peeler, and bamboo cutting board are also vital.

Homestead Kitchen Items I can’t Live Without

Grinding sprouted wheat in a meat grinder

Homestead Kitchen Items I can’t Live Without

The Victorio strainer separates pulp and sauce of cooked apples to make applesauce

Homestead Kitchen Items I can’t Live Without

From the archives, Blossom and Honey Bun mash acorns in our Haitian mortar and pestle to make acorn burgers

Funnels are useful for pouring home brews into small-mouthed containers or spray bottles; strainers can be used for filtering soaked herbs, whey, broth, or cracklings from tallow; and colanders are essential for straining kefir grains and pasta. Cheesecloth or cotton fabric is useful for draining cheeses and squeezing juice from grated roots or veggies.

Homestead Kitchen Items I can’t Live Without

Straining liver cleanse tincture with a seive and funnel (Magic Mill DLX to the right)

Homestead Kitchen Items I can’t Live Without

Kefir strained with a colander

A few other important items are a wooden rolling pin for rolling out pie dough or pasta, and a scale for weighing dough, herbs, or homemade soap ingredients. I like wooden spoons for making mint tea, and a hand juicer for quickly juicing lemons or limes. In Florida, an electric citrus juicer is wonderful for making large quantities of fresh orange juice. We use our hand-crank popcorn popper almost daily for a GMO-free healthy salty addition to lunch.  Some use a candy thermometer for cheese and soap making, although I usually tend to “wing” it without one. A crock-pot and stick blender are useful in making soap, herbal remedies, and personal care products. We keep one little pan and lid exclusively for heating water and soaking soapnuts each day in place of laundry detergent.

Homestead Kitchen Items I can’t Live Without

A scale and crockpot, here used to make soap

Homestead Kitchen Items I can’t Live Without

Our hand-crank popcorn popper on our 16 brick rocket stove

One item that we use almost daily is a “basket cooker” made from a laundry basket and blankets, cutting way down on fuel consumption for cooking. I describe it in detail in an earlier post.

Homestead Kitchen Items I can’t Live Without

A laundry basket lined with blankets can save a lot of cooking fuel

Homestead Kitchen Items I can’t Live Without

Tuck a few thick blankets securely around the hot pot and let it "cook"

Homestead Kitchen Items I can’t Live Without

This Big Berkey has filtered our water continously for 15 years; the filter elements were changed twice. In recent years we've added a second Big Berkey to meet our family's needs.

Finally, we would not be without our Big Berkeys (affiliate link).  These gravity fed water filters take no electricity, and if cleaned several times each year will filter relatively clean water many years without replacing the filtering elements. If there is a breakdown of clean water supply, these filters are able to make pond water (or worse) into fit drinking water. For our family two Big Berkeys keep up with our rotating water storage needs. We fill them several times a day with our well water, emptying them into the glass jugs mentioned earlier for daily use.

Please share other ideas on items that may be more durable, efficient or sustainable, or have multiple uses to replace other utensils in the off grid homesteading kitchen.

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Blessings,

Homestead Kitchen Items I can’t Live Without

 

Homestead Kitchen Items I can’t Live Without

Hubby wouldn't be without his coffee press, truly off the grid and better flavored coffee

Note:  Credit must be given to Silver Oak for editing, critiquing, commenting on, and offering Scripture for what is written.  This is his vision (shared by me), and he blesses me for taking time to write it down, freeing him to answer the many projects calling his name “out there.”

Linked w/Natural Living Mama, Barn Hop, The Art of Homemaking, Growing Home, Backyard Farming Connection, Down Home Blog Hop, Homemaking, Wildcrafting Wednesday, HomeAcre Hop, Old Fashioned Friday, From the Farm Blog Hop, Little House in the Suburbs, Farmgirl Friday, and Simple Saturdays.

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Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt VI

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt VI

Echinacea blooms in our herb garden

This series explains our family’s choices in lifestyle, including early impressions shaping our world view, a commitment to live debt-free, building family values, simple living and sustainable life skills, living close to the land, and family ministry. Last, but not least, we share our desires to prepare for the future and provide a safe place for our family.

Preparing for the Future

The first time we prepared for possible calamity was for Y2K. Not knowing if it would happen, we invested in things wise to have anyway, within our budget (which wasn’t much). Thankfully Y2K was uneventful, but the beans and rice, gas and toiletries we stored became huge blessings later in financially tough times. Our little generator was a lifesaver when a tropical storm knocked out power for several days the following year. It saved our frozen foods (including homegrown beef) and our sanity. We thanked the Lord for using a false alarm to prompt preparation for what He knew was coming“She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet.” Prov. 31:21 KJV

It occurred to us that wisdom prepares for disasters and unexpected twists in life; especially if God gives warnings, which He usually does.  God may send a prophet (Jer. 25:4) or a sign in the heavens (Gen. 1:14; Joel 2:28-30) or otherwise (Gen. 19, Heb. 11:7) to warn His people of judgment or calamity. Those tuned in to Him can hear (Jer. 6:10; John 10:27). He has recorded things in a Book showing patterns for recognizing future events by past happenings.

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt VI

Redressing and mulching the raised rows for a winter planting.

Believers should be content with God’s daily provision, not fretting about tomorrow (Matt. 6:31; Heb. 13:5). The Lord provides grace and personal needs one day at a time. Anxiety renders us unproductive and powerless to face a crisis (II Tim. 1:7). Trust in God is practically applied in the simple yet profound principle of spending only what He has provided, rather than presuming on the future and making purchases with resources not yet in hand.

So, does the Lord want us unAWARE and unPREPARED for something coming? Jesus repeatedly warned to watch, be alert, and be ready for a variety of things in the FUTURE. Lack of appropriate preparation creates anxiety. Believers live for the future, not just the present. What we do (or don’t do) today has repercussions later in this life and in eternity. The wise and foolish virgins with their lamps are good examples (Matt. 25:1-13).

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt VI

About half the beds are prepared.

As noted previously, we have various reasons for homesteading off the grid, regardless of the future. We do not regret following this God-given dream, and the adventures it has created. Nevertheless, we are also keenly aware of the times in which we live, and the responsibility to prepare our family.

These words of Jesus in Luke 12:54-56 speak to this: “When ye see a cloud rise out of the west, straightway ye say, There cometh a shower; and so it is. And when ye see the south wind blow, ye say, There will be heat; and it cometh to pass. Ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky and of the earth; but how is it that ye do not discern this time?” KJV

What are the signs of this time? With our eyes open wide to current events, history repeating itself, and prophecies in Scripture and by godly men, we ask the Lord if we should do something about signs we see. Learning to live more sustainably and helping others do the same has been one answer He has given our family. Working together, living with less, growing food, learning sustainable skills, acclimating to tighter spaces, independent of modern systems, and thriving on a limited budget are other practical ways we’ve felt led to prepare.

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt VI

The new brick pitcher pump housing made by Silver Oak and Farmer Boy is the centerpiece of the herb garden...adding beauty, but fully functioning as an alternative water source

Safety

We would like to think our lovely little homestead in the boondocks, surrounded by friendly neighbors, is a perfectly safe haven, far from violence, pandemics, and evils of town or city…a place of peace and tranquility, broken only by exuberant noises of birds, frogs, chickens and goats, and enhanced by brilliant starry skies at night. And it is.

But without God’s protection we are still susceptible to dangers within and without. In a serious crisis we may be farther from the action, which will hopefully buy some time. If it is quickly resolved, we may not even be directly affected. However, we are not immune to crises.

We thankfully don’t face Smart Meter issues with their health problems and dangers, the lack of privacy, and the control given to others. We didn’t even have to opt-out.  Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt VI

Nevertheless, another danger in our country has been taking shape, slowly creeping in around us. Things have changed and are changing. Friends of ours were raided on their grass-fed dairy for selling raw milk as pet food…no matter that it is legal in Florida. A woman in Cape Coral, FL was fined for disconnecting her home from the city’s utilities.  The pervading attitude toward people with our lifestyle does not seem to be moving in a positive direction. Of all the reasons we’ve ended up living off the grid in a tiny house, the reason of “safety,” though still a good one, could prove to have an interesting twist.

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt VI

Our home feels inviting and "safe" under the Lord's protection

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt VI

A quiet place...

“He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High, shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” Psa 91:1 KJV Divine protection is our only true safety…in the “secret place.” And, if while under God’s protection something “bad” happens, we can trust “that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28 KJV

Our greatest safety and preparedness is filling up regularly with God’s Word and walking in tune with His Spirit and responding when He says “jump” or “hold still.” What a daily challenge in this busy society. Our family has taken this more seriously the past year and a half, preparing spiritually and emotionally several hours each day in Bible reading, and also in praising the Lord and praying together. The impact is profound. I hope to share more about this soon.

We pray this series is a blessing and inspiration to you, not so much about living on or off the grid, analyzing house size, or being prepared or sustainable, but in evaluating values and priorities. In short, the goal is to live in the “secret place” of God’s will for us in all of these areas, resting in His protection and care, ready to go where He leads, do as He directs, and serve how He desires. Though it may look different for you than for us, that place, alone, is where we really learn to know Him, and He can make Himself known.

To receive future posts click here, or sign up in the column on the right.

Blessings,

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt VI

Note:  Credit must be given to Silver Oak for editing, critiquing, commenting on, and offering Scripture for what is written.  This is his vision (shared by me), and he blesses me for taking time to write it down, freeing him to answer the many projects calling his name “out there.”

Linked w/Natural Living Mama, Barn Hop, The Art of Homemaking, Growing Home, Backyard Farming Connection, Down Home Blog Hop, Homemaking, Wildcrafting Wednesday, HomeAcre Hop, Old Fashioned Friday, From the Farm Blog Hop, Little House in the Suburbs, Farmgirl Friday, and Simple Saturdays.

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Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt V

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt V

Silver Oak and Farmer Boy lay up new brick housing for our pitcher pump

This fifth in a series explains a few more reasons why our lifestyle has been a dream in the making…a dream all eight of us embrace and love. Sometimes we tire of it, like when it is mercilessly hot and muggy and we’re dressing up to go somewhere “civilized,” or there is not enough room in our comfy tiny house for many guests at once. But those whiny thoughts usually don’t last long, especially when we visit town and see the alternatives. And our lifestyle is built on something that goes much deeper than preferences and interests.

Mission and Ministry

Wherever Jesus went, He relieved suffering, healed sickness, and met genuine needs. This drew many people to Him, with ears that were eager to hear. He did not go around trying to convince people, working hard to convert them, or do entertaining shows to attract them, but He compassionately served and cared for them. Many readily opened their hearts and followed Him, hungry to know Him.  He did not ignore their physical and emotional needs, or tell them to think only of their eternal destiny.

Jesus’ example really challenges us. He spoke through words AND deeds. How has He called our family to meet needs that will show Jesus to others? We are still trying to fully grasp that idea, asking the Lord to clarify His calling. We are perhaps a little slow in getting this, but we have had a sense of Him calling to do what we’re doing on our off-grid homestead, not always totally understanding why. Why would He want us to spend so much time on “temporal” things like growing our own food, living more simply, and learning practical skills? What is His eternal plan for us living this off-grid lifestyle?  Is it the same reason He spent so much time on earth meeting physical needs, especially of the poor?

As we sweated to clear the driveway back to our home site three years ago, doing lots of hard work by hand, we wondered if God was preparing us for something else in the unseen future. What did He really have in mind for us as we built this homestead?

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt V

Our winding driveway through the woods that we cleared three years ago

We have felt a burden and desire to encourage and challenge Believers, and shine the light of Christ to unbelievers. Those are some of the main purposes for this blog, as well as to record our journey for our children’s sakes. It is an attempt to call others to examine accepted American ways of thinking, to discern what is profitable and what is not.

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt V

One of Silver Oak's portable chicken houses sits in the shadow of our trusty windmill which keeps the tanks on our roof filled with water from our well

Our children are being prepared to serve wherever God calls them. They are not scared at the prospect of not always having hot showers or running water. And although we desire to have our children always around us, we know God may call them elsewhere. We want them to be prepared for the work God has for them, to be His witnesses. The whole point of having and raising children is to glorify God and make Him known.

Meanwhile our family’s desire is to be missionaries wherever we are. How can we meet needs and relieve suffering for the sake of making Christ known? In the US many suffer from ignorance of what commercial “fake” foods are doing to their bodies. In other countries physical suffering may be caused by poverty or other hardships. Here in America, with all our material abundance, the breakdown of the family unit causes much emotional and spiritual suffering. Families in other countries are torn apart by poverty, oppression, sickness and disease. Here and abroad there are physical and emotional needs that can be met in the Name of Jesus to bring glory to Him, although folks in our prosperous country tend to be less open.

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt V

The front of our tiny house and red shed, fenced in with young perennial and annual garden beds

ECHO is a Christ-honoring organization with a vision for relieving suffering by providing agricultural and appropriate technology training (using available resources) to Christian development workers in many countries.  We have been very blessed by all we have learned on their global farm in Ft Myers, FL, as I’ve shared in several previous posts.  In November we look forward to attending their International Agricultural Conference to learn more.

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt V

Evenstar's rabbit hutches and greens grown for the rabbits to eat, including spanish needle, garlic chives, cranberry hibiscus, moringa, perennial peanut, papaya, and cassava.

SIFAT (Servants in Faith and Technology) is a mission organization with a similar vision. The founder of ECHO helped them establish a training center in Alabama that prepares Believers to share Jesus through meeting basic needs around the world. We’ve been greatly challenged by the journey of the Corson family, founders of SIFAT, who moved to the jungles of Bolivia years ago, and realized the people in their village needed more than spiritual nourishment.  We’ve read their experiences of sharing Christ through living simply with the people, using appropriate technologies to help alleviate suffering. Their books, Risking Everything and Glimpses of God in the Lives of the Poor (affiliate links), are inspirational reads for the whole family!

Intensive food forest gardening and sustainable agriculture can be powerful tools to make Christ known, here in America or elsewhere, if done by the leading of the Holy Spirit. An intact family working together, demonstrating the basic arts of growing and preserving, living abundantly within our means, practicing skills that in a crisis could bless those dependent on “the system”…all can be part of the work of Christ.

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt V

A small food forest featuring fig, lemon grass, sweet potato, edible hibiscus, cranberry hibiscus, and roselle

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt V

The back of our bioshelter which is being set up for intensive gardening with edible perennials and annuals

Several days ago we were dripping with sweat (yes, it was still hot here) as we all unloaded a few tons of mulch on our fodder beds. It was miserable and we were exhausted when we remembered why we were doing it: not just to nourish our own fodder beds, but to help someone else learn to grow fodder for their livestock to provide needed nutrition…and share the love of Jesus!

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt V

A freshly mulched fodder bed with roselle, chaya, and perennial peanut

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt V

A newer fodder bed with young katuk plants and some sweet potato

When we see our lifestyle in this light, it gives a much richer meaning to what we are doing. It is our prayer that our focus would be first and foremost on God’s eternal purpose for leading us into this off-grid life…that it will make a difference for eternity.

Join us next time for the final post in this series.  (Click here for previous posts: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV.)

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Blessings,

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt V

Photo credit:  A friend of ours (MW) was visiting and very kindly took many of the pictures on this post to help me out.  Thanks!  Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt V

Note:  Credit must be given to Silver Oak for editing, critiquing, commenting on, and offering Scripture for what is written.  This is his vision (shared by me), and he blesses me for taking time to write it down, freeing him to answer the many projects calling his name “out there.”

Linked w/Natural Living Mama, Barn Hop, The Art of Homemaking, Growing Home, Backyard Farming Connection, Down Home Blog Hop, Homemaking, Wildcrafting Wednesday, HomeAcre Hop, Old Fashioned Friday, From the Farm Blog Hop, Little House in the Suburbs, Farmgirl Friday, and Simple Saturdays.

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Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt IV

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt IV

Luffa gourd growing on our north fence

Our faith in Jesus Christ and His Word is foundational to all we do.  It has resulted in our choice of this lifestyle, influenced by early impressions shaping our world view, our decision to live debt-free, and protecting family values. Another draw for us is appreciating and desiring to learn long-lost basic skills our ancestors grew up taking for granted.  These reasons are only meaningful to us because of personally knowing Jesus and living out the dreams and visions He gives us.

Simple Living and Sustainable Life Skills

How many young (and not-so-young) people today are experts in social media and computer games, but clueless about the origin of eggs in an omelet (the Easter bunny, the store, a rooster)? Most live in a fake world with imitation foods and flavors (carcinogens rather than nutrition), polyester clothes, and silk flowers; synthetic leather, wood, stone, brick, precious metals and gems; imaginary money, manufactured entertainment, fake hair and skin tones, lots of fairytales (the media), and revisionist history; a false sense of security (“life will always be like this”) and good health (drugs masking symptoms), and no idea where they are going or where they really came from (monkeys?). Totally sheltered from real life, they are clueless about many simple things that used to be common knowledge.  This fake “reality” can negatively affect our understanding of God and how we make decisions.

When the USSR came apart 23 years ago, Cuba, a trading partner, was suddenly cut off from fuel, medicine, and machine parts. Like most nations, Cuba had sacrificed local food production for commercial agriculture, depending on systems that have proven to be very vulnerable to such shifts in politics. Lowly gardeners and landscapers suddenly became sought after and highly valued. Those dependent on modern systems were in for desperate times. Most remembered too late that the basics are essential to survival.

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt IV

Assorted greens picked from our edible landscaping beds for the evening dinner salad

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt IV

Farmer Boy enjoys his flock of laying hens

One thing we have noticed about basic sustainable skills…children LOVE them. They get excited about animal husbandry, gardening, blacksmithing, basket weaving, herbal remedies, knitting, cooking from scratch (especially if they grew the ingredients), preserving food, building, sewing, and soap making. Especially when we do it with them!

How many younger children talk about the soap in their shower? Ours do. They think our soap is really cool because they had a part in making it. They love drinking kefir for breakfast made with raw milk from our own cow or goats. They take pride in wearing scarves or caps they made themselves, or healing an infection or soothing a wasp sting with medicinal plants in our yard.

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt IV

A new batch of tallow soap just cut into bars

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt IV

Evenstar makes her first herbal liver cleanse tincture

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt IV

Blossom loves knitting and crocheting beautiful caps, scarves, and other practical items

This can all be practiced living ON the grid as well as off. Nevertheless, being off the grid may better fit the mindset and discourages dependency. We are not against modern conveniences, but resist being dependent on them. And of course tinkering with our off-grid systems and home-crafted goods takes time, which we prefer spending at home with the family over being absent to pay for more costly systems or store-bought goods that don’t have to be tinkered with.

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt IV

About 65% of what Evenstar's rabbits eat is grown here on the homestead

Living Close to the Land

Another driving influence in our lifestyle is living close to the land. Someone once said something like, “The farther a man lives from the land, the less rationally he thinks.” I’ve probably misquoted them, but the general meaning remains (if you know who said that, please share).   We think folks in Washington would benefit us all by taking that idea to heart.  :)  Furthermore, is it safe to say that the closer a man lives to the land, the more rationally he thinks, or the easier he can understand the ways of God?

There is something therapeutic (and down to earth, ha, ha!) about working in the soil; planting, weeding, cultivating, and harvesting. It is real LIFE. It draws attention to God’s infinite wisdom, diverse creativity, and His solutions to life’s problems.  Working with God’s creation lifts the spirits, calms the nerves, clears the mind, and satisfies the soul. It’s no wonder counseling and rehab centers include gardening and working with animals in their programs. We prefer it as preventative treatment, encouraging a focus on Jesus.

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt IV

Honey Bun prepares a hole to plant a young olive tree

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt IV

Little Bird plants a bed of onions

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt IV

Butterfly waters her young pea plants

I never thought I would enjoy plants and gardening. Once immersed in it you cannot help but enjoy it, especially edible landscape gardening (my opinion). To me it’s a practical way to worship and honor God in daily life.   Gardening grows REAL food, and brings an awareness of our Heavenly Father’s caring provision of nutrients, remedies, and materials growing all around us.  We have yet to learn of a plant He has created with absolutely no practical benefits.

It’s been said that food digests easier when you have a working “relationship” with it.  And growing your own food means less GMO’s, drugs and chemicals (except the unavoidable ones in our country’s air and water), no prematurely harvested fruits, and real in-season local foods. That means fully developed, high-density nutrition…better than any expensive supplement…the way God made it, with humans managing as He directed (Genesis 2:8, 9, 15).

For over 30 years I was dependent on whole food supplements for energy and strength…but no more! We use no regular supplements anymore…don’t need them! One less major expense. And we haven’t used our medical sharing plan (health insurance) since the last baby was born (over eight years ago). Thank the Lord!  Understanding and following God’s design brings many benefits, which glorifies Him.

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt IV

The herb garden in front of our "house" includes moringa trees, whose edible leaves are a nutrient-packed superfood

I will not expound on the exercise gained working with the soil, digging, hoeing, weeding, scraping and pushing around loads of organic matter. Not to mention strong fingers from milking a cow (and calf muscles from kicking ornery goats eating each others’ feed…just kidding!) And many hands-on lessons in plant and animal biology, weather patterns, moon phases, sustainable cooking, and God’s design that naturally come with it.

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt IV

Cycles of life are observed regularly, such as this swallowtail butterfly freshly emerged from its chrysalis...

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt IV

...then pollinating our plants

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt IV

A young tomato seedling ready to be potted

The desire to be close to the land and grow our own food is one reason we live off the grid, and in a tiny house. It may not be God’s plan for everyone, and again, you can grow your own food on the grid, but since borrowing is not an option for us, we chose this homesteading dream over more expensive options. We would not choose connection to the grid if it meant dying to that dream, without the Lord directing us to. Our children wouldn’t either. So, off the grid in a tiny house it is, at least for now!

The Lord has graciously fulfilled a longstanding dream after many years. We can identify with Chris Dalziel at Joybilee Farm…“We forget sometimes, in our daily grind of gardening, cleaning,…and gathering eggs, that we are ‘land owners.’  How empowering that is. To own land – any land – no matter how dirt poor – is to have hope, to own the means of production, to have a future beyond indenture.”

Dreams inspired and fulfilled by the Lord are designed to bring glory and honor to Jesus.  It is our prayer and intent that our homestead does just that, as it is otherwise meaningless.

More next time!

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Blessings,

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt IV

Note:  Credit must be given to Silver Oak for editing, critiquing, commenting on, and offering Scripture for what is written.  This is his vision (shared by me), and he blesses me for taking time to write it down, freeing him to answer the many projects calling his name “out there.”

Linked w/Natural Living Mama, Barn Hop, The Art of Homemaking, Growing Home, Backyard Farming Connection, Down Home Blog Hop, Homemaking, Wildcrafting Wednesday, HomeAcre Hop, Old Fashioned Friday, From the Farm Blog Hop, Little House in the Suburbs, Farmgirl Friday, and Simple Saturdays.

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Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt III

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt III

Butterfly and I harvest sweet potato greens

With the decay of the family unit, we have looked for ways to safeguard family relationships. That is partly what led us to work together as a family to build our off-grid homestead. The first parts of this theme speak of our worldview and the decision to live debt-free. Now we will look at how we have chosen some practical ways to build strong family ties by living off the grid in a tiny house.

Family Values

Building a homestead from scratch has its challenges. Building it without connection to grid power increases those challenges, especially after being accustomed to relying on it. This is a perfect setting for a team of workers collaborating to accomplish otherwise daunting tasks. It is adventuresome, exciting, healthy, invigorating, satisfying, educational, and unifying. When friction or bickering raise their ugly heads, collaborators must stop and work out a resolution if progress is expected. We cannot run from conflict long or everything grinds to a halt and everyone suffers till it is resolved.

Before the industrial revolution, it was normal for families to work together daily on their homesteads. The introduction of modern day machinery, appliances, and electricity encouraged many to move to a more convenient city life. Losses to the family structure were huge. Fathers left home every morning for a “real” job to support a more expensive lifestyle, and to provide their family with the “best” of life. One income could not support all the new “needs” so mothers left for work as well, and entrusted their children to the care of others much earlier in life than before.

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt III

Working on our homestead...putting down cardboard as a weed barrier in the garden area

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt III

Covering the cardboard with mulch (wood chips) from a local tree trimmer

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt III

And more mulch

Stay-at-home mothers are in the minority today, but fathers who work at home with their families are rare. Every person in the modern family has a separate social life outside the home that pulls and competes for affections and loyalties. Even church life fragments the family into various age and social groups. Any wonder why peer and social pressures win over family relationships and values?

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt III

Finger-knitting scarves together with loops we cut from panty-hose

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt III

A crazy bunch, showing off our new "panty-hose" infinity scarves: (L to R) Little Bird, Honey Bun, Blossom, me, Evenstar, Farmer Boy, Butterfly

Years ago, it became a dream of ours to work together with our children rather than go different directions every day. Strong family relationships may be possible with “normal” jobs and school, but less likely. Instead of working out, I have been free to save and live with less rather than earning money. It is a privilege to live thriftily, share almost every growing moment with our children, and study things like natural health and diet and intensive growing methods, saving tremendously on medical and food bills.

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt III

Blossom and I planting garlics last fall - none lived Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt III

It has been much tougher to bring Silver Oak home. The transition from self-employment away from home to a home-based enterprise has been very challenging. We have cut expenses dramatically by our lifestyle choices, enabling him to sell or give up many landscaping accounts we previously depended on. It has been financially difficult, yet every day spent at home developing a more productive homestead and other streams of income, is another day speaking more into the lives of our children. Our children will not be here forever, and we won’t regret time well-spent with them.

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt III

Silver Oak and Honey Bun preparing formerly-used tie-downs for the bio shelter

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt III

The kiddos helped Silver Oak dig holes for the concrete tie-downs

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt III

Lots of holes needed to be dug

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt III

Silver Oak and Evenstar fill more holes for the posts to frame in the ends

When Silver Oak works at home, Farmer Boy is his right-hand man, learning many valuable skills alongside him. This preparation for manliness beats being stuck with his mom and sisters all the time. Whatever Silver Oak does, Farmer Boy gets excited about. In free time he builds structures, connects plumbing lines with leftover PVC, wires imaginary “electrical” projects, changes tires on his wagon, and plants his own garden patch. One day in town he pointed out the upper control arms and ball joints on the monster truck next to us. How did he ever know what they were? He had helped Silver Oak replace those parts on our pick-up. What confidence-building learning experiences loaded with good memories to carry him into manhood! Oh…if you’re worried, he’s above average in reading skills, and pretty good in math in case you’re thinkin’ he’s missin’ his book-larnin’. ?

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt III

Silver Oak apprenticed Farmer Boy in raising his own batch of laying hens

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt III

Building lots of fence together

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt III

Building our deck a few years ago

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt III

Farmer Boy works on a project of his own...steps to a small treehouse

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt III

Cutting down dead papaya trees after helping Silver Oak down large pines

While we each have various chore assignments, our favorite way to accomplish things on the homestead is working together. Together we have made a long driveway, built our deck, dug a well, erected a windmill, created raised row gardens, cleaned out barnyard and rabbit manures, spread literally tons of mulch and manures, planted many trees and edible shrubs, put the cover on the bio shelter, cleared lots of palmettos, pulled weeds, planted and processed sugarcane, installed solar panels, cut firewood, made pretty scarves from panty-hose, done laundry by hand, and much more. Our favorite time spent working together is in the morning before the sun gets baking hot, around 6 or 7am till breakfast time. We have made many good memories this way.

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt III

Silver Oak and Evenstar build our generator hut the night after moving onto our homestead nearly three years ago

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt III

Digging our well...a major accomplishment!

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt III

Before our well was dug we had to haul in all our water so for six months we did laundry by hand

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt III

Blossom helps my dad install a solar panel on our roof

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt III

Evenstar and I were part of the electrical wiring crew for the solar panels

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt III

It took all of us to pull the cover onto our bio shelter (greenhouse)

A tiny house also helps build family ties. When we go somewhere else for the night our children actually prefer to be together in the same room to sleep. They enjoy each other and keep each other straight. No one sneaks around without someone noticing. It is a great safeguard in this age of easily accessed morally damaging materials. We do have designated times and places for privacy and belongings, especially for the older ones, and they are expected to respect each other’s boundaries. In this small space we work around each other, help each other, and keep things picked up for space to do the next thing.

Sometimes things are a disastrous mess, we get in each others’ way, and we grouch at each other! But my favorite thing is hearing the children sing together in harmony going about their various household tasks…which could not happen as easily spread out in a big house.

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt III

Evenstar, Blossom and Honey Bun play music together at my dad's birthday celebration

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt III

"Chilling out" after some hard work: Honey Bun, Little Bird, and Farmer Boy

This lifestyle does not automatically solve all family problems. It’s a challenge learning to include a child or two in all our work, rather than “efficiently” doing it ourselves. However, being together a lot naturally fosters stronger family ties and identity, encouraging our children’s hearts to be turned to us as parents, and our hearts to be turned to our children (Mal. 4:6; Luke 1:17).

Living off the grid in a tiny house is not for everyone, but we enjoy it! Stick around for part four of this series.

If you would like to receive future posts, be sure to click here, or sign up for the free Disaster Prep Checklist in the column on the right.

Blessings,

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt III

Note:  Credit must be given to Silver Oak for editing, critiquing, commenting on, and offering Scripture for what is written.  This is his vision (as well as mine), and he blesses me for taking time to write it down, freeing him to answer the many projects calling his name “out there.”

Linked w/Natural Living Mama, Barn Hop, From the Farm Blog Hop, The Art of Homemaking, Growing Home, Backyard Farming Connection, Down Home Blog Hop, Homemaking, Wildcrafting Wednesday, HomeAcre Hop, Old Fashioned Friday, Little House in the Suburbs, Farmgirl Friday, and Simple Saturdays.

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Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt II

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt II

Part of our summer homestead bounty: butternut squash and cucuzzi edible gourd

Early impressions shaping our worldview (see last post) opened the door for us to consider decisions affecting our lifestyle choices and dreams, leading us to eventually live off the grid. Here is one decision that did that.

Living Debt-free

One “radical” decision monumentally affecting our lives was not to live with debt. One Biblical perspective admonishes that debt is bondage God intended as a curse, not for His Beloved (Deut. 15:6; 28:12, 44; Prov. 22:7). Because credit and debt is the mainspring of our modern economy, Silver Oak’s uncle challenged that without a firm commitment (vow) to live only within the means God provides, we WILL eventually borrow. After weeks of prayer, we felt God’s confirmation to make that commitment, taking us on many sometimes scary but rewarding adventures! Our faith has greatly increased by repeatedly witnessing God’s provision for His leading, often at the last minute.

Three years ago, the 20 acres that became our homestead was the only available local property fitting our needs, desires, and dreams that our cash could buy. That made God’s leading clear. An option to borrow would probably have resulted in something less than God’s best.

We didn’t have the $15k needed to bring electric lines back to the home site, and an $8k simple solar power system made more long-term sense anyway. We had hoped to “some day” live independent of the grid, so with this little “push” the Lord helped it happen. The longer we live off the grid system, the more value we see in it.

Since it took nearly all available cash to purchase the property, none remained for a house…normally a bad idea, but the only option for realizing our dream. We scoured the internet for alternative housing ideas. Some made sense; others were quite costly. At that time Silver Oak’s cousin just “happened” to be selling his old Great Dane semi trailer converted first into an office, then into living quarters. He offered a very affordable price, but we still did not have enough. A tax refund came just in time to buy our tiny house, an old storage shed, and a few other things to set up our home. While waiting we lived for several weeks in my parents’ camper.

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt II

The home site as we prepared to move onto our property: the camper we lived in for six weeks, the big shed (now red) being towed in, and a pit (foreground) for our future tiny house (semi trailer)

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt II

A view on the other side of the camper, with the silver tool shed in place, fighting some palmettos to make way for the big (red) shed

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt II

It was a happy day when our tiny house was finally put into place so remodeling could begin to prepare it for a family of eight.

First, we had enough funds to buy two 6-volt deep-cycle batteries for lights and a few other basics. We soon added an 18cu ft energy star fridge purchased through Craigslist, and more batteries, gradually adding more until we had ten, and a 2 kw inverter.  Later the Lord graciously provided through a large adoption tax credit that enabled us to purchase solar panels and a new generator to replace our worn out one.

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt II

This fridge replaced our coolers and was later placed in our tiny house.

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt II

When we had only four batteries and a 750 watt inverter to run the fridge, lights and laptops

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt II

Over a year later we "graduated" to solar panels using 8-10 batteries to store power

As time went on, we added a large deck and roof, using many repurposed or free materials. We installed our windmill for pumping water from the well we dug, added rainwater storage tanks, lots of fences, fruit and olive trees, edible landscaping, and Buttercup, our Jersey cow. We purchased a window a/c unit and ceiling fans, and a greenhouse cover and a shade cloth for our large bio-shelter.

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt II

Our windmill that pumps water from the well to the tanks on our roof

The first year we rented a skid loader and root rake for two weekends to help clear our driveway winding back through the woods to our home site, and prepare a home site area and another place for a future cabin or small pasture. The following year as finances allowed we rented it again for a week to clear fencerows and enlarge pasture space. In between, we did lots of work by hand (and sweat), but it was satisfying.

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt II

Sweat and toil, now our quarter mile driveway back to the home site

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt II

Machinery gets it done quickly

Waiting for funds instead of instant gratification encourages gratefulness for each need met. It often saves money and energy in the end, allowing time to find better deals or solutions, or for God’s provision another way. It often eliminates or changes the need. With tight finances, we enjoy having no mortgage payment, and no risk of foreclosure in economic collapse or income loss. Free to serve the Lord whenever or wherever He calls, we are not slaves to a bank. We gladly give up “stuff” and conveniences for that. Jesus said, “A man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of things which he possesseth.” Luke 12:15b

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt II

Our kiddos wearing their Liberian outfits...two adopted from Kazakhstan, two from Liberia, and two biological

By NOT borrowing God provided for our four international adoptions. Adoption fees and expenses cost over three years of income for us, not including income and business losses being overseas many months. Funding came mostly from selling a small property that was worth little when we purchased it, but sold for much more a few years after rezoning battles and growth of the real estate bubble in 2005.

With an option to borrow, we would have purchased the adjoining property and house earlier, accepting debt “slavery” and probably unable to consider adoption for years. Alternatively, after rezoning made it buildable, we would have borrowed to build our dream home on that property. Instead, out of debt, but facing hopelessly large adoption costs, we put up a “For Sale” sign. Naïve, we were clueless that the property value had increased so drastically, until a realtor friend “happened” to see our sign. He got us a contract and large down payment just weeks before we needed to fly overseas for our first adoption. We would have missed that huge faith-builder with a loan.

Sometimes poor management or errors have forced a few months of credit card debt (card designated for online purchases only with cash to cover it immediately). Or we can’t pay immediately for services. Although not fun, we appreciate these reproofs and the built-in safeguards when carefully living within our means.

Living debt-free is not the only reason we homestead off the grid. I will share more soon!

If you would like to receive future posts, be sure to click here, or sign up for the free Disaster Prep Checklist in the column on the right.

Blessings,

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt II

Note:  Credit must be given to Silver Oak for editing, critiquing, commenting on, and offering Scripture for what is written.  This is his vision (as well as mine), and he blesses me for taking time to write it down, freeing him to answer the many projects calling his name “out there.”

Linked w/Natural Living Mama, Barn Hop, From the Farm Blog Hop, The Art of Homemaking, Growing Home, Backyard Farming Connection, Down Home Blog Hop, Homemaking, Wildcrafting Wednesday, HomeAcre Hop, Old Fashioned Friday, Little House in the Suburbs, Farmgirl Friday, and Simple Saturdays.

 

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Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt I

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt I

Our windmill and bamboo trellis overgrown with cucuzzi edible gourd

Our alternative lifestyle has intrigued many curious folks, encouraged and inspired some, and evoked remarks of disapproval from others. Some of you value the same things we do and tell us we are so privileged and blessed, sharing words of encouragement and visiting when possible. You express envy, hoping to one day do the same. You humble us and remind us of why we are doing what we are doing.

Others have said we are wasting our time, we’re crazy, or we’re trying to earn some sort of special favor with God. That causes us to step back and examine our motives and decisions to make sure we are truly staying on track with the vision and dream God has given us, making changes where needed.

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt I

Heading out to the egg-mobile at Full Circle Farm to gather eggs

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt I

Butterfly helps gather eggs

Recently we gave a presentation at Full Circle Farm about using windmills to pump water. Sunday morning we shared with their house fellowship our family story, including living debt-free, adoption, a more sustainable lifestyle, and a recent trip to South America. So we examined our journey again, and how and why God has brought us here. Here is the first of a six-part summary sharing numerous reasons for our choice of off-grid, tiny house living.

Early Impressions Shaping our World View

Both Silver Oak and I point to things that shaped our “off the grid” mentality long before we began living free of the electrical grid. Before marriage, my summer in Ecuador with a SWIM team (Summer Witness in Missions) highly influenced my life. It challenged me to follow Jesus’ example in giving my life as His witness. Would Jesus choose first class, or coach? A classy hotel, restaurant, or car, or one like the common people’s? Which “class” did He choose to best identify with the most people?

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt I

Washing cleaning rags with a little Quechua girl in the mountains of Ecuador in 1987 in her family's outdoor sink

Later I went on a choral singing tour, arriving in Romania immediately following the fall of communism. We held a service and proclaimed, “Our God, He is Alive!” in a former city hall where no mention of God’s name had previously been allowed. Their hunger for Truth and Light was extremely moving. The persecuted church leaders fervently admonished us several times to be faithful to Jesus. They pointed out that persecution in Romania had made it very difficult to follow Christ, but in America it is very difficult to live whole-heartedly for Jesus because of materialism.

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt I

This was one of many groups of formerly persecuted Believers we sang to in post-communist Romania in 1990

Materialism! What? STUFF? An easy life filled with comforts, pleasures, and material possessions can make it as difficult to follow Jesus as persecution behind the Iron Curtain? Their statements were very thought provoking. If they are right, how do we “escape” the trap that befalls most Americans, rendering its Church lukewarm and ineffective?

As a youth, Silver Oak went on several mission trips to Haiti and other countries, which introduced him to the reality of life in other places. Visiting them affected him deeply. He was a Believer, but not totally dedicated to Jesus, so his heart did not change. However, the seeds were sown, and he really wanted something different. When he was 20 a crisis brought him to his knees, and he rededicated his life to the Lordship of Jesus, greatly changing the direction of his life. Soon after we were married, Silver Oak read a book by KP Yohannan called “The Road to Reality.” It challenged him to think in terms of eternity, rather than with a temporal focus. This also greatly influenced his life.

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt I

The "laundromat" in Haiti

When we married, we had a keen desire to be open-minded about the ways of Christ; not automatically accepting the “herd” mentality, the way it’s always been done, or traditions of men, but deliberately trying to see all decisions afresh in light of God’s Word and the leading of the Holy Spirit. First-generation Believers have really challenged us by their simple trust in God’s Word and just willingly following what it says without lots of preconceived religious ideas. Many man-made traditions are beneficial, but shouldn’t be the most controlling factor. Fellowship with other Believers is a priority, but we resist following the crowd over the leading of the Lord.

We have made many mistakes, and certainly don’t consider what we’re doing to be the “only way.” Our choices are often not mainstream.  Our passion has been to raise God-fearing children to pass on the faith and ways of God to future generations, hopefully more “radically” than we have. Many in our generation have washed out spiritually, or are wrapped up in the all-American dream. We believe this comfort-driven, pleasure seeking, materialistic lifestyle may be the idol worship of our day, or at best a “high place” of worship that can easily lead us or future generations astray.

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt I

Silver Oak and Evenstar visited this country church on a recent trip to South America

Our values often put us “outside the box,” not connected to “the system.” It is an “off-the-grid” way of thinking, naturally setting us apart in this culture. The encouragement of like-minded Believers has been invaluable to us, as well as criticism of those who don’t see everything the same. We need both for accountability and for balance. Obviously not everyone sees things the way we do, and we respect that. Each is accountable to God for what we are given.

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt I

Can you guess which country this is in? See my answer below.

Since we live in America, but have not adopted the “All-American” way, our values and practices naturally tend to go against the flow. Our priorities and dreams are just different. This is portrayed in other reasons for our off-grid lifestyle, which I will share in upcoming posts.

If you would like to receive future posts, be sure to click here, or sign up for the free Disaster Prep Checklist in the column on the right.

Blessings,

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt I

Note:  Credit must be given to Silver Oak for editing, critiquing, commenting on, and offering Scripture for what is written. This is his vision (as well as mine), and he blesses me for taking time to write it down, freeing him to answer the many projects calling his name “out there.”

Photo:  Taken in FL, in front of our homestead.  Couldn’t resist this rather foreign-looking scene of Silver Oak and Farmer Boy taking Buttercup and her calf to graze at the neighbor’s.

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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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.

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part III
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