Our Home Dairy Cow and Goats

Our Home Dairy Cow and Goats
Chore time

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

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

Our Home Dairy Cow and Goats

Kids are always fun

Click here to read the interview.

Blessings,

Our Home Dairy Cow and Goats

Our Home Dairy Cow and Goats

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

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Growing Salad on Trees and Shrubs

Growing Salad on Trees and Shrubs

Dill and opal basil from the herb garden

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

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

Growing Salad on Trees and Shrubs

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

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

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

Growing Salad on Trees and Shrubs

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

Growing Salad on Trees and Shrubs

Honey Bun snacks on cranberry hibiscus, growing in the background

Perennial Vegetables

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

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

Growing Salad on Trees and Shrubs

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

Growing Salad on Trees and Shrubs

Facts about the awesome moringa tree

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

Growing Salad on Trees and Shrubs

Various products containing moringa available at ECHO

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

Growing Salad on Trees and Shrubs

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

Growing Salad on Trees and Shrubs

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

Growing Salad on Trees and Shrubs

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

Growing Salad on Trees and Shrubs

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

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

Ten Advantages of Perennial Vegetables

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

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

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

    Growing Salad on Trees and Shrubs

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

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

    Growing Salad on Trees and Shrubs

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

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

    Growing Salad on Trees and Shrubs

    Evenstar is growing a moringa hedge to feed her rabbits

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

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

Growing Salad on Trees and Shrubs

Aloe vera is a refreshing salad addition if finely diced

Harvesting Routine

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

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

Growing Salad on Trees and Shrubs

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

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

Growing Salad on Trees and Shrubs

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

Growing Salad on Trees and Shrubs

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

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

Blessings,

Growing Salad on Trees and Shrubs

Growing Salad on Trees and Shrubs

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

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How to Get More Done on the Homestead

How to Get More Done on the Homestead

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

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

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

How to Get More Done on the Homestead

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

How to Get More Done on the Homestead

The orchestra in concert. Evenstar is third from left.

How to Get More Done on the Homestead

A newly emerged Gulf Fritillary

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

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

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

How to Get More Done on the Homestead

Planting our olive trees

How to Get More Done on the Homestead

Our first batch of pioneer-style soap

How to Get More Done on the Homestead

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

How to Get More Done on the Homestead

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

How to Get More Done on the Homestead

Silver Oak's latest windmill installation on a neighboring ranch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Get More Done on the Homestead

Scooping decomposed organic matter from the barnyard for our raised beds

How to Get More Done on the Homestead

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

How to Get More Done on the Homestead

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

How to Get More Done on the Homestead

New rows or beds are always being added

How to Get More Done on the Homestead

The beginning of our herb garden this spring

How to Get More Done on the Homestead

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

How to Get More Done on the Homestead

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

How to Get More Done on the Homestead

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

How to Get More Done on the Homestead

Digging a trench for plumbing from the well to the windmill

How to Get More Done on the Homestead

Spreading pine needle mulch in the walkways

How to Get More Done on the Homestead

Building fences...the never ending job

How to Get More Done on the Homestead

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

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

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

How to Get More Done on the Homestead

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

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

How to Get More Done on the Homestead

Buttercup and her new calf

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

Blessings,

How to Get More Done on the Homestead

How to Get More Done on the Homestead

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

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Homestead Scenes ~ 13

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

 

~Summer Joys~

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

 

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

 

Homestead Scenes ~ 13

 

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

Homestead Scenes ~ 13

 

Homestead Scenes ~ 13

Homestead Scenes ~ 13

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

Homestead Scenes ~ 13

 

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

Homestead Scenes ~ 13

 

 

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

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The Incredible Edible Vine

The Incredible Edible Vine

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

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

The Incredible Edible Vine

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

The Incredible Edible Vine

We enjoyed their northern vegetable garden

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

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

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

The Incredible Edible Vine

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

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

The Incredible Edible Vine

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

The Incredible Edible Vine

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

The Incredible Edible Vine

Tied up with pantyhose

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

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

The Incredible Edible Vine

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

The Incredible Edible Vine

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

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

The Incredible Edible Vine

This pile of greens was harvested for the evening meal.

The Incredible Edible Vine

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

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

The Incredible Edible Vine

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

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

The Incredible Edible Vine

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

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

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

A pot full of greens ready to be cooked.

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

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

The Incredible Edible Vine

The first gourd hangs majestically like a giant green pendant.

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

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

Blessings,

The Incredible Edible Vine

The Incredible Edible Vine

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

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Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part III

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part III

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

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

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

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

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part III

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

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

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

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

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part III

Our nubian milk doe Jody with her triplets last December

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part III

Our roosters fertilize the eggs and protect the flock.

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

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

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

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part III

The black soldier fly composter we made

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

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

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part III

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

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

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

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part III

Evenstar's bunnies enjoy sprouted oats

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

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

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part III

The bountiful barnyard banquet!

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

Blessings,

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part III

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part III

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

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Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part II

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part II

Ten pots of sugarcane we started with in December

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

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

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

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part II

Cutting the canes to start more plants

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part II

We poked the cuttings into pots with soil

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part II

They stayed in these pots till two weeks ago

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

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

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part II

Farmer Boy proudly hauls the new plants to the field

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part II

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

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part II

What a sight we made in the rain!

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part II

Like my "rainhat?"

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part II

Farmer Boy waters the sugarcane with the irrigation rig

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part II

Chaya, or spinach tree

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

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

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part II

Our new starts of chaya seem to be thriving

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

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part II

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

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

Blessings,

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part II

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part II

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

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Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part I

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part I

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part I

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

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

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

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part I

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

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part I

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

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

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

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part I

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

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

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

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part I

The homemade silo at ECHO

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part I

Sprouted oats Evenstar grows for her rabbits

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

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

Blessings,

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part I

Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part I

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

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DIY Technologies Using Local and Recycled Materials

DIY Technologies Using Local and Recycled Materials

This wood-heated oven is made from two large barrels

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

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

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

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

DIY Technologies Using Local and Recycled Materials

The back of the oven, displaying the fire pit underneath

DIY Technologies Using Local and Recycled Materials

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

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

DIY Technologies Using Local and Recycled Materials

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

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

DIY Technologies Using Local and Recycled Materials

Our 16 brick rocket stove

DIY Technologies Using Local and Recycled Materials

Basic rocket stove technology per ECHO

DIY Technologies Using Local and Recycled Materials

Various rocket stove applications

DIY Technologies Using Local and Recycled Materials

A deluxe two-burner rocket stove

DIY Technologies Using Local and Recycled Materials

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

DIY Technologies Using Local and Recycled Materials

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

DIY Technologies Using Local and Recycled Materials

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

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

DIY Technologies Using Local and Recycled Materials

The Sawyer water filter

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

DIY Technologies Using Local and Recycled Materials

SODIS - a simple water purification method

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

DIY Technologies Using Local and Recycled Materials

Homemade solar dehydrators

DIY Technologies Using Local and Recycled Materials

Simple corn shellers

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

DIY Technologies Using Local and Recycled Materials

A two liter bottle with water installed in a metal roof

DIY Technologies Using Local and Recycled Materials

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

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

Blessings,

DIY Technologies Using Local and Recycled Materials

DIY Technologies Using Local and Recycled Materials

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

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ECHO – Alternative Gardening Methods

ECHO   Alternative Gardening Methods

With my five daughters at a recent ladies brunch

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

ECHO   Alternative Gardening Methods

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

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

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

ECHO   Alternative Gardening Methods

Honey Bun cranks the pump made of upcycled materials

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

ECHO   Alternative Gardening Methods

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

ECHO   Alternative Gardening Methods

Sandbags control the flow of water

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

ECHO   Alternative Gardening Methods

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

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

ECHO   Alternative Gardening Methods

An intern fills the bucket drip system with water

ECHO   Alternative Gardening Methods

A simple kitchen garden

ECHO   Alternative Gardening Methods

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

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

ECHO   Alternative Gardening Methods

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

ECHO   Alternative Gardening Methods

Plants growing from bags

ECHO   Alternative Gardening Methods

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

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

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

ECHO   Alternative Gardening Methods

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

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

ECHO   Alternative Gardening Methods

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

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

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

Blessings,

ECHO   Alternative Gardening Methods

ECHO   Alternative Gardening Methods

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

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ECHO – Growing Massive Amounts of Food the Fast Way

ECHO – Growing Massive Amounts of Food the Fast Way

ECHO - "Fighting World Hunger"

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

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

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

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

ECHO – Growing Massive Amounts of Food the Fast Way

The duck house sits over the pond

ECHO – Growing Massive Amounts of Food the Fast Way

The duck droppings fall into the pond

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

ECHO – Growing Massive Amounts of Food the Fast Way

The rice paddies

ECHO – Growing Massive Amounts of Food the Fast Way

Planting the rice

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

ECHO – Growing Massive Amounts of Food the Fast Way

Rows of fodder crops

ECHO – Growing Massive Amounts of Food the Fast Way

Young moringa trees in the background

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

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

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

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

ECHO – Growing Massive Amounts of Food the Fast Way

Leucaena

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

ECHO – Growing Massive Amounts of Food the Fast Way

Comfrey

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

ECHO – Growing Massive Amounts of Food the Fast Way

Farmer Boy eats Cranberry Hibiscus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings,

ECHO – Growing Massive Amounts of Food the Fast Way

ECHO – Growing Massive Amounts of Food the Fast Way

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

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Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

Our new windmill sings in the breeze

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

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

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

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

Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

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

Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

The four-foot-deep holes were dug by hand

Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

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

Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

The tower and platform are completed

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

Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

16 bags of concrete were mixed and added to each hole

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

Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

Assembling the engine, tail, and vane

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

Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

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

Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

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

Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

With ease the crane swung it up and into place

Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

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

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

Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

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

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

Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

The aerator pump was connected

Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

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

Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

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

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

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

Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

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

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

Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

Mounting the t-pole on top of the tower

Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

The chain hoist is hung from the t-pole

Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

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

Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

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

Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

Almost there!

Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

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

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

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

Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

Silver Oak's safety harness

Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

Testing it by hanging on the side of the deck

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

Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

Our view of our handsome addition from the front yard

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

Blessings,

Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

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

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Absolute Preparedness

Absolute Preparedness

Visiting Colonial Williamsburg in 2010

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

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

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

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

Absolute Preparedness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Absolute Preparedness

Learning soap-making at a nearby folk school

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

I want my children to live with that security.  

I want you to live with that security.  

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

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

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

I pray you will face the unkown future…PREPARED!

Blessings,

Absolute Preparedness

Absolute Preparedness

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

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Growing Tropical Trees in a Not-So-Tropical Zone

Growing Tropical Trees in a Not So Tropical Zone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Growing Tropical Trees in a Not So Tropical Zone

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

Growing Tropical Trees in a Not So Tropical Zone

Candles and chimneys are placed under the trees.

Growing Tropical Trees in a Not So Tropical Zone

That night the yard is decorated with "ghosts"

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

Growing Tropical Trees in a Not So Tropical Zone

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

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

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

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

Growing Tropical Trees in a Not So Tropical Zone

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

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

Growing Tropical Trees in a Not So Tropical Zone

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

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

Growing Tropical Trees in a Not So Tropical Zone

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

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

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

Growing Tropical Trees in a Not So Tropical Zone

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

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

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

Blessings,

Growing Tropical Trees in a Not So Tropical Zone

Growing Tropical Trees in a Not So Tropical Zone

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

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Happy Resurrection Day!

Happy Resurrection Day!

Blossom plays her "new" (first) flute and Honey Bun her violin

On Easter we commemorate the most world-changing event in human history. Because Jesus rose from the dead, death is conquered for all who receive His free gift of forgiveness, cleansing, and eternal life. Without that Hope we have in the work Jesus completed, life would never hold the same meaning. How blessed we are beyond imagination to be able to be called a child of the One who paid for our redemption so we can look forward to eternity with Him!

As a special blessing to you and in honor of our Lord, we have a song to share, played on violin and flute by our six children ages seven through 18. They played “Holy, Holy, Holy” at our Easter service today, the first time all six have ever played together in public. How fitting it happened on the most signifigant day of the year in honor of our resurrected Lord!  (Sorry, I’m not the techiest person and the video is distorted for some reason…if you have any advice for me…).

Since moving to this homestead 17 months ago the children have repeatedly asked when they can again practice the violins they had previously started learning on. It finally feels like we can breathe enough to add that to our schedule, so three weeks ago we dusted off the violins and started practicing again. The youngest five have grown into larger sizes so we had to shift things a bit. Evenstar, our 18 year old, has played since she was five, but the others are beginners. Blossom, age 13, had her dream of getting a flute come true about three weeks ago as well, and she has practiced every spare minute.

Happy Resurrection Day!

Left to right: Butterfly (10), Little Bird (8), Farmer Boy (7), Evenstar (18), Blossom (13), Honey Bun (11)

This was a special day for me. I am so blessed to be the mother of these six children, and it has been a long-time dream to have them sing and play beautiful Christ-honoring music together. Singing has come easily and happens all the time, but playing instruments together is quite another thing. As I pray they will grow up keeping Christ the center of their lives, I pray any music they play will honor and glorify Him!

Have a blessed Easter!

Happy Resurrection Day!

Happy Resurrection Day!

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

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Sustainable Soap that Grows on Trees

Sustainable Soap that Grows on Trees

Soapnuts or soapberries (credit:Wikipedia)

At first I thought it was a joke. But there really is a soap-growing tree! In fact, other plants also produce natural detergent, but today’s focus is on the soapberry or soapnut tree from India, which produces nuts (actually berries) that contain saponins to make soap.

A few years ago I researched these trees and their berries. The most popular way to use them is as laundry detergent, although they can be used for other cleaners as well. Imagine completely natural detergent that leaves no chemical residues in clothing. Whether or not we are obviously allergic to chemicals producing suds, fragrance or preservatives, our health is impacted by what we wear. Chemical residues enter our bloodstream through the skin. What we wear can literally become a part of us. 

For this reason and to save money, many have started formulating their own detergents. Many recipes are available online, but I am happy to say I don’t need to cook or mix up large batches of homemade detergents because I use these awesome little berries! Lehman’s sells small quantities of them, but I found Virgin Green Products has the best price, and they faithfully remove the seeds.

Here is how it works: you place five soapnuts into the provided little cotton bag with a drawstring, enough for five loads of laundry. Hot water releases the detergent, so most people simply throw the bag into the washer with the clothing until it’s finished. It does not need to be removed during the rinse cycle as it actually softens the clothing and eliminates the need for fabric softeners as well.

Sustainable Soap that Grows on Trees

Pieces of soapberries (equivelant of five whole ones) are placed into the little cotton bag

Soapnuts work well with HE washers because they don’t produce a lot of suds. Of course the warranty may be voided if they’re not approved by the manufacturer, as it is with other homemade detergents. I’m happy to be free of that problem with my old top-loading washer bought through Craig’s List for $65. It beats doing laundry by hand like we did the first six months after moving here. Sustainable Soap that Grows on Trees

Sustainable Soap that Grows on Trees

We're glad to NOT be doing laundry by hand anymore, but glad we have experience doing it so we are ready if the need arises.

For cold water wash use our method, as follows. We bring about a cup of water to a boil, remove from heat and place the little cotton bag of soapnuts into the hot water to steep for about eight minutes. While waiting we collect and sort laundry and fill the washer. We remove the bag from the hot water and place the soapnut “tea” into the washer. After washing and line-drying, our clothing is clean and soft, using no fabric softeners or harsh chemicals.

Sustainable Soap that Grows on Trees

Our little soapnut "tea" pot

After five or six washes the soap nuts get really limp and should be removed from the little cloth bag and composted. Five fresh berries in the bag make you ready for five or six more washes. Store extra berries in an airtight container or bag so they won’t absorb moisture.

For two years soapnuts have been our laundry detergent and, yes, our clothes get clean. :) As with any laundry detergent we use spot cleaners on soiled clothing before washing. For heavily soiled loads or those needing disinfecting we add natural whiteners, disinfectants, or deodorizers (peroxide, vinegar, peppermint essential oil, and/or baking soda). The biggest problem is the high level of iron in our water. A few drops of Shaklee Basic H helps “soften” and “wet” the water. I want to experiment with baking soda to see if it does the same. The mineralized water makes our whites murky, and I’m looking for a solution. When our rainwater collection system is completed we can use rainwater for whites.

Sustainable Soap that Grows on Trees

Our line-dried clothes are not stiff...because of soapnuts

Of course I want a soapnut tree in my yard! Imagine picking soap off a tree and never buying cleaners or detergents again. Ha! Well, that poses a few challenges as it is a very tropical tree and takes five to ten years to produce berries. I have seeds and hope to plant some in an area protected from frost (our greenhouse?), but the long wait feels a bit discouraging. Meanwhile we purchased a huge box of soapberries to last many years before needing the tree. They have a long shelf life sealed in plastic.

The economical benefits are great as well. When we bought the large box of soapnuts from Virgin Green Products a few years ago we got 12 bags for much less per bag than buying a single bag. Today I was quoted $15.95/bag for 12 bags, rather than the normal $27.95 each, a 43% savings! Add $13-$30 for shipping, depending on where you live, and it’s up to $18/bag. One bag lasted us a year and a half which is about $12/year. Not bad. The description says a one kilo bag washes 330 loads, which is a low estimate in our experience. HE washers do even better. We have enough laundry detergent to last us 15 years as we’re only on our second bag! Maybe I’ll do a give-away to share my surplus. Sustainable Soap that Grows on Trees

If you must have lots of suds or fragrances (made by chemical additives) that modern detergents have, soapnuts are not for you. With soapnuts your clothes get clean and smell fresh, but you won’t see a lot of soapy suds and your clean clothes will not have a fragrance. But if you want to avoid unhealthy chemicals, save money, protect the environment, and live sustainably, you’ll want to give them a try!

Sustainable Soap that Grows on Trees

A 2.2lb (1 Kilo) bag of soapnuts...also pictured is mineral salt deoderant that we use

Soapnuts can also be used for household cleaners and hand, hair or body washing. We successfully tried all those for six months. But hot weather turns it rancid after a week or two. Here in hot Florida that meant making new batches regulary. With a family of eight, refilling all soap and cleaning spray bottles every week felt big. In the fridge it keeps longer. But who wants cold soap or shampoo? For now we use it only for laundry, knowing there are other options if hard times come.

After writing this post I thought to myself that I should become an affiliate of Virgin Green Products, since I can honestly highly recommend their soapnuts and other green products. Sooooo, I applied just today (Wednesday the 20th) and I am now an official affiliate. Products purchased by going to their site through my links will earn me a commission! If you do so, I thank you in advance, and hope they do as well for you as they’ve done for me.

Blessings,

Sustainable Soap that Grows on Trees

Sustainable Soap that Grows on Trees

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

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Learning From the Past for the Future

Learning From the Past for the Future

We enjoyed spending a weekend with Silver Oak's family at a cabin in OH

February was full of family gatherings, field trips, and travel. We ventured to various historical places in Florida and spent time in Ohio with Silver Oak’s family. We learned many history lessons, topped off by listening to G.A. Henty’s With Lee in Virginia as we drove through that very state.

Meanwhile, back on our little homestead our new fireplace has kept our deck cozy! I’ll be sad to see cold weather go. Starlet, our younger cat, likes the fireplace too. She sleeps on the warm hearth and takes over my lap when I sit nearby writing blogposts (not often these days) or grading schoolwork. Most of my extended family was here for brunch one day and the fire made it quite comfy. I love it! Our deck continues to be a great blessing.

Learning From the Past for the Future

What a life!!

Learning From the Past for the Future

Most of my family had brunch here, including all 18 kiddos...notice my 98-yr-old grandpa on the right

Learning From the Past for the Future

Enjoying the fireplace

A highlight in February was visiting the Heritage Festival in central Florida with my 98-year-old grandpa. The best part was seeing the old two-room schoolhouse in which he attended school when he was 12 and 13. It was moved a few years ago from its original location to the historical Crowley Museum where they are restoring it. What fun taking pictures and chatting with others who were tickled to see a live person who had actually attended school there.

It is so neat to ask questions and learn from my grandpa how things were in the “old days.” We and our children are grateful for the priceless treasure of having him still with us. He tells how his family used to travel from OH to FL every year and back again, on dirt roads that went over the mountains rather than through them. Amazing!

Learning From the Past for the Future

Dipping candles at the Heritage Festival...notice Grandpa on the right

Learning From the Past for the Future

Grandpa poses on the steps of the two-room schoolhouse where he attended school at 12 and 13

Learning From the Past for the Future

Six-yr-old Farmer Boy and Grandpa represent a span of four generations

Learning From the Past for the Future

Our whole gang with Grandpa

Learning From the Past for the Future

This little invention dramatically changed the world

One day my parents took my entire extended family to visit the historic Edison home in Ft. Myers. How interesting to see some of the first light bulbs, and many other inventions that changed our world. We owe a lot to Edison.  It made us reflect on lifestyle changes these inventions brought about, including the industrial revolution which encouraged fathers and mothers to work outside the home rather than raise families on their homestead. Any wonder why the current generation is out of touch with reality (where does butter come from?) and the family unit fractured? We’re thankful for lights at the flip of a switch, but our complete dependency on them may be a handicap. Some things to ponder.

On the other hand, if Edison would have grown up in today’s society we probably would have never heard of him. Back then he was kicked out of school and home educated most of his growing up years because his teachers claimed he was impossible. Today he would most likely be placed on Ritalin or some other mind-altering drug to keep him under control, most likely inhibiting his ability to invent (that is, if he escaped the horrors of abortion to begin with, being the seventh child).

Learning From the Past for the Future

For the first time sound could be recorded and played...

Learning From the Past for the Future

...and images could be captured on film, leading to the first motion pictures

Next to Edison’s home is the estate of his friend Henry Ford, which we also toured. As we admired one of his early motor vehicles parked in the garage, we noticed much of it was made of varnished wood. We learned that they used to ship the basic steel frame and motor in wooden crates, then the buyer would use the wood of the crate to finish it like he wanted! Nothing went to waste.

That made us feel a bit of camaraderie with the folks back then, as we are among the wooden pallet gatherers of our day. As I write there is a big pile of large heavy-duty pallets sitting on our property, waiting to be jigsawed apart and the lumber repurposed for many projects around here.

Learning From the Past for the Future

Farmer Boy, Silver Oak and Grandpa admire this early pick-up truck...notice the beautiful wooden cab made from the wood of the shipping crate

Learning From the Past for the Future

A modern day example of repurposing wood...a chicken coop at my brother's place built from pallets

Before the days of air conditioning, both Edison’s and Ford’s homes were constructed to be as cool as possible in the summer. Built on the edge of a very large river, breezes flow much of the time. There are breezeways between bedrooms and living areas and kitchens, and lots of windows and doors on all sides, surrounded by covered porches blocking direct sun.

Modern homes here in Florida will suffer greatly from heat if the grid ever fails because they are dependent on air conditioning to be livable. Even if off the grid we produce enough power for air conditioners, we will be in miserable trouble if one day they cease to work for whatever reason, unless we build our living area with that in mind.

Learning From the Past for the Future

Breezeways...

Learning From the Past for the Future

...and covered porches

Learning From the Past for the Future

Lots of windows and doors for ventilation in the summer, and fireplaces for heat in the winter

Learning From the Past for the Future

Edison's laboratory where he spent most of his waking hours

One very sad note was that Edison’s intense desire to invent kept him preoccupied in the lab so much that his wife and children rarely saw him. One of his sons became an alcoholic, hardly knowing his father. Tragically, God did not seem to be part of his life. It’s a reminder that the only things worth living for are the things worth dying for. If we work our tails off only building our temporary earthly homesteads and preparing only for this life, we may miss out on relationships with our precious children and even our final destination in the presence of Jesus! That would be most tragic, indeed!

Blessings,
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Off-Grid Homestead Update

Off Grid Homestead Update

Silver Oak examines my brother's windmill in preparation for setting up our own

This blog has been rather quiet lately. We’ve been spending time with extended family. It’s refreshing to stop and connect with family we don’t get to see very often. But we’ve also made a little headway here on the homestead, so here’s a brief overview.

We lost one of our kids (goats, that is) to tetanus last month. We’ve never vaccinated for tetanus unless there were problems. This year after dehorning the new kids, three of them contracted tetanus! That still has us a bit puzzled, but we’re blaming the fact that they are sharing the barnyard with the horses. We hope to have that remedied by next year’s kidding season.

We had tetanus anti-toxin and penicillin on hand to treat them right away, but discovered too late for the first kid that our vial of penicillin was no longer effective. A new one yielded better results. First they get a shot of anti-toxin, then penicillin each day for five days. Tetanus causes their muscles to contract and they can’t walk or jump around like normal. Their legs get stiff, then their necks, and then their jaw (lock-jaw). If caught quickly enough (hopefully before their jaw stiffens) it can often be treated successfully.

In our 16 years of raising goats we have had only two kids with tetanus before now. The first died within 48 hours because we didn’t know what to do in time, but the second was successfully treated and recovered. Now to suddenly have three in one year! It may be worth always vaccinating them immediately after dehorning, much as I hate those mercury-laden vaccines! We treated their seared horn buds every day with triodine, but they still got tetanus. Are we missing something?

Off Grid Homestead Update

Poor Alex gets poked with the needle

Off Grid Homestead Update

We fed him milk with a large syringe...

Off Grid Homestead Update

...and made him as comfortable as possible, but sadly he did not make it.

On a positive note, Silver Oak did finish framing the back end of the deck! A temporary tarp blocks the cold wind, and the screen will come later. One day good friends from PA came and he helped frame, and my dad helped another day.

Off Grid Homestead Update

Finishing the wall with plywood

Off Grid Homestead Update

Painstakingly fitting the sill...

Off Grid Homestead Update

...to complete the wall

My mom also came and helped to start painting the big shed. The front with the most tedious work is almost done!

Off Grid Homestead Update

My mom and Blossom trim out the barn doors

Off Grid Homestead Update

This end is nearly finished

We tried to fix a soft sandy spot in our lane that tries to swallow little cars. When it’s wet it’s fine, but several dry months have made the sand really loose, especially in that spot. We added gravel, which improved it, but we’re not sure if that will be enough.

Off Grid Homestead Update

Filling the loose ruts with gravel

When cleaning rabbit manure out from under Evenstar’s rabbit hutches, we found HUGE earthworms!  They were carefully transported to a new home in the garden.

Off Grid Homestead Update

These are some grown up worms!

Silver Oak is in the middle of erecting our new windmill to pump water from our well! We’re not using any big equipment to dig the holes or set up the tower, so it is taking more time and man power.

Off Grid Homestead Update

The base is assembled...

Off Grid Homestead Update

...and deep holes are being dug

We built a rocket stove on our deck, not expecting much smoke. It took less than 30 minutes to assemble 16 fire bricks on a block base made of things we already had from our big Craigslist purchase in December.

Off Grid Homestead Update

Our new rocket stove

It took much longer to get a fire going properly and make popcorn on it. It took forever! And it smoked like mad, all over our deck and into the house before we got the windows shut! It was a bit discouraging. I was really hoping to use it to heat pots of food which could then be placed in a basket slow cooker to finish cooking, using absolutely no fuel except for a few of the many sticks found lying on the ground in the woods. This smoking dragon not only smoked up our deck and house but made my pots terribly sooty and black. Ugh!

Off Grid Homestead Update

It took longer to get the first fire hot than it did to build the stove!

Off Grid Homestead Update

Finally it was hot enough to make popcorn with my hand-crank popper.

The next day I examined the instructions again and discovered we didn’t do a few things right, like make the center bottom brick thinner than the others with a thicker brick in front for the burning sticks to rest on, allowing air to flow under them. Hmmm. Perhaps that was the problem. We’re not giving up yet. As soon as we can we plan to move it off the deck and to the side so smoke won’t be drawn up there, and make those minor changes to hopefully stop the smoking problem altogether. According to the instructions a rocket stove is not supposed to smoke! We’ll see.

Off Grid Homestead Update

The brick on which the sticks lay should be lower to make the cavity larger, and a large brick should be placed in front of the stove on which to rest the outer ends of the sticks and allow better air flow.

Next time I’ll share some things we’ve been doing with extended family.  It’s been a busy month!

 

Blessings,
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DIY Slow Cooker With No Fuel or Sun

DIY Slow Cooker With No Fuel or Sun

Dry beans make nutritious, economical meals and store easily for emergencies, but use lots of fuel, taking up to two or three hours to cook

We have learned a very simple idea that greatly reduces the energy (fuel) needed to cook. Stoves take lots of electricity, gas, or wood, depending on what kind you use. What if you could cut your fuel or electricity usage for cooking by 50-70% using items you already have on hand? An added bonus with this idea is you will never burn anything!

There are several names for this age-old method of conserving energy, including haybox, wonderbox, or heat-retention cooking. It is so simple and only takes a minute or two and a little planning ahead.

First bring the pot of food to a boil or to the temperature it needs to be until all of the contents are thoroughly heated, depending on the size and density of the food particles. Then remove the pot from the heat and place it into a well insulated container to keep the heat inside the pot. This utilizes heat already in the pot to finish cooking without continual energy usage. It may take up to twice as long to cook this way, but it cuts energy consumption way down.

You can purchase a Wonderbox or find a pattern to make one, but when you live in a small house like we do you don’t want extra things using precious space. For our method you need the following:

  1. Laundry basket
  2. Bath towel (optional)
  3. 3-4 blankets

Let’s use a pot of brown rice as an example. I place the pot of rice and water on the stove and add spices while bringing it to a boil. I allow it to boil two or three minutes while I assemble a basket “slow cooker,” placing a big blanket in the bottom and partly up the sides of a laundry basket.

I stir the rice, place the lid on, make sure it’s still boiling, then lower it into the basket. If the contents could seep out of the pot I use a bath towel around it to avoid washing blankets. I fit a medium sized blanket snuggly over the pot and tuck the corners inside the big blanket . Then I place one or two other blankets on top, since heat will most likely escape there if it can.

Then I set the basket aside out of traffic for about 1 ½ hrs. When we’re ready for dinner we pull it out and serve with whatever topping we prepared.

DIY Slow Cooker With No Fuel or Sun

Line the basket with one large blanket and place the pot into it

DIY Slow Cooker With No Fuel or Sun

Tuck another blanket or two snuggly around the sides and over the top

DIY Slow Cooker With No Fuel or Sun

Finish with a good thick blanket on top

For our family we cook three or four cups of dry brown rice at a time (in a three or four quart pot). Normally it takes about 12 minutes to bring a big pot of brown rice to a boil and simmer for a few minutes, then 40 more minutes of simmering on the stove top. That is a total of around 52 minutes of stovetop cooking. Using the basket cooker method I cut stovetop cooking down by 77%, completely cutting out that 40 minutes of simmering.

It takes between one to two times longer cooking this way, which should be calculated in advance, but timing is not nearly as critical as when using the stove.

We are not big meat eaters, but I know others have cooked meat successfully (smaller pieces) if heated thoroughly before placing it in the basket cooker. Dry beans, stews, lentils, pasta and potatoes can be successfully cooked in this way. Boil bigger particles a bit longer before removing from the stove to make sure they are hot all the way through. More specific information can be found here.

Every Sunday our house church has a potluck, so our food must stay hot for several hours, waiting to be served after church. We used to keep it warm in an electric crockpot or on a warmer. Now we just pack it in our basket cooker, and it’s ready to serve hot at lunch time. It can finish cooking during the service, or we allow a completely cooked dish to cool to serving temperature and place it in the cooker just to keep it hot. If someone asks about bringing laundry to church, we smile and pull out the pot.  DIY Slow Cooker With No Fuel or Sun

The best dry beans I’ve ever made were cooked using our basket cooker. I used to soak my pinto beans overnight, drain the water in the morning (to “de-gas” them), then add fresh water and cook them for 1 ½ to two hours before adding the final ingredients and simmering for another 20 minutes. I would let them set for at least eight hours for the flavors to mingle well before reheating and serving.

Recently I tried using the basket cooker with great results. I soaked the beans all day, drained them and added fresh water in the evening (along with garlic, olive oil and salt) and brought them to a boil for several minutes right before bedtime. I placed them in the basket overnight and when I got up in the morning they were absolutely perfect!! I added the final ingredients (vinegar, honey, cummin, and onions) and barely brought it to a boil before placing it back in the basket. It “simmered” in there all day, and that evening was ready to serve. It was so easy, and the beans were very tender and flavorful, with no mushiness. I was sorry I hadn’t tried it before.

DIY Slow Cooker With No Fuel or Sun

Our homemade windshield shade cooker

It is wise to be familiar with this cooking method for emergency situations with limited fuel. It allows a little fuel go a long way, making it possible to store whole foods for a crisis which may need longer cooking times. Your back-up cooking plan may include a camp stove of some kind, a solar cooker, or an open fire. Either way, being able to use a “slow cooker” with no fuel will be helpful.

Many variations of this cooker can be made, so use your imagination and make use of what is readily available. Any tub, basket, crate, box or even a hole in the ground will do for a container, and the insulating material could be a sleeping bag, pillows, towels, jackets, hay or other materials that won’t melt or emit toxic fumes. Use common sense with flammable materials. The possibilities are endless, but the key is to make it thick enough with no way for the heat to escape. If you like to sew, here is a pattern for a Wonder Box.

DIY Slow Cooker With No Fuel or Sun

Sometimes we practice the valuable skill of learning to cook over an open fire (I've still got lots to learn about it!)

DIY Slow Cooker With No Fuel or Sun

If you find this idea helpful, you will find more ideas for preparing food to store and cook efficiently for your everyday use or emergency purposes in How to Prepare a Family Emergency Food Storage Plan: Giving the Frugal Family Confidence to Survive in the Face of a Crisis. Silver Oak and I wrote this eBook after years of practicing a rotating emergency food storage system for our family. Our budget has not allowed us to purchase expensive emergency foods, and we believe it’s healthier and more efficient for stored emergency food to consist mostly of what we normally eat. We live in hot, muggy, buggy Florida, and with our methods have rarely needed dessicants, Mylar, or other such supplies.

How to Prepare a Family Emergency Food Storage Plan spells out our entire plan with many alternatives to fit your family’s needs. The price is currently discounted by 33% for a limited time.

God bless you with wisdom to live prepared.

DIY Slow Cooker With No Fuel or Sun

Blessings,DIY Slow Cooker With No Fuel or Sun
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Our Cozy New Fireplace

Our Cozy New Fireplace

Our completed fireplace

This morning I sat in front of our new fireplace that Silver Oak finished just a few weeks ago and I felt much satisfaction and pleasure watching the flames lick the oak logs cut from fallen trees on our little homestead. The backdrop of antique brick on our lovely big deck, sitting in my comfy cane rocker that we found by the road in someone’s trash last year and my mom refinished for me, feeling the cool Florida January weather…I feel very loved and blessed by my heavenly Father. I love this life He has given us here with our tiny house on our off-grid homestead…not always easy as you know if you read this blog, but simple and satisfying.

I’ve always wanted a fireplace but never had one, at least not a functional one. Now that we live on our own land for the first time, I have a beautiful brick (and metal) fireplace. My hubby finished building it a few weeks ago, and it has been used quite regulary mornings and evenings ever since, to keep warm as well as to enjoy relaxing and cozy family time.

After we moved to this new off-grid homestead my dad told us he had an old freestanding metal fireplace he’d gotten from a customer who wanted to get rid of it. With all the other projects going around here we didn’t even look at it until last fall. My dad pulled it out of his barn and cleaned it up, giving it a new coat of paint. We put down some stepping stones as a temporary hearth on the edge of our deck to try it out for a few months, and now it is permanently installed in its final resting spot.

Silver Oak spent several days building a brick wall behind the fireplace to protect the camper behind it, and then a hearth around the bottom. He braced up the deck underneath with blocks to support the extra weight, and then put a hole through the deck roof over the camper for the chimney. I repainted all the pipes and metal fireplace and we were able to get it all done and fire lit that evening just in the nick of time for the ladies from our church to meet here. Nothing like living on the edge.

Our Cozy New Fireplace

It was quite a mess for a while

Our Cozy New Fireplace

Bricking around the chimney

Our Cozy New Fireplace

Then the hole was made in the roof

Our Cozy New Fireplace

Finally it was ready to burn logs

Our Cozy New Fireplace

And we've been enjoying it ever since

This past few weeks we have hosted several families and our little house church on our deck, and the fireplace has been a huge factor in creating a homey atmosphere. Now Silver Oak is framing in the back end of the deck for screen. A tarp temporarily blocks the cold wind, and a fire keeps the deck fairly comfortable. I can’t wait till both ends are framed in and screen added, with Roman blinds we can pull to block wind and rain. It will allow us to stay warmer during the winter and keep mosquitoes and rain out during the summer.

Our Cozy New Fireplace

The back wall is framed in and a temporary tarp hung

Now that Silver Oak is learning the skill of blacksmithing I am hoping he can build a pot hanger in the fireplace so we can also learn to use it for cooking when a fire is burning. There is so much to learn.

This afternoon I looked out the kitchen window while washing dishes and enjoyed another pleasant sight. The side yard, once filled with usable “junk” (known before as the “graveyard”), is slowly being transformed into a garden. It is covered with a nice layer of dried horse, goat, cow, chicken, and rabbit manure, ash from our burned piles of palmettos, and other organic matter…an attempt to transform our white sugar sand into something productive.

We are trying the idea of raised rows, as shown at Old World Garden Farms. It keeps expenses much lower and is more sustainable than building raised beds with lumber. We’re doing it a little differently though, making rows of composted manure and adding four or so inches of hay on top as a mulch, similar to what is taught in “Back to Eden.” My dad has stories from when he was younger of growing mammoth sunflowers and lots of nearly bug-less and clean potatoes under thick layers of straw or hay covering composted soil.

Last week the younger children were playing “house” outside and decided they wanted to plant a real garden. They each picked a plant and Silver Oak bought seeds and starts for them. On Friday I helped them plant in the raised rows we already made, so now they have peas, green beans and onions growing out there. In Florida we can probably get by with planting in the winter if we protect the plants from frost.

Our Cozy New Fireplace

The three youngest plant their garden

Our Cozy New Fireplace

Watering the newly planted peas

Our Cozy New Fireplace

Poking those beans into the ground

We also got a new batch of chicks to expand our flock of Black Australorps. Now that we are settled here we hope to continue the line indefinitely. We chose this heritage breed because they are excellent layers with an inclination to be broody (but not overwhelmingly so) so they can raise their own broods, which is more sustainable than incubating mechanically. Australorps are also heavier for eating, and are calm (not high-strung cannibals like Rhode Island Reds).

Our Cozy New Fireplace

Little balls of fluff

Our Cozy New Fireplace

Some of our older Black Australorps

Thank you for stopping by to see what is happening on our little homestead. Soon I hope to share with you about our new Black Soldier Fly composter and chicken feeder.

Our Cozy New FireplaceBlessings,
Our Cozy New Fireplace
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