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Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Homesteading Update, May 21, 2018

As ever, click on the pictures to see them clearly.

You might think that because I haven't written in a long time that I'm not doing anything. Granted, I'm not always working on things related to homesteading- I do spend time looking for work (still) and researching various topics. But homesteading-wise, I've been busy, and things are starting to look better. I even got a start on re-landscaping the front yard, which is in pretty sorry shape. I did get most of the ground covered in wood chips, but not enough- I smothered the grass alright, but they weren't thick enough to prevent dandelions from popping up all over the place, so I need to remedy that. Plus, we had foundation plants that hadn't been clipped in so long they were half-way up the windows. When you keep getting offers in the mail for a cash buy out of your home, you know it's time to do something.  I'll post more on that later when I actually have something to show for it.

But I do have something to show for the work we've been getting done in the backyard.

 This is box number one of four that I'll build here in the area just off the deck. Last year's gardening efforts in this are were soooo pathetic that I had to really think about why that could be, and then I remembered that 1) the deck used to go out halfway into this area (it was a truly ridiculously large deck- I could have had a cotillion out there) and it's all rock underneath it, and 2) the best garden I've had so far was the first one that I planted in large planter boxes I made out of those leftover plastic decking pieces that I had when I tore down half the deck. I was going to build a new compost area over the almond trees (those are coming out) and build new veg boxes next to the deck, but it occurred to me that since I swore after the last load of imported soil which was so full of construction debris that I'd never import soil again, I would save a lot of time and effort if I just composted in situ.  So I'll keep throwing compostables in on top of this box and when it finally looks like soil, I'll build the next box and do it all over again. And once I have four boxes full of compost, I'll finally get around to building a compost area. This way I'll space out the cost of the boxes and compost bins as well. In the rest of the area for this year at least, I'm going to try (try being the operative word here) to grow an Appalachian three sisters. My friend Amanda got me started down the leather britches beans path and I decided to go all out with the right variety of beans. And if I was going to go that far, I may as well get Appalachian corn and Appalachian squash while I was at it. So I'm planting Cherokee White Flour corn, Neal's Paymaster corn, Cherokee Greasy beans, NT Half-Runner beans, and North Georgia Candy Roaster squash. A word about the 'greasy' beans: they're only called that because they don't have the fuzzy hairs on the pods like other green beans. They are smooth and shiny, hence they look greasy. Leather britches beans are harvested green and strung up together and dried while green, and from everything I've read about them, they are supposed to taste like meat when you cook them up later. Drying them while green does something for the flavor.  As that ground is pretty poor, I am really hoping that the beans are enough to fertilize the corn, but I may have to supplement. Not sure how I'm going to do that, so more on that later as I figure things out.

 This January our nephew came and dug out six apple trees that I was giving him for his five acre homestead. I would have given him the Bramleys as well, but they were just too big to move.  All eight apple trees went into the ground at the same time, but my friend Jennifer Montero over at Milkweed & Thistle, who is a horticulturist by training, told me that Bramleys are triploid, where most apples are diploid, which means that they have three sets of chromosomes, as opposed to the usual two. It also means that they are incredibly vigorous growers.  It also turns out that they tend to blossom and grow fruit at the ends of their branches, and are not really suited well to espaliering. So I'll let the top grow the way it wants to and leave the lower horizontal branches where they are because they'll make a natural ladder for getting up into the tree.  But I'm digressing from the picture here.  What I wanted to relate is that I was going to build new veg boxes here as well but I couldn't get the damn uprights out, so I changed plans- I decide to try raspberries again.  I planted six Heritage raspberry plants and transplanted three thornless boysenberries, which are pretty wonderful, by the way.  So what you see here are the new boxes for keeping in the hardwood chip mulch, for which I signed up this morning on   I still have to wire up the uprights (this is a great reuse of the whole area) but I have some time yet as they raspberries are still pretty small. One even still looks like a stick. But when they are all grown up, they should look like the below.
 We're trying spuds again, this time in a combination of old feed bags (they got one seed spud each) and old soil bags, which got two seed spuds each. They are going gang busters- I can't believe they need hilling up again so soon.  I don't know if we're going to save any money on them or not, but this way they'll be really nice potatoes, and we'll use the soil again after first carefully screening it for tiny potatoes.  You've read it here before on this blog: potatoes are the gift that keeps on giving!

 This weekend we got the trellises up.  We had to go get more EMT (like 170 feet more) because we only had eight pieces from last year and you need five minimum per trellis the way I wanted to configure them, and I needed five trellises, so that was another expense. But trust me, they can be reused over and over again, and we already have a rack in the garage for winter storage. I'll plant my tomatoes, yard-long beans (which I'll process for frozen green beans) and cucumbers up these trellises.

 This morning I got my tomatoes into the ground.  When we get the plants strung up, I'll post more on that so you can see how it all works.

 This is just a pretty view of the yard from next to the hen house, AKA Hens Deep.

And there are the girls, who are firing on all cylinders.  Which is kind of amazing really, considering that one of them is three years old and two of them are four years old. But they are all laying mostly every day, and I think that is a combination of giving them the winter off, and keeping them happy in a sunshiny pasture.  They sure seem happy, anyway!

*Sorry about the photo quality- they are fine coming off my phone and when you click on them. Don't know what Blogger's issue is.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Potting Bench Love

Modern life confuses me.

Growing up, the twenty-first of March was always the first day of spring. Now it appears to be the twentieth of March.  I'm not sure how this happened, but it has left me somewhat confused, because I feel like an idiot getting all excited about the first day of spring on March 21, only to realize that I missed it because it was yesterday.

At any rate, the weather around these parts got the memo and it was just beautiful yesterday.  I spent a large chunk of it in my hoop house, which gives me goose bumps because it's pretty awesome now.

I now have two eight-foot potting benches completed, which is sixteen feet of seed starting space. Actually, I have thirty-two feet if you count the bottom shelves of the benches, but I don't think I'll need them. Maybe if I were to do this as a side hustle (hmmmm, note to self....) I could use thirty-two feet, but sixteen is pretty luxurious for right now.

I already have a batch of lettuces and greens, onions and brassicas hardening off in one of the cold frame beds that I started several weeks ago.  Yesterday I started nightshades and artichokes, herbs, and brassicas, and flowers.  It's too early yet to start beans, by a couple of months.  It would be too early for nightshades as well, but those are sitting on a heating mat. I might have jumped the gun a bit because the night time temps are going to be in the upper thirties for the next week, but I've got lots of seed, so if these don't take, I'll just start over.

But I think maybe I should buy more flower seed.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Hensdeep Mystery

Some while ago (I'd be more specific if I could, but I think it was over two winters ago), I changed the girls' watering system from a mounted length of PVC pipe, nipple waterers, and a five gallon bucket to a set of cup waterers in a larger tank.

Everything chicken water related for the past two years has been great and easy to take care of until this morning when Steve when out to "scratch the girls" and discovered that the tank was empty.  So we dragged a hose out there and started to refill the tank while I walked around it looking for where the leak was, because we'd filled it right before we left for Christmas and it was obvious there was a leak somewhere.

I found the leak alright; one of the cups was missing! Not only the orange cup itself, but the black insert piece that goes into the tank was gone and the only thing left was the hole that I'd drilled into the tank to install the cup. 

So now I'm scratching my head, trying to figure out what they did to knock it out, and more importantly, where the hell it went. You'd think a fiery-orange cup waterer would be an easy thing to spot, but it was nowhere to be found. I even started kicking over the bedding to see if they'd managed to bury it, but still couldn't locate it.  I guess I'll find it next spring when I muck out Hensdeep.

Unless they ate it, of course.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Cold Frames

Lettuces this end, beets on
the other end
Monday night's low was predicted to be 37F, with Tuesday night's low being 32F, so Monday afternoon I got the covers for the cold frames (called 'lights') covered in greenhouse plastic and Steve helped me get them onto the cold frames themselves.

I'm really glad I got that done, because Monday night wound up being 31F,  and Tuesday was 34; last night we finally had our first frost of the season.  This means that the kale and parsnips will now be sweeter, and it means that I won't lose my beets, because they're covered!

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Putting the Squirrels on Notice!

I got the garlic planted on October 25, and felt pretty smug about it, which was a mistake.  Some few weeks later I noticed a squirrel roaming around the garlic bed, and then the next day, saw regular little divots where the little fucker had dug up all my cloves.

And I know he got all of them because they should have been up by now and not a one came up.

So this week, I got them planted again, only this time I put in the squirrel-deterrent, otherwise known as half a compost plastic with a trellis planted over it. And a brick, for good measure.

I'm putting all the squirrels on notice that I've just learned how to easily kill a bunch of them, and from what I've read, squirrel is delicious; somewhat nutty and sweeter than chicken.

I wonder how it tastes with garlic.

Friday, December 1, 2017

We Fired Our ISP and Here's Why

We were Comcast customers up until yesterday, but their rates had gone up.  Again.  

We were already on the lowest tier for services, being the frugal people that we are (our internet and cable were bundled together), but somehow just having the bill go up again and not getting anything extra for it really irritated me. Then I happened to see a click bait ad that said, "Fire your cable company- get an antenna!", which got me to thinking.

We really needed to look into replacing what we had with a cheaper option, so I pitched it to Steve.  Couldn't we make it work? There weren't that many broadcast shows that we watch. We mainly use other services for most of our entertainment, including borrowing a lot of movies for free from our very good public library.

Steve already has a different ISP for working from home for which his employer is paying. So he looked into the antenna and he looked into getting another line run to his office.  The antenna was around $50, and a separate, dedicated line for our internet would cost us $45 a month, plus the incidental, egregiously unwarranted surcharges, so say $52 a month when all is said and done. For life. No more rate increases.  Now granted, we'll be stuck at the speed for which we signed up, but we can always change later if that's what we decide we need to do.  So I reckon we'll be saving fifty-eight dollars a month, which is $696 a year, or, if you think like Mr. Money Mustache does, $6,960 over the course of ten years.

That's a lot of money.

From everything I've read about canceling your service with Comcast, the way to avoid a long, tedious, frustrating, and ultimately un-successful conversation with one of their customer retention employees is to tell them you are moving out of the country.  If you tell them you're moving in with someone with internet service, they'll evidently ask you who the service is with and then they'll verify it. If you tell them you're moving to an area that doesn't have Comcast coverage, they'll ask you where and then verify that it doesn't. If you tell them you're moving, they'll ask if there will be anyone else staying there that would need internet service.  We had our story straight- we were moving to Germany and if Steve got any flak, he could 'lose it' in German in their office for added believability.  He never did get the expected blow-back, and I can't account for it. Maybe the customer retention dude wasn't in that day...I dunno.  But we were relieved to be let off so easily, after reading item after item about what a nightmare canceling your service with Comcast is.  We have the receipt for returning the cable box scanned and saved, and Steve received an acknowledgment for its return in his email, which is also parked in a safe place.  And prior to going into the office, he took our account off automatic payment, so we can expect a pro-rated bill toward the end of the month, according to the Comcast employee Steve talked to.  It won't be just for the six or so days since the start of the billing period because there is a base rate, but it should be around $25 or so.

We've been using the new ISP and antenna since Monday, and so far everything seems to be okay (although there have been a couple of times that Steve has cried,"what have you done to us woman?").  There are admittedly a couple of adjustments we'll have to make, and I'll have to learn the new remote, but I figure that these are small prices to pay for the savings we'll be reaping over the course of, oh, the rest of our lives, but in the long run, any bumps we hit now will be quickly forgotten.

I can't but help wish that we'd done this a long time ago.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017


Today we leave town for Thanksgiving with friends in Seattle. I am greatly looking forward to a change of scenery and hanging out with fun and interesting people.  Oh yeah- and the food. Thanksgiving is one of those holidays where if you have to spend it alone, it helps to remember that even though any holiday is better spent with other people, this one really isn't about being with a crowd.  It's about being grateful for what you have, whatever it is. Obviously, some people have more to be grateful for than others, but a sincere spirit of gratitude applied to every circumstance makes even that disparity disappear.  It also plays nicely with that difficult child- the idea of 'enough'.

I have found over the years that keeping a grateful frame of mind is the best balm for a stormy spirit, and there have been many times when my spirit has been less than chipper and gratitude put everything back into perspective for me.  It's hard to stay worked up about things gone wrong when you're bearing in mind all the little wonderful elements that make up your life. You could be grateful for people, things, achievements, experiences, even things you don't think about like your native intelligence or the fact that both your legs meet the ground at the same time, if indeed, your legs do meet the ground at the same time. Fortunately, mine do, and yes, I'm grateful for that.  I especially like to remember to be grateful for all the blessings that I don't even know about. The behind-the-scenes stuff that works to help me get on with life. I even frequently take a moment to be grateful when I just have a good idea. I'm not lying.

In any case, gratitude is not just for Thanksgiving. It's nice to have this holiday, but anyone can reap the simple benefits of gratitude at anytime.

Wherever your Thanksgiving holiday takes you, and however you spend it, my sincerest hearty good wishes for peace and plenty.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Squeaking By

Are you tracking everything you spend?

I am. I even note down my library fines.  This is why I know that out of the thirty thousand dollars that I have every year with which to manage the household, I am probably not going to bring in the end of the year on budget. If I did, it would be a book-cooking miracle. But I know that it ain’t gonna happen. 

At this point, I’m just trying to see how close to thirty thousand I can get. The first year I started this particular stat was 2014, and that year came in at a little over thirty-one thousand.  Thank goodness for savings accounts. 2015 came in six percent higher than 2014, and 2016 came in two percent higher than 2015.  Since I’m trying to get our expenditures down to where we can take care of them with interest income (hah! I say), this is 180 degrees in the wrong direction.  I can’t tell if it’s because stuff is higher than it was two years ago or if I just suck at it, but I will cop to not doing a  good job. I know it's mostly my failure. So yeah, I suck.

The sad part is, we don’t have mortgage or rent to pay. We don’t have kids. Our electric bill is only $11.82 every month, which allows us connection to the grid which we currently use as a big battery (no pun intended). So why is it taking so much money to get through the month? We only go out to shop for food like once a week, and between that and sporadic trips for lumber or something, we hardly ever have to fill the vehicles. I think we buy gas for each vehicle only once a month.  

How are people with kids and mortgages and commutes managing?

Beets, rutabagas, carrots,
a kohlrabi,
and a very large parsnip
This morning I was mentally preparing myself for an unwanted trip to the grocery store but figured  I should go see if anything was ready in the garden instead, just in case.  That was a good move, because I think I got enough out of it today to last a few more days, in which time maybe something else will be ready enough to harvest. If I can get most of our vegetables from it, it will really help.  We only eat twice a day, but we eat vegetables with every meal, so we go through them pretty fast.
Rutabaga, beet, and kohlrabi greens,
kale and collards

The winter garden will in all likelihood not last beyond the end of the year if it even lasts that long, but if it helps me squeak out the rest of this year, it will still have been a very good thing. And it is helping. This morning proved it.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

It Was Time

I got the garlic in today and I am patting myself soundly on the back. Last year I procrastinated so long that I didn't get any in at all. Which is bad because that means I wasted money on the seed garlic. Sometimes you fuck up.

Which is why I decided not to waste a lot of money on seed garlic this year.  I bought the cheapest garlic I could find because it was likely to be California White, California Early, or California Late, all of which are softneck garlic and is what I want anyway because it stores longer than hardneck.  Not exactly a fancy variety, and not exactly the safest thing to do, because I could be introducing some sort of garlic plague to my soils, but the heads I chose looked pretty clean and fresh and sound, so I gambled on them.

I planted them in the compost that I had the melons in this summer and spaced them about nine or so inches apart. 

I'm kind of excited because I haven't had home grown garlic in a couple years.  

I just hope I didn't fuck up again.

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Winter Garden is Proving to be Worth the Effort

I’ve been harvesting out of our winter garden as much as I can as the meals go along.  Yesterday morning I harvested a few carrots, a kohlrabi, and a rutabaga.  The roots I chopped up for breakfast, and the kohlrabi and rutabaga greens went into the fridge. I would have cooked them last night, but Steve was brewing yesterday after his work day was over. This usually means he doesn’t finish until 6:30 or 7:00 PM and because he’s taking up my burners, an oven dinner is usually the ticket.  Instead of cooking greens on the stove, I pulled a frozen pan of leftover eggplant parmigiana out of the freezer and served it with a salad.  The eggplants came from the garden, but the lettuce for the salad came from the store; my lettuces are not ready yet.  So this morning we had the greens. Not everything in the garden is ready yet, and some things are still quite small; I’m hoping that by harvesting and making more room for things, the garden will keep up with my needs. 

Autumn flowers
Usually by the end of the billing period of our most used credit card, I am champing at the bit to get to the grocery store to start the next month’s burden on the card. I’m out of fresh vegetables by that time, and there are other various things that come up.  We put nearly everything on our master card in order to take advantage of that two percent cash back deal, and it makes us money as long as we pay it off in full every month, which I do. But lately, it's been getting a lot harder to do that. Managing our finances has been truly difficult this year (almost as difficult as managing the garden), what with medical bills that keep rolling in after my many lab tests this summer. That, and infrastructure investments we made in the garden have certainly made things interesting, for lack of a better adjective. I am still bound and determined to bring us in at or under budget this year, but after looking at what we have left in the budget to spend and we what we have left to spend it on, I told Steve that we have to introduce and adhere to our own austerity measures. I have two months' worth of budget left and three calendar months over which to stretch it, plain and simple. And I’m not a coupon clipper; Steve and I don’t (I can’t, for one) eat that kind of food. I’m not exactly worried about starving- we still have most of half of a very large grass fed steer in the freezer after all- but I am trying to reign in our trips to the grocery store, because that’s where we tend to spend the most money. I really need to bring our monthly credit card bill down under $1000 every month- if I could do that, we’d probably be in good shape. It’s not impossible; looking back over the records I see that I’ve done it three times this year already, but that was in the beginning of the year when it's easier to accomplish. Usually by June the expenditures pick up starting with the annual house and vehicle insurance premiums, and it doesn't seem to stop until the end of the year. This year's timing on the large bills got all boogered up when someone stole our previous credit card number; getting all our auto-paid stuff back up and running took several attempts to get right. May the fleas of a thousand camels plague this individual for life.

The billing cut off for the MasterCard is the thirteenth of the month, and as I’d mentioned before, I’m usually out the next day putting groceries back on it, at minimum.  Here it is the 20th of the month, and I’ve still to do that. Not that we haven’t used the card, though.  Tuesday we took advantage of my senior discount at Coastal Farm and Ranch and bought the girls a feather formula feed to see if it will help them put feathers on faster (the last bag the store had was broken and although most of it was still there, I asked for a fifty percent discount on it and got it, so nearly forty pounds of feed was only $8.50! Ask for the deal!), and a new maul handle so Steve can get back to splitting the enormous deodar cedar we got from the neighbors. I’ve also purchased PVC clips for the hoop house (more on that on a different post), paid a monthly insurance premium, and paid a portion of several medical bills. A word on that last item: at least in the US, as long as you’re paying something and on time, a creditor can’t report you to the credit reporting agencies.  And as long as they don’t charge me a finance charge, and so far, nobody has, I’ll continue to make partial payments until the bills are gone. I am still putting them on the MC in order to rake in as much cash as I can with it, because we always pay it off every month so that we’re not hit with a finance charge.  But some of these lab bills are ridiculous, even after our medical insurance company has had their way with them, and paying the whole bill at once is just not feasible. So they get partial payments because that’s what works for me right now.  

Honestly, it feels kind of funny to finally be behaving with money as though we don’t have it.  I was never this careful with money when I had a job.  We have savings, of course, but the dictum has always been to save it, not spend it, and that’s still the challenge. Last year when the fence blew down and it took several thousand dollars to fix it (I’ll never do that again), we thankfully had plenty in our savings account to cover it, but I haven’t recovered the account from that time and we don’t have that cushion anymore.  September’s MC bill was rather large because of house and vehicle insurance premiums that arrived on the same bill due to the aforementioned timing issues, so I had to rob savings to help pay it off. Now, I’ll just be able to pay this month’s bills off the first of next month, but I may have to get money from our brokerage account, which is where much of our money is, just to be able to pay the property taxes next month when they come due, and for which I can take a three percent discount if I pay it off all at once.  Do you think I’ll do that? I’m gonna try. Steve will get paid again mid-month and I may be able to squeak by in time (I can’t for the life of me remember when they’re due- only that the county mails the statement to us in November), but that will leave a little less money for the next credit card payments in December, so I really, really, really need to bring the total spend for each of these last months of 2017 down as much as possible.

So far, my first winter garden really seems to be helping with that. I might be out of veg by the first of December, but if it keeps me out of the store until then, it might still be okay.