The Road Home

The Road Home
There is no place like home.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

What's Growin' in the Garden 3

I looked back at the pictures from the previous garden update and realized what a difference a month makes. We have had a few more storms and wind, but the plants are much larger and there was not much negative affect from the weather. This article is long on pictures, so grab a cup of coffee and enjoy. 

June 22nd

July 13th
The rest of these pictures are from July unless otherwise indicated.

Pinto bean weed patch, July 13th

This looks like overgrown weeds, doesn't it? This is the pinto bean patch interspersed with crabgrass and other delectable weeds.... I have begun to slowly pull the plants and harvest what I can. Next year I will know these need a trellis. An error on my part not knowing pintos are a vine like pole beans. I just made the assumption they were a bush variety like the Jacob's Cattle beans I have been growing for the last few years.

Once the pinto beans are harvested, this area will receive carrot and beet seedlings. I will probably plant a couple of hills of yellow squash and see if we can have a fall crop for fresh eating.

The trellis next to the pintos has the peppers and Missouri Wonder pole beans. The peppers are just starting to produce well. I will be freezing some of them soon. We have found that frozen, chopped peppers come in handy cooking through the off season.















The yellow squash is finished thanks to the annual squash bug invasion. These will be pulled up and replaced by another cowpea patch.


The tomatoes are starting to ripen and we have begun to freeze them. We have two gallons in the freezer so far. Last summer we froze 20 gallon of tomatoes that we turned into tomato sauce. They seem to be ripening late again this year. Last summer many people in our area barely got any tomatoes and most folks we talked to indicated their gardens didn't do well at all. We'll see how this year turns out.

 













We tilled between these tomato trellises about a month ago with the new electric tiller and this is all that has grown there. Without the tilling it would have the same crabgrass overgrowth you see at the opening of the row. I remain very impressed with how this new tiller helps to eliminate grass and weeds compared to the Mantis that I used and liked for years. These amaranth seedlings will be planted between the tomato trellises and in the now harvested corn patch which I'll show you in a minute.

Amaranth seedlings

Speaking of amaranth, we have harvested some of the heads and are drying them in the greenhouse. I probably picked the first few before they were quite ready, but this is a new learning process for us. There are more heads to harvest from the original growth and we hope the side shoots will now continue to grow and produce more grain. For now we are not harvesting the entire plant, only the top most portion of the main grain head.






How are we going to winnow and clean the grain? Well, we have yet to figure that out. We have some fine strainers that may work and will cross that bridge once the seed heads are dry and ready to work.
The cowpeas we planted right before the last garden article are growing well. They will soon fill in this area between the tomatoes and okra. For now the zinnias are taller, but that won't last much longer.
Purple hull cowpeas








The okra has been slow to grow and produce this year. It just hasn't liked the cool, wet spring and the lack of sunshine. One of the nice things about this patch is that it was grown from seed that we saved last year.

And speaking of seeds, much of the garden this year was grown from our seeds. This has been a goal for many, many years, one that we are starting to make some progress on. From our own seeds this year we planted green beans, okra, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, winter squash, turnips, zinnias and marigolds. And yes, you read that right, carrots. As you know, carrots don't seed the first year, so I had to plant them in a separate part of the garden two years ago. We harvested these seeds last year.


The last of the corn has been harvested and I have a question. I didn't realize that corn grows suckers similar to tomatoes. I broke them off thinking they would prevent the stalk from producing good ears, but I think some of those plants didn't produce any ears. Would someone increase my knowledge about the growth and production of corn? We haven't grown any in a number of years and have never been tremendously successful.

 

  
The strawberries have died. Last year after we planted them they grew very well. Then toward the end of summer, some of the leaves started getting brown spots, curling and dying. The only information I could find was that a virus in the soil causes this problem. The solution? Kill the plants and start over somewhere else. I tried inoculating with nematodes to see if that would have any impact, but it didn't. The plants started growing this year and trying to produce in the wet, cloudy spring, but most of the berries rotted from the excessive moisture. Now, the virus has wiped out the rest of the plants.




We had a plum harvest this year. Here is half of it. Tasted great!














We have some lettuce coming up in the small bed by the back porch. I'm not sure how well it will do in the heat of summer, but fresh salad greens do sound good.



  
We are blessed to be able to live where and how we wish, and we certainly hope this continues as long as possible. There seriously appears to be very troubled times coming. Plan and plant ahead.

Until next time - Fern

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

SHTF Animal Feed

How are we going to maintain our animals in a SHTF situation? Good question from Leigh over at 5 Acres & A Dream. She and her husband continually work to improve their land and self-sufficiency goals, so this in an interesting question. This article has quite a few links to previous articles that discuss some of our efforts at providing for our animals. A lot of what we do now is based on how things have developed since we moved to this homestead. Here is Leigh's question.

"Here's a preparedness question. I would really like to know how you are feeding and managing your goats. Feed self-sufficiency has been one of my goals for as long as we've had goats, but I keep being thwarted and frustrated at so many turns. We grow some of our own feed and hay, but not enough and I'm constantly feeling time pressured to achieve this goal. I have to say I've learned a lot from research and experimentation; and made huge changes in my feeding philosophy, but I'm not there yet. I'd love a blog post on how you're managing this."

We currently buy grain from the feed store for our goats and chickens. Along with that, they all have access to forage. Right now we keep the chickens penned up until about noon or early afternoon, then let them out to range. If we no longer have access to grain for them, we will let them out each morning to 'fend for themselves'. We also supplement with garden scraps, comfrey and amaranth leaves when available.


Our current Nubian goat herd consists of three does, eight wethers and two bucks. The males and females are separated into different pastures. Our ten acres is cross fenced into four pastures which is way more than enough for the number of animals we have. We rotate them between pastures during different times of the year for grazing preferences and to help control intestinal parasites. One of the main things we use for parasite control are copper boluses. We have acquired a large supply that will more than last our lifetimes in a SHTF situation, and hopefully will be adequate to help maintain the health of the animals. We also grow a number of plants that help deter worms. I don't pick and feed them daily like I used to, but they are out there if we need them. After we started using the copper boluses, the goats have been very healthy most of the time.


We have always had a plan for standing hay. It's warm enough in our location that there is usually something green growing most of the year for the goats to graze, and if not, there is still a lot of forage of the standing dried variety. If we are unable to buy the small amount of hay we use each year for bedding during the birthing season, that is another issue. We currently do not have a solution for that, it's something we would have to work out. We have plans, but not finalized plans because it is something we have never done.


We realize our milk and kid production would decrease substantially since the does would not be receiving a milking ration of grain. The same would be true for the chickens and their egg production. To hopefully offset some of that, we have some things growing that could be used to supplement the grazing. We have a small patch of Jerusalem artichokes and comfrey.


One crop that grows very well here is cowpeas. We would increase our planting and dry some of these in the greenhouse for winter supplement. There are parts of the country that grow them extensively for animal feed for their protein content. We also have Austrian winter pea seed that has remained viable for about a decade, that loves the cold weather. It doesn't make a 'pea' per se, but the foliage is edible for man and beast and is very nutritious.

The scraps from the garden and winter greenhouse are always saved and taken to the animals, usually the chickens. We were talking about how to save the corn stalks for silage the other day. We haven't tried it yet, but that might also be doable.


Another crop we are trying for the first time this year is amaranth. So far so good. It is growing very well, we will just have to wait and see how it produces. The plant can be dried and chopped for the goats. It's highly nutritious and I got the idea from Leigh after reading about it years ago on her blog.

I haven't concentrated on SHTF animal feed in quite a while, but it's a good reminder to do so. When we moved to this homestead 11 years ago there were many things to do to increase our self-sufficiency and prepare for the collapse. Now that many of them are in place I am much more peaceful about our preparedness level. The current challenge is our aging bodies and what we can still physically accomplish. We continually reevaluate what we need to downsize or alter to continue to accomplish our goals.


We have watched others try to grow non-mechanized grains and hay. This is something that has always been too labor intensive for our life styles. And now that we are older, this could never be a consideration for us. We have downsized our herd of goats to a more manageable level as we realize our limitations and how they will continue to affect our abilities in the future whether there is a collapse or not. We have to be realistic. Adding in the belief that the SHTF sooner rather than later, we add our aging bodies and waning physical abilities to the equation and adjust accordingly.

Thank you for the question, Leigh. It is a good review for us and helps to refocus on how we might be able to continue providing for our animals, which in turn will provide for us. Milk, meat, and eggs will go a long way toward sustaining us.

Let's hear from everyone. What other recommendations or experiences do folks have to share? Again, we are all in this together.

Until next time - Fern

Monday, June 24, 2019

Hmmm..... I need to grow more food

I haven't felt this way in a while. This year has been a normal garden season, no urgency, just grow our own healthy food and put it on the shelf for another year's supply of homegrown food. The garden is a little smaller and would be even smaller still if we hadn't decided to grow a little corn for the first time in many years. Just another year. Right? Waiting for the collapse, watching the shenanigans of our congress, observing the demise of civility, avoiding crowds if at all possible.

We had this same flooding about two weeks ago. Here it is again.

We have had an over abundance of rain this year, with over four inches in the last 24 hours, and more falling from the sky as I type. Everything is growing well, not necessarily producing a harvest yet, but growing well, except maybe the okra. It's barely over knee high and is just starting to bloom. The peppers are in the same shape, starting to bloom. The tomatoes are green, but there are quite a few of them. 


Our great bread basket across the country has been flooding and flooding and flooding. Stories have been coming out about the impact to major crop harvests. Some say there will be shortages and rising prices, some say all is well. What do we believe? We have been fortunate to get comments from CW who lives in Iowa's corn country. We like hearing from boots on the ground.

Somewhere along the way we ran into a link for the YouTube channel of the Ice Age Farmer. I watched him to see what he had to say about farms underwater and the country's major crop harvest. It doesn't look good according to him. And then he started talking about the grand solar minimum. I didn't think a lot of it at first. I knew the sun cycle was at the low end because of how it is affecting radio propagation. Then I remembered an article I wrote back in 2014, What is a Maunder Minimum? I went back and read it, then went in search of more information about the grand solar minimum that the Ice Age Farmer was talking about. This took me to these two articles.

Winter is Coming – Super Grand Solar Minimum

Evidence of Grand Solar Minimum Continues to Mount


Hmmm..... comparison to another mini ice age? I sure hope not. But Colorado did just have two feet of snow in some places on the first day of summer. The same storm that caused major storms in other parts of the country. I have never believed in the current global warming paradigm. Man's carbon emissions are not causing the planet to warm. The planet has always gone through cycles of warming and cooling. Just like the sun cycles. Either we adjust or we don't. We learn new ways of living and producing food, or we don't. If we as a society don't learn to adjust, we die. To me, it's that simple.


Is this the only reason I feel like I need to grow more food, after the growing season has started and the garden is already planted and growing? No. But you probably suspected that didn't you? Our last few articles discuss the ways of the world, our country, our politics, the invasion of foreigners from all over the world, and the potential conflicts between countries worldwide. Is that it? No, not entirely.


In the last few weeks Frank has begun working on a project to provide another source of water to our house. We will write about it before long showing the steps, equipment and results. But just yesterday Frank looked at me and said, "After all this time, I don't know why I am doing this project now." You see, we have had the supplies, parts and equipment for a long time, in some instances up to ten years. It has all been on a shelf, waiting in the wings for the time it was needed. But recently, he took these things down, looked them over and started to work. The scary part is he doesn't have a distinct reason why.

Amaranth will be planted here.

As I harvested the carrots and cleared up the area between the tomatoes, Frank asked what I was going to plant there. My response? Nothing, we don't need anything else. Then we harvested the beets. Again, same response, we don't need anything else. As the amaranth has grown well and started to produce large seed heads I have been reading about harvesting and winnowing the seeds for use in our bread, reviewing the nutritive value and how it can benefit both us and our chickens and goats.


Then, in just the last week, I have had this need to grow more food. Densely nutritious food. Just this morning at breakfast I asked Frank what shorter season crop we can grow once the pinto bean crop is finished. I plan to plant some carrots for winter eating in a portion of that area, but there will be a lot of room left over. Cow peas are a 75-85 day crop, high in protein and other good nutrients, good for animals and humans. That's why I planted some yesterday after I tilled the space where the beets and winter squash had been. This is what lead me to pull up the winter squash before it was fully finished with it's production.





And instead of leaving the winter squash to cure so we can bake one every now and then, or bake and freeze some if the need arises, I am going to can them all. We can add a jar to soup and it will be ready on the shelf for another food option as desired or needed. Why? I'm not sure. It's just another one of those food options I have been impressed to change from my original plan.


The areas I showed you between the rows of corn and between the tomato trellises will be planted with amaranth as soon as the new seedlings come up. I have two trays planted and more pot maker pots made up today for planting. And if there is time once the corn is harvested, the rest of this area will be planted with amaranth.


Wire cat protectors for the seedlings as they grow.


Just like Frank and the water project. I don't know why, but I need to grow more food. We have lived our lives listening to that little voice of warning and instruction and it has served us well. So, it's time to plant, tend, harvest and preserve. The why can take care of itself in it's own time. Heed the warnings you are given. Listen. Act. 

Until next time - Fern

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Electric Tiller & Mower

After research, reading reviews and watching some videos, we bought an Earthwise electric tiller. One of the reasons for this model is the difference in the tines compared to our Mantis. The Mantis does a good job cultivating areas that don't have much plant or weed growth, but it isn't very effective on crabgrass that has much of a root system.

 
Earthwise on the left, Mantis on the right

We chose the 10 amp version for size and tine options. This model is eleven inches wide which will allow it to get into small areas. You can also remove the outer set of tines and till a much smaller area. The machine is still as wide, but the hood over the tines should be able to move through some plants without any damage.

After the carrots were pulled

The area where the carrots were growing had a very happy crop of crabgrass and weeds growing about a foot tall.

After being mowed

First, we mowed that area. I shouldn't have planted that Cushaw winter squash right in the middle of this row. It would have made it easier to get the riding mower in there if I hadn't.


Then for the tilling. We used a 100' extension cord plugged into the house. It was easy enough to keep the cord to my right and pull it on behind me as I tilled down the left half of this area. On the return trip tilling on the right side (from the perspective of this picture) of the row, Frank lined out the cord to my right side again, which allowed me a view of it. This prevented any close calls or mishaps with the cord. I find that keeping up with the cord is very similar to running the vacuum sweeper. You just have to make sure you don't run over the cord with the tiller or mower, unlike the sweeper, there could be shocking consequences if you do.

After tilling

This electric tiller worked very well on these established roots. We were very impressed. A few grass and weed roots and stems had wound around the shaft, but a few minutes of works and they were easily removed.

Day of tilling


Day of tilling


A week later

A week later we were surprised to see that the vast majority of the grass roots were killed, very few places had any grass coming back at all. Now I am more than impressed, I am very pleased. The difference is the tines. The Mantis does not clear out the grass roots the way the Earthwise does. It's funny. I have been very pleased with the Mantis until I tried a different option with better tines. They both function just about the same - the amount of effort to run them is very similar, they both require a source of energy, either gas or electricity. The lack of carbon emissions didn't play into our decision to go electric, ease of use and the ability to manipulate in tightly planted areas, did. Age of the operator is also one of the main considerations. 

When Frank and I were first married, we owned no electric tools. Frank used a brace and bit and a hand saw. As we got older, we went to electric tools and they worked great. Then battery operated tools came along. Though not as strong, the battery operated tools do a good job in most areas. We also learned how valuable an air compressor is, too, especially when framing upside down and backwards inside a closet. There is a big difference between the age of 35 and 65. Sometimes changes are good. So are these electric garden machines heavy duty? No. But they make our life easier and more productive. Another small example. When we moved to Oklahoma from Alaska, we sold our big guns and got smaller guns. Times change. We are trying to do our part to feed ourselves and be as self sufficient as possible.

About a week or so after purchasing and using the tiller, we got to thinking how beneficial it would be to be able to mow some of the small places in and around the garden. Each year we have substantial weeds and grass growing in areas that we just can't get to. I actually planted some things with the hope of using the riding mower in some places, but that takes up a lot of planting space. With the success of the new tiller, we began looking at the Earthwise electric mowers.

We chose the 14 inch model to use in small areas. I was racing the weather trying to get a few things done in the garden before the rain, so this picture is in the shed instead of in the garden.


I have to tell you. When we unpacked the mower, we were not impressed at all. The body is plastic, does not appear to be very durable, and we did not think it would be able to tackle the job we had planned for it. We were pleasantly surprised. I mowed these areas on the highest setting and the pictures don't really reflect the outcome very well.

Between the corn before

Between corn after mowing

Where the beets were before

Where the beets were after mowing

I have never used a mulching mower before. There was an option to snap on a standard discharge port, but it would make the mower a little wider, so I chose to leave it off. Using the mower with the mulching flap engaged prevented piles of mowed grass in the wake of the tall grass I was mowing and prevented it from being blown onto the existing plants. After using it, I considered this to be an added benefit I wasn't expecting.

Next, I tilled this area where the beets and winter squash were. It took about five minutes. I will tell you more about this area in the next garden article.

Where the beets and winter squash were after tilling

For now, we would highly recommend this tiller and mower if an electric version is the desired product. We can't speak to the long term durability of the machines, but for initial use, they have out performed our expectations. Granted, if the electricity is off, they won't work, so this is not a purchase for the coming SHTF life we still expect to be living one of these days. If the electricity is off, gasoline won't be available either. So until those days arrive, these machines do an excellent job at helping us maintain our garden.

Until next time - Fern