Thursday, December 29, 2011

2012 Goals & Promises

It is that time of year -- time to make the annual list of Resolutions most of which we never keep. Have you considered yours? I've spent some time the last few weeks thinking about 2012 very seriously. I am tired of making resolutions that aren't backed with enough passion to actually survive. Yesterday, on the organic list, the question was phrased "what are your promises to yourself". That made me think. Perhaps the problem was that it is much easier to give up on a resolution that nobody ever keeps than it is to give up on a promise one has made for oneself? 

But, some things really don't rise to the level of "promise". Many homesteading goals are just that: what we hope to accomplish Lord willing and the creek don't rise (or drought come, or hurricane destroy). So, I made a bit of a different list this year -- half "goals" and half "promises". The full list follows but I will expound on most of the promises in my other blog.

2012 Goals:

1. Pantry=work the plan, build the emergency pantry
2. Rabbits=build cages & shelter, obtain Silver Fox Rabbits from breeder in Florida
3. Poultry=build chicken tractor, obtain layers, obtain Muscovy ducks
4. Built berm/swale
5. Plant more fruit trees, muscadine arbor, etc.
6. Create & plant mixed beds of vegetables/herbs/flowers

2012 Promises:
1. More time each day in spiritual pursuits: Bible reading, Bible study, prayer, worship, silence/listening, etc.
2. Ministry opportunities: Reaching Our Community Ministry, Teen Sunday School class, Music, Intercessory Prayer Group (WIN)
3. Eat healthier & Work on mobility
4. Clear out “excess” à voluntary simplicity & frugality
5. manage time so as to have time for crafts and reading
6. Blogs: blog more often, improve blogs appearance and performance

As you can see, 2012 is a year of building up here on the homestead. Between drought and neighbors much of the physical efforts put forth in 2011 have little or nothing to show for all the sweat and tears. We aren't nearly as far along as I'd hoped we'd be at this point. But, no sense in bemoaning things that can't be helped. 
I have made a shopping plan for the year to build a basic pantry. Each week, we will set aside $15 and purchase a staple item (i.e., flour, sugar, rice, etc.). By the end of the year, we should have a good foundation for a pantry. The long term goal is to have a one year pantry. The point of the pantry is to be assured that when IT hits the fan, we have food and other necessities. 

The purpose of the rabbits, chickens, ducks, and gardens are to improve our self-sufficiency both short term and long term. They can also serve as "cash crops" when cash is needed. And, it is a ministry opportunity -- a chance to share with those who are hungry. 

Then, there are the promises. I promise to take better care of myself this year. To eat healthy, exercise, and relax so that I am healthier and happier. I am learning to nurture myself and not allow the busyness of life take precedence over my physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. 

Not on the list but something our family has promised each other this coming year is to play games and enjoy each other's company more. We had a wonderful time on Christmas day playing card games and Yahtzee. That will become a more common occurrence.  Laughter is good for the soul. Family bonds are critical in a world so full of strife.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Declaring my Independence

This is a slight detour from the discussion of the homestead and permaculture -- a brief return to the original theme of this blog. I hope you will indulge me.

I'm sure you have heard the old adage: the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. Based on that, I've been insane for 38 years. For 38 years I have battled my weight desperate to reach and hold on to a "normal" weight. I have dieted, worshiped the scale, starved, binged, purged, exercised to excess, and felt the shame just grow and grow. For 38 years I have hated the face in the mirror, wished it was thin and pretty. For 38 years I have hated my body, always wanting it to look like normal people's bodies. You know what all that misery and self hate got me? Fatter and heavier with shame and self loathing.

As of today -- I declare my independence.
  • I will no longer "go on a diet"
  • I will not worship the number on the scale
  • I will not measure my worth by the scale or the size of my clothes.
  • I will not feel shame for eating a piece of cake. 
  • I will not kill myself at the gym. 
  • I will not worry that my family will be ashamed or embarrassed being seen with me. 
  • I will not allow the judgmental looks of others to shame me -- they matter not.
  • I will not avoid the face in the mirror.
  • I will eat to be healthy.
  • I will exercise to regain and maintain my mobility and health.
  • I will love the person in the mirror because God loves her.
  • I will redirect all that energy to becoming the woman God designed me to be.
 This pretty little girl with the soft features was told she was fat. She was told she was too fat and ugly to be included in the school yard games. She was told that because of her size, she deserved to be hit and ridiculed and pushed off the school bus seats. She believed and was ashamed. That shame made her heavier. It made her see herself as ugly. She had no one to tell her it was lies. Instead, adults said things like "you would be so pretty if only you lost some weight". If I had a dollar for every time someone said that to me, I'd be rich.

The overweight lady on the right had the time of her life hiking in the mountains of Virginia and North Carolina. She felt more alive and more in her element than she could remember ever feeling.  She never lost weight on those hikes even though she didn't have much of an appetite during the hikes -- even on multi-day hikes. But, that didn't matter. What mattered is that she was just as capable as skinny hikers (much to their surprise) and she didn't feel like she had to make excuses for herself.  I don't know if I'll be able to go hiking again. My camping hammock has a weight limit and my mobility is not adequate at the moment. Whether I ever walk the trails of the Smokies again or not, I want to feel about myself the way I felt on those hikes.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Self-Sufficiency Goals for 2012

While my winter greens garden is still growing, the leaves have fallen and it is time to move them into the compost pile and start focusing on 2012.  Thoughts turn to questions about what steps to take in the coming year to move us closer to our goal of being self-sufficient.

The first part of self-sufficiency is having food to eat. Food self-sufficiency means finding ways to grow, gather (through hunting or foraging), or trade for food.

Growing:  as I consider what foods to grow, I'm looking to build a base of perennial plants; both fruit, vegetable, and herb. Of course, there will also be the necessary annuals -- one simply can not do without tomatoes and cucumbers!

The fruits I hope to plant next year include: gooseberry, blueberries, strawberries, fig, muscadine grapes, passionfruit, hardy kiwi and elderberries. Some of the perennial vegetables I hope to get planted include asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes (aka sunchokes), Egyptian walking onions, garlic, sea kale (if I can find a root cutting), scarlet runner beans, and...well...I'm still working on the list as I read my new book on the subject.

How much of any one thing to plant is always a big question. One issue is cross-pollination -- some fruits simply have to have another of it's kind to set fruit. The other question is: how much will each plant produce versus how much can we use? We like to have some for eating fresh but in most cases, we also want some for preserving either through canning or freezing. We also want to have enough to share and to trade. So, the question of "how many to plant" is not such an easy question to answer.

Gathering. Foraging and hunting are also areas to be considered and improved upon. In 2012, I hope to do more in this area that we did this year. I want to learn where to go clamming and relearn how to do that. I went clamming many years ago but have long since forgotten the process. Fishing is another thing I'd like to do --or find someone who goes fishing that is interested in a barter arrangement. I would love to have more local fish on my menu! Deer is another commodity we didn't get much of this year. We had hoped that Son would get to learn to hunt this year -- we will add that to the wishlist for 2012.

Barter. I recently had occasion to speak with some ladies at church about a potential barter/trade community arrangement within our church family. Some are interested in trying a church community garden which would be great for growing some things that I might not have space to grow. It would also be nice to have folks working together on such a project. The barter arrangement would be wonderful. Not everyone has a "green thumb" or desire to garden but might like to make soaps or candles or perhaps they have or want to have chickens. We have one couple that likes to go fishing. Working with each person's strengths could help each of us be more self-sufficient. Such a community of believers helping each other has long been a dream of mine. We'll have to see what might come of it.

Other goals for the homestead for 2012 are:

* build a berm/swale to separate my growing space from the wall of blueberries the neighbor planted.
* build a chicken dome and finally get my hens.
* get a breeding pair or two of muscovies.
* to work perennial beds which mix perennial vegetables, herbs, and fruits
* improve the health of the pecan trees so they begin producing again
* build the 3 month food pantry and start working on the 1 year food pantry

2011 was a year of struggle but it was also a year of learning. I guess you could say that 2011 was the school of hard knocks. Let's hope that 2012 is the sweet fruit that comes from persistence and determination not to quit.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

More on Ducks in the Permaculture Homestead

Ducks do belong in the Permaculture Homestead plan. You might think you can’t keep ducks unless you have a pond. Or, perhaps you can’t imagine of what use a duck is on the homestead. As I mentioned before, I have actually gone back and forth on this issue myself. Yes. No. Maybe. But, I keep coming back to -- Yes!

The best thing to do is consider how ducks will function within the system.

It might help to first realize that there are different types of ducks. Most ducks are water ducks. For these ducks, you will need either a pond or kiddie pool. With the latter, you will be changing that water often because ducks will foul it, fast. While changing pond water might be irritating, there is an upside to it. It can be used to water the garden and provides fertilizer at the same time. But, if you really don't want to deal with the kiddie pool, there are land ducks. 

The easiest thing to do is head over to the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy and read up on each of the ducks. Take note of the ones with characteristics you think will benefit your homestead. There is bound to be a breed or breeds that appeal to you and fit well within your homestead plan.

For my little homestead, I wanted a non-water, meat duck that is good at foraging (eating bugs and weeds) and quiet. Quiet is important because of the close proximity of neighbors. Docile, good mothering abilities, and easy care were also important. While some folks are fond of duck eggs for baking, Mother nixed that idea. So, which duck meets those standards? The Muscovy! Muscovies are land ducks so a water bowl is all the water they require. They eat a tremendous amount of mosquitoes along with slugs, bugs, and even small snakes. Their meat is said to be lean and similar in flavor to grass fed beef. They are parenting machines so with just a breeding pair or two we will have enough for our freezer and some to sell. They are docile but willing and able to defend themselves and their ducklings against any animal or human stupid enough to challenge them. And, they roost in the trees and only take shelter when the weather is foul. The males are too heavy to fly but the females and juveniles will need to have their wings clipped to keep them away from the neighbors. If we find that we have issues with them being totally free range, I will convert them into a “duck dome” but I hope to avoid that.

What breed(s) are you considering? Or, do you have ducks already (if so, what type)?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Misadventures and Chicken Tractors

Best laid plans of mice and men or so they say. What we plan and what actually happens are often two very different things. When life and people do not work according to plan, plans get seriously messed up! And, so it has been here at the homestead. It seems that each time I adjust the plans for the behaviors and doings of people or conditions, something or someone else comes in and twists it all up yet again. At moments, I want to just give up and go hide in my room. But, I can't do that. I have to keep trying. And, sometimes, better ideas come of it.

The Fall Garden as conceptualized in my head was quite a bit different from what actually happening. The actual Fall planting is a simple garden of mustard greens (smooth leaf, as according to everyone in these parts it's the only type worth growing), kale, spinach, and collards. They went into the ground rather late but I'm hoping we'll enjoy some greens this winter anyway. Hope was that after getting this little bit planted, we'd have time to determine a site for the perennial vegetable beds (asparagus, etc) and get those "beds" heavily mulched and doing their magic for a Spring planting. I also wanted to get some clover planted to cover all the bare soil. Did I mention that nothing is going quite to plan?

I got a call from the Backdoor Neighbor announcing that he was going to be planting 20 blueberry bushes along his border, effectively nixing my garden plans by putting conventionally raised blueberries right at our boundary. While giving me a bit of an upset, a new plan has arisen from it that will be quite beautiful. It will have to wait until the Spring after the Fall Garden is done. Then, we will create a berm-and-swale along the border with ornamental trees, bushes, and grasses along the berm. The swale will serve to hold water after a rain allowing it to be absorbed into the ground rather than run off. The berm and it's plantings will serve as an attractive barrier between his conventional gardening and my organic gardening. It also will give me an area to satisfy Mother's craving for ornamental trees and bushes. Theoretically, this all fits within the principles of Permaculture I talked about previously. Or, so I tell myself so I can feel better about this twisted dizzy road I seem to be on.

Chickens. Chickens were supposed to be here this past Spring. I should have been enjoying their services in the garden for months now. But, for various reasons the coop and the chickens have been delayed. But, that might turn out to not be such a bad thing. Various thoughts and opinions and ideas have been considered and tossed around. Each with their benefits and drawbacks. From the beginning what I really wanted was a chicken tractor -- a portable chicken coop with attached run. But, because Mother was not yet on board with that idea, some form of stationary coop was going to be built. But wasn't. Which turns out to be a good thing as I have since been able to convince Mother that a Chicken Dome is both attractive and has more benefits than drawbacks. Square and rectangle tractors are probably easier to build, perhaps cheaper, but for about $200 we can have a large Dome.

Why a tractor and why a dome? Well, with a chicken tractor, you move the chickens around on a daily or other set schedule so they have fresh graze and leave their fertilizer around instead of all piled up and stinky at the coop. It is better than true free range because the chickens are protected from predators and I get to place them where I want them rather than them just going wherever and possibly eating seedlings they shouldn't be eating. The dome is aesthetically more pleasing and being made from PVC means it is very light and easy to move around.  There is a youtube video of a tractor a man built that has plastic panels enclosing one side forming a shelted roosting area. I like that much better than the tarp-over-the-top idea.

I got the replacement plants from Direct Gardening so we had a lot of holes to dig yesterday. They made a mistake and set me a Hazelnut instead of a lilac but that is fine with me. That got planted up front at a corner of the property. I planted 6 rugosas, two pawpaws, 4 Hansen's bush cherries, and 6 dwarf cherry bushes. The cherry bushes were planted along the back border. The only thing not yet planted was the forsythias. I haven't quite figured out where I want to plant them. I can't plant them where I originally wanted them due to changes in property lines and the new plan for the berm/swale. Need to figure out where to put them and get them planted this week.

We also had a miracle come our way -- or coming our way. A retired Methodist preacher is going to build us a storage shed in exchange for the old camper. I've learned my lesson -- this time, I get the building before I give up the camper! Once burned, twice shy.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Plant Inventory October 9 2011

Backwoodsjon of Organic Homestead Gardening fame challenged us last week to take a plant inventory of our homestead. He suggested we tally all the permanent plants (trees, bushes, perennials) we have. Even though I had a good idea of what I had, I thought it was a good exercise and a good chance to go out and take measurements to form a more accurate map of the property. This is important for making plans for future plantings and for knowing what food producing plants I have. While I was walking around, I also took note of a few plants I did know names for that are "volunteers" (aka weeds) with potential value.

Here is the result of my walk about yesterday:

Pecans (6) --ranging in size from sapling to old ancient
Oaks (4)
Holly (1)
dogwoods (3)
pine (former "living Christmas tree") (1)
crape myrtle (1)
camellia (1) --largest one I've ever seen...very happy near the septic tank!
Wild Cherry (3 or 4)
pawpaws (2 -did not come out of dormancy, will be receiving replacements)
Japanese Tulip (1)

hydrangea (6)
Azaleas (4)
orleander (1) --highly poisonous! Keep away from animals and humans...Mother loves their flowers
thyme (1)
holly (must be removed--pretty bush in a bad location)
boxwood (1)
old-fashioned rose (it is looking better already after pruning off the dead wood. Will do more when it goes dormant.)
Hansen cherry (1 -awaiting a replacement for the other 4 that did not survive)
forsythia (1 -awaiting a replacement for the other 3 that did not survive)
lilac (1 -awaiting a replacement for the other that did not survive)
rugosa roses (10 -awaiting a replacement for the other 12 that did not survive)

day lilies (lots)
lily (type unknown) (1) --needs to be transplanted as it is lost amongst the hydrangea
hosta (1) --needs to be transplanted as it is lost amongst the hydrangea
Cannas (lots)
pampas grass (being eradicated)
Carolina Willow (1)
purslane (hoping it survived the unexpected plowing)

evening primrose (ditto) 
Red Wood Sorrel (Oxalis rubra)
Smartweed/knotweed ..Persicaria maculate (Lady's Thumb)…

Phyllanthus urinaria, called "Chamber Bitter", which is in the spurge family
Stachys floridana, called "Florida Betony" or "Rattlesnake Weed"

Heliotropium amplexicaule
Diodia virginiana

I had hoped to order blueberries and a few other fruit trees this Fall but with having to pay for a lawyer to get the boundary line question resolved and deed filing costs, that may not happen.

Son and I have a saying now, "the vision in our head is wonderful, it's the accomplishing of it that isn't so simple." But, while we may be be there yet, we are not's just taking more time than we wish it would.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Deer Apples and Homestead Animals

Mother has been wanting to make and can apple sauce. She's been waiting with baited breath for the mountain apples to arrive at Holden Brothers. And, they have arrived...a variety of delicious apples all from the North Carolina Mountains. A box of them would be around $30. Not bad. But, not great. Then, I saw the sign that said "Deer Apples $10 per box". Deer apples?  We located the owner and she gave a few bewildering answers and then finally something that made sense--apples that have bruises. Ah, perfect! A mixed box of apples that are perfectly good with exception of a bruise or two. No problem. Now, mother can work on making apple sauce.

In my last post, I discussed some of the permaculture principles I want to incorporate into my little homestead. One of the cornerstones of my overall vision is livestock. Before we lost a chunk of our property, I had hoped to include dairy goats, miniatures, in the plan. But, with less space and after considering all the new factors we are dealing with, I've decided goats aren't a good choice for the Not Quite There Yet Homestead. Instead, we will focus on chickens, ducks, and rabbits.

Chickens: This is the quintessential first livestock accquisition for homesteaders. In fact, there may be a rule that one can not call oneself a homesteader without a few of these running around. If such a rule exists, we aren't officially a homestead yet. The chicken coop we had hoped to have this past Spring appears to have taken a wrong turn at the Green Swamp and gotten lost. Fortunately, our friend Captain Jeff does more than just take care of yachts, he also has chickens and shares the eggs they produce. I can't wait to have some cochins and some EasterEggers running around and laying brown and green and blue eggs. But, it isn't the color of the eggs that make chickens the first choice of permaculturist homesteaders. Chickens provide several benefits: eggs, meat, manure, pest control, turning compost, and entertainment. As long as you don't have a rooster, you shouldn't have issues with the neighbors.

Ducks: I've gone back and forth on whether to get ducks or not. They are messy and some breeds are noisy. And, I've never eaten duck. But, muscovies do offer benefits to the homestead: they make good weeders for the garden, eat their weight in mosquitoes and will also eat slugs and mice and even small snakes. Their meat is said to be of the taste and quality of grass-fed beef and leaner than other duck meat. They are also quite prolific which means you can raise enough for the freezer and have some to sell. I already have interested clients and I don't even have ducks yet! Muscovies are much quieter than other ducks, don't need ponds, and don't require much housing beyond a simple doghouse style shed to retreat into when foul weather arrives. I definitely want muscovies! (But, every homesteader has they duck breed that they feel particularly passionate about. They should be a duck for you if you look around.)

Rabbits: Another excellent livestock choice for the small homestead. A small breeding herd can produce a good amount of meat as well as the best most coveted manure with the exception of worm castings. And, if you put a vermiculture box under the rabbit cages, you will have black gold to enrich your gardens or sell at ridiculous prices to the rose growers in your area. You can also opt for a breed that produces wool and have yet another income stream or product for your homestead. I could go two different directions with breed choice: New Zealand or Silver Fox. New Zealands are plentiful and easy to get at cheap prices. Silver Fox is neither plentiful, easy to get, or cheap. But, Silver Fox is an endangered breed, is stunningly beautiful, and very efficient at creating meat. If I decide I want to get involved in going to breed shows, or simply want to raise meat with a rabbit that is docile and beautiful, it makes sense to go to the trouble of getting Silver Fox breeding stock. I'm definitely leaning in that direction.

These three choices of livestock serves the purpose of providing three sources of meat, two sources of manure, two sources of pest control, one source of weeding, two or more income stream options, and three sources of entertainment. While I will buy feed, the chickens and ducks will supplement through foraging and all three can help consume excess produce. This makes them excellent choices for a permaculture plan and for self-sufficiency in general.  All we need now is the required shelter...we just aren't quite there yet with the shelter. God will provide.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Permaculture on the Homestead

Permaculture is a...well, I guess to my way of thinking it's a philosophy of stewardship of resources, a way of designing a homestead, and a gardening guide all rolled into one. Permaculture is, I think, much more popular in Europe and Australia than it is here in the United States. That is unfortunate as I think it makes a great deal of sense both in the small scale of one home/farm and in the larger scale of a town or community. I first read about permaculture through two books by Bill Mollison, an Australian, and so I tend to be a bit of a Mollison groupie. There are certainly others -- one interesting dude using permaculture in the Alps or some such place where his garden beds are terraced on the side of a mountain of all places. But, he manages to produce an amazing amount of food--and attention from others in the movement.

Trying to apply the gardening aspects of Mollison's books to my situation is a bit complexicated by the fact that he speaks in terms of plants and trees familiar to Australia but not so familiar to us. But, I grasp for the concepts that seem to translate reasonably well to my situation and figure that if I can do even that much, I'm doing fairly well.

So, what are some of the concepts I hope to implement here on my homestead? Let's see:
  1. Each element should perform multiple functions. (example: chickens provide eggs, meat, manure, and bug control)
  2. Each important function should be met by multiple elements. (example: water supply from well/city and rain catchment and pond)
  3. Efficient energy planning -- zoning..put those things requiring the most attention closest to you
  4. cycling of energy, nutrients, and resources (example, composting)
  5. small-scale intensive systems
  6. diversity, including guilds (no monoculture...mix the plantings)
  7. edge effects (the most benefit comes at the edges...)
  8. work with nature not against's not about wiping out all pests but keeping the system in balance
  9. make the least change for the greatest benefit
Numbers 1 and 2 is probably the easiest to understand and figure out. That doesn't mean it won't take time to implement fully but the ideas are easier to come by and figure out. Number 3 is easy in concept to get. Obviously, it makes sense to put the chickens closer to the house since you have to visit the coop twice a day. But, easy theory in this case doesn't necessarily mean easy in design. I struggle with this one when I try to put it into an actual design plan for the homestead. The most aesthetic location for the coop isn't necessarily as close to the house as the zone plan would put it. This is definitely going to be a challenging part and one I need to work out soon as I will be forming beds and locating where various elements should soon. argh

Chickens here...rabbits there...tomatoes over there...wait, no...tomatoes over here, chickens, that's not right...I think I need more of my son's pear butter to fuel my thought processes....

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Homestead Shrinks

As it turns out, the 50'x177' piece of land long used as a garden does not belong to us. Our homestead is smaller than we thought.

Last weekend, prior to seeing the attorney and finding out that we don't own the property, I met with our neighbors. I learned that they had nothing to do with the incident the week prior in which our neighbor frightened off the gentleman who was plowing the garden space. Not only did they not have anything to do with it, they had no idea what he was talking about. Our meeting was pleasant and encouraging. As four Christians, we were in agreement that what mattered most was to glorify God in all things and avoid taking fellow Christians to court.

Am I angry that I am losing the garden? Honestly, not really. Truth is, I was overwhelmed. I was having a very hard time keeping up. I didn't want to admit that but that is the truth. I am actually relieved and encouraged. Now, I can focus on a smaller area and thus take better care of it. I can still grow vegetables, herbs, flowers, and fruit trees and do it much better. The plan is to make mixed garden beds that will be attractive and productive. I've very excited!

In other news: John Boy and I went foraging pears from the neighborhood and came home with a huge cache of pears. No, seriously, we're talking huge! It seems that folks plant pear trees and then either don't have time to harvest them or don't want to bother. They are glad to have someone take them. Amazing!

Mother and I have picked 100 pounds of tomatoes from the u-pick farm. I'll pick more if Hurricane Irene doesn't ruin the remaining crop. Mother has been busy canning. We are developing quite a pantry of canned tomatoes, peaches, pears, soup, and okra.

John Boy and I have also begun getting two copies of the Sunday paper for the coupons so we can build our 3 month pantry. What, a 3 month pantry? Yep. We are working on building a 3 month pantry (food, medical, and household supplies) for "in case of...". After we have a 3 month pantry, we'll begin working toward a 1 year pantry. If you don't have supplies at home to handle a short-term or long-term crisis, you should really consider starting to work in that direction. Seriously. There are lists and instructions on how to build a pantry. Some lists provide a weekly shopping guide that will result in a 1 year pantry at the end of 51 weeks. In a year or so, I hope to have a 1 year pantry...but we aren't quite there yet....

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Open and Notorious Use

Disputed Garden Space
Twenty-six years ago, my baby sister was born. Her father needed to pay the hospital bill so he was talked into selling over a dozen acres of land at rock bottom price to a nephew. In a process that was convoluted and bewildering to a man 61 year old new father, he was left with what he thought was .86 acres with an easement over a piece of it -- over the garden spot to be exact. The nephew turned around and split the land and sold it to two other family members at a huge profit. Roughly 8 years ago, one of them sold their house and the land to an retired couple. Nothing was said or done about the easement.

Until now. Suddenly, this couple have paid for a property survey. At first, this seemed to benefit us as the lines marked by the surveyors gave us several feet more on two borders. For some reason that I don't currently understand, they have since decided to add survey markers to include almost half of the garden space. They then informed our other boundary neigbhor who's land is on the now disputed boundary line to trim a large pine whose lower branches intruded onto the garden space. If they aren't intending to claim ownership of the garden area, why are they concerned about the tree's branches?

What I also do not understand yet is why they are only questioning part of the garden space. My boss was a real estate attorney for over 20 years before becoming CEO of his family's business. He reviewed the deeds and found that our deed puts the whole garden space as not ours at all. Other deeds list it as an easement. It's true status is going to take a more thorough review to determine. I've made an appointment to see an attorney next week.

What does all that have to do with the title of this post? Well, our strongest argument that the land is ours is that of "open and notorious use". For the past 26 years, this family -- my mother and stepfather and then me -- have gardened on that land and otherwise claimed and cared for that land. Everyone knows this. No one has ever disputed it. That can establish it as our more than any deed ever could. Hopefully it won't take going to court to argue that point.

Worse case scenario: we lose the land. The retired couple who seem so determined to claim it may well wish they had not if they win. I still intend to have my chickens, my rabbits, and my goats. I still intend to have a garden and fruit trees. The difference will be that without that space, the chicken coop and goat shed will not be hidden at the back of a neat garden of raised beds, fruit trees, and trellises; rather, they will be more visible. It also means that we'll have less lawn as we convert lawn to garden space. There won't be a thing they can do about that!

Best case scenario: we gain undisputed ownership of the garden space clear of easement and I can proceed with plans to make a lovely garden space that will be appreciated by those who pass by.

Time will tell what will happen to the disputed 50'x177' garden of our little homestead. Please join me in prayer for the latter scenario. Also pray that in all things, no matter what happens, we are able to reflect the love and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ to all involved. Because, ultimately, the most important thing is that we bring glory to our Savior.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Life is Sweet but Not Always Easy!

Stop the world, I want to get off! I've said that more than once...often with a whine to the voice. Life can be very overwhelming. I'm sure you know what I mean. It's not like I have a monopoly on struggles. The Bible even acknowledges this fact as it also tells us not to fret about tomorrow because today has enough troubles of it's own. How very true! If it's not the car, it's the plumbing or an appliance or weeds growing too fast and vegetables not growing at all...and's all of the above all at once! Argh. What is a person to do? Run away?

Don't think I haven't considered it! Dropping off the radar and hiding in a mountain cabin or Nowhereville someplace can seem very appealing when there is more week at the end of a paycheck and everywhere you look there are broken things needing fixin'. While I've not actually tried the "drop off the radar" idea, I have moved more than once trying to run away from problems. That is a habit I learned from my father. He was a Run-a-wayer Extraordinaire. I figured out something he never did: the grass is not greener on the other side of the fence or country. So, running away will not resolve a thing. The only option, therefore, is to stand. When all else fails: stand.

It is best to take that stand with family around you. As Solomon observed: a cord of three strands is not quickly broken. Alone, you will fall. Together, you hold each other up. One gardens. Another cans. Another hunts. One plans and calculates. Another offers wisdom gained from a long life. Another fixes the plumbing. Individually, we would crumble. Together, we are a force to be reckin'ed with!

A couple of decades ago, I started dreaming about a homestead. A place where I could be self-reliant. Actually, it was a place to hide my heart from the world so the world could not hurt me anymore. A place a long...long...way from an unkind society. I read about gardening and permaculture and caring for livestock. I made plans. Thank God, those plans did not take form outside my head! He knew what I did not see, yet; that it would have been a hell of my own making.

When I moved here to live with Mother, I thought it was the end of the dream. I continued to read and dream but I held less hope of it coming into reality. Partly that was because I imagined a homestead had to be 5 acres in some remote location. Despite the apparent death of the dream, that urge for self-reliance I felt in my gut became louder as world events and that Still Small Voice inside turned into a drumbeat in my head "get's time to get's coming...get ready".

I never could have dreamt of what we have here on this little half-acre homestead. Never could I have hoped for the family that has formed here. Out of the ashes of pain and disappointment is rising up a Family that is knit together by love and respect rather than blood. We have a family where each individual uses their talents, abilities, and giftings to support the family. We also have friends. In times of challenge, you learn who are truly your friends and who are not. Sure, there are the false friends, the Brutus'. But, keep the faith because you will find the gold being purified in the same fire you are being purified in. Find the true ones and nurture that connection. We'll need all the true friends we can get -- very soon.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Okra, Okra, Okra

Okra Jungle

Once upon a time, I hated okra. It was just a disgustingly slimy or disgustingly hairy textured vegetable. I know, I'm Southern, how can I not love okra? Embarassing but true. But, this embarassing problem has now been remedied! I can honestly say that I love fried okra, okra in tomatoes, and best of all, pickled okra! Lesson learned: don't assume you still dislike something as tastebuds do change. Or, perhaps the lesson learned is: one's own home-grown okra tastes way better than that grown somewhere else. Either way, I'm glad I was open to try growing and eating this veggie!

This tastebud change is very timely because we have okra coming out of our ears! Every other crop has failed miserably this year. But, not the okra. It has enjoyed the excessive heat and humidity and grown into an okra jungle.  Oh, you think I jest? Au contaire, I jest not! It is a jungle out there! Look! A person could get lost in there! 

Okra blossom

Sunflower Jungle seen from
with Okra Jungle

Despite the itchy affect of touching the okra plants, harvesting does come with some simple pleasures. I get to enjoy the pretty okra flowers. I also get to listen to and occasionally have a tete-a-tete with a few of my gardening helpers. I got a picture of the okra flower but unfortunately the green treefrog and itty bitty gecko were not willing to pose for a picture. There were also some bugs which I suspect were not "helpers" but since the frogs and lizards were on the job, I focused on harvesting.

Fortunately, I did not encounter any snakes. Copperheads have been very stubborn and refusing to acknowledge the eviction notices we've served over and over again. They just don't seem to be willing to relocate. One had the audacity to bite my cocker spaniel, Tanner, on the hip while he was minding his own business in the dogyard last week. It was sentenced to death by beheading. Oh, and Tanner is fine. He slept it off and was back on guard duty a few hours later.

If you have ever harvested okra, you know the itching we endure when harvesting in this jungle! Wading through the jungle in search of the okra pods is quite a challenge and pods get missed no matter how careful I am.

But, we are finding different uses for the different sizes of pods. The small and medium sized okra pods are used for pickling or frying. The medium to large-but-still-tender pods are used in canning tomatoes-and-okra. The large-no-longer-tender pods are blanched and frozen to be used in the dogs' food. They don't mind the slime. Dogs are gross. But, I love them anyway.

Lacto-fermented okra

Tomato Relishs

Today, I picked a basket full of okra and green tomatoes (and a small amount of red tomatoes). Mother and I processed these into jars of pickled okra and tomato relishes. The pickled okra are vinegar pickled and then water bath processed. I have also lacto-fermented a batch of okra and those pickles are amazing. The fermented okra pickles are not processed as that would kill the beneficial bacteria. 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Of Excrement, Fans, Guns and Christians

So, when the excrement hits the fan and society breaks down into chaos, what is a Christian supposed to do? About self-defense, I mean. I mentioned in my last post that I planned to get a gun and learn to use it. Homestead self-defense and all that. Sounds a bit like some of the militia groups who already are drawing their lines in the sand and protecting it with a cache of weapons, doesn’t it? One might rightly ask: Tina, would you kill another person who came to seek food or help to survive? Would you be generous, kind, and sharing of what you have in your pantry? Is “preparedness” just another code word for hoarders with guns?

These are actually questions we each need to ask ourselves. If we have a three year pantry, and IT happens --and we obviously don’t know how long we are going to need to eat off that pantry – do we share with those who ask or shoot all comers on sight? If we feed one, will others follow? How many can we help without risking the well-being of our family? Do we stand and defend or stand and depend? In other words, in whom do we trust – Smith & Wesson or Jesus Christ? Do we compromise our testimony by strapping S&W on our hip?

Well, if you are expecting me to hand you an easy answer to those questions, you are going to be pregnant a long time. I wish I could say I have the definitive answer to give you. Okay, well, I guess the first thing we need to do is look at scripture. Here are a few relevant passages:

[25] "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? [26] Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? ... [31] So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' [32] For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. [33] But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. [34] Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. - Mat 6:25-26, 31-34 NIV

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And do not lean on your own understanding. Pr 3:5

[32] Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. [33] Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. [34] You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. - Hbr 10:32-34 NIV

[39] But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. [42] Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. – Mat 5:39,42 NIV

Does that help you any? How do YOU interpret those passages in light of each other and as they may…or may not…apply to our dilemma? Some would, and have, argued with me that I’m taking a “doormat” position if I interpret or apply these scriptures to mean that I am to literally allow anyone to come and take my stuff if they want it. To some extent, my willingness to “be a doormat” depends on just which “stuff” is at risk of being taken. I see no reason not to stand aside and allow the taking of material possessions such as electronics, furniture, car, money. It’s all just so much stuff. As I see it, what matters more to God, a TV or a soul? Where are my treasures stored, here or heaven? Doesn’t scripture admonish us to be willing to forfeit our “rights” and our “stuff” for the cause of Christ?

But, more to the point, what about the one who comes to take away the food, water, or medicines I’ve stored up for my family? If I learn to shoot a gun as a homestead defense measure, how does that measure up to the scripture about “they who live by the sword, die by the sword”? Some have argued that being willing to protect and defend my homestead and family is the essence of being a good steward. To be a good steward, according to their view, is to protect those provisions that God has given me to provide for my family. Scripture also tells us that not to provide for our own families is to be worse than infidels. Even Jesus (Luke 22:35-36) told his disciples to carry a sword – even to trade their coat for a sword if they don’t have one. He understood that His disciples were going to need to defend themselves. Since Jesus is God, He cannot change. It is impossible for God to be of two minds. Knowing this, we know that, somehow, His words in Luke 22 are not in conflict with His words in Matthew 6. There is a time to stand and defend. There is a time to stand and depend. And, always, it is time to trust in His wisdom.

So, all that said, where the rubber meets the road is that preparing for “in case of” is a practical, good stewardship, wise as serpents thing to do. Learning to defend the homestead also falls in that category. Knowing when to defend and when to depend will require reliance on the Spirit that indwells me. One of the benefits of being a Holy Spirit indwelt child of God is that we can trust that His power and His wisdom are available to us at all times and in all seasons.

Trust and obey. There is no better way. That is what we do here at the Not Quite There Yet Homestead.

Friday, July 22, 2011

In case of is coming... Will you be ready for it?

Someone I respect often asks questions about what I'd do if. What if I can't get to the grocery store... what if the electric grid goes down...for a long time... what if _____ happens... He gently emphasizes being ready, as he says, "in case of...". This works whether you are looking at "normal" level "what if" scenarios (i.e., weather extremes, loss of job) or larger/more extreme "what if" scenarios (i.e., Economic Depression). Be ready, in case of....

Just today, he spoke of a 'sense' that wise elders are whispering about...and what many ordinary folks like myself are also picking up in the breeze of life...that something 'big' is coming. Change. Not just the economic changes we've been experiencing the last few years. Not just the ebb and flow of governments. Something bigger. My friend's word of wisdom was "to defend what is yours but never be afraid to retreat. For often those who retreat wisely, win."

Perhaps you have heard people talking about sensing something. What I find interesting is that regardless of their faith/religion/spiritual beliefs...there is this rumble amongst those in tune to the things of the spiritual realm that something... a huge wind of change bigger than a single government collapse...something this way comes. If it were just one person or one belief system predicting it, I'd not be so concerned. But, when it is spoken of softly...solemnly...from such a diverse group...and it echos what I sense in my own spirit.... would be very unwise not to figure there is something to it... Those of us who are children of the Most High and thus lead by the Spirit, should be especially excited. We are sensing the coming of the End and the Beginning. We are feeling the increasing heartbeat of heaven as it waits the trumpet call.

My question as I ponder this is: how much will we Christians experience before the call of the trumpet? How much of the breakdown of society and nature will we experience before we learn to fly? Our flight lessons could come tomorrow...or not until another generation takes our place. God's time is not our time. Generations that went before us also had to endure difficult challenging times. Thus, knowing that we are in the last days does not tell us whether a minute is left or a hundred years. But, still, there is that whisper of the Spirit that says " ready...rough times are coming".

So, today, my friend posed a number of questions to measure my level of preparedness for "in case of". I'll share with you how I'm doing:

Can you live off what your homestead produces? Not yet. I know that with careful planning and using permaculture and biointensive methods, a half acre homestead can produce all or most of my family's food needs. I am just beginning. There is still quite a bit of work to do to get to that level of productivity. The fruit trees need to be planted, the herb garden planted, and the vegetable beds in top form.

Can you grow your own medicines? I can and that is the plan. I have studied herbal medicines to a basic level and am planning an ongoing study.

Can you grow your own salad greens year round? Not yet...working on it.

Can you grow your own culinary herbs as well as herbs for tea, for medicine, for dye, for defense?The herb garden will include culinary, medicinal, and tea herbs. As for dyes, that is possible though not top priority. I'm still not sure what he means by herbs for defense. He didn't clarify that.

If your city water was cut off forever, do you know where your water would come from? NOPE. Our well ran dry several years ago, tried to drill deeper but hit rock. I do plan to add gutters to the house to catch rainwater which with filtering would be potable. Water could be our weakest link.

Could you survive if the power went off and you knew it would never come back on? Yes, though I might lose my sanity listening to my mother complain constantly about the heat. Think I'm kidding?

What would YOU do if the power went off long term? first, eat or can what is in the freezer (using firepit; we are moving away from depending on the freezer--canning rather than freezing); cook on grill and firepit; wash clothes by hand; use candles/kerosene lamps; use solar lights that can be powered up during the day and used in the house at night. Would also like to explore solar and wind power options.

How would your family survive until you re-learned how to be self-sufficient? The above questions covered the basics. Having a network of folks for trading/bartering will be important because it is unlikely I can grow/raise/produce everything we will need. Security is another issue. I have spoken with several gentlemen who are willing to help me pick out a weapon and learn to use it.

Will your land grow for you all of the food you and your family needs for a 3 year pantry? Plus eating fresh from the garden? Not yet, and when you say "everything", not everything. That is where the trade/barter community will come into play. There may be things, like rice, which I won't be able to get at
all. Some grains I hope to grow but it will be small in quantity. Theoretically, I could grow sufficient calories for us though it would be a limited diet. The trade option would allow for a broader range of foods. Off property foraging would also contribute to our needs.

Will your land grow for you all of the fodder and food your farmstead animals will need to survive and produce for you on the homestead? Currently my homestead animals consists of four dogs and a cat. Plans are to add chickens, rabbits, and goats. The cat can hunt for herself. The dogs will eat eggs, chicken, and rabbit along with us. The chickens will forage on bugs and weeds and compost. I can also grow millet and sunflowers for them. The rabbits can eat scrap vegetables and hay...not sure where the hay would come from. The goats can browse on the woodlot, garden biomass, and we can walk them around the neighborhood to eat weed/browse.

Are you striving to become totally self sustaining off grid Case of? It's coming you know. Yes, indeed, it is coming faster than most suspect! I am working on being ready. The biggest hurdle was to get my family on board. They are now and so we are moving faster toward being ready.

You could get laid off, or be out of a job for years with no outside income, could you keep your homestead or would you loose it? As long as I could sale enough eggs, excess produce, and a cash crop (i.e., luffas, goat milk soap, etc.) to cover the property tax bill, we'd be fine in this regard.

Could you feed your family or maintain your standard of living they expect during the no off farm work cycle? We'd not keep the same standard of living...things like cable and internet would have to be sacrificed...fewer trips to town "just 'cause"...but, I think we'd adjust better than many that I know because we don't have a high standard of living now...

In case of might just be around the next corner. Will you be ready for it? We are not there yet, but we are on the way...

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Of Weeds and Blessings

The Tallow Tree adventure took an interesting turn yesterday.

The tree trimmers from the Electric Company arrived to trim back the Tallow Tree from the electrical wires. Turned out this simply act uncovered a disaster lurking unawares at the top of our power pole. Unbeknownst to us or the power company, the wires at the top of the pole were bare. All the coating has been worn off leaving the wires exposed and dangerous. In an electrical storm or other cause of a power surge, our house would be damaged severely. There was no reason for the power company to come look at the wires since there was no loss of service. There was no reason for us to think there was a problem. No reason whatsoever for anyone to examine the powerlines.

Except for a nuisance weed tree.

That tree for all that it was where it wasn't wanted, was a blessing in disguise. Isn't that the way of many blessings? Coming in the guise of trouble so we can easily miss it if we are looking. I guess that is why folks talk about the importance of "being in the moment" or "being present" helps us see the blessings in the midst of the weeds of life.

That Tallow Tree was hiding a few other secrets, too. A volunteer pecan tree and a bunch of Wild Cherry Trees. How did we not see these? Well, I guess they were hidden in plain sight. The pecan, already about six inches in diameter, was tucked behind the tallow and surrounded by the cherry trees. The cherry trees (at this point more "bush" than tree) were just so much background noise until the tallow was gone. The nice tree trimming crew, who also did more than just top off the tallow--they cut it to the ground for us, identified the wild cherry trees, thus elevating them from "background noise" to foreground fortuitous find.

Prunus serotina, Wild Cherry Tree (aka Wild Black Cherry)

Wild Cherry Trees are good for several somethings, it seems. A quick google search revealed that the bark has medicinal uses and the fruit (if one can beat the birds to it) makes a tasty jelly. The one potential problem is they may get very large. They can get upwards of 80 feet but one university site says such heights are unlikely in the piedmont and coastal regions of North Carolina. I plan to keep these pruned so they stay more on the bush-to-small-tree side of their potential.

The pecan tree they surround, however, does not have quite so bright a future. It is just too close to the power pole and, in fact, is heading straight for the powerline. It will, alas, have to go. But, on the upside, there are several other volunteer pecans and an oak that are small enough for repositioning to better spots.

While I am thrilled to be able to encourage the grown of several pecan and one oak tree in my backyard (which desperately needs tall shade trees), it does mean relocating the orchard. Now, the fruit trees I had planned to put back there will have to go in the garden area with the blueberries and fig...or somewhere...this means also moving the grape and kiwi we go again...better now than when the trees are in the ground!

Best laid plans of mice and men and journeys that never quite "get there".....

Sunday, July 17, 2011

A Homestead Fence

As my son and I erected a fence for the dogs yesterday, Mother asked me if it was an organic fence. My initial response was "of course" -- this is an organic homestead afterall. But, of course, a fence of metal can not be "organic" as metal is inorganic. My chuckling at this turned to pondering about the fence and how it symbolizes the homestead life.

Homesteading is a growing movement here in the US. It isn't the same as the homesteading that took folks west to settle new territory in the early days of this country. Today, it is about self-sufficiency. Folks are learning how to raise their own food organically so that they know what they are feeding their families. We're growing our own herbal medicines and learning how to make tinctures and salves. We are learning new skill sets so we are ready for what may come. It's a movement about gaining confidence in our ability to care for our own.

Dogs checking out their new Dog Yard

What does this have to do with a fence? Well, I got it through Craigslist at a great deal as long as I came, took it down, and moved it. BJ and I went and took it down and a friend came and loaded it on his truck. The same friend loaned us a post driving tool (non-power driven) but was not able to provide a stretcher for the chainlink. Together, we drove the posts and stretched the chainlink. Stretching that chainlink without a stretcher was impossible until I remembered a little physics trick. We got some rope, tied it around the link and post and used a screwdriver to twist the rope. Tada! The chainlink stretched, and the fence came together--literally!

Then, there was the issue of the damage done by the seller's dog. Mostly of no consequences except for one spot where our dogs were bound to decide to use it as a back door. More homesteading ingenuity. BJ took an old board we'd saved from an old set of porch steps, hammered a few nails in it, and wired it to the fence to close off the back door. And, finally, there was a small gap at the gate that was Chloe sized. Sure enough, it didn't take her long to find it. So, a metal post used for temporary fencing was hammered into place and the Chloe sized exit was closed.

I used to wonder why my dad and stepfather were so fanatical about saving "stuff". Neither were hoarders by any means but they tended to hold on to things that I saw as trash. Coffee cans, old brick, the odd piece of old wood or bits of wire. They understood what I am just beginning to learn: that today's junk is tomorrow's "just what I needed". Homesteading is about being prepared for the "in case of's" and that requires having a well selected stash of "I might just need that"s.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Weeds aren't always weeds

Oenothera laciniata
In the garden, there are those plants we planted and those plants we did not plant. We label the ones we did not plant "weeds". But, if we take the time to look more closely before pulling them up, roots and all, we may just find a jewel or two. Such is the case in my garden.

This plant is growing along the edges of my garden space. I didn't plant it and it was all mixed in with a riot of other un-invited plants so I labeled it a weed and it was going to face the same fate as all the other "weeds". But, Mother noted that it is pretty and for her, that was enough to give it a pardon. I needed to know more. After consulting more knowledgable individuals, I discovered that the plant is a Cutleaf Evening Primrose plant. Yeah, that Evening Primrose! Well, technically, not the same plant as used in the commercial supplements; but, with the same chemical -- GLA (a special fatty acid). So, this weed turns out to be a medicinal plant!

 The other "weed" was being pulled up by the bushels full until I happened to see it in pots for sale at the local nursery! Imagine my surprise to see them asking $3.69 for a 3-inch pot for plants I was composting as fast as I could! This was no weed, it is an herb--both culinary and medicinal. You can eat it in salads or cooked like spinach. It is rich in Alpha-Linolenc Acid (Omega 3) -- the same as in the fish oil supplements.

I've noticed something else about "weeds" -- rain or no rain, they grow. Weeds are persistant. They are survivialists. Weeds don't need to be pampered or coddled. They are as pretty as hybrid roses but without the frail nature.

Perhaps, as we look within ourselves and aim at pulling the weeds out of our hearts and souls, we should be more careful. There may be some things we preceive as weeds but are jewels worthy of notice. Some may even possess within themselves just the things we need to be healthy. It may be that the plants to be pulled are the hybrid roses.

My garden has a long way to go but I have begun to make room for weeds.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Weed Tree?

Not all weeds can be uprooted by hand. Some won't come up with a hoe, either.

If you live in or have traveled through, the Southeast United States, you have probably seen "the vine that ate the South" otherwise known as kudzu. Kudzu was planted extensively during the 1930's as a soil conservation method. Not a good idea. The vine is seriously, majorly invasive. It also defies all efforts at eradication. It is useful, though. The root can be eaten by humans, the vines make good forage for goats and also can be used to make baskets.

Chinese Tallow Tree - The Tree that Ate the South!

But, you may not have heard of a weed tree that is also taking over the Southeast. I certainly had never heard of it. But, now, one has shown up in our yard. Actually, it has been here a few years but it is just now making itself noticed. What is this weed tree? It's called a Chinese Tallow Tree. Ol' Ben Franklin brought it here thinking it was a "useful" plant. Useful because the seeds produce a wax and an oil. The wax was used by the Chinese for candle making and the oil for burning in lamps. But, in the Southeast, it has no natural restraints to it's domination. And, dominate it is! As I am learning, this tree propagates quite easily and, with the help of birds, widely. It also is not willing to die quietly. Cut it down. It grows back tenfold. Grind the stump. It grows back a hundredfold. Try to pull up the roots. It grows back a thousandfold.

There is one possible solution. It involves my lowering the moratorium on purchasing a chemical product produced by The Great Evil Empire, Monsanto. Round-up is the one answer, so I'm told, to the problem of the Tallow Tree. So, this once -- and just this once -- I will purchase Roundup. Tomorrow, I plan to call the electric company and see if they would come and cut down the tree since it is next too and involving a power pole and line. If they will do that, then once the tree is gone and the stump remains, the stump will be well dosed with Roundup at the open wound. If all goes to plan, the stump will draw in the pesticide and carry it to it's roots and all will die die die. Plan B if the power company does not want to cut it down is to cut one limb at a time and treat the cut area with Round-up until we get it down to the trunk.

I'll keep you posted as to the progress of ridding our homestead of THE TREE THAT ATE THE SOUTH.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Family Dinner Table

Did you grow up eating at least some, if not all of your meals, around the family dinner table? I did not. My father was definitely the "TV Dinner" Dad even if we weren't eating Swanson's. We even ate Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners in the living room in front of the TV. About the only time we ate at the table was when we had guests or were at my grandparents. As an adult, I've tried at various times to cultivate a habit of eating at the table. Something about simply sitting at a table makes the meal more special and something to slow down and enjoy.

When mother brought home the puppies last November, we took down the dining room table and turned this unused space into a puppy pen room. It was not intended to be long term but, well, you know how that goes. Then, roughly 5 months ago, BJ joined our family. He continued to express a desire for us to set up the dinner table and eat "as a family".

Table legs painted a fresh coat of red.

Well, today, he brought this desire to fruition. He retrieved the table from storage, painted the rusty legs a cheery shade of red, and set it up -- and set it for dinner -- all on the same day he had a six hour project to start/finish. When I arrived home from work today at 4:30pm, it was ready and waiting -- the table and the meal. We sat and shared our day with each other and leisurely enjoyed the food mother had carefully prepared. Dinner was white beans and a pasta dish made with our very own homegrown tomatoes. Delicious! While we ate, a variety of Christian music played in the background. How decidedly lovely! How decidedly "family".

Table set for a special meal.
In a world that is oft times crazy and scary and bewildering, it is nice to come together as a family and re-establish our connectedness and interdependence. What a simple and singularly profound act. We have committed to eat our meals around this table from now on. In this special space of shared meal and shared lives, we build bonds that hold a family together no matter what happens "out there". We may not be "there yet" but this is a most exciting and special part of the journey.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Dud Spuds

What a disappointment! Everything appeared to be going well but the truth was in the harvesting.

Let's step back to the beginning of the tale. Back in April when the garden was being planted, I started six potato tire gardens. Tire gardens? Yes, tire gardens. No, not growing tires, silly! using tires to grow potatoes. The idea is simple, really. Plant potato starts in the first tire and as the potato plants reach 8 inches tall, add another tire and bury all but the tips in straw, and repeat until you have four or five tires stacked one atop the other. The potato plants are supposed to produce tubers all the way up. What one is supposed to find when harvesting is an abundance of tubers -- spuds -- in the tires.

This morning, BJ and I found that two of the tires had wilted potato plants. Sooo, we decided to see how many spuds we had in those two towers. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. An utter and complete failure! Why? Well, I have no clue. Well, actually, there is one clue. Ants. Lots of ants. Could the ants have eaten my spuds? Possible. Not sure if that is the complete answer but it is clear they were having themselves a good spud time.

I hope to find out what else could have gone wrong so I can be more successful next time. I like the idea of planting potatoes this way because it takes less space to grow a large number of spuds...well at least that is the theory! We just aren't quite there yet with this method!

Monday, June 27, 2011

A Few Changes

You may have noticed a few changes to this blog. The biggest change is to the name. The name change is to reflect a bit of a shift in focus. But, the destination is the same.

Why the change? Well, to be honest, I have decided that I don't like a strict macrobiotic diet although I do like many of the foods that it includes. I don't want to remake myself to fit a diet structure. I want a diet -- a lifestyle -- that molds to fit me. Trying -- and miserably failing -- at macrobiotics only added to my stress and that is the complete opposite of what I was trying to achieve. So, healthy diet --yes. Strict macrobiotics--no.

Also, I found that I had things I wanted to talk about that weren't fitting neatly into my blog. That's rather silly. Either I bore you to tears with post after post of whining about macrobiotics not working for me or about how mean my trainer is (and he isn't really THAT mean!), or I didn't have much to share! Clearly, I needed to loosen the ties that were binding me and allow myself to be me.

But, the question became, what to call it? I thought "Hoe'ing around" could be cute but really not workable for a web address. So, I spent some time thinking about my little mini-homestead and all the weeds and how far I have to go to get it where I want it. I thought about my life and how I'm far from where I want to be in many ways. And, in all that thinking, I thought of the question children often ask their parents when on a road trip: are we there yet. Children aren't much into experiencing and enjoying the journey. They want one thing: to reach the destination. I don't know about you but I know that my child-like heart still asks God, "are we there yet"? I want to reach the destination. God wants me to enjoy the journey.

My homestead is not quite there yet. Actually, it is just beginning. The garden is mostly depleted soil only fit for growing weeds. The chicken coop is only a twinking in my eye and the rabbitry and beehives are concepts on the site map.  These pictures were taken last October. I'll get some pictures of my weeds...I mean vegetable garden...and of my twigs...I mean fruit trees to post soon.

Future apple/pear orchard
Front of House

Pecan "Grove" aka shady side of house
Sunny side of house

Garden area for vegetables, herbs, and fruit
 My healing journey has not reached it's destination, either. I'm not quite there yet. I'm stronger but still have good days and bad days. I forget to take my supplements and still prefer sweets over whole grains. As for the gym, well, I still think the best part is the sauna.Life is a journey and if

we are wise, we will try to enjoy the journey on the way to the destination. I'll share my journey with you. I hope we both find gems along the way.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Can't Eat That!

A conversation on an email list today got me thinking about the whole question of what to eat--or not eat--to be healthy. Seems everywhere there are strong opinions about what food or food group is THE Cause of All Disease and should be avoided at all costs. 

We've been told for years by "Them" that FAT in any form is EVIL. Fat makes us fat. Fat causes high cholesterol which causes heart disease and cancer and all other terrifying diseases. Fat is to be avoided. The food manufacturers do make plenty of fat replacements that are said to save us from ourselves without us having to change a single thing about how we eat. Funny thing is, we aren't getting thinner or healthier. In fact, we are getting fatter and sicker.

Then, there is the book "The China Study" that villianizes protein--especially animal protein. This book is the manifesto for vegetarians, vegans, rawfoodists, animal rights, and health gurus. The book uses epidemiological studies and animal lab studies to support it's supposition that protein causes all the "diseases of affluence" including but not limited to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. The answer, it claims, is to avoid all animal proteins completely and keep protein intake to less than 10%. The fact that this manifesto has a thousand holes of logic only serves to endear it's followers rather than concern them.

On the other end of the spectrum are the followers of one Weston A. Price. Weston is the godfather of the Paleo Diet. Eat like a caveman and you avoid the dreaded diseases of affluence. What did cavemen eat? According to the Foundation, they ate animal protein, seafood, vegetables, fruits, and nuts. The Evil Food Group to be Avoided in this case is grains. Grains, to their thinking, are the source of obesity and sickness. They do not differentiate between whole grains and processed grains. All grains are evil. Period. End of subject.

Other groups single out sugar or fruit or dairy and the list goes on. Do a google search or browse your nearest book store shelves and you will come away very confused. Is there anything left that is safe to eat? How can we know which one of these gurus are correct? Who has the 411 on healthy eating?

The answer: no one. Yep. No one.

Nutrition science is young. Very young. We've been studying the stars much longer than we've been studying nutrition. The elements on the periodic table were identified long before vitamins. In fact, we are still discovering new vitamins all the time. You may have heard the term "phytochemicals" bantered about. That is a fancy term for "vitamins we haven't named yet or know much about yet". Truth is, there is far more we don't know about human nutrition than what we do know.

So, where does that leave us? Asking a lot of questions that have no answers. And a few that we do. Here's what I know about nutrition and healthy eating:
  • God designed us. He also created and designed the world around us and told us to eat thereof. Thus, natural food is what is best for our bodies.
  • God first told us to eat of the plants of the field. Thus, plants are a good thing. Eat plenty of them. Preferably, minus the man-made chemicals used in modern agribusiness. Grains are healthy as long as they aren't stripped nude of their bran.
  • God later okayed the eating of meat while giving some instructions on how to do so properly. Thus, eating meat is okay as long as we are mindful of what was important enough for God to make rules about (humane treatment for example).
  • God made milk and butter and cream and a marvelous thing called cheese. I am certain that after tasting blue cheese, He declared it "very good"!
  • God made the process we call fermentation which produces a food product that provides beneficial microbes that we need for the proper functioning of our immune systems. Fermented foods are a wonderful thing.
  • God did not make margarine. He did not make canola oil. He did not make GMO corn that makes corn oil. Artificial oils and fats are not healthy for our bodies. Fat is not evil--artificial fats are.
  • God did not make twinkies, doritos, HFCS, or WonderBread. Such things should never enter our bodies.
Ah! Look, there I go! Now I am the one setting a food group aside as the Evil that Causes All Disease. Well, not completely. Close, but not completely. Processed "pseudo" foods do make us sick. They play a huge role in both the growing obesity epidemic and the growing rates of heart disease and cancer. But, not everyone who eats them gets obese or cancer or heart disease. And, some who never eat them, do. And, those diseases existed prior to the advent of pseudo-foods. It just is not possible to make any one food or food group into the AntiChrist. Nutrition and health is far more complex than such a simplistic answer.

This journey I'm chronicling here is about using a specific diet to help me achieve health. Is it the only diet that can get me to that goal? I doubt it. Nor is it the sole answer for everyone everywhere. And, to be perfectly honest, I 've been doing a terrible job of sticking to it. It has been a struggle. I have pondered just giving up on the diet and the blog and "winging it". Failure would be much less embarrassing without an audience. Failure is much less noticable when we avoid the boundaries that a specific diet regimen sets up.

But, here is something else I have learned along the rocky road that has been my life: Stumbling and falling and sometimes crawling along on our knees doesn't have to be viewed as failure. Sometimes, it's just a part of the journey and nothing more than that. With the exception of Jesus Christ himself, I highly doubt that any of the heroes through the centuries were without a few blunders and outright screw-ups. I heard a saying once: what matters isn't that you fall six times that matters; what matters is that you get up seven times.

Never give up.