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.