Homestead Update for September and October

While all the drama with the truck has been going on, I have still been working on my homestead. Quite by accident, we discovered how to make our own charcoal, which is saving us lots of money. We were cooking in our grill, using small logs of wood from the property. Alex finished cooking the eggs, but the fire was still hot. Not thinking about it, we took the pan inside and Alex put the lid on the grill, cutting off all the oxygen to the fire. The next day when we went out to fire, we discovered that the wood had turned almost entirely into charcoal. This was an incredible discovery, since we had been spending a lot of money buying store-bought charcoal. Now that we can make our own charcoal, it not only saves us money, but time and trips to town. It also gives us a use for the small branches of the hardwood trees we have cut down, but then are not sure what to do with the limbs.

I’m working on building an herb spiral not far from the house. I want it to be close enough to run out and grab some fresh herbs while I am cooking. I have been building it with the rocks from the land, hauling them up from the woods and fitting them together into a big circle, without mortar. A lot of the time, you can get rocks to fit together tightly without cement, if you just treat it like a puzzle. Weird thing is wild fennel started growing between the rocks, probably because the rocks hold the heat from the sun over the cold night. I’m nowhere near ready to plant it, I’ve got lots of building to do on it, and most importantly, I need to get good soil and compost. But there is already an herb growing in it, which is awesome. It’s like a blessing. Or at least a confirmation that I picked the right spot to place the herb spiral.

The ground inside the rock circle was lined with cardboard and soaked with water, which will decompose and attract earthworms. I then added lots of clippings of the tall grass here (I think it’s the rye grass my brother planted in spring to improve the soil, but I’m not sure). Organic matter is very important. After that, I broke terracotta pots into small bits to line the bottom of the herb spiral. This helps with drainage. Terracotta pots look very pretty to grow plants in, but they actually are not the best pots unless your climate is perfect or you are very good at remembering to water. They dry out too quickly. Only after all that did I finally start putting in wheelbarrows of soil and compost, as well as the last bits of straw from the free bales we scored at the compost facility months ago. Since we started burning our own wood instead of store-bought charcoal, we can save the ash from it and put it into the raised beds. We couldn’t do that with ash from store-bought charcoal, its treated with dangerous chemicals and shit I don’t want going into my food. But our natural wood ash is full of nutrients and a wonderful soil amendment. I put a lot of it into the first layer of soil the herb spiral. Now it’s a matter of looking for good, dark soil to dig up in the woods, since we’ll be broke and stranded here for a little bit I’m not going to be able to get compost in town. That’s okay though. I think I can make it work. Once the soil is piled up almost to my chest, then I’ll have to dig up more medium-sized rocks, to make the spiral around pile of soil up to the top. There’s also going to be a frog pond dug into the base at the north-pointing end of the spiral. I’ve started digging it but it needs to be tamped down to make the clay in the soil hard enough to hold water. The idea is that I can plant herbs that like all environments; at the top will be the herbs that like it hot and dry, and at the bottom near the pond will be the herbs like it wet and cooler. And the frogs will eat the pests. This project will take a few months to complete.

I recently got to feed a calf for the first time, at my neighbor Joe’s* place. (*all the names of my neighbors and friends have been changed for their privacy). Joe* has two calves that have to be bottle fed every day right now, and when I walked to his place one day for a visit with him and his wife Stephy*, he was behind on his chores. I eagerly offered to help him out, not just so he and his wife could come hang out sooner, but because I have a lot to learn. Joe* has worked on farms and ranches his entire life, so he knows his stuff. I love visiting his place, it’s inspiring to me.

It may or may not frost soon, so I harvested almost all of the lemon balm and tied the leaves into paper bags to dry. They are hanging from the ceiling now, and it’s awesome to look at and know that I have tea in there just waiting to be brewed. The growing season here is longer, obviously, so it may not even frost for a while, but too be safe I got most of it. I a large enough tuft out there that it could regenerate more if its another month before the frost, especially since lemon balm is in the mint family so it’s fast growing and crazy.

As for our cold-weather crops, we have been eating radishes from the garden, including the greens. The kohlrabi is leafing out very well, but is not quite ready to eat, as their is plainly no bulb on it yet. I also planted lettuce but its growing very slowly because I accidentally put it do far into the shade. But now that the oak trees are dropping all their leaves, it may do better. Wild green onions even planted themselves in the bed somehow, which is awesome. I’m not going to do anything to discourage that!

We pulled out our dehydrator, which we haven’t used before. When we had been shopping earlier, carrots and celery from Aldi’s were on sale so we bought a lot of them. Celery, carrots, and onions make a mixture called miropouix, which is the basic aromatic mix for all french cooking.

Of course, with as much as we bought, it would all go bad before we could use it all. So we dehydrated it and put it in a mason jar. It’ll last this way, it’ll store, and when you throw it in a soup it re-hydrates just fine. In fact, it kind of concentrates the flavor. When we made a soup a week later, we didn’t use very much of dehydrated carrot and celery mixture, but it was strongest carrot-y and celery-y tasting thing I’ve ever had. I actually wasn’t prepared for the intensity of it, which was quite a cool discovery. The other benefit to dehydrating is that it doesn’t take up much room, whereas canning does. We dehydrated 4 pounds of vegetables (2 bunches of celery and 2 and a half of carrots) and it only filled a little over half of a quart mason jar. That’s incredible. Space *IS* at a premium here!

In the middle of October we had a happy surprise. Some friends from Indiana visited, Sarah* and Ben*, whom we haven’t seen since May. They came out in the spring, and they have been talking about coming back since but we didn’t know when it would be serious until the day before. It was nice to show them the improvements we have made, and just hang out for a few days. But in a way I do wish they had waited a few months, even just one. They helped us build/repair a kitchen table, which was made from really good wood that was from a bench/kitchen table that a friend in Indiana gave us. When we first got here though, it had to left outside because the inside of the cabin was still very disorganized. So it got left in the rain. But we were able to rebuild it and re-purpose the good parts of the wood for a new kitchen table (nothing gets wasted out here), which has been great.

Not long after they left, there were even more changes to the inside of the house. We spent several days working on it. We made a lot of little improvements to make it function better, rearranged the cabin’s downstairs to be more efficient and get give Alex more of his own space. Before, the front room was a kitchen, dining room, and Alex’s room, it had to house his bed, desk with computer, the mini-fridge, the table we cook at, etc, and the other room just storage. It was very unorganized, mostly just boxes and tubs piled up. We had nowhere to put anything, and it has been a slow process to get everything going. Actually, at first it was almost not two separate rooms – we had to finish putting up the wall to separate them, which we covered with pegboard for the extra organizing help, hanging tools and whatnots right not the walls. Now that we’ve been able to rearrange everything, figure out some better storage solutions, and especially put up lots of shelves in the kitchen, it looks loads better.

The kitchen is now just a kitchen and dining area, although one of the wall of shelves has the family books on it. It’s mostly homesteading and animal books, although I’m thinking of moving my Star Trek books down here since its a common interest we share. My history and pagan books will most likely remain upstairs in my loft, if for no other reason then space issues. The new table in the center makes it possible for us to actually eat at a table instead of sitting on the bed, or while watching something on the computer. We’ve also played Monopoly twice since the table was in place, which is nice. That’s the only board game we have right now, but we want to get more. One of our other neighbors, Tom* asked if Alex plays chess. One of the walls has shelves with all the canned goods on it, and it feels good to be able to see all the food we have, to have it organized again. I’m a little bit OCD when it comes to organization, and not being able to be organized the last 6 months has been driving be C.R.A.Z.Y. Absolutely BONKERS. Above the canned goods, we also hung a painting up, the beautiful Artemis painting by my friend Samantha Lykeia Sanders, depicted here (__). It seemed appropriate, since we named this place Artemis Acres after the Goddess Who helped us to acquire it in the first place. Our cabin is starting to feel a lot less like a shack and more like a home. We still don’t have windows in it, although there are places where it’s obviously been framed out and was intended for windows to go. We aren’t going to be able to put them in this winter (which is okay, since it’ll stay warmer inside without windows) but we are hoping to put in at least a couple of windows next year.

The other room, Alex’s room now, is bigger than the kitchen. It’s also the room that has the ladder that lets me access my loft. We want to build stairs eventually so the dogs can get up there with me. They don’t like it when I go up to my room. Alex and pick up Thor and put him up there to visit me, and then Thor will jump into his arms safely, but Loki just refuses to be picked up so she has not been up there yet.

Some of the split peas that had been stored in empty 2-liter bottles, inside plastic tubs outside got rained on, and the water got inside. This was before I had shelves to store everything on, and I was going through the tubs to arrange everything. The peas that got wet clumped a little, and so it was obviously past eating. (see what I mean about needing to have things organized??) Like I said, Nothing out here gets wasted, so since it was past being able to be eaten, we added it to the compost. It was also direct composted into the two raised beds that are not ready to be planted. Peas and other legumes add lots of nitrogen, so I was satisfied that it’s being put to great use.

Then, unexpectedly, one day while I was outside with the dogs, I noticed something small and vibrantly green in one of the raised beds. I looked a little closer. I was shocked to see that it was pea shoots! After doing a little research, Alex told me that split peas are split down the middle, meaning that half of them have the part that grows and becomes true leaves eventually. Meaning that if you soak and plant split peas 50% of them will sprout!! I had no idea. But it was a great discovery. A bag of bulk split peas are a hell of a lot cheaper than pea seeds, and they make great green manure. Its too late in the year for us to actually harvest peas from these plants, but the shoots themselves are edible and delicious. We have been adding them to lots of dishes, especially pasta, and add a unique, kind of sweet, kind of almost nutty crunch. I decided that I love pea shoots.

So, that’s some of what’s been going on here on the homestead as we head into winter. There’s probably more, but I can’t always think of what to write here, since I live this every day. We’ve been chopping down a couple of trees for the wood, too, but I’m not sure how much of that is interesting to the readers? LOL anyway. I suck at ending my posts. That’s always the hardest part for me. Happy homesteading!

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