Sunday, December 28, 2008

Homestead objectives (part I)

New Kentucky Homestead blog is only a little more than two weeks old. There is still a lot of information I would like to share in order to provide a background for understanding some of our activities and pursuits. I imagine that doing so will be an ongoing process; this is a dynamic enterprise. Hopefully, I will be able to continue posting regularly. My goal is five times a week with photos accompanying the posts.

So, today, I thought it might be beneficial to begin to describe some of our objectives here on our homestead, why we are here and what we intend to be doing.

The first objective (the only one for today) is to grow and harvest good food.

There are several ways in which we seek to meet this objective. The first one is with our garden. Most of the tillable land on our homestead has been used for growing tobacco in the past. Tobacco is a heavy feeder, and the growing of it in this area involves the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides to some degree. We don’t know what chemicals were used on our ground before we moved here, although neighbors have told me that the weeds in the fields the summer prior to our move here outgrew the tobacco. GardenThe man growing on the property didn’t live here and didn’t spend the necessary time and money on the crop to keep the weeds under control. This is probably a good thing because it means he didn’t spray them as much as he might have otherwise.

We selected one of these tobacco patches as our main garden area. It measures approximately 300 feet by 80 feet and slopes slightly toward the south, along which side runs a small creek branch. There is a drive to other fields and areas between the garden and the creek branch. Across the branch our small ridge rises, and trees grow along it. These trees cast some early morning shade on the lower side of the garden.

As we’ve been using this area for our garden, the soil has improved. We’ve added compost, manure, and mulch in different quantities at various times and have also incorporated some green manures. Overall, the soil still needs amended, especially on the upper side where it has a higher percentage of clay.

The main garden crops we grow are tomatoes, potatoes (white and sweet), beans, onions, greens, okra, squash, cucumbers, peppers, and some herbs. produce 010There are other things and also several different varieties of each thing. We grow non-hybrids from which we are able to save seed as much as possible. For instance, this year we grew the following types of tomatoes: Amish Paste, Heidi (paste), Roma, Brandywine, Rutgers, Oregon Spring, Jubilee, and Marglobe. We saved seeds to start this coming spring from most of these and a couple of others that were given to us. I also would like to try some new varieties from Sand Hill Preservation Center (you should check them out if you’re unfamiliar with them – they are preserving so many different varieties of plants).

We planted 100 pounds of Kennebec seed potatoes last year. Fifty pounds we planted in April and fifty pounds in July. Sweet Potato Harvest 002The later crop did not produce as well as the early one. We planted the later one hoping that they would keep better because they were harvested later (the ones planted in  April were harvested in July). However, both crops seem to be keeping equally well. So, we’ll probably plant them mostly in the spring, hoping for a bigger harvest. After digging them this last summer, they spent about two and a half months spread out in the barn. This was probably the coolest place to keep them, and they seemed quite happy. They are now living in “the bus.” The bus is the storm shelter the previous owner built by burying the back end of a school bus into the hillside. We’re using it as a root cellar.

Besides green beans, we also grew Pinto, White Northern, and Horticulture beans this last summer. We’ve experienced difficulty growing dried beans in the past because they would begin to mold and/or sprout if left on the plants in the garden. Probably because of the humidity we have. This year when the beans were mature and had started to dry, I pulled up the plants and tied them into bundles, one bundle on each end of a short length of string. I hung these over four foot long tobacco sticks and suspended the sticks on some of the tier poles in the barn. Our barn is an old tobacco barn – it’s purpose was for holding tobacco to dry. This method worked very well, and we hope to grow more dried beans this coming year. The previous summer, we grew Horticulture beans also, but we picked them when they were mature but not dry, shelled them, and then canned them. Drying them in the barn and then threshing out the beans seems like less work than shelling the beans, plus, storing them dried will require less energy and processing time.

There is more to describe about our gardening, but I think I’ll save that for later. As we work on the process this spring and summer, it will make good sense to discuss it. Of course, time will be more limited then than now, but hopefully, I’ll be able to post enough detail to my blog.

There are other means by which we seek to grow and harvest good food. We also raise some grains, although this is an area still in development. I’ve already posted about growing corn in the previous post. Wheat in shocksAnother grain we have grown in the past and are trying to grow again this year is wheat. I planted about an acre of wheat in the fall of 2005. We harvested it in the summer of 2006 and put the shocks in the barn. I wanted to thresh it later in the year, but the mice had ruined it for human consumption by then. So, I fed it to the goats and turkeys. They loved it, and I didn’t have to thresh it for them.

At the beginning of October this year, I worked up an area, about 1/2 acre, and seeded 100 pounds of hard, white winter wheat. I’d like to acquire a small grain drill for seeding it because my hand-cranked broadcast seeder doesn’t produce a consistent stand. We’ll see how it does this summer, and if it does well, we will try not to wait too long before threshing it. I did try some spring wheat, seeding it last spring. It did not do well at all, and we got nothing out of it. I would like to try some hull-less oats, too. I need to find some seed for that.

We set out several small fruit trees about three years ago. Some have died, and some are doing okay. We had our 17 year locusts this last year. These cicadas bore into small diameter branches to lay their eggs, and they seemed to find our young apple trees to their liking. They were pruned quite severely by these noisy pests, but I think they’ll survive. However, we have so many cedar trees around that I’m not sure how well apple trees will do here because of cedar apple rust.

We can grow blueberries quite well in our climate. Our soil is generally acidic enough for them, too.  We have a few plants that are now old enough that we should get several berries from this coming summer. We pick quite a few gallons of wild blackberries in July each year. This last year I picked over 20 gallons of them. The biggest problem with picking wild blackberries, apart from the scratches the briars so generously endow, are chiggers. I had over 50 on each leg after one picking last summer. I use a citronella-based bug spray usually that helps a great deal, but I forgot to put it on that time.

Another source of good food is animals which we raise. We’ve had chickens for most of the time we’ve lived here, but this last summer we sold all of the. Feed prices were going up and the chickens did not recognize a fence as a barrier. They went over it or through it and scratched all over the neighborhood. This was actually a good thing except for their desire to dig in my mom’s flower beds. So, our nearest neighbors didn’t appreciate our chickens running around free range. The chickens were good for eggs, when they laid them. We also usually had enough hatched out to have several to eat, put in the freezer, and/or can.

We raise a few turkeys, although not a very large breed. We’ve been able to have our own thanksgiving turkey for the last few years plus a few others. Canned turkey and broth is wonderful in soups. We’ve also eaten turkey eggs, because they were laying so well and we weren’t hatching out any more poults.

IM000335Until last summer, we had goats. The goats were good for milk and sometimes for meat, although t hey seem to take a lot to grow them to an acceptable size for meat. We had three or four goats that we milked during the last four years, none of them being anything more than average milkers. When comparing the time spent taking care of them and milking them compared to what we were getting out of it, it just didn’t make sense to keep raising them. We bought a cow and were getting milk from her, so we sold the goats last summer.


091 Our cow is a full Guernsey we named Josephine, but we usually call her Josey. She had a bull calf last May, which is now a steer, who we named Chucky Joe. He’s staying at a friend’s place right now, simplifying weaning. Josey provides us with about 2.5 gallons of milk each day. We only keep about a gallon of it each day for ourselves, giving the rest to my parents and to Danny for his mom. Chucky is slated to be converted into beef next winter. We grow all of the hay needed to feed Josey and Chucky and my Dad’s goats. We also have enough to feed our goats, if we still had some.

002a Most of the red meat we eat during the year is venison. Besides the deer I, Dad, and Danny are able to harvest, people in the neighborhood generally give us several. We process them all ourselves and preserve them, usually by freezing and canning. This year I tried drying some. I also cured some in a salt brine and then cold smoked it in a homemade smoker. We’ve only eaten one of the smoked roasts so far, and it was quite good.

What food we aren’t able to grow or harvest ourselves, we buy, mostly through the local food co-op. We order from the co-op every four weeks. Right now, that’s where most of our grains are purchased. What we do buy, we endeavor to buy certified organic. That doesn’t guarantee its wholesomeness, but it is generally a lot better than conventional.

I’ll write about more or our homesteading objectives in subsequent posts.


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