Zen In The Art of Homesteading

Have you ever wanted to get back to the land?

Have you ever attempted to follow the movement, jumped on the bicycle and pedaled straight as an arrow  into the homesteading headlights?

Have you at last  found yourself flat broke, destitute, without a hammer, a nail or a single live chicken?

Did that one last trip to the feed store break your bank and your  back, both at the same time?

Did you give up on the free and easy way of living and run, tail tucked between your legs, back to the city life, content to frequent farmers markets and road side fruit stands, never to complain again about the outrageous prices of non factory-farmed meats?

What a  glorious day I’m imagining that was for you.  No more manure to shovel, no ten thousand waiting mouths to feed morning and night, stuffed between a full time job and twice a day milkings….and who has time to make cheese or separate cream after all the “work’ is done?

After sweating a long month and then some to buy that beautiful saddle, finally, I’m just too tired to ride.

And after spending hours and hours removing label glue from recycled jugs with paint thinner so I can pour my home-made laundry soap into them to sell,  I realize that my profit will be a mere $32 dollars for all my labor, labels, measuring, stirring, mixing, and love.

I decide they are better suited to sit forever on my own laundry shelf.  A nice decoration for an otherwise dreary room.

About that time of an evening, any evening, just before the goats start to call and then impatiently jump the plastic electric fence, knocking it over again, and I find them waiting for me on the front porch for  milking, I realize that I can not find the Zen anywhere at all on my homestead.

It’s lost, and the peaceful, blissful, easily sustainable life I thought I’d found here goes flying out the open barn door.

And I become, for a moment, very sad.  But in the sunshine and country air, sadness does not last like it can in the city.  The dull ache of being surround by a million people who don’t give a whit about you, does not exist on shaded country roads, where your “neighbors” are ten miles away and everyone you meet on the road waves you by.

And all is not lost.  We’re still here, scratching our Zen life out in the dirt, bit by bit.  I’m determined the goats WILL stay in their fences without me having to rush madly to and fro to turn the electric fence box off and on.

And of a morning, any morning, right about the time the first rooster starts to crow,  the Zen I’d lost the night before comes wandering home again.  And the soft shades of a sleepy dawn remind me that I’m in charge of the Zen around here.  And if I say it stays, if I say WE stay, we and it and all of ours will stay right put.

And we will “plant our own garden and water our own soul” and insist on the life we want, and make it so.

Today’s Homesteading Report

You want to know what I think are just the cutest little things in the world?

Baby chicks and their mamas.

We’ve got them hatching out all over.

The hens, not being very bright at all, decided to set on eggs in the second story of the egg-laying boxes.  I didn’t know how they thought they might get their babies down from there,  so I moved them down to the first level where the chicks just have to step over the little front panel that holds the straw and eggs in the box.

Two of the hens are still there, but the one with the chicks that hatched out day before yesterday was gone when I went to check them early this morning.   She had abandoned the rest of the eggs which had not hatched yet, but luckily were taken over by another broody hen….who abandoned HER small clutch in favor of a bigger one whose eggs were pipping already.

I found the lost hen and her chicks in one of the goat yards later this morning, sunning themselves.  Luckily they chose the goat yard with only 2 lazy goats in it and not the yard with the woods pen attached that contains three bratty kids and a mean old doe.

They might have been in a lot of trouble then.

I’m hoping that out of about 400 eggs, I can get at least 20 chicks.  I never seem to have good luck with chicks raised by their mama’s around here.  They tend to drown in water buckets,  or just disappear, although  I can’t remember a single one ever getting stepped on by a goat or horse, even though they like to peck around the horse feet.

I think the horses like the chicks too and try to be careful of them.

I won’t comment on the goats, except to say that the chicks better WATCH OUT for them.

I’ve also got a guinea  setting on a clutch of eggs.  I don’t think that’s going to turn out very well.  She (or he, don’t know which it is)  has been seen inside the truck canopy under the cedar trees where the eggs were laid in a big nest, off and on, and finally she’s now mostly on.  The eggs would get warm, then freeze for awhile, then get warm again.

Plus, they’re  a mixture of guinea and chicken eggs.

Wasn’t a swan accidentally raised by a duck in the story of  “The Ugly Duckling”?  In this case the ugly duckling will be raising the swans.

Maybe it won’t turn out so bad.

The one good thing about it is that instead of roosting in the cedars above our outdoor-stored hay, she’s now setting on the eggs in the canopy all night.  One guinea can create a huge mess by morning, making morning feedings pretty gross sometimes.

I finally got jugs ordered for the laundry detergent I made in March.  It was a new recipe and I decided to let it cure for awhile before trying to use it.  I started using it yesterday and found that it dissolves wonderfully in water and leaves no residue on clothes.

If the jugs get here in the two days promised, I’ll have them available at the Lynchburg Market on Saturday.  I’m not sure of the price yet.  The jugs are just about $2.00 each with shipping.  I’ll be happy to refill your jug in the future with more laundry soap.

I also have powered laundry soap available but need to redo the packaging.  I just wasn’t very happy with it.

I’ve also got some liquid soap made, but it requires a 6-8 month cure time.  It should be ready in October.  Hopefully I can get some more made since the cure time is so long, but it also requires cooking over a low fire on a woodstove for 3 days….much to hot for that right now!

I got new herbs planted.  Basil, lemon balm, cilantro, thyme, oregano, and pennyroyal, plus some more tomatoes in orange, yellow and cherry.  I also moved some clumps of peppermint from the back of the house to the front.  Hopefully the move won’t kill them.

I’ve got tons more peppermint.  If you’d like some plants, let me know and I’ll dig some up for you.  I really have no idea if they are peppermint or spearmint and no clue on variety.  They were here when we moved in and smell wonderful.

There are tons of the stuff  in the goat pasture, but they don’t like them.  Good thing is, bugs don’t like them either and so they grow very well and are very healthy.

I’ve heard it takes a lot to kill peppermint.

And that’s just about it for today.

Happy farming and gardening!

Bigfoot….He’s in Your Backyard!

Someone I know has a Bigfoot.

It’s hard to believe, but true.

So, knowing that if there is one Bigfoot in the world, there are two, and where there are two, there are Bigfoot children and grandchildren, aunts, uncles and cousins.

I want a Bigfoot too.  My very own.

Or at least I think I do.

I did some research online, just to make sure it’s okay to have them around.

There is an awful lot of Bigfoot info, sightings, photos, and whatnot on the internet.  I’d almost say the internet invented Bigfoot, but since he’s been around since the dawn of humans, at least according to Indian cave paintings and legends,  I guess he can’t be an internet invention.

I learned that Bigfoots have a special affinity for horses.

Well, I have horses.

I read that they braid horse manes and tails.

I’ve become convinced that Bigfoot made a big mess out of both my mares manes, which took me two days and a bath to fix.   He not only braided them, but tied them in knots so tight I had to buy a special shampoo and a rat-tailed comb to untie them.

And he won’t stay out of their water troughs.  I constantly find pine cones, goat berries, walnuts, cedar bark, sticks, drowned bugs and baby chicks floating in the tanks, which are always half empty, and the ground is soaked like children have been playing in the water.

My horses hate getting their feet wet, and have never played in their water troughs. Ever.

So, based on my internet learnings, and my own observations, I decided to go looking in the forest for more evidence and to meet my Bigfoot, in case I have one.

I thought I’d offer him some goat cheese since I have so much of it right now.

I left the cheese in the woods on a plate.

I checked again 3 days later and not even the bugs had touched it.

Whatever.

Anyway, I found a chewed up foam mattress scattered all over the place, a few pots and pans around an old fire pit, lots of alcohol bottles and some ladies shoes.

If Bigfoot is an alcoholic I think I’ve got him made, but I doubt he wears shoes, even the girl Bigfoots, and I’ve not heard of them using fire.

But, they are probably on the evolutionary upswing, so it’s possible.

I didn’t get to see any of them in person though.  I was  thinking if they are nocturnal, maybe I’d run up on a pile of them sleeping in the woods during the day?

I’m still wondering what happened to that Bigfoot they showed on TV a couple years ago that they captured and put in a freezer.

Did they let him go?

While I was making observation notes, I remembered that last summer I found a dead rooster at the back of the goat pasture.  Based on my new knowledge I figure that Bigfoot caught the rooster, wrung his neck, and was getting ready to jump the fence and head back home with an easy dinner when our massive, white hairy, livestock guardian dog, Malachai woke up and startled the heck out of the Bigfoot who then dropped his rooster on the way out and never came back to get it.

All in a days work for Malachai, who has apparently become close friends with the Bigfoot since the rooster incident, and has been letting him braid his hair.

My advice is that if you have a dog with hair 5 inches long, you don’t let Bigfoot mess with it.  You’ll never be able to untangle the mess.  He likes to decorate his braids with briars and bits of pine bark and needles with lots of dirt thrown in.  He apparently eats the  fleas though as we haven’t been able to find a single flea or even a tick on either one of the dogs.

I guess that would be the only benefit to letting Bigfoot play with your dog.

Inconclusive as this may seem, I’m still set on finding our Bigfoot.  I’m going to try some eggs the next time for bait.  A few boiled and peeled as well as raw.  They are getting pretty hard to find  around here  since 5 of the 8 hens we have went broody and are setting on approximately 400 eggs.  I tried to set each one up with a dozen, but that wasn’t good enough, they kept on collecting more and more and are now having an egg-setting party.  The first chicks are hatching right now.

I don’t think even Bigfoot would dare cross one of those mean old hens to take one of her chicks.

And, since I haven’t been able to see Bigfoot in MY backyard, I’m assuming he must be in YOURS!

Have you seen him?  If so, please send him home.  I’d really like him to try my cheese.

Mystery Of The Purple Boxes Solved!

A purple trap used for a U.S.-government-spons...

Image via Wikipedia

For a few months now CG and I have been noticing a strange-looking purple box, hanging from a wire tied in a tree, dangling next to the roadside.

At first  we were certain some teenage kids had hung it right beside the road just to cause people to scratch their heads and wonder.

On our way back and forth to this job and that, we’d see that deep purple box swinging by the road and for the rest of the day, our minds would be occupied with wondering what those boxes could possibly be for.

I finally came up with the idea that they were probably hung up by some college students conducting an experiment in psychology where they were trying to see if they could get people to focus their attentions on a mysterious purple box, and thereby decrease depression and anxiety in a specific portion of the population.

It’s funny how one purple box could do that.

But then we saw another purple box dangling from a tree beside the road in another location twenty or so miles away.

And then I started seeing them by roadsides in Rocky Mount, in Chesterfield, Rustburg, and Evington.

Okay, something was really going on here.  I asked several folks if they’d seen them and if they knew what they were.  No one I asked had seen them or knew anything about them.

Were we the only people who saw these big purple boxes swinging beside the road?

We thought they might be birdhouses.  But who would put a birdhouse beside a busy road?  And we could see no entryway into the “house.”

We were stumped.

So, finally I did what I do when all else fails and no amount of pondering produces a result:  I googled it.

My thought was that no result would come back at all.  That whoever the prankster was that was hanging purple boxes all over the state was still going largely unnoticed.  That people were just too distracted while driving to even look out of their windows.

Of course, I was wrong, as usual.  When I googled “purple boxes hanging beside the road” I got a whole slew of results back!  Seems like everybody in the state had been asking the same questions and the answer was very, very simple and made me feel quite foolish for all the scenarios I’d conjured up.

The purple boxes are traps for the Emerald Ash Borer, which is a beetle that destroys ash trees.  The box is purple because that is the color that attracts the beetles and they are painted with a sticky resin that the beetles will stick to.  There were over 5000 of the boxes placed in various locations around the state to try and  trap the beetles  and to also help define which areas are most affected by the beetles.

I think I enjoyed not knowing what the boxes were for much better.  It was a fun mystery and even more interesting to me because I travel a lot and it was like I was following a secret trail.

But, in the end, it was nice to finally find out the origin of the boxes and to know that it wasn’t some secret society placing them around to gather data or wait for tales of space creatures or aliens who had placed the boxes in the trees and if we got out of our cars to look at them, the boxes would suck us up inside and we’d be transported to their waiting spaceship…..the curious creatures that we are.

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Mary Oliver, You Elude Me

Yesterday, after doing a few horse feet, I was hungry and tired and decided to eat a sandwich at The Drugstore Grill  in Brookneal. (Va.)

I’d had one of their rib-eye sandwiches on Saturday, at the wine festival, and it was so good I was eager for another.

Only, they were closed.

So I went to another restaurant in town, The Golden Skillet, to which I had never been.  I  wanted to sit inside and read the paper, but I was out of quarters for the paper machine, so I picked up an Ophra Magazine off the little table just inside the door to read instead.

It was the April edition and it was Ophra’s  poetry edition, and Mary Oliver, the very famous nature poet, had  granted Maria Shriver an interview.

Mary Oliver rarely does interviews.

I was so inspired by Mary and her words that I immediately came home and searched for the one book of her poetry that I own thanks to my days at Randolf Macon Women’s College.

We had studied Mary at length and she was my favorite poet by far that year.

But, like any other disorganized farm-business woman, I, of course, could not find that very thing that I was looking for.

I did, however, find my tax forms, receipts, etc . from 2010 that I had stashed and lost and actually had to file an extension because of it.

And I found some lost hoof boots, a box of soap, $20 in change, three pillows, a book on Reiki and another book by Ray Bradbury about writing, and even found some music CD’s I thought I accidentally given to  Good Will.

I did not, however, find Mary Olivers book of poetry.

So I had to look up her poetry on line, just to joggle my memory of some of the beautiful things she’s written.

In her interview she told Maria about the walks she takes and how she always carries a notebook with her because thoughts are so fleeting.

My problem is that I can’t even remember to take the notebook with me.

I’ve hen-scratched just about every blank spot on every piece of paper in this whole house, but finding the particular hen scratch I want, when I want it, is just about impossible.  Whoever invented notebooks was a genius.  Of course, I cannot figure out a way to permanently attach a pen with ink in it to the notebook and writing with mud or blood has never worked out well for me.

Anyway, I plan to keep looking for Mary Oliver’s book of poems, and if you get the chance you should definitely buy the April Poetry Edition of O Magazine.  The whole thing is quite an inspiration, and not just for writers, but for anyone who has ever held a dream close to their heart.

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

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A Dummies Guide to Growing Irises

As a newly self-crowned queen of our bountiless garden, I thought it a no-brainer when a client’s wife offered me a huge garbage bag full of beautiful irises.  With my new-found green thumb, I was sure they’d be just the thing to plant in nice corners of our yard.

Problem with that is that all the corners in our yard, and even the normal planting areas near the house, are not what you’d call “nice”.  Every corner and spot I could find had some problem or another with it…..

The one corner in front of the garage needs to have garage board siding replaced…..

The brick columns in front of the house, that do not match the house, need to be replaced…

Corners near fences have hungry goat noses on the other side…

The sides of the entire house need to be painted and/or have shingles replaced…

The yard trees are “iffy”  might stay,  might go…with all these tornadoes, going seems to be a better idea every day…

Pasture corners are out of the question…

The little corner under the mailbox, which is not really a corner, but more of a handy spot, now sports a bran-newly planted clematis…(more on that in a future post)…

The garden is small, and needs to be planted with edibles, not flowers…

…..and the list goes on..

Finally, being the dummy that I am, I gave in and “planted” most of them in the corner in front of the garage, and some of them in front of a chestnut tree, and even had some left over for our neighbors.

Did I say “planted”?  “Planted” would be a lie, but I’m not sure what the term should actually be.  What I did was use my grub hoe to move back some dirt and just laid the iris roots with their 2 foot tall stems and leaves attached, in the dirt.

I’ve been told by several people that this is all I need to do.  Well, they look kind of goofy just laying there like that….like they got gnawed off by an iris-loving beaver that ate the root and left the leaves lying.

And there must have been a waning moon when I dug the holes, because even after filling them with irises, there was not enough dirt left over to fill in the holes and make the irises stand up.  Plus, I couldn’t find my gardening gloves and hate, hate, hate, getting dirt under my fingernails!  (my fingernails are always short, hate fingernails too).

Anyway, I found my gloves this morning so I might give standing the irises up another go.  And even though I have mysteriously lost the dirt that came out of the holes, I have plenty of manure to fill them up.

"planting irises"

Irises in the corner in front of the garage.

"planting flowers"

Irises in front of the Chestnut tree.

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Fifty Five Thousand Pounds of Manure

That’s the amount of horse and goat manure I figured I have left to move.

Wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow full.

A whole years worth.

I calculated its weight in pounds by adding up the hay we feed the animals each week, which is somewhere in the thousand pound range and timesing it by 52 weeks in the year, and adding a little for good measure.

I did not, however, add in the weight of the 20 inches of rain we’ve got this spring,  nor the additional weight of grass, grain and whatnots they find in the field to eat.

Nor did I add in the weight of maggots, flies, dung beetles and earthworms which have all made their home in the inches-deep manure bed.

Fifty five thousand pounds is about all my mind can fathom.  And it has a hard time doing that.

My most recent plan was to use my lawn mower and the garden cart I finally got wheels for, to move the manure from the pasture to the garden, but the lawn mower, with the garden cart attached is now stuck in the garden, possibly forever.  It was no match for the 6 inches of hay I had already put down when I drove it up in the garden with a 500 pound load of wet manure in the cart.

The worst thing is, I’m having to lay down the manure and hay over top of grass that’s four feet high.  If I had followed the instructions I found online for building a layered, no-till garden,   and layered the whole garden at one time last fall or even early this  spring, I’d have no weeds whatsoever.

I found that out when trying to decide where to put some tomatoes and I pulled back some thick layers of hay and saw nothing but rich brown dirt underneath with gobs of earthworms and a few leggy mushrooms.

Whatever.

So, even though I got my garden cart wheels fixed, I found that it stays stuck more often than unstuck when driving around in thick layers of wet hay and manure, and my old wheelbarrow wheels don’t like to hold air….and my new plastic manure fork, which I just bought, is no match for the heavy stuff I’m moving, so I’ve had to go back to the metal fork I’ve had all along….not having the plastic fork or good tires was the whole reason I didn’t get the manure moved when it was a more manageable amount….like only 20,000 pounds or so.

So, I’ve learned my lesson.  Maybe I need smaller horses that eat less?  Or maybe plastic horses that stay where you put them and whose plastic bale of hay lasts forever and never  creates anything wet and messy that needs moving.

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