Category: Gardening

Happenings Around the Homestead


I know I am not the only home gardener who struggles with this.  Each year I find something new I want, but I have more seeds now than I know what to do with.  I went through and organized all my seeds the other day, and was shocked at the varieties I have, and even multiple packets of the same seed.

While I attempt to organize this, I don’t do a very good job.  I do separate the seeds generally by the type of plant they are, and then I put a rubber band around all those packets.  That, in turn, is then thrown in a box which I keep in a refrigerator in the garage.

Sometimes I see other people with fantastic organization of their seeds, and I druel a bit, but I haven’t decided yet it is worth the effort to achieve what they have.  As I was searching for a picture of what I am talking about, I became a little convicted, as it is not that hard to do.  I just need to make the effort to get some photo albums.  Yes, I am going to just give you a link to more information: How to Organize Seed Packets.

It’s Sunday morning as I am writing this post, and I still haven’t finished the winter sowing I have been mentioning here.  I am going to try to get to this today, though we are expecting rain which might put a glitch in those plans.  We’ll see.

Well, I am updating this very early on Monday morning.  Winter sowing did not happen, though we had an interesting afternoon.  Let’s see if this tells the story better than I can:

Busted Water Pipe

Busted Water Pipe

Evidently sometime over the winter we had a pipe to an outdoor faucet burst.  Yesterday while that faucet was being used, one of our bedrooms ended up with water halfway out into the room.  SIGH.

While I worked on this some, my two oldest boys did the bulk of the work, and I appreciate them for that.  It is a basement level bedroom, so I don’t have to worry about floor damage, but the carpet may still have to be pulled up.  We have a dehumidifier and fans running in there now, and the boys have used a wet-dry vac to clean all they can.

Where was I at?  Winter sowing.  Perhaps that will happen during the week.  We’ll see.

Cherokee Gourdseed Corn

If you know me, it doesn’t surprise you that I tried a new, unusual crop this past year: Cherokee Gourdseed Corn.

Cherokee Gourdseed Corn

Cherokee Gourdseed Corn

This is a traditional southern corn, as it is a longer season corn.  In other words, I am not sure the summer would be long enough to grow this very much further north than we are.  The books say about 125 days to maturity, and I believe it.  It took longer to mature than any corn I grew this year by a considerable amount.

It was a pleasant corn to look at though – the cobbs were nice and fat on the stalks, and they seemed quite hearty.  The stalks were stout, with no danger of blowing over.

The kernels are amazing though.  As you can see in the picture above, they don’t look crowded on the cobb, but that is because they are so thin and long.  They are often said to remind people of old man teeth or horse teeth.  Did I just say that old man teeth and horse teeth look similar‽  😀  No insult meant to all the old men reading this.  I didn’t really think of the kernels looking like teeth when I was shelling the cobbs, but now that I look at the picture, they are very similar in features to teeth, aren’t they?

The most interesting thing about this corn was not the kernels though, in my opinion.  Instead, it was the ease of shelling.  It was almost as simple as placing two hands on the cobb and twisting.  In fact, I wish I had videod to show, as it was so amazing.

There aren’t very many gourdseed corns out there: only three or four.  This is the Cherokee Gourdseed, and there is a Texas Gourdseed, a Carolina Gourdseed, and I have found some references to a Virginia Gourdseed.  I have my seed stock from this Cherokee Gourdseed that I plan on landracing with at least the Texas Gourdseed, of which I also have some seed.  I will probably hand pollinate some of each as well to keep the pure strains alive.

Happenings Around the Homestead

I think I am probably like most every other gardener in the northern hemisphere right now, perusing through seed catalogs trying to decide what I am going to grow this year.  There sure isn’t much going on around the homestead otherwise.

Wait!  That is not really true.  My middle son has been working hard all week getting all the leaves cleaned up from our yard.  He has dumped many of them in my garden to supplement the wood chips that are already there, but he and his brothers started a fire last night with some of them, as well as some old wood we had in the yard.  Besides making a great bonfire for roasting hotdogs and marshmallows, it should have left behind a considerable amount of ashes which will be tossed on the garden soon.

Did you know that wood ash is a great supplement for the garden?  It is often considered so because it is a good source of potash, but it also contains minerals such as iron, manganese, zinc, copper, and more.  In other words, wood ash helps add back the trace minerals into your soil that are so often depleted and ignored, which makes for healthier food.

The other big thing around here is the beginning of winter sowing.  I had intended on completing the first round of winter sowing last week and getting a blog post up on it, but that didn’t happen.  I am expecting to finish it today though, so if I find the time, there will be a post this week.  I also have a few other posts I am working on that I cannot seem to find the time to finish.  May this week allow time for that as well.

Happenings Around the Homestead

Like much of the US, this past week has been a nasty week, so there wasn’t much happening around the homestead this week.  That certainly hasn’t stopped my mind from wandering on spring planting though.  😀  Like most gardeners, I get so ready to spend time in the garden this time of year that I cannot hardly stand it.  This year is that and more.  I am so ready to get this larger garden planted and see what comes from it.

One of the things I had hoped to be able to accomplish this week was some winter sowing.  What is winter sowing?  Ah, I am glad you asked!  😀  Winter sowing is something I read about not long ago where you make miniature greenhouses out of 2 liter bottles, quart or gallon milk jugs, or any other container that is mostly transparent and made of plastic.  You then set the containers out in your yard in a mostly sunny place and let the seeds do their thing.  They freeze and thaw, and eventually start growing inside this somewhat protected container, which allows you to have the benefits of a greenhouse combined with the benefits of not having to harden off your plants.  Oh, I can see I need a whole post on this!  Let me do just that later in the week.  In the meantime, you can see a really good video on it here:

I also roasted some coffee this weekend, but essentially botched it.  I had my fire too hot and ended up with a French Roast instead of my normal light roast.  SIGH.  It is still a very smooth cup of coffee though.  Surprisingly smooth.

The other big project around the homestead that I did get to this week was changing out the litter in the chicken coop.  You’ll be able to read more about that in The Chicken Chronicles this week.  However, this is one of the big reasons we have chickens.  They are fertile soil making machines!  I like the way some describe it – my chickens are fertile soil making machines that happen to also lay eggs.  😀


Happenings Around the Homestead

Like most of the country, we have been in the middle of a bitter cold spell the last week or so, which has resulted in not much happening around the homestead other than protecting the chickens.  More on that tomorrow.  Even so, I have been blessed with another surprise shipment of seeds this week, which gave me a bit of a mystery to solve.

On Thursday I received a package containing numerous bags of corn.  The name on the package wasn’t entirely familiar to me, though the last name caught my attention.  The corn included one I was very interested in, Texas Gourdseed, which happened to be one I have been trying to find.  It also included Drought Hickory King, Kaanga Pango (a New Zealand corn), Cascade Maple Gold, and Cherokee White Flour Corn.  After further research, each of these were corns that could be used as flour corns, which is something else I had been looking for.

I headed off to a gardening forum that I frequent, and I felt confident after a few minutes of research that I found my benefactor, a very nice lady in California who knew I was looking for the Texas Gourdseed Corn, but there was still a mystery to this: how did she get my name and address?  I sent her a message, thanking her for the corn, and asking how she knew my contact info, to which she replied that I had given her that some time back when I was searching for flour corn, and she had been unable to send it then.  So, the mystery was solved, and now I have a ton of new corn to plant this year!  Woot!

The Texas Gourdseed is one that particularly interests me, and I actually already have a post written on why that is.  I will make a few edits to that this week and get it posted soon.

The Kaanga Pango also caught my eye some, as I had never heard of this corn.  I am having trouble finding a lot about it out there, but it seems to have come from the Wellington (New Zealand) Seed Library.  It certainly looks to be a flour-type corn, and from what I can find on the Internet, the Maori, the indigenous New Zealand people, “historically used corn to making a fermented corn, they ate corn fresh, they make something that looks like a tamale, and they ate a pudding/mush from corn.”  That doesn’t tell me for sure they used this corn this way, but it is probable.  Again, it seems flour-like to me, so it will go in my flour landrace this year.  Here’s a picture of the Kaana Pango Corn:

Kaanga Pango Corn

Kaanga Pango Corn

On another note, the popcorn trials are complete for the year, the results of which I am going to share in a post of it’s own.  Despite some challenges in the testing of popping ability, I finally got through all my samples and have a great selection of popcorn to grow for the new year.  More to come on that.

The Chicken Chronicles

Whoa!  Tonight and tomorrow night are going to be interesting nights around the homestead with regards to the chickens.  It is supposed to get down to the low temperature so far for the season, a bitter cold 6 degrees F.  WHOA!  I have read and read and read on this, and the experts say to not worry about the chickens.  If they have a draft free coop, they will be fine.  Furthermore, the experts mostly advise against heating the coop, which I have already done once this year, as it is a tremendous fire hazard.  I would be lying if I told you I wasn’t a little bit worried.  Two things I have read give me comfort though.  First, the wild birds make it without the conveniences these birds have.  Second, each one of these birds basically carries a down filled coat at all times.  I guess I feel better about 16 degrees F after the last couple of bitter cold spells, and after this one I will feel better about single digits.

There are several changes coming up with the chicken pen.  The next one, which might happen in as little as two weeks, is an extension on one side of the run.  This will serve a couple of purposes.  First, it will give the chickens more area to move around, but more importantly, it will allow me to attach a chicken tunnel to the run.  A chicken tunnel, or a chunnel, is basically a small semi-circle that runs wherever you wish it to run in your yard, allowing the chickens easy space to stretch their legs and beat boredom.  It also gets them out into the grass more, which allows them to supplement their diet with more bugs and greenery, both of which are important for healthy eggs.

Speaking of eggs, I am so ready for the days to lengthen where the Easter Eggers will start laying regularly again.  They are producing almost nothing at all, and the four Rhode Island Reds are having trouble keeping up with the egg demands of this house.  😀

Oh, speaking of eggs, I thought I would give an overview of the laying for 2014:

  • Easter Eggers (6): 313/2.07 a day/3.28 eggs per week, per bird
  • Rhode Island Reds (4): 425/2.81 a day/4.92 eggs per week, per bird

So basically our flock of ten produced 61.5 dozen eggs since August 3, when they started laying.  Not bad.

Happenings Around the Homestead

Whew, this has been a busy week around here, even though I have been on vacation from work.  In fact, I think I have worked more this week than normal, and I can sure tell it.  I need a vacation!

Before I get to the accomplishments of the week, let me share a few pictures I have taken of some seed I was sent a week or so ago:

Dutch Brown (Bean) Cross

Dutch Brown (Bean) Cross


Harmony Flour Corn

Harmony Flour Corn


Joseph's Popcorn 2014

Joseph’s Popcorn 2014


Glass Gem Corn

Glass Gem Corn


New Popcorn

Unnamed Popcorn from Roadside Stand

All of this except the last picture came from Joseph Lofthouse, who I consider to be one of the premier Landracing Proponents right now.  The last popcorn came from another gardener in Indiana who happened to pick the popcorn cobb up from a roadside stand in Kentucky.

The big activity regarding homesteading this week has been the 2014 popcorn trials.  Yes, I know it is 2015, but I was doing popping trials on my 2014 popcorn.  I am almost done now, and there will be a post later this week or next week telling all about it; however, the most important part is I am happy how well things are popping.

You may be wondering why I am doing the popcorn trials.  There will be more details, I am sure, in an upcoming post, but basically I am trying to find which of the corn cobbs pop the best for selectively saving seed.  The point being to improve the crop year over year, ultimately getting to the point I am growing a great popping corn that tastes much better than what you might get in the store.

The other big homesteading activity of the week has been garden planning.  Our garden is many times larger this year than it was last year, which is going to allow me to do a number of things, not the least of which is have a more viable population for seed saving.  I still have a little work to do on my garden plan for the year, but I should be able to share how it looks in a week or two.

Speaking of gardening, can you believe it will be time to start growing some cold weather crops like peas in just a couple of months!  Wow, how time flies!  More to come on that too.

The Chicken Chronicles

The little lady layers are ready for winter to be over!  It has been shocking to me to see the tremendous difference in their egg production now and just a few months ago.  There were days we were getting eight or nine eggs a day back when it was warmer, and now we consider ourselves fortunate if we get four in a day, and those are almost exclusively eggs from the Rhode Island Reds.  It is somewhat rare to get an egg from the Easter Eggers right now, and it is very rare for more than one to show up.  This is the reason we added the Rhode Island Reds to the flock though – they are egg laying machines.

One of the issues the Easter Eggers are having is that some of them are molting.  It may be that all of them are molting, but two of them are showing it more.  In fact, one reminds me of a little Indian boy with one tall feather sticking up from its tail.  We have added some more protein and fat to their diet, which is a good idea in winter anyhow, but it also seems that it helps hens through the molting process.

I had someone ask a week or two ago if it was normal for a hen to molt in the winter.  I didn’t know the answer, and it seemed illogical to me, but after researching it I found that it is not unusual at all.  I am supposing they stay closer to their sisters during this time to keep a little warmer.

One other thing we have learned is the importance of an insulated coop.  Just this morning I noticed a container of water outside the coop was frozen, but one inside the run, just under the coop was not.  The run is not even really insulated, but it does have wind breakers on two sides.  It seems that those wind breakers made enough of a difference that it was able to keep the water from freezing.  Amazing, really.

One thing we are finding is commonly recommended for the hens in the winter is black oil sunflower seeds (BOSS).  I have added this to my list of things to grow next year, as I sure would love to be able to feed the chickens as much as possible from the garden.  That reminds me, I am also growing a considerable amount more greens (kale, lettuce, chard), brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage), squash and beets to help feed the ladies more from the garden.

Happenings Around the Homestead

Wow!  I logged in today and noticed it has been nearly a month without a post!  Needless to say, the last month has been very close to chaotic continually, and what little time I have had has been spent on living, not writing about living.  🙂

Despite the chaos, I have had a pretty productive month or so around the homestead, mostly in planning for the upcoming gardening year.  By next week I should be able to share the plans for my garden for 2015, which will be a very different garden than any I have planted before.  You have already read of the Back-to-Eden style gardening change that has been made, but I am also planning on a much wider use of companion planting this year in order to get the most out of the garden.  More to come on this soon.

I was pleased this Christmas to get a few new yard tools that I have been wanting, including a pole pruner, a pruning saw, and pruning shears.  The pole pruner is the only one of the three I have used yet, and it did great.  We have a couple of pecan trees on our property, and one of those has branches that stick out above the power lines coming into our house.  Twice since we have lived here those branches have caused and issue with our power after a winter storm and both times cost a considerable amount of money to fix.  I was able to safely trim the branches back for the most part where they didn’t extend over the power lines.  There is still one troublesome branch that is just a bit too high for me, but I may try to trim it back using a ladder on a warmer day.

The other pruning tools have a more interesting purpose.  I plan on pruning back my three fruit trees this year: two apple trees and a cherry tree.  I have been learning quite a bit about pruning, and I think I am ready to give it a shot.  More to come on this as well.

Finally, I have been blessed to already receive numerous seeds for the next growing cycle.  Today I am hoping to take some macro photographs of the seeds to share their amazing beauty with you.  Who would have thought a seed could be beautiful?  Just wait and see!

Oh, did I already say finally?  Hmm – I have one more thing.  😀  First, let me begin by thanking those who saved babyfood/small jars for me.  They have come in so handy.  Several of you have asked what I am using them for.  I grow popcorn, and I selectively save the seed from the popcorn in order to grow better popcorn next year.  In order to do this faster and better, I need a controlled environment for the popcorn so that I can ensure all the corn has the same moisture ratio.  Moisture is a key component of popcorn’s popping ability, and if I am going to truly save the best each year, I need to be sure the moisture is the same during the popping trials, which commence soon.  So, here is a picture of the filled jars:

Jars filled with unpopped popcorn.

Popcorn Jars

Even though I have enough of these for this year, I still need about 300 more jars, so if you or someone you know is feeding a baby babyfood, I would love to have the jars.  Even better are pimento jars or any other jar that holds about 4-6 ounces.  Bigger or smaller also work, but I don’t want anything larger than a half-pint.

The Chicken Chronicles

After yesterday’s post on the BIG weekend, I am sure you know the chickens had an eventful weekend too.  The poor ladies started out pretty scared of all the work that was going on, even staying upstairs in the coop for a while.  After they got used to the front-end loader, they began venturing downstairs, and were as exuberant as ever to get out and run around.  They curiously watched to try to figure out what was going on, but in the end, all they cared about was finding treats amount the wood chips.  😀

The laying is still slow, as I am sure it will be until the days start getting longer, though the Rhode Island Reds are real troopers.  The four of them laid 24 eggs this week, whereas the six Easter Eggers only laid 8 eggs.  This was the whole reason added the Rhode Island Reds to the flock though, as they should continue laying most all winter.

Charity noticed a problem below the coop though.  It seems the ladies are thinking the insulation foamboard I put there is for their dining pleasure.  SIGH.  I don’t think I will work on that today, but sometime I will have to cut it out where it is not within their reach.

One of the next big projects I have it to get a portable chicken run built, so I can actually let them stay out in the yard for extended periods of time without someone watching them.  Ideally, this would allow me to let the work the unplanted garden areas as well, with the chickens aerating and fertilizing the soil while they have fun.  I am thinking of building something out of cattle panels, but I need to work on this more.

There’s never a shortage of things to do, is there?