Category Archives: Homestead

Frosty mornings

Our freeze/no-freeze/frost overnight betting pool – wouldn’t you love to be the weather person, where you really don’t need to get it right, ever? – turned out to be frost. I stepped outside with my sister as she was getting ready to head to classes: lock frozen, windows iced, clear and very cold. The veggies were covered in ice crystals, but not rock-hard frozen, and I suppose they’ll make it. The garlic is really the only thing that concerns me. I don’t eat collards, the broccoli, as I mentioned before, isn’t right, the brussels sprouts I don’t eat and are not doing anything from their transplanted states, and the lettuces/spinach seem to be just fine, although they also seem to be frozen in time, having not changed in size very much over the past couple of weeks. Looking across the road to our neighbors, I saw the western side of their roof covered in frost and glistening as the sun came up.

Standing outside for less than ten minutes made me appreciate even more having the ability to work from anywhere there is a connection to the internet. Even right at home, at my desk, with my heater going full blast under my desk to warm my feet after being outside.

Where’s the food, already?

I know, a real dearth of food and garden stuff lately. This morning when I got back up after my few hours of sleep, it was 35 degrees and rainy outside. Brrr. Where’s my spring?

It’s also that time of the year when the whirlpool of month end and previous year end paperwork/filings/activities are at full blast, which leaves only a little time for the other things I like to do. Since it’s still spitting rain and not going to warm up outside past 50 or so, and everyone is gone, leaving just me and the animals, it’s a perfect day to blast through as much of this stuff as humanly possible.

We will return to the goodies eventually – next week, we will be building more frames and mixing the soil to fill them, getting seeds started, and in general working on more prep for the garden. For some reason, I don’t give as much love to the winter garden as the summer. It may be because half the stuff I cannot/will not eat (lettuces for the former, brussels sprouts for the latter), and this year it may be because I hate the plants we picked up from Home Depot to transplant and get us kickstarted (that would be the broccoli, which has been a complete loser, in my opinion – we’ll be starting some anew from seed). The garlic is going gangbusters, though. I just hope it doesn’t rot in the ground from the weird rains we’ve been having.

The spring and summer gardens should be huge, given all the seed we have. In the past two days, we’ve received shipments of worm castings, chicken manure, and a batch of tomato and pepper seed varieties we’re going to try. We’re awaiting the arrival of some worms and a will have a bin for our wormy friends to do some composting in addition to the regular compost pile we have. There are also more seeds en route because – and there’s no other way to put it – I must be insane.

We still need to:

– find a permanent place for the asparagus.

– build a coop for the upcoming chick parade, with laying boxes.

– get the greenhouse up, but only after the latest five loads of topsoil that isn’t really topsoil is spread – it’s swamp muck more than topsoil, and completely unlike the nice loads we got last time from this very same place. Since they’re not entirely as consistent as we’d like, as they apparently do not go to the same pit on a load to load basis, we will simply find another supplier. Topsoil ain’t exactly cheap, and since we need a lot of it around here to top off our sand and fill various areas, it makes no sense to use a provider who cannot perform to the standards we need.

– figure out which trees we will plant where out front when it does warm up into spring.

– plant all these damn sagos my uncle keeps giving my mother and she keeps bringing in.

– edge off the driveway to keep the slag in place.

– figure out where we’ll put the fences around the huge garden area we’ll have to keep the bunnies from thinking it’s a free lunch around here.

– put up some solar-powered exterior lights on the corner of the barn.

– pick up some more coastal hay for mulching and moisture control as I continue my quest to extend our grassy area out front.

– get the pasturegrass started on the west side of the property, as a place for the rolling coop and an area where we can eventually cut our own hay.

– put together a menu that will help keep cholesterol ranges in the norm. Mom’s latest bloodwork came back with a sky high count, my sister’s is also high, and I’m sure now that I’m eating again, mine has gone back up to my BC levels. In our family’s case, it’s more hereditary than dietary (although diet of course contributes), so there are limits to what diet alone can do – that’s why there are drugs for that and why we’ll probably all be on them at some point. I was, until the first surgery, in fact.

– various other things too numerous to mention, but which all fit right in with our homestead theme.

Doing the funky chicken

Or maybe not.

Tonight’s dinner plan was to roast a chicken (salt, pepper, ginger, fresh orange, onion) for dinner. When I started peeling it out of its wrapper, it smelled like a three week old chicken left in hundred degree heat after a skunk had sprayed it. In other words: no chicken tonight. Fortunately, there was cheesy potato vegetable chowder to be had on this gloomy, rainy evening.

My seed packets are spread out on the table, with the exception of the packets of the sungold tomato seed, which I can’t lay my hands on this instant. I need to get some flats started in the garage under the heat and grow lights, in an area which will also house some special guests for several weeks: chicks. Yes, we will have a few chickens when all is said and done, and they’ll be here in mid February to take up residence with the rest of the zoo.

It’s going to be an interesting spring around the homestead…

It’s the thyyyymme…of the season…

Bad jokes. That’s why people come here, I know it.

The mini garden made it through the hard freezes without too much trouble (and some 4 mil plastic sheeting helped, too). I covered the garlic, the strawberries, and the snow peas, and left everything else to fend for itself.

The thyme, of course, made it through with nary a peep.

Thyme

I pulled one of the English pea pods, tried to feed a piece of it to the dogs, but neither of them were going for it. The peas themselves are not thriving, which is a little curious, but since several of them didn’t even germinate at all, not altogether surprising. The Italian replacements I dropped into the place of the duds not only germinated but made it through the serious freeze with no cover at all. If both sets come in, then we’ll have some tasty peas to shell.

Peas

I pulled the covers from the plants yesterday and they were a little limp, but perked up nicely after about 40 minutes of watering. It continues to bluff rain here, but we’ve not seen a drop. As we climb back into the 70s, maybe we’ll get a little luck in that area.

The next plan is to get the greenhouse up, or rig a test bed area with some hoops and plastic to try some hothouse items: sungold tomatoes – something you hardly find in the stores, as they are fragile and don’t ship well, but taste fantastic – peppers, and basil. This is Florida! It’s always the season to be growing.

Gears

I had big, big plans for the two acorn squash I had picked up at the store: Baked, stuffed with a wild rice mix, and served as a side to a couple of seared balsamic-glazed, bone-in pork chops.

Sometimes things just don’t work out that way. The menu I’m saving for another day. The squash, though, had to be dealt with before they melted into goo on the countertop. That would have taken awhile, but better to address that sooner (when the squash would still be tasty) rather than later (when there would be a rather icky cleanup duty involved).

First things first: gather the ingredients. I decided a honey-soy glaze would work.

Starting out

Cut into rings and remove the seeds. Since we are the composting types, the innards were saved for that.

Rings of gold

Off they go to a baking sheet, awaiting their fate. Since they look like gears, it was amusing to play with the rings on the sheet, interlocking them.

Lined up and ready to go

Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Light seasoning

Into the oven they go. Every so often, I brushed them with a mixture of honey, soy, ginger, salt, pepper, and lime juice. I also stepped outside to watch the approach of the first cold front that was to bring the deeper cold front a day or so later.

Storm approaching

What a good dog, staying in the doorway as he was told! He’s a handsome devil, too.

Handsome devil

The squash is tender and ready for anyone who wants it. I did. Delicious.

Delicious

But wait, there’s more

Our newly revised forecast for tonight and the next couple of days.

Brr

Eighteen. Eighteen? That’s a little extreme. Our little kumquat tree, which has valiantly put out a couple of handfuls of fruit, will definitely need to be bundled up against this. Luckily, it’s just under four feet and won’t pose a problem.

Working backwards a bit: mom loves peach ice cream. Her favorite. Unfortunately, it isn’t peach season (and last year’s peach season wasn’t all that terrific). The solution? Frozen peaches. Not the best, but an acceptable substitute.

Peachy

While we do a huge Thanksgiving meal, for Christmas it’s more of a buffet type of thing. People come and go, and eat if they want (or not, although that’s rare). This dinner was no different.

Merry Christmas

We have ham, roasted turkey, smoked turkey, potato salad, rice, fresh rolls, stuffing, cranberry compote, and gravy on the table. There was not a lot left at the end of the night, so yours truly did not get to nosh on leftovers for days on end.

Three days of freeze

To be more accurate, that should be three nights of freeze, but it comes down to the same thing: we will be dipping down into hard freeze temperatures for more than a few hours come the first few nights of the new year.

It's gonna be cold out there, baby!

Altogether, that isn’t terrible, and certainly nothing compared to the tales that could be told by people in other parts of the country or world. But I don’t live there, I live here, and after almost a week of temps in the 70s (over 80 one day), the crazy nature of Florida weather once again rears its head for a reminder that there are actual seasons, even if we don’t see them all that much.

It’s that crazy nature that has the milder temp things popping up all over the place in my frames. Last year’s garlic was wiped out by the nonstop rains of a tropical storm, but this year’s garlic is motoring along with nothing more than an initial watering after planting and the occasional rain we’ve had – including the strong line of storms that moved through late last night as a precursor to the coming cold snap.

Garlic shoots

The strawberries are a bit off their schedule, too, with multiple plants flowering and putting out berries. They are everbearing plants, but this isn’t exactly the sort of thing we’d expected from them. And yesterday, we pulled the first pod from the snow pea trellis.

Snow pea pods

Mom judged the first one quite sweet, but alas, it didn’t taste like much of anything to me other than green. The smell, though, was fabulous: there is nothing quite like the fresh, earthy smell of something you’ve just pulled from the vine.

Tomorrow will be a test for me, to determine how best to cover the entire fenced area for the overnight hours. Some of the plants would survive a nuclear attack – thyme, I’m talking to you – but overall, I’d like to give all of the plants every opportunity to make it through the cold stretch and back into the more normal mild weather we usually enjoy down here.

Going green

In more ways than one. Followers of this homesteading saga probably recall that our soil, such as it is, mostly contains clay and on this lot in particular, sand. The sand is predominantly the result of this house being built after others were built; it was used as a dump site for fill dirt, excavated sand, and it’s rather remarkable the trash that continues to wash up as we receive rain here and there.

The problem with this of course is that beyond the scrub, the hardier weeds, and saw palmettos, which seem to thrive no matter what, it’s difficult to coax anything else from the ground. The guajillos loved it, the thyme I’d probably only be able to kill by setting it afire given its hardy nature, and the cowpeas (black eyed peas to those of you not from around here) were fine as well. The tomatoes couldn’t do much of anything, the bell peppers tried valiantly but only mustered two, and most of the seedlings just couldn’t hack it.

Getting grass to grow also proved to be a huge challenge: with nothing nutritious in the sand and the hardpack of the clay/sand combination making it virtually impossible for grass seed to take hold, it almost seemed that it would take many, many loads of topsoil for us to do anything with the barren front of the property. I’d rather spend the money for the topsoil to be put in the areas where we’ll be growing more productive things, really: four of the five loads we had trucked in went to the back, not only to give us something more to work with, but also, like the one load that went up front, to level out some of the hollow areas in order to give us better drainage.

That left us – or, rather, me – with the problem of the front of the property and getting grass in. It isn’t primarily to have a nice lawn. After all, if I thought no one would object too terribly much, I’d just as soon plant vegetables and fruit trees all around the front of the property. No, the primary reason to get something down out front is erosion. The wind here blows mainly from the plain…I mean, from the east to the west, and there is rarely a day with no wind. This results in the sandy part of the soil mix flying off, leaving only the hardpack. This further results in flooding, as the hardpack of course does not drain particularly well, as the older photos from our rain and tropical storms show. What is an aspiring farmer to do?

Lots of backbreaking breakup of the hardpack. Lots of organic additive to get something nutritious into the soil. Lots of grass mixes (fescues, perrenial ryes, bahia). And lots of hay, spread by hand after getting the seed down. This what it looks like on November 16. Some small patches of grass are there from the first attempt to just see what would grow with with seed put down and no other real work done beyond the addition of a bit of topsoil (not much).

Grass beginning

With a lot of other work, on December 2, it looked like this.

Grass, finally

And this is today.

More grass.

The edges of the area are places where no work has been done on getting grass down, as other work needs to be done first. The far area in the above image has a giant mass of blackberry bushes that need to be dug up and burned so they don’t reroot and come back. The pile near the left of the picture behind the tree is the debris, including saw palmettos, that Wade the tractor guy cleared out from these trees so we didn’t have to spend the time digging them out by hand. There is something to be said for doing that sort of work by hand, but there are also limits to the amount of time available when there is also a huge list of other property-related work that also needs to be done (and that is also much more fun, even if it is still hard work).

Day tripping

For months now, we’ve been talking about heading south a bit to a real, live farm where they raise real, live grassfed beef, organically. There always seemed to be something interfering, but last week, after dithering on it, we finally said enough: we’re going, on Thursday, to Citra, which is about an hour south of here in the midst of horse and farm country. Which means that it’s really in the midst of a whole lot of nothing.

After driving through various small towns…

…we wound up at Rosa’s.

Off to the right is the start of the actual farm, which is also where they live, so no pictures of that. I can say that it was a perfect, crisp day, the fields were green, and there were cows moooving around on the fields.

There was also hay for sale, and we picked up a couple of bales to put around the plants that are sitting in the raised beds here (more about that later).

The office is guarded by a rather amusing cowboy and his chicken.

Inside a small office, the only case without a lock on it was the refrigeration case: cage free organic eggs, and organic butter, both of which we picked up in addition to everything else.

What everything else? Ah, you’ll have to wait. After packing everything into the coolers we’d brought, and having one of the guys load the hay, we set off back toward the homestead. We tried to stop in Cross Creek at a restaurant called the Yearling Restaurant – based as it is in the hometown of a rather famous author – to have some cracker food, but were a tad early, as they don’t open for business until dinner on Thursdays. It’s on the list for a return visit.

Instead, we stopped by a place called Cracker Boys, which apparently has not yet been sued by a rather large chain of restaurants.

The boy was hungry.

So were we, and we opted for the buffet while the kid had a burger.

It was passable. The only gripe I have about buffet-style food (and quite a lot of other restaurant food that isn’t a buffet) is that it’s so very bland.

We hit the road for home, catching up with and passing a train on the way. I love trains.

We also stopped by Norman’s on the way back to pick up some fresh veggies.

We needed those things to stock the fridge but also to go with the dinner we’d decided on, which was selected from the assortment we’d picked up at Rosas – this assortment, to be exact.

The winner: rib eyes, grilled outside. We also decided to stoke up the firepit.

Gabrielle joined us as well.

Simple is better.

Much, much better.

How about a little fire, scarecrow?

Or, how about some veggies and steak?

Dinner!

At the homestead

After much discussion, calculation, and other assorted dithering around, it is finally completed.

Of course, I’m referring to a driveway. It looked like this before, and was akin to living in a perpetual construction zone.

With some grading and some dirt, it was made nice and smooth.

After looking at pavers for the drive – and the 100+ feet from the road to the drive, by about 10′ wide, plus the labor and the time that would take – we decided to go with slag: less than half the cost, can be done by one guy with a tractor and one guy with a few truckfuls of slag, and finished in one day.

Why, yes, that is our most beautiful barn in the background. I have pictures of that before and after and no no doubt will get those up at some point.

This is Wade, the quite pleasant, very nice guy with the lovely tractor.

Seriously: this is lovely.

OK, ok: the requisite other lovely shot for those of you who don’t find machinery as attractive.

Still, this is on my wish list.

Almost there, after just a few hours.

And then, like magic, ready for use.

The boy made cookies while all this was going on, and mom just had to have her buttermilk with a cookie or two.

She even gave a couple to Wade while we were between loads.

A view to the road, after, and a good image of just why we chose this over pavers for now.

That would have been a lot of damn pavers.

Now if we could just convince the UPS guy that he can, in fact, drive on the driveway without circling off into the dirt, where we will be putting down grass and landscaping.