Well we have been busy on the ol’ homestead, we are not planting any of our veg until June having learned our lesson last year when we had a frost in very late May which rather did for a lot of things. That being said we have been prettying up the place, which will be an ongoing process but we have made a start.
We lust lived through our first ever ice storm and it was no fun at all, every surface was as slippery as an ice rink. Then we got about a foot of snow which looks very pretty but working outside has just had to STOP! We finally have a sense of what it must be like to be in a lockdown but we have absolutely no reason to moan as this past year has been mostly business as usual for us, apart from Suzie working from home for the most part of course.
So our kitchen is done….for now at least. We left the countertop for around the sink until last as we figured the first two would be good practice, which they were. Our neighbor Scottie was a big help with getting the form built, he did the hole for the sink part, Suzie bought a little bottle of acrylic paint for the faucet hole as it was the perfect diameter. However as soon as we got the concrete poured Suze realized the form had not been built as a mirror image to what we actually wanted (the sink on the left)! While we were deliberating what to do and how we might be able to use the side with all of the bubbles on, one of our chickens jumped on top and left a claw print in the wet concrete – which made up our minds, we were using it!
Thinking we needed an orbital sander we headed off into Paducah, Lowe’s had the sanders but not the diamond discs we needed so we had lunch and drove home. This happens a lot actually and it’s why we order a lot from the internet I guess.
Once the concrete had cured we needed to get it out of the form which proved somewhat difficult so we whacked it with a mallet and cracked the concrete, thought what the hell and then this happened:
We had no choice but to start over, our contractor was booked. We did things differently this time though and did not silicone around the form for the sink and we poured the concrete in smaller batches (to try to avoid pour marks, although we do kind of like those).
John our most excellent contractor arrived to fit the cabinets we bought and our new countertop. However, we bought an under-mount sink but due to the rough, uneven nature of the underneath of our flipped counter we could not use it as such. Which left us with a real problem as the hole we had left for the sink in the concrete was too small for a standard over-mount sink! We phoned around but not even mobile home and RV manufacturers could help us, their sinks were too small. The sink we had though just about fitted the hole so I decided we should have a go at jimmying it in and using it as an over-mount, John was concerned about bending the inside of the sink but went and fetched his rubber mallet.
We got the sink in without damaging the bowls of the sink, so we took it out, glued it and put it back. There was a bit of the lip sticking up at the front and I asked John to give it another whack and DISASTER struck!
Suzie was at work but when she got home she just loved it, crack and all, because that’s just who she is. I am “Mr Everything Needs to be Perfect” but Suzie said the damage was part of the countertops story now and that we should just fill the cracks, Kintsugi was mentioned but who has the money for gold!
We figured as it’s winter that our chickens had gone off the boil (no pun intended) particularly our Easter Egger (Esther) who lays beautiful, smaller eggs that are green/blue (I think as I’m color blind). Esther is a bit flighty mind you and even laid one in our garage once.
While working outside we have however been hearing the “Egg Song” coming from the compost bins quite a lot but every time we have peered in there we have seen nothing. Today though as I needed to climb into the compost for the second of our hugelkultur beds I found 21 eggs including many of Esther’s plus a couple of smashed ones. Some of them were really buried so they have clearly been laying them there for a good while, we did the water test and they are all still fresh. It kinda/sorta brings our tally for the day to 26 eggs with probably one more to get from the coop today.
Suzie being the brilliant gardener that she has no doubt known about Hulgelkultur for quite a while but it was news to me. It is our plan to prevent the vegetable beds from flooding again when it rains (and blimey does it pour down here sometimes). What appealed to me about it was that it uses up the byproduct of land management, pruned trees, dug turf, etc., etc.
So our kitchen remains a work in progress, we recently bought a lovely new sink and a cupboard to go beneath it but we were quoted the best part of $5k for countertops and we would need to have the complete redesign of our kitchen done as they would all need to be fitted at the same time (incidentally you only qualify for any kind of discount on countertops if you are spending $10k or over).
Super Suzie was very keen on the idea of concrete countertops and had me watch a good few YouTube videos but I remained skeptical as I always tend to be with things we have never done before. What it always seems to come down to though is me saying that as long as we have absolutely everything we need to do the job (whatever it may be) I will give it a go.
Last weekend we made a start, mistakes were made and lessons were learnt but we have our first countertop done, we are calling it “rustic”. I am now confident that our second one will be a lot neater and having by then done two we will tackle the one for the sink.
So at the beginning of this week we woke up to a frost, which killed our tomatoes, sweet potatoes, peanuts and our latest try at brussel sprouts.
We had let the sweet potato vines get away from us so we were not really expecting any and we weren’t at all sure we had any peanuts. The tomatoes, particularly the yellow pear were still going great guns but that just gives us another chance at green tomato chutney….who has the time or space to ripen ’em?!
In other news there’s a couple of acres the other side of the road from us up for a mail-in auction and we are tempted.
The last few weeks have been busy. All our hard work is beginning to pay off and we have moved into happy harvest mode! We have been waiting for what feels like months for the pale green bell peppers to turn red. We did eat a couple at the green stage but then stuck firm and waited for them to ripen. I’m glad we did, the red peppers are amazing. They are a variety called “Gypsy” and are supposed to be prolific fruiters. They haven’t dissappointed us yet!
Also in the “glut” department has been the Russian kale, which we both love, luckily. I have been making sag paneer with it and it works amazingly well in place of spinach. I even made a kale and mushroom lasagne, it was amazing. Russian kale isn’t as bitter as the stuff you buy in the supermarket so it’s not as disgusting in lasagne as it sounds! It doesn’t really work for kale chips though, you just end up with flat, dried kale leaves, tasty but unfulfilling.
The cucumbers have decided to kill us with kindness. We can’t turn around for another 40 on the vine, ready to be picked. We only have two plants varieties called “White Spine” and “Spacesaver” and honestly, I can’t really tell the difference. They are all the size of footballs. Luckily the chickens love pecking at the inside of an oversized cucumber!
The strawberries did well, but as is the way of strawberries there are never enough. I will have to buy some to make jam with because we ate all ours!
This week the basil has seriously started to go mad, so next week there will definitely be a pesto making session.
I haven’t even mentioned the tomatoes, I am in awe of the incredible yellow pear tomato. Despite getting a really late frost, and me being daft and putting them outside far too early, and an infestation of the almighty tomato hornworm, which the chickens were delighted with, and despite us almost completely failing to tie them in properly, the harvest has been legendary. A few of the red variety “Rutgers” survived the frost and the flooding and have been keeping us busy but the “Yellow Pears” have gone crazy. I am constantly wondering what to do with another large bowl of them. So far we have had them raw (obv), roasted in oil, made yellow tomato relish, chutney, green tomato chutney (windstorm that toppled a couple of plants), pasta sauce, salsa, enchilada sauce and this week I even sun dried a few. I am considering having a go at ketchup.
The zucchini (courgette) has also been producing. I planted two plants really because if nothing else will grow in a garden, at least the zucchini will. Two plants were about one and a half plants too many as Al absolutely refuses to eat them. I mean, I like them but who could possibly eat two plants worth of zucchini? I might have a go at stuffing the flowers before the fruits get a chance to develop.
With the structure of our deer proof vegetable garden built it became time to critter proof it all. I have to say though that it occurred to me more than once that digging trenches is work for much younger men.
This month the homestead has been a very busy place. The bees we introduced into their hive are doing well. A few worries, like the fact that they decided to raise a new queen for some reason, but still buzzing away. We have also noticed a whole host of other pollinators including bumble bees, dragonflies, other solitary bees and a ton of butterflies. In particular we have noticed several Monarch butterflies. It’s hard to not notice them, they are particularly large and beautiful and it was while attending an online course on pollinating insects that I discovered that they are on the verge of becoming an endangered species.
They really are remarkable, they spend time with us here in Illinois in June, lay their eggs on one species only, milkweed, and after raising 5 generations or so, migrate in September down to Mexico. They vacate in the warmer climes for three months or so and then start their journey back to us, raising a quick generation of young in Texas. These butterflies raised in Texas then make their way back to Illinois to delight us in June.
So, with this in mind, I ordered some milkweed seeds and then totally forgot to do anything with them! Imagine my surprise when a couple of weeks ago I noticed a Monarch butterfly anyway. Okay, so to be honest I didn’t really know what milkweed looked like. It turns out we have about three acres of the stuff in the land that we couldn’t clear this spring because the mower broke down. I did the initial post winter mow and then left it to its own devices. Perfect for the milkweed apparently! Despite its name it really is a pretty plant, smells nice too. I haven’t been able to get a picture of a Monarch butterfly yet, they fly off into the butterfly sanctuary we have apparently cultivated and it’s hard to follow them but I have managed to capture some others. All identifications are guesses, trying to match them against my butterfly book, it’s hard because no two butterflies are really the same! There is also a bright yellow butterfly that I can’t get close enough to photograph, with no photo it’s very hard to identify them. I will keep trying and I am determined to photograph a Monarch!
OK here’s our early June garden update, so far everything seems to be doing well (the Sunflowers did not germinate though and the French Beans seem rather reluctant). We have started the anti critter trench but so far the motion activated lights seem to be working, a few weeks ago I saw a couple of them come on and then saw the silhouette of a rabbit running away. Mack is doing his bit too.
Today I remembered to take my phone with me up to the chicken coop and thought you might all enjoy the following couple of movies. Bear in mind I had just woken up, no coffee, no hairbrush etc. The chickens, as always, are camera ready! They woke up this way.
Here are the two videos:
Early morning, after a bad night! I look like I’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards! But of course still have reading glasses on because I sleep in them!
A few years ago now when we lived in Torrance, CA our neighbors at the time bought Suzie a book by Jennifer Reece called “Make the Bread, Buy the Butter”, it’s a great read and we used to live by it. Suze more than me obviously I was just the contented recipient. Then we got ourselves the absolute time suck of sharing our home with a foster kid and it all went out of the window.
Now though in these difficult times the book is front and center again!
Suzie put down a deposit on a nuc (short for nucleus, a queen and starter pack basically) of Bees quite a few months ago but we got the call this week that they were ready for pick up. We knew we wanted them up by the pond but needed to do some clearing first.
So we finally have our “Buzz” and the “Cluck” is doing pretty well too. In the few weeks we have had them they have about doubled in size and are feathering up nicely. We have 10 again temporarily as one of our neighbors Chickens had Chicks before they were quite ready for them. It was pretty funny actually, one of the new Chicks made so much noise at first that all of ours cowered at the back of the box we put in there for them, seemingly terrified. All is harmonious now though.
Also, just because I’m writing this one….Amazon are now shipping Cats!
So this week we picked up the fish Suzie ordered a while ago now, Wide Mouthed Bass and Bluegill, both native to the area – pretty sure though that we are just feeding the Water Snake we saw up there at the pond.
Did Mention that I HATE Snakes?!
It was raining so we also went and bought some Chicks:
4 x Buff Orpington 4 x Brown Isa (guaranteed female) 2 x Welsummer
I think I have broken Suzie, she has spent at least the last eight days working outside, I at least had some time working on freelance stuff inside. So today Suzie said how about we rest up and actually have a weekend for once – great idea! We decided to go walk the Forestry land behind us that has recently been cleared. First off we had a walk around the front garden which is looking glorious.
We have been busy! The mornings when it was only 37 degrees weren’t much fun but we persevered.
We have now about 98% built our Deer/Rabbit proof vegetable garden, next month we need to dig the beds and plant out everything. The cages in the photo above are protecting two apple trees Suze bought.
Next up protecting livestock (the Chickens we will be getting) from predators. A while ago when we were going to use different posts some numpty bought a bent one – but Suzie likes it.
We have had a ton of rain lately, including thunder and lightning, even a tornado watch last night, and so work has slowed here on the homestead. With all the scary and depressing news out there in the world it has been an effort to keep things in perspective. With that in mind I took a wander around the property today and snapped a few anti-depression pics. Hope you all enjoy.
So, with a few dry(ish) days behind us and the ground not actually being frozen solid for a change, we decided to get on with starting the fencing of our vegetable garden.
Fencing is very necessary here, due to the abundance of wild deer. As pretty as they look, they are death to production in a vegetable/fruit garden. When we first moved here, they were all over the place. Then hunting season started and they all but disappeared. Thinking the hunters had culled the population, I felt a bit bad because they really are lovely animals to watch in the morning with a cup of coffee on the patio, but it turns out I didn’t need to worry. They weren’t gone, merely in hiding. The very last day of the season we started to see them again. I have no idea how they know, but they do. Our neighbor saw five of them on our land a couple of weeks ago. I have found tracks (and poop!) right down by the house where I have never seen them before so a fence is essential.
After doing a lot of research we decided on the following plan, a six foot high fence which can be added to if necessary, no electric fence yet. But if I see one deer looking at our vegetables and licking its lips, extra steps will be taken.
The day before, we had done our best to peg out where we wanted the final posts. We are completely inexperienced so of course, we made some mistakes but eventually came up with posts spaced eight feet apart to total 40′ x 40′. We have the space to put in more areas this size if needed next year. It is nice to have a lot of space! After a quick Google search we discovered that about a third of the post needs to be buried so that meant our holes needed to be two feet deep. Easy.
So the first six to eight inches was easy, then we hit the clay. Oh, how we hit the clay. I was tempted to start a pottery. And it’s wet too, wet, sticky, claggy clay. It stuck to everything. EVERYTHING! In the end we spent more time scraping clay off various tools and our boots than anything else.
Eventually we figured out a method and got the first two posts in, see the breeze block boot scraper? This is where the gates will go. I have to make them first.
We are old, so we knew we wouldn’t be able to do all the posts in one day. I have a bad back, Al has a bad neck, we just do what we can and stop when we have to. We are not the fastest, most accurate workers but we plod along and we get there in the end.
This is our progress after the first day. And it wasn’t all day, but the clay got the better of our old bones and we stopped for lunch. Of course, when you do stop, you realize just how much pain you are in and that’s it for the day. Even so, we are very proud of our progress. Six posts in a (mostly) straight line, only another another 14 to go. Of course it rained last night, so we will have to wait for a couple of days before we start again. Not a bad idea, give our bodies time to recover!
After what has seemed like a very long time, we are very excited to start our bee-keeping journey. Can’t have a serious homestead without bees, right? I have a nice space picked out for them up by the pond, somewhat sheltered by trees and wild honeysuckle but a nice clear route down to our proposed vegetable garden. I will plant some enticing flowers in a “bee corridor” down to where I really want them, pollinating my fruit and vegetables.
It’s way too cold for establishing a colony just yet so all I can do is read up about bee-keeping and of course get the hive built.
Suzie found a hutch up for grabs on Facebook Marketplace that she liked the look of for our kitchen, it was in the wilds of Paducah but undeterred we drove and got it. Suze is terrific at fixing stuff up and after patching, sanding, sawing, gluing, tacking and painting it, it now looks great in our kitchen.
Once again this year I was reminded that Boxing Day is just not a thing in America. Our neighbor suggested to me that I contact the South Eastern Illinois Electric Co-op about the trees in our front yard that were on the way to interfering with the electricity cable running to our house and last week or the week before they came out to have a look. I was thinking they’d be back early in the new year but nope….Boxing Day, bright and early!
When the guy came out to look I asked him about the big mostly dead Fir tree in the front that was on a serious lean toward the cable and he said they’d take it down for us but would not clear away the branches, fair enough. We were quoted $2k to take down the big dead Fir tree and one other by a private contractor.
I didn’t get photos of them taking down the second Pine but that one was done much more strategically as it was really near the cable. All of the branches were removed, it was roped and taken down in the direction of the road, then wood-chipped in the second chipper they brought.
Not only that but our neighbor Frank came and took down that bloody, bloody basketball net! How much better does that look?!
It has been raining rather a lot here but Suze and I have been trying to walk our property line when she gets home from work with the dogs and the cat that recently adopted us (he is the best behaved while we are walking, just putting that out there).
So with it being rather wet outside of late I decided to paint our Laundry Room and I am done for now. We do have one final room that needs spackling and painting but it’s full of stuff from the move right now. The color of the walls currently is migraine inducing but fortunately you cannot really see it for all of the aforementioned stuff.
Suze and I would quite often sit outside of a morning and evening when we lived in California and we always loved to listen to the birdsong, we used to call it “Bird o’clock”.
Blimey though, yesterday WOW! it really was Bird o’clock! We were unindated with European Starlings by the thousand it seemed like. I did ask our loveliest neighbors what they were but when Suzie got home she teased me for not recognizing a Starling when I saw and heard one as they are everywhere in England – in my defence though it’s not like I saw any of them up close….but I should perhaps have recognized their song.
Presumably they are all off to warmer climes, I doubt very much they were just getting here.
So this in in real danger of becoming a blog about Cats and I’m sure the internet has enough of those! Mack is putting on weight nicely and seems to be getting the hang of his litter tray (thank the stars). Being softy ex-Californians we have of course bought him a collar (with a dickie bow) and a name tag. I get that the tag is supposed to be a Fish but it just looks like a mini submarine to me – the watercraft not the sandwich.
Obviously I know what a Tabby Cat is but a “Mackerel Tabby” was a new one on me, they must be pretty common though as most Catfood suppliers have photographs of them on their packaging it seems.
For a recently stray Cat he is certainly hungry most of the time it seems.
So Suzie was correct (as per usual) and our new girl cat is actually a boy. We took “her” to the vet’s and “he” is not microchipped (no surprises there really) but he is only 6-7 months old (which did surprise me). At some point in his short life he has taken a knock to his left pelvis, which means his tail does not work properly – it is rather typical that we should find ourselves with a non too graceful feline.
We are calling him “Mack” because he is a Mackerel Tabby. If we cannot dissuade him from pooping inside though he may have to go (joking).
We wanted to finish decorating inside before Christmas as the previous tenants had made some rather odd color choices, it being so wet of late and with Suzie out at work I got stuck in. Again against all expectations I actually enjoyed it, Suze has always done the decorating in the past, apart from when we were getting Esterbrook ready to sell and I did not like that at all – mostly because Will who was supposed to be helping kept writing his name on the walls and we were all on covering it up each time. I swear in the right light you can probably still see it….although I do know the people who bought it repainted in a somewhat darker shade so maybe not .
Turns out Southern Illinois is even more like England than we thought as we have been having a frosty snap. When the weather brightens again I will take photos of how red some of the trees are going, it really is beautiful here.
FINALLY! We got rid of that bloody, bloody doghouse out back! I figured it’d be a really noisy demo job so I decided to do it when Suze was out. Alas though, I had to unscrew all of the bolt/screws that were in the metal plating and move the (rotten) wooden frame around the back of the shed.
More than once I wished I’d never started but we are both glad to be rid of it, what an eyesore! I really want rid of the Basketball Net too but that’s concreted in so who knows when we’ll get to that….we can buy Dynamite in stores here mind you.
In other news we are on a “Freeze Alert” for tonight, who knew that was a thing?! Suze went out and harvested our Mint, Parsley and what Tomatoes were left on the Vine – the Tomato plants did particularly well.
OK technically it was before the rain and the pink but we had a go at cleaning up the pond.
It was a thankless task, there was just no raking it fast enough and I did get stuck (twice). We bought waders but they were the type you put over your shoes and mine leaked so off they went back to Amazon. We talked to our lovely neighbor Carl and he suggested we get a solar powered pump to aerate the water, he said that’d help get rid of the algae.
All of the rain we’ve been having might have filled up the pond a little (hopefully). Clearing around it is on the list and I might tackle that next week. We really need to get mowing the Bush Hogged land before that though.
Well California is on fire but we have been having a pretty big rainstorm and have been under a flood warning. So it seemed like a good day to get on with some more decorating. Suzie’s back was a bit choice so I spent yesterday taking far too long to paint her office – fair enough really as she painted mine.
It looked like the room had been for a girl but what girl would want a room this color?!
I was reminded of an article I read a (very) long time ago that said the type of men you needed to win a civilization were not the ones you wanted living in it. Which is why a lot of husbands can be found most weekends painting the back bedrooms of the nation.
The truly brilliant Suzie went out and got a job! It all but covers our overheads and – most importantly – gives us medical and dental.
Which makes me a kept man FINALLY! Against everyone’s expectations including my own I love working outdoors but it has taken me a good while to clear behind the Potting Shed, it sounded easy enough when Suze mentioned it – a Canoe, really?!
This is my somewhat farewell post as I will be leaving Al for another….no just kidding, I got a job. Which is great because “money” but sad because I will have to leave these three alone all day to play on the mower without me. In the meantime…say hello to our new contributor….Al!
Having finally finished moving in, and mostly finished the decorating, we took a little break this week to just be in our new home. We are incredibly lucky to have amazing neighbors, seriously amazing neighbors. Some who feed us what they have grown, some who have introduced us to the area and other great people and some, like Mike, who has gotten in his tractor and bush hogged 6 acres of our land for us. For free. For free. How lucky are we and what could we ever offer in return?
Here are the results of Mike’s hard work. Seriously people in Southern Illinois are the best!
So this post is a celebration for us. We finally finished moving all our stuff into our new house! It’s seemed like a really long time but it’s only been three months from finding the house to having all our stuff in one place. The dogs are especially happy to be done with it all I think. They love being off leash.
Of course we are officially worn out. Lots of miles driven, not quite enough to drive around the globe but not too far off. And we have a lot of exciting things to do starting next week, this week is a designated vacation for us, especially as Friday will be our 20th wedding anniversary. We don’t usually celebrate it, having lived together for a long time before we said “I do” but it’s a decent number now and I’ve always liked emeralds so we might start now.
It’s been an interesting few weeks. We are still bouncing between states moving our junk but are about to embark on our final trip! Honestly anything we can’t fit in the van this trip is being left on the side of the road.
The house is coming together as we finally get to unpack boxes and it’s been really fun discovering exactly what we decided to keep. Another revelation is that Al has exponentially more junk than me – unexpected! Not seeing your stuff for months makes them feel like old friends when you see them again.
Precious little gardening has happened – it’s summer so it must be mowing time. But also our wonderful neighbor has continued clearing our land and we finally got to walk the perimeter. Wow, it’s a lot of land!
One thing has become very clear, there is a lot of compostable materials here on our homestead. We are constantly mowing, growing and weeding and what do you do with it all? Plus at some point there will be chicken poop to deal with, maybe even goat poop! Our trash service does not have green waste (or recycling) so we have to figure out another method to get rid of waste. I’m saving anything I think I can use in the future, glass bottles, egg cartons, yoghurt pots etc and we decided to build a composter to at least cope with the tea bag waste.
Anyone who know us knows that we don’t know how to build anything. I once made a planter box and ended up using duct tape to keep it together. I’m not kidding. Anyone who knows us also knows that we will have a go at making anything. So with duct tape at the ready we set out to build a compost bin.
There is a place in Carbondale, IL that sells old pallets for $2.50 each. Sounded like a good place to start, so we picked up 10 and headed home. Using pallets and rusty old fence posts that were just lying around the homestead, we figured out a very rough plan, my favorite kind and made this.
First I cleared the area
Fence posts through the pallets
Manly action shot
Cardboard floor which will eventually rot
First lot of teabags
So if it rains a lot we might have to cover it up and the front pallets aren’t secured because I’m not sure how or if we need to. We will see how it goes.
So before we took off back to CA a while ago, I couldn’t bear the thought of not planting anything so we dug a tiny bit of land and threw in a couple of tomato plants. We then spent the next month driving back and forth and totally forgot about them. Until today when we did some mowing and I literally unearthed our first harvest!
One teeny tiny yellow cherry tomato. About 5 seconds after this photo, Al ate it! I hope this is just the beginning of feeding ourselves.
After a brief time away from the homestead for ComiCon, we got back to the now almost finished kitchen. It’s very light and bright and feels so much bigger. The sink is temporary, we have no cabinets at all and everything needs a good clean but here are some pics of where we are at now.
And just of quick reminder of where we started from. That carpet!
One huge difference is the smell, no longer mold and wet wood, it’s so much nicer now. It’s all paint and fresh wood. We have some storage racks to unload from the car and set up. And that will be it for now. Just need to find the perfect cabinets/pantry cupboard/sink unit and sink etc now. We will just do it bit by bit because while we have been away the grass has sprouted up again and I need to get back on the mower.
With the mid-week find of eggs in the compost our weekly total was 54. Suzie not wanting to waste anything hit on a plan, we gave some eggs to our neighbors and hardboiled a good few but then she had a day of baking.