We grow a lot of tomatoes. I mean A LOT! We have tried all kinds of trellis, cages, bamboo stakes, and more to keep our prized heirloom tomato plants from laying on the dirt. Let's just say that it has ended badly more times than I would like to admit.
Jump to planning our summer garden. Again we are facing the age old question of how to keep our maters off the ground. Enter John Moody at the Mother Earth News Fair. He blew my mind with an ingenious technique to build your own tomato cages for the same or less money that the prefab ones that will last for years and withstand even the heaviest of vines. Ours come to $6.10 each which way cheaper and better than anything would find in stores. A roll of concrete reinforcing fencing makes about 24 cages. We made 70 total for a bunch of new plants and projects we have started. So here’s how we did it:
Buy a roll or more of concrete reinforcing fencing. This comes in big heavy rolls at your building supply store. It has 6" by 6" square holes. Don't worry if it's rusted. It won't matter. This will run you about $140. I know it's a larger investment up front but it will be used year after year. You will also need some heavy duty bolt cutters. The stronger the better. I bought 24" cutters because of my small frame and I knew my son would want to help.
Snip off the bottom wire leaving prongs that will stick in the soil.
Decide how big around you want your cages. We decided that a 6 foot diameter was best for us but you determine for yourself what size works in your beds. Cut to length. No need to get out your tape measure. Remember when I said each square is 6 inches. We just counted 12 squares for a 6 foot section and and snipped it.
And this is the tricky part. After some trial and error, Farmer Vasek figured out a quick way to get it connected. I would recommend using gloves but he doesn't always listen to my recommendations. You wrap the pronged end around the straight side two or three times then bend it around the cross wire until it takes the shape. Move it under the cross wire. Confused? Watch the video below!
Place pronged end down around tomato plants or other vining plant. You can stake it more solidly in the ground with a t-post or rebar if you'd like or tie them together if they are placed close enough. Here's ours in our 4' by 10' beds.
We will use what I call tomato tape to tie the branches up as it grows. We will also pull of the suckers to encourage the plant to put energy into the tomatoes and not building more branches. I'm sure this will make your summer season far more productive.
Dedicated to fur, feathers, greens, and wings,
When mapping out this summer's plan, I ran across this image. It was taken in July of 2013 according to Google Maps. I often tell people that our "jungle gym" tree that has the bench around it was so covered with kudzu that we didn't know what kind of tree it was when we bought the property. And it was also much smaller five years ago. The property was so overgrown, we had no idea what we would find under there. And we have found a ton of odd things since buying it.
I was recently dreaming of where we will go from here. Farmers are often called the biggest dreamers. We put tiny specks of seeds in the ground hoping that it will feed us for the next year. In our case, we are looking to the future and what we want our farm and family to look like in the next three, five, and ten years.
Those tiny seeds seem to take forever to break the surface as a cotyledon and then an eternity until that small plant bears fruit. Our farming dream is very similar. It took years for us to decide we needed more space. And since purchasing these two acres, in many ways it's felt like forever to transform it from an unruly kudzu patch to a fruitful garden and orchard.
In the past twenty-four months, we have mowed, hoed, and mulched our way to a functionally garden. We are no where near finished with what we want to accomplish on our homestead. He hope to double our raised beds this summer and erect a pole barn and makeshift farm stand. We also want to increase the area we call the experimental garden and see what all we can get to grow there. We currently have potatoes planted there to break the soil up. We've been dutifully digging up raspberry starts to increase our berry patch. We want a greenhouse to start our own seedlings and I would love to have a gazebo or pergola to have special events at our farm. And I secretly wish to host families looking to create a sustainable homestead themselves on our farm as a teaching farm. Like I said, farmers are by their very nature dreamers and our dream is just beginning. We could never do all of this without the love and support of our family and friends. Thank you for all for walking with us on this journey.
To quote The Grateful Dead,
With dreams of ripe tomato sandwiches,
Brooke and Vasek
April was a blur! We went from Sheep to Shawl to the Statham Homestead Trail with little time to do much else. Many of you came out to support us on this new adventure. For those that couldn't come out that weekend, I thought I'd share a little about the event and how it turned out.
The idea was from the brilliant mind of Cyndi Ball from Lazy B Farm. We met last fall with several other farms in the area to discuss the possibility of having our farms open to the public. Over half the farmers were fairly new (less than four years) to farming, all women and active in Ladies Homestead Gathering. After lots of ideas were thrown around, we set a date and some guidelines and all got to work.
Our farm being one of the newest kids on the block, we had a ton to do. We just put in our hoop house but had no raised beds planted. We got to work on that immediately. We also had other projects to complete before the big weekend. We had to get a picnic area cleared, parking places marked, and some sort of restroom facility to a piece of property with no water connection. That's when the idea of an outhouse workshop emerged. You can learn more here.
We also wanted to have all of our summer crops in the ground. Mother Nature had other ideas with lows in the thirties three days that week. Sometimes, you just have to go with what you got.
As April approached, we were busy making soaps, deodorants, and other goodies to sell at our farm stand. We painted signs to highlight different offerings on the farm and moved mountains of mulch. Fresh mulch makes everything look better.
The sun rose on Saturday and brought with it glorious spring weather. We had a charcoal demo led by Vasek first thing to warm everyone up. I led a farm tour after that. We brought out our four baby goats...the highlight of the day! They let everyone hold them and made for great photo ops. Another farm tour and rabbit care demo led by Lydie rounded out the afternoon. My dear friend Trish Johnson brought her girls and her fancy camera and got some great shots of the farm. Those are the ones you're seeing in this post but there are tons more we will use in the future.
We were overwhelmed by the turn out. So many of friends and family came to see us. We met a ton of new friends and heard all about how others were looking for sustainable options for local food. And despite a slight sunburn, the day was an amazing success.
I wish I could say that Sunday was equally brilliant but it just wasn't. The mist started mid-morning which turned into a downpour by lunch. Even with the rain, we had about forty people come to see us and take tours that were mostly under the cover of the hoop house.
Overall, the weekend far exceeded our expectations. We are already planning the November Statham Homestead Trail where we hope to offer local artisan crafts and your gathering foods just in time for the holidays. Mark your calendars now so you don't miss out!
I often get asked what we "grow" on our farm. This is little difficult to answer because we are really a homestead, not so much a single product farm. So what does that mean? We are really trying to produce as much of what we eat as possible. I remember when we started this journey my friend Ellie said, "soon you won't even have to go to the grocery store!" At the time I thought she was crazy but as we continued to try new things, it really became our goal. We are not there yet but each week, I feel like we are moving in the right direction.
In order to buy the things we don't or can't grow ourselves (coconuts do not like North Georgia weather) we sell things that we grow or make on our farm. We often grow extra produce in the summer and grow out a few extra meat chickens or rabbits to help offset the cost of feed for them.
We also have gotten pretty crafty on the homestead. I make and sell all natural soaps, skin care, and deodorant. My husband makes hardwood charcoal, pots bulbs for gifts, and tans the rabbit pelts. We are working toward getting our cottage food license to be able to provide our Saturday customers with biscuits, bread, and other goodies. We will soon be looking for people interested in purchasing goat shares that will allow them to have the milk from one of new goat moms. Eggs are another hot commodity around here. I can cook eggs a million ways to Sunday and plan on doing a blog post about it soon. Eggs are also a great way to reduce your meat consumption.
We are also super excited to participate in the Statham Homestead Trail this weekend. In honor of Earth Day, we have several things we have found to reduce consumption for your home. We will have reusable cloth napkins make from recycled materials, glass water bottles to reduce plastic waste, and insulated thermal tote bags to reduce shopping bags that seem to end up everywhere. Come to farm from 8-4 on Saturday or Sunday to shop, tour, and love on some baby animals.
If we spoke about homesteading for more than fifteen minutes, I would bet I mentioned goats. Goats are the one thing I desperately wanted on our farm. We got chickens to see if we could handle having animals. My daughter wanted rabbits and even put up a third of the money to buy a breeding pair. But it was always goats that were my end game.
I did not jump into this lightly. A few years before we were going to get goats, I volunteered to goat sit or milk any goat available. I went on farm visits and called ahead to make sure I could milk different breeds of goats. I tried goat milk from as many breeds as I could find. Are you beginning to see how deep my obsession runs?
After a lot of research, I decided I wanted LaMancha goats. They are gorgeous dairy breed that has high butter fat and great temperaments but very tiny ears. I bought my first doeling from Rockin' H Farm. Amanda was super helpful when we purchased our silver fox rabbits the year before. She was very helpful when I wanted to come and meet sweet Cami. She let me try the mother's milk to make sure I liked it before I purchased her.
She was very shy but adjusted quickly. We got our first wether, fixed male, from SonRise Farm to keep her company. They were super cute together and both are great friends. We have since added a Nigerian Dwarf wether and a sweet baby girl named Phoenix from On Holiday Farm. This farm also provided the stud for this year's breeding. Yes, that means what you think it means. His name was Romeo...how appropriate!
This is Shakespeare "Romeo", a.k.a. the stud.
After a long weekend, he went back home and we waited. Five long months have to pass before you see any babies. For several months, we didn't even think Phoenix was pregnant. But low and behold, her udders started filling up and her belly rounded. Cami on the other hand acted pregnant as soon as he left the farm. Funny how goats can be so different.
As the due date approached, I spent a lot of time looking at the back end of the girls. I mean, a lot! And then, while we had guests over for a farm tour, Phoenix started acting really strange. Just for safe measure, I moved her to the milk parlor for safe keeping and asked the kids to keep an eye on her. A few minutes later they sent me text that there was something oozing out. I'll let your imagination fill in the gaps. (Though I do have pictures.) Before I knew what I was doing, I was helping deliver two precious baby goats into the world. Phloxy Moxy and Phillip made their grand entrance with an audience of eight humans.
Cami was not going to be outdone. She went into labor the next day which lasted for 48 hours...bless her heart. And right in the middle of a thunder storm. Once her water broke, those babies hit the ground before I could even get the video recording. We were blessed again to have a boy and girl, Brown Bear and Moose. They were over a pound heavier than the first set and just as adorable. I am elated that both births happened without incident. And in just a few weeks, we will have fresh milk, too.
We will have the babies out at the Statham Homestead Trail. Stop by and get some goat cuddles of your very own. They will be out from 11:00 - 12:00 both Saturday and Sunday.
We finished the outhouse, began planting our summer vegetables, and installed our rainwater collection system. The bees have been checked and rabbits readied for guests. We are anxiously awaiting the arrival of our baby goats and newest fluffle of bunnies. (Yes, that is real word.) We've cleared and set up a picnic area for you. And plenty of soaps, lotions, and charcoal has been made and packaged to sell. We will also have plant starts ready for your garden.
And why am I telling you all of this? We are doing all of this to share our journey with you. I would love to show each one of our followers our hard work. I want each of you to see what we have been able to accomplish in one year. I want you to experience our love of local produce and meats for yourself and hopefully inspire you to try something new.
One thing they don't tell you when you start homesteading is how many mason jars you will need. Seriously. It is amazing how many jars I now own. I also was not aware of how many shapes and sizes jars come in. And did you know there are entire lines of products that can be used with your mason jars? Mason jar accessory lines. Yeah, me either. It wasn't until we had been homesteading for a few years that I realized just how extreme my collection had become. I know I sound fanatical and it looks like I am being paid to brag about mason jars, but I truly love them. (I would love to be sponsored by them since I've already spent a crap ton of money on them.)
Reason #1 - Canning
Sounds innocent enough. I am growing vegetables and fruit and want to preserve my harvest. I started with basic water bath canning jams and jellies. Harmless, right? Then the pickling happened and now I am pressure canning bone broth. I go through boxes and boxes of jars. My friends and family bring me their empties. I even give a fifty cent credit at the farm stand for each jar that is returned. They really are the ultimate in sustainable packaging. With a quick wash and sterilization, they can be reused countless times.
Reason #2 - Fermenting
Similar to canning, I found that fermented foods make our harvest last longer and provide us with great probiotic benefits. We make kraut, pickles, kefir, and a variety of vinegars. I use the MasonTops brand of Pickle Pipes. I make all of my ferments in the larger jars and then have to store them in smaller jars to keep them fresh longer. Maybe I should write another blog post on fermentation.
Reason #3 - To-Go Cups
You are about to see my crazy eco-side here. I hate disposable cups. Despise! When I found out my favorite size mason jar, the 24 ounce wide mouth fits in my cup holder, my life was changed for the better. I use both the Ball and EcoJarz lids with my metal straw for the perfect to-go cup. Really. It's amazing!
Reason #4 - Coffee Cups
Similar to the above reason, I like to carry hot tea or coffee with me when it's cold outside. I really love the Cuppow lid because it doesn't get as hot as the metal lids do. I also prefer the 12 ounce quilted jar. I love these so much I've learned to knit a coffee-coozie to protect my hands. These little jars are just perfect!
Reason #5 - Goat Milking
You read that right. I prefer using a glass half gallon jar for storage. I milk into a bucket but strain my fresh milk into mason jars to keep it super cold. Check out these awesome amber jars Ball just started offering. So cool!
Reason #6 - Pretty Storage
I love to keep my bathroom necessities in jars. I keep my nail clipping stuff together in one jar, Q-tips in another. I also keep my homemade deodorant and moisturizer in 4 ounce jars and sell our Healthy Hippie Starter pack in quart mason jar.
Reason #7 - Left-overs
I love using these wide mouth pint jars for storing left-over chili and soup. It is designed not to leak in my bag and heats up easily (after removing the metal ring and lid, of course.) Straight-sided jars can be used for freezing left-overs, too. Only use straight sides for freezing. The jars with shoulders will crack or explode when frozen. I speak from experience. Learn your lesson from my mistake.
Reason #8 - Seed Starting and Window Sill Gardening
Mason jars make a great place to start seeds. The clear sides help warm the seeds in a sunny window. If you plant the seeds on the sides, you can actually watch your seed sprout and grow. You can also plant herbs in mason jars to keep them handy in the kitchen. The one thing you need to monitor is the water in each jar. Since there are no drainage holes, you have to be a little more observant. You can add rocks or packing peanuts to the bottom of the jar before adding your soil to help this issue.
Reason #9 - Makeshift Lighting
In a pinch, you can place candles in mason jars for gorgeous mood lighting or emergency lighting in case of a power outage. I like hanging them outside on branches for a rustic lighting opportunity. If you are worried about little ones being too curious, you could use LED tealights for a safer option.
Reason #10 - Glassware
I would not be a true Southerner if I didn't mention that mason jars make great drinking glasses. This is especially true if you have teenagers or forgetful adults in your house that leave glasses everywhere! You won't get nearly as upset about someone breaking or losing a mason jar as you do your good wine glasses. We have been lucky enough in all our scrounging to have located some jars with handles. I'm pretty sure they sold jelly or something in them since mine don't have a brand name on them. You can buy similar ones here.
Did I forget something? Please let me know how you use your mason jars. I'm sure there are a hundred or more other uses for my favorite homestead accessory.
Yes, you read that correctly. We have almost completed the newest addition to the homestead, our new outhouse. I'm sure your next question is why do we need an outhouse. A few weeks ago I shared with you that we will be opening the homestead to the public for the Statham Homestead Trail in April. When you invite people over, you have to have somewhere for them freshen up, if you know what I mean.
We have also wanted one for us to use when we are out there working and all muddy. Nothing makes me more insane than for my children to run through the house with their dirty shoes on. The outhouse is a logical solution to both problems.
I'm sure this leads to more quandaries. No, we did not dig a big hole in the ground. You actually have to get a permit if you are digging for an outhouse to make sure you are not near a drinking source. We are using a composting toilet mode from the bucket and toilet seat you see Brother sitting on. We will add wood mulch to the bucket as we use it and empty it into a larger barrel to finish decomposing. When it all broken down, it will be used to fertilize our non-edible plants on the farm.
Before you get all grossed out, I will remind you that the majority of my readers use municipal water sources that takes sewage and restores it to potable water in a facility which really is the ultimate in poo recycling. We are trying to be as sustainable as possible. We salvaged the wood wood and pallet boards from other projects, rinsed out one of the many buckets we have on the farm, and only purchased the roofing, screws, and a toilet seat. Pretty impressive, right?
Make plans to come for a visit soon and sit a spell.
Before I was a homesteader, I was a crafter. I've already shared that I love to create things. I always have. Vasek had been taking the beekeeping course for a while when I finally decided to see what other classes were being taught at Lazy B Farm. The soap making class caught my interest and I signed up. I had no idea what to expect. I had only seen the melt and pour soaps at the craft store. I was in for a shock!
I was not prepared for the amount of chemistry required to make soap. Nerd alert! Saponification, or the process that happens to turn fat into soap, was completely overwhelming. The class introduced me to hot and cold process soap making. I will not bore you with all the details and differences between the two. I was immediately drawn to the hot process method, mainly because it was less temperature monitoring and I could use the soap quicker after processing.
Amanda, from Amanda's Farm to Fork, was the hot process instructor. She is very laid back and hysterical! I learned so much and wrote as much down as I could manage. I thought to myself, "if she makes that many soaps in a week, it must be easy." Famous last words.
The process itself is technically not difficult. The myriad of ways it can go wrong, however, are positively overwhelming. I ordered my ph-test strips online, found a used crock pot at a thrift shop, and got some oil to use. Most soap makers will not share their recipes since they are from years, sometimes decades, of trial and error. Here I was with random oils, gloves, safety goggles, and a soap calculator. It was like a scene from Fight Club. I made mistake after mistake until I finally had something that resembled soap. But I was smitten. I loved taking ingredients that are usually found in kitchens and turning them into luscious, fragrant soap.
Since that first batch of soap, I have produced hundreds and hundreds of bars of soap. I have tried everything from olive oil to lard. I know what essential oils make the best fragrances. I am proud of the soaps I make and have loyal customers that return again and again. This is all because some crazy soap ladies were willing to share that knowledge with me. I will forever be grateful.
Vasek and Brooke
We are thrilled to share our homesteading successes and struggles with you. There's a steep learning curve here and we are ready for the challenges.