First Egg!

An exciting day on the homestead! Yesterday I put in nesting boxes for my hens, and this morning I noticed that someone had re-arranged the straw bedding into a little nest. Since I didn’t see an egg then, I closed the box back up and let them be. This afternoon, though, I checked again and found one little brown egg in the straw.

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I built four nesting boxes from leftover plywood, which should be enough for my 11 girls. Since I wasn’t sure what the best size was, I made them one cubic foot each. This is big enough for the hens to get in easily, but tight enough for them to feel secure. The box is built onto the wall of the coop, so I don’t have to disturb the birds by opening the door to collect my eggs.

The top board lifts off to give me access without having to disturb the birds too much.

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See the egg! Second box from the right.

Of course, this egg was not saved for later. We fried it sunny-side up, with just a little salt. So much more flavor than store bought, although it is a bit smaller, at 1 ounce. I gather that they will get bigger as the hens mature.

In other news, we butchered all but two of the roosters. I will be writing about that in the next week or so.

~The Homesteading Hippy

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Leaves on the Homestead

I love mulch. Not the red piney stuff that stinks to high heaven when it rains, but the natural layer of leaves and twigs that is provided year-round by our trees. Some people believe that the leaves are a gift to us from the trees. I think that one plant’s trash is another man’s treasure, and I recycle the plant’s waste. Whichever way you choose to look at it, leaves are very useful to have around. If you bag and discard your leaves, you may want to stop and pay attention.

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Yardlong Beans

Maybe I cheated a little. This photo should be familiar to every fisherman since the invention of the camera. While not truly a yard in length, these beans are still huge compared to my Old Homestead and Rattlesnake beans. They are Vigna unguiculata sesquipedalis, the yardlong bean. Also known as snake beans or asparagus beans, this south Asian crop is actually a variety of cowpea, closely related to our black-eyed peas, and is not even in the same genus as our green beans. Continue reading

Cleaning with Dirt

Chickens are weird. It works for them, though. Here, the little goofs are cleaning themselves with dirt. After two wet days, the weather cleared and we got a nice spot of sunny weather, as is typical for Florida in May. I decided to let the chicks do some “practice ranging,” where I put up a temporary fence and let them experience grass. This allows me to learn to trust that they won’t all scatter and disappear when I finally free-range, and it allows me to teach the chicks to come when I call them.

They immediately found a dry sandy spot and began to dust-bathe, which I assume they haven’t done in a few days since their run is still soggy from all the rain. The dust helps them to remove mites and other parasites, as well as clearing excess oils off the feathers ahead of preening.

~The Homesteading Hippy

Fast-Growing Fruits

So I take great pride in my bananas. Yes, my wife points out that I don’t even like bananas. Yes, I probably don’t deserve to be proud because the trees are doing all the work. Yes, I don’t actually have bananas yet, just rapidly growing flowers. I can still be proud.

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Welcome to the Coop

Last time, I showed you my vegetable garden, and mentioned that I would use chickens as a pest control strategy. At this point, said chickens are still small fluffy things, although they are growing rapidly. Let’s go into some of the reasons I wanted chickens before I go too far into what I’ve done so far.

    • Yes, I plan on eating them, at least the roosters. My wife and I don’t eat much meat, and most of what we do eat is chicken. I think it’s important to take responsibility for our meat whenever possible, the same reason that I took up hunting in Arizona. By raising my own birds, I can make sure they are treated as humanely as possible, a guarantee I cannot make when I buy a pack of drumsticks at the store.

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      One of our little roosters at 7 weeks old. They grow so fast.

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Welcome to the Garden

Last week I told you that my first homesteading step at our new home was to put in a vegetable garden. This time I’d like to go into more detail regarding what I’m doing, as well as the usual assortment of how’s and why’s. We live in zone 9b in central Florida, which means that I’ve had to shake up my knowledge of gardening a little bit to make this work. The winters here are very mild, with only a slight chance of frost in December, January, and February. In the last two winters there had been no frost here at all, and we had only two frosts this winter. This means that most vegetables do great here all winter long, and others need only a little frost protection. On the other hand, the summers here are brutal. The temperatures don’t rise as high as some parts of the country, but from May to October the average high is above 88 degrees Fahrenheit, and in this period we we also switch from bone-dry to steam oven, with nothing in between. So, most folks here garden from September to April.

The other thing for me to get used to is the soil, or lack thereof. The ground here is sand, and dries out very quickly if I’m not careful. Both of these issues, along with the fact that I’m not home much to weed or water, have shaped the way I plan to do my gardening here. I’ve borrowed strategies from the organic and permaculture folks, as well as local conventional agricultural practices, to build my garden.

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Welcome to the Homestead

Well… It’s finally happened. It’s hard to call yourself the Homesteading Hippy without a homestead, especially while living in an apartment or a friend’s spare bedroom. It’s hard, even when you rent enough space to make a garden, when you move every other year. Last fall, my wife and I made the step into homeownership, buying a place of our own. Now, I can finally get homesteading for real! All my practice runs, which some of you have followed over the years, can finally be put to proper use. Let me give you a tour.

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This is our house. It’s cute, isn’t it?

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Pleco for Lunch

It’s been a while since my last post, and a lot has happened in that time. First of all, I moved again, this time to Tampa, Florida. I went to college in Saint Petersburg, just across the bay from here, so this is somewhat like coming home for me. Yesterday, I had an experience that I felt was worthy of my first blog post in a long, long time.

As you may know, Florida is just packed with invasive animals and plants from all over the world. Some of them are not so bad, living out their lives without doing too much damage. Others, like the pythons, snakeheads, and Brazilian pepper trees either consume or out-compete native species. Yesterday, I was fishing in one of the lakes near my house and while fishing for bait with a net I brought in this marvelous looking non-native fish. Continue reading

Sauerkraut with my Mom

I love sauerkraut. Besides its delicious taste and many health benefits, it is also, in a way, the reason that I began this blog.

It all started several years ago, when I was not working and bored out of my skull. In an effort to be productive, I started making some of my own food. I baked some bread, and posted the effort on my social media. I caught and cooked fish, and shared that. Then I made sauerkraut.

This involved a lot of explanation and photos, and by the time I was done, I had a small story posted on my social media page. I decided then that a blog would be a better platform for sharing my adventures, so I started writing longer stories, with more pictures, and The Homesteading Hippy was born.

Fast forward a few years, and I may be neglecting my blogging duties, but my adventures continue.

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I would like to interject here with a shout-out to the grandfather of modern sauerkraut, Genghis Kahn of Mongolia. Besides possibly being a direct ancestor to one out of every twenty of us in the world (more like one in ten in Europe), he is also responsible for a major culinary tradition. While people have been fermenting vegetables for a long time, Sauerkraut the way we think of it today was unheard of in Europe until dear Genghis, according to one form of the story, introduced it from Asia, where it had originally been invented in China.

During a recent visit to my parents, who inspired my interest in home-grown food (see their beekeeping blog here), my mother and I decided to make sauerkraut. She had received a fermentation jar with an airlock, and the first batch of sauerkraut had turned out wonderfully. But, as it had run out some time back, it was time to make more. We tried a slightly more advanced recipe this time, using a German-inspired recipe.

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It turns out that while Sauerkraut is loved throughout northern and eastern Europe, as well as parts of Asia, each region has its own traditional recipes. In eastern Europe, for example, they make a slightly sweeter variant that also includes shredded carrots. In Korea, there is kimchi (a whole other monster; I love it, but it’s not for everyone). In Germany, one of the local ingredients is juniper berry.

Off we went to the local health food store, bought a cabbage and a few tablespoons of juniper and carraway, and went to work.

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We first mixed the spices with a rather large amount of salt. For five pounds of cabbage, we used 1/3 cup salt, a tablespoon of juniper berries, and ½ tablespoon of carraway seeds. As I have mentioned in previous posts, salt creates an environment in which the only organisms that can thrive are the lactic acid bacteria that we want. They will ferment the cabbage and pickle it into sauerkraut

Next, we shredded the cabbage. During my first attempt, I did it all by hand using a knife, but we saved some time by using the grater attachment on a food processor. Into the fermentation jar went a layer of cabbage, followed by a generous sprinkling of salt and spices, and then more cabbage, etc. Each layer was firmly pushed down to the bottom of the jar.

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Once all the cabbage was in, we sealed the jar and waited. Sauerkraut has an important waiting step right in the beginning. During the fermentation process, it is important that the cabbage is submerged in liquid. This liquid is mostly released from the cabbage itself, drawn out by the salt to create a brine solution. Depending on the cabbage used, this is often enough liquid to completely submerge the cabbage.

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In our case, the cabbage was a bit dry, so we had to add a little brine, made by mixing 1 ½ tablespoons of salt with a quart of water, and add that until the cabbage was fully submerged. To keep it from floating, we added zip-lock bags filled with water on top of the cabbage.

At this point, all that is left to do is wait several months for the sauerkraut to mature!

~The Homesteading Hippy