Saturday, June 29, 2013

To Make a Garden make a garden is to come home
                                            Robert Cording

Monday, June 24, 2013

Playing With Video!

I have no idea how to make videos of the pictures we've taken, but I figured there had to be something free out there.  I love for photo editing, because it's easy to learn and most of the options are free.  I just tried some recent pics at and have yet to get my sea legs, but it's a fun first try!

Try our video maker at Animoto.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Helping Another Homesteader

I posted a really quick link to this story earlier in the week but lacked the time to give it the space it deserved.  Thank you to all who read about it and responded with help!

Here is the blog of mmpaints of Self Sustained Living, and here is the crowd funding page with a detailed description of her situation, the challenges before her, her business plan and the specifics necessary to launch her over the hump of a really bad situation.  If you visit the page, you can see there has been an enthusiastic response and there is still a lot of room to lend a neighborly hand.  We're all farther apart than the days of the old barn raisings, but thanks to the internet it's not too far anymore to help across the miles.

Thank you for any help you can give, and all encouragement!  And thank you to all who already have expressed your support!

Robbyn and Jack

Replanting Ditch in Progress

The view from the truck, during downpour.  Chaya cuttings await transplanting

And now for some rainy day fun!  We're planting what Jack is now referring to as our butterfly buffet!

Jack cut a bunch of cuttings from one of the chaya plants and we schlepped those and some sale hibiscus to the newly bare ditch out on the land.  And I had a quart size ziploc bag with ALL the flower and herb seeds ferreted away for the past ten years that I recently found in a closet.  I don't know if a single one is viable, but surely out of that many at least a few will show!

Robbyn abhors a void...
 The bare dirt will surely be regrown in no time, what with all this rain, even if we don't plant anything there.  But
natureRobbyn hates a void :-)

It appears we have to grab our land time when we can get it between showers these days.  It can be raining on one side of the road and be sunny and dry on the other.  And, like today, it can be pouring for 30 minutes and be clear the next 30.  So we packed our work clothes and a bunch of towels for some fun roadside planting.  There are natives among the seed mixes we sowed, and there are plenty of non-natives.  None of the seeds are listed among invasives, and most are edible, medicinal, or nectary.  Let's see if anything appears!
Jack's handiwork...future butterfly buffet in the making!

It sounds silly to some, to intersperse this play time with work like this, but I've waited for SOOO LONGGG for this time to be here, and I'm enjoying it so very very much!!!  I've moved over 20 times in my life so far and never have I been able to put down roots ... whatever I planted was known to be temporary...ultimately for somebody else.  Not so these!  So I've gone a little nuts. :)

At this point, chaya cuttings and hibiscus with multiple herb and flower/native seeds sown throughout

Closeup.  Chaya cuttings planted about a foot deep using post hole digger.  They are the longer, sprawling plants

Tomorrow we hope to continue with some more serious work.  And yet, somehow some extra plants have already made their way into the back of the truck, awaiting transplanting.  Somehow some bargain agapanthus from Home Depot found their way back there (la la lahhhh!) ;-)

The original grandmama chaya from which all subsequent plants have been cut and grown.  This is its mature form, a butterfly magnet!

What they look like when mature

Gulf of the most frequent chaya visitors

What's growing in your rainy days?

(A very happy Robbyn :-))

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

SOS -- Help Needed for Homesteader

I just got home and read this over at Phelan's blog.  It pertains to surviving domestic abuse and helping a neighbor in need.

Domestic violence was a hidden reality in my childhood, as it is in many folks' lives. 

I just arrived home tonight, so I'll defer to Phelan's page and the details there about the situation.  There are links there to follow further.  If you feel so inclined, this would be a crucial moment in the life of a kindred homesteader to help and really make a difference.

Thank you!

Robbyn and Jack

Monday, June 17, 2013

Basic Heat Survivors

Stinging variety of Chaya

I want to take each one of these separately and do individual posts.  Today, there's just a list of what has worked for us so far, and ones we've heard good things about but never tried yet.

The ones that endure the most punishing heat so far, and have food uses:

1.  Chaya, aka chayamansa, aka Mexican Chaya or Mexican Spinach Tree:  These are propagated by cutting a section and sticking it in the ground, watering it in and watching it go!  Leaves are harvested with gloves unless you have the unprickly variety (meaning non-stinging.  The stings are similar to stinging nettles).  We PREFER the wilder variety with the stinging leaves.  These turn out to be bushes nearly 8 feet tall by the end of our season, die back in the winter, come back in the spring from the roots.  A nectary plant for Gulf Fritillaries and some other kinds of butterflies.  Leaves must be boiled in order to eat to neutralize their initial cyanic compounds.  We find them an agreeable green with a neutral taste, best cut into thin strips before cooking, removing stems.  They are HIGHLY nutritious and I believe I remember some mention that they are one of the only plants with some of the nutrition usually only found in meat protein. (See? I'll have to go dig up the stats again)

Moringa, before coppicing again

2.  Moringa oleifera.  These grow like weeds once started and Jack propagates them from (I forget the formal term) limb cutting stuck right into the ground.  When they reach no more than 4 feet (or, for us, two feet) they can be easily cut as a coppice crop.  The new sprouts keep on coming and are especially good at this stage.  We will soon try a suggestion to use the actual sprouts as an asparagus-like substitute.  The leaves at this stage lack the hard stems that with more mature limbs end up being needle-like when dried.  The leaves are a magnificent nutrient source.  We have yet to enjoy the flavor.  It is peppery and green, so a little goes a long way.  One of the best uses we have for this is to cut the fronds as mulch around other plants, due to its high fertility-adding in fertilizer.  It is also said to be an excellent animal forage and we've seen chickens take readily to the cut branches, with gusto.  Somewhere I read grazing animals can be fed it as supplemental forage and huge vitamin booster, some up to 50% total feed, if introduced gradually.  We intend to use it for a several-cuttings-per-season forage in areas that don't naturally support much grazing, and we will use it prodigiously as a very soft wood to keep running through a wood chipper for a natural fertilizing wood chip mulch (differing degrees of size and fineness) when we one day get a wood chipper.  That, and for supplementing livestock feed for healthy and vigorous animals.  And for making a daily green tea for our own use.

3.  Honeysuckle, japanese:   It can be invasive, but I do want a patch for medicine making.  This one deserves its own post, too!

4.  Canna lilies:  I've found repeated mention of using the blossoms in salads and the rhizomes as a baked starch.  With the low places available to grow them and the beauty they add, they are worth a try

Almost spineless Nopal Cactus

5.  Nopal cactus:  We have a nearly needle-free variety given to us a few years back from a former client who wanted hers moved away for more garden space.  After removing the fine glochids by scraping with a knife, these are edible and medicinal.  And so easy to grow you just plant and forget them.

6.  Gynura procumbens:  This is our blood glucose friend, purported to have a similar effect on blood sugar as the medicine such as Metformin.  It's a hardy warm weather trailing plant with slightly fuzzy leaves.  The flavor is not unpleasant, it is mild and green, but slightly fuzzy.  I know a man who eats 12 leaves a day for his blood sugar control.  I find very little western research on this plant but it is a traditional plant to keep as a potherb in the East and to include in salads fresh.  We like ours and would like to explore its potential more.  It grows easily behind and under bushes and in pots kept in a sheltered place under a bush or tree.  Ours overwinter by a doorway and come back with a burst in the warm weather.

7.  Sweet potatoes:  Edible root and leaves.  We have yet to try the  young leaves but they were eaten, and still are, by southerners in the US pre-twentieth century and by other cultures worldwide as a highly nutritious green.  We have not grown sweet potatoes here yet but it will be one of our first farm plantings, for the potato and the greens.

8.  Calabaza, tropical pumpkin, winter squash:  This is our hot weather variety of winter squash.  We still have three left from our harvest from one single seed that sprouted in a compost area, left untended and weedy.  It not only survives neglect every year (we throw a few seeds into the same place each year and one or two always sprout) but it resists borers, vigorously vines through weed and up trees if left to do so, and in the early fall we walk through with a mower, mowing the bermuda right up to the vines and picking up full grown pumpkins till there is a big wheelbarrow full.  I think we got about thirty off one plant last year with no more effort than that, and they cook up silky and mildly sweet, yum!  I can't believe I was an adult before I learned the greatness of winter squash/pumpkin.  This market stall (hispanic) variety seems to fit the bill here.  We will definitely increase our uses of this on the farm.

9.  Okra.  Takes a lickin' and keeps on tickin'.  And is delicious.  Very heat tolerant.

10.  Cowpeas:  Purple hull peas, or any other favorite regional variety.  They are delicious, store dried well, are good forage for grazing animals, and the young leaves are my FAVORITE cooked green, LOADED with nutrition!  They rock the heat and can be tilled back into the ground for fertility.  We WILL be planting these on the farm.  One of my favorite memories of home garden food growing up, when paired with fresh homegrown tomatoes, yellow squash with onions, and cornbread...yum!

This is a good starter list.  Do you know of anything that might be added to the list? We're open to all of it...edible "weeds," unexpected favorites, survival plants, plants otherwise unknown to the western markets as edible but known to be staples in other cultures...we're interested in them all.

David the Good has a good list to peruse over at his Florida Survival Gardening Blog.

In Florida the summer season has come to be a non-planting or growing season in modern times due to the heat and vagaries of either drought or monsoon.  We plan to vary things a bit to still have productive summers.  We're new to this but plenty of others are leading the way, and we love gleaning from their expertise.

What are your hardiest go-to plants...and what are unexpected favorites in your own patch of dirt??

Friday, June 14, 2013

Small Observation

This is just a quick aside.

I marvel that the friends I've made here and people I have never met are the ones most likely to read this blog.  My relatives and lifelong friends who live elsewhere but have known me the longest in person rarely, if ever, come here to read what's close to our hearts and what our interests are.

Not sure that means anything, but I find it ironic nonetheless  :-)

Musing the idiosyncracies of life...and now it is shabbat.

Shabbat shalom, one and all!

On Culverts and The Twists and Turns of Gift-Giving

Remember the O. Henry story The Gift of the Magi? (spoiler, turn your head if you haven't)  Remember where the young couple wants to give something meaningful to each other ...I think she wanted to give him a watch chain for his heirloom pocket watch and he wanted to give her a beautiful decorative comb for her long, lovely she sold her hair to afford the watch chain and he sold his watch to afford her hair comb?

Well, gifts have a way of making you appreciate the giver and smiling a bit over the exact circumstances of the gift itself.  Right?  This gift of the culvert kind of...backfired.  Sort of.  With the best of intentions.  You'll see...

Here is a picture of the front of the property before we began clearing the perimeter:

That's about how it looked for 330 feet along the roadside.  Not much in the eyes of the average passerby, but a DELIGHT to us.  Here are a few things we found to love as the seasons changed in our ditch...

Beautyberry bushes
Coastalplain palafox
Bidens alba



Plumegrass closeup

Let's refer to those as the Before pictures.

I've been saving up for our next project, the culvert, since we had the perimeter partially cleared.  Saving has been a slow process because in the spring, I'm not sure how, but I injured one of my knees and was unable to walk for a time, and recovery has been slow and incomplete.  It requires surgery we can't do at this time or in the foreseeable near future.

This necessarily caused my work days to be cut completely for a while, and then slowly to pick up again, working from one day a week to three, presently.  That is all it can take without going into an acute phase wherein I'm sidelined to keeping  my knee elevated and immobile days at a time.  So saving has been slowwww...and very deliberate.

We had planned to be much further ahead with the land progress than we are now, but here we are and Jack's birthday was looming.  A comparison of DIY equipment rental versus a local farm neighbor who gave us a bid resulted in deciding the neighbor was the more dependable option.  So I started saving towards fulfilling the amount needed when I saw the quote.

Car repairs hit.  And hit again.  And a household plumbing issue arose.  And more car repairs.

I get very morose any more when our aged cars require anything needing a price tag of 4 figures, much less 3.  I definitely had my morose moments, especially during the times I was both unable to work AND watching the repair bills mount.

Did I mention I had morose moments??  (insert several arrrggggghhhhhhss here, and a few too many slices of Edwards Lemon Meringue pie)

Anyway, I plotted for our next get the culvert installed across our ditch.  So many other projects depended on being able to get machinery up onto the property that this one became the most important.  In the meantime, we achieved smaller goals by one by one putting up the front corner posts.  Jack did most of the actual work, my knee and I did most of the cheering on and picture taking...

I saved and saved and PRAYED, and a couple we're friends with got in on the secret plotting.  They put some birthday money for Jack towards the Culvert Fund.

I called the neighbor, lined up the right timing for his buying the materials, and gave him the $$ for the materials as downpayment.  I was SO excited!!!  Jack had no idea what was afoot.

I'll fast forward...this week was his birthday and on Thursday he and I drove out to the farm.  I had told him a couple days beforehand what was going on, and he was thrilled!  We drove through torrents of monsoon to get out there, and there was a brief break in the storm enough to see the work that had been done.

The culvert had been put in!!!!  (the angels were singing)

Jack looking over his NEW CULVERT, baby!!
The new culvert was in!!!!  This is a great day for us!!!!

Here is the view standing on the new entrance.  Do you see any difference between this ditch view and the older ones?

View of ditch from new entrance

Well the main difference is that we can SEE the ditch now.  And...well, GULP...

The new view of the roadside


It was ALL gone.  All 330 feet of naturalized native scrub was...completely razed to the ground.

We saw this heading our way...

We felt the rain start its initial spitting, so all we had time to do was take a good look at the culvert and get the truck turned around.  The roads are subject to flooding, so we had to "git."

The fill dirt will have to pack down with the rain and some dry periods and we'll add more of this and that to it to smooth it out and add more inches.

Lone Survivor

On our way back down the road, we passed our neighbor's relative and passed her the check through the window, wrapped in an old towel so it would not disintegrate in the POURING rainstorm, and then made our way back home.

Upon reaching home we called to confirm the neighbor received final payment, and Jack chatted with him to let him know we'd briefly been able to look at the work he had done, and to thank him.  He told Jack happy birthday and that he had not only done the culvert but ....had cleared the entire roadway to the ditch while he was there with his equipment for free as a gift to Jack for his birthday!

That was yesterday.  It was not until today that we even discussed it.  I said..."about the ditch..."  and we both sat there a few seconds and then Jack said "yeah, I know, I feel exactly the same way."   More quiet until he said "You're suffering."  We smiled and laughed and groaned.  More quiet.  "Those bushes and wildflowers, the....the beautyberries and all the wildflowers I was just learning the names of..."  "I know," he said.  "I know..."

"That was so sweet of the neighbor..he didn't know..."

"You're suffering..."

We laughed a bittersweet laugh.

It's not everyone in our neck of the woods who see weeds and scrub bushes and gets warm fuzzies.  Most of the farms and ranchettes out that way have clear cut their properties, put horses on them, sowed grass seed for grazing and reduced the wild plants to next to zero.  We'll probably be the weird ones even way out there.  We've said the phrase "to grow herbs and native plants" to several locals who asked us what we planned to do with the property, and we couldn't get past their guffaws at the term "herbs" and their stories of the sheriff's latest hauls of contraband marijuana.

We're growing a Florida tweaked version of a food forest, or at least that's the plan, and we wanted to keep our wild things intact to a great degree.

So.....we look at the culvert and the clear cut roadway and...well, we smile.  We gained a neighbor.  And we'll sow seeds there and nature will be fast in reclaiming that space.  But we'll miss all those mature shrubs and native plants that won't be there for many years.


WE HAVE THE CULVERT...YAYYYY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Happy Birthday to my beloved Jack!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Sunday, June 2, 2013

Something Beautiful

I've had Katherine Dunn's Apifera Farm blog link on my page for years now and find her art personal and whimsical and...well...a touchpoint to something childlike and of a depth I hope not to forget, the freedom to BE.

I was so moved by the writing at her recent 2nd blog, written as she walks through the loss of her mother.

I'm no stranger to loss, and in this past year alone 2 of my friends have died.  Other losses are past, and ongoing.  They are part of my fabric -- a  reminder of the worth of  individual moments and friends who people the canvas of my life.  The way in which Katherine expresses her grief really moved me, and I read straight through the blog.  I found it to be completely beautiful.

I love that she gives herself permission to have the TIME to grieve in this way, in an ever-shifting world she moves within and crafts with beauty and deliberation.

Maybe you'll like to read it, too...

Quiet Little Sack of Sadness

Thank you, Katherine, for sharing this personal journey.