Trying to grow mushrooms!

We saw a local park offering a class on mushroom logs and the idea really took hold. We figured it ought to be easy enough and we really like eating them. Mushrooms would be a good addition to the homestead.

The class was good, gave us some good information and then we got our own logs to inoculate with mushroom spore. We learned that hard woods are the best. You drill a hole in and pack the sawdust mushroom spore mixture in it and seal with wax. Then let it sit and grow!

The class gave us shiitake mushrooms for our demo log and we got some oyster mushrooms to try at home.

We ended up using some Bradford Pear logs from a tree that came down in a storm. This isn’t a hard wood tree but the timing was too good to ignore it.

Holes drilled for spore capsules
All filled
Sealed with wax
Stacked on pallets to get air circulation

Unfortunately, we didn’t get mushrooms from any of these logs. We’re not sure if it’s the wrong wood that was used, the wrong wax or maybe even too much wax.

Our demo logs finally did make mushrooms but they were not shiitake. They maybe got too hot or too dried out. I think we’ll try it again eventually but we’ll need to try and really set up an ideal location. Maybe we can try one of the box kits before trying logs again.

Let us know if you’ve had any success growing your own mushrooms, in the comments below. We’d love to hear about what worked or didn’t work for you.

2020 Garden

I think we can all agree 2020 has been an interesting year so far. Lots going on around the world and around the homestead.

We started seeds in February like usual, but did not get them planted until nearly the middle of May. The weather here just stayed wet, and could not till up the garden in the mud.

Then the weekend after we planted, had two nights of historic frost for our area. Looks like we should have waited even longer to get them in the ground. We will certainly keep that in mind for next year.

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We ended up having around 125 plants to cover with pots. We got several of those from a last minute run to a dollar store. Cleaned them out of 31 pots! They’ll get put to use later for transplanting as seeds start to outgrow their starter block.

Our lettuce bed we covered in a tarp as the bed itself is a little set in the ground. Lots of the more tolerant plants just got some hay spread around them.

Most things made it, more than we would have thought. Some decisions had to be made, and some plants did not get the best cover. We have had a few die but that is part of gardening anyway. No one anticipated a frost right before Mother’s Day.

We did not change much in the garden this year. We worked on getting more proficient at what we are already doing. We invested into more of the black fabric we had so much success with last year. This year instead of skipping rows we decided to cover it all and torch holes on where we wanted to plant. Took more time upfront but is already proving to save us time weeding. We even did the corn plot the same way, but a storm the very next night ripped up all the paper. So now its just a wait to see where corn pops up so we can weed around it. No way we could have gotten the paper back down exactly lining the holes up to where we already planted.

One exciting difference this year is we have so much lettuce!

We are pretty sure we can thank the farm cats for that. They are doing a great job of keeping the rodent and rabbit population down.

The only real new things we added this year were some GIGANTIC pumpkins for fun, a new cucumber variety we wanted to try, and eggplant. Oh yeah, and a beet variety. We’re also trying potato and sweet potato again this year.

So far we have had plenty of rain and not enough sunshine but we will see. Hope all of your gardens are doing just as well or better!

Anyone planting anything new this year?

Favorite Dishes from the Garden: Squash

One of the fun things our first few years of growing our own food taught us was how to get creative with meal time.

When you’re looking at your 12th consecutive day of having yellow squash for dinner, you want to spice things up – literally and figuratively!

We’ve got the fried squash down perfectly. In fact, it’s usually requested by the June birthday girl since its the best thing.

Sadly though, we can’t live off fried squash so we started looking at other flavors we liked and tried them with squash.

One of the earliest attempts was squash pickles.

They were a start but not really a meal.

One of us got to craving pizza but this mound of produce kept staring at us. We then had the idea of taking some of the bigger squash and turning them into pizza boats!

This was a great way to use up the larger squash that weren’t as tender as the smaller ones but are still just as delicious. We also cooked these on the grill since it’s just too hot to run the oven in the house.

We took 2 good sized squash and cleaned and prepped them. They were washed, cut in half and the insides scooped out for either the compost pile or chickens.

They were seasoned with salt, pepper, onion and garlic powder, as well as since Italian seasoning, since we’re making pizzas, after all. We drizzled with olive oil and set cut side down on the pre-lit grill over medium heat for about 6 to 7 minutes. Try to avoid any burning at this step. It’s not a yummy taste.

After that, flip the squash over so the skin can cook and so that the pizza toppings can get started. We used some ready made pizza sauce but of course homemade will be just as good. Spoon 2 to 3 spoonfuls then start layering in toppings. Pre-cooked Italian sausage or ground beef , pepperoni slices, basically any protein that you like on a pizza goes great here. Then some veggies. We love mushrooms so those were a given. Peppers, onions, spinach would all be great too. Top with any kind of mild, easy melting cheese like provolone or mozzarella and a little more Italian seasoning. Return to the grill and finish off for about another 4 to 5 minutes or until the squash is fork tender and the toppings are melted and bubbling slightly.

Cool for a couple minutes and then dig in!

We also a squash hamburger bun and even squash “mac and cheese”.

We used our own frozen squash, cut into slices and then halved. They went right into a pot to cook in their own juices from frozen. A little salt and pepper to season.

After the squash had cooked through, we lightly drained it and added a can of cheese soup. Just a splash of milk was used to thin the soup. Not much was needed since there was so much liquid from the squash. From there, we seasoned to taste and were ready to dig in!

The squash mac was in pretty heavy rotation because it is so easy and tastes good too.

Do you have any squash recipes we need to try? Any other twists on a favorite that we missed? Share in the comments and let us know!

2019 wrap up

Little late with the wrap up post on 2019, which is about perfect because 2019 seemed to be the year of being a little late.

Just as with any place there was several successes and failures on the Homestead.

Greenhouse was finished and worked great for the head start on spring planting.

We also got to experiment with putting down black ground cover, which we liked and will be getting more for the future gardens.

Wild rabbits did eat at least 50% of what we planted, but the greenhouse worked.

We started breeding rabbits on the homestead, took it slowly but did successfully raise and process three litters.

Our first group of chicks had zero losses. We bought 3 different breeds and supposedly no roosters. Ended up with entirely different breeds and six roosters. So surprise for us we also got to do our first rooster harvest in 2019.

Bought 6 more chickens to replace the rooster fiasco this time they were all hens, but again not the breed we thought we were purchasing. They lay eggs though, so we are calling it a win.

Also, we started getting eggs!!

We were able to finish the barn and immediately started planning an expansion …. Might get to that this year.

Planted a few more trees and bushes, but to be completely honest we did not take care of the ones we already have. The blackberries were taken over by weeds, the blueberries were all eaten by something. Even had a plum tree that was real dead before we noticed. Strawberries grew, but they did not have much flavor, so they were mostly ignored for the rest of the year.

Berries and orchard have to be more of a priority this year.

Fall garden was non existent. We started some seeds, but it stayed into the high 90s all the way into October, then rained for what seemed like a month. We probably could have still planted, but just got disgusted by it and took the fall off garden wise. We did a small raised area for cabbage and another for carrots.

Land clearing we did not do much. Really just maintaining what we had already cleared. Bandit, the farm dog, uses the brush line as his boundary. We really dont want to get rid of that boundary without the fencing to keep him in. Money was not in the budget in 2019 for what we needed, so nothing additional got cleared.

House building we did a lot more planning, over planning, and then planning it to death. 2020 something tangible has to happen with the house. The trailer is slowly falling apart and still not worth putting any money into fixing.

We will do a future post on plans for 2020 as of now the top 5 are (we know this will probably change several times.)

  1. Start on a house – actually for real get started
  2. Raise more rabbits/ chickens for the freezer.
  3. Add to / take care of orchard.
  4. Barn expansion.
  5. Start nut trees

Hopefully in 2020 we can get more accomplished, which I think that is the goal every year. Still loving the adventure!

What’s something else we could work on for 2020? Let us know what you think! Drop us a comment!

Chicken Coop

For a more permanent house for the chickens, we needed a coop. Looking online there were of course thousands of options. We took parts of what we liked from each and got started.

Built it a little off the ground to help deter predators (the electric netting hopefully is the real defense). Made the floor with one inch hardware cloth to help keep it clean. Winters generally are not bad here in TN but if it gets a real cold snap, hay or even wood planks can easily be put on the bottom.

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The sides and the roof were easy. It is just a box. Made the back where it opens for a bigger cleaning when needed. Put a smaller box out on one side with roof that opens with 3 nesting boxes. As usual they only use one really, but they are there.

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The lid on the top and nesting box is some of the same sheets used for the green house , if you have not seen that post go check it out. This time we went with a darker sheeting but still lets in plenty of light during the day.

Had some paint left over from another project so the coop got painted purple. We like the color and it looks good on the green run area. Not that it stays green long with hungry chickens on it daily. The chickens have not complained about the color, as of yet.

The chickens have been using the coop for months now with no issues. The first group of 12 , 6 ended up as being roosters so it was freezer camp for 5 of them. We got 6 more as replacement. They ended up not being the breed we expected, but they are chickens and lay eggs so it works.

Going to be keeping a laying flock of no more than 12 at a time. They will only be using the coop at night and possibly bad weather, so there is plenty of space for them. They are all about a year old now and still the 12 do not take up even half the space at night.

Here are our first eggs!

We consider the coop a success but there are a few things we would have done different.

  1. The frame itself needs more support, on uneven ground it shifts to the point it is hard to open / close the big back panel
  2. Would build the nesting boxes without the seam at the top , which constantly leaks. Not an issue for effectiveness, but is going to cause an issue with longevity and have to be replaced soon.
  3. Make it more movable. This is something we still will do (open to suggestions!). Moving the coop around the property is not easy as it should be. Debating on wheels, possibly skis on the bottom, but something to make it less of a pain to move.

Any thoughts? Comments? Suggestions? We would love to hear from you!

Bandit the farm dog

The first animal on the farm was Bandit. We got him when he was tiny. He is supposedly a mix between Australian shepherd and Australian cattle dog (blue heeler).

There wasn’t a dog for the first little while on the property because it was too busy getting other things cleaned up first. Growing up, always having dogs, it seemed weird not to have one on our little place. Kept looking online and in papers at dogs and puppies. Even called and asked about a few but they were already gone by the time we would ask.

Then there was Bandit. As soon as we saw his picture we knew he was the one we wanted.

He has been a great addition and the place just wouldn’t be the same without him.

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He trained well and can sit, stay and “leave it” which even works for food placed on the floor. He would rather be outside than inside, and has his own bed room he stays in during the day. His bedroom has an outside door with doggie door that leads to a good size pen as big as the entire back of the trailer.

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Left the pen door open one time after mowing, went to work the next day and he just stayed in the yard (we got lucky there).

He does like to make a mess with some of his toys. Here he is in a before and after with a stuffed hedgehog.

He does ok with the animals we have so far. Very curious, as would be expected but he has not really tried to mess with any of them. Not really sure what will happen when something gets out and starts running. Like most dogs, he gets triggered when something is trying to run away. Still waiting to see what will happen there.

He loves being outside and patrolling the property and he watches out carefully for the kitties.

Barn cats

The first winter on the property was one of the most frustrating times spent there. The place is surrounded by fields .  Although we love the privacy when those are cut back at the start of winter, the mice decide to move to our place.   We could hear them in the walls ,  see their evidence on the counters,  it was just horrible.

With not many fast options, that first year we put out poison.  Poison has its place,  but we prefer not to use it if there are other options.

Meet the other options!

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Callie and Ursa! Callie is named after her coloring, Callie the Calico.  Ursa is named after the bear constellation Ursa Major, because she looks like a “great she-bear”.  They are cousins or half sisters, we’re not sure which.  3 mama cats had litters at the same time and they all were raised together.

Two new additions  are already keeping the porch cleared of flies and crickets that stray too close.  When they are bigger we have no doubt they will wreak havoc on any pests trying to steal our food.

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They get along great with Bandit even if he does step on them often.

 

We are also hoping their presence deters the baby rabbits that love to eat on our garden.  They are very welcomed additions and have been hours of entertainment watching them play.

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We’ve made sure to get them fixed, as well.  We don’t want them to wander off when they go into heat and we don’t want any strays to come up and be a problem, either.  It is for sure the right thing to do.

 

 

Grapes and trellises

Probably something we should have done sooner,  but we finally got some grape trellises set up and some planted our second year in.

There are some muscadines on the property already ,  and we have been eating them and  making jelly from them,  but we wanted more grapes.  So fingers crossed ,in a few years we will have loads of them!

For the trellises we used old cedar posts that we had on the property already.  For what to run between them we looked at the standard wire options,  but with more thought we decided to go with t-posts.  Easy to get,  last forever,  and are actually cheaper than most of the wire/ wire hardware needed to support grapes.  So with some T posts and electrical conduit clasps we had some trellises.  Only hard part was digging the holes  but even that was not to bad.  We managed to plant these right on top of a snake nest too.  Luckily, it was October when we first started the digging and it was only eggs that we found.

We have planted four vines so far.   Two white and two red.  The two white are called Niagara and the two red are Mars.

 

None of them have died yet,  so that is a start! We even have a small handful of grapes on the older Mars variety we planted.  It feels very promising!

 

 

2019 garden updates

Just a quick post on the 2019 garden so far.

The garden woven fabric is working wonderfully so far.  If it holds up through the year and comes up in good condition we will be getting more for sure. See our previous post about it here: 2019 Spring garden .

Rabbits destroyed the rows of lettuce,  spinach, cabbage, broccoli , cauliflower.   They ate what they wanted and are leaving the rest along for now.   We are at war with them at the moment but they are still winning I think.

The plants have gotten to the point that they are outpacing the weeds which saves us some time.  Between the weeds that come up still, the black fabric ,  and the hay bedding from our rabbits that we added to the rows, the soil is keeping its moisture.  It has been very much needed in the hot dry weeks we have had recently.

 

We have already been eating squash,  zucchini , radish, garlic (planted last year) , spinach, peppers.

Our herbs are also rocking and we were able to use them and the garlic with the last of our frozen tomatoes to make an amazing batch of sauce.

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So many great things going on.   Very exciting time of the year.

Speaking of the war on the rabbits – we have recruited some help.  They are small now but once they get some size on them… varmints beware! We’ll share more about Callie the Calico and Ursa the Little Bear, in a future post.

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Blackberries, Strawberries and Blueberries. Oh my

Just a quick post about our berry production on our little homestead.

The first year we planted strawberries and a thornless blackberry.   The second year we added more strawberries,  blackberries ,  and then blueberries. Third year we added more blackberries and blueberries.

We are adding more as we can afford to and also when we can get an area cleared for them.

 

The strawberries were a mix of Alpine,  Ozark,  and probably some others we are forgetting. We tried a white strawberry too, called Pineberry.20190515_181305.jpg

They are planted in a old building foundation with a concrete wall that has fallen down.  It was a defined area that we always try planting things in.   Strawberries are about the only thing that we have found to work there.   We say work but even though we are currently getting lots of strawberries,  we are not getting lots of flavor.   They have all been so bland this year!  Our theories on this are that we have had record level of rains this year effecting the taste  or they do not get enough sunlight.  Or both. There are a few trees surrounding them we are considering cutting down.

Any suggestions from you guys are welcome in the comments!

 

The blackberries are a thorn less variety we like, named Apache . The property is covered in “wild” blackberry plants,  but they do not produce as much due to their thickness and the wild animals get most of them before they are what we consider ripe.

We are planting them on the edge of our young orchard and keep adding as we take back the woods.   They will have plenty of room to expand in the future.   The plants do well for us despite a few bites taken out by deer and rabbits from time to time.    Last year we even got enough to make a cobbler.  I would be fine if we got enough this year to make 20 cobblers.  We might be planting more,  or we might give it a few years to see how far they expand on their own.

Blueberries  we have planted several varieties so far,  mainly because where we buy them from seems to change what they  have every year.   They are all doing a great job despite the light deer grazing,   we have not gotten a significant amount off them yet,  but maybe this year!

 

 

We also have some grapes we have started that we will go over in a future post.  Thinking about maybe doing raspberries.  We are in zone 7b so researching what we could realistically grow here.

What berries are you growing?   What are some of your favorites?  Are we forgetting any that we should get started?   Let us know in the comments !!!