Homestead Headaches

A Post From Digger

I like how the women folk are always rambling on about how enchanting their little homestead is.  Weather it’s half an acre in the burbs, or five hundred in cowboy country, its always the same.  Pretty pictures of flowers, kids playing, home cookin’, and cute baby critters…  Uhg!  Where’s all the mud, dust, blood, sweat, and crappy weather.  Anybody want to know what REALLY keeps a homestead steady?  Attitude!

I’m not saying this to discourage anyone,… not at all; I’m just saying it’s not always peach fuzz and baby giggles… For example; the Queen and Little Chef are always experimenting with new meals prepared from scratch using all natural ingredients.  These ladies know that there are few things finer than a full spread meal that’s been grown and raised on your own land, and most of the time their efforts result in something amazing!  When it’s especially brilliant, I’m always amused by the girls grumblings while they have to wait for mom to take a few pics for the blog before they can eat it.  I try to explain to them that excellence always comes at a cost, but the consolation is always met with a despondent glare that says “Yea,… whatever dad”.  As for me; I’m proud of the accomplishments my ladies make in the kitchen (mostly because I get to eat their achievements!), but once in awhile however,…  Well,… let’s just say that not every experiment is blog worthy.  I would like to elaborate more on the specific details concerning some of the failed experiments in the kitchen (they always sound dramatic), but I rarely understand what they’re talking about.

DSCN8992 (459x640)Where the kitchen is Grace and Little Chef’s domain, Jo and I spend allot of time in the shop.  I suppose I should say that Jo spends most of her time outside, and the shop is the next best thing when the weather turns lousy.  When she’s not reading a book, (usually outdoors at the risk of moms’ admonishment) she’s out there building something.  It’s like an addiction for her, and I can genuinely appreciate that.  Since diapers she’s been manipulating whatever materials she can get her hands on into whatever her mind can conjure.  For the most part I’ve always encouraged this ambition, but when she gets into the stocks of materials I need for work and drags them to all corners of the property to build a…  a…  well,… whatever it is she feels compelled to build right then, I have to reign her in.

The other day Jo came through the shop and left with one of my small hand saws.  At the time I was a little distracted helping Uncle Chris put a new timing belt in his pickup.  (By helping I mean leaning on the fender and sharing words of encouragement, like: “I think you’re insane for trying to attempt this on your own.  You sure you know what you’re doing?”  You know,… big brotherly advice.  And by the way; thank you youtube!)  Anyway,… as I watched Jo depart with my saw I thought, “wait a minute…” and followed her.  I found her with several pieces of one inch pvc pipe I keep stockpiled in the barn. (She had in her possession many more short pieces than I’d remembered having)  She was busy cutting a piece off when I asked her what she was doing.  “I’m making an automatic dog food dispenser.” (Feeding the dogs is one of the chores she shares with Little Chef) She said this as she lifted the piece up to her eye to peer through it.  “I’m not sure it’ll work tho’, it might be too small.”  I kept my composure long enough to remind her that she needs to ask me before robbing materials from the barn.  Yea,…  It was a little disappointing for her, but this particular girls’ attitude is rarely defeated, so after returning the supplies as I’d asked she moved on to her next project full stride!  Something about the “cat crusaders” (her club) needing a new, secret meeting place I think. (I didn’t want to know what that might entail, so I didn’t ask…)

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Notice the piece of one inch pipe at their feet.

I suspect Jo sets a better example in regards to attitude than most of us.  Setbacks happen all the time, but are usually a minor thing we quickly move on from a little wiser.  On occasion however, the good Lord seems compelled to remind us of what genuine humility is all about.  A couple of years ago Grace decided she wanted her garden to be even bigger (Have you seen her garden?!).  It was already put near 4,000 square feet, but I didn’t complain while I extended it another 20′ to the east, and full length north to south.  This addition roughly added another 2,000.  Now,… take a moment to consider just how big your house is.  I remember way back when I was a little shaver what my Ma would say every time she’d finish with the vacuum cleaner,… “I’m so glad we can’t afford a bigger house!”  She’d let out a tired sigh as she wiped sweat from her brow, (sorry Ma, I meant perspiration) and share her views on how silly it is for rich people to hire servants to maintain a ridiculously vast and expensive home.  This concept kinda stuck with me all these years, and while I was tilling the ground far beyond the original footprint of our garden it was on my mind.  I gave some thought to the countless hours we (Okay, mostly Grace) spent on hands and knees pulling weeds last year.  Where few would care to vacuum 6,000 square feet of carpet, try to imagine weeding that much area!  The point and purpose of all this extra space was to provide a greater surplus of vegetables for canning.  I get that,… but since this expansion, the only thing Grace managed to can was green beans.  ALLOT of green beans…  Guess which vegetable of all the vegetables we could ever possibly grow in the garden do I care the least for?  Yup!  Green beans!!!

DSCN7294 (640x480)Oh well,… I really can’t say much.  Once the irrigation is installed, Grace pretty much takes over maintenance of the garden.  I do have to admit tho’; her diligence this year paid off. (that is to say, she worked her butt off!)  That was until the late spring rains came…  Right up until that point Grace had somehow managed to single-handedly conquer most of the weeds across this generous space, and just a few more days of battle would have enabled the “Queen” to declare ultimate supremacy over the land (well,… this bit of it anyway).  I should share some things to consider right about now concerning the value such an arduous conquest would have ordinarily meant.  We drip irrigate the rows on 4′ centers allowing us to easily measure and offset each row to ground that had rested the year before.  It also gives us more room to weed and harvest, and it usually saves allot of water (we were plagued with irrigation failures this year).  Another great advantage to this system is that MOST years, once the moisture comes out of the ground the weeds don’t come back between the rows.  We typically just don’t see enough rain again until late fall.  You can imagine her dismay when after nearly two weeks of unexpected showers her whole garden turned green with weed sprouts (making all that effort lost and pointless…)  Grace bravely redoubled her commitment to purge this particular piece of land from the invasive onslaught of subversive flora as long as she could, but ultimately the allergies she always suffers this late in the season finally won out. (I’m thinking hydroponics may be the way to go, or better yet, aquaponics!  Yea,… I like fish.)

To add insult to injury, the area I’d extended the garden into wound up primarily dedicated to melons, squash and gourds, but nothing grew!  I don’t mean that the harvest was slight, I mean there was no harvest!  The plants were lanky, yellow, and in most cases didn’t even grow beyond the noon shadow of a goat.  By late July we knew something was very wrong, (even the weeds struggled) but it took a few more weeks for me to remember what I’d done… (Yup… My fault.)  Oh c’mon!  If the ground had looked any different from the rest of the garden when I tilled it, it might have occurred to me then; but it looked great! (it still had moisture)  As I stood there thinking about what might possibly be the problem, I remembered the go-kart track (Picture a small light bulb briefly illuminating over my head, replaced shortly by a dark storm cloud as I realized what an idiot I am).  Years ago I’d stripped the topsoil off this area with a dozer when I was building our first go-kart track. (For the boy’s,… of course.)  I’d completely forgotten!  Yea,…  Ooops!

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This is me and big brother racing over the ground that is now the melon patch.

Things tend not to grow so well in subsoil even if it does look good.  I’ve been cooking down a large pile of old hay bales into compost all summer, and I’ll till it into the new garden space next spring.  That should help…

DSCN9593 (640x480)By chance the potato bin I built wound up on this same piece of ground as well.  Given that the bin was filled with good soil mixed with red sand a few inches at a time over several weeks excludes the poor soil from the lousy ‘tater harvest in this case.  Even our best soil is still pretty heavy with clay, so despite the liberal application of sand (well over 50%) the lower half of the bin stayed too wet.  Another disappointment, but another lesson learned.  Next year we’ll use straw with a bit of cured compost, and raise the bin off the ground enough to let it drain better.  That should help.  The ground we’ve expanded into (the old go-kart track) should improve greatly with liberal amounts of compost tilled in, and I’m also planning on a much improved irrigation system for the whole works.

Yea, we’ve had some setbacks over the years, but despite all the headaches our accomplishments far outweigh the disappointments.  Too often the difference between lost time and effort vs. education is attitude.  Personally, I’d rather spend a few days every year learning the wrong way to do a thing than spend the thousands it would take to have some professor tell me how to do it their way…  How about you?

Jade - Garden
In the end it’s all worth it!

This post was shared at: From The Farm Blog HopFrugal Days Sustainable WaysSimple Saturdays Blog HopClever Chicks Blog HopHomestead Barn HopThe Backyard Farming ConnectionTuesdays With a TwistThe HomeAcre Hop

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8 thoughts on “Homestead Headaches

  1. If only city residing folks understood the shift in your schedule or sacrifice of sleep (depending on what time of day) you gave to putting this post together. Thank you so very, very much.

    1. Thanks Teresa. This one took a couple of months to finish a bit at a time, (can’t sleep, lousy weather, no work, etc…) but I really like that you can appreciate the effort it takes to produce something that others will hopefully find post worthy.

  2. You might want to look into hugelkulture beds. You will need less irrigation that way, and the decaying wood and nitrogen materials at the bottom of the bed will help feed what’s in the bed as well. More work in the short run, but much less work in the long run.

    1. This is the first time I’ve heard the word hugelkulture. I am aware of the practice however; given that I spent three years in the olympic panisula where rotting deadfall and excessive moisture (gross rainfall) was simply something to work around. (I produced some fine compost in that enviornment). Where I live now, however, has little opportunity for attaining any wood debris for compost. The next best bet I can achieve is old rotting hay bales. Thanks alot for the comment.

  3. Growing up on a farm myself I understand all the work and different jobs there is to do, from gardening, fixing fences, and the importance of doing things the way that works best for you. It does take trial and error but you have the gained knowledge for the future. Thanks for sharing. Visiting from Tuesdays with a Twist Blog Hop.

    1. Thanks for the comment Marla. The fixation on all the things that we think need done can overwhelm us. Failed attempts at moving forward can be such major setbacks that some feel compelled to give up. I would very much like to encourage folks that appreciate a more independent lifestyle to march on in persuet of their ideal way of life.

  4. You know, attitude really, truly is the key. Some days, it’s so easy to see the learning that comes from mistakes, and others, all you can see is the failure.

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