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Michigan, United States

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Black Thumb

As I stated earlier the garden didn't quite turn out like we had hoped it would. Although it seemed like it was gonna grow out of control it faded rapidly and we lost a lot of crops. I'm mystified by most of it, but we were able to figure some things out.

The big loss was our tomatoes! At one point the plants were huge and we had lots of green tomatoes and that's when the tomato bugs moved in. They didn't seem like to much of a problem though. We would just pick them off (although they are well camouflaged and hard to spot) and smash them on a rock. However, just as the tomatoes began turning red I started to notice the leaves wilting and white speckles on the ground around the plants. I thought this white stuff was tomato bug droppings and so we increased our efforts to destroy the ugly little creatures. Yet, no matter how many we got rid of the plants still looked sickly. Before long the tomatoes started to develop nasty brown spots on them and became mushy. at this point we had lost the crop but didn't quite know why.


After some research and talking with other gardening folks we came to the conclusion that our tomatoes had been hit by Blight. Not positive about that or how they contracted it, but by next season I hope to know for sure. All and all, Melissa was able to harvest some cherry tomatoes for salads and such, but our big canning dreams had to be canned.

Our corn, having survived an early deer ambush, did produce fairly well. I'm not sure exactly how many ears we harvested, but the ears were small. They tasted good and we froze about a dozen of them but i was pretty disappointed in their overall size. I think I need to plant more corn next year.

Cucumbers did well and we canned a lot of pickles and we ate a ton in our salads. no real complaint here, although next year we want to plant more....we really loved those pickles!

The Squash plants grew like mad, but just like the corn, the squash were stunted and never matured into anything edible. I did learn that I planted too many and had they ripened we probable would have had more than we needed.

Onions were good for the most part, but we never got any large ones...they just wouldn't grow. I even bent all of the plants over as I heard this would promote the onions growth. it did a little but mostly we just had small bulbs.

Radishes did fine, at least the ones that grew which were only a handful. Again not sure what happened here. Can't figure out why most just seemed to die.

The potatoes were also a big disappointment, but I think I'm to blame. First of all I think I planted a few weeks to late, and second, I didn't buy seed potatoes. I just took ones we had that had sprouted eyes...cut them into smaller pieces and buried them. We did harvest some but not nearly enough; maybe 10 pounds but that is being generous.

The green peppers did well I thought, we just didn't plant enough. Again, we'll be putting more in the garden next year.

Pole beans...didn't do so well after the deer attack. We did manage to get a few handfuls but we had lost most of the plants to the deer.

The watermelon never matured, but I think that was partly due to planting them to late. The plants grew good, but the melons never matured....same as the squash.

So that's the short of it, but I do think I learned a little from the experience.

1: My soil isn't that great. I have heard that I can get it tested to see what it is lacking and I definitely need to get that done. However, i didn't want to have to buy a bunch of stuff to add to the soil, but I may not have a choice.

2: Protect against deer and other animals early on. The stuff I did do worked; I just need to do it right when I plant.

3. Plant at the right times. To be honest I was a little overwhelmed when it was time to get the garden started and wasn't as prepared as I should have been. That won't happen again.

4: Learn more about the plants I am growing. I had researched a lot about general gardening when we started, but I think I really need to advance my studies on the specifics. I had thought if you plant it it will grow...I was wrong. There is a lot of wisdom needed in gardening.

All and all, for our first garden, I think we did OK. if my soil is poor and it was indeed blight that smoked are tomatoes i won't feel so bad about the slim harvest. yet, since our goal is self sufficiency I need to get this gardening stuff down. It's hard to eliminate buying food when you don't harvest enough of the things you grow. If this were the old days and we didn't have a grocery store, it would be a very hard winter for us.

If anyone has any ideas after reading this and viewing the pics...Please share your thoughts!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Not all those that wander are lost....

So where have we been?

Well, the answer is far from simple. Of course I could describe how busy we have been. The end of summer and the months before winter had brought many changes to our lives. A wood stove (that we hadn't planned on getting this year) for one created a rush to get enough wood cut before the snow fell kept me quite busy, along with weatherizing the house for the coming cold. Melissa's business kept her engaged, and before we knew it the new year was upon us.

Yet, although those reasons are true...it is not the full truth.

Our Journey has not been without its trials and tribulations and as such there were times when what we set out to do last November was put to the test. Money of course was a big issue and although we had reduced our living expenses there were (and still are) times when the bills we couldn't cut outweighed our income. Our garden, although starting with a bang, fizzled out at the end and we lost a lot of our crops. Vehicle repairs and home repairs added up and the strain on our relationship as a family became quite heavy. I really could go on and on with a long narrative of negative experiences, but it's self-defeating and a little self-serving.

You, see the truth of the matter is...we survived! Everyone struggles, but it took me awhile to figure out that it's not the struggle that matters, but how well you handle them. "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger", right? Easier said than done, but there is some truth too it.

It wasn't so much the new problems and challenges our new life style presented; it was how we dealt with them. Frankly when I looked at these things we were going through they weren't all that different from the issues we had pre-homesteading...it was just the way we handled them. In the past we would have bought our way through the difficult times. We would have spent ourselves happy buying new toys and things to make us feel better and mask our hurt. This time around though that money wasn't available to shelter us, and we had to look at what was going on with no anesthesia. Yeah, it was painful but that pain brought new and exciting alternatives to dealing with it.

Jesus Christ brought us through it, plain and simple. No need to mince words here...its a fact!

So, for the last few months there's been some anguish, disappointment, and failure. But, there has also been some really great things going on too. I've hid from this blog for awhile, partly in self-pity and partly from facing certain truths. Here's the thing though; we didn't quit...we pushed on and we're still here ready to begin a second year that's as full of hope and grace as when we first started. We only slowed our steps on the journey, now we're ready to run again!

Friday, August 21, 2009

100% Homestead!


This photo depicts an entire meal from food we grew and raised ourselves!!! YEAH!!
Herb seasoned pork steak, fresh corn on the cob, herb seasoned red skin potatoes, and fresh veggie salsa! The meal was one of the best I’ve ever had and I’m sure it something to do with that fact that we did it all ourselves. It was so satisfying knowing we can provide for ourselves and actually eat VERY well!

“Hunger is the best pickle.” Benjamin Franklin


Cucumbers were True North's first veggies to grow out of control. I swear they grew by the minute. Each day I am getting at least 4-5 cukes from the garden. After eating as many as we could in salads, with dip, soaked in vinegar with onion, we finally decided it was time that we canned some of them. And what else do you do with cucumbers? You make pickles. MIL got a recipe from our Aunt Vivian that is said to be easy and tasty. Well so far is rings true for the easy part. We will see in 2-3 weeks of the tasty part does as well. Below is the recipe. I used my fresh dill from my herb wheel as well. We ended up with 6 jars of pickles.












Aunt Vivian’s Dil
l Pickles
Recipe for 1 quart

-1 head of fresh dill in bottom of jar
-Add whole cukes or cut into spears to fill jars (clean cukes)
-1 garlic clove added
-1 more head of dill on top

The following combined and brought to boil

-¼ t of Alum
-1 cup of white vinegar
-1 cup of water
-2 T of Kosher salt

Pour over cukes in quart jar. Cukes will be ready in 2-3 weeks!

The Herb Wheel


This past winter I read many books about gardening and in one of them they had diagrams of cool herb wheels. Basically an herb garden in the shape of a wheel instead of the standard square garden. Pat and I decided to make our own this summer. We had some odds and ends laying around from years past of landscaping d├ęcor so we lumped it all together to see if we had enough to make one. Low and behold we did! We started with black edging and made it into a circle then nudged the circle here and there to get it the right circumference. We dug a line around the circle and inserted the edging into it to keep it stable. We used more of the edging to make spokes and then filled all the sections with nice fertile dirt from the pig pen. We then outlined the outer wheel with brick to reinforce the circle walls. We used bricks in the center and I hand painted the herb name that would grown the in corresponding section to add a little personal touch to it. The center piece are parts of our pine stumps that were used earlier to make the pine stump fence and a few deer antlers from deer pat killed from years past. We planted Rosemary, Parsley, Cilantro, Dill and Basil. With lots of weeding, watering and sun....all came up very well, except for the Rosemary. Not sure what I did wrong there but no growth! I love using fresh herbs when cooking and I will dry the rest to use for the year.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Home Grown!









Garden Update:

The Garden is doing really well, at least we think it is. Since this is our first time growing anything I guess even a little success goes a long way! Melissa is keeping an actual tally of what we have harvested so when it's all said and done will post up what our overall haul was.

Corn:Right now the corn is looking good even though deer ate most of it early on. The few stalks they didn't eat have multiple ears on them, and the ones they did eat still managed to survive and are producing. Not ready to harvest yet, but I think it will be soon!

Cucumbers: I planted six hills of cucumbers; 3 normal ones and then 3 that are a 'pickling' variety. Two hills of the normal ones and one hill of the other type are pumping out a vast quantity of cucumbers. We've already been eating them and soon we'll try our hand at making pickles.

Watermelon: Like the cucumbers I planted 6 hills. Although all came up, only three are really producing. We have a couple of tennis ball sized melons and quite a few more smaller ones. The ones that aren't growing well, I believe, has more to do with getting behind on weeding than anything else.

Peppers: All the pepper plants are doing good and producing. No complaints here...we've been eating them on a regular basis!

Egg Plant: My mom had bought a few of these plants so we planted them and lo and behold we have a bunch of them producing. We just harvested one Egg Plant yesterday and fried it up. Never had it before and it was pretty darn good as a side dish.

Squash: This stuff has grown great right from the start. They all came up and we have a ton of squash growing...I'm a little worried. Next year I'll probably only plant half of what I did.

Onions: The first round of Onions we planted as seed and nothing grew. We then planted bulbs and they have been doing nicely. We hopefully will get some large onions out of them, that is if Melissa can keep her hands out of them, lol.

Head Lettuce: At first we didn't think they where going to grow, but we did have a handful come up. They look ok, but I think they are a long way till harvest. We'll see what happens.

Green Beans: They took a beating from the deer, but what we do have left are producing. I just took a handful of beans inside today. I'm not sure if we'll ever get enough to can or freeze but at least will have some for a couple of meals.

Potatoes: Plants look good and we've been doing a lot of research on when to harvest. We're not there yet but we believe its close.

Tomatoes: We've got tomatoes! Big ones, medium ones, and little ones. We've ate a couple, but most are still green. I have a feeling here in the next few days we are going to be neck deep in tomatoes. That's exactly what we want though. We've got a lot of plans for these red veges!

So that's it, but what have we learned to do and not do?

First, protect against deer. Early on, the deer came in and ate most of the corn and green beans. Although those things have survived I think our harvest would have been better had it not happened at all. After the attack, I set up a few fence posts and hung shiny tin plates from strings that I stretched between the posts. I also tied human hair (from our brushes) on the posts, about half way up. I then took some hair clippings and scattered them around the perimeter of the garden. Lastly, I used a mixture of 1/2 bottle of hot sauce to a gallon of water and sprayed that occasionally on the plants. I'm not sure what worked or if all of it did...but no deer since doing this. I haven't sprayed the sauce mixture in quite awhile nor have I refreshed the hair, so maybe the plates were enough. Next year I'll have my anti-deer defense set up early.

Bugs: Hadn't seen any sign of these types of pests until just a few days ago. While tending to the tomatoes I started notices what looked like little black poops littered around some of the plants. After a few minutes of investigation I saw the culprits. Nasty green monster worms! We found 8 of them and promptly squashed them. Now I look every day...haven't found anymore yet!

Weeding: Don't ever get behind! A camping trip and a few days of not feeling well and things got out of control in a hurry. Btw, I love weeding! It;s very peaceful in the evening...kind of like a reflection time: to think of things gone by and things yet to come.
Advise: We are getting it from where ever we can. Family, friends, strangers, books, Internet....there is so much info out there, and a lot to absorb! We've got time though and I feel we've learned so much already

We have been told that our abnormally cool summer has stunted growth this year. I can only agree. Things have been pretty hot lately and I think that"s why we have seen a growth spurt.

All in all though it has been well worth the trouble. Melissa mentioned the other day that it has been so nice eating fresh vegetables daily...and we're broke. Normally, when short on cash the fresh veges would wait. Not the case anymore! Feeling more self sufficient is always good too...it's a big motivator. I have to say...the whole family seems to love the garden (the work included)!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Give me a Brake


Over the course of my life I have worn many hats and done a lot of different things, but when it came to anything mechanical I would always defer to a professional. Especially when it came to our vehicles. It was always my thought that if you needed repairs, minor or major, you went to the shop, pulled out your plastic, and walked away with a fixed car and some type of warranty.

Well, that type of thinking is over for us, and so when the brakes on our Blazer started squealing I knew I was soon going to be delving into realms unknown. To be honest I wasn't too worried about the actual job of changing the brakes, but I was worried about my tool situation. I have always believed that I could do just about anything as long as I have the proper tools, and proper tools were exactly what I did not have. My collection of automotive tools is a mismatched and unorganized mess that is crammed into two large tool boxes. Most of these tools are from stuff my Dad had laying around and the rest are just odds and ends I have acquired over the years.

Just to make sure It was indeed my brakes making all that noise (which I was 99% sure) and to get a price quote so I could see how much money I was going to save, I took the Blazer into Midas and had them look at it. The estimate they gave me was $236.00 for brakes and rotors. Apparently I had let the brakes go too long and now the rotors had to be replaced. My habit of procrastination was costing me. Once again the hard lesson that 'putting things off and being frugal doesn't mix well' was rearing its ugly head.

Anyways, with the information about the parts I needed at hand, I headed over to a local automotive store and purchased what I would need. Brakes, rotors, a small packet of grease and some spray cleaner...the total: $100 and some change. A difference of $136 from the Midas quote. The way me and Melissa looked at it...that was $136 dollars we didn't have to earn, and that is a good thing.

The next thing I did was 'google' anything I could pertaining to changing brakes, which thankfully there was a ton. So, with a couple printouts in hand, my new parts, and a smattering of odd tools, I went to work.

At this point I'd like to tell you how smooth everything went, but if I'm being honest I have to tell you that my lack of tools (and quality tools!) was a problem. Once I figured out what size I needed to take of my caliper bolts (18 mm btw for anyone with a 2002 blazer), and discovered that I had every MM size except 18 I had to go buy a socket. Returning with my new socket I immediately broke my old and shabby ratchet. This prompted another run to the store, but this time I bought a wrench. My savings (or money we don't have to earn) was being depleted. At least my useful tool collection was growing.

As I suspected, once I had the proper tools, the actual job was rather easy. It did take the better part of the afternoon, but when all was said and done...the brakes worked great!

New skills and accomplishments are a great recipe for successful homesteading!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

“And your very flesh shall be a great poem.”

When we decided to start our style of homesteading we decided to make a list of all the skills we had that could generate money. Although we were lowering our expenses, we still needed to be able to make money to pay for our necessities...mainly land taxes, medical bills and our house payment.

One of the skills that was on the top of my list was Tattooing. I have been tattooing on and off since I was a teenager, and Melissa worked in a tattoo shop when I met her. Over the years we have opened and closed two tattoo businesses, and sold our equipment numerous times. Yet, through all of that I have always loved the artistry behind tattoos and have always been drawn back to the craft after long absences.

Since it is a skill I have and love, and I now have the time to dedicate myself to the art...I have once again started slinging ink. The wonderful part about it is that in the past I was so concerned about the money side of it that I would lose sight of how much I enjoyed creating permanent art on people. Now don't get me wrong, we still need the money, but now it is not the primary focus. For once in my life I can truly enjoy tattooing

Here's a sample of my most recent work and If you like you can visit Sanctus Tattooing, my blog that will display images of my work.

Monday, July 27, 2009

A visit from family

Note: It is far easier to post in the winter when things are a lot slower...

That being said, July has been a good month with lots of things happening including my older brother James (Aka: Wojo) and his family visiting from Vegas. We spent nearly a week with them and had a blast.

James and his wife Jean have lived in Vegas for some time now and we rarely get to see them. James is a Worship Leader at his church and heads a Dave Matthews tribute band called Dangerous Hours, Jean works for a law firm. They are moving to Alabama soon and that will be great because they'll only be 11 hours from us.

James' son, James Jr. lives in Texas and it has been a number of years since we got to see him so that was really nice. He's 15 now, the same age as my daughter, and has grown a lot since the last time we saw him. I know his school's football team is trying to get him on the field, but like his dad he's dedicated to his music.

They also brought their friend Cookie, a girl from their church. She was fantastic and we were glad to have her as a guest. Gabrielle got along great with her!

While they were here we tried to get a number of things accomplished besides relaxing with a cold one on the deck (which we did plenty of:P), and telling Chuck Norris facts! One of my projects I really wanted to do this year was move some very large pine stump fences and make a decorative boundary across the front of our family cemetery. When my father passed away we decided to have him buried on the property at a place where he and my mother always wanted to build a home. It's a beautiful hill with large maples over looking a small valley, and although they never did build that house...it sure is nice visiting him there.
It was a good thing my brother and nephew helped in this endeavor. The stumps where very large and heavy, and a good ways into the woods. We knocked it out in just a few hours, but there was no way I could have done it myself.

We also brought the whole crew Geocacheing and made a day of it...with a picnic included. We were 2 0f 4 on caches found, but I think everyone had a really good time. I know me, Melissa and Gabrielle did! I think my brother and his family might be hooked.

All in all, it was fantastic to have them here. Last time they were up for a visit my trucking schedule was a mess and I had very little time to see them. Sometimes, when homesteading gets tough and the struggles seem endless, I have to remember why we are doing it. Family.
A year ago I wouldn't have been able to spend the quality time I did with them. I'm thankful and I'm blessed.

Thanks Melissa for the photos.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

This little piggy went to market!

With just a little more than 3 months at True North, our two pigs have been sent to The Butcher Block...literally. The Butcher Block is a butcher that lives close by us and was highly recommended.

Of course, like all things at True North, this process was not without its problems. Unfortunately I can only blame myself, as usual. Back when we decided to get pigs and we were doing our research, one of the things that was stressed was to make sure you had a way to transport your livestock. Well, needless to say I waited until the last minute and my transportation plans fell apart.

I have a small trailer that I use to haul wood and my plan was to build small walls around it, load the pigs up, and away we'd go. That was until I got my truck stuck with the trailer on...unhooked the trailer...and then proceeded to back over the hitch, crushing the mechanism that attaches to the ball, ripping off the right side tail lights and the license plate. Now, before you feel too sorry for me I should disclose that all this damage took place in February, and I kept putting off the repairs. The next thing I knew the pigs were ready to go, the trailer wasn't, and I had a ton of stuff to do that wasn't related to either. Such is life...and one day I'll learn procrastination is not a virtue, especially when your trying to save money.

Enter Russ: Russ is the man we bought the two pigs from. From the start, when we first met him, I thought he was great. Good-natured, friendly, and didn't treat us with disdain because we didn't know what we were doing. Instead, he guided us through this process; first by selling us wonderful animals, then checking them out when they closed in on the finishing line, and finally by transporting them in his trailer to the butcher for a very cheap price (20 bucks!). Thanks Russ, we'll see you next spring when we buy the next set of pigs!

So Russ shows up, and my pigs practically run into his trailer and lay down. I had Melissa and my older brother James (visiting from Vegas...more on that later) there for help, and Russ had brought one of his hired hands. All that man-power...not needed! Our pigs had been great from the beginning, and it appeared that they would leave they way they came....in good spirits!

After the loading, me and my brother followed Russ to the butchers, and after some quick introductions we unloaded the pigs. Again, with hardly any prompting, the pigs jumped off the trailer and headed inside. It was the last time I would see them alive. With that we filled out some paper work and decided how we wanted them butchered.

As we were returning home I took some time to reflect on the pigs. Don't get me wrong, I'm not squeamish about these types of things; I've hunted for years, but this was a little different. Never before had we raised an animal for slaughter. I had not gotten attached to the pigs, but I had gotten attached to our routine and their squealing during food time. I am also very attached to bacon and ham, so my nostalgia didn't last long. However, we did enjoy our time with them and we are looking forward to next spring when our pen will once again be occupied by a couple of smart and entertaining animals, whom, if only for a short time, will live like kings at True North.

Once I get the final cost of the butchering, and exactly how much meat we get I'll post up how cost effective it was to raise them. A special thanks goes out to Norm (my mother's husband) for purchasing the white pig and helping us off-set our costs! On to the pictures: