Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Hard Nut to Crack: Breaking Florida's Coconuts

Friends of ours from North Carolina have recently moved to Miami, and are starting to take advantage of the local harvest on their property.  They are pretty reluctant to call it a homestead, but hey, any time you can pick something up and eat it off your own property, that is one step closer to self-sufficiency.


They have more coconuts then they can handle.  They weren't opening them fast enough, so they had a volunteer (Jen’s father) head down to Key Largo to learn the fine art of coconut cracking from the professionals.  Now, you may have read somewhere on Pinterest that this can be done daintily in your kitchen using your potato masher and paring knife.  A coconut would crack your head if it had the chance, so theres no room for nice on this job.  Anything worth doing is worth doing right, and in this case that means you need a machete and claw hammer.

  • Most store-bought coconuts will have the husk removed already.  If locally foraged, this will need to be removed by taking repeated low angle hacks with a machete.       A claw hammer may be necessary separate husk fibers and to loosen coconut from remaining husk material.  Hack, pry, repeat.  
  • Once the coconut has been separated from the husk, locate its equator.  This will be a horizontal ring around the coconut when the eyes are facing upward.  Using the blunt edge of machete, take firm whacks along equator, rotating coconut in between each hit. After a few turns the coconut will magically split like a plastic Easter egg. Whack, rotate, repeat.

Jen has been making fresh macaroons, and has promised us a sample.  They sound great, but I’m more interested in swinging a machete, there just aren't enough excuses to pull out pirate weapons this far inland.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Homemade Hummingbird Nectar

I have yet to see a hummingbird in the winter, but it is definitely a possibility. During the summer in North Carolina (and anywhere else east of the Mississippi) the primary hummingbird you will find will be the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird.  The Roufus Hummingbird, on the other hand,  is a more cold hardy species that can also be found here throughout the winter.  When I found this out, I cleaned up our feeder and started looking for the bottle of nectar.  When it failed to turn up, I found a recipe instead. 


As far as recipes go, it does not get any easier than this:
  • Dissolve ¼ cup of white sugar into 1 cup of boiling water.  
  • Let cool, and add to clean feeder.
The batch size can easily be changed provided you maintain the 1:4 ratio.  Additionally, it is recommended the nectar be rinsed and replaced regularly, as issues of mold and fermentation of nectar may arise.

I looked for other recipes using alternatives to white sugar, in hopes of finding something more natural.  It turns out white sugar is more similar to the nectar they would feed on naturally than every other sweetener I could think of.  Even honey is considered unsafe for hummingbirds.  The nectar that is available for purchase contains red dye to entice the birds to the feeder, but since the feeder itself is red, I don’t see it as a necessary addition. 

Our feeder is up, now we are just waiting on Roufus to show up.  We will definitely let you know if we spot him.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Starting the Family Apple Orchard

When two boys can eat their weight in organic apples in the course of a week, the grocery store just doesn’t cut it.  Good food is only getting more expensive, so a home orchard was a no-brainer for our family.  We will, of course, have to wait a few years to really start enjoying the “fruit of our labor”, but the return on investment should be great as long as we can keep everything maintained.

Photo Picture

The biggest step for us was in the planning.  The questions we had to answer for ourselves included:

  • Where will we get the trees?
We chose to order online from an established nursery with a large selection and a good reputation.

  • What varieties?  And how many?
There are so many varieties of apples, the decision can be overwhelming.  Apple trees need at least two varieties for pollination purposes, so we decided to chose a few that we know well and enjoy, then pick good pollinators for each (the nursery was a big help with this).  

  • When will we plant?
Planting is recommended for late fall, once the trees have gone dormant.  This was also the safe time for the nursery to ship the trees, so things worked out well.

  • Where will we plant?
We chose an area in our front yard since the site will get full sun most of the day, has a slight slope for good drainage, and will be easy to keep an eye on. 

  • What special consideration must be taken? 
Since all of ours are dwarf trees, spacing can be pretty tight.  This is important to us given the small plot we are on.  We also wanted a good variety because it will give us opportunity to see what works best on our land.  We made sure to include some disease resistant varieties, just in case that proves to be a problem.  Taste preference, intended use, and hardiness zone are definitely big factors in decision making.  We expect ours to be picked and eaten on the spot so we started with a few of our family’s favorites (Gala and Fuji). 

Photo Picture

I had never planted a bare-root tree before, so when it came time to plant, I referred to Rodale's Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening: The Indispensable Green Resource for Every Gardener.  This is a great a resource, and being an encyclopedia, everything is alphabetic making information easy to find One important planting consideration for grafted trees is placement of bud union.  Rodale's recommendation is to plant with the bud union 2" above to surface to maintain the trees' dwarf sizing.  Pruning was done prior to shipment, but next year I fully intend to pull this book back out prior to making any cuts.

We plan on doubling and possibly tripling the number of trees in our yard.  Once I can see the trees are growing well I will order some more, and then when I see which varieties are most productive for us I will definitely capitalize by adding a few more of those (great resource, by the way).
We plan on doubling and possibly tripling the number of trees in our yard.  Once I can see the trees are growing well I will order some more, and then when I see which varieties are most productive for us I will definitely capitalize by adding a few more of those.

If anyone has any suggestions or would like to tell us what has worked in your experience or what your favorite varieties are to grow, we are eager to hear it.  Feel free to comment.

Friday, November 28, 2014

First Homemade Kefir Experience

Most bloggers tend to portray themselves as true experts in the field.  They may be, but for those looking for the experiences and point of view of a first timer, look no further. 
Everything I know about Kefir (pronounced Kee-Fur) (also spelled keefir or kephir) has been learned over the course of the past week through internet research and culminating with one highly scientific project in the kitchen.

What is Kefir?          A cultured milk product, much like cheese, yogurt, or sour cream.  It is a nutritious, probiotic-rich food.

How do you make it?
  1. Purchase the mysterious Kefir Grains (no seriously, its mysterious, no matter how much reading you do on it)
  2.  Add grains to milk, store at room temperature, and wait.
  3. Strain cultured mystery milk (Kefir) into new jar, straining the grains which have now grown, even furthering the mystery
  4. Repeat (in larger quantity, if desired) 

Is that all there is to it?     Metal kills it, so use a glass jar, with plastic lid, spoon, and strainer.

There are numerous sources to purchase kefir grains on-line.  We chose to get ours from Marilyn at  She has been doing this for many years and is very knowledgeable on the subject. 

For our first run we used cheesecloth in lieu of a plastic strainer.  The strainer we ordered (HIC Nylon Mesh Strainer, 3-Inch) came in from Amazon today, so we will be using that next time. 

Shannon and the boys used to get kefir smoothies, so luckily she knew what to expect as far as taste goes.  We tasted it this morning after chilling it in the fridge.  With no additional flavoring, it was a little tart, a little sour cream-ish.   Since neither of us gagged, we whipped it up with some frozen strawberries and served up fresh kefir smoothies to the kids.  I could not get a good descriptive comment from them, but they did ask for seconds and thirds.  I liked it too.  Next time we will be trying blueberry. 

After we get used to this we may be trying our hand at kombucha.  This is of course, Shannon’s idea.  Personally, I want to brew some beer, but we can only take on so many projects.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Our Barn Raising

We have had a slow patch, with some poor weather and no progress, but the past two days have made up for it. 
Our “barn” is going up, and it is very exciting.  With the help of my Father-in-law and Brother-in-law, I got most of the back and side panels up, and half the roof.  The rain may end up putting a halt on construction tomorrow, but at least it doesn't look like a yard deck anymore.  My brother-in-law is a pro at this, so this might not qualify as a DIY project.  

We also got the chance to plan a portion of our fencing thanks to my Father-in-law, who has loads of experience corralling farm animals.  Our needs are not quite that serious but we do need to keep our two “wild humans” contained, and of course keep hungry foragers out. 

In addition, we have added a few minor project items that  we will be trying our hand at in the next couple days.  We have a cool new seed starting kit, which we will be trying out.  The next thing we will be attempting is Kefir.  This is way out of my comfort zone.  This is Shannon’s thing, I really don’t even know what it is.  I think we will be growing yogurt smoothies in mason jars.  Kidding everyone…I know what it is, but “growing” it will be a major learning experience for both of us.  We will let you know what happens.

Thanks for reading, and please stayed tuned for completion of building, and some smaller projects/ experiments we'll be starting in the days to come.  

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Progress on storage building and greenhouse (Homestead Essentials)

I have a rock solid wood floor for the storage building that eagerly awaits its walls roof and door.  We hoped to have this completed by now, the timing just hasn't worked out. Our greenhouse changed from 12 foot long to 16 foot long.  We were planning on using 12' clear panels, but got a great deal on 2' x 4' lexan panels, so we figured we go ought to go a little bigger.  Now that we can see the size from the inside, its "clear" that it was a good decision.  I'm sure once we move in a few plants and start a few more, we will wish that we could have gone even bigger.  We have to start somewhere though, right?  I still need to complete the end walls, build a door, add some trim. Once its all closed in I'll figure out a heating plan and ventilation plan and build some shelving.  The plans for my greenhouse are courtesy of Ana White and can be found on her site here:  Thanks!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Let the Homestead Construction begin...

G is not impressed
N on board stacking duty
Our wood was delivered yesterday.  This should cover the floor of the 12' x 20' storage building and complete framing for a 10' x 12' greenhouse.  Just after we got it stacked in the yard, Shannon gave me a few more minor items we need wood for: fence, porch, garage, swing set, and grapevine trellis.  I'll get right on that.  Started building, but it was slow going.  Setbacks included: couldn't decide where to actually build it; the sun set and it got dark and cold, just as scheduled.  Most of the metal framing was prepared last week, so once the floor is good to go, I expect the rest to go up pretty quickly.  In other news, we ordered our fruit trees a few days ago.  Four apple varieties and two pear so far.   We would like to have about 30 trees in front yard orchard when its all said and done.  This will be my first experience with bare root trees.  I understand they will look pretty sad when they arrive, essentially a big stick, ready for planting.  We shall see.


On October 2nd, 2014, I was notified that my position at work would no longer be available.  This is my first layoff and although I've spent a lot of time stressing over the possibility of a layoff in the past, I'm actually pretty good with this.  That day, I came home and began refreshing  my resume, but eventually Shannon and I started talking about other things we like to do with our lives, many of the same things that have come up numerous times over our eight years of marriage.  Most grand schemes are never very practical, with a traditional job and a growing family, but this day everything seemed much more in reach.  High on the list was transforming our house into a self sufficient homestead, and even producing enough to sell enough to pay some bills.  I'm not sure exactly when this idea became a bona fide decision; I suppose its when our homestead planning started taking a higher daily priority than the search for a "real job".  Our plans include a greenhouse (or two), a storage building, bee hives, an orchard, lots of garden, and a home school academy.  How prepared are we?  Not at all of course!  We will be learning a lot along the way, and documenting as much as we can so that maybe others can learn from our mistakes, and maybe even follow our example when things do go right.

Please note that we are not farmers.  We are not doctors, lawyers, or professors.  We are a man, a woman, and two young boys shooting from the hip, trying to do the best we can.  We will let you know what does and doesn't work for us. Something that works for us may not work at your house, and something that works at yours might be a flop at ours.  The best we can do is ask God for help, read up, and give it our best shot.  

Thanks for being a part of our journey!