A Cornucopia Comparison

Every year around Thanksgiving the Cornucopia is used in decorations. It was originally the horn of the goat filled with plenty of nuts and berries brought in from foraging the countryside. Today it’s even more expansive: a woven basket heavy with harvest and spilling out upon the table.


You notice some changes. It is no longer hunter-gatherer but agriculture. No longer a found and repurposed object (goat horn) but a made-to-spec woven product. No longer constrained with what was freely acquired, but increased abundance from what was produced. There’s thoughtful work going into it and much better output as a result.

What you choose to eat works in a similar way. Casting about and eating what comes easy and falls to you will work. You will have calories. You will have low costs on paper as the upside and blessings of industrial agriculture rain down around you. You may even have others coming for you all the time if you keep hitting the drive through.

Even in the ancient near east, a wise man pointed to the birds who eat and asked, why do you worry? Does not your father love you more then these sparrows?

This approach beats the pants off starvation and blatant malnutrition, where you don’t have the ability to even wear pants! Raise your goat horn my friends, for you have much and gratitude is in order.

Then sometime when you stop to think about food, you start to think differently. In a very real sense, to think at all is to think differently. What about the future costs of treating your inputs casually? What are the spillover costs others bear? How can there be so much transportation involved? Does local biome impact my body? What would it be like to know my farmer? Can I make small changes today to grow for tomorrow?

Once you start asking, you start to make changes. Maybe go to organics in produce. Maybe drop chemical colors. Maybe do eggs from the farm. Maybe find a farmer to hang a side of beef. Maybe start gardening. Maybe just cook at home more and drive through less.

Suddenly, you’re weaving that horn and planning a future. You’ve moved from the goat and the gathering to the basket and the harvest.

You’re improving health and lowering future costs. You’re uncovering delight in the patterns of the seasons. You soak in gratitude for the men who came before and breed these seeds and beasts to best serve man. It brings you closer to Eden, where God placed Adam in the first place.

Are you willing? There is great abundance for anyone willing to peek behind the easy button and start to build relationships.

Sweet Potato Redemption

Last year we grew some sweet potatoes. For us it was the first time they grew vines and covered the earth.

Then disaster struck in the form of goats on hooves craving their high protein leaves and vines. Once in May and once in July the furry blight descended on the happy sweet potato village. Ruin was wrought but the plucky little plant kept coming back.

The vines came back but the roots never grew big and consumable. The tubers grow big when they can store up energy from the sun, not when they have to focus energy on regrowing solar panels.

This year is different

The gardeners constructed better walls and defensive measures and the 2021 sweet potatoes grew in peace and prospered.

Part of the harvest

After pulling the enlarged tubers from the soil you brush off the dirt and inspect. Some of the rejects had worms and these were given to the very happy pigs. The good ones are kept at 90f for 10 days to season and sweeten. Using a space heater and the well house we were able to manage that process.

Salad for dinner

Taking a cue from the goats natural behavior, we gave them all the discarded vines for supplement feed in the pasture. Great time had by all.

The Woodchipper Cometh

Part of the fun in homestead farming is the power tools. Drills, impacts, sawzalls…and tractors running a woodchipper.

Craigslist Find

Winter is coming and after the deep freeze last year, no more joking around for us. The pole barn is being rearranged to optimize space. Animals will stay on concrete floor areas for easy cleaning. Then we will be keeping hay separate from the animals.

The Steam Also Rises

The plan is inspired from some Joel Salatin writing on the wonders of using wood mulch as bedding in the winter. It soaks up the free fertilizer and can be converted to soil. To help the conversion in the spring, you put some corn in between your layers of mulch. Then the pigs dig up the corn and aerate the mulch in the spring. To do this, we need more chips.

Woodchipper on the three point hitch

Jenny has thought a woodchipper was a good idea for months. Over the summer she had a Don Quixote fixation with cutting tree branches down. They helped to feed leaves to the goats. It also helps grass grow under the trees to get more sunlight to the ground under the canopy.

Between that effort and the brush clearing to fix fences last year and this year, we have wood to burn.

Or in this case, chip into mulch, scatter as bedding, scatter some corn kernels amongst the bedding, put more mulch on it, then turn the pigs loose to till it all up into fluffy garden soils for the spring.

Volunteer Gardening

Michael Pollan is one of my favorite authors. He takes something simple such as what a person eats (The Omnivores Dilemma) or how food is prepared (Cooked) and asks the reader to think about it. What is a moral meal? Is there nobility in the kitchen? If you were a plant or animal, how would you conquer the earth?

For example, grass has nearly conquered the earth. It’s everywhere, before you consider wheat and corn dominating agriculture. Their pasture allies the cattle have also been propagated everywhere man builds. If you’re looking to conquer the earth, get humans to domesticate you and value your production.

The harvest for men

These domestic, albeit heirloom tomatoes have done the same in the garden. They fruited in the summer and dropped some fruit. Those fruit planted themselves and now we get to harvest these volunteer fruits.

The harvest for beasts

Because life is complex and I ain’t a good farmer yet, a lot of this fruit went bad or was damaged by critters while on the plant. The upside with having livestock is they don’t care about blemishes, they love nature’s nutrition.

“Chickens love tomatoes. Tomatoes are the chicken’s favorite”

A no waste volunteer food system? We can work with that.

Makin’ Bacon

Hooping and Hollering

In the summer the goats need some shade available. They tend to congregate under trees and concentrate their fertilizer output. It’s a waste of good fertilizer and can become unsanitary for the goats. So, we cooked up a shade system stretched over a hoop to drag around.

The frame is a fence post ripped down the center nestled into a 4″pvc pipe ripped down the center and then braced with 2×4 pine. The hoop is stapled in place. It’s light and easy to maneuver for one person.

The Hoop Skid Mark I

It worked! They would even huddle under the canopy in the rain. It looked like a good winter home outside the barn as well lol Then they tore it down and I hollered at them about it. Boers don’t care, of course.

Clearly this tarp needs to be walked on.
Hoop Skid Mark II

We used some tie down ratchet straps, flat bill pliers and good old fashioned elbow grease to unbend the hoop. Once that proof of concept worked, I strung an X across the back of the skid to keep the panels in suspension.

The abuse and stretching tore out all the tarp’s grommets that attached it to the wood base. We’re trying a sandwich clamping system to hold it in place against the winds and rubbing.

Hoop Skid Mark III: Clamp that!
The tarp is squeezed tight with 4 points of contact to the metal hoop

Will it work? Who knows. So far field engineering means rapid prototype turnover…not so strong on confidence in the theoretical modeling.

Preying Mantis Sightings

Fall is coming and the bite of the summer heat has worn off. It’s a bit of a spring 2.0 around here with a fresh batch of life becoming visible. We’ve noticed a new crop of grasshoppers, a sprinkle of fresh ladybugs, and newly vigorous fire ants prepping for winter.

More unusual to my eyes but fun to see are the Preying Mantis. These ambush predators sit around and wait for tasty morsels to come their way, and then quick as lighting lash out to grab the meal.

She’s on top of a fence post.
:Mr. Miyagi has entered the chat:

At least that’s what I’ve read about how they eat. I haven’t been able to get them to do anything while I’ve watched. On the patience scoreboard: Mantis 2 Human 0

Feasting under the front porch light.

I’ve written in the past that healthy ecosystems have predators. These Preying Mantis interlopers are a mark of increasing biodiversity at the mid-micro level. Predators are always the last to arrive and the first to leave.

This is a positive indication of increasing health of the micro level biome ecosystem, exactly what were looking to cultivate.

The Moment and the Unseen

Situational awareness is a key factor in life. I remember reading a Hardy Boys novel in my young days. The adolescent boys have a good natured hefty friend, Chet, who is in many of their adventures. Amid one of these sleuthing adventures, Frank Hardy tests Chet’s situational awareness.

Paraphrase of a twenty year old memory:

“Chet, let’s test that memory of yours to see if you are ready to be a detective. Our pop used to ask us questions like this when we told him we would be detectives like him.”

“Sure, Frank”

“What was the color of the sweater the man who served us lunch at the cafe was wearing?”

“Well… I don’t know Frank. Does it matter?”

In the story, the color of the sweater didn’t matter and it wouldn’t have made a difference in Chet’s life if he started remembering the color of other mens sweaters. As such, I didn’t incorporate that skill into my life. You can wear whatever color sweater you like around me on back to back days.

There is a camouflage of time that I do find interesting. Nature keeps you from remembering what you see. Everyone has been on the mountaintop, but do you remember the specific view, or the raw awesome beauty transcending the daily concerns?

My memories, when they do tie to specifics, are tied to pictures and discussed later. These are weak and second hand but still worthy of review, and with someone else who was with you they kindle warmth in the soul.

God paints daily at dusk and dawn. The gift is for that moment. You cannot effectively preserve it with photography, pastels or prose. Many treasures of His creation are like this. His critters who live in the moment create for those living in the moment with the situational awareness. It is good practice pace yourself to see beyond the busy and the camouflage of time.

What I see coming from the back door

Children engaging with nature are masters of this. They get even better with practice. They pull parents back into that moment. These barefeet feel the grass better then the shodden souls of the adult.

What they see

For us, it’s part of the zest in the homestead homeschool. It can only be cultivated and never bought. For anyone, part of God’s gift is that the moment is always happening, and the next one is just ahead.

Snug as a toad in a fence post corner doesn’t have the same ring to it.

As a wiser man once said, and I am still learning the fullness of it:

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
Matthew 6:34

Melons Out of Place

This summer has been dynamite for our melons. Hot and sunny interspersed with cloudy and rainy is perfect for these giants of the garden.

Hanging out

Sometimes they escape, sometimes they find crevices to hide out in.

The official fence sitter

What happens when giants of the garden fall under the baleful gaze of the goat?

The goats win and enjoy the spoils

Because the goat is a browser, not a grazer, they don’t take all the food in one pass. They must return later to finish their task.

Nature cleans her dishes

Dirt Scoop Boogie

Many many shovelfuls of mulch

I have been excited about this. It’s a dirt scoop and it moves on the three point hitch. It scoops and dumps dirt. It’s what the ancients used before front scoops replaced them with vast improvements in utility.

What does it do? It’s a scoop you lower down behind you to scrap up material. Then you go where you want to go and pull the rope and dump out the material. In this case, it is mighty fertile mulch for some bare spots and for the fall garden.

Hens Gone Feral

Feral chicken home vs Chicken RV

The chicken RV concept had a lot going for it. Chickens get grass and bugs, they can roam off for the day and come back at night, they can lay their eggs in the RV for easy human collection. These girls ain’t having it and started roosting in the wood pile. They went feral on us while we had sick days in the house.

The wood pile is nice and safe because when a human goes to snag the hen from one side she just flutters to the other side. Then she clucks at you while you do your best three stooges impersonation through breaking branches. Trust me, that’s how it goes.

Hens farther afield.

Then the roosters and the hens realized they ain’t the same after all and the hens have run away from the roosters. They perch up on them there fences and cluck at the boys prancing about the yard. About sundown they make a run for it across the barnyard to get to the woodpile. The roosters try to nab a girl for the night. Most of them make it, some do not. Barbarians, these fowl.

How the roosters see themselves

Last night I managed to catch all the girls and stick them back in the Chicken RV. The boys just orbit around them now. Which may turn out to be useful, we can haul the hens around in their coop and the boys can free range grasshopper hunt around them without ever fertilizing them. We’ll see if it works.