How I Went From Tormented Veteran, to Peaceful Homesteader.

I grew up next door to a vegetable garden. It was quite large. At least 6 or 7 acres. I can remember the smell of the produce growing after the rain washed the heat off the plants. The spiciness of the cabbage and that unique smell from the cauliflower. I can remember the way that peppers smell still hanging from the bush. Green beans, corn, and pumpkin. There is a noticeable tang that comes from the leaves of any vegetable plant. Anybody that farms can tell you this. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was a smell I would never forget. I would yearn for it, and the sight of fog lifting itself from the fields as the sun burned away the heavy, damp spring weather.

I joined the army in the year 2000. It was a practical choice. My family didn’t have any money and I wanted to go to college. It was either factory work for the rest of my life, or do this for 4 years, call it quits and cash in. I didn’t foresee the epic mistake that I was about to make. When I first joined, things were, for the most part, copasetic. You did your job. People stayed out of each other’s business, and time kind of ticked away. My unit received orders for a peacekeeping mission to Kuwait. All seemed well. We were told we were to be given ammunition, but not allowed to fire it. If we accidently fired one round it would be a big deal. We got there, settled in for some nice desert sun, then 9/11 happened.

I won’t go in to it too deep. Everybody has their “Where were you when it happened?” story. But I will say that things started to change quite dramatically. Our leadership began a campaign with each other that was all about ‘Who could make their unit more prepared’. It wound us up pretty tight. Training happened often and unexpectedly. Then Saddam decided to have a little fun.

During my time in Kuwait, there were several air raid drills. They were designed to prepare us for an attack from Saddam. For decades since the gulf war in the 90’s they were there for training purposes to rehearse for the real thing. This was the year 2001. Before our invasion into Iraq and Afghanistan. One summer afternoon we heard the siren blare, and it was not a drill. Iraq had launched an active scud. We were told to get into bunkers and await further instructions. It was the most terrified I have been and will ever be. No person on earth should ever feel so helpless in their own future. My thoughts had been reduced to a never-ending repeat of ‘This is how I’m going to die. I’m going to get blown to smithereens. I don’t want to die like this’. On the other side of bunker, in gas masks, I could see hulkish figures heaving heavy sobs. Grown men crying, reduced to a primal, consuming fear. I wanted to go home.

The scud missile had been deemed a test by the Iraqi’s. It was detonated over their own land. I was safe, but I was not the same person when I came out of that bunker. I had been shown that my life was worth nothing more than the heartbeat inside my uniform. I had done nothing in my life worth merit. Nothing worth noting. In that half an hour inside that bunker the reason for me living had been reduced to nothing more than a target for another countries missiles. It was a thought that I would learn would follow me around for some time to come. Most veterans I talk to can relate to this.

When I got home I struggled, as most veterans do, trying to fit in to a place that I had outgrown. I tried several different hobbies and I tried to make music. I used my college money and went to school. I got a degree in a dying industry. I was flailing pretty hard. I had fun doing it, but something was wrong. I felt out of place, disconnected, used up in a way. I picked up rock climbing. I got married to the love of my life. We moved into a small house in the city and we got a dog. I got a good job where I was paid well, but the feeling of being disposable never left me. I sank into depression and the torment of feeling useless and ashamed. Then, more than anything, I wanted to revisit my childhood and get lost in the innocence that was there.

I began to yearn the smell of wet earth. I began craving the feeling of earth on my bare feet. I wanted to be in the silence that follows a storm. I wanted to watch rain drip off verdant leaves. I wanted to feel the dampness come off a field of vegetables. I wanted to smell the spiciness of tomato leaves. Above all other things: I wanted to watch things grow.

I started small, with only a couple of plants. A few corn stalks and a few tomato plants. Most walk-in closets have more space than my first garden did. I planted the seeds directly in the ground. I decided that even though I knew it would be easier to start them indoors, I liked the idea of the seed going in the ground.

When my first tomato plant popped its little jagged leaves out for the first time I was hooked, but it was more than simple pride in mastery over nature. It was more than a feeling of anticipation of harvesting my own tomatoes. I felt in control of something. I was responsible for something. I felt connected to something. I felt connected to the earth. I was growing my own nourishment. I was tending the very thing that was keeping me alive: Food.

As my garden grew I found myself looking at it after my night shift at 6 in the morning. I would spend an extra half hour in my small backyard while the rest of my neighborhood slept. It was strange how I loved to just look at what was growing. As the sun came up and revealed the dew drops on the green leaves a feeling of peace would come over me. I knew that no matter what happened while I slept, these plants would still be here. It didn’t matter if it were rain or wind or any summer calamity, the tenaciousness of the vines would endure. I learned from the plants. I learned that catastrophe happens to all living things. Whether it’s a scud missile, or a tomato worm, life will continue to try and bear fruit. Life in the garden began to reveal a reflection of how my life should be. I had been handed a rough deal, but not the roughest. My plants felt no self-pity, neither would I. My garden would always be there as a testament to how tenacious I should be in my own life. My garden would always try to overcome any obstacle to bear its fruit. My time to bear fruit was just beginning.

Please join me in my journey through simple living. Like and follow my blog if it suits you. Thank you.

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5 Things You Must Know Before Planting Hops.

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Alright! So you wanna grow some hops for your beer brewing? Maybe even sell some to your local brew shop? Well, don’t go thinking you can get rich off of one harvest of hops. Many people already have a lot of skin in the game. You can, perhaps, get your local brew shop to buy them and sell them for you, but it would be a good idea to check ahead of time to see how much competition you have at that particular shop. Most likely, If you don’t have at least 5 acres devoted solely to the purpose of growing, drying and packaging your hops to ensure you have a foothold in the local market, you’re not going to make a lot of money doing it, but it is still worth it to grow them if you want to live the homestead lifestyle and be 100% sustainable. Also, it’s great to grow them and throw them in your brew and make your specific brew that much more unique.

So what do we first need to know before growing hops? First of all, you need to know that I am not a botanist. I have hop plants and they grow quite nicely. I am what you call a novice, but I am what you call a master when it comes to all things chlorophyll. I have been working with and around plants and vegetables since I was about 10 years old. I love it. It is one of my many passions. The next thing you need to know is that hops are a perennial, which means you plant them once and they will come back every single year just like a tulip or a daffodil. If you don’t know what either of those are you’ll have to look them up. Unlike the tulip and daffodil though, the hop grows from what is called a rhizome, otherwise know as a root, or mass of roots. The root, or rhizome, of a hop plant stores energy in the form of starch in the fall when the plant hibernates, and then releases that energy in the spring creating fast growing vines and fast growing root systems. In this particular blog post I’m going to walk you through the simple in’s and outs of how hop plants grow. Fertilizing and harvesting and fall care we will tackle in another blog. The last thing you will need to consider before planting hops is that they will need a lot of vertical room to climb and they will need a climbing medium to climb on.

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What is a climbing medium you ask? It is a thing that the plant can twirl itself around and spread itself out the way it was designed to do. If you leave it to itself with no twine or anything it will crawl on the ground and not get the proper amount of sunlight. This plant was meant to climb on other sturdier plants or rock walls. So, to give it what it has evolved to need, you must give it something to climb on.

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There are about a million different climbing mediums. Everything from aircraft cable to wood trellis to aluminum castings to bike rims welded together. I have found that the most success myself and other people have had is with good old fashioned fiber binding twine. The kind they used to use to wrap up a Christmas tree.

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They really don’t like anything else.

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As far as planting them is concerned, you will want, at the very least, 10 inches of soil for the roots to reach downwards. And you will want a lot of room around the plant for the roots to reach outwards. Hops want to spread their root system so you’ll want to give them at least a 18 inch radius per hop rhizome when you plant.

To purchase a hop rhizome you can order them from a variety of places online. In my experience one place isn’t better than the other. Just use your best discretion. It should also be noted that you should research into what kind of hop plant you want to buy for a specific hop taste. Different hop varieties have different tastes and a good beer connoisseur can tell the difference. If you just want to get your hands dirty and grow some hops, go with cascades. Hops have very little delineation of physical appearance between varieties so one plant isn’t going to look very different from the other unless you’ve been growing them for a while.

The final thing we have to discuss is when and how deep to plant your rhizome. It would be a smart thing to check with a local plant store to make sure you are planting at the right time. I live in Ohio. The time to plant may be different if you live in Louisiana. Planting your rhizome about 3-4 inches under the top soil would be ideal, or the length of you index finger if you don’t want to use a tape measure. Remember you also need a good 10 inches under the rhizome, so you will want at least 13 inches total of soil.

So let’s recap with the 5 things you must know before planting hops.

  • You will be buying a rhizome, not a seed.

Hops grow from rhizomes or roots. Like bamboo, aspen trees, and hackberry.

  • They will need something to climb on.

Wood trellis will work, but it’s not going to be as effective as good old fashioned binding twine.

  • Once you plant them they will grow back every year.

Hops are perennials, meaning they grow like daffodils or tulips, but they don’t have a bulb, they have a rhizome.

  • Be sure to plant the rhizome at the proper time.

You have to check with your local garden shop to get a good idea when to plant.

  • The rhizome will want to spread out as much as it wants to reach down.

Hops want to spread their rhizomes out to produce new shoots. Be sure to give them plenty of horizontal room to grow as much as vertical depth in the soil.

Best of luck to you in all you endeavors!

Chickens! Round two. Their first couple weeks on the homestead.

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Chickens, Chickens everybody loves chickens. My wife especially. This woman goes so far as to hint to me that “It would be nice to have a house chicken.” She drops me other ‘hints’ on my Facebook page including links to purchase chicken diapers and practical uses for chickens in the house. I love all animals, but I don’t love them that much. These birds are cute when they first hatch, but they get messy and chaotic REAL QUICK. Not that they are hard to manage, because they’re not, but they are not the type of pet that stays indoors, in my humble opinion. IMG_0455

We bought them from Grace brothers in Cleveland. We have been going there for a couple years now and we love the people that work there and the small shop is geared toward selling city homestead local items – which we are all about. They don’t cost much only a couple bucks each, I mean like 3 or 4 bucks, so its easy to get carried away and get a dozen little peepers right off the bat. As always we got several different varieties. I think the count is: 1 Buff Orpington, 2 Barred Rock, 2 Delaware, 2 Easter eggers, 1 Golden Buff Orpington. So we will have white, brown and blue eggs. IMG_0457

Our previous chickens were dear to us, but when we moved out to the country here in Newbury, we had to let someone else take care of them since there was no coop built at the new house and we had to tear down the old coop at the old house to get it ready to sell. So we had a friend of a friend watch the, down in Lodi. We decided not to take them back as the person who was watching them loved them so much and they she had said they had gotten quite used to their surroundings. So fast forward to two weeks ago, My wife finally broke me down enough to go and get the new temporary juvenile coop and the chicks. IMG_0462

For right now they are safe and warm in the tote while it warms up enough outside for them. Enjoy the video below. Like and subscribe if you wish to.