The past two weeks have taken us twists and turns through the hollers and ridges of eastern Rockcastle County. (The rock formations are nothing short of gorgeous – we were named well.) Several families are starting homesteads – and when I recently used that term, I was given a funny look, “Does the government still award land for using it?” That, I do not know. But in the modern sense a homestead is a place where folks are seeking sustainability and self-reliance for their families. Some people define it more strictly – more than ‘just a garden,’ and some define it as anyplace anyone is trying for any amount of self-reliance – a couple of pots of tomatoes is a start.

Candy and her dad live on many, many acres of bottom land, and tried growing food last year. After the dismal return last year (can we say flood?), they wanted some advice – and found Rockcastle Grow Appalachia. With Angie, a friend and neighbor, they are on their way to growing not only for themselves, but for market. When the market opens July 9th, they’ll have eggs, greens, onions, and more to sell. The way these friends work together has been fabulous. With GA seeds, Angie grew hundreds of tomato and pepper plants in her reclaimed greenhouse, planted her own, shared with GA, and provided Candy with her supply. Candy has outbuildings in need of care and use, and so created a chicken palace, where she houses both her and Angie’s chickens.

First year with melons! Honeydew, too!

First year with melons! Honeydew, too!

We are looking for funding ideas for the heating and ventilation of Angie’s greenhouse – if anyone knows of grants or has ideas! She would love to get started earlier in the year with less environmental impact and cost than gas heaters.

Angie's new strawberry bed - Indiana Berries donated 1000 berry plants to ASPI GA this year!

Angie’s new strawberry bed – Indiana Berries donated 1000 berry plants to ASPI GA this year!

Melanie is one of the most self-reliant folks I know – and she is the first to say it takes a community. She gets phone calls informing her of excess cardboard and construction dumpster sites, abandoned animals and fresh road kill. She dresses and cans the meat herself. She helped teach our mushroom workshop and wild edibles workshop – and we laughed about her inter-cropping. Here is her cabbage, lambs’ quarters, and chickweed combo!

Here are her reclaimed tomato cages:

James and Holly are looking to support themselves reclaiming a family farm on a dead end of beautiful. A great thing about re-claiming old homesteads is that they have to have had a source of water! After trekking through gardens in the heat, we refilled a water bottle a few times at their spring!

We found some research and growing info for them, and Holly and James have started raising organic hops on a small field above their home. With our help, Holly got her home-based license and is ready to sell deliciousness in July. She’s making soap and lotions from her goat’s milk – we got to see the goat milked! We also got some soap to take home. It was like bathing with silk! (She’s starting out at the Rockcastle County Farmers’ Market – I expect we’ll see some on-line presence soon for your orders!)

As Holly gave us the tour, she told us about her German Johnson tomatoes, and a particular type of melon – I commented that she was very organized. She laughed and said, “Only because of Grow Appalachia. I took the garden-planning very seriously when you asked us to create one, and it has helped so much!”

They are reclaiming the original house, as well. Mostly gutted, James has made a new addition while they are working on the old. They have running water now, and are working around the construction. Already in place? Two stainless steel counters for a future commercially-approved kitchen.

These folks are well on their way – we had a little technical advice and some issues we’re going to research, but mostly whether it was immaculately weeded soil that tended to crust too much to allow germination or gloriously crumbly soil that was a magnet for weed, we urged mulch – and more mulch. And crop rotation.

And these last two pictures? Just for fun – beauty and evidence that mine is not the only garden that is occasionally a Jurassic setting for such creatures as we have never seen.