Vela Creations is an in-depth resource for off grid living. The site documents our research and experiences, hoping that they might help others interested in pursuing this lifestyle. This blog is designed to document our day to day experiences as we build our new, sustainable homestead. If you are interested in seeing more photos and videos, we have a flickr account at the following url: http://flickr.com/photos/35090117@N05/collections/
Saturday, December 31, 2016
Friday, December 30, 2016
Wednesday, December 28, 2016
We just got home after spending the week at Vickie's. We all had a great time, especially the kids. Of course, the huge tree laden with presents drove them a little nuts, and it was pretty much a full-time job keeping them distracted.
We played games, made and decorated cookies, made and hung Christmas decorations. They also drew pictures for Santa, rode their bikes, and played with toys (we let them open one present between them on the 23rd and one each on the 24th - to spread out the excitement and help with distraction!).
Christmas day itself was great. Santa visited everyone in the house, and then we opened the presents. The kids had so much to play with that we barely heard a peep out of them all day. That allowed the adults time to chill, after cooking and cleanup! Dinner was delicious, and games afterwards were fun. It was altogether a really lovely holiday.
We also got to Facetime or chat with almost all of the family, many of whom are spread out across the globe. Wish we could have seen everyone in person, but internet at least provides the next best thing.
We hope that all of you had an equally wonderful Christmas, and wishing you a very happy 2017.
Sunday, December 25, 2016
Saturday, December 24, 2016
I planted a winter garden a few months ago, but the cats kept using the nicely turned soil as their bathroom and all the little plants were buried or dug up. So Abe made a couple of wicking beds that are closed off with greenhouse plastic (they used to have a frame and everything beforehand, but they were destroyed when the cows broke into the garden in June).
He has two beds that are at different stages (planted a couple of weeks apart), and everything is doing really well. A few of the vegetables are even starting to produce. Between the two beds, there are radishes, carrots, cabbages, beets, peas, collards, spinach, chard, broccoli, turnips, onions, Brussel spouts, and kale.
Friday, December 23, 2016
Thursday, December 22, 2016
On the 30th November, a duck hatched out 5 little ducklings. It’s her first time as a mother, but she has proven very attentive. Despite the chilly mornings, she takes them out of the barn every day and shows them all around the place. They are now a few weeks old and are the cutest little things.
The other mother duck is an old hand at the mothering business. However, this is the first time she’s had chicks! She stole the nest from one of our hens and guarded it very jealousy during the incubation period. We were worried that she might kill the chicks when she discovered that they weren’t ducklings, so we were ready with a home-made incubator in case we needed to whisk the eggs away from her. However, when the first one hatched out, she treated it as one of her own, so we let her be. She now has five healthy chicks.
The boys have been spoiling all the babies rotten. They take them handfuls of mealworms several times each day. As soon as the chicks hear the boys open the barn door, they come running to their gate and start jumping up and down. The kids are delighted, and claim that the chicks love them just as much as they love their mother!
Wednesday, December 21, 2016
Tuesday, December 20, 2016
The other day, we had 14 rabbits to process. I was inside, turning the meat into various cuts, as well as chunks and mince. Abe was outside at the butcher station.
Leo has often liked to hang out with Abe while he butchers, learning about the internal organs and helping when he can. However, this time, he took a far more active role. He ended up skinning and gutting many of the rabbits all by himself, and was apparently very good at it.
Also, while they were working, they talked about the role that hunting and butchering has played in various cultures. Leo became fascinated at the mention of how hunters, as a sign of prestige and accomplishment, would eat the raw liver of their kill. He decided he would like to try it, so he removed the liver of the animal he was working on and took a bite. He claimed it was delicious. Yeah, yeah, I know - not everyone’s cup of tea, BUT I was really proud that he was so willing to try a new experience, especially one that would turn the stomach of many people.
There was a downside to the day, we were all so busy that we never got any kind of photos of Leo’s latest accomplishment. Oh well, I’m sure there’ll be other opportunities.
Monday, December 19, 2016
Sunday, December 18, 2016
Saturday, December 17, 2016
Friday, December 16, 2016
Thursday, December 15, 2016
Wednesday, December 14, 2016
No Electricity? A Low-Tech System Keeps Things Chilled. Mohammed Bah Abba's pot-in-pot coolers help rural Africans preserve perishables.
Tuesday, December 13, 2016
Monday, December 12, 2016
After having little luck with growing grapes in our soil, we begun to look for plants that could fill the same roles within our forest garden. Goji seemed to fit the bill and had various additional benefits.
The Goji (or wolfberry) is a vining shrub of the nightshade family (as is the tomato and potato). Its leaves and berries are both edible, and have been used in China for thousands of years for its various medicinal properties. It is now often sold a "super food", usually as a dried fruit, in health food stores, and is a high value product to farm. It is also water efficient, tolerates high heat and poor soil, and survives freezes.
Last year, we bought several cuttings to try out. We had them growing in pots inside the house over winter and then planted them out during spring.
When our neighbor's cows broke into our land and gardens, we thought we had lost all our gojis (as they were all eaten down to the ground). However, not only did some of those plants grow back from the roots, but we also discovered a couple of plants that had sprouted up in our inside garden (from where the roots from the potted cuttings had touched the soil through their bags!).
About 10 days ago, Abe cut back the two gojis that we have growing inside. He stripped the leaves off all the prunings, cut them into 5" chunks, dipped them in rooting hormone, and struck them in some potting soil. He put them all in a plastic tub with a lid on to preserve the humidity. After just a few days, almost all of the 200 sticks began to leaf out. There is now, 10 days later, a veritable mini-forest.
Sunday, December 11, 2016
This Nonprofit Is Saving 4,500 U.S. Apple Varieties. An Oregon group is cloning thousands of lesser-known apple varieties for future generations to enjoy.
Saturday, December 10, 2016
Friday, December 9, 2016
Thursday, December 8, 2016
Wednesday, December 7, 2016
Monday, December 5, 2016
In England, the "Advent calendar" was always a big deal. When my sister and I were kids, it was a little door that we had to open each day to reveal a picture, and even that was exciting back then. That progressed into a chocolate treat each day, and we thought that was about as good as it gets. But then, one year, my sister made me an even cooler calendar. She filled a box with 24 little gifts hidden under some kind of packing material. Each gift was attached by a string to its numbered day of the month. It was a great idea, and that's usually what I try to reproduce in some form or another for my own kids. This year, we bought a pack of 24 Lego superheroes, which are each wrapped up with a number on them. The kids are so excited (to the point that we have to shout at them to get them to shut up about it!!!!!), and it has really kicked off the season.
For some reason, I am feeling especially festive this year, and am almost as excited as the kids. We put the tree up, and turning on its lights each evening fills the dining room with a warm and fuzzy glow. I've already bought and wrapped up a present for each of the teachers, and for all the kids in the class I teach at school. We've been making decorations to put up in each of the kids' classrooms (the moms will be getting together this week to decorate them). We've been baking lots of cookies, and we eat them while watching Christmas movies!
It's strange, but when it was just Abe and I, we really didn't celebrate Christmas, and I didn't miss it at all. Now though, with the kids at just the right age, all the joy and excitement have come flooding back. Gotta love this season.
Sunday, December 4, 2016
How to Setup, Prepare & Plant A Straw Bale Garden With Ease: A 5 Chapter Beginner's Guide to Straw Bale Gardening
Saturday, December 3, 2016
Friday, December 2, 2016
Wednesday, November 30, 2016
Tuesday, November 29, 2016
Monday, November 28, 2016
Sunday, November 27, 2016
Saturday, November 26, 2016
Friday, November 25, 2016
Thursday, November 24, 2016
Pasture Raised Pork For only $ 3.78 lb! Find out how we did it and more. What are your favorite cuts when getting your pigs butchered? Have you ever tried smoke jowls?
Wednesday, November 23, 2016
Tuesday, November 22, 2016
Monday, November 21, 2016
Sunday, November 20, 2016
Saturday, November 19, 2016
Friday, November 18, 2016
We have 200 cone-tainers (long, thin, cone-shaped containers in which to start trees and shrubs). Abe keeps them full at all times with a huge array of trees that will survive in our climate without any babying. He then transplants them directly out to pasture, or into bags to grow a little bigger under supervision.
The latest set of honey locusts, mimosas, palo verdes, pines, apricots, pomegranates, prickly pears, roses, and chiltepins, should all survive the winter, but Abe figured they would be able to actively grow a little if he built them their own winter house. And that’s what he did.
The small structure is currently full of about 80 bags, almost all of which house at least two companion plants (we have found that planting them out in small groups actually increases the growth rate of all involved). Now that it’s full up, he’s starting on the second such structure.
We eventually plan to build a greenhouse/porch as a more permanent solution to our sapling needs, but this should work great for now.
Thursday, November 17, 2016
Wednesday, November 16, 2016
I mentioned in a previous blog that I seem to be taking less and less photos of the boys as they get older, and the same is true for writing about them. It’s obviously not that I love them less now that they’re not babies - quite the opposite in many ways - but I guess the deep need to share their accomplishments fades as the novelty of parenthood wears off. The fact that they constantly amaze, awe, and annoy me now seems so second nature that I have stopped talking about it, but it doesn’t make it any less real.
Leo is now 8 and in third grade. He’s an infinitely curious, observant, and attentive child, who is truly awesome when he isn’t picking on his younger brother. He’s very social, and loves going to school and hanging out with friends. He’s doing great at school, getting an overall average of about 95%, though math is his strongest subject, in which he generally scores 100%. He is also a fluent reader in both English and Spanish (although he’s probably got a wider vocab range in English). He can be fairly combative at times and is naturally inclined to question authority (which is something I usually really admire and encourage, except when it’s my authority that’s being questioned!!!). He has an incredible amount of patience for a young kid, and can spend hours following detailed instructions in order to make something that he’s in to. He’s also getting better and better at looking things up online, and figuring out how to do things without our assistance.
Nicky is five and should still be in kindergarten. However, a series of accidents over the summer vacation led to there being no kindergarten teacher this year, so he is going to Leo’s school. He’s not officially enrolled, but the first grade teacher says she loves having him (her class is very small this year), and he’s actually doing great there. His math skills have always been pretty advanced (mainly due to keeping up with big brother when we play board and card games), and he reads and writes well in both languages. He seems to love being a “big boy”, and playing with all the other kids in break-time. My only concern is that he’s going to be bored stupid when he has to repeat first grade officially. At home, he’s very easy. He’s laid-back and easy to handle. He can entertain himself for hours making things out of clay, drawing, playing with toys, writing books, etc. He also loves looking things up online, but needs a little more help than Leo with spelling things. He continues to be shy with people he doesn’t know, while extremely affectionate and loyal to those that he does.
Both boys are super into earning money at the moment. They have chores that they have to do for free (like feeding animals, doing dishes, cleaning up, etc.), but we have started to pay them for extra work. Leo is especially useful when assisting us with projects, and he’s generally more into “work” than Nicky. They have now officially taken over the egg business - they feed the poultry, collect and wash the eggs, and sell them, too. They have to pay us half of what they make to pay for feed, but they then split the rest. At the moment, they are saving their cash to buy each other presents for Christmas.
Strangely enough, their latest “fad” is sewing. Vickie bought them a sewing kit to make themselves a teddy bear. This past weekend, we got it all out and I taught them the basics of sewing. Their did a lot of their cat and bear themselves, and when it came time to make them some clothes, they each chose to turn them into superheroes (Batman and Flash). They have both been inseparable from their homemade toys and are looking forward to making more clothes!
It really is amazing how fast they grow. It sometimes feels like the teenage years are only just around the corner, and I’m not sure that I’m looking forward to that. Of course, we still have enough impressionable years left to train them in the skills needed to build their own house - a reasonable solution in case they turn out to be a complete pain in the ass as teenagers!
Update on kids
Tuesday, November 15, 2016
Monday, November 14, 2016
One of the reasons I have blogged so little in the past months is that we’ve been so busy. Come to think of it, I seem to use the “too busy to blog” excuse an awful lot. Maybe I should just bite the bullet and admit to you that I prefer doing things rather than writing about them! I drag my blogging feet for so long that I then have to double time just to catch up. Oh well.
So anyway, now that the rains have stopped and the days are getting shorter, we have been largely occupied with putting aside food for the winter. This is always a semi-sweet time of year. Although it’s wonderful to see the pantry and freezer full to bursting, it’s sad to watch the garden dry up (although we have started a winter garden).
We had apples to can as well as juice for cider. There were all kinds of herbs hanging up inside the house (which are now put up in various containers). Tomatoes continue to produce prolifically, and I seem to be constantly making tomato sauce. There were beans to pick and shuck. Etcetera.
We’ve also been replacing a lot of our seed stores.
Sunday, November 13, 2016
Saturday, November 12, 2016
Friday, November 11, 2016
We sold our big Ford diesel, which we rarely used, and replaced it with a Ranger. It’s a great truck: very spacious inside, four doors, and four cylinder (so very economic). We used it for the long trip to Abe’s mom, and it was great, very comfortable for all.
The saddest part of getting this truck is that we no longer need our little Toyota pickup. We’ve had it almost as long as we’ve been together, and it has taken us all over the place, both in the States and Mexico. Although it’s probably one of the best vehicles either of us has ever had, it just doesn’t fit the family any more. I used it for the school run each day, and the boys and I would share the only seat, but that arrangement was starting to get pretty cramped.
So now that I use the Ranger for school, we have decided to sell the Toyota. Funnily enough, even though we’ve both agreed that that’s what we want to do, neither one of us has made any attempt to advertise its sale. It seems so disloyal! Who knows, it may still be sitting in its parking spot by the time the kids learn to drive!
Thursday, November 10, 2016
Wednesday, November 9, 2016
Tuesday, November 8, 2016
Monday, November 7, 2016
We hadn’t been to Vickie’s since Easter, so it was really good to visit. The kids are always delighted to see family, and of course the candy part of this particular holiday only made it better.
Leo went as a pirate and Nicky as a ninja. They really love the whole idea of costumes, and the fact that people just randomly hand over candy is still a complete novelty for them. They both came away with a big bag of sweets and chocolates, which will no doubt last a lot less than they should - though it’s not the kids that make the biggest dent ;)
Vickie also took them to Living Desert, a zoo that houses animals native to the region. Even though they’ve been several times now, it’s still always on their “to do” list. Nicky was thrilled to see Maggie out and about. She’s a bear and is one of his favorites, but she’s usually sleeping when they go, so her appearance was much appreciated.
Even though Halloween is technically for kids these days, the adults found time to have some fun too. In fact, we had such a good time that I took almost no photos!! I remember when the kids were young, I took endless amounts of pictures and videos, but with each passing year, I seem to take less. I guess I’ll have to work on that or I’ll wind up with no photos of the child to adult stages!
Sunday, November 6, 2016
Saturday, November 5, 2016
Friday, November 4, 2016
Thursday, November 3, 2016
Tuesday, November 1, 2016
Monday, October 31, 2016
Sunday, October 30, 2016
Saturday, October 29, 2016
Friday, October 28, 2016
Thursday, October 27, 2016
Wednesday, October 26, 2016
Monday, October 24, 2016
Sunday, October 23, 2016
Saturday, October 22, 2016
Friday, October 21, 2016
Thursday, October 20, 2016
Wednesday, October 19, 2016
Monday, October 17, 2016
Sunday, October 16, 2016
Saturday, October 15, 2016
The Many Ways Farmer's Markets & Small Family Farms Are Essential to Our Future - Small farms are key to reducing greenhouse gases & improving our overall health with better food options.
Friday, October 14, 2016
Thursday, October 13, 2016
Wednesday, October 12, 2016
Tuesday, October 11, 2016
Monday, October 10, 2016
Sunday, October 9, 2016
Saturday, October 8, 2016
Friday, October 7, 2016
Thursday, October 6, 2016
Wednesday, October 5, 2016
Tuesday, October 4, 2016
Monday, October 3, 2016
Sunday, October 2, 2016
Saturday, October 1, 2016
Friday, September 30, 2016
Thursday, September 29, 2016
Wednesday, September 28, 2016
Tuesday, September 27, 2016
Monday, September 26, 2016
Sunday, September 25, 2016
Invasive species may reduce the spread of disease - The findings are forcing ecologists and infectious disease scientists to rethink how they account for invasive species.
How to live the Good Life without giving up the rat race: "Extreme downshifting to escape the modern world can end in disillusion. The solution lies with communities that offer a halfway house"
Tracking wild pawpaw, descending into pawpaw-induced madness, and discussing "Pawpaw: America's Forgotten Fruit" with author Andrew Moore
Saturday, September 24, 2016
Friday, September 23, 2016
Thursday, September 22, 2016
Wednesday, September 21, 2016
Tuesday, September 20, 2016
Monday, September 19, 2016
Sunday, September 18, 2016
Saturday, September 17, 2016
What Can You Build With a Dismantled Stadium? In Indianapolis, a nonprofit is turning the Colts’ old stomping ground into shade shelters, wallets, and more.
Friday, September 16, 2016
Thursday, September 15, 2016
Wednesday, September 14, 2016
Tuesday, September 13, 2016
Monday, September 12, 2016
Sunday, September 11, 2016
Saturday, September 10, 2016
Friday, September 9, 2016
Thursday, September 8, 2016
Wednesday, September 7, 2016
Sunday, September 4, 2016
While we were rained in, we decided to make the most of the time by doing some canning.
Before it started raining non-stop, we went prickly pear picking. Unfortunately, we left it a little late in the season, and a lot of the fruit had already fallen and been eaten. Still, we managed to gather a full crate, not to mention several crates of pads, which we are planting along the perimeter fence of the property.
We used our new steam juicer to extract juice from the fruit. It was awesome. We didn't have to cut the fruit or strain out the pulp. We just added the whole fruit to the top of the juicer, put it on to steam, and the juice came out of the hose!
We then used the juice to make jelly, which we canned. It was a process that took over the whole kitchen, but has given us well more than a year's supply of delicious jelly. We ended up with 28 jars. Most were pint size, although 10 were slightly smaller, so it was a little under 3.5 gallons!
If you want to know more about prickly pears, including our jelly recipe, click here.
Apples and Chutney
We also turned a crate of apples into apple sauce, which we put in the freezer for winter pies, and we made several jars of spicy mango and pineapple chutney.
All of this, coupled with the honey we robbed the other day, has left us feeling decidedly happy!
Saturday, September 3, 2016
Friday, September 2, 2016
Following the driest July since we've been here, we had the wettest August. We've been rained in for several days, and last night we had a 2.5" hard rain. The sound of the river (1.5 miles away) and all the arroyos running was deafening.
This morning, when we went to assess the damage, we found the pond full. The last time this happened, it broke the dam, so, as you can imagine, we were a little nervous. But everything was fine. The overflow worked great, even given the volume of water it must have had to handle. In fact the "pig pond" even filled up (it is filled from the overflow of the big one).
Here's a few photos of the ponds, empty and full to see the scale.
We have actually done a little work to the overflow. We used a water level to measure the height of the dam against the overflow, and decided it would be safer to dig it down a couple of feet. It probably would have been OK, but we're still glad we did it!
- Marilyn French
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