Back to the land...

This blog is an account of our experiences trying to homestead in Eastern Tennessee. We've bought almost ten acres with power and a well, and a small shed for the well pump. Half the land is already cleared.

This year we haul out 10 tons of trash from an old burned down home. We plant a large garden, and fruit trees, and build a compost bin specifically for humanure. We build a small pad for a gazebo up under the oaks, and begin building our house/barn, with grading, a stone foundation, a concrete stem wall, and the modified post and beam frame. Everything is done by hand. We also dig four thirty foot swales across the top of the clearing and plant the berms with blueberry. A lot of work, and a lot more to go . . .

I'll also cover the process of picking out a piece of land, the negotiation, and "where to begin?" phase, at least how it all went for us.

[YEAR 2] - We build the shell of a 16'x25' two story cabin from scratch . . . check out how it was built.

[YEAR 3] - We try to finish the cabin . . .

[YEAR 4] - I move up permanently to the property to homestead full-time . . .

[YEAR 5] - Rachel and I try to make it as homesteaders . . with a wood cook stove, dairy goats and a cow, finish the barn, expand the garden, fence pastures, plant more fruit trees, build a flock of healthy layers, grow our own animal food - in other words . . . WORK WORK WORK WORK WORK . . .

[YEAR 6]
'Homesteading in Tennessee' is now HOLDOUT FARM. Check out our new farm website. We produce premium quality raw dairy products from our fodder-fed goats, pastured eggs, organic fruits and vegetables, and offer a seasonal list of classes on Permaculture Homesteading.
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Monday, December 29, 2008

Winter Planting

. I get a few days off after Christmas, so we go up to Tennessee to do some winter planting.

I originally planned on planting in the spring - but as I began to prepare my order for the nursery, I learned that in the south fall through winter is actually the best time to plant. There's typically guaranteed moisture in the air, and it gives the trees time to settle in and develop their roots.

We drive up on the 26th, and the forecast is for warm cloudy weather - perfect for planting.

Hidden Springs Nursery focuses on fruiting trees and shrubs which basically thrive in neglect in our local Tennessee climate. The nursery is only 90 minutes from Sunbright, just north of Cookeville.

We go straight from Atlanta to the nursery Friday morning to pick up the plants. We all get to try a medlar from a tree she has, and I keep a couple of the seeds to try and germinate on my own. She says it's a little hot down here for medlar, but it is possible to get them to grow and produce fruit.

I miss the shortcut on Highway 62 back to Sunbright, so we stop at Lowe's in Harriman and pick up some cypress mulch, peat moss, and composted manure. The lady at the nursery said it's better to not baby your transplants and overfertilize - rather allow them to adapt to the soil you have, with few amendments. So I'm going to try this route. Last Spring everything I planted went into bagged compost, topsoil and manure - probably not the brightest idea - but our peach trees are sure thriving and are now over ten feet, loaded with buds:

We'll see what happens.

We show up at the property about 3 to 4, too late to plant, so we just move into the pumphouse. I brought along a space heater, lamps, and the mattress for the futon, to turn the place into a little apartment:

It'll be cozy for the three of us, but more spacious and warm than the back of the truck.

The plants had been dug up about 3 days ago, and packed in wet newspaper, so I decided to soak them in buckets of water overnight to make sure they're properly hydrated:

Then we made a nice fire, with newspaper, a few shims, and some boughs from the wood pile:

The cloud cover remained, and with the space heater, it was almost too hot in our bags. I'd stuffed sheets and blankets into all the crevices around the plank door to keep out drafts.

Even though the pumphouse is not insulated a bit, it's just studs, and sheathing, and siding, I learned we can easily heat it if we need to. We could insulate it too if we wanted, especially considering how often our pipes freeze in here. But we'd need a far more efficient door.

The pumphouse for now is our only shelter - we should probably be staying in it, at least temporarily, instead of tents/gazebo and using it for tools.

We get up about 8 in the morning and I start planting. I do the two red mulberries first, up along the edge of the woods to the left and down from the gazebo:

"Edges" are always the most productive, and fruiting trees in the wild tend to be found on the edge of the woods. So I'm trying to mimic nature here.

I first remove sod with the spading fork, a spot about 3'x3':

Then I dig a hole with the pick:

I always dig from the downhill side, and pile the earth up into a berm. This way I'm scraping the dirt towards me with the pick.

So much of tree planting focuses on drainage, which is definitely important. But in our site, I'm more concerned about the tree getting enough water, rather than too much, especially with our long dry spells, then sudden violent rains. So I like to create a berm on the downslope end of the planting, to facilitate a little passive watering. Hopefully more of the rain will get caught here and pool, instead of all running downhill.

Once I've used a good bit of the berm soil to fill in around the tree, I'll pile up the sod I'd removed upside-down on top of the berm to keep it big, and the site where the tree's going essentially level. Haven't gotten this out of a book - just thinking here, and experimenting.

Grass is so vigorous it will over time send roots the other way and start growing again - but this is temporary - ultimately we're going to plant herbs around these trees. According to AN INTRODUCTION TO PERMACULTURE, grass is the enemy of young trees.

I next fill the hole with a few gallons of water. This will give the roots something to drink from over the first few days, and also it's a check for drainage. If this water doesn't percolate into the soil within ten, twenty minutes, there's a drainage problem:

I'm planting mostly on slopes, and though the soil's definitely sticky when it's wet, due to the clay, I think our drainage is fine.

While I'm waiting for all this water to sink into the soil, I go on and dig the next hole.

In each hole I'm putting a quart and a half of peat moss [I'd picked up peat moss mostly for our composting toilet], and a quart of composted manure. The compost will give the soil a little nutrition, and the peat moss take some of the density and stickiness out:

I spread out the roots of the young tree, fill in the soil, stand on the dirt to compress it and take out air pockets, then water again and mulch. I first use the cypress mulch then finish with straw:

It doesn't look like much. Later I surround it with old boards and rock to know where it is:

I plant two mulberries up here, about 30 feet apart.

I next go over and plant two apple trees at the edge of the woods along the north of the property. They're a little to the right of the swales and close to the grove of crabapples. Both trees are grafts and semi-dwarf - I hope they're the right choice.

I go down and plant the autumn olives along the driveway. These are heavy, heavy producers during a good year, we found out once camping up on Pigeon Mountain. There was enough on one roadside grove for us to live off all winter. And they taste excellent when they're ripe - even a little under-ripe . . . if you cook them, the astrigency goes away. We'd throw them into our oatmeal, and just the steam from the finished oats was enough to drive the bit of astrigency away.

But when they're fully ripe, late in the year, and as big as marbles, they are one of the best-tasting fruits out there . . . with the sweet acidity of pomegranates, mixed with hints of fig and strawberry.

I plant them 8' apart, a few feet in from the driveway, on it's west side, across from the sumac. These specimens are three feet high and look to be in good condition (only $10 a piece). I surround them in block once they're in:

Hopefully the block will protect them a little [wind/rodents], and provide increased heat.

You can see Mishka playing with his black Lab buddies in the background.

I've got two jujubes which I put along the east side of the driveway, up from the sumac, and a ways in from the blueberry we'd earlier planted at the edge of the woods. Jujubes are the apples of China. The fruit is like a small apple, but tastes like a date. Another hardy producer that does well in Tennessee. I plant them 20 feet apart.

Here I'm removing sod:

Here digging with the pick:

I surround them also with block:

Jujubes like maximum sun - that's why I'm planting them out in the clearing. The ground is rather level, so there's not much berm to do. I'm hoping they tolerate a fair amount of drought, and don't need constantly watered.

I go on and do the raspberries next. I got 5 plants for $15.

I want to till a long rectangular bed for them, and get a little grove of raspberry going. I worked at a retreat once where they had such a thing - and it was a good producer - but there was a fair amount of weeding and watering. And their health always seemed rather fragile compared to the blue and blackberry.

It takes me a while to figure out where to put this bed. Being berries, you'd think right out in the sun would be best. But everywhere I've done serious raspberry picking, whether in the mountains of North Carolina, valley roadsides, deep canyons in northern New Mexico - raspberries seem to prefer the shade. Kind of like a cousin of theirs I believe called "thimbleberry" that grows in almost jungle in western Oregon. Raspberries sort of want it all - enough sun, tons of moisture, and fertility, and just the right humidity.

So I go with the counterintuitive choice of behind the pumphouse, its west side. I feel like they'll get enough sun here, but not too much. The roof will provide all the moisture they love. And as far as fertility - I climb the hill with my backpack and go gather half a pack of manure.

Unfortunately all the "free range" composted manure I'd been gathering all spring has now been pounded down into black soil by all the rains. But the kids and I do the best we can, and get 40 or 50 pounds or so. It will have weeds, which will eventually need picked out - but I think the extra fertility is worth the hassle of weeding.

Here's the bed with the sod out and tilled:

These logs I'd piled back here are meant to take the rain pour off the roof and prevent further erosion.

I actually pull a number of stones out of here, which I'll later use in my cabin foundation.

Here's the manure added to the bed:

It might seem like I'm going all out here for my raspberries. But I'm convinced they're picky, and many gardeners pride themselves on their raspberry patch.

Here I've planted them [only 2' apart, instead of the standard 3' - didn't have more room]:

You can see a berm here of unused dirt and upside-down sod on the bottom. Then they're mulched:

Next is the dissatisfying part of cutting them down to the bone. I forgot my snips, so I have to use bolt cutters. You cut them down to the top of the mulch so you get fresh canes in the spring.

I've got two bush cherries which I plant on the north edge of the compost bin, and the other 6' nearby. Here's one:

At this point it's about 4 in the afternoon and I'm wiped out. I've been carrying buckets of water over from the creek for all the planting, as well as hoeing and digging. The creek is still flowing strong:

This pool here under the kids' bridge is so deep I can dunk the 5 gallon bucket in to fill it up. We drink the water straight also - it's clean.

Brooke gets a photo overlooking the property from the passive solar homesite, still just staked out:

The clouds mostly dissipate, and we have a spectacular sunset. It's been misty and sixties all day, and now this:

We sleep in the pumphouse again, after hours out by the fire, watching stars. A storm moves in, and the wind gets violent. Our door isn't shut properly, and a gust tears it right off. It's a miserable experience, and the rest of the night we have no heat and a gaping hole at the door and wind driving in.

It's a long bitter stressful night and we don't sleep well. In the morning I take a photo of what's happened to the door:

Ripped right off. And I don't have any tools with me, like a drill or a hammer. I have no idea how I'm going to fix it, so I go about depressed and plant the last of the berries.

I've got 5 thornless blackberry plants and 1 gooseberry. I decide to plant them all along the west edge of the garden, on the opposite side of the footer pathway, to create a sort of living hedge. The blackberry needs a trellis anyway, so later we'll put in a sapling fence.

Here's the gooseberry in, surrounded by old boards, across from the juneberries:

And here's the blackberry, surrounded by some wood remnants that had been left out in the barn:

Some rain should pour off the footer and give them extra water. Normally just monstrous high grass grows here.

Here's a shot from further back, where you can see the blackberry, and to the right, in the cage, the fuyu persimmon, and beyond that, towards the compost bin, the two bush cherries:

I've tried to plant everything far enough apart that I can later come in and create guilds with helpful species, especially herbs.

Now that the planting's done, I can focus on the door. The only solution that seems to make sense is to go borrow my neighbor's tools. So I walk over to George's and chat and get a hammer and drill. I envy all they've done over there (he's just put up the frame for a greenhouse this fall), but they've been here 8 years - maybe we'll be similarly developed by that point.

Here's the door back on, no big deal:

I get a shot of the pumphouse before I lock it up:

And a couple shots of the barn:


The "hole" in the back right joists is where the stairway will go - two stretches with a landing.

I next lose my keys, which are found in a few minutes. Then the car won't start. We've had the doors open for too long and too often and I guess the light has drained it. The battery's probably about to go also. So I have to go back over to my neighbor's to ask him for a jump.

We get it running:

I take one last shot of the cabin site before we go:

The difficult night with the door torn off has sobered me. We must have real shelter up here, ASAP, or we're not going to last. I'm going to get a detailed book on straw bale "Build it with Bales", and come up with a foolproof step-by-step plan for how I'm going to build this cabin. Next year we'll give ourselves 6 months to get it finished with our furniture in, before winter. We'll also do some work in the garden, but otherwise nothing but that cabin.

I think once it's finished we'll have a whole different outlook, and come to realize how great this is really going to be . . .

Monday, December 22, 2008

Barn Update

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I've had a sort of revelation on the barn. It is to skip the next step, if I need to.

Normally at this point in construction you put in the floor for the upper story, then begin framing the roof. The problem with that for me, besides the grand spent buying OSB and the time to put it in, is that once it's in, I need to get a roof over it as quick as possible to keep the floor from being destroyed by sun and rain. So in order to put in the floor, I also need to have the cash to go on to the framing and the metal for the roof (easily $2,000, if not $2,500). I also need to have that stretch of time squared away, months, to get it all finished. The OSB Adventech can stand up to a lot, even weeks in the rain - but I don't know about months.

So by skipping this step I can go on to the roof framing at whatever pace I please, with whatever money I have, no pressure, no deadline. All the roof framing is 2x6, the boards are relatively cheap - I can just sort of pick away at it. Then when the framing's done, and the roof is on, I can put in the floor, and not have to worry about it being damaged.

And as far as the practicality of working 12 feet up in the air on joists, I'll get a few cheap pieces of sheathing (like $6) to stand and put my ladder on. It won't be as comfortable as working on a finished floor - but it'll do. I'll just have to move slowly and cautiously. It won't be easy . . . but what ever is?
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Since the post and beam wall supporting the pitch break in the gambrel roof is four feet in from the outside wall, I can easily put in 4x8 OSB around it once it's in, without compromising the strength of the floor.
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Here's the old barn drawing, a plan I'm still sticking with:

When the roof is on, we can begin our cistern, and the roof should provide all our water needs. It also will provide great shade, and storage space.

And as for the proposed cabin . . .

I'm going to do straw bale. When you compare the cost of studs, sheathing, drywall, siding, insulation . . . to the cost of bales and chicken wire - it's obvious straw's cheaper. And of course beautiful with excellent insulation. We'll easily stay warm inside a straw cabin with a wood stove. And this is what we're looking for - a small dwelling we can comfortably and permanently live in, for as long as we need to. And when you look at the pioneer lifestyle in general, they all had small homes, with lots of space outside. It makes sense. And it happens to be the reverse of the popular urban lifestyle today.

I just recently visited a small 1880 farmhouse at Autrey Mill Heritage Park, out in John's Creek. The dimensions were 16x30, very close to the dimensions of my planned cabin (16x24). So it was neat to walk around inside and get a feel for how much space that is. It actually felt larger than I expected. It had a moderately high-pitched gable roof with an 8' ceiling. We're doing a shed roof with a loft.

However the farmhouse was in bad shape. This was no replica. They'd done a little with the pier / sill foundation to keep it from completely failing - but the home was still rather unsafe and unlivable. When you stood inside you could clearly see how all the doorways and windows were at an angle [sorry for no pics, I forgot my camera!]. I laid down underneath the place for a while on a piece of sheathing, and inspected the floor. The entire house had rocked backwards, and the rear piers were slightly tipped back as well. And the massive sills (the base beam that spans the piers and holds the house up, in this case a 6x6 squared log) was seriously decomposed, half rotted away in places. It was scary. Even many of the joists were rotted away at the ends where they'd been cut to fit a ledger - rendering them useless.

The lesson I drew from this was to stay away from wood floors, even if it's treated wood. Wood in contact with permanently dank conditions under a dwelling for generations is not a good idea. If the site is level enough to be easily graded (anything 10% or less), you might as well just grade it and make the earth your floor. You can go with anything from dirt to adobe to pavers, but at least you're standing on the ground - not suspended up on a wood floor with its inevitable warp and decay and creaking.

Here's my original drawing for the cabin (the guts):

And this is where it will be sited:

This old parking slab is thin and cracked and not level. Originally I'd planned on building the cabin over it, and thought it would help keep the bottom of the wood floor dry. But I've abandoned this idea. It's simply not a wise use of materials (it's not using them at all). I'm going to take this slab and bust it up into urbanite, and use it as the base for my rubble trench foundation for the cabin, since I'm out of stone (it's amazing - a mountain property, 10 acres, with no stone at all - my neighbors can't believe it . . . great for crops though).

Instead of grading where I cut out, or split the difference (like I did the barn), this time I'm going to build up to keep the bales high off the ground. I'm going to do my perimeter rubble trench foundation with urbanite and gravel, do my stem wall (not sure here, either block or earthbags), then bring in dirt that I'll cut out from behind the barn to raise the floor. I've got to cut out from behind the barn anyway, and wasn't sure where to put the dirt - well, this is the place.

Here's a great drawing a fellow blogger sent me for a straw bale cabin, made to fit my dimensions:


I'll do the timber frame structure first, with 12 6x6's (really a sort of makeshift post and beam), put the headers and roof joists and roof on . . . and then right there we've got shade and a place out of the rain. All my dirt tamping, foundation building, bale work, will be done under roof. Very convenient.

The windows go towards the outside, and with the deep walls, and deep sills, you can even fabricate straw window plugs for cold nights to put in the openings.

Our property is extreme in a way, with extreme sun, sudden extreme cold in the winter, and at times, many, many days in a row of fog and rain. I think such a dwelling will be far more efficient for us in such conditions.

With the large 4' eave all the way around the building to keep the walls dry, the rear deck is no longer really an issue. Anywhere near the building is a place to stand out of the rain. And I'll locate the door on the east wall, facing the driveway, instead of facing the garden. This will be close to grade and more convenient to access - and covered well by the eave. Then for the rear of the cabin we can just focus on windows for overlooking the garden, and the rest of the land.

The only possible modifications I would make to this drawing, is to run the straw walls so that the bales are flush on the inside with the posts, instead of on the outside. This way I can run a ledger across the posts about 8' up to hang my loft joists off.

I'm also considering stretching the cabin out to 24' in length, instead of 20'. I have the room. The width will remain the same - 16'. I'll need more 2x10's up top for headers (6), but otherwise the design doesn't need changed.

I feel like a straw building here will fit best in with my vision for the property. I'm already stick-framing the barn with vertical board and batten siding - why do it again on the cabin? Homesteading is about doing things in a simpler more grassroots way, and bales are definitely grassroots.

My daughters and I and the dog are going up to Sunbright for the weekend to do some winter planting. Now's the time to plant trees and shrubs, so they have plenty of moisture and their roots can develop. This past year we planted everything in the spring . . . and had to water frequently just to keep it all alive. Even the redbuds wilted twice and almost shed their leaves.

There's a local organic nursery called Hidden Springs Nursery in Cookeville, TN, about 2 hours from Sunbright. I've ordered 2 semi-dwarf apple trees to put up by the crabapple grove, 4 autumn olives (been gathering those in the wild for years), 2 bush cherry, 1 gooseberry, 2 jujubes trees, 2 mulberry trees, raspberry and thornless blackberry canes.

It's a lot to plant. But if they can settle in and stabilize through the winter, maybe we'll see them healthy next year and flowering and not dependent on so much water. Now I've just got to research exactly how to plant everything, and figure out where everything should go.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Land in Winter

. A friend and I decided to go up to Tennessee to see the property on the 12th of December. I brought the girls and the dog along.

It's a four hour trip from Atlanta, and we got a late start, heading out about 2 pm. Visibility was dimming by the time we got off the freeway, and the last hour which is normally very impressive was hard to see.

I stopped to get a newspaper for tinder at the gas station in Sunbright. The guy who runs it told me they just had 4 inches of rain, and last night around 9 it started to snow. I didn't see snow anywhere, so I was skeptical. But when we pulled up onto the property there it was:


The girls immediately started pelting each other with snowballs. My friend Seth and I got the bedding ready in the trucks - futons, sleeping bags, and wool blankets - and started a fire. None of the wood around was really usable after days of rain. But I had newspaper, he had shims, and I had some lumber cutoffs in the shed. It took a while to get it going, but eventually it was a good hot fire. The fireplace is really comfortable:

We set boards down to sit on over the snow [it was covered in snow the first night].

A full moon rose over the trees, as the clouds thinned and disappeared. We had a few beers and talked. What I thought would be a miserable arrival, in the dark, and snow and cold, was actually a great time.

But the night was incredibly cold. We had frost on the inside of the windows. We didn't sleep that well. A neighbor dropped by and said it got down to 17 degrees.

The snow started melting fast, so I went around and took photos. Here's the barn:

Hasn't changed a bit, other than the wood's faded. That's the swimming pool inside. The driveway has now become a permanent feature of the landscape, like it was always there.

Looking down towards it from the swales:

Here's the garden and compost bin:

Here looking towards the gazebo:

It's interesting how the oaks have shed their higher leaves, but held on to their lower ones. They're still going through that slow transition from tall forest trees to spreading field trees.

The peach trees are huge, and loaded with buds:

They should be spectacular in the spring.
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The most exciting thing is the creek. We can hear it flowing while just walking down there. I've never seen it so full. It's flowing all the way to the road.
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Here's a shot of some falls and a pool:
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Here's a shot looking downstream from above:

So at least half the year we'll have flowing water.

The roof for the gazebo's been destroyed. It never had a good design in the first place. Rain always pooled and sagged the fabric, and poured through the grommets. I tried to tie it down once and the grommet just ripped out. The weight of snow has now torn it to shreds:

We'll have to fabricate something out of canvas once we go back. The metal frame and the pad we built are in excellent condition. I'm amazed the surface treated landscape timbers still look like the day I put them in.

Here are more shots of the shortlived snow:
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On Rachael's fort:

It's hard to see, but icicles are hanging down from the barn:

Two neighbors drop by to offer anything we might need, which is nice. Everyone is so friendly here.
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I feel a tremendous attachment to this place. I feel myself slowing down and enjoying life much more. It is an ideal piece of land. I've been reading EDIBLE FOREST GARDENS, and our property fits every qualification for just the spot to have one; with its sun, and openness, and southern exposure, and hardwood environment, with just the right humidity for flowering trees. This was a very important and necessary trip for me - I realize I prefer a long-term development of this property into a Garden of Eden over anything else (even, for the moment, more than running off to New Mexico, which is tough to admit).
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Seth took a family photo of us before we left to go see the Obed:
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A great flock of sandhill cranes fly by, with their tremendous honking. They actually fly quite low:

The Obed was cold and flooded, the rope swing underwater, and the falls we canoed preposterous. Mishka ran back and forth along the bank biting at the waves. Here's one shot from Lily Bridge:

Seth's presently in Maine, so he took off for his long drive back. The girls and I went back to the property for some last photos, and to take some measurements for the cabin site. The old cracked parking slab is 15'x19' feet. It's where I'm going to put the cabin, south of the garden:

The girls aren't too happy that the temperature today tops out at 39 degrees:

Next year they'll be in this same spot, but inside sitting near a wood stove.

Here's a couple shots of what's left of the garden:
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I find a few deflated cantelopes. And the three-year old mint that we've had in a little black pot in an apartment, year after year, is actually putting out fresh shoots! It is invicible.

The thyme we planted in a ring around the persimmon has also done very well. They've gone from six tiny plants in a tray to miniature bushes. And they keep the grass back - it's an excellent permaculture technique:
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A closeup:

We need to give our other fruit trees similar treatments.
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Here's Rachael in front of our burgeoning peach tree, still cold:

And the winter sky:

I've only got three and a half more months to get through. I'm going to try building furniture, and birdhouses, and keep uploading books on other blogs. We've also got a large order of fruiting trees and shrubs to prepare for Hidden Springs Nursery in Cookeville, Tennessee. We want to get the order in and paid for by the end of January, so we can count on getting the rest of our planting done in the spring. We'll be getting plums, and apples, autumn olives, currents and gooseberry, a local fig, maybe pawpaw, jujube dates - whatever they have.
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Blog Index

10/30/08

BUYING RAW LAND

11/8/08

TRASH CLEANUP

11/10/08

WINTER IN ATLANTA

11/12/08

SPRING IN TENNESSEE

11/14/08

STARTING A GARDEN

11/15/08

BUILDING THE COMPOST BIN

11/15/08

THE FROST

11/16/08

GRADING THE BARN

11/18/08

DIGGING SWALES

11/19/08

PLANTING FRUIT TREES

11/19/08

BUILDING A STONE FOUNDATION

11/20/08

THE CONCRETE STEM WALL

11/21/08

BUILDING A SMALL 12'x12' PAD

11/21/08

THE GARDEN

11/22/08

BUILDING A DRIVEWAY

11/23/08

INSTALLING THE SILL PLATES

11/23/08

THE MODIFIED POST AND BEAM FRAME

11/27/08

FRUIT IN THE GARDEN

11/28/08

THE BARN FRAME

11/29/08

AUGUST IN TENNESSEE

11/30/08

HANGING THE JOISTS

11/30/08

CLEARING THE LAND

11/30/08

COUNTRY NEIGHBORS

11/30/08

THE HARVEST

12/1/08

PLANS FOR A CABIN

12/14/08

THE LAND IN WINTER

12/22/08

BARN UPDATE

12/29/08

WINTER PLANTING

1/4/09

EDIBLE PLANTS

1/10/09

WINTER TREES

1/12/09

WINTER TREES II

1/21/09

CHATTAHOOCHEE RIVER

2/11/09

THE STRAW BALE CABIN

3/26/09

THE STRAW BALE CABIN II

4/2/09

1880 FARMHOUSE

5/6/09

HOMESTEADING / THE CABIN

8/13/09

THE POST AND BEAM CABIN

8/22/09

RETURN TO TENNESSEE

8/25/09

SITE WORK

8/30/09

DIGGING THE FOOTERS

9/4/09

THE PIER FOUNDATION

9/10/09

911

9/11/09

FINISHING THE PIER FOUNDATION

9/12/09

THE GIRDERS

9/13/09

FRAMING THE FLOOR

9/16/09

DECKING THE FLOOR

9/17/09

THE POST AND BEAM FRAME

9/19/09

THE RAFTERS

9/20/09

INSTALLING THE METAL ROOF

9/21/09

FRAMING THE WALLS

9/26/09

DOORS AND WINDOWS

9/27/09

TENNESSEE IN JULY - OUR LAST MONTH

10/2/09

TENNESSEE IN OCTOBER

10/10/09

THE BARN FLOOR

10/15/09

PIGEON MOUNTAIN

11/10/09

NOVEMBER

11/16/09

PERMACULTURE: ANOTHER ROUND OF FRUITING SHRUBS

11/22/09

DRIFTERS

11/30/09

THE BARN ROOF BEGINS

12/20/09

'DRIFTERS' PART I

12/30/09

WEATHER

1/1/10

NEW YEAR'S IN TENNESSEE

1/25/10

DRIFTERS: PART II

3/2/10

MY SISTER'S WEDDING

3/21/10

FERTILIZING WITH HUMANURE

3/28/10

THE ADDITION FLOOR

4/19/10

THE ADDITION

5/11/10

RUNAWAY

6/13/10

FINISHING THE ADDITION

.........................The Timeline.........................

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1992
-MAY . . . for Patty and I's first date, we skip school and go to the Pinnacle - a wooded overlook off the Susquehanna River.
-SEPTEMBER . . . I leave our hometown of Lancaster, PA for college - Penn State in Reading, 45 minutes away.

1993
-FEBRUARY . . . Patty and I both drop out of school, and camp in some woods behind a grocery store in Lancaster.
-MARCH . . . Patty steals her mother's credit card, and with it we take a train to Utah. We ultimately end up on the Northwest Coast, living in Port Orford, Oregon.
-APRIL - OCTOBER . . . We join a traveling carnival and work in it for 6 months. We sleep in the back of a Ryder truck, and go through California, Idaho, Washington and Oregon. I run the guns, and Patty does the goldfish. We save $9,000.
-NOVEMBER . . . We return to Lancaster and are arrested for stealing the credit card.

1995
-OCTOBER . . . We bike from Lancaster down to Charleston, South Carolina. Patty wrecks in North Carolina, and a friend drives us the rest of the way. We live in Charleston for 2 weeks.

1996
-JULY . . . Our first daughter June is born in Lancaster, PA.

1997
-MARCH . . . We sell everything in our apartment, and hike out of Lancaster with backpacks and our 9 month old daughter. We reach the Susquehanna River.
-APRIL - JUNE . . . We get a canoe and paddle 500 miles up the Susquehanna River to its source. We camp on islands. We get a ride to the Erie Barge Canal and paddle west.
-JULY . . . We are arrested in Little Falls, NY. Our daughter is taken, we're charged with neglect, and we fight the courts for months. We are cleared of all charges, but never get her back.
-SEPTEMBER . . . We take a bus out to Ruidoso, NM and camp in woods just out of town. We return to Lancaster and camp in the Brickyard for the rest of the month.
-OCTOBER - FEBRUARY . . . We live in an apartment in the Amish community of Strasburg, PA. Amish go by in their horse and buggies every day.

1998
-FEBRUARY . . . Our second daughter Rachael is born. We try to deliver her on our own at home and fail. Patty ends up in the hospital with a c-section.
-MARCH . . . We get a ride from a friend down to Covington, Virginia. We stay a week, and look for places to camp in the surrounding national forest. We find nothing, and go to New Mexico.
-MARCH - MAY . . . We camp in the Gila National Forest, north of Pinos Altos, a mile from the nearest trail. We camp above a spring with an infinite view west. We start building a hogan.
-JUNE - SEPTEMBER . . . We live downtown in Santa Fe, NM. Patty markets her paintings, and I get a N.Y. literary agent for my first book 'Flesh Aflame'.
-OCTOBER - DECEMBER . . . We rent a house in Crescent City, California, on the Northwest Coast, a mile from the ocean, on the edge of a bird sanctuary. It's great until the rains begin and we run out of money.

1999
-JANUARY - FEBRUARY . . . We camp in the Uwharrie mountains of central North Carolina, and look for a place to build a winter home.
-MARCH . . . We get a canoe and paddle the Holston River down towards Knoxville, Tennessee.
-APRIL . . . We get dropped off in the Smokies and paddle Fontana Lake. We stash our canoe at Chambers Creek and hike in to the Smokies for a secret camp. Patty paints the creek, and we stay 3 weeks.
-MAY . . . We live in a trailer just off the ocean in Myrtle Beach, SC. The sky is beautiful after storms and we love the pelicans.
-JUNE . . . We camp in the Brickyard back in Lancaster, PA, saving money for an apartment.
-JULY - DECEMBER . . . We live in Lancaster and save for our trip back out to New Mexico. We also buy the jeep.

2000
-JANUARY - JUNE . . . We camp and travel all over the Southwest, from the Gila, to Organ Pipe, to the Weminuche in Colorado. Brooke is born in February in a motel in Deming, NM.
-JULY . . . We stay in condos with a friend in Aspen, Colorado. I do concrete work. We then go to California, and look for a place to live in the Russian River area.
-AUGUST - OCTOBER . . . We rent a small house in Tesuque, NM, just outside of Santa Fe. We hike up into the Pecos Wilderness. We become vegetarians.
-NOVEMBER . . . We visit a friend in Tucson, AZ, then drive to Crescent City and the Northwest Coast. The beautiful weather is over, and the rains have begun. We don't stay long.
-DECEMBER . . . We return to Pennsylvania, and live out of our car in the Philidelphia area while Patty works at a restaurant. We sleep in parking lots and rest stops. It's the coldest December on record for the area, with the wind chill it's -10.



2001
-
JANUARY . . . We head south for warmth, try the Chatooga area of South Carolina, then camp in the woods of northern Florida.
-
FEBRUARY - JUNE . . . We live in Asheville, NC, in the middle of the Southern Appalachains. We spend nearly every day out on the trails, hiking, and learning plants.
-
JULY . . . We get mountain bikes for touring, and bike the Blue Ridge Parkway to the Smokies.
-
AUGUST . . . We camp in the Weminuche Wilderness of southwest Colorado, and do a 6 day fast.
-
SEPTEMBER . . . We stay in Loveland, Colorado with a friend. We climb Long's Peak on the day after 9/11. We then drive to Vermont, and look for a place to live in the Burlington area.
-
OCTOBER - DECEMBER . . . We rent a house in Tucson, AZ, and try to become raw fooders.

2002
-
JANUARY . . . We hike in to Jordan Hot Springs in the Gila.
-
FEBRUARY . . . We bike in to Turkey Creek Hot Springs. We stash our bikes near the mouth of the creek, and hike the rest of the way. Many of the pools have been ruined from floods.
-
MARCH . . . We go to Vermont again, this time the Bennington area of southern Vermont. It's way too cold.
-
APRIL - JULY . . . We rent a house in Asheville, NC again. This time we have a large garden, and become 100% raw fooders. Every day I'm out hiking the trails gathering wild edible plants.
-
AUGUST . . . We cash out all our credit cards, and move up to Shining Rocks Wilderness in the Southern Appalachians, camping at over 5,000 feet. There are blueberry fields everywhere, and blackberry, and wild cherries. Not only are we mono-raw fooders now, much of our food is wild. I hike barefoot everywhere. We bathe in the pool below the falls.
-SEPTEMBER . . . We visit a friend in Atlanta, and on a night full of alcohol I break my foot in 3 places. I'm told I'll be crippled with arthritis, and ultimately never walk again.
-OCTOBER - DECEMBER . . . We rent a furnished condo in Tucson, AZ. I cut my cast off prematurely with tin snips.

2003
-JANUARY . . . We camp off the Gila River at Box Canyon, just up from the city of Gila. I'm still on crutches. We meet Jabber-Mike, and Vet-Mike, and Doug. We trade juniper berries for Doug's black walnuts. We're still 100% raw fooders, and Doug teaches me the local plants.
-FEBRUARY - MARCH . . . We return to Atlanta for free medical care so I can learn how to walk again. PT is hell.
-APRIL - MAY . . . We go back to the Gila and camp off the Gila River. We gather cattail, nettle, primrose flowers, and harvest prickly pear pads. We find the most perfect hot spring in all of the Gila, man-made, at Brock Canyon.
-JUNE . . . We fall off our raw food diet, and camp up at Black Balsam again off the Shining Rock Wilderness. We gather wild strawberries. We then camp above the Amicalola Falls in north Georgia for 2 weeks. We become committed to the idea of buying land.
-JULY - SEPTEMBER . . . We live in Woodstock, GA, just north of Atlanta. I do a 14 day water fast.
-OCTOBER . . . We paddle Fontana Lake in the Smokies, on our way to Nova Scotia. We find a great camp and gather wild persimmons, but ultimately abandon the trip.
-NOVEMBER . . . We go back to camping off the Gila River at Brock Canyon. I begin 'June'. We run totally out of money, and gather and clean 10lbs of desert willow seed to sell to a local guy in Gila. He gives us $20/lb, and we use the money to get back to Georgia.

2004
-JANUARY . . . We go to north Florida, and check out the sinks, and the aquifer springs, and paddle the Wacissa River.
-FEBRUARY . . . We paddle the Suwanee River in North Florida. Patty makes a basket out of greenbriar.
-MARCH . . . We camp in the pine flats of Apalachicola National Forest. We make baskets from grapevine, cordage from the retting of Spanish Moss, and a mat from palmetto. We camp here for 3 weeks with no money while we wait for our tax refund. We're 100% raw fooders again.
-APRIL . . . We camp off Owl Creek and paddle the river. There are free hot showers in a nearby campground. There's a great trail with wild blueberry, and we gather the new shoots of bracken. We later camp in Tate's Hell.
-MAY . . . We camp at Sand Creek in the Ocala National Forest, an hour east of Atlanta. I gather cattail in the Beaver Pond. I edit and type up the 'June' book at a nearby library for a literary agent.
-JUNE . . . We drive out to Oregon and camp off the Illinois River in the Siskiyous.
-JULY . . . We camp in the Adirondacks off Jones Pond.
-AUGUST . . . We camp in the Jemez Region of northern New Mexico. We gather wild mushrooms, and sell lobster mushrooms to chefs in Sante Fe. We camp at San Antonio Hot Springs for a week, and Big Tesuque Campground outside Sante Fe.
-SEPTEMBER . . . We go back to the Gila and camp at Brock Canyon. We gather desert willow seed again. We swim and play games in the river. We see tarantulas. I gather prickly pear fruit in baskets we've made from willow. We take a trip up to Turkey Creek Hot Springs.
-OCTOBER . . . We camp in the Oconee National Forest southeast of Atlanta, under persimmon trees in a field. We also camp up on Pigeon Mountain near Rocktown.
-NOVEMBER - JANUARY . . . We live in Atlanta.

2005
-FEBRUARY - MARCH . . . We move to Portland Oregon. We paddle the Wilamette River, and go to the nude beach at Sauvie Island, just after Mt. St. Helens erupted.
-APRIL . . . We return to north Florida looking for land to buy. Everywhere is flooded, and there's been a lot of damage from the previous hurricane.
-MAY . . . We camp up on Pigeon Mtn. The weather's perfect, and there's more wild food here than anywhere else.
-JUNE . . . We go to Arizona, and camp in the Hannigan area of Apache National Forest. We ultimately try to get back out to Oregon, but car problems make it not possible.
-JULY . . . We return to Pigeon Mtn in Georgia. The blackberries are in.
-AUGUST . . . We stay in a campground off the ocean in Jacksonville, Florida, while we look for jobs and a place to live.
-
SEPTEMBER . . . We move back to Atlanta.
-
OCTOBER . . . We abandon the jeep with 320,000 miles in a motel parking lot.

2006
-MARCH . . . the girls and I camp up at Pigeon Mtn, in a secret camp we've made.
-JUNE . . . the girls and I go back to Pigeon and camp longer, this time starting a wigwam from red maple saplings, muscadine vines, and grass I collect naked in the field with a small knife.
-AUGUST . . . the girls and I camp up at Graveyard Fields off the Blue Ridge Parkway. Every day we gather the wild blueberries and swim in the pool beneath the falls. We hike all the trails, and establish a secret camp in a grove of juneberries.


2007
-FEBRUARY . . . We look at property in north Florida.
-MARCH . . . We look at property in Asheville, NC.
-JUNE . . . We look at the 10 acres in Sunbright, and make an offer.
-AUGUST . . . We close on the Sunbright property, and take the kids to Disneyworld.
-OCTOBER . . . The girls and I camp up on the property in Sunbright, and clean up the trash from the fire. I build a fireplace out of old concrete blocks.

2008
-APRIL - SEPTEMBER . . . The girls and I camp up on the property. We clean out the rest of the trash, build a compost bin for humanure, plant the garden, and fruit trees, I dig the swales, do the stone foundation for the barn, and the stem wall, and the post and beam frame. We build a pad for the gazebo.

2009
-APRIL - JULY . . . The girls and I camp up on the property again. We build the 2 story cabin from scratch, plant another garden, and more fruiting trees and shrubs.
-OCTOBER . . . I put the upper story floor in the barn.
-NOVEMBER . . . The girls and I begin building the barn roof.