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.

Monday, October 31, 2011


We had a good frost 2 nights ago. Laying out plastic over beds 8 and 9, jugs around the lettuce and young chard, and plastic bags around other vulnerable plants worked well - no frost damage. The mature beets and chard that went uncovered looked slightly affected by the cold but nothing major. The fig tree dropped all its leaves. We'll have to bury it in straw before the real cold hits.

Yesterday we put in 2/3 of the R 19 insulation in the ceiling and it made a huge difference. About 9 at night it was 18 degrees warmer in the cabin than outside - 61 inside, 43 outside. We'll finish the insulation today. I also caulked a few more windows, and will continue insulating and boarding up all the windows on the west side of the cabin - 5 total. Next year we'll have closed shutters and interior insulated curtains.

I got caught up on the dishes yesterday and fertigating the garden. We ordered a high-temp silicone boot for flashing the chimney to the ribbed metal roof this morning. $95 with shipping. It should be here on Wednesday. I called the chimney manufacturer DuraTech to confirm this boot could be used with their double-walled chimney. The guy said that is the $64,000 question - it hasn't been tested. But the silicone boot is rated up to 500 degrees - it's hard to believe the outside wall of the chimney would get near that hot. And in case of a chimney fire, you've got much bigger problems than the silicone boot.

Buffy is missing. Didn't see her all day yesterday and last night she was not in the coop. Buffy is our white aracona with potential 'chicken of the year' status, laying a blue egg in the nest box nearly every morning, able to fly without flight feathers, and a great mom to 17 guinea babies. She's either broody or been eaten. Or both.

Her behavior all last week was suspicious. She'd sit on eggs for a while but not lay. She was constantly in and out of the coop - usually she ranges far and wide. Maybe she was laying in a spot in the woods, maybe Claudia laying there too, and now she's got enough eggs to set on. Since we've been gradually increasing the daylight up to 16 hours with the light and timer she may think it's spring even with the cold and time to set.

We're hoping if she is broody to catch her off the nest coming to the coop for something to eat or drink, then watch her closely to see where she's setting and go get the eggs and lock her up in the coop for a while. We'll have to do a deeper search for her today than we did yesterday. But it is possible she's been eaten, and she's extremely vulnerable setting out in the woods. We need to find her today.

Had an incredible dinner last night - vegetables from the garden, boiled collards, steamed potatos, carrots and squash; buttermilk cornbread; and for dessert, toasted sweet potato bread with butter and whipped honey.

So far cold and cloudy today.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

10/29 - Night

Our chimney parts came today via FedEx. A 5' piece of stainless steel DuraVent chimney pipe and a support box. We spent a while going over the installation manual to figure out what would work best for our application. There's one more part we need - a high-temp silicone boot to flash the chimney that will mold to the ribbed contours of the metal roof. Found one for $80 and will order it Monday. Hopefully it'll be here before another round of rain begins, but if not we'll wait.

Sunny today so the cabin is relatively warm. But tonight will be a good freeze. We covered the lettuce and young chard in cut-out water and milk jugs. A few patches of plants got torn-open plastic bags. Beds 8 and 9 were covered with a big sheet of 4 mil plastic. It's weighed down with jugs of rocks I pulled from the beds while tilling. The mature Brassicas should be fine. I also put in a 1/2" sheet of foam over the coop's west window to keep the wind out. It had to be screwed down with large washers to keep the screws from going right through the foam.

Had a lot of dishes to wash in freezing cold water, and a lot of fertigation. Bunny got a fresh batch of weeds - mostly grass seed and thistle and dock. I was going to give her a cup of rolled oats but forgot. I'll do it tomorrow.

Didn't get any time today to continue putting in insulation. We'll have to finish the ceiling tomorrow.

We took the girls this evening to a Halloween festival in downtown Wartburg. But it was pretty small with not much candy. We'll go trick-or-treating on Monday.


37 this morning - inside. Usually not much different from outside.

We had rain all day yesterday. The barrels are full. Today is supposed to be sunny but never hit 60. I think tonight will be a hard freeze. The forecast for the fairgrounds tonight is 32, but we're always a few degrees cooler here, sometimes as much as 5, and it just feels like the right conditions with a clear sky and the cold the rain brings.

We ran our errands yesterday and got about 1/4 of the insulation put in for the ceiling. We ran a space heater a little before bed to take some of the edge off the cold. I was going to get an electric stapler for putting in the insulation, but I already have a Porter Cable compressor and set of trim guns. The stapler gun with 18 gauge 1/2" staples works great. The compressor hardly needs to kick in at all while using the gun. A fine mist of fiberglass gets everywhere even though the rolls are faced but that can't be helped.

I'm trying to get some photos of the chicken coop uploaded but having trouble and the DSL is incredibly slow. I may try uploading them in two seperate posts.

There's a ton of things to do today. I've got a lot of fertigation to catch up on after the rain, a massive amount of dishes to rinse and soak, the rest of the insulation to put up, we need to take a trip out to Jamestown for the 7" chimney brush and a bolt of muslin for facing the insulated curtains. Also our chimney order says the rest of the parts should come today - if they do we'll have to drop everything else to get it installed as we have a string of sunny weather for cutting a hole in the roof and not worrying about rain. Then with the hard freeze tonight we've got to cover all the lettuce and young chard with plastic jugs, and stretch a plastic sheet over beds 8 and 9 since we haven't had a chance to construct the low tunnels over them yet.

Yesterday we took Kitty to the animal shelter in Oak Ridge. We never had any luck with the ad we placed for her - nobody in the country wants stray cats or dogs. Usually shelters I avoid as euthenasia dens, and would prefer to drop an animal off in the city where they've got a good chance of being taken in [city people are far more pet-oriented then country people who are more livestock-oriented]. But this particular shelter was very friendly and pro-adoption . . . a woman took pictures of Kitty and they let her wander around . . . the animal-control officer at the desk had a kitten perched on his shoulder. It was $20 to surrender the animal. Not an ideal solution . . . but not much is when it's so common for people to drop strays off in the area and we in the country have to figure out a way to deal with them. We had Kitty for about 4 months, got rid of her worms, but she was never able to fit in here very well. She's an inside cat for sure, and in this small cabin we can't really offer her that. Besides her getting in to all the food on counter and table, peeing and pooing everywhere especially potted plants and chicken food, she climbed the building continuously and tore up the housewrap and screens, dug up and shit in the garden, and terrorized the birds. Yesterday we found a pile of duck down by the shed where she may have pounced one of the ducks. Hopefully they'll find a good home for her - we can call and check.

Well . . . too much to do today, got to get to work.

Friday, October 28, 2011


The forecast has improved and it's only 48 this morning. Rain today and a cold night, then a long string of sunny days with average temperatures - 60s/40s. Tonight we'll cover beds 8 and 9 with the 4 mil plastic to be safe. The low is now forecast for 35 tonight so it won't be a hard freeze - may not freeze at all.

Yesterday was cloudy with a light on and off rain all day. It progressively got colder as the day went by. On rainy days the garden doesn't get fertigated, dishes aren't done [they're set in a bin under the roof by the door to collect runoff and soak] - very little if any work is done outside so it's kind of a break from the usual chores. So instead we worked on cleaning and reorganizing the kitchen, and taking anything we don't use and storing it in boxes out under the barn. The kitchen is being step-by-step permanently moved over to the northwest side of the cabin under the bedroom side of our loft area.

I've finally got a pretty good gameplan of how to develop the lower story of the cabin, with built-in counters and open shelves on the garden side of the kitchen; the fridge along the west wall; then a U counter on the addition side of the kitchen. The chest freezer will be put on casters and will slide under the counter to take less space. The one stretch of counter that comes out from the addition wall towards the cookstove will have an overhanging corbelled counter with barstools for eating; the kitchen table we hardly use will go out to the barn; the loft ladder will move over against the east wall and be put at a steep angle rather than vertical as it is now; the corner where the kitchen is now under the 'library' side of the loft where I'm sitting will become a small living room with 2 couches, coffee table, and rocking chair. The french doors out to the addition will be removed, and the walls on either side out to the addition will be cut down to demi-walls [with the post and beam frame none of the walls are load-bearing].

Since we have composting toilets in both bedrooms, there's no real need for us to build a bathroom - I'd like to get a rubber 30 gallon stock tank I saw on one farm website [only $37], and just bring it in and set it in front of the stove when we want to bathe like they did in the old days. The galvanized stock tanks are not shaped very comfortably like a tub and all the galvanized stuff we have tends to rust up rapidly. There are a couple of nicely shaped heavy-duty plastic stock tanks that look much like a tub but I hate the idea of bathing in plastic [hot water and plastic usually a toxic mix]. We may have to special order the rubber one I found from a Co-op since Tractor Supply doesn't carry it. Once the large porch is built along the garden side of the cabin we'll store the tub out there - might make it permanent out there if the porch gets screened in.

Opening up the addition wall will make the inside of the cabin feel more spacious, and allow a better flow of heat from the stove. But the girls may not be thrilled about less privacy even though we'll build them canopy beds [of course we don't have any more privacy up in the loft with only the loft railing]. The girls ultimately want to move out to the upper story of the barn once I get the board and batten siding up. I could frame out a couple of bedrooms for them out there with a safe baseboard heat. I don't know, we take it all one step at a time . . .

When the addition is not used for bedrooms, the east side of it will be an indoor greenhouse for seedlings, the west side a living room, and a large kitchen table will go where now we plan on having a small living room. I'd often thought of adding on a whole wing to the cabin coming off the addition to the west for a master bedroom, with patio, and french doors - but who knows, just an idea. Depends on where the barn is.

It's raining and probably will all day [70% chance]. Today we're going out to Oak Ridge for Home Depot, and to Walmart for muslin to face the insulated curtains. Here's the list:

Quadra cut mower blades 25

Case of caulk 15

12 rolls of R 19 insulation 180

Staples (18 gauge) 5

Gauge for chainsaw sharpening depth 5

Truck air filter 5

Insulation wands 5

Tobacco 20

Bolt of muslin 20

[280 + tax = 310]


Vegetable oil

After a lot of back and forth emails and phone calls with Northline Express, our chimney order is now almost entirely shipped. The 5' DuraVent 7" stainless steel chimney pipe came on the truck yesterday, the DuraVent support box had been sent to them but was in the wrong box and they didn't know they had it - now shipped. The HeatFab stove pipe Selkirk had said they sent, but hadn't, and is now going to be directly shipped to us from Selkirk. So the rest of the chimney parts should be here early next week and we can install the chimney. I'm nervous about cutting a hole in the roof, and the support box should be interesting to install with the ribbed metal roof - I've also got to reconfigure the rafters to center the stove. Connecting the stovepipe to the chimney once the pipe is here should be a breeze. Then we can finally start heating the building - though as long as it's sunny with all the windows the cabin is warm.

We took two loaves of bread over to Vic and Jo and visited for a while - potato and sweet potato. Both came out very well, but the toaster oven is almost dead.

Rain is light now, hopefully it'll get heavy at some point and fill up the barrels.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Been a very busy last couple of days. Besides the usual taking care of animals, greywatering the garden, washing clothes, etc, I cleaned out the coop and put in three bags of sawdust since we're presently out of cover material with the mower down. I'll add grass clippings later.

I put a hinged door in bunny's hutch between her secure 'bedroom' area and her open 'play' area. Usually a rabbit will not go to the bathroom in their bedroom area. But since where we bought her she'd always been kept in a small open cage, she sees her bedroom as a latrine and only pees and poos in there and it piles up. So I cleaned out her hutch and put a door in. I'll leave it shut for a couple of weeks while her bedroom airs. Hopefully she'll develop a new habit of going the bathroom in a corner of her large play area. Then when her bedroom's reopened she'll keep it clean. Her play area has only lath, but her bedroom is solid plywood to keep her warm. But she'll never sleep in there with it full of waste.

Bunny's also become slightly aggressive and territorial, grunting and pouncing her paws at me while I'm cleaning her cage. Rachel thinks it could be that she's reaching sexual maturity and might henceforward be 'difficult' in the hutch. The other reason for the operable door to her bedroom is to shut it when we bring her weeds so we can try handling her a little and 'gentling' her. Once we have no trouble handling her we can go back to letting down the ramp attached to her bedroom so she can run about the barn for a while. We'd done this before but she wasn't suitably domesticated and was almost impossible to catch to get her back in the hutch. Then one night she escaped from the barn and we woke to her out in the grass. Luckily we were able to herd her back to the barn and catch her later in the hutch when she was thirsty to shut her in.

This afternoon I mowed a neighbor's yard for some cash. I was hoping to get some cover material out of it also, but the yard was almost no grass and mostly leaves. I did bring back about 20 bags of leaves.

The mower's missing one set of blades till I get a chance to replace them so it doesn't cut the mulch very fine and is far more inefficient. But with the next 2 days of rain we'll get a chance to go to town and pick up more blades. There's a few areas here on the property I could still mow for cover material before winter sets in. We're trying to find some cheap rolls of old hay that we can get delivered so we never run out of mulch.

I cleaned out and organized the area under the cabin - a big job. I needed to organize all the OSB scraps by size and shape as I'm using them to plug up all the windows on the northwest side of the building till we can put in shutters next year. I've done 2 windows so far up in the loft, on the northwest side of our bedroom.

I cut a piece of cardboard to fit the inside of the window frame exactly, and push it in against the glass. I fill the frame with R 13 insulation, then screw a sheet of OSB down over the opening to seal it up. I've only got scraps of OSB left so I have to use 2 pieces for each window and will have to caulk the butt joint. It's not that cosmetically appealing, but it works and will keep us warm - those windows never get direct sunlight over the winter and just leak cold air. Next winter those windows will have closed shutters on the outside, and inside insulated curtains [we're currently buying up old pillows from the Habitat - $1 to $2 a piece - for filling for the curtains since new fill is a fortune and used comforters aren't all that cheap and most are thin and worn out] to match the look of the rest of the windows.

We've got all the laundry and tents and blankets airing put up now that they're dry. Rain is forecast for the next two days, and much cooler temperatures. Friday night could be a hard freeze.

Rachel's been baking a lot of bread in the toaster oven as the last few days have allowed the sourdough to rise. The sweet potato bread with butter and whipped honey is incredible. Tonight she baked two beautiful loaves of potato bread. Like most of our electric appliances, the oven is on its last leg and runs loudly about 100 degrees below what it should. But the cook stove has an oven, and most small appliances can go in the trash.

We're getting only 2 to 3 eggs a day from our chickens. It could be the diet, could be they're laying elsewhere, could be they're getting stolen [either a rat or a squirrel - something was bothering the birds up at the coop this evening after dark - only a rat would be about then]. The chickens love Kitty's raw chicken if given the opportunity. They have high protein needs laying nearly every day. We'll have to figure out something till we can find cheap sacks of peas.

We still haven't received our chimney yet and we've waited now a month. They'd said up to 21 business days. That's about run out. Rachel's called and been stern with them to do something and hopefully that will be productive. Otherwise after we insulate we'll have to run a space heater. It looks like we'll get another hard winter - last winter there was a whole week where it barely got over 5 degrees, and kids were out of school a month due to heavy snow.

The lettuce and young chard had some frost damage from the last cold spell. We'll cover all the plants individually in gallon milk and water jugs before tomorrow night's freeze - you just cut out the bottom of the jug and set one over a plant. We've got nearly 100 jugs piled up by the blackberry and old cucumber bed.

The arugula we planted in spring reseeded and is doing wonderfully right now - much milder than the spring plants. The radishes no matter how big they get are completely mild. That's one nice thing about the fall garden - as well as less bugs - though Rachel found a bunch of cabbage worms in one cabbage and had to pick them out with a chopstick. We have one patch of turnips so thick with emerald-green foliage they're hard to water. We're waiting for the turnips to get about baseball-sized before harvest.

The Chicken Coop

The chicken coop was built in March in the rain and snow when Rachel and I first came up. We needed to get it built in a hurry because her mother was giving us her 9 laying hens and a mated pair of mature guineas. I picked the gazebo site because there was already an existing pad, and the large white oaks would offer the birds plenty of shade and keep the coop cool during the hot summer months. It's 8'x8', with a scrap metal roof pieced together from scraps I already had under the cabin:

The birds are following me up to the coop for a treat. A guinea's in the distance, and Goldie's on the far left. She's an aracona and lays blue eggs pretty dependably. She became very ill after the move up and we thought we might lose her. But she recovered and is doing well. She has the typical aracona skittishness and is difficult to catch. Rosy's in the foreground with a guinea - our friendliest chicken, and dependable layer. She often squats when we come nearby because she's desperate for a rooster - sometimes makes pretend clucks to chicks while she's eating. She'll also wander into the cabin to peck the floor if we leave the door open [sometimes pecks the door to be let in]:

This is the new run - cheap t-stakes from Tractor Supply, 3' chicken wire, and the gazebo wraparound screen now used for shade. The original run was just a strip in the back. We added on to it as the flock increased and we needed to take occasional trips to Atlanta and the birds needed more runaround space while we were gone:

A closer look at the coop and more guineas. The windows are covered with metal lath. The trim around the windows will be used to staple 4 mil plastic to when winter hits. The coop is south-facing:

A look inside. Claudia, our largest bird, a barred rock, is nesting in the biggest most popular nest box. Little Bit is in the plastic tub I put in for a nest box for the ducks when they're ready to lay. Little Bit's a banty and lays maybe 1 egg a week that is pure yolk. The tray is used to collect spilled feed, the homemade feed's in the trough, the little plastic containers attached to the wall have dried ground eggshell and grit:

The loft ladder and double roost. I added the lower roost after the second batch of guineas raised by Buffy started to grow. The guineas still however argue every evening about whether to sleep in the coop or in the white oak over the coop. Usually 2 or 3 will sleep in the tree. Especially if it's nice weather. They can fly very well and sometimes land even on the cabin roof:

The run door. Works very well and the latch is racoon-proof:

The back of the coop. A rain barrel to collect rain off the roof for their water. OSB shade to keep it cool. The metal can contains the raw ingredients of their feed, the plastic the mixed ready-to-use feed:

Another view of the back. I piled up random pieces of wire and lath to keep the bobcat or anything else from messing or digging on that vulnerable side of the run. If you look hard to the left you can see the rocks and concrete block that were used to hold and stabilize the trap we used to catch the bobcat:

The view down over the property from the coop:


Tuesday, October 25, 2011


The days have been much warmer. But rain begins on Thursday and with it temperatures will drop 20 degrees.

Yesterday was a long, busy day. Besides doing the birds, and fertigating the garden, rinsing and washing the dishes, we cleaned the house, did more laundry with the Rapid Breather Washer while it's sunny and clothes can dry on the line; we went out to Jamestown to pick up the mower, get a car battery, a 1x2 to replace the bent up curtain rod in the girls' room over the french doors, a new end for the hose to drain the pool, and some R 13 insulation for plugging up northwest facing windows. Then the new curtain rod was installed, I put the new battery in the car and started it up. We also watched THE COLOR OF MONEY in the evening, and late at night went over our Fall List to remove a few noncrucial things and repriortize what needs done in what order.

We're hoping to close soon on the property and get that matter resolved.

We'll wait for rain to take the trip out to Home Depot for insulation for the ceiling. We may also pick up the rebar and electrical conduit for constructing the hoop houses over beds #8 and 9.

Goldie and Rosy were the only birds that laid yesterday and they're the only two who ate some of Kitty's raw chicken. Obviously the protein factor is important, and the birds are not eating the alfalfa pellets, even soaked in milk. It smells, and I would imagine tastes, exactly like grass - and there's still plenty of that available.

Monday, October 24, 2011


Not nearly as cold this morning - 45 degrees inside the cabin.

Only 2 eggs yesterday. Little Bit sat for a while but never laid. Buffy also sat for a while but didn't lay, and has diarrhea - Buffy's been a candidate for Chicken of the Year and usually lays nearly every day. She also can fly without flight feathers, and raised a whole flock of baby guineas when their mother was clueless. The guinea mother we brought up from Atlanta [Chi-Chi] started laying again off in the woods and was eventually lost to the bobcat.

The birds aren't eating the large alfalfa pellets. We'll have to try another high-protein source in the mix.

Yesterday I made a fire and we had a long hot bath outside. We also watched the sequel to MONEY AS DEBT - PROMISES UNLEASHED.

Vic brought over a food processor and a loaf of poundcake.

We'll get the mower back today and buy a battery for the car.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Barn


The upper story and roof took over a month to construct.

The door to the lower story - Rachel's design. We'd surrounded the lower story in chicken wire for a large run for the chickens once the bobcat predation's begun. But Buffy and Goldie [our araconas] kept flying over and escaping. Even with their flight feathers clipped and the barn braces greased Buffy was still able to fly out to head to the coop to lay. The chickens were also too difficult to herd down to the barn, so we had to pluck them off the roost every morning and carry them down in bins - additional stress on the birds and a pain in the butt. We eventually abandoned the idea.

The temporary roost and ladder which the birds never used.

Bunny's hutch which I built for Gwen's birthday.

Where the sawdust for our composting toilets is stored to keep it dry.

We gather a season's worth of sawdust at one time in plastic bins and garbage bags at the local mill in Sunbright. The sawdust is free - there's a mountain of it behind the mill.

Looking up at the construction of the roof. The sets of rafters with crossbrace settled 1/2" once the sheathing went on, so I constructed modified beams to help take the weight in case we got a heavy snow load.

The table and chairs my parents gave me with our sprayer for watering seedlings, and one of the many bunches of onions we grew and later cured hanging in the barn.

Black walnuts gathered at Sunbright's city park, drying on the barn floor.

Acorns also drying. Most are chestnut oak acorns gathered at Pickett State Park.

Storage on the lower story. Presently trying to sell the appliances, as the cookstove, Rapid Washer, and drying clothes on the line make the gas stove, washer and dryer unnecessary.

The beer bottles will be used as an insulating layer in next year's cob oven.

The duck pool for when we first got the ducks. It only lasted a month before leaking everywhere. It was a huge job to bucket out all the duckwater for fertigation. For now the masonry tub works for us as the ducks mostly free-range. Eventually we'll dig a pond.

Shed and Fireplace

. The shed has become our major storage areas for things that must be kept dryandcan'tbekeptunder the barn. It's a little full and disorganized at the moment as I just moved my tools out there and need to go through them

I've laid down sheets of OSB underneath the tools to keep them off the moist gravel floor:

Here is the fireplace area - now where we wash our clothes, wash and air dishes, take baths from water heated on the fire, mix our duckwater/graywater fertilizer, and settle the iron out of the well water in barrels to use it for various outdoor tasks:

I built a level pad for the bathtub out of a sheet of flooring and sealed it. The bathtub we brought with us from the house in Atlanta. The stump is a counterweight.

Our dish-washing method starts with rinsing dishes with the powerful jet on the hose into the large blue bin. This provides some of the graywater. The dishes are then soaked in the galvanized tub for a couple hours in well water that's had the iron settled out of it, then washed in minimal to no all-natural soap [more graywater], rinsed in the clear bin, then set out to dry in the sun on the concrete wall of the fireplace.

There are three 55 gallon barrels to settle out well water because it takes about 48 hours for the iron to oxidize and settle to the bottom. The iron before it oxidizes appears as an oil film on the top which I skim off with my hands. Once a barrel's down to it's last 5 to 10 gallons I dump it out because it's full of iron crumbles. It's then rinsed with the hose and refilled with well water. It's a system that works well till we can afford a greensand manganese filter for the well - at least $500.


The Fall Garden

Here's a view of the garden from on top of the barn. The summer plants are dead and gone - the massive sunflowers are now hanging from the ceiling in the cabin to dry. The corn is gone - only Brassicas and root vegetables and chard and peas and lettuce are left:

A view from the duck pen. The masonry tub is the ducks' pool which they bathe and shit in and my source of high-nitrogen duckwater:

Here you can see the duck nest box which I built for when they're ready to lay. Wooden eggs are inside on a nest of mulch:

Brassicas. Cabbage, kale, collards, brussel sprouts, etc. The green beans in the middle are dead, soon to be pulled. This is a bed that was added onto the garden for potatoes in the spring. The potato harvest had been seriously reduced from flea and potato beetles, and a late May 4th frost. The newspaper and cardboard keeps the weeds down beneath the fence line:

Inside the garden - Brassicas and chard and peas. You can see I've wrapped the raised beds in plastic using old tarps secured with long U's of wire. This reduces erosion and keeps weeds down. There is a heavy mulch layer of grass clippings across the beds . . . a very successful garden strategy, keeps weeds down, softens rain, reduces erosion, fertilizes the beds, evens temperatures and keeps them moist. The chard was slow to get going but once established nearly indestructible - can be cut from again and again:


More pictures

Here's a picture of some of the guineas and Rosy [our Rhode Island Red] in front of the garden:

Here's the swimming pool that we soon need to drain. Rachel's in the background washing dishes:

The blueberries. After weeding, heavy mulching, disentangling blackberry roots, fertilizing, and being in a rotation with all the other perrenials getting a duckwater/graywater mix throughout the summer, some of them reached 6 feet high. I also hacked out and mowed a wide swath behind them to keep the blackberry back:

Our simple rainwater harvesting off the front of the cabin. The metal ceramic-lined barrels were used to ship dried tomatoes and we picked them up from the Co-op for $15 a piece. The gutter has a slightly steep angle from the center to the corners to keep the gutter clean and free of debris:

Guineas in front of the cabin. Sourdough is warming in the sun on the chair:



34 degrees inside the cabin this morning, but it doesn't feel quite as cold as the air is much dryer after yesterday's sunny weather. Only the top of the garden is covered in frost, and that mostly the mulch.

Today we're going to fire up the chainsaw and start cutting firewood - mostly from standing dead trees that have no bark as we don't have time to season it. Rachel insists I read the chainsaw manual first before I start operating the saw. I will but I hate manuals.

Yesterday we did several loads of laundry with the Rapid Washer. It's basically a modified plunger with holes on the bottom and a vent cap on top. You plunge the clothes for a while in slightly soapy water, wring them out, plunge in fresh water, wring, plunge in fresh water, wring out and hang them up on the line. It works great and the clothes come out astonishingly clean. There is a spot though in the middle of my upper back that hurts from plunging all day - hopefully it will work itself out soon.

The bucket wringer method using 3 buckets all placed inside each other with the top one pressing down on the clothes with your weight on top of it - a method we found online - doesn't work any better than hand-wringing. We'll have to order an actual crank hand wringer with rollers at some point - it costs over $100.

The birds are eating everything in their new homemade all-natural diet except the large alfalfa pellets. I tried soaking them in milk but they still won't eat them. We'll have to give what they don't eat to bunny, then with the next batch try breaking them up with a stick or running them through the food processor. They're an important nutritious high-protein part of the diet . . . the only thing to replace them with would be more peas but at grocery-store prices that's expensive. Once we can get peas by the 50# sack that's more realistic for us.

Kitty finally broke down and has started eating the raw chicken which I cut up small for her.

The lettuce and chard had some slight frost damage but otherwise all the fall plants did fine. Rachel harvested some huge collard greens and for dinner last night we had them boiled, with potatoes and a little cheese, steamed squash and biscuits.

2 eggs yesterday and we made several trips to the coop. Hopefully the theft of eggs was a one-time event. Today should be a high egg number so we'll have to watch the coop carefully.

Rachel cut down the peppers and tomatoes in the garden yesterday and put them in the compost bin. Our legendary yellow pear tomato that had spread 10 feet in every direction and produced at least a thousand tomatoes had a root like a tree. She could barely cut it with the pruners. She's saved seed from it for next year. The last of the unripe peppers all had frost damage. But our peppers had done very well for us, producing a great quantity of red banana, bell, and poblano peppers. They seemed to love the duckwater/graywater fertigation.

All of the seedlings in beds #8 and 9 are doing very well handling frost as they're planted in deep furrows between hills of mulch. These two beds will soon be protected with hoop houses. The lettuce planted elsewhere we'll get a little extra time out of by placing milk and water jugs over them with the bottoms cut out.

I finished the caulking of the upper story yesterday. Tuesday we'll pick up R 19 fiberglass insulation and insulate the ceiling. We'll also start making our insulated window coverings - insulated OSB plugs for northwest facing windows, and operable insulated curtains for windows that get direct sunlight. Brooke left her comforter out in the woods when she was here for the summer - they had tied it up as a hammock and forgot about it. It's ripped and stained from being left out in the woods. We've been airing it out and will soon cut it up to start making the insulated curtains. It's a pretty thick comforter so two layers should fill out the inside of the window frame - it will be quilted to light-colored sheets on both sides.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Cabin Pictures

Here are pictures from the lower story of the cabin.

Here's the temporary kitchen with another OSB counter added. The permanent kitchen will be moved over to the northwest corner of the cabin:

This is the Amish-made Ashland New Decade cook stove. Not yet operable as we haven't received the chimney yet:

Here is the water station where we filter rainwater for drinking and general household use. I bought a 2 gallon coffee thermos, all stainless steel inside, and filled it halfway with activated charcoal. A funnel with a muslin cloth sits at the top of it to prefilter out any small debris in the water. Once we pour the rainwater in, we let it sit with the charcoal for at least 20 minutes, before opening the spigot and let it run out into the metal container beneath. The water's then stored in the 7.5 gallon plastic jug with spigot. We've also got one filled in the freezer for emergency use:

This is the fridge and freezer now plugged in as we have electricity in the building. The freezer's over half-full with stored water, produce from the garden, and many, many bags of frozen wild mushrooms - comb's tooth, oysters, puffballs, and chicken of the woods:

A view of the loft ladder and railing. Eventually I'll either relocate or bump the ladder out to a steep angle so it's easier to use. But for now it works for us:


Loft Pictures

All these pics are from the loft upstairs, Rachel and I's bedroom.

This is the 'library' - the desktop picture is of the bobcat we trapped:

Here's the middle of the loft, with our dressers, 'tea station', and a map on the wall with pins for places we've lived:

Here is our 'living room':

The bedroom:

A view downstairs from above:


First Frost

Today is our first true frost. Besides the mulch and Brassicas being covered in frost, there are thin shards of ice in the duck pool, and all the water containers up at the coop are frozen shut. I tried to take a picture of it, but as always happens to me, there's no heat in the cabin so the batteries in the camera won't work.

Most everything out there is cold-hardy fall plants. Beds #8 and 9 will need mini hoop houses when we've got the money to put them together. We may beat the cold and we may not. We've already got the 4 mil plastic sheeting we bought at the hardware store - we just need electrical conduit for the hoops and rebar for stakes to hold them in place.

It's currently 32 degrees inside the cabin.

Yesterday was much warmer and sunny, a little over 50 degrees. With all the windows it probably hit 70 inside the cabin. Beside the usual chores I caulked about half of the upper story inside. I'll try to finish caulking the upper story today. Early next week we're getting fiberglass insulation for the roof - R 19 - then we can at least run a space heater up here with some efficiency till the chimney arrives. The girls run a space heater in the addition as it's already reasonably sealed up though not insulated yet. The addition also gets very warm with all its south-facing windows. Up in the loft most of the heat passes through the opening at the vent-cap on the roof. Insulation will block that.

Yesterday we got no eggs even though I took several trips up to the coop and saw hens laying and heard them cackling after they'd laid. We've now confirmed something is definitely stealing the eggs out of the nest boxes. Since the wooden eggs were not taken, up to 5 went missing in one day, and no eggs went missing when we were away in Atlanta, we're almost certain it's not a snake. It's something smart enough to avoid the wooden eggs, big enough to carry them away and stash them, and at the same time not big enough to attack the chickens themselves. After some research we believe it's either a squirrel or a rat. We've seen a squirrel up there before eating from the chicken trough, and the guineas gave it a wide berth without harassing it. On my last trip up to the coop yesterday to collect eggs the guineas followed me cackling which was a little unusual. They might follow me for a treat, but with all their alarm calls it seemed like they were communicating that something was wrong - so maybe they saw what was stealing the eggs.

We'll have to be super-vigilant and take many trips up to the coop each day to collect eggs, even if someone's laying and we wish not to disturb them. Hopefully we'll catch what's taking the eggs and then figure out how to trap it - or destroy it if we must. Our 2 problem animals this year were a raccoon and a bobcat - the raccoon had destroyed most of the corn - but both animals we successfully trapped and relocated a half hour away to Big South Fork National Rec Area.

It seems rather surprising to me that a squirrel could carry off our large chicken eggs, yet there are countless stories of such a thing happening on the internet.

Yesterday we also watched THE FLUORIDE DECEPTION and MONEY AS DEBT. We have to wait for movies to load with our slow DSL but they do load after a half hour or so.

Hand wringers are quite expensive but we're still looking. We came across a bucket within a bucket within a bucket method for pressing the water out of clothes which we'll try till we can either buy or construct an efficient hand wringer.

Crows will also steal eggs, but outside of a few times spotting them in the little valley I haven't seen them lately and they'd be hard to miss.

I went around and took photos of everything yesterday and will try to get them uploaded today.

Rachel thinned the seedlings yesterday and we had a big salad for lunch with bread and garden vegetables for dinner. It's been too cold for the sourdough to function so we've had to buy bread.

Friday, October 21, 2011


43 degrees inside this morning.

Cold, rainy, and windy yesterday but the rain finally ended by afternoon and we saw a moment or two of sun. The forecast is for sunny weather and gradually warmer temperatures over the next 6 days. Then cold and rain again. Chimney should be here late next week.

Rachel and I watched THE GREAT GLOBAL WARMING SWINDLE yesterday morning. I downloaded another video for her to watch today - MONEY AS DEBT.

We ran errands again yesterday as it was miserable weather.

We looked for used comforters at the Habitat to use for our insulated window curtains idea, but the only ones they had were thin and not cheap. We took our trash to the transfer station in Sunbright. The old guy there wanted to borrow a lighter to light his gas heater in his little blockhouse. There was a David Lynch moment where he needed me to go in to the blockhouse with him to help him light the heater. I ignited an end of curled up paper he was holding, while he pushed it in to the front of the heater while holding open the valve for gas on the stove. It would occasionally puff blue flame - but seemed maybe out of gas. After several tries with burning paper shoved in to the front of it it ignited and the flame burned steadily. I was happy to get out of there without a fireball having consumed the both of us inside the little dark blockhouse.

We picked up organic tobacco at the tobacco shop in Wartburg, as we roll our own organic cigarettes. Rachel's always smoked, but I picked it up last year after all the emotional turmoil of separating with Patty and not seeing the kids and moving out and fighting over the Tennessee property. Haven't smoked since I was 19.

I paid the electric bill and Rachel picked up a prescription for Harley's tooth which is hurting her and we looked at what grains and scratch they had at the CO-OP - none of which were really all-natural and suitable for our homemade poultry diet mix.

I returned the 8" chimney brush at the hardware store and the guy was being difficult because I didn't have the receipt. These guys have known me at this local hardware store for 4 years and I've spent a lot of money there, always preferring to support them over a big box store - and he's the one who recommended an 8" brush would work in a 7" pipe - well it doesn't . . . the brush goes in, but is too big and stiff to come back out. I told him I could go home and find the receipt if he wants, but his receipts aren't itemized and of such cheap ink they usually fade out and become illegible in a couple of weeks. He said he never charges the price on the item so he doesn't know how much to refund. But he eventually gave me the price of the item plus an additional dollar for tax. I'm determined to find the receipt and give him any difference if he overpaid and slap it on the counter the next time I'm there. I've never had a problem before with this store and wonder why the guy's decided to make an ass of himself now.

We went ahead on to Oak Ridge since it was cold and only 25 minutes away, and we needed the HomeLite chainsaw at Home Depot and to deposit a check at the bank. We also looked for a Toyoto dealer to exchange the battery from the car that we had tested at AutoZone and found dead but was still under warranty. There wasn't any Toyoto dealer in Oak Ridge, and over the phone they told us battery warranties are pro-rated and since ours is 59 months old we probably won't get anything for it. So we called around and found a new one for $64 in Jamestown. We've got to get the car back up and running as gas is too expensive to be using the truck for errands.

We got the chainsaw with an 18" bar at HomeDepot, oil and a stone for sharpening knives, a 6 pound splitting maul, a set of chisels for sharpening the chain, and paid $25 for an additional 2 year warranty on the chainsaw since we know it's going to get abused cutting wood for heat year after year. And I learned a lesson in not having got an extended warranty on the mower and it's already broken down.

We also looked at the price of fiberglass insulation. After some sticker shock I spent the evening looking in to cheap alternatives for insulation and researched sawdust for a while since we have an infinite free supply of it down at the mill [Rachel and I go down there once a season to fill the Explorer to the roof with bags of it to use in our composting toilets - it only takes us about a half-hour to gather a season's worth of it. We store it in the barn to keep it dry.]

I've ultimately come to the conclusion to stick with fiberglass because I'd have to immediately put interior walls and ceiling and something under the floor to hold the sawdust in. The R value of sawdust is debatable, and you've got to put some price on your own personal labor for putting it in which is intensive. If we stick with fiberglass and do one area at a time as we can afford it we can leave the walls exposed on the interior and cover them later.

The lesson here is if you're a DIYer/potential homesteader and don't have an infinite supply of cash NEVER USE MODULAR CONSTRUCTION TO BUILD YOUR HOME. The cost of everything is astronomical. Use any inexpensive local material you can get your hands on, whether earthbags, adobe, cob, cordwood, logs, sod, block, stone, straw, etc. - anything but kiln-dried framing lumber and all the costly manufactured materials that go with it purchased from a home improvement store. Considering the cost of straw and wet climate, if I had to start over I'd do earthbags - nothing's as long-lasting and cheap as dirt, and once constructed structure/interior exterior walls/insulation via thermal mass - all are completed in one inexpensive step. Tedious to build . . . but cheap, functional, beautiful and durable. Rachel would be happy with a little sod hut on the plains. Well . . . maybe if we ever move. I'd be fine with a wigwam.

Rachel mixed a half-batch of the ingredients together for our new poultry diet. We put it out in the trough in the coop last night. We let Rosy try the roasted lentils and whole oats and she loves them. The chickens also devoured the raw chicken that kitty refused to eat in trying to get her on a raw-meat diet [chickens will eat anything].

Oh and as far as kitty goes, we're going to put an ad up on GOLSN and try to find another home for her. She climbs the housewrap and window screens on the cabin and tears them up, stalks and harasses the birds, tears up newly planted areas of the garden and shits in them, constantly gets into food in the house like licking the butter, shits in the pepper plants, and yesterday when we came home from errands Rachel left a bowl of lentils on the table which she'd spent all day roasting for the chickens. Kitty had pissed and shit in it. We had to wash it and redry it. That was the last straw. She's cute and friendly, but totally incompatible with what we're doing and a nightmare on a daily basis. I'm also allergic to cats and her dander's everywhere. Anybody want a cat?

We have a lot of chores to catch up on today now that the rain's over. Then we can get out the saw and maul and start making firewood.

[Kitty's meowing at the door desperately to be let in]

Time to let out the birds . . . and get bunny her weeds . . . and fertigate the garden . . .

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Still sick with a cold today but not as bad as yesterday.

Cold, rainy, and windy all day. The forecast says only 42 tonight but it barely hit 42 all day. Rain and cold forecast for tomorrow also, but then sunny weather ahead which means at least the cabin will be warm with all the windows - though not at night. Still no heat source till the chimney arrives. The girls have plugged in a space heater. We wear several layers of clothes. And drink hot tea.

The ducks don't mind the cold or rain and free-range happily all day. The guineas after last night in the trees in the rain headed to bed early in the coop. At least they have that much sense [a guinea, compared to a chicken, is an imbecile - the semi-domesticated ones at least. The wild slate-colored guineas that live around here seem rather intelligent and raised a batch of keets successfully even while the bobcat was killing right and left].

The ducks make a mess of their food and dump it everywhere. We started them on a homemade diet of mush consistency which they did well with [they like their food wet]. As they got older we switched to high-quality layer pellets which the chickens were getting. We're now trying to get away from kibble-style factory food and do a homemade diet for all the birds. We've put a lot of research into creating the right homemade diet for poultry. It will have to be adjusted seasonally. We just picked up the ingredients today at Tractor Supply and Walmart. A 40# bag of alfalfa pellets, a 50# bag of whole oats, a 50# bag of bird seed, 5# of lentils, 5# of peas, 8# of thistle seed . . . we already have flax seeds, cracked corn - here are the proportions we worked out:

Alfalfa Pellets
Bird Seed Mix
Nyjer Thistle Seed
Split Peas
Flax Seed

It uses basically ingredients we can presently get at a moderate to low cost. The protein content is 14%. Laying hens must have a minimum of 14% and ideally 16%. This is usually achieved via free-ranging with the high protein content of forage and insects. But it's nearly November now and the bugs are almost gone and forage is reduced. Protein is usually boosted in the homemade diets using some type of field peas. If we didn't wish to keep the birds laying through the winter we could simply put them on a low protein (12%) maintenance diet. But as it is we need eggs and have a light on a timer on the coop so they get 16 hours of light a day. We got 4 eggs today from 5 birds [one of whom a banty almost never lays] so it's working. Ever since we got off layer pellets and went from a 50/50 diet of rabbit food and scratch [simply because we ran out of layer pellets] egg production increased.

We'll have to see how well this diet works for them . . . eventually we'll get sacks of organic grain from a supplier an hour south of Knoxville for mixing their food. The ducks will go on the same diet as the chickens [two are mixed runners, 5 are mixed rouens - probably not ideal laying breeds but we picked them up for free sort of rescue ducks from a fellow homesteader moving soon to Texas]. I'll try soaking the food for the ducks so they can eat it better and not make such a mess of it. It's a little bit of a juggle raising three completely different types of poultry all living together in the same coop.

The cat is going on a raw meat diet and the bunny is being switched from poor-quality grain-based rabbit pellets to alfalfa pellets. She'll also get some grains, hay, and I give her a big batch of weeds every morning which she always eats. Sometimes food scraps like carrot tops and peels. Bunny's just a pet for the girls though we do use her fertilizer. She's not breeding and not to be used for meat [we're vegetarians].

We cleaned the kitchen then dropped off the mower today at a small-engine repair shop. A cold wet day is a good day for errands. We'll probably go to Oak Ridge tomorrow for a Homelite chainsaw and splitting maul. We have a lot of wood to cut and stack. Ordered a 7" chimney brush from Ace Hardware - will be here next week.

Too cold and wet to do anything with the garden today - though the seedlings need thinned, desperately, especially mustards. The brassicas are growing wonderfully. The combination of deep mulching with grass clippings and fertigation have made the garden do very well. I take the daily water from the small duck pool in the masonry tub, and mix it in a bucket with graywater from the dishes - about 1/4 duckwater to 3/4 graywater - and distribute it in rotation through all the garden beds.

Rachel's roasting lentils and peas in the toaster oven for the chicken food. With the next batch we'll soak and sprout the legumes before toasting them dry so it's more nutritious and digestible. Right now we're crunched for time running out of the old 1/1/1 mix of rabbit food, cracked corn, and scratch. The birds also have a granite grit in a container in the coop and their own eggshells dried and ground for them to eat as a calcium supplement.

Had stewed root vegetables and bread for dinner.


Master List


Here is the master list of everything that needs done up here by winter. Items that are dated have already been done.


Plastic sheet over coop windows

Insulated strips for coop door and run door

Ad for gas stove on GOLSN [ASAP] 10/1

Get Homelite chainsaw, 6# wood-splitting maul [ASAP] [ATLANTA]

Cut and stack wood [ASAP]

Construct hoop houses [ASAP]

Plant garden [ASAP] 10/10

Insulate cabin

Caulk cabin, plug holes

Finish wiring

Install chimney [when parts arrive] [ASAP]

Move loft ladder

Get Hardiback for cook stove

Build duck house

Build duck nest boxes [ASAP] 10/8

Get duck pool and pen area

Plumb house

Remove French doors, interior walls

Make insulated window drapes

Transfer compost in bin 10/2

Fence perennials

Sand chairs [ASAP] 10/8

Build insulated cathouse [ASAP]

Reconfigure rafters for stove pipe [when parts arrive] [ASAP]

Change car air filters

Amend Rachel’s taxes [ASAP] [unnecessary] 10/7

Drain swimming pool and put up

Trap bobcat [ASAP] 10/4

Dust cabbages with repellent [ASAP] 10/7

Pay phone bill [MONDAY 10/10] 10/7

Pay electric bill [MONDAY 10/24]

Play it Again Sports for Harley’s cleats and glove 10/14

Gather walnuts [ASAP] 10/6

Repair shoes [ASAP] 10/6

Order Amish manual for stove [ASAP] 10/7

Clean bunny cage and fertilize artichokes [ASAP] 10/6

Air tents [ASAP] 10/9

Clean pruning shears

Make garden door

Call Northline Express about shipments [MONDAY 10/10]

Return or repair mower [ASAP]

Buy and paint wooden duck eggs 10/13

Gather acorns from white and red oaks on property

Find hand wringer

Put gas stove on Craigslist [ASAP]

Put washer/dryer on GOLSN/Craigslist

Move light in coop [ASAP] 10/17

Order Rapid Breather washer [ASAP] 10/16

Deposit check at Suntrust [ASAP]

Gather rest of walnuts [ASAP]

Sand/paint wooden eggs and place in egg boxes [ASAP] 10/17

Rearrange girls’ room [ASAP]

Call Northline Express about order status [ASAP] 10/17

Mail cell phone to the girls [ASAP] 10/18

Air out tents from camping on Pigeon Mountain [ASAP] 10/17

Return chimney brush

Get 7” chimney brush and clean out stovepipe

Buy round hay bales

Buy car battery



Sick today with a cold.

Cloudy and cool through the morning but mostly sunny and warm with some wind through the afternoon. Supposed to rain soon.

Did the usual chores, watering, got 3 eggs today – both araconas in the big box and Rosy in the little one. Many guineas still sleeping in the trees. Acorns cover the ground up by the coop under the white oaks.

Cleaned Bastian’s stuff out of the girls’ room and put it up on a skid under the barn. Kids’ room loaded with roaches and flies. Cleaned out the truck from camping.

Researching getting dairy goats.

Rachel processed lots of garden food, picked the garden, did all the dishes, etc.

All the blankets and sleeping bags hanging up in the upper story of the barn to air.

Located a guy in Jamestown who may be able to fix the mower cheap.

Artichokes have recovered well after bucket of duck water and dying off in late summer.

Had granola for breakfast, stewed reduced garden tomatoes with crackers for lunch, quesadillas with mustard greens for dinner.

['Rosy' is our Rhode Island Red who is so friendly we thought of putting a chicken diaper on her and letting her spend time inside - she often wanders in when the door is open.

Rachel's convinced the roaches are not roaches but some kind of wild relative. In my opinion if it looks like a roach and scurries like a roach it's a roach. But where they should be most common - the kitchen, where all the food is - there aren't any at all. They're only in the addition and out in boxes in the shed.

The flies sometimes inside become quite abundant. We've got flypaper hanging up in front of most windows. It is considered unsightly, but is very effective at eliminating them. We're used to the flypaper and infinitely prefer the sight of it to flies landing on us.

My favorite meal up here is boiling down garden tomatoes into a thick stew to eat with crackers. It can also be frozen in freezer bags for later use in meals like squash lasagna. The cherry tomatoes become so sweet when boiled down they make a rich aromatic jam.]



Hot and sunny, some wind. Put out all the wooden duck eggs [12] we picked up in Atlanta [Michael’s - $.79 – painted white] in the 4 nest boxes in the morning. The same two in the coop, one made from a plastic bin on the floor for the ducks, and one I built of wood/osb sitting out in the duck pen. Out of 5 hens we got 4 eggs – 2 in the big popular box, Little Bit the first to lay in the duck box in the coop, and one in the small box. So the eggs work if not just to motivate the birds to lay in the boxes, but also to try different boxes they’re unfamiliar with laying in.

Had a massive amount of duck/graywater to distribute throughout the garden from having the birds cooped up while we were gone [5 days – 5 chickens, 7 ducks, 13 guineas].

Girls barely made the bus by Harley running ahead of Gwen to flag down the bus.

Aired out the tents from our camping trip. Rachel’s tent still wet and she hung it up on upper story of barn.

Took a trip to Sunbright and picked up a small piece of pipe for a garden door, popcorn bowl, rubber spatula, small knife, and two bookcases [$15 a piece]. Had the truck to fit it. Also mailed the girls their phone they left in the back pocket of the seat in the truck [$6}. Didn’t get walnuts – too much to do at home. Also bought milk and ice cream treat.

Rachel picked tomatoes from the garden and lettuce, kale, chard, pepper, and radishes for a big salad which we had for a late lunch. Used up the rest of our blue cheese dressing – need to start making our own. Rachel made croutons from homemade bread and we also added roasted sunflower seeds.

Wasps and ladybugs were everywhere in the house especially upstairs. I had to swat 30 wasps to make it livable up here. Rachel got stung in the foot when one got trapped underneath her sandal. Wasps were milling everywhere underneath the eaves. We can only guess they’re waking up with the warmth or looking for a place to hibernate before the coming cold front - which will probably be our second stretch of light frost.

Coyotes yipping late evening.

Spent hours reorganizing the loft to fit bookcases beside the computer table – had to cut a wedge out of nonstructural stud to fit it all. Brought Bastian’s dresser up here. Put the toilet along the loft railing. Looks good with much more storage space. Put up magazines [Mother earth, Countryside, etc] in one case, books in other. Cleaned and vacuumed. Room now microorganized with library, dressing room, bathroom, tea station, living room, and bedroom. Need a floor lamp for the library area – hard to find cheap.

Read Rachel from A FAREWELL TO ARMS at night. Talked about history.

Rinsed and later washed the dishes in the morning. Cleaned out the truck some. Car battery dead from the trunk having been left open while we were gone. Rachel organized produce in kitchen.

Called Northline about chimney order – shouldn’t expect anything until late next week.

Looking in to ordering rolls of hay to mulch on massive scale especially since mower is currently not working. An ad on Trade Times says $10 - $15 per bale . . . will call.

Brought back helpful things from Atlanta – Rachel got 2 big roles of unbarbed wire from her mother, a ricer, large metal bowls, magazines, 2 big pots, and I got a $100 check for my birthday and $25 gift certificate.

[We've had many issues with chickens laying outside the coop who knows where. There's also the possibility a snake is getting the eggs in the coop. The clutches of wooden duck eggs in each box should help both problems.

The Habitat for Humanity thrift store in Sunbright is an awesome place to score just about anything.

We camped up on Pigeon Mountain with Rachael and Brooke at the end of our Atlanta stay last weekend - they left their phone in the back of the truck.

Sebastian is Rachel's 17 year old son who moved up with us in March. He just got his GED up here and moved back down to Atlanta permanently last weekend. Harley and Gwen are Rachel's 13 and 9 year old daughters who live with us up here and go to school in Sunbright. Their bedrooms are in the addition.

The city park in Sunbright has an almost unlimited supply of black walnuts. We've gathered two trunkloads so far and have them drying up on the upper story of the barn. They so far cover a space 12'x24'. There's another trunkload to get. We also have a good amount of chestnut oak acorns up there we gathered in Pickett State Park about an hour from here.

The loft now has a railing and is Rachel and I's bedroom. I've joked that it's our headquarters for 'Operation Homestead' as we have a commanding view over the entire property.

One of the guards came loose under the deck on the mower, and the blades caught it and tore it up. We have a nice Honda Quadra-Cut mower that cuts a very fine mulch. I replaced the gaurd but now the vibration's so bad we're worried the blades are either out of balance or the crankshaft is bent. We found a small-engine repair guy in Jamestown to look at it. While the mower's out, and until we can obtain some large hay rolls, we're out of cover material - just have to take mulch from future garden beds.]

The New Plan

Changed my mind. Drafting a new blog is entirely too much trouble and the DSL is too slow. I'll post here.

I'll do daily journal entries in italics - these are mostly shorthand and I'll add additional comments in regular type to further explain entries. I'll also post the 'master list' of what needs done up here by winter. Periodically I'll do a post on a particular topic with a few photos - such as the chicken coop, or barn, or garden, or rainwater harvesting . . . that goes into depth on our experience with it and how it's worked out so far.

I'll slowly incorporate new photos to the sidebar of what it looks like here now.

The overall goal of self-sufficiency and grass-roots living hasn't changed . . . if anything it's accelerated dramatically by having someone on board with what I'm doing up here.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Homesteading in Tennessee II

I'm going to build a new website with the above title. Up here in Tennessee the internet is so slow the old site takes forever to load. Too many pictures. I'll put a link to it under 'Year 4' at the top once it's ready.

The new site'll be simple so it's easy to load, with less pictures, and more day-to-day information. I'll keep a daily journal there so you get an idea of what our homesteading lifestyle is really like.

To fill in with news . . . got married February 12th, moved up to Sunbright March 1st to live permanently.

I'll post current photos of how everything looks now. My wife Rachel and I built a coop up in the old gazebo site under the white oaks, we put a roof over the barn, tilled all nine beds of the garden area, with a few outside the fence and planted just about everything. We put fascia and soffits and gutters on the cabin and harvest rainwater, put in a loft railing, more counter space, put in electricity, wired the building, have a fridge and freezer . . . weeded and mulched and fertilized the perennials and most have tripled in growth . . . have currently 25 birds - five chickens, 13 guineas, and 7 ducks - just trapped the bobcat and relocated him to Big South Fork National Rec Area so we can get back to free-ranging all the birds [he'd killed 11 guineas, 4 chickens and 1 duck]. We also have a rabbit out in the barn in a hutch I built, a cat who hopefully someday will make a good mouser to deal with the voles in the garden but is currently an out-of-control kitty in to everything. We'll soon get dairy goats, and at some point horses. Maybe a Jersey cow.

We just bought a used Ashland New Decade wood cookstove for $700 [new they're $2,500]. We're waiting for the stainless steel chimney to arrive to fire it up. This stove is Amish-made, and will heat the cabin, has a hot water reservoir, a large oven, firebox, and the top can be cooked on just like a range.

When I get a chance [homesteading is endless work] I'll take photos and post some information beneath them to fill in everything that's going on.

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

-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.

-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.

-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.

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

-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.

-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.

-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.

-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.

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.

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.

-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.

-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.

-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.

-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.

-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.

-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.

-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.