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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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

5/21

We got some rain today, a couple of barrels' worth, which is good because the forecast is for a string of hot sunny 90 degree days. Even the nights will barely get below 70. I'll leave the light off in the chick pen where we're raising 7 Aracaunas so they get used to the dark. Once they're a little bigger they can come out and join the rest of the birds in the coop and free-range outside. We tried it today and they just got mercilessly picked on. Especially by the sexlinks - though even the roosters got in a few jabs.

We've finally got most of the garden planted. The melons and winter squash are being planted in hills outside the garden because the vines take up so much space. The soil is hard and clayey, so we're using the same technique we started for breaking ground for perennials. Remove the sod, break up the subsoil, remove rocks, and line the bottom of the hole with the sod upside down. Then I mix in a good proportion of compost into the soil we plant with, berm the downhill side, and heavily, heavily mulch around the planting hole. The roots have plenty of nutrients in the hole, as they spread they hit the topsoil at the bottom, and the heavy mulch around the perimeter starts to soften the soil and invite worms so the roots can over time penetrate it as well. It's worked very well on late-season bare-root transplants which have a very hard time getting established. If the melons don't grow well at least the planting holes will be well prepared for future fruit trees.

The mower's got a bent crankshaft and will be out a few weeks to be repaired. Without grass clippings for mulch we've gone to the poor-quality horse nettle-filled hay we got 2 round bales of early in the year. A lot of future pasture needs mowed, especially to keep the ragwort down, but it'll have to wait.

Our Nubian goat Mabel has turned out to be an incredible milker. She's a first freshener and milked out nearly 3/4 of a gallon today [right where our dairy cow Rita was before we sold her]. Though we don't really have room for her doeling, Mabel's production is so extraordinary we're going to keep her. Her name is Josey.

We were never able to get the Welsh Harlequin ducks we wanted, so we're hoping to breed the ducks we have. The two hens are Rouens, the drake is an Indian Runner. The Rouens are fabulous layers, a huge egg from each nearly every day. I'd let the eggs pile up in their nest box in the coop hoping one would be inclined to get broody and hatch them out. I gave them a week, then started the tedious business of marking the eggs with pencil and removing them in order on a daily basis. I finally got tired of this, and with the baby goats romping in the coop and likely to bust the eggs, I took them out and put the wooden eggs back in. Almost immediately a duck goes broody. It's not the first time - I think this one just prefers to sit on the wooden eggs. Now neither duck is laying because I guess once one duck goes broody and stops, it's contagious. So I'm slowly removing the wooden eggs so she's got nothing to sit on. Eventually she'll go back to laying. And we'll try again.

We've got several large projects that all need done at once. The big [i.e. expensive] one is a metal roof for the barn. Right now it's just got 30lb roofing felt well overlapped and buttoncapped - which held together perfectly over the winter. But now that we're collecting water off the barn, with the tarpaper it comes out all sudsy like detergent. It's fine for washing clothes but that's about it. With the animals, wash, rinsing fodder, irrigating pasture and garden, the cabin is not providing enough water. We could invest a grand in filtering the    iron out of the wellwater, but that's a hassle, we'll have all that iron backwash, still have to shock the well for iron bacteria, and be left with a very hard water nonetheless. Since the barn must have a roof anyway, it makes more sense to burn the grand there. And it's also an off-grid solution which is always appealing to us here.

Other projects are finishing siding the barn - I've got two sides on the upper story to do. But the guy at the mill says not till next week will he even start cutting the boards. We need to get another pasture up as the goats are taking a toll on 1/2 acre pasture #1, but till we can clear a path for the fence line with the mower we can't even start that. Maybe we'll try to get the weedwhacker working.

The 50" high 7 strand electric fence with foot-high plastic mesh along the bottom is working beautifully. No predators in, no goats or birds out. The charger is a 50 mile 6.3 joule workhorse and keeps a constant 16,000 volts on the line. Haven't tested the shock yet - but the goats won't go near it after 2 shocks. The chickens avoid it, and even the guineas especially on a wet day leave it alone. We've got 5 grounding rods in now and the ground seems as good as it can be with such a large charger.

The cabin also needs sided, but that's more of a fall project. I'll seal the siding on the barn for now, finish planting the curcubits, and order the metal for the barn roof. Then we'll add several barrels at each downspout and our water problems should be over.

Ash-gray blister beetles were nearly wiping out our autumn olives. Then we saw them moving to the goumis and devouring them. Since our late frost killed our fig and mulberries down to the ground through defoliation,  I was worried the same would happen to the goumis and autumn olives. I sprayed both with an 'organic' spray containing spinosad. Within a week all the beetles were gone. They are now putting out new growth. No question it works. Hopefully we won't have to use it in the garden to contain another outbreak. [though we did use a little on the chard that was covered in blister beetles, but it's since been pulled and put in the compost bin].

We're going with low to no bedding through the summer in the goat stalls to keep the flies down. Their stalls are cleaned out daily. Goat manure is a cold fertilizer, so this bedding goes straight out as mulch around the lower blueberries.

There's an interesting Welfare story I'd thought I'd share for anyone living this sort of lifestyle with kids and concerned Social Services might come down hard on what they're doing.

Ever since Patty and I separated, she's done everything in her power to keep me from seeing the kids [Rachael and Brooke]. She also tried to screw me out of the Tennessee property but failed there. The girls have come up a few occasions and stayed a week or two. Usually the outcome is that Brooke refuses to go back to Atlanta and wants to live with me up here. This of course her mother won't allow.

So Patty's latest move was to call Welfare on us, about our sawdust toilets in bedrooms and no running water, etc. The idea was that Welfare would come out and deem the place unsuitable for Rachael and Brooke to visit [we'll brush over the irony of how she was perfectly fine with dropping the girls off with me up here for months in tents - but she was busy then living with another man while we were up here, so not so concerned about the kids].

Well two women from Scott County Social Services showed up about a month ago. They checked out the composting toilets, asked how we get water, bathe, etc. As far as indoor plumbing, one lady said, "People have gotten along thousands of years without it." They were friendly, nonchalant . . . didn't really write much down or take pictures. They said we'd get paperwork in the mail to sign stating that they'd been out.

One of the women came back about 2 weeks ago. We sat down with her at the table to fill out paperwork. She was in a hurry to close out the case because she thought everything we were doing here was cool and she wished her supervisor could have come out because he would have thought the place amazing. She was in a big Suburban and when backing down the driveway ran into one of the stakes around the blueberries and tore off part of her bumper. I didn't notice the bumper till later far down the driveway.

The lady came back last week to get her bumper. We showed her the baby goats and the barn. She loves the barn, was full of enthusiasm for everything we're doing. She said, "This is what everybody should be doing, but who has the freakin' time!"

And that was that. Case closed. Brooke and Rachael still won't be allowed to visit this summer, but at least their mother has only herself to blame as to why.


3 comments:

Victoria said...

Dang, I'm flat wore out after reading this post. I need to take a nap! =) One of these days we really need to come pay ya'll a visit.

So sad the way things have turned out with Patty. I suppose if she was happy with her lifestyle choices, she wouldn't be using the girls to hurt you. Unfortunately, it's the girls who are paying the price. =(

Rob said...

Yep - visit. The girls seem okay with all their school and boy drama. But it is a shame they have to sneak phone calls to me and are not allowed to visit. They'll be 18 eventually . . . then what?

I'll get some pictures today

Victoria said...

Pics?

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.